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

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