05/09/2012 11:35 EDT | Updated 07/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Better brain research will make a better world: Israeli President Shimon Peres

TORONTO - To hear Israeli President Shimon Peres tell it, broader brain research is vital to a better future.

Speaking at a Canada-Israel panel in Toronto on Wednesday, the 88-year-old statesman told a packed hotel ballroom that advanced brain research would light the way toward peaceful years ahead. But those advances had to be made now.

"We don't have much time because if the world will continue to be like a ship on the high seas without a captain...we are lost," he said.

"If we shall know the brain, I do believe that people will prefer to be better people."

Peres, twice prime minister of Israel, is in Canada for a five-day state visit. The political veteran with a career spanning 66 years is currently the Israel's head of state — a largely ceremonial role — but remains an influential figure in the country's politics.

In a wide-ranging, often philosophical address, Peres linked a turbulent global economy and unpredictable governments to scientific innovation, saying the brain was the "most brilliant instrument that we posses, and researching it could offer solutions to future stability.

His remarks in Toronto followed up on comments made in Ottawa a day earlier, where he emphasized that science, not politics, is the real force in our time.

The Nobel laureate's words to the public, both in Ottawa and Toronto seem to allude, fairly clearly, to Israel's fears of Iranian nuclear development.

"We know what's happening around us without knowing what's happening within us," he told said. "And unless we shall know, we shall be victims of different people, vicious, crazy, unexpected."

According to Peres, the promise of the years ahead lies in efficient innovations.

"We don't know how to use the resources we are having. So the future is really in minimizing the size and maximizing the potential. And the only instrument that can do (that) is the brain," he said.

"The world in the future belongs to the smallest not the greatest."

Representatives from the Ontario government weren't quite as far-reaching in their remarks but lauded Peres for his ideas.

"His vision of what is facing us in the future really revolves around what we do with the brain," said Monte Kwinter, parliamentary assistant to Ontario's Minister of Economic Development.

John Soloninka, head of the Health Technology Exchange, Ontario's medtech investment fund, later told Peres he hoped Canada could eventually "transplant some of the Israeli sense of urgency, optimism and success" to its own research projects.

Peres met with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty earlier in the day where the pair discussed the ties between Israel and the province. McGuinty welcomed the statesman with a joke about Toronto's building boom, saying that the 160 cranes on the city skyline were up in the president's honour.

Later, Peres said the premier had asked him just how humans would continue to work as they do in a future where advanced brain research would bring about tremendous technological advances.

The Israeli president said he explained that maximizing the potential of the brain would allow for the expansion of the education, research and medical sectors.

"You can be better and stronger and wiser by using the technology that you have in your own brain," he said.

Coinciding with Peres' Toronto visit, the Canada-Israel Industrial Research and Development Foundation officially announced three bilateral technology projects valued at $3.1 million. They include the development of a diagnostic and treatment platform for childhood ADD and ADHD.

Later on Tuesday, Peres addressed a packed auditorium, made up largely of Jewish-Canadians, at an event organized by the UJA Federation of Toronto.

There he bluntly tackled the issue of an increasingly aggressive Iran, saying the country is a menace, not only to Israel but to the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, a group of chanting Pro-Palestinian protesters gathered outside the venue to demonstrate against Peres and Israel. They were counteracted by a group of pro-Israel demonstrators who stood with flags and banners on the other side of the street.

Both small demonstrations were peaceful and were monitored closely by police.

Peres visits Montreal on Thursday.

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