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JournalistWe are David Kirkpatrick and Danny Hakim from The New York Times, and we've been investigating what was behind the fire at Grenfell Tower in London. Ask Us Anything!

Jun 30th 2017 by dannyhakim • 16 Questions • 4765 Points

Hi, I'm Steve Brown, the real estate editor of The Dallas Morning News. I've covered the beat in North Texas since 1980, following the fall and meteoric rise of one of the most vibrant housing markets in the country.

I'm also the 2017 chair of the National Association of Real Estate Editors, who met a few weeks ago for our annual conference in Las Vegas. Ask me anything!

Replies will be tagged "-SB"

Proof: https://i.redd.it/5hl527hphg6z.jpg

And that's it, all! Thanks for joining us for another great AMA. For more Reddit happenings from The Dallas Morning News, be sure to follow us at u/dallasmorningnews

And if you want to keep up with Steve, follow him on Twitter and subscribe to his Real Estate Newsletter.

Q:

So, what was behind the fire at Grenfell Tower in London?

A:

When you eat a steak does it also make you crave cock?


Q:

Nootropics is a very growing market. What are your thoughts on the use and/or the regulation of nootropics?

A:

[deleted]


Q:

Hey! Love all the vintage Fortune covers... we've got a few of those floating around our office (Fortune is a sister brand at Time Inc).

How has the housing market changed in North Texas since you published this article in 2015?

A:

The officials investigations of the fire are ongoing. What we know so far is that there was a faulty Hotpoint refrigerator that was the origin of the fire. The new facade of the building, which was put on last year, appears to have played a major role in allowing the fire to quickly engulf the building. A type of panel, or cladding, was used to resurface the building. The cladding has two thin sheets of aluminum around a flammable core of insulation, and that is seen as a significant factor in what happened. Additionally, there appear to be a number of other factors involved, including the broader design of the refurbished exterior. Grenfell Tower also had only one staircase, lacked fire alarms, sprinklers and a fire escape.


Q:

Not anymore

A:

There are a host of chemical agents people consume with the goal of improving their cognitive function. It’s estimated that the sale of such drugs from improving cognition is a billion dollar a year business in the world. Most of these drugs and supplements induce the actions of natural neurotransmitters and modulate plasticity in ways that impact brain function. The drugs that are used off-label, designed to treat ADHD, are a case in point. A drug like Adderall is a stimulant that has the same general effects as the natural neurotransmitter, norepinephrine. There are about 20 chemical agents overall that are relatively well-known, distributed for sale and studied on some level, that are being sold in the nootropic marketplace. There is a significant body of evidence that at least some of these agents (not all) have positive “performance” or “cognitive” enhancing impacts. On the other hand, they are in a sense mind-altering and one consequence of their use is the downregulation of the processes that produces natural brain-generated transmitters. There are two consequences of this. You need to continue to take the stimulate or the boosting drug and you need to progressively increase the dosing of it to have a stable amplifying effect. When you’re off the stimulant, everything is turned down. Artificially establishing a situation over time in which you must have a stimulant to perform at a high level is a rather questionable life strategy.

We know that you can drive changes in the brain that are equivalent to taking a stimulant drug through an intensive brief period of brain exercise. I’ve earlier described brain exercises that we apply that are specifically designed to upregulate norepinephrine. We’ve shown that if you work at an exercise for a few minutes, before you enter a learning cycle, it accelerates learning rate and increases asymptotic learning achievements across a period of tens of minutes. If you do this everyday for several weeks, the upregulation of the release of the stimulant from the natural processes of the brain appears to be sustained out to the future. The difference? It’s all natural and it operates 24/7.


Q:

yeah I am in the process is actually analogue at first, and then everything is scanned and put together in photo shop and after effects. The pencil drawings are the way that I liked to work. we did a john Henry like race, animating in photoshop and adding texture, and the scanned pencil drawings won. but the breath is on photoshop with a wacom,

A:

Prices have gone up by more than 20 percent in the last two years. And there's very little for sale in the area priced under $250,000 - only about 4,000 listings last time I checked. - SB


Q:

Hi D&D,

Who was the architect of the tower, have you visited any of their other buildings?

