Decade of the Mind


During the 1990's U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush declared a decade of research to center on neuroscience. The resulting Decade of the Brain was well publicized inter-US agency initiative that responded to the declaration . The two lead federal agencies in that initiative were the Library of Congress and the National Institute of Mental Health (part of the larger National Institutes of Health. Although the initiative did not receive the level of funding as its sister Human Genome Project, it did serve to catalyze significant advances in our understanding of the brain particularly in the context of brain diseases .

A New Decade Project

More recent advances in brain research, in combination with the scientific consensus that mind indeed emerges as a result of the activities of brains, has led to the notion of a new "Decade" project, one dedicated to understanding the phenomenon of mind within the context of neuroscience. In May of 2007 a group of leading scientists met at George Mason University's Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study to map out what such a project might look like. The starting point was the earlier Decade of the Brain project . The Decade of the Mind project seeks as much as $4 Billion in federal support over the course of the ten year long project.

The Decade of the Mind initiative, by necessity, should be trans-disciplinary and multi-agency in its approach. Success will require research that reaches across disparate fields such as cognitive science, medicine, neuroscience, psychology, mathematics, engineering, neurotechnology and computer science. Additional important insights will need to come from areas as diverse as systems biology, cultural anthropology, social science, robotics, and automation technology. For these reasons, the Decade of the Mind initiative should focus on these four broad areas:

1.Healing and protecting the mind: This is the notion of improving the public health by ameliorating or curing diseases of the brain that affect the mind. An example of such a disease is Alzheimer's Disease.

2.Understanding the mind: This aspect of the initiative seeks to understand how mind actually emerges from brain functional activity. Some of the key characteristics of the mind which are still not understood include consciousness,memory and dreams.

3.Enriching the mind: Improving learning outcomes in education is a key component of the initiative.

4.Modeling the mind: A key approach to understanding the mind is to model it either analytically or using computers. Such models of mind may facilitate the creation of new hypotheses which can then be tested in the laboratory or clinic. Modeling the mind may also allow for the creation of new applications, technologies and inventions.

The First Decade of the Mind Symposium

The Decade of the Mind symposium was well-covered by the news media and led to a manifesto that was published in the journal Science authored by the Symposium participants.

Follow-on to the Decade of the Mind Symposium

Following the Symposium, decision-makers from multiple U.S. agencies assembled to react to the Manifesto and to imagine how their agencies might participate in the proposed Decade of the Mind initiative (Decade of the Mind II). A further follow-on scientific conference was held May 7-9, 2008 at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa. The symposium, titled "Emergence of Mind" examined how mind emerges in animals, particularly the great apes This third symposium included 9 plenary sessions provided by luminaries from their respective fields. Each speaker addressed the general topic of “Consciousness and Mind in Nonhuman Primates”, some from the perspective of their experimental work with primates in captivity and others, from their studies of primates conducted in the wild. Additionally, two sessions were devoted to philosophical perspectives on nonhuman consciousness and the evolution of consciousness and mind.

The fourth Decade of the Mind symposium is scheduled for January 2009 at the Sandia National Laboratory. It will focus on the emergence of mind in machines.


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