Michio Kaku picks five books to help you understand the future

From medicine to space travel, these works explore how the newest wave of science will transform society

Science is the engine of prosperity. From the industrial revolution (powered by the steam engine), to the electric revolution (which lit up our cities), to the current computer revolution (which connects us all), science creates wealth and progress. Now, to predict the future of society, we have to understand the fourth wave of science, which is AI, biotech and nanotech.

Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines and How It Will Change Our Lives by Miguel Nicolelis captures all the progress and excitement in this field. He predicts a future in which we will create a brain net: an internet where emotions, memories and feelings can be sent over the internet. Like magicians, we will simply think and send messages, move objects, feel the thoughts and emotions of others, and control exoskeletons with superpowers.

Working for Google, Ray Kurzweil has made many predictions that have surprised and amazed others, because he believes in the exponential rise of technology, leading to the singularity. In The Singularity Is Near, he predicts that computers may begin to rival or surpass human intelligence. Also, computers may one day be so small they will circulate in our blood, repairing cellular damage, giving us health and perhaps some form of immortality. Should we fear these computers, or celebrate their arrival?

In The Patient Will See You Now, Eric Topol charts how digitisation is slowly transforming medicine. Most industries have already been digitised the media, music, banking but perhaps the most important transformation will be in medicine, which still resembles something from the middle ages. Your mobile phone, for example, will analyse your heart beat for possible heart disease. Your DNA will be used to create new therapies and cures. The tricorder of Star Trek, which analyses your health by simply scanning your body, is coming.

Beyond Earth by Charles Wohlforth and Amanda R Hendrix imagines what will it be like to create settlements on Mars and even Titan, a moon of Saturn. We might be entering a new age of space exploration. Nasa has laid out a timetable, starting with going back to the moon after 50 years, and then going to Mars, perhaps to the asteroids and beyond. What will we find when we explore the oceans of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn? Can Titan be colonised, or used as a gas station for future space missions? Will we find intelligent life in outer space?

A few weeks ago, millions of people watched the launch of Elon Musks Falcon Heavy, the first genuine moon rocket to blast off in 50 years. Musk was inspired to bankroll this moon rocket in part because he read Isaac Asimovs Foundation trilogy as a child. I, too, was fascinated by Asimovs gripping saga of the rise and decline of a galactic empire. For Musk, creating a civilisation beyond the Earth would be an insurance policy for the human race. After all, the dinosaurs did not have a space programme.

Michio Kaku is the author of The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth. He is a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/mar/12/further-reading-michio-kaku-books-to-understand-future

Risky relationships: why women are more likely to die of a broken heart

In her new book, heart surgeon Dr Nikki Stamp explores how modern medicine is only beginning to understand the connection between body and emotion

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy commonly known as broken heart syndrome is rare but real. As a heart and lung surgeon, Dr Nikki Stamp has seen a few cases herself, and the phenomenon provides a compelling opening chapter to her first book, Can You Die of a Broken Heart? The title reminds us of when Debbie Reynolds died of a broken heart the day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, passed away in 2016, but this book rises far above the online pseudoscience accompanying those reports. It is possible to be so affected by grief or shock that a predisposed heart simply cannot cope, and Stamp uses this as an opener to explore the myriad ways modern medicine is only recently understanding (and admitting) to the connection between body and emotion.

Weve sort of come full circle in terms of emotion and health, Stamp says. When early physicians were discovering organs and the body, they actually thought the heart was the centre of emotion, because it was warm and hot and thats where the idea of being hot-blooded came from. And then we got kind of cold and clinical; that your emotions come from the brain, that your emotional state has nothing to do with your physical state, and now weve come full circle and were starting to encompass a more holistic view of health.

Relationships are a great example. There is a trend to suggest that the risk of dying is higher after the loss of someone important and close to you, Stamp says. Conversely, she says, both romantic and platonic relationships are hugely beneficial. Theres a lot of positive physiology and positive actions that happen in the body when youre in a relationship. When you have social connection and emotional connection, it seems that our brains recognise that as something that means youre healthy.

Australian
Australian heart and lung surgeon Dr Nikki Stamp. Her book Can You Die of a Broken Heart? argues research into womens heart health has suffered from entrenched gender bias. Photograph: Chris Chen

Good hormones such as serotonin and oxytocin flood the body, preventing inflammation and assisting with blood flow.

The book doesnt sugarcoat the risks of relationships though, and the section about divorce is sobering. One study Stamp notes in the book showed that pain centres in the brain lit up when people were shown photos of their ex-partners, and of course pain and stress have negative effects on the heart.

