Brain games: They’re not quite there yet

Head Mental Waves

Brain games…since when did we actually need them? In all their forms…brain games stem from the idea or perhaps the fear that your brain, in all it’s complexity, is actually not working at its best in daily life, especially as compared to others. In some cases, this could be due to brain damage, mental illness or advanced age. The moment memory falters, mental reactions times are diminished, reading is laborious or understanding logic becomes muddled, we turn to something external to improve what is internal.

The study of human memory, goes back as far as we know in the West to the time of Aristotle in his treatise On the Soul. If you will remember, he compared the human mind to a blank slate (tabla rosa) and hypothesized that humans are born free of any knowledge and become the sum of their experiences. Aristotle compared memory to making impressions in wax. This idea, to focus on memory, has been an important driver in the memory-aidscreation of brain games. Think about the tools we use today to ensure an efficient memory…Post-a-notes, flash cards, the note section of our smartphones,  to-do lists, grocery lists, etc.

In the early 2000’s, digital brain-training games emerged as the newest way to sharpen memory skills. They were often marketed as having a wide range of benefits, from helping people remember names/numbers and memories to possibly preventing or delaying dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease.

Each of these “games” are structured exercises for your brain to enable you to better use specific brain areas and/or functions.  “Brain training software systems” are regarded as  fully-automated applications designed to assess and enhance cognitive abilities. Some of the claims that new customers are told is that playing brain games will increase intelligence, alertness and most importantly give you an edge on learning faster and more efficiently. In other words, if you adhere to a particular and rigorous regimen of cognitive exercise through their programs, you will reduce cognitive slowing and forgetfulness, and fundamentally improve your mind and brain.

In 2014, Stanford University’s Center for Longevity and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin gathered the world’s leading cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists to share their views about brain games and offer a consensus report to the public to share their views on these games. They stated that “there is little evidence thatneuronation-brain-games-perceptionplaying brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life,” They additional stated that claims promoting brain games are “frequently exaggerated and at times misleading. Cognitive training does however produce statistically significant improvement in practiced skills that can sometimes extend to improvement on other cognitive tasks administered in the lab”. Then again in 2015, a recent article in Scientific American Mind “Can You Train Your Brain”  concluded that the research findings, in general, do not indicate that brain games increase our intellectual capacity.The global market for software and biometrics needed for brain games is projected to cap at 6 billion dollars by 2020. The targeted population runs the gamut from children having difficulty in school to middle-aged adults trying to get an edge up to seniors who find their memory lagging. Other than the fact that most people want their brains to work to their best ability, marketing has been useful in instilling the fear that we just might not be up to par with the others. As such, when a particular product is advertised as being educational, backed by science and able to give you something you may lack, it can be tempting to buy into the product.

Recall that our brain’s are an infrastructure of about 100 billion neurons that connect and send signals. Our capacity to memorize is interwoven within this memorystructure. Memory comes in 2 categories, short-term memory (SH) (or working memory) that acts as a flexible temporary storage of information that is vital for everyday cognitive activities such as learning new words, following instructions, and planning actions and long-term memory (LT) that is a more permanent
storage that helps us recall memories from childhood, for example. LT memory is formed by repeated strong neuronal firing that establishes ‘neural grooves’ as such, neural pathways are actually formed.

One way in which brain games came into making their claims is that working memory has been linked to various cognitive disorders including dyslexia, ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, language difficulties, and dementia. Presumably strengthening working memory with specifically designed brain-training games, should enable one to see benefits in this vast array of disorders. However, we are still too far to make the connection between lasting cognitive enhancement and brain games.

Brain Games -a waste of time?

No, these games are not a complete waste of time. After trying out several, I can say that they do provide mental stimulation, they’re fun and engaging. In fact, these programs can probably compliment and enhance other daily activities by providing novelty and challenge (see below for a few of the ones I’ve tried and enjoyed).  Additionally, they do show that training on a task helps us to get better at it…”practice makes perfect”. However, this would be expected given the brain’s plasticity and its innate ability to learn and understand pattern recognition.  As such, a more compelling question we need to ask is, “Does playing brain games help me in other aspects of my life?”