Architects will typically reuse details that they become familiar with, by looking at the projects that still stand you may be able to get an idea of the design intent behind this building. They are typically pressured into making projects cost less by the client, but often the drive for aesthetics comes from the themselves.

Good luck with you investigation, i'm interested to read the article when its published.

A:

Do you feel you look like more of an albino orca, Lebanese house maiden, or morbidly obese Mexican?


Q:

Good Morning Dr. Merzenich! Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA! My question is about brain health and it's role in education. NPR recently did a story on a school that is beginning to utilize an understanding of neuroplasticity and brain health in the classroom to combat the effects of poverty and chronic stress on the brains of school children and to eventually improve educational outcomes.

The role of neuroscience and plasticity as applied in the traditional model of education seems so limited given what we know about the brain and what we are still learning. Talking about brain health in a school setting feels so taboo. Why do you think that is? What are some ways that we can bring more awareness of neuroplasticity to teachers? And if the principles of neuroplasticity and brain health were implemented in classrooms what might that look like and do you think we would have better educational outcomes? Thanks again for your time!

A:

What are some lesser known, or outside of the mainstream animated films and animators that you would recommend to someone interested in more obscure or artistic animation films?

Why do you choose this clearly more difficult process over easier modern methods of animation?


Q:

How many avocado toasts will an average single family home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area cost me?

A:

I live near another building that uses the same contractor and subcontractor and has been evacuated. The cladding there has a similar flammable core material and is being removed. There is a broad review underway of buildings that might have similar problems. Here's a recent story about the testing: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/26/world/europe/uk-cladding-test-failed.html


Q:

I knew this was a bad idea but #2, a lebanese house maiden

A:

One of the reasons people don’t think about brain health very often is because there has been no medicine to address issues of brain health. The child goes to the doctor, the doctor asks how they are, the child indicates that they’re fine, and the doctor concludes the child has a healthy brain. We also tend to translate brain health in terms of academic performance. The brain is a vascularized physical organ that can be in a sense flabby and in bad organic shape, just like any other organ. So inside every classroom at school, there are almost certain to be children in front of the teacher that have a very unhealthy brain. We know that the brain is degraded in its operations in ways that impact its general health by ongoing high stress in childhood. A child who has to live with high stress is impacted in ways that will frustrate their success in school and in life. A standard approach to this has been to blame the child for their failures and misbehavior. Now that we know so clearly that in fact their failures are substantially due to the neurological injuries that comes from very difficult childhoods there is a moral imperative to help them. Intensive brain-plasticity based restoration is a large part of the answer. I applaud any school site that understands this and undertakes the important task of helping these children to come back to the mainstream. It will be a better world when we identify every child that has this kind of unfortunate history and do whatever we can to help them be one of us.

Posit Science’s research team is conducting studies in very severely Adverse Childhood Experiences Impacted using a combination of meditation related practices, computerized brain training, social attachment related therapy, and life coaching. They’re seeing high success in helping these children in this large cohort. If you’d like to know more about that send me a PM.


Q:

Jeremy Clapin, Sean Buckelew, Joseph Pierce, Suzie Templeton, Mikey Please, and a crazy motion comic-animation I love is Tatsume

A:

The average house is about $311,000. So depends on where you buy your produce. - SB


Q:

In reporting a story like this, how much do you rely on "leaks" or documents being passed on to you that aren't immediately in the public domain? How do you obtain these documents?

A:

Hi Bobby, #Big fan! In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, what messages were those aliens sending you?


Q:

I'm a teacher. Are there lessons I should teach about brain health to my students (next year I'll be teaching first grade)? Are there activities I should have the kids do to increase brain plasticity?

A:

How did you choose the planets this story is set on? As an animation filmmaker how have you chosen your style? As someone who believes the major animation style, whilst changing, has not improved over the last 15 years, how has technology impacted on animation style? Finally, how does the comic book industry affect your work?


Q:

GM MR. Brown, I am looking to buy a house Q1 2018 under 300k. Preferably a new home, areas east of US75. What areas do you recommend or see good potential in?

