Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

The IEET is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization registered in the State of Connecticut in the United States. Please give as you are able, and help support our work for a brighter future.

Search the IEET
Subscribe and Contribute to:

Technoprogressive? BioConservative? Huh?
Quick overview of biopolitical points of view

whats new at ieet

What you need to know about CRISPR

Brain Implant Allows Paralyzed Man to Feel Objects With a Prosthetic Limb

Technology hasn’t changed love. Here’s why

Why Non-Natural Moral Realism is Better than Divine Command Theory

IEET Affiliate Scholar Steve Fuller Publishes New Article in The Telegraph on AI

Can we build AI without losing control over it?

ieet books

Philosophical Ethics: Theory and Practice
John G Messerly


rms on 'Can we build AI without losing control over it?' (Oct 24, 2016)

spud100 on 'For the unexpected innovations, look where you'd rather not' (Oct 22, 2016)

spud100 on 'Have you ever inspired the greatest villain in history? I did, apparently' (Oct 22, 2016)

RJP8915 on 'Brexit for Transhumanists: A Parable for Getting What You Wish For' (Oct 21, 2016)

instamatic on 'What democracy’s future shouldn’t be' (Oct 20, 2016)

instamatic on 'Is the internet killing democracy?' (Oct 17, 2016)

RJP8915 on 'The Ethics of a Simulated Universe' (Oct 17, 2016)

Subscribe to IEET News Lists

Daily News Feed

Longevity Dividend List

Catastrophic Risks List

Biopolitics of Popular Culture List

Technoprogressive List

Trans-Spirit List


Enframing the Flesh: Heidegger, Transhumanism, and the Body as “Standing Reserve”

Moral Enhancement and Political Realism

Intelligent Technologies and Lost Life

Hottest Articles of the Last Month

Here’s Why The IoT Is Already Bigger Than You Realize
Sep 26, 2016
(6008) Hits
(1) Comments

IEET Fellow Stefan Sorgner to discuss most recent monograph with theologian Prof. Friedrich Graf
Oct 3, 2016
(4138) Hits
(0) Comments

Space Exploration, Alien Life, and the Future of Humanity
Oct 4, 2016
(4029) Hits
(1) Comments

Blockchain Fintech: Programmable Risk and Securities as a Service
Oct 22, 2016
(3932) Hits
(0) Comments

IEET > Life > Health > Vision > Contributors > Colin Farrelly

Print Email permalink (0) Comments (2208) Hits •  subscribe Share on facebook Stumble This submit to reddit submit to digg

The Resilient Brain (great example of Positive Biology)

Colin Farrelly
By Colin Farrelly

Posted: Jan 31, 2013

In general, I’m not a betting man. Intellectual humility cautions against sticking one’s neck out too far into terrain that is too complex to understand, let alone reasonably predict with any confidence.

But some bets are unavoidable. You must gamble on an outcome as inaction or hesitation itself is a bet, and a potentially worse bet (namely, certain disaster). The gamble on which areas of scientific research will yield the greatest health benefits for human populations this century is one such bet. Should we invest most research dollars into research on cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, etc.?

I am willing to go out on a limb here and make the following bet: I bet that, in the year 2100, when my grandchildren's generation reflects upon the greatest advances in science and medicine in the 21st century, they will say that the most significant advances in medicine came from research that studies "positive" rather than "negative biology".

I have expounded upon positive biology before (see this presentation, and this paper and this paper, and finally this post).

When, in the year 2100, society reflects back on the scientific and medical accomplishments of the 21st century, I predict they will take the view that the greatest innovations that improved human health came from not from the study of pathology itself (e.g. any specific chronic disease, like heart disease or stroke, or any of the 200+ types of cancer). Instead, the real "game changers" came from research on exemplar examples of health. Research that examined why some rare individuals are immune to HIV, why some rare individuals can live a century free from the chronic diseases that afflict most decades earlier, why some individuals possess exceptional resilience to overcome adversity, why some experience more optimism, gratitude and flow than others, etc.

If I am correct about this prediction, it means that we must shift away from the fixation on the study of pathology, and tackle, with the same about of zeal, resources, talent and energy, the study of health and happiness. We must shift from the paradigm of negative biology to a more balanced approach which places equal importance on positive biology.

I was inspired to write this post when I came across this story in Scientific American about "super agers", individuals whose brains possess a special resiliency which protects their memory from the decline of aging. The original study mentioned in the article is here. And the abstract from the study is below:

It is “normal” for old age to be associated with gradual decline in memory and brain mass. However, there are anecdotal reports of individuals who seem immune to age-related memory impairment, but these individuals have not been studied systematically. This study sought to establish that such cognitive SuperAgers exist and to determine if they were also resistant to age-related loss of cortical brain volume. SuperAgers were defined as individuals over age 80 with episodic memory performance at least as good as normative values for 50- to 65-year-olds. Cortical morphometry of the SuperAgers was compared to two cognitively normal cohorts: age-matched elderly and 50- to 65-year-olds. The SuperAgers’ cerebral cortex was significantly thicker than their healthy age-matched peers and displayed no atrophy compared to the 50- to 65-year-old healthy group. Unexpectedly, a region of left anterior cingulate cortex was significantly thicker in the SuperAgers than in both elderly and middle-aged controls. Our findings identify cognitive and neuroanatomical features of a cohort that appears to resist average age-related changes of memory capacity and cortical volume. A better understanding of the underlying factors promoting this potential trajectory of unusually successful aging may provide insight for preventing age-related cognitive impairments or the more severe changes associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Colin Farrelly is currently Queen's National Scholar in the Dept of Political Studies at Queen's University. His most recent book is entitled Justice, Democracy and Reasonable Agreement.
Print Email permalink (0) Comments (2209) Hits •  subscribe Share on facebook Stumble This submit to reddit submit to digg


YOUR COMMENT (IEET's comment policy)

Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: Mind-Boggling Future

Previous entry: Why I changed my mind about gay marriage


RSSIEET Blog | email list | newsletter |
The IEET is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization registered in the State of Connecticut in the United States.

East Coast Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
56 Daleville School Rd., Willington CT 06279 USA 
Email: director @     phone: 860-428-1837

West Coast Contact: Managing Director, Hank Pellissier
425 Moraga Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611
Email: hank @