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Nanomaterials Turning Us into Cyborgs? Whatever Next?

I have to confess one of my favorite past times is reading a mainstream journalist mangling a story on nanotechnology.

But in this example the journalist did a yeomanâ''s job only messing up the requisite definition slightly â''used to develop materials that are 100 nanometers or smallerâ''. Yeah, almost right, I think if you add the idea of materials with features below 100 nanometers it wouldnâ''t have sounded so odd to me.

Who really sounded odd to me was the nanotechnology expert who was visiting the beat reporterâ''s hometown, Akhlesh Lakhtakia.

Lakhatia, a professor with the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics at Pennsylvania State University, wanted to express measured concern about the adverse affects of nanotechnology and referred to the oft-mentioned idea of a nanoparticle breaching the blood brain barrier.

This idea led him to the rather odd conclusion if this were to happen: â''And I cannot even begin to imagine what kind of cyborgs we will become then."

I guess this constitutes Lakhatia trying to avoid being an alarmist. But then again maybe the reporter misconstrued what he said as we have demonstrated to us recently.

GM's P.U.M.A.: Fleet Captain Pike meets Paul Blart, Mall Cop



In general, it's a bad thing when every blogger has the same first reaction to your new "personal mobility pod."

Captain Pike's Chair


Star Trek action figure tableau including Fleet Captain Christopher Pike, whose run-in with fictional delta radiation left him paralyzed, mute, badly scarred, and confined to a wheelchair at Starbase 11.

G.M. and Segway have teamed up to breathe new life into the Segway personal transporter, rescuing it from the mall cop ghetto it now inhabits in the public imagination.

The P.U.M.A., short for Personal Urban Mobility Transport, is "not really being introduced," according to the New York Times Bits blog, "except as a bit of blue-sky thinking about better ways to move around crowded urban areas than driving an automobile." It's being shown this week at the New York International Auto Show.

Commenters at BoingBoing, ever in rare form, immediately noted the unfortunate resemblance to the Star Trek character Capt. Christopher Pike, who was injured in a radiation incident and who consequently suffers from Locked-In Syndrome, and must spend the rest of his days zipping around in a little black box that communicates "yes" and "no" in binary monotones.



The P.U.M.A.'s communication system is much upgraded, featuring, according to the New York Times, all the benefits of GM's OnStar system (which I have never used and am therefore unqualified to assess). You can also have direct vehicle to vehicle communication, which I imagine is much like push-to-talk walkie talkie cell phone technology.

The P.U.M.A.'s lithium-ion batteries give it a top speed of 35 mph, and enough juice for a 35-mile range.

I'll get one when, like Pike's chair, they can be operated by brain machine interface.

US Taking a New Direction in Defense?

Many defense analysts I interviewed for my Novermber 2008 Spectrum story, â''Whatâ''s Wrong With Weaponâ''s Acquisitionsâ'' felt that the US Department of Defense had missed a golden opportunity to reform its acquisition processes in the early 1990s after the Cold War had ended and the first Gulf War had been won.

Apparently, the current US fiscal crisis has created another â''opportunity to truly reform the way we do businessâ'' that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is loath to waste.

Yesterday, Sec. Gates announced a new FY 2010 defense budget which he says was â''crafted to reshape the priorities of America's defense establishment. If approved, these recommendations will profoundly reform how this department does business.â''

Gates announced nearly 20 major defense program and policy changes, including among other things the cancellation of the $13 billion Presidential helicopter program and the $26 billion transformational satellite program, the production end of both the F-22 fighter and C-17 transport aircraft, an accelerated procurement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and an increase in the number of littoral combat ships (LCS) being bought.

You can read the transcript of his press conference yesterday for all the details.

In addition, Sec. Gates, promises to, â''reform how and what we buy; meaning a fundamental overhaul of our approach to procurement, acquisition and contracting.â'' As part of that reform he promises that DoD will now â''stop programs that significantly exceed their budget or which spend limited tax dollars to buy more capability than the nation needs. Our conventional modernization goals should be tied to the actual and prospective capabilities of known future adversaries, not by what might be technologically feasible for a potential adversary given unlimited time and resources.â''

In general, I think these are good decisions. However, whether they will stick is another matter. Already, members of Congress from districts where the cuts are going to be made are criticizing his proposed actions. Gates acknowledges that his decisions are controversial, but hopes â''that the members of Congress will rise above parochial interests and consider what is in the best interest of the nation as a whole.â''

I wish him luck with that.