A:

A lot of the documents in this story were in the public domain. Key records included the board minutes of the Kensington Chelsea Tenant Management Organization, which oversaw Grenfell Tower. There were also documents produced by Arconic, the company that makes the cladding panels, that showed how the company recommended it not be used in high rises elsewhere. And there were planning documents from the various contractors that were useful. All of these were public.


Q:

I just spit my water out

A:

Every first grader, every second grader, and in fact every child in school at every level, should understand that their brain is plastic. The basic lesson is for them to appreciate that however they are doing in school, it can be a lot better, next week, next month, next year because they have a plastic brain. How terrific is it that they are built to change for the better? No child should regard themselves as a probable permanent failure. It’s all about a continuous possibility of progressive advance.

People have tried to formalize these lessons in a variety of ways. There’s an education team in the state of Oregon who have tried to provide lessons to children at different age levels. I’m sure you can find references to their strategies on the web. A research team lead by the Standard psychologist Carol Dweck has conducted important studies on child motivation that have applied brain education strategies to highly effectively motivate children. I know that her team has produced strategies that are available at least to some children of some ages. There are probably other good models out there. For children that really struggle, or are subject to fits of anger or hyper-reactivity, understanding that it is their brain - and not them - that is doing this can be transformative.

The “count to 10” strategy applied in different forms can have marvelous positive impacts in such a child by allowing them to learn to control their fits of anger or upset. One of our collaborators gives a hyper-reactive child a snow globe and when the child goes off the rails, they learn to evert it and wait until all the snow falls to the bottom (because that minute is the time it takes for the storm in their amygdala to pass over the horizon). It’s your amygdala, Billy, says the teaching with a smile. You just have to wait until it quiets down.

Any child of any age will be fascinated by the brain and its complexities and marvels. If you can’t find good information at any of these sources, contact me and I’ll try to help.


Q:

It started from three threads. Chicago disasters, my interest in Psychiatry , and the notion of the lost traveler, things like the franklin expedition, and the Boris Karloff thread came in one day while animating and listening to an old Lights Out program. The planet I made up, because I did not want to be tied to facts about a particular planet, I wanted to have room make things up, it has elements of several moons, though I do give it an atmosphere, and a relatively earthlike gravity. I also like the idea that it is maybe 10 15 miles in diameter so you can kind of hide, but not completely. you cannot escape yourself .

A:

Fewer of the houses being built in North Texas are priced under $300,000. To find new homes in that price range you'll need to head to Denton, Grayson or Kaufman counties. - SB


Q:

Do you think there are factors apart from the cladding which increased the fire spread?

A:

Hi Bobby, I love you on the Chip Chipperson Podacast! Have you ever thought about doing stand up comedy?


Q:

What do you think about brain training companies like Lumosity?

A:

What was it like working out the deal for you to use Boris Karloff's voice for your Bison?


Q:

Prices raised considerably after 2008, specially in places like Canada. Are we about to see yet another bubble burst?

A:

Thanks for the question. There are obviously investigations ongoing that will determine what happened. From what we know so far, the cladding was a factor that was obvious right away to fire safety experts, and it has played a role in high rise fires in other parts of the world. But there is also the issue of the broader design of the refurbishment that was done to the building, including insulation that was under the cladding, and a narrow gap between the cladding and the insulation, as well as potential deficiencies in fire protection measures within the building itself.


Q:

No. That's a homerun you cock sucka

A:

One way to evaluate the claims of the available brain training programs is to look at the underlying research. Independent researchers (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28092015) recently published the first systematic review of the science behind commercially available brain-training programs. They identified 18 companies and found that 11 companies had no clinical trials or empirical evidence indicating that they helped with healthy aging. The remaining seven companies were classified into three levels of evidence with the highest level requiring at least two well-designed randomized controlled trials, at least one of which met gold standards. BrainHQ outranked Cognifit, Cogmed, BrainAge2, My Brain Trainer, Dakim, and Lumosity by a large margin, with more than twice the number of highest-standards controlled trials than any other commercial competitor. Lumosity actually came in the bottom bracket of those companies shown to have evidence.

