If you ask professor, author, and specialist on the impact of emerging technologies Eduard Punset about his motivation to go into science, he says that when he saw the impact of new technologies on the multiplication of products and markets, thus breaking the sacred principle of economies of scale in the ’80s, he realized that science and technology would soon enough erupt in popular culture and our daily lives.
He believed that people should discover to what point the use of scientific methods, instead of dogma, would transform their lives. With the goal to provide the general public with an understanding of science, he created one of the most popular TV programs in Spain called “Redes” (“Nets”), where top neuroscientists discuss their understanding of the world. “When I first suggested the name Redes to the main Spanish TV channel,” he says, “they told me that people would confuse the name with a program on fishing. It was difficult for me to convince them that there was no better name for a program that tries to reflect the inevitable fusion of knowledge — rather than its specialization — at a global level.”
Brain World: Do you believe in the unity of all living beings? What makes human beings unique?
Eduard Punset: For a long time, we have seen the human being as the center of the universe. With the development of science, we have realized that the more we know about reality, the more peripheral we become. Today we know that we share emotions with other animals and that they are also were. However, the degree, purpose, and use of those tools is different.
Since I was very young, from my friendships with neuroscientists I kept wondering about what is really the difference between human beings and other animals. And they kept telling me, Eduardo, there is really no difference between us human beings and other animals. Today, they admit, like, for example, Gazzaniga in the U.S., that we are different just because of our capacity to build social networks. These give us such an unexpected opportunity to exchange opinion, ideas, genes, convictions, experience … an opportunity which is unthinkable in any other species. This is today a consensus in the brain and science fields. We are different almost exclusively to other living beings because of our immense use of social networks.
BW: One of your most famous books is called “A Journey To Optimism.” If you have to give a good reason for your optimism what would that be?
EP: People obsess over if there is life after death, while they don’t think about if there is life before death. Life expectancy has augmented 2.5 years every decade since the ’80s. So any of the children born these days will live probably over 100 years. This is a basic reason that brings optimism.
Secondly, there is something that people forget, that any time in the past was worse. It was cruel, sacrificing gods, killing women, children. Our world was dominated by the empire of stubbornness and blindness, and of avoiding the intelligent search for truth.
There are so many examples of fears from the past that have been overcome, such as our skepticism about the value of technology during the time of the industrial revolution.
BW: You say the soul is in the brain, can you explain?
EP: Well, I say this, but I’m not the first one to say it. Thomas Willis said it before me. He’s a neuroscientist, actually the first neuroscientist, from the 17th century in U.K., who was also a medical doctor — a bad one. He took care of sick people to whom he listened patiently when they would tell him that their soul was sick, and he would always answer, “Your soul is in your brain.” The soul is fiber and neurological contacts, not some abstract thing outside of us. The idea of separating the soul from the body … is something that modern science questions. We realize that it’s not like Descartes said — “I think, therefore I am” — but rather, Because I exist, I can think. This is a big shift in human consciousness and a wonderful one.
BW: What do you think of our current educational system? Does it develop the brain?
EP: I think there is a universal consensus about this, not only by authors like Davidson, or others I’ve been lucky to meet. It’s amazing how for so many years, we have discarded emotional intelligence and believed that rational thinking, which occupies a very small space in the brain, is the only thing that exists. I’ve been stopped by people in the street crying, and I asked, “What’s wrong?” and they answer, “You have helped me to recover my confidence in my own intuition, a confidence that everyone had taken away from me.”