Finally, if you really take an objective look at what Sec. Gates has proposed in the FY 2010 budget, it is a fairly modest reallocation of resources. The F-22 and C-17 were scheduled for production termination anyway, the current Presidential helicopter program was canceled but a new helo program will be started in its place, the LCS is still going to cost more per ship than originally advertised, etc., etc. In fact, the vast majority of defense acquisition programs remain untouched.

And as far as acquisition reform is concerned, having to promise to kill programs that significantly exceed their budgets should have been standard policy decades ago. To have to term it a fundamental acquisition reform just goes to show how fouled up defense acquisition has really become.

Tracking the Digital TV Transition

digtv120-thumb.gifSince 17 Februaryâ''s date certain for analog TV shutdown became date uncertain and then 12 June, the digital TV transition has dropped from newspaper headlines. But things have indeed been happening.

For one, some 750 stations around the U.S. have already killed their analog signals; thatâ''s a good chunk of the nationâ''s 1759 broadcast stations. Continuing dual analog and digital broadcasts costs moneyâ''simply powering the additional transmitter costs something like ten thousand dollars a month; thatâ''s a lot for a small station in tough economic times. Most of these are non-network stations in small markets, but not all. In San Diego, for example, the shutdown included the ABC, CBS, and Fox affiliates. Major networks also went dark in Santa Barbara, Calif., Madison, Wisc., and Providence, R.I. The call centers reported that most people having trouble getting digital broadcasts were elderly, some simply didnâ''t know how to work the converter boxes, but some would need to repoint their antennas (wonder how that went on Madisonâ''s icy roofs) and others would need new antennas.

The FCC has released an online tool that will help viewers figure out, based on their zip code, what stations they are likely to be able to receive. This doesnâ''t take into account local obstacles like big trees or tall buildings, but it does look at some terrain factors and can help you figure out if you have a least a chance of getting the new digital signal. If you do, you can then plug your zip code into the tool at; and select a group of stations you can receive (I had a choice between stations to the north and stations to the south; south is closer, but north has more channels); this tool will tell you how far you are from the transmitters. That's something that's useful to know if you go antenna-shopping; you'll need to weed through selections by range. (I just ordered a new, extra-long-range antenna from Amazon; still pursuing my quest to get more than two digital channels before the shutdown).

In terms of good news from the digital transition, thanks to funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a. the stimulus bill), the converter coupon program has cleared its waiting list and is continuing to process new applications. It has also changed the rule that if you order two coupons and they expired youâ''re out of luck; you are now allowed to reapply. As of April 1, just over 55 million coupons were requested, over 54 million were mailed, and nearly 27 million were redeemed. There is no word on how many of the people who purchased converter boxes have attempted to hook up those boxes, how many were successful and are happily watching digital televison, or how many former broadcast television viewers simply gave up. Iâ''d like to seem some real independent research conducted on this transition; call center reports donâ''t tell you much.

For more of Spectrum's coverage of the digital transition, see Special Report: The Day Analog TV Dies.

North Korean Satellite Enters "Subaquatic Orbit"

Despite reports from Pyongyang its communications satellite is alive and well in orbit and transmitting â''data and patriotic songs," there's no North Korean satellite in space. (At best, according to Arms Control Wonk, "the highly unique North Korean satellite has entered subaquatic orbit in the Pacific Ocean"). But over at Danger Room, former Jane's Defence Weekly reporter Nathan Hodge interrupts the snorts of derision with a cold dose of reality.

For starters, the Taepodong-2 missile managed to successfully drop its first stage, which landed in the Sea of Japan. That's an improvement over a 2006 test, in which the missile disintegrated less than a minute after launch.