Given what we know, we need to perhaps engage in things we do know that promotes a healthy brain and a subsequently stable mind.

So what to do BEFORE you do a brain game ….

1. Get more sleep: There is interesting research that indicates that sleep loss has a negative impact on mood, cognitive performance, and motor function.
2. Exercise: Exercise has been shown to improve aspects of cognitive functioning and that cognitive and neural plasticity is maintained throughout the life span.
3. Learn something new and difficult: Learning a new language, how to draw/paint, or how to play a musical instrument will provide cognitive benefits but only if it’s challenging.
4. Be more social: Research indicates that socializing can enhance aspects of cognitive functioning. Having a sense of connection to others and your immediate environment is important for mental health and stability.
5. Maintain a healthy diet: The mind and body are connected and, while I do advocate a Paleo diet,  any healthy diet helps improve and maintain aspects of cognitive functioning.

“Cognitive health in old age reflects the long-term effects of healthy, engaged lifestyles”

Some brain games you can try

I’ve personally tried the games below and found them to be fun, interesting and stimulating at least in the beginning. Their claims of reducing my brain age, improving my memory or enhancing my cognitive progress…well, the games are just not there yet.

However, there’s always an exception to the rule and I’m interested to see the exciting work coming out of the Gazzaley lab.They have developed an in-house brain game, Neuroracer, that did in fact show very positive results in terms of cognitive enhancement…

Click on the title and get further information about each game.

Dr. Kawashima

dr-kawashima

In More Brain Exercise Dr. Ryuta Kawashima’s popular brain-training games have players complete short, fun exercises specially designed to stimulate different parts of the brain. There are 15 challenges to unlock as well as a Quick Play mode, bonus games, and calendars and charts to keep track of progress.

Elevate

 elevate

Elevate takes the most practical approach. Their games are designed to target specific problems people have, like trouble calculating a tip or difficulty writing a clear email to a colleague. They focus on a specific task and offer step-by-step instructions.

Lumosity

luminosity

Lumosity has been around since 2007 and has more than 50 different games. Lumosity’s Human Cognition Project works with scientists from over 40 universities.

Peak

peak

Peak develops games with experts at major universities. The program has 40 games that actually feel like games more than educational testing. Games focus on training memory, attention, problem solving, mental agility, etc. The Advanced Training Programs focus on training very specific skills. Peak also has a virtual brain training coach.

 

Article excerpt from: Optimal Mental Functioning: Total Brain Access, all rights reserved

Optimization Through Emotional Mastery?

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The terms emotion, feeling and affect are often used interchangeably and there seems to be some confusion as to their meaning. Each is distinct and at the same time associated with each other. To discuss this in terms of optimization, one has to decide from which viewpoint these terms will be explored: Psychological, philosophical, neurobiological or even psychoevolutionally ! Here, and for the purposes of understanding these concepts and their role in optimization, I focus on the psychology and neurobiology of emotion.

Optimization through emotional mastery shows up as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management, all elements of a healthy balanced person. Our brains are the foundation for our ability to interact successfully with others and emotional mastery is a skill that can be strengthened and expanded. How to acquire or improve upon this mastery is discussed below.

Emotion

…the mental states by which we understand how important things are to us. They expand our sense of connectedness, love, intimacy and define our experiences so that we can understand the world. They act as a guide as to future action to take, and once they are understood and under control, they give mental flexibility and resilience to stress and best of all, an understanding of ourselves and others. They are socially oriented as we broadcast emotion to the world; sometimes this proclamation is an expression of our internal state and at other times it is invented in order to fulfill social expectations. These states include the 8 primary emotions that I’ve taken from Plutchik’s psychoevolutionary theory of emotion.  plutchik They are: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy. These ‘basic’ emotions are thought to have evolved in order to increase our reproductive capacity. Plutchik argued that these emotions trigger behavior with high survival value, such as the way fear inspires the fight-or-flight response or protection or joy inspires reproduction or contact. Plutchik first proposed his cone-shaped model (3D) and the wheel model (2D) in 1980 to describe how emotions were related. The eight primary complimentary emotions include:

  • Joy vs. Sadness
  • Anger vs. Fear
  • Trust vs. Disgust
  • Surprise vs. Anticipation

Additionally, his wheel model makes connections between the idea of an emotion circle and a color wheel. Like colors, Plutchik asserted that primary emotions can be expressed at different intensities and can mix with one another to form different emotions. Quite interesting as it serves as a nice metaphor to take into account the full range of human emotion.

