Celebrating a sense of identity
By Susan Greenfield for CNN
Greenfield: "Science is becoming more pervasive and invasive than it has ever been before."
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(CNN) -- It's impossible to predict the specifics of the future.
Imagine 20 years ago, before the Internet invaded our lives, how hard it would have been to predict what your children and grandchildren would be facing.
But people in the future will be different. There will be different challenges, different problems and they'll think about things in different ways.
Science is becoming more pervasive and invasive than it has ever been before. The future used to be full of rather enchanting robots and high-tech gadgetry. But suddenly science touches things that we hold very personal.
I think people fear being manipulated, they fear being contaminated or rendered into some kind of cyborg. Because it touches on human nature people are a little bit frightened.
My own view is that you can't draw a simple line and separate out everything that you want and nothing that you don't want. Technologies that are coming of age are not going to go away. It's what you do with them that are good or bad. So manipulation of genes can do terrible things and wonderful things.
Science and technology have actually given us the time to reflect on human nature and they've given us a lifestyle that makes us come face to face with ourselves for the first time.
For most of us, our sense of identity is our most treasured asset. But the more we learn about brain circuitry the more the prospect of tampering with the personal brain becomes a possibility.
It could be that human nature will continue to find expression in consumerism, as is happening already, or that the individual will be sublimated into a greater collective narrative, as with fundamentalism.
But the predominant talent of humans is adaptability and another possibility is that you become a passive receiver of information coming in so fast and furious that you're not a person anymore.
None of these scenarios are very happy ones, so the question for me is how we redefine the individual to ensure that strong sense of self survives. We need to be pro-active and set the agenda.
My own view is that the answer is to foster creativity. When you're being creative you have a very strong sense of self, of being different, of doing something or seeing something that no one else has thought of.
We have a few people who are being creative. But we live in a society where some people are defining themselves by a collective cause and other people are glassing out in front of a computer.
Our ultimate priority should be not just the preservation but the celebration of individuality.
-- Susan Greenfield is professor of pharmacology at the University of Oxford and director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain. She is the author of "Tomorrow's People: How 21st-Century Technology Is Changing the Way We Think and Feel."
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