Worse yet:

Kim Tae-woo, an analyst at South Korea's state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, told the Associated Press the launch would also yield strategic dividends for North Korea, because it potentially raises the stakes in stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

Recap: According to the U.S. Northern Command, North Korea launched its Taepo Dong 2 missile at 10:30 p.m. EDT Saturday which passed over the Sea of Japan/East Sea and the nation of Japan.

â''Stage one of the missile fell into the Sea of Japan/East Sea. The remaining stages along with the payload itself landed in the Pacific Ocean,â'' Northcom reported. â''No object entered orbit and no debris fell on Japan.â''

Japan, South Korea and the United States had considered Pyongyangâ''s planned launch to be a thinly disguised test of missile that could in theory reach Alaska or Hawaii (upside: more foreign relations experience for Palin). For weeks, the lead-up to the launch had excited rubberneckers wondering whether President Obama would have the intestinal fortitude to shoot down a North Korean rocket. North Korea threatened to attack "major targets" in Japan should Tokyo attempt to shoot down the satellite. No word on what Kim Jong Il threatened to do to the U.S. should there be interference from that corner of the world.

But Hodge says the news isn't all bad:

The launch also seems to have offered the defense industry its last best hope against serious cuts to the Missile Defense Agency's budget. Riki Ellison, chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Association, told DANGER ROOM the test would have "clear implications" for the Department of Defense fiscal year 2010 budget that will be released later today. While Ellison said the industry was bracing for sweeping, top-line cuts to missile defense programs -- as high as $2 billion -- but this weekend's events may soften the blow.

See? Every silver cloud has a dark lining. Or something.

Mobile Phones Need Nanotechnology for...I Choose Better Batteries

Ughâ'¿I just read an interview with the Executive Vice President of the new markets group at Nokia and was distressed to discover that there doesnâ''t seem to be a clear understanding of what good nanotechnology is for mobile phones.

Last year Nokia and Cambridge University were crowing about a cartoon they made about what could be done when you combine plastic electronics with mobile phone technologies: A Dick-Tracy-like watch/cell phone.

Okay, it was good marketing for both Cambridge and Nokia, but I would be hard pressed to believe that any of the researchers at either outfit earnestly believed they were going to start developing that right away. It was just M-A-R-K-E-T-I-N-G.

But apparently the memo didnâ''t get down the guy in charge of new markets at Nokia because in the interview he was asked about the â''Morphâ'' phone and the role of nanotechnology, and he kept on about the importance of flexible displays.

Really? Thatâ''s what customers are clamoring about â''I want a flexible display, so I can wrap my phone around my wrist.â''

May I humbly suggest that this was the perfect opportunity to explain that â''Morphâ'' was not a research avenue they were devoting a lot of attention to, but nanotechnology could provide huge benefits in improving the lifespan of batteries of mobile phones. But instead we got the importance of flexible displays and keeping grease off them.

If someone were to ask me which would you prefer a phone that you only needed to charge once a month or one that was grease-resistant, I am going for the improved battery life. Whoâ''s with me?

Obama Calls for Global Cooperation on Reducing Nuclear Weapons

In response to a threatening rocket launch by North Korea, U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday called for deep cuts in the world's nuclear arsenals. On a visit to Prague to strengthen the NATO alliance, the American leader told a crowd of 20 000 that the focus of his remarks to them concerned "the future of nuclear weapons in the 21st century."


In his speech, Obama said that, even though the Cold War had ended, the dangers of a nuclear weapon falling into the wrong hands and being used in anger were just as great as ever. But he emphasized that the people of the world should not fall into a fatalistic mindset in which they come to believe that nothing can be done about the spread of nuclear arms.


"This fatalism is a deadly adversary," Obama told the crowd. "For if we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable."


He noted that the United States, as the only nation to ever use nuclear weapons in anger, had a moral responsibility to lead a fight against the proliferation of such weapons and reduce the number of those that exist in the future, with a long-term goal of eliminating them entirely.

"First, the United States will take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons," Obama pledged. "To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same."


The U.S. president then outlined his initiative:




To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia this year. President Medvedev and I began this process in London, and will seek a new agreement by the end of this year that is legally binding, and sufficiently bold. This will set the stage for further cuts, and we will seek to include all nuclear weapons states in this endeavor.