Feeling

…a sensation that has been checked against previous experiences and labeled or named. It is personal as every person has a distinct set of previous sensations from which to draw when interpreting and identifying their feelings. Feelings detect what you sense and include:

diapositive1

Feelings allow you to determine what is going on out in the world around you as it feeds data into your nervous system. Feeling integrates many streams of neural processing – thinking, sensing, impulse motivation and action. Our feelings inform us what to pay attention to, how to pay attention to it and help us evaluate what we pay attention to.

*The feeling of the 6th sense is in a category by itself – see my post on intuition.

Affectdav04-davinci-drawing

…an outward, observable manifestation of a person’s expressed feelings or emotions. Affect is composed of a coordinated set of responses involving facial muscles, internal organs, the respiratory system, the skeleton, autonomic blood flow changes, vocal responses and gestural behavior. Together, they produce a match to the particular intensity of stimulation experienced by the person. Remember the last time you blushed? This is affect in action.

Affect seems to be necessary for normal conscious experience, language fluency, and memory.

How Emotion and Feeling are associated

An emotion is the projection or display of a feeling. They define what feelings mean. They are often short in duration and always subjective as they are influenced by personal experience, beliefs and memories. We can say that they are actually ‘physical’ as they can be objectively measured by blood flow, brain activity, facial expressions and body language. For example, if my stomach feels tense and in trying to understand this, I might be able to label the emotion behind this as apprehension or fear.

In other words, feelings happen as we begin to integrate an emotion, and react to it through our mental associations. It is a byproduct of our brain perceiving and assigning meaning to an emotion.  Feelings are what happens after having an emotion. In the English language it becomes a bit tricky as, the word “feel” is used for both physical and emotional sensations — we can say we physically feel pressure, but we can also emotionally feel pressured.  As such, feelings are something we sense.  Feelings are often powered by a mix of emotions and last longer than emotions.

But why is this important?

This becomes quite important when we realize that up to 95% of our thoughts, emotions and learning occur without our conscious awareness according to Harvard marketing Professor and author Gerald Zaltman (How Customers Think, 2003). Apparently the 95% rule is used by many neuroscientists to estimate subconscious brain activity. Since the vast majority of behaviors are determined subconsciously we need to ensure we have some control in order to define our lives instead of having them defined by outside influences.

“Emotions are the means in which we understand how important things are to us, and whether they serve us or not”

Brain Correlates to Emotion

Emotional processing, expression and control use much of our brain resources and there is a definite link between brain and behavior. Your body responds to the way you think, feel and act. As such, there is a mind/body connection when we talk about emotions.emotional-brain-areas To better understand how the brain correlates to emotion, the image here is a nice one from emotionalresearcher.com in which a conglomeration of images is shown that relates to the processing of emotion in the brain.The areas implicated and responsible for emotion include:

  • the amygdala
    • which plays a role in emotional arousal, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress.  Memories encoded with emotion can be much stronger and longer-lasting that those without emotional encoding.
  • posterior cingulate
    • which is involved in mind wandering, and self relevance.
  • left hippocampus
    • which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation

These are all located within the Limbic system which is a subcortical inner area of the brain (just underneath the top portion of your brain or cortex).

  • The prefronal cortex (just behind the forehead) that is responsible for regulating behavior. This includes mediating conflicting thoughts, making choices between right and wrong, and predicting the probable outcomes of actions or events. This brain area also governs social control, such as suppressing emotional or sexual urges. The prefrontal cortex is neurally connected to take in data through the body’s senses and is strongly implicated in qualities like consciousness, general intelligence, and personality.
  • The temporo-parietal junction, or TPJ, (behind and back from your ear) which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion and an understand between self and another.

