Understanding how the brain works and why we think and behave the way we do is not a new obsession. People have wanted to understand themselves and other people presumably since the earliest days of human communication - there are many references to this in Greek and Roman classical philosophy for instance.
The difference is that nowadays we have the scientific apparatus to measure and interpret what is going on in the brain. While it's certainly imperfect, this is leading to real changes in the way we go about business, relationships, marketing, medicine, law, and other important areas of our lives.
Here are just five of the ways neuroscience is changing our lives:
1. Decision- making
We all make decisions all of the time. Many of these decisions we are unaware of. Psychologist and Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman has worked extensively throughout his career on finding out what is going on in the brain when we make decisions. He identifies two thinking systems - one a fast, instinctive and emotional system; and the other a slower, more deliberative, and more logical system. This has had a profound influence on how we view decision-making in professional and personal situations.
2. Relieving stress
We are also learning more about the nature of stress and how it affects the brain. The influence of stress has long been identified, but neuroscience has allowed us to understand more about the relationship between stress and our behaviour: for instance why stress might switch our brains into habit or "auto pilot" mode, hampering our performance, and resulting in a lack of goal-oriented behaviour.
3. Understanding disorders & diseases
One of the key areas where neuroscience is making breakthroughs is in medicine. Psychological and mental disorders have long been investigated by the medical profession but the latest tools are helping to throw new light on many common conditions: Alzheimer's disease, obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, PTSD, autism, drug abuse and eating disorders, to name a few. Sophisticated brain imaging equipment allows fMRI scans of the brain, providing clear, detailed pictures of live, functioning brains, from which a lot of valuable information can be interpreted - often contradicting previously-accepted opinion.
4. Self Improvement
The fact that our brains are not "fixed" organs that we must simply make the most of has changed conventional wisdom. Neuroplasticity means that our brains can change their forms at any point in our lives, creating new neural pathways in response to new habits and behaviours. This means that we really can change ourselves - and our brains will follow. It is never too late to improve yourself.
Many of the findings of neuroscience are starting to be applied to organizations around the globe; but neuroscience itself is spawning new industry. As we improve our knowledge of the brain's neural connectivity, new software and hardware is being developed that emulates the brain; we can use this technology and apply it to robotics and other areas. Neuroscience will be at the forefront of creating more efficient technologies in the future.
There is a long way to go of course. Neuroscience is still in its relative infancy and even the most committed neuroscientists would admit that we know few of the secrets that the brain holds. Still, the above five areas have already seen good progress.