To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.



And to cut off the building blocks needed for a bomb, the United States will seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons. If we are serious about stopping the spread of these weapons, then we should put an end to the dedicated production of weapons grade materials that create them.



Second, together, we will strengthen the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a basis for cooperation.

The basic bargain is sound: countries with nuclear weapons will move toward disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy. To strengthen the treaty, we should embrace several principles. We need more resources and authority to strengthen international inspections. We need real and immediate consequences for countries caught breaking the rules or trying to leave the treaty without cause.



And we should build a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, including an international fuel bank, so that countries can access peaceful power without increasing the risks of proliferation. That must be the right of every nation that renounces nuclear weapons, especially developing countries embarking on peaceful programs. No approach will succeed if it is based on the denial of rights to nations that play by the rules. We must harness the power of nuclear energy on behalf of our efforts to combat climate change, and to advance opportunity for all people.



We go forward with no illusions. Some will break the rules, but that is why we need a structure in place that ensures that when any nation does, they will face consequences. This morning, we were reminded again why we need a new and more rigorous approach to address this threat. North Korea broke the rules once more by testing a rocket that could be used for a long-range missile.



This provocation underscores the need for action â¿¿ not just this afternoon at the UN Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons. Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons. Now is the time for a strong international response. North Korea must know that the path to security and respect will never come through threats and illegal weapons. And all nations must come together to build a stronger, global regime.



Iran has yet to build a nuclear weapon. And my administration will seek engagement with Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect, and we will present a clear choice. We want Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations, politically and economically. We will support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections. That is a path that the Islamic Republic can take. Or the government can choose increased isolation, international pressure, and a potential nuclear arms race in the region that will increase insecurity for all.



Let me be clear: Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran's neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles. As long as the threat from Iran persists, we intend to go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe at this time will be removed.



Finally, we must ensure that terrorists never acquire a nuclear weapon. This is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security. One terrorist with a nuclear weapon could unleash massive destruction. al-Qaida has said that it seeks a bomb. And we know that there is unsecured nuclear material across the globe. To protect our people, we must act with a sense of purpose without delay.



Today, I am announcing a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. We will set new standards, expand our cooperation with Russia, and pursue new partnerships to lock down these sensitive materials.



We must also build on our efforts to break up black markets, detect and intercept materials in transit, and use financial tools to disrupt this dangerous trade. Because this threat will be lasting, we should come together to turn efforts such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism into durable international institutions. And we should start by having a Global Summit on Nuclear Security that the United States will host within the next year.




"I know that there are some who will question whether we can act on such a broad agenda," Obama concluded. "But that is why the voices for peace and progress must be raised together."

European Parliament Committee Diverges from Commission on Nanotech

In a stunning move the European Parliamentâ''s Environment Committee has adopted the principle of â''no data, no marketâ'' regarding nanotechnology.

The committee has essentially embraced the ideas emanating from a report by Swedish Green Member of Parliament (MEP), Carl Schlyter, which additionally calls for products containing nanotechnology already on the market to be withdrawn until safety assessments are made.

Whether the Parliament Committee really wants to extend controls to pulling products off the shelves is yet to be clearly known, but in any case the Environment Committee has taken quite a different position from that of the Commission, which has said that nanomaterials are in principle covered by current legislation and regulations.

European NGOs are, of course, ecstatic over this perceived victory. That is certainly to be expected since they have done a good job at upending some new companies and new productsâ''taking on big, bad industry in their minds and winningâ''without really having to pay much of a personal price. The number of products enabled by nanomaterials is small enough that they wonâ''t really need to sacrifice some of their favorite products. Well done.

They might have second thoughts, however, if the definition of what a nanomaterial is gets out of their hands and someone starts including any GMR material as a nanomaterial. They may have to have their iPods taken from themâ''for their own safety, of course.

Annual ACE Awards Honor Best in High-Tech World

So who are the brightest and the best in the world of electronics today? That question was answered this week at the 2009 EE|Times ACE Awards presented in San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday.