 

How to optimize for emotional mastery

  • Recognition of your own feelings– this is an important first step. Taking responsibility and ownership of your own response or reaction to outside events is important in emotional control and regulation.
  • Mindfulness or meditation – An interesting study by Sara Lazar (Neuroreport, 2005 nov 28: 16(17): 1893-1897) showed that an ongoing and regular meditation practice is one viable means of optimizing your emotions! She was the first to show how long-term meditation practice correlates nicely with the above listed brain areas.
  • Gratitude– the act of showing appreciation is good for your physical health,  psychological well-being and your relationships with others. Richard Emmons a specialist on gratitude has a nice article on this. Asking yourself and your family to  name 5 things daily you are grateful for is a nice ritual to improve your emotional control through positive thinking.
  • Forgiveness -forgiveness plays a crucial role in life as it offers both freedom and peace of mind. Studies have shown that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments.  They also have less number of health problems. Forgiveness is actually an important process towards self-mastery and  relationship management by finding peace and providing closure to any difficult situation. People who forgive tend to be less angry, feel less hurt, and are more optimistic. They become more compassionate and self-confident. These are requirements for emotional mastery.
  • Positive Psychology – freeing yourself from the ideas that no longer serve you puts the locus of control back to you. One method of doing this is to ask yourself what is “positive and helpful” in any negatively charged emotional situation.
  • Social network development – a set of friends and social engagement in society is important in emotional regulation. Meaningful connection is important for us to understand our place in society, execute change, garner support and provide structure to future generations. Groups like Meet-ups, social networks like Facebook and religious groups all help people to develop their personal networks.

True brain optimization occurs when your brain’s functionality, through your emotional, psychological, intuitive and cognitive processes are all working to the best of their ability in order for you to thrive in your environment. Thriving in your environment enables you to succeed in life.

Cecilia Garrec

 

Article excerpt from: Optimal Mental Functioning: Total Brain Access, all rights reserved

 

Neuroplasticity: The Golden Ticket

neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity comes about as an extremely important discovery as it serves as a happy alternative to the erroneous idea that brains are fixed in their anatomical and structural  function. In fact, brain plasticity refers to lasting change to the brain throughout the lifespan.  This is the golden ticket to optimization as it is the intrinsic property of the brain to enable itself to escape its genetic limitations by being able to adapt to environmental pressures, physiological changes and negati thoughts! The term became popular in the 60’s after the work of Livingston (Livingston R.B. 1966 “Brain mechanisms in conditioning and learning”. Neurosciences Research Program Bulletin4 (3): 349–354). He showed that many aspects of the brain remain changeable (or “plastic”) even into adulthood. This work challenged the previous scientific consensus that the brain develops during a critical period in early childhood, then remains relatively unchangeable (or “static”).

learning-006

One thing that changes the brain, all the time and everytime is  LEARNING. However, not all learning changes the brain permanently….

Short-term learning or memory is when brain cells or neurons signal between themselves via chemicals. These are rapid but easily degraded. This comes into play when you have to learn a 10 digit phone number, for example. Most people will retain this long enough to make a call or write it down and then promptly forget it. Long-term learning or memory, on the other hand, is when the connections between neurons physically change and strengthen and this happens OVER TIME AND WITH REPETITION. This is where lasting learning occurs because firing patterns of the neurons change and in fact these patterns become easier to activate with increased and repeated experience….whole networks of brain regions shift and change to accomodate learning but this take time and effort!

To demonstrate the permanent nature of  long-term learning, studies have shown that musicians, who play stringed instruments, have larger areas of their brains (motor cortex) dedicated to their active hands. Even brain scans of London taxi drivers have revealed that the more years a driver has on the job correlates to a larger portion of their brain (parietal lobe) being recruited to store spatial information.

 “Increased connectivity between neurons is associated with greater ability.”

Reprogramming your thoughts

The demonstration of neuroplasticity is proof that we have a great deal of control over the behavior of our brains and thus consequently the output of our minds. The ability to reroute thought patterns, even those acquired in childhood, at the cellular level is a quite literally life-changing skill — and one that can be taught and learned.