This work clearly demonstrates that when it comes to brain training, not all programs are alike. At the same time this does not mean that there is no value to the training exercises sold by these companies, it simply means that they sell things for which they have limited hard evidence that they actually work.


Q:

was not a deal, I was blindly falling deeper into it, and then I sent a long email, about what I was trying to do with the film, and how I felt it would honor him.. sometimes that is all it takes, I have had people have things like that work out with famous musicians IE, can I please use your song... answer... yes

A:

So far the price increases in most markets are based on demand, not speculation. But I worry we are starting to see more flippers. No bubble yet here. - SB


Q:

How difficult is it for you to not step on greggshells considering you weigh the best part of a tonne?

A:

Are there any domestic type of exercises that you'd endorse? I've heard there's lots of proof that learning a new language helps keep the brain fit. Anything else you'd recommend, besides exercise?


Q:

Did you have scientific consultants or researchers to help with the Space and Astrophysical side to this story? Why Russian Cosmonauts? Why 100 Foot Bison voiced by Boris Karloff? Why psychotherapy? What the hell is going on in that scene where the lecture hall is chanting "I'm too sexy for my books"?

How does your creative process work, bringing all these things together for you? Pretty much everything about this movie seems to intentionally evoke a question, although I'm sure it all adds up somehow. Is that your intent to kind of put the viewer off balance?

Saw that your first film took 15 years to make... can you talk about that process and dedication from inception to completion and finally, it seems, success?

A:

Hello, Steve, and thanks for doing this. I know it's not Dallas, but we live at Lake Texoma, and I've been very excited to see a "younger crowd" buying rundown places here and fixing them up. Do you see more Dallasites starting to buy investment and vacation properties again?


Q:

That's mean and hurtful

A:

See earlier responses, for example: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/6k1k3a/i_am_neuroscientist_dr_michael_merzenich_a/djk94gz/?st=j4k3tcla&sh=38874a3b

Language learning is a good form of exercise but only if you take it seriously. The brain only changes for the better when it matters to you. Try every day at whatever you're learning to be just a little bit better at it. And then quite a bit better next month. An advantage of a form of learning in something like language is that the learning is staged and requires cross-modal integration. It requires that you refine your listening, your vocal control, the visual operations that contribute to reading it, and the translations of sound by letter - initially all at a slow rate with high error and ultimately at speed and accuracy, initially as a relatively passive receiver but ultimately in highly-flexible high-speed interaction as a receiver and producer. All of this is very good for your brain.

But of course there are thousands of other things that start simple and become beautiful and sophisticated at speed if you just think about them from that perspective and if you take the mastery of them with some level of seriousness.


Q:

To be honest the short answer is, because it felt right, the longer answer is that I always have several stories floating down this flooded river in my head, and I pick them up, and find relations, because they came into my head through some common thread. for instance my father died in 1969, as did Boris Karloff, and in some way a conflated their loss. this one is going slow, but not as slow, the Bison is just a crazy idea that flew into my head. something that is too large to share its love, like in mice and men.

A:

I was born in Denison and my mom lives up there. That area has one of the highest percentage of retired folks in the state. But a lot of younger people who work in the Dallas north suburbs are now moving to Grayson County. - SB


Q:

Would you rather be fat and dying or skinny with aids?

A:

Just want to give everyone a heads up that Dr. Merzenich is leading the design of BrainHQ, as is stated on their website: https://www.brainhq.com/

I'm not implying or stating that Dr. Merzenich is advertising or promoting BrainHQ, just saying that it's worth mentioning that he is directly involved with it, and for whatever reason didn't state it in the above reply. My personal opinion is that he likely wanted to mention he is involved, but for whatever reason did not.


Q:

Did you have scientific consultants or researchers to help with the Space and Astrophysical side to this story? Why Russian Cosmonauts? Why 100 Foot Bison voiced by Boris Karloff? Why psychotherapy? What the hell is going on in that scene where the lecture hall is chanting "I'm too sexy for my books"?

