Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gray matters

A fair bit of news about the human brain percolating about in zeitgeist lately.  
Dr. David Perlmutter appeared on Coast To Coast AM over the weekend, discussing various ways to "power up" your brain.  While he did speak of touchy-feely notions such as spiritual meditation, he did make a number of important points.  One of said points was just how critical neuorplasticity--the ability of the brain to rewire itself and make better connections--is to a higher functioning mind.  Among the methods he mentioned to help boost brain function are supplements such as fish oil (yay for me!) and physical exercise (I'm screwed.) Also, make certain you get enough Vitamin D as the brains of Alzheimer's patients appear to be lacking in it.

Or howzabout a good ol' fashioned electrical shock to the brain?  There are scientists who postulate that giving the gray matter a subtle zap of electric current could produce sudden moments of inspiration.  It may even help us to abandon preconceived notions and think more creatively.  Professor Allan Snyder, a fellow of the British Royal Society, found that people who have suffered certain kinds of brain damage now have a changed mindset and are open to new ideas.  Snyder tested this theory out by giving Australian college students low-grade electric shocks while having them solve Roman numeral math problems.  Yes, that opening scene from Ghostbusters did come to mind.  But what does this mean to us practically?  It means that if Snyder's theory is verified, we might be able to one day clamp "thinking caps" to our heads when we need that extra boost of intelligence.  The BBC has a sort of a mock-up of such a device on their site.

This is all well and good, I'd like all the help I can get to boost my brain's performance, but I'm more interested in other things on the horizon.  For example, connecting with computers through chip interfaces within the brain that allow us to wirelessly interact with the machine.  Can you imagine it?  The age of "neuroblogging" could be upon us.  I just think whatever it is that I want to post about and it appears on my blog space.  Of course that wouldn't allow much room for editing, and that has been a loose end from which I have hung many a time. 
Still, the technology involved in interfacing with the brain is staggering to think about.  It brings to mind such seminal cyberpunk works as Neuromancer (ok, it's the seminal cyberpunk novel) where Case relies on a human-computer interface to make a living.  Such things are not without their price, as always seems to be the case.  Back in undergrad, I remember hearing of a concept called "borging out" (ok, so it came up with my college buddies who were/are cyberpunk gamers/readers/writers and they'd had a bit of the bottle at the time, but it stuck with me.)  This is a condition where as more and more parts of the body are replaced by cybernetics, especially in the area of the brain, the mind no longer has a clear sense of what is going on.  One might very well end up seeing things that aren't there.  Dementia and insanity could ensue.
Hmmm.  Perhaps this could work itself into a short story or novel.

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