Its interesting because weve come to a point in culture and in society where were socially more accepting of divorce, yet it still has this profound effect on our health, Stamp says. Divorce puts women under significantly more physiological strain than men, research reveals. When men remarry, their risk of heart attack drops again, but Stamp writes that, for women, divorce means a rewriting of their health prospectus forever: The risks posed by divorce to a womans heart health is on a similar level to that of high blood pressure or smoking. Men married to women, on the other hand, are significantly less likely to have heart attacks in the first place and those who do recover from them much faster than single men or women married to men.

The gendered issues inherent in heart health dont end there either. In fact, Stamp says one of the reasons she started writing Can You Die of a Broken Heart? was because of how scary and frustrating it was that women dont identify with heart disease despite it being the No 1 cause of death in Australian women. The book explains: If youre a woman under 50 years of age and you have a heart attack, then you are twice as likely to die than a man in the same boat.Why? A contributing factor is the dearth of resources put into womens heart health because most of the research has been done by men, on men.

Stamp who is often mistaken for a nurse and referred to by her first name where her male colleagues are addressed with titles explains that gendered issues in the industry affect medicine itself. Women in academic medicine or even in higher levels of medical research in general are quite underrepresented. And whether we like it or not, we all have a bias towards looking at things that are more pertinent to ourselves, she says. So, with all of that, were only just now learning about both the biological and social differences between mens and womens hearts. And because of that, the knowledge isnt there among healthcare practitioners, and so we dont know what to look out for and we dismiss symptoms. Women dont want to seem silly and then they go to their healthcare expert, a doctor or nurse, and they dismiss it as well because the symptoms are strange or because women are more likely to be perceived as being anxious. Its just this storm of complications that mean that womens hearts are so much more at risk.

Australian
Photograph: Murdoch Books

The most affecting thing about the book is Stamps infectious admiration for the organ. She describes how breathtaking it was the first time she saw a heart beating inside a chest as though it were love at first sight. Her book is peppered with compelling anecdotes from her professional adventures (when one patient threw a table at her, she responded, No judgment there: grief is a nasty piece of work). A lot of health books seem quite prescriptive and almost paternalistic. I didnt want to write something like that, Stamp says. In the introduction we learn that the very human side of what it is to care for another person is what got her into medicine, and it shows. One patients heart surgery was put on hold so she could marry the love of her life right there in the ward. Two days after her wedding she was wheeled down the same corridor to the operating theatre.

Stamp admits that knowing the effect of heartbreak on her heart hasnt made her superhuman. At times when I was researching this book and learning about the effects of heartbreak it just sort of made me cross at the people who had broken my heart all over again, she says, laughing, But I think I muddle through. One of the sad inevitabilities of life is that heartbreak is going to happen to all of us at some point in time and I just hope that if and when it happens again that I do remember some of this stuff and that I might muddle my way through it just a little bit better.

Can You Die of a Broken Heart? by Dr Nikki Stamp is out now through Murdoch Books

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/feb/24/risky-relationships-why-women-are-more-likely-to-die-of-a-broken-heart

In Pursuit of Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimers review

Joseph Jebellis personal study of a disease that has reached epidemic proportions offers the latest research but not much hope

The human animal derives its humanity from language and memory. What are we, without memory ? The short answer is: wild beasts.

Memory gives us personality, emotional intelligence, family relations, and community. Memory anchors us in space and time. It defines the parameters of existence. Paradoxically, it might even confirm the futility of existence.

Dementia, in the broadest sense, lays an axe at the root of memory, creating that bare, forked animal, unaccommodated man. Keep me in temper, exclaims King Lear before his final breakdown, I would not be mad.

Madness comes in many guises, but the cruellest manifestation thats hitting the headlines today is the affliction named after the German doctor who first identified its most virulent strain in 1906, Professor Alois Alzheimer.

The biology of the ageing brain remains among the greatest enigmas of neuroscience. For several decades, the German psychoanalytic establishment seized on the mysterious nature of the disease to subordinate insignificant biological explanations of dementia to broader, Freudian interpretations. Until the 1960s, Alzheimers was at once neglected and controversial. If no one could agree about its fundamental symptoms, many others disputed its causes. Slowly, as a result of improved brain-mapping, and the identification of plaques and tangles in the geriatric brain as a source of dementia, Alzheimers emerged as the global epidemic we now recognise.

Alzheimers has become a new plague, threatening the worlds population with a global strike rate of one every four seconds. In the UK, there are now more people with the disease than live in the city of Liverpool. Six million inhabitants of the EU and 4 million Americans have it, figures that are projected to double by 2030. So bad is the outlook that the WHO has declared dementia a global health priority.