How does your creative process work, bringing all these things together for you? Pretty much everything about this movie seems to intentionally evoke a question, although I'm sure it all adds up somehow. Is that your intent to kind of put the viewer off balance?

Saw that your first film took 15 years to make... can you talk about that process and dedication from inception to completion and finally, it seems, success?

A:

Who is your favorite retail reporter in Dallas?


A:

You’re right, I assumed people would understand that BrainHQ represents an important aspect of my own life’s world. What I realized about 30 years ago is that the translation of our science out to the potential benefit of human populations who struggle had become a moral imperative. I tried my best as a scientist to conduct studies that guided the intelligent and effective translation of brain-plasticity based strategies that I was certain could help. In these efforts, I required that no program claims would be made without supportive research trials. Most of the money in company development was spent in outcomes research. I was permitted by UCSF to found 2 companies (Scientific Learning & Posit Science – BrainHQ) that undertook this translation, without their forcing me to leave my faculty position. I am the first faculty member on the San Francisco campus who was given such permission primarily because I convinced them that this effort was not about personal aggrandizement. Still, of course, I benefit in lots of ways by what these companies do. One way I benefit is by the fact that they give me immense pride in making a life effort to help people that struggle.

Some people think that a commercial effort is a basis of scientific contamination. I believe that if I hid the secrets of our science under a bottle and did not explain that BrainHQ represented my own best attempt to provide a strategy to help, I would be a moral coward.


Q:

accidentally I have become friends with Lindsy Elkins, and have watched her space science ventures (mission to psyche) and love to think about things like gravitational volvanism, and Gamma blasts

A:

Talk about self serving question! - SB


Q:

*would you rather be yourself or Jim Norton

A:

What is the latest research on reversing short term memory loss? Also in specific ,memory loss from damaged hippocampus. Thank you.


Q:

Hi Chris, Very excited about the upcoming film, already donated to kickstarter. My question is: Do you consider this film (and your previous film) as existing better in context strictly with other animated features (or shorts) or do you wish or hope that it will be considered alongside other independent live action films? (and as a potential follow up: is one better than the other?)

A:

30 oz looks like. I got a red one with a handle. Theyre awesome for cold drinks too!


Q:

See above

A:

Restoration of memory is commonly approached by applying either one of two general strategies. The usual training form is to practice remembering. This approach stems from a long history is cognitive experimental psychology where the natural therapeutic approach has been to address a weakness by practicing in ways that would be imagined to directly overcome it. For memory this means 3 things: practicing to remember longer strings or lists of information, practicing to recall things that you know belong together or that are associated, and learning tricks or strategies or methods to work around your failing memory. All of these strategies have compensatory value but none of them actually fix the fundamental neurological problems that usually apply to an individual with a failure memory. For example, older people lose their memory primarily for 2 reasons. The first is that the brain no longer represents information it's receiving or manipulating in as sharp or salient form. Because information is represented unreliably in a “fuzzy” neurological way it struggles to record it. Recovery of memory requires training that again refines, sharpens, increases the salience of, and recovers the reliability of the representation of the high-speed details of what you have just seen or heard or felt. Secondly, old brains are noisy and that nosiness results in problems of interference for any long sustained operation. It’s important that you train the brain in ways that suppresses and reduces that noisiness. All of these basic contributors to memory failure can be very positively engaged in most individuals by appropriate, intensive exercise. That exercise can come in natural forms or by engaging yourself in the right forms of computerized exercises.


Q:

Really relevent question, Consuming Spirits actually did much better in Live action festivals than it did in animation festivals, partially because it was a film playing in the wrong place (do this when ever you can) the critical praise for Consuming Spirits first came from live action critics, then animation came in more in 2013. Chris Robinson, Carolina Lopex, Nobuaki Doi, Jasmin Basic, Daniel Soldjek (zagreb) are programmers in the animation world who helped me a lot. But first it was Tasha Robinsin, A.O. Scott, Michael Phillips, who made people consider the film as a film, I hope for the same trajectory with The Orbit of Minor Satellites.

