The world is getting more connected, with more sensors, more technology and more of us working in large offices.
But we also have fewer and fewer places for people to get together.
The mind palace, which sits at the heart of our modern lives, is a place to take notes and to think together.
When it’s gone, what will be left?
We’re just starting to get a sense of what that might look like, and there are some promising candidates.
The brain palace, a brain research facility at the National Institutes of Health, is one of them.
The idea for the brain palace came to architect Daniel Gebhart and his team when he was in the Navy.
The military and military-connected projects often come with the notion that it’s the place where the brain is kept and preserved, as the brains of military personnel can be preserved and rehoused.
But the brain itself has been around for a long time, and the brain that can be re-housed, stored and re-functioned, can’t be kept in the same facility.
The project was born in part to understand the human brain better, to better understand the different functions that different parts of the brain do, and to develop a way to make it easier for people who are mentally ill to be connected to the rest of the world, and in particular, to be able to take care of their brains in a way that they’re not at risk of losing their minds.
In a paper recently published in the Journal of Neural Engineering, Gebhard and his colleagues described a way of bringing the brain into a brain-centered facility that would preserve its neurons, which make up the vast majority of the human body, in a similar way to how people do it in hospitals.
That way, the brain can be kept healthy for the duration of a soldier’s deployment, for example, or for the rest, for the years after.
The researchers also hope to improve the experience for patients, particularly those who might have trouble thinking or are otherwise struggling to do well on cognitive tests, by bringing together a virtual, 3-D-like environment that’s accessible to the brain.
The work also raises the possibility of bringing together the people who work at the facility, and creating a new type of lab, which would allow the staff to have access to a brain and use it to create simulations of human behavior, as well as simulations of the brains that are stored at the site.
And in some cases, the virtual environment would be designed to help patients to re-learn and retain the skills they need, and help them to recover their abilities to think.
The research team, which is based at the University of California, San Diego, hopes to make its prototype operational by 2020.
“It’s not about a new technology or a new tool,” says Gebharth, who is also director of the Center for Brain Connected Systems.
“But it’s about making these systems more resilient, and we need to be smart about it.”
And it’s a good sign that the brain has a future.
“What’s amazing is that it is being used in places where there are problems,” says Robert Weisbrot, a psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia who was not involved in the work.
For example, many of the people whose brains are stored in the brain-focused facility would benefit from a more human-friendly way of working there.
“We can do something in the next 20 years that we can’t do now, which means we can do things in a safer, more human way,” Weisbrook says.
“The brain has been so good at this for the past few hundred years, and it’s just going to get better and better.”
This story is part of the Next Big World series.
Follow the series here.
The National Institutes for Health funded this research.