Brain research the new ‘moon shot’ – (Reflections)

Patrick Kennedy

P. Kennedy, see linked CNN article.

Dear Readers!

The following excerpt from Patrick Kennedy’s CNN opinion piece, dated 5/20/2011, introduces his enthusiasm for a major – no holds barred – push to come to know the human brain. If not to know it completely, then to know much, much more. The initiative’s purpose would be for the sake of wellness. No doubt, the information and knowledge that could be collected in a 10-year vigorous, intense, commitment would be exciting, the potential is almost unimaginable.

My reflections follow this article excerpt:

A recession loomed large in the nation’s rear-view mirror. The economic recovery, still fragile, was marred by chronic unemployment, especially for workers whose jobs had been erased by technological innovation.

Meanwhile, an ongoing battle against foreign enemies consumed a large share of public resources. It was, in short, hardly the moment one would expect for a political leader to lay down a public challenge whose goal — and costs — staggered the imagination.

But 50 years ago on May 25, my uncle, John F. Kennedy, ascended the rostrum in the House of Representatives’ chamber to do precisely that. His goal — “to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth,” and to do so within a decade — was not merely appropriate to a moment of national uncertainty. It helped to resolve it.

It’s time to do so again.

This time the destination is closer to home, but the technical challenges may exceed even a moon landing. So will the benefits. All we need is to be of one mind as to the goal.

Hence the name of a collaborative initiative that aims to undertake the moon race of our time — a dramatic acceleration of the national commitment to neuroscience: The “One Mind” campaign.

Patrick Kennedy’s new frontier: Healing the brain (This link is to a 2nd CNN article, on Kennedy).

Readers are encouraged to read the full article from which I’ve given excerpts – found here: via – Brain research the new ‘moon shot’.

My thoughts:

Mr. Kennedy makes an effective argument for advantages of such an undertaking. His enthusiasm is shared by many of considerable knowledge, skill, and resources:

“One Mind” — a private-public partnership that will include universities, government, advocacy groups, industry and private citizens — has drafted a 10-year plan to complete a coordinated scientific roadmap for all brain disorders. It identifies priorities that include genetics, large-scale data gathering, mapping the circuitry of the brain and clinical applications.

I have no interest in ‘putting the kibosh on’ this proposal.

And yet …, and yet.

My enthusiasm is greatly dampened by extreme cost and difficulty faced by too many Americans with an array of health consultation and treatment needs. I’m astonished, sometimes, at announcements of American studies and breakthroughs in very remarkable health related science and treatment discoveries. What astonishes me is not the potential for greatly increased effective diagnosis and treatment – that ‘part’ I can celebrate. No, what astonishes me is that these developments are often celebrated as if any person walking down any American street or along any American farm path might easily access the development, whenever the new discovery might apply to their health needs. It’s very common for these announcements to be shared by interviews with those who have done the research. It’s common for either the interviewer or the interviewed, or both, to emphasize  – to anyone listening who feels the new information applies to health needs they know about – that the listener should “see your doctor”.

Sadly, for a significant number of the ‘out there’ audience, the response might be, “What doctor? I don’t have one!”.

It is far from the case that “any American walking along any street or along any path” can easily access even modest and routine consultation, much less consider a special appointment about a possible developing concern.

American health care seems at least a two-tiered affair. If ‘underinsured’ is included but kept distinct from ‘uninsured’, then America’s health care system can be considered a 3-tiered system. The following is experienced by Americans: Reduced life satisfaction due to debilitation because of untreated conditions; very large loans to cover expenses for conditions when families and individuals “choose” consultation over unaddressed life-shortening illness and condition; risk of bankruptcy – including loss of home – due to inability to keep up payments; and of course death – which deprives not only the deceased of otherwise viable life, but also deprives family, community, employers, employees, and all who enjoyed relationship with the deceased, and who benefited from the deceased’s contributions.

Health Care ‘reform’ continues to support ‘for-profit’ schemes, which means portions of every dollar spent in premiums continues to ‘feed into’ investor pockets, supporting (of course) generally very comfortable life-styles, life-styles that include no special concern about ‘lack of health coverage.’ Regardless of how many ‘tiers’ of health care access might be identified for America’s population, the number would certainly not be ‘1’. We’ve yet to perceive the wisdom, for all of us, in a non-profit oriented single-payer system or some semblance of it.

I’m not sure the “One Mind” proposal should be postponed because of the literally woeful state of American access to health care. It depends on the cost.

But I have a second observation, perhaps more ‘telling’ about ‘who we are’ – not only Americans, but as humans. The ‘truth’ is, compared to addressing essential rights and needs of the less affluent in society, the “One Mind” proposal offers much more excitement, has much more zest.

It’s tricky to ‘argue against’ grand initiatives that have potential to bring genuinely, even powerfully, value to humanity. “One Mind” has that potential.

But what, in the name of humanitarian principles – what, in the name of justice, can a society say, to those who’re suffering from unaddressed health concerns, that will “sound right”?

Health care access isn’t the only alternative to “One Mind” social need that could use a grand initiative. Nearly all opportunity that could be considered also essential to well-being is greatly reduced for all people living in poverty. Essentials aside from access to quality heath care include decent, reliable housing; attentive and ‘whole-child’ education in classrooms that have appropriate and sufficient resources; and food-security. People living in chronic, serious, poverty live also in chronic stress of uncertainty. Of course they “adjust”, and “show remarkable ingenuity”, but this does not justify social attitudes, mind-sets, that allow us to ignore poverty while we ‘move ahead’ on other grand schemes!

There does seem something in human ‘make-up’ that causes us to want to disregard, ignore, and avoid  delay to the  “exciting stuff”. I think sometimes this quality is not restricted to our enthusiasms for entertainment. I think it shows in human interest in technology. I’m no stranger to this myself! I can quickly ‘tune into’ what it ‘feels like’ to enjoy the adventure and discovery of technology driven frontiers!

In other ways, I’m a little ‘at odds’ from some common enthusiasms for ‘exciting stuff’. I’m less comfortable than ‘average’ (it seems) at moving too far from “what obviously needs to be addressed”. A second way I’m ‘at odds’ is that I genuinely experience ‘excitement’ at the prospect of a grand scheme “dedicated to any/all shifts that help us create a fully inclusive-of-all-life society!”

I’ve not said so before, but sparked by a popular question these days of “What shall we do next?”, (now that ‘space exploration phases 1 and 2 – moon and shuttle – have come to a close).  I’ve privately thought: “Oh!, Let’s learn what we need to know about ourselves so we can create a future that includes everyone!

More publicly, my entire blog is dedicated to helping spark interest in just such an initiative — in which we dedicate ourselves to learning and doing what we need to learn and do, to create an inclusive society, a society in which we uplift one another.

My Best!–MaggieAnn


About maggieannthoeni

A description once given of me was "rooted in the earth while roaming the stars" - and this has felt 'right'. I believe in something akin to this for each of us. I am a passionate supporter of discovering the autonomous self while serving the whole as primary intent. I believe in discovery of innate principles, clearing the overlay of socialization that obscures this from us. I believe it is our responsibility to leave no one behind - most particularly to respond to suffering as best we can whereever we find it, whenever we are made aware. I believe in this for the insect as well as the most magnificent form of humanity. I believe in brother/sisterhood without boundary. I believe in righteous indignation when it is appropriate, but do not believe in an enemy. I believe in consciousness, in intelligence, in logic, in rationality, in emotion, in transcendence - and am convinced until we generally practice explore and honor all this in ourselves, we remain profoundly immature. (I believe real maturity is known and practiced by many young children, and not enough adults!)
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