A:

It was a giveaway from the folks at the Crescent with their anniversary. -SB


Q:

Do you get hard looking at sinks?

A:

Hey Dr. Merzenich, thanks for doing this AMA! And for all your important work. I've been interested in neuroplasticity for almost a couple of years now. I've also read Dr. Mlodinow's book on the subconscious and how your brain changes memories to create logic in your reality's syntax. I've also read Dr. Langer's book on Mindfulness, where she talks about how you view old age shapes how you age yourself. And as an Electrical Engineering student, I've seen first hand how positive neuroplasticty (via repetitive solving of math problems) can not only increase my intellect, but cognitive functions and general well being.

I would like to know how I can get involved with neuroscientific research on neuroplasticity and the evolution and longevity of the brain, given that I have a background in electrical engineering mostly. But an interest in computer data, analytics, programming, consciousness in nature, and transhumanism.

Also, I would like to to know your views on Elon Musk's recent venture, NeuraLink. Do you see devices that connect your brain to a machine intelligence disruptive in any way to the process of neuroplasticity?


Q:

Hi Chris, Very excited about the upcoming film, already donated to kickstarter. My question is: Do you consider this film (and your previous film) as existing better in context strictly with other animated features (or shorts) or do you wish or hope that it will be considered alongside other independent live action films? (and as a potential follow up: is one better than the other?)

A:

What are the up and coming neighborhoods where you can still get a deal in Dallas? Asking for a friend.


Q:

The right sink

A:

See reply below for where to get some reading material. Also consider Norman Doidge’s book “The brain that changes itself” on Amazon.

If you communicate with me I will try to provide you with a short list of biomedical engineering programs where there are scientists trying to address neuroplastic-related issues from a neuroscience/psychology/engineering perspective. There’s lots of good work to be done and you seem to be motivated to make a contribution to it. Send me a reminder.

EDIT: The FB team has a bunch of engineers working to accelerate the transfer of information directly from the brain to a device without passing Go or collecting $200. And there’s NeuraLink and its imagined uses for directly linking the brain to devices for everyday practice uses, or to actually accelerating the rate at which the device is part of you and you are part of it. I have mixed feelings about whether this is engineering gone mad or possibly a basis of the still-further empowerment and enrichment of our humanity. If I had to guess, I would probably vote for mad. But I’m an older fellow and perhaps just can’t see the wave. At the same time, the dream that you can substantially accelerate the rate of transmission of information from your brain to your device so that you can operate with that device at much higher speeds seems to me to be impractical because the brain is limited in the speed of its operations by physical and chemical processes that have time constants. Until we evolve new ones, there is a limit to how far those time constants can be driven in an accelerating direction. As for driving plasticity in that accelerated direction, you don’t really need to be wearing an appliance that directly communicates with the tissues of your brain. You can train yourself to reach the max.

At the same time, there’s a big set of practical extensions of direct brain communication devices that apply to the world of neural rehabilitation. The Elon Musk and FB teams’ engineering efforts could be an important development in that sphere. In that special domain, I unequivocally applaud the efforts and am very excited that such heavy investment is being made to put them to practice. The promise is a new class of devices that can help the paralyzed individual move with greater and greater facility. It could help the individual to take care of their most basic biological processes, talk for the individual who can’t talk for himself, and help the individual trapped in a deep well of isolation because of his or her impairments.


Q:

and thank you!

A:

Oak Cliff, Dallas' near south side and parts of Northeast Dallas are still priced below the area median. - SB


Q:

Do you think it's to late to change your characters name on SDRR to Lards Ulrich?

A:

How do I increase (either temporarily or permanently) my brain plasticity to help me learn new things?


Q:

What an interesting storyline! What was your inspiration and how did this script come to be?

A:

Hi Steve. What were your deciding factors in choosing the place you live now? Favorite person you've interviewed? Thanks!


Q:

You're too wordy. Have someone punch that up and get back, there's something there

A:

There’s a class of exercises that you can do that we know will upregulate the processes that control brain change itself. When we engage a brain to try to improve its faculties we are commonly trying to exercise this “modulatory control” machinery as a prerequisite as getting the most out of a