It has become the salient fact of 21st-century life that, with an ageing world population, Alzheimers will overtake cancer as the second leading cause of death after heart disease. Were at a point, writes Joseph Jebelli, at which almost everyone knows someone a family member or friend who has been affected.

Jebelli, a young British neuroscientist, has greater cause than many to make this claim. As a boy, he watched his grandfather acting strangely, before descending into the abyss of dementia in which he could no longer recognise his family. Jebellis testament, In Pursuit of Memory, is a moving, sober and forensic study of the past, present and future of Alzheimers from the point of view of a neurologist who has lived with the disease, at home and in the lab, from a very young age.

Jebellis timely analysis is a reminder that, in recent years, Alzheimers or other forms of dementia have not merely devastated the lives of millions, they have destroyed the retirements of Harold Wilson, Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston, and Margaret Thatcher, killed Terry Pratchett, and claimed Glen Campbell and Iris Murdoch among its victims. The lineaments of this fate were recently dramatised in the Oscar-winning film Still Alice, starring Julianne Moore.

WH Auden once compared death to the rumble of distant thunder at a picnic. The stages of Alzheimers occur as storm clouds on the horizon of a perfect summers day. The initial symptoms flashes of anger; occasional forgetfulness are often so slight that even doctors can misdiagnose them. As the disease takes hold, it becomes clear that something terrible is happening to the patients brain (repetitive questions; the inability to recognise friends and family).

Finally, as Alzheimers ignites in the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex, episodic memory gets burned away, past and present become forever dissociated, and the patient is at the mercy of cerebral Furies. In this merciless process of dehumanisation, the only means of human communication at the end will be the comforts of touch and possibly some snatches of music.

Julianne
Julianne Moore as a dementia sufferer in the film Still Alice. Photograph: Artificial Eye

The story that Jebelli tells of his grandfathers decline illustrates the tantalising mystery of Alzheimers: its both highly visible yet agonisingly elusive. Like McCavity, this disease defies all known laws, slipping through the net of neurological inquiry.

The incidence of Alzheimers is a lottery. You can live a decidedly salubrious life, reports Jebelli, and still get struck down in your 70s, sometimes even sooner, with no obvious cause. In the department of prevention, he takes us through a familiar catalogue of potential risk-factors: stress, diet, exercise, etc. Hes forced to conclude, as every visitor to the catacombs of dementia will eventually acknowledge, that Alzheimers remains an enigma, a tangle of amyloid plaques, sticky buildups of protein in the brain that continue to resist the investigations of the neurological police.

Here, Jebellis own pursuit of answers to his grandfathers death turns into a fascinating quest at the frontiers of neuro-degeneration. He identifies several key areas of recent research, from cerebral renewal (the implantation of iPS cells) and parabiosis (reversing the pathological changes in an old animal by bathing its tissue in the blood of a young one), to the pioneering study of Kuru (a shaking disease found in Papua New Guinea) and the latest research into PCA (posterior cortical atrophy), the variant of Alzheimers that afflicted the late Terry Pratchett. In Jebellis optimistic summary, the web of treatment is widening. At the end of his pursuit, he declares: We are closer than ever to the abolition ofAlzheimers.

Not everyone agrees with him, and the dividends of intense neuro-scientific research are painfully modest. From 2000 to 2012, indeed, its estimated that about 99% of all newly developed dementia drugs failed to pass their clinical trials. For all the tabloid headlines about a cure for Alzheimers, this goal remains fugitive.

Frustrated by the limitations of neuroscience, some Alzheimers experts have begun to argue for an alternative approach. In his Penguin Special on Alzheimers, Andrew Lees, an acknowledged expert, focused on a fascinating new genre of Alzheimers writing, books by patients at the beginning of their slow fade who can illuminate the experience of losingmemory.

Yet even this avenue is contentious. As the Observer reported recently, a new Edinburgh University study, the Prevent Project, suggests that Alzheimers may not be the disease of memory that Jebelli describes.

In truth, there has been no shortage of neuroscientific investigations, but its hard to resist the conclusion that these have been blind alleys. By contrast, the phenomenology of losing personal cognition (the territory explored by the late Oliver Sacks) offers, from some points of view, a more fruitful cerebral exploration. It might at least give comfort, if not hope.

In Pursuit of Memory by Joseph Jebelli is published by John Murray (20). To order a copy for 17 go tobookshop.theguardian.comor call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/29/in-pursuit-of-memory-the-fight-against-alzheimers-joseph-jebelli-review

British Heart Foundation – Bag it. Beat it. Dan Harris, 10

Little Dan, age just 10, faced death and has the scar to prove it.

Bag it. Beat it. by donating your unwanted items to a BHF shop near you and help get more kids like him to school.