Our thought patterns influence our lives at multiple levels — in fact, for many people, their thoughts are the only things holding them back from their dreams. By harnessing the knowledge we have gained in neuroscience and pairing that with psychology and tools such as mediation and brainwave training we can take change our thoughts and induce better patterns of neuron wiring.

These findings demonstrate that Hebb’s law: Neurons that fire together wire together and neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change its physical structure and function based on repeated experience, behavior, and thoughts, are the innate properties we have to better optimize our mental functioning.

But What About Brain Damage?

Most neurons, outside the hippocampus, are amitotic — meaning they do not reproduce and divide like most other cells in our bodies. As such, neuroscientists believed that the amitotic nature of neurons meant that any sustained brain damage was permanent; after all, if you can’t grow a new neuron to replace a damaged neuron, then how can any  damage be repaired? The answer is through neuroplasticity. The connection/messengersynapses_web space between neurons — known as synapses — can reroute to new, undamaged areas of the brain, and those new areas can “take over” tasks that were previously assigned to the damaged area. This regularly happens in those who are blinded. Their brain naturally reroutes to accommodate an increase in their hearing efficacy.

Neuroplasticity happens through proper stimulation in the form of doing things that are hard and challenging, leading a healthy lifestyle, engaging in purposeful thought recognition and change and finally having a diet that promotes a healthy brain.

Brains are highly variable and one size cannot fit all and as such optimization requires a personalized approach, as the one available via the OMF program.

See Lara Boyd’s enriching talk on neuroplasticity!

 

Article excerpt from: Optimal Mental Functioning: Total Brain Access, all rights reserved

Using 100% of Your Brain, but what about your mind?

 

One lasting neurological myth involves the percentage of brain matteds00266_ds00810_im03440_bn7_lobesthu_jpgr that humans actually “use.” A commonly cited “fact” is that humans only use 10 to 20 % of their brains. In fact, every part of the brain is responsible for a different thought or life-maintenance mechanism. We might only use a certain part of our brain for movement or critical thinking, but there is activity throughout an entire (healthy) brain during a typical day. Not so long ago when people suffered brain damage to areas such as the frontal or parietal lobes, and still were shown to be functional, it was erroneously assumed that these areas where not needed and hence the idea (myth) that we only use a small portion of our brains was born. Using technology such as magnetoencephalography or  fMRI, scans show activity coursing through the entire brain all the time, even at rest and during sleep. Not all 100 billion neurons are firing at once (this would be akin to an electrical storm and not at all functional and in fact, similar to an epileptic seizure). But neurons do exist in a constant state of resting potential, that is, potentially ready to propagate their information to the next neuron. In fact, it has been estimated that between 1-16% of our brain cells are active at any given moment, as this is the lower limit to sustain consciousness (see Tononi et al., 2005).

As John Henley, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic explained in Scientific America, Do People Only Use 10% Of Their Brains, “Even in sleep, areas such as the frontal cortex, which controls things like higher level thinking and self-awareness, or the somatosensory areas, which help people sense their surroundings, are active, …we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time’

Another point that should further put the 10% myth to rest is to consider the amount of energy our brain uses just to keep the neurons at their resting potential. Humans use an astonishing 10% their daily energy intake (whether that be in the form of glucose of ketone bodies- more on that later) just to keep 1,5 kilograms ready to function. This percentage goes up dramatically as the brain, through the mind, is engaged. If we only used a small portion of our brain, there would be no necessity to use all that energy.

We are already using 100% of our brain and thus, the more intriguing question to explore is tapping into the vast reserves of the potentiality of our minds.

See Richard Cytowic’s very engaging video on using 100% of our brain.

 

Article excerpt from: Optimal Mental Functioning: Total Brain Access, all rights reserved

Intuition and the mind/brain in optimization

intuition

Intuition…the innate process by which information outside the range of our conscious awareness is perceived by our mind. In other words, it’s our ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning. It’s the processing of the collected information that we have gathered consciously or unconsciously that enables us to understand our environment. Other’s have referred to this as our ‘gut feeling’ or 6th sense. Einstein himself thought of intuition as our greatest asset.

This innate ability is one that can not only be developed but built upon. In fact, by paying attention to this skill, we give ourselves access to our creativity and possibly interesting problem solving. I propose that intuition is one way of optimizing our mental functioning.