The EE|Times in conjunction with IEEE Spectrum presents the Annual Creativity in Electronics (ACE) Awards to those who display outstanding leadership and innovation in technology. This year, the fifth awards ceremony took place during the Embedded Systems Conference in Silicon Valley. From thousands of nominations by industry peers, the editors of the two publications select five finalists, and a panel of distinguished engineers, such as Gordon Bell of Microsoft and Gene Frantz of Texas Instruments, select the award recipients.

The EE|Times selected the following individuals and enterprises as recipients of its 2009 ACE Awards:

  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Chung-Mou Chang, Founding Chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.

  • Design Team of the Year: The Motorola Design Integration Center

  • Innovator of the Year: Stanley Williams, HP Senior Fellow and

    Director of the Information and Quantum Systems Laboratory

  • Executive of the Year: Necip Sayiner, President and CEO of Silicon Laboratories

  • Startup of the Year: BLADE Network Technologies

  • Company of the Year: Microchip Technology Inc.

  • Most Promising New Technology: SiBEAM

  • Best Enabler Award for Green Engineering: Cymbet Corp.

  • Most Innovative Renewable Energy Award: Advanced Energy Industries

  • Student of the Year: David Yanoshak, Senior, University of Texas at Austin

  • Educator of the Year: Leah Jamieson, Dean of Engineering, Purdue Univerity

This publication honored the following with its own ACE Awards:

  • IEEE Spectrum Technology in the Service of Society Award: The

    Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (for the technology having the greatest potential to provide the most overall benefit to humankind)

  • IEEE Spectrum Emerging Technology ACE Award: Geodynamics (for the emerging technology having the greatest potential to achieve financial success in broad commercial application)

Notes from the ACE Awards

The winner of the EE|Times Innovator of the Year Award, HP Senior Fellow R. Stanley Williams, graced the cover of the December issue of IEEE Spectrum with his report How We Found the Missing Memristor, an account of how the HP Information and Quantum Systems Lab discovered the elusive memristor, the fourth fundamental electric circuit element (joining the capacitor, the resistor, and the inductor), which acts something like a neuronal synapse.

The Spectrum Emerging Technology award went to Geodynamics, a company that's exploiting heat from rock deep beneath Australia's Outback. Many had thought such rock inaccessible, because there were no nearby pockets of water, but Geodynamics's engineers pump in water, expanding tiny cracks in the granite and thus turning it into a giant subterranean sponge. Geodynamics couldn't make it to the ACE awards ceremony, so we're sending the award to them.

Spectrum's Technology in the Service of Society award went to three organizations behind a robotic arm that's strong, light, dexterous, and easy to control. The winners were: DARPA, which defined the goal and provided the money; the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, which coordinated the 30-odd working groups; and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), which brought in the expertise of doctors and the feedback of potential users.

John Bigelow, program manager at Johns Hopkins's Applied Physics Lab, accepted for Hopkins and DARPA at a dinner hosted by IEEE Spectrum that evening. Blair Lock accepted for RIC. Lock, who has a master's degree in biomedical engineering, works on ways to knit together the electronics of the robotic arm with neural signals from a user's body. Lock said that different users look for very different features. "Teenage girls want it to look as natural as possible; they'd rather it looked perfect, with skin showing veins and everything, than that it do very much," he observed. "But an older guy wants to use it do stuff, and he doesn't care if it ends in a hook. Some even like to have flames painted on it."

The ceremony's keynote speech was delivered by retired astronaut Ken Mattingly (RADM, USN). He's the unfortunate guy who was bumped from the flight of Apollo 13 at the last minute because he'd been exposed to measles. In a riveting performance, Mattingly recounted the train of events that led to the accident in space that nearly doomed the crew. It was an engineering account worthy of Charles Perrow's theory of "normal accidents." Each event was preventable, no one event was fatal, and taken together they were wildly improbable.

Nothing could be further from the truth in describing the efforts of this year's winners of ACE Awards. Congratulations to them all.

(Thanks go to Senior Editor Philip E. Ross for his reporting from the awards presentation.)