An interesting article in the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine (McCraty et al, 2004 Apr;10(2):325-36) aimed to extend the results of previous experiments by demonstrating that the body could respond to emotionally arousing stimulus seconds before it was actually experienced.

The results showed that both the heart and brain appear to receive and respond to intuitive information with the heart responding faster than the brain. Differences between males and females were evident with females processing pre-stimulus information better. The authors concluded that both the heart and brain are involved in receiving, processing and decoding intuitive information.

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Newer research in 2012 showed that our intestines or gut also plays an important role not only in our physical but also in our mental well-being. The ENS or enteric nervous system helps you sense environmental threats and then influences your response. It operates in conjunction with and also independently from the brain. “A lot of the information that the gut sends to the brain affects well-being, and doesn’t even come to consciousness,” says Michael Gershon at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, New York.

Could this be the origin of our ‘gut feeling’ or ‘gut instinct’ in which we seemingly understand which action to engage in or which direction to take for our best interest?

Research has already shown that intuition arises within a particular and selective cognitive domain. In the case of chess mastery, for example, intuitive playing takes years of training to develop and intuition in this domain may not easily transfer from one domain of expertise to another, although I think it primes for developing intuition in any domain. As such, professionals, who may spend many years sharpening their skills, are in high demand for their proficiency which is intuition based.

Brain correlates to intuition

Xiaohong Wan et al. (2012) in the Journal of Neuroscience elegantly showed that intuition was linked with the caudate nucleus, which is part of the basal ganglia—a set ofcaudate-nucleus-intution interlinked brain areas responsible for learning, executing habits and automatic behaviors. The basal ganglia receives vast amounts of information from the cortex, the thin outer surface of the brain. These structures project back to the cortex, creating a series of cortical–basal ganglia loops. This is actually quite functional as it is here within these feedback loops where we join conscious perception and analysis of our outer world, through our cortex, with the site in our brain which processes unconscious thought due to our expertise and experience. This area, the caudate nucleus, couples with our cortex to allow intuitive solutions to problems without conscious thought intervening …the very definition of intuition.

Increase intuition

It is actually in our best interest to augment our intuitive ability. Creativity, problem solving and an ability to choose better choices are all possible through intuition. I suggest Intuition can be heightened or made more pronounced, by the following:

  • Creating an intention for noticing your inner hunch or urges
  • Keeping a journal : Record when you followed your instincts and the outcome – where do your hunches lead you?
  • Meditation with or without brain wave technology – this works by maintaining your brain waves to the alpha level, where intuition is said to become active.

 

Article excerpt from: Optimal Mental Functioning: Total Brain Access, all rights reserved

About Optimization

Optimal mental functioning…it’s the ultimate frontier that looks to harness and expand your mind’s functionality through the synergistic interaction of its emotional, psychological, intuitive and cognitive processes, in short form, your EPIC mind. In order to begin to understand this intricate and complex topic, brain imaging, neurofeedback, clever brain games, psychology and the fascinating world of nootropics are well on their way to expanding our understanding on how the mind expands it’s functionality and under what circumstances. Fully understanding how these processes are under our control, how they work together and the tools that are available for their interaction gives us the possibility to attain new levels of well-being, satisfaction and mastery! Read further to discover more about my upcoming book on total mind mastery.

The baseline measure

Before we can talk about enhancing, improving or augmenting our mental capacities, we first need to first understand what’s normal, what’s the baseline function of our own mental capacity. We seem to intuitively know what is normal for the general population, but are we sure what it means on an individual level?

As it stands, we as a group, can be nicely represented on a simple graph, the Gaussian curve, named after the mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss. I’m using this graph to represent us from a mental functioning perspective. It turns out to be quite useful to describe not only mathematically but also visually how we are “distributed” in society.  Statistically, we see that most of us, as a group, fall somewhere into the distinctive bell shape of this curve (99.74%).

normal

We seem to function relatively well. By this, I propose that our baseline is that we are mostly able to engage in productive activities, adapt to change, cope with challenges, understand the spoken word, act upon our thoughts, engage in future planning and socially interact with others.

In essence, we function in such a way as to live independent lives. This in itself would seem to be sufficient as these abilities lead to having a relatively normal life. However, as you see, in the graph above, there is a significant variation from the middle of the graph to its ends and that it changes rather quickly. The area from the center line to the left-handed side of the graph, gradually represents a diminished baseline mental function (as I define it above) while the area from the center line to the right-handed side of the graph gradually represents an enhanced or optimized mental function.

This is important to consider, as I will argue, you can very directly influence, change and enhance your mental function as it relates to this curve. But before we go into the how’s, we need to first address some fundamental questions when we consider optimizing our mental functioning.

  • Why bother?
  • What needs to improve?
  • What are the gains? 

Having the possibility to function at capacities that were not previously realized, that is, above our own baseline normal, is what will be explored.

 

Article excerpt from: Optimal Mental Functioning: Total Brain Access, all rights reserved

Without further ado…a few definitions

The mind, the brain, intelligence, brainpower, consciousness, cognition, awareness…just a few of the terms used interchangeably in the popular press when discussing mental functioning. However, without a clear understanding on what we are referring to, understanding what we are optimizing gets confusing.

In the context of the aims of this blog, I’d like to propose the following definitions of the most important terms:

Mind : that element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world, their experience, to think, to feel

Cognition: the amalgam of our experiential selves

Consciousness: one’s subjective experience

and ..A much simpler way of looking it is using the following:

Mind -> cognition

cognition -> consciousness

consciousness -> Mind

As such, the whole concept of mental function includes these terms and refers to the same. Of course, perception, sense of self, memory, thinking, imagining, reasoning are all by-products of what can be done through our mental functions.

Article excerpt from: Optimal Mental Functioning: Total Brain Access, all rights reserved

Brain optimization…the ultimate frontier

Optimization… it’s a big word! Our brains have about 100,000 billion neurons (1011) and each neuron is connected to up to 10,000 other neurons who are passing signals to others through more than 100 trillion synapses (1014 ). With this kind of computing power, It’s daunting, daring and maybe even rather pompous to even think about optimization when we are just on the cusp of understanding how the brain is interconnected (see the ‘brainbow’: the below listed image shows a new process that enables more than 100 differently mapped neurons to be illuminated). However, if there were one person to address this topic I think it could be Adam Gazzaley at the Cognitive neuroscience research lab at UCSF (gazzaleylab.ucsf.edu). He has a fascinating research program in which he combines different modalities to enhance cognitive function.

Weissman, Harvard U, mouse hippocampus

Weissman, Harvard U, mouse hippocampus

So, closer to what you ACTUALLY experience, what is there to optimize?

Your mind.

The brain/mind concept is an interesting one. I tend toward the idea that the computational theory of the mind was a huge impact on our thinking as it permitted us to get around the messy idea of how to separate the mind from the brain (or body, if you will). We can now understand ‘the mind’ as a sort of flow of information through the nervous system and this flow of information can be conceptually separated from the biophysical matter that makes up the nervous system, aka the brain. To understand this separation, think of a stream. The stream’s bed, rock’s, pebbles, its temperature, and other physical dimensions can be likened as roughly to the brain, perhaps even the stream bed being analogous to neural grooves (but I’m ahead of myself). The water within is the information content (i.e., the story of the person’s life) and in computational theory, the water is like the mind. The mind then is the information embodied in and processed by the nervous system or stream bed in this analogy.

©iStockphoto.com/agsandrew

©iStockphoto.com/agsandrew

The actual physical structure of our brain with it’s connections between cells, it’s electrical impulses and the different dedicated parts of the structure itself is reserved for big functions like vision, hearing, motor control and higher order thinking.

Knowing and reflecting upon these things give rise to the concept of the mind and it’s interaction with the brain.

Thriving

True mental optimization means that our brain’s functionality through our mind, that is, your cognitive processes, your emotional and psychological processes as well as higher level thinking processes are all working to the best of their ability in order for you to thrive in your environment. Thriving, and thriving very well, in your environment enables you to succeed in your life.

 

Article excerpt from: Optimal Mental Functioning: Total Brain Access, all rights reserved