Maybe thatâ¿¿s why we call it a â¿¿Depressionâ¿¿

Every day, we learn more and more about the brain, and we're largely doing it largely through MRIs, CAT scans, and other electrotechnologies.

This weekâ''s New Yorker has a astonishing article, â''Hellhole,â'' by Atul Gawande, asking whether long-term confinement is torture.

Gawande notes that ever since psychologist Harry Harlowâ''s studies in the 1950s, weâ''ve known that â''simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people,â''

And it became widely accepted that children require nurturing human beings not just for food and protection but also for the normal functioning of their brains.

We have been hesitant to apply these lessons to adults. Adults, after all, are fully formed, independent beings, with internal strengths and knowledge to draw upon. We wouldnâ''t have anything like a childâ''s dependence on other people, right? Yet it seems that we do. We donâ''t have a lot of monkey experiments to call upon here. But mankind has produced tens of thousands of human ones, including in our prison system. And the picture that has emerged is profoundly unsettling.

Gawande says that studies of prisoners, both of war and criminals, â''reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered.â'' He cites the case of Terry Anderson, the AP correspondent who in the 1980s was held hostage for seven years in Lebanon.

For the first few months after his release, Anderson said when I reached him by phone recently, â''it was just kind of a fog.â'' He had done many television interviews at the time. â''And if you look at me in the pictures? Look at my eyes. You can tell. I look drugged.â''

. . .

It was as if his brain were grinding down. A month into his confinement, he recalled in his memoir, â''The mind is a blank. Jesus, I always thought I was smart. Where are all the things I learned, the books I read, the poems I memorized? Thereâ''s nothing there, just a formless, gray-black misery. My mindâ''s gone dead. God, help me.â''

And for the last 17 years, scientists have looked at the human brain itself to learn the extent to which psychological changes are mirrored in physiology.

EEG studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement. In 1992, fifty-seven prisoners of war, released after an average of six months in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, were examined using EEG-like tests. The recordings revealed brain abnormalities months afterward; the most severe were found in prisoners who had endured either head trauma sufficient to render them unconscious or, yes, solitary confinement. Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.

Isolation, it turns out, isnâ''t the only thing physiologically linked to depression. Consider money, or, more precisely, the lack of it.

In â''Why money messes with your mind,â'' Mark Buchanan writes in New Scientist,

As we come to understand more about money's effect on us, it is emerging that some people's brains can react to it as they would to a drug, while to others it is like a friend. Some studies even suggest that the desire for money gets cross-wired with our appetite for food. And, of course, because having a pile of money means that you can buy more things, it is virtually synonymous with status - so much so that losing it can lead to depression and even suicide. In these cash-strapped times, perhaps an insight into the psychology of money can improve the way we deal with it.

Buchanan cites research soon to be published in Psychological Science that â''people who felt rejected by others, or were subjected to physical pain, were subsequently less likely to give a monetary gift in a game situation. The researchers then went on to show that just handling paper money could reduce the distress associated with social exclusion, and also diminish the physical pain caused by touching very hot water.â'' And he quotes researcher Stephen Lea at the University of Exeter, who believes that money

< blockquote>acts on our minds rather like an addictive drug, giving it the power to drive some of us to compulsive gambling, overwork or obsessive spending (Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol 29, p 161). "It is an interesting possibility that all these are manifestations of a broader addiction to money," says Lea.

In another set of brain imaging studies that contrasted immediate purchases with delayed ones, Samuel McClure of Princeton University found â''those who chose the instant reward brain activity showed brain activity in the areas linked with emotion, especially the limbic system, which is known to be involved in much impulsive behaviour and drug addiction.â'' Subjects who chose an opposite behavior â''showed activity in areas such as the prefrontal cortex known to be involved in rational planning.â''

So can we expect a second Economic Great Depression to trigger a global Mental Great Depression? Two things seem certain: as medical engineering progresses, those studying the brain will learn more about the physiology of our psychological states. And we will endure the financial meltdown with fewer psychological meltdowns if we face it together and fight it collectively. As the G20 meets in today in London, they must remember that the economy is a social sphere, and isolation will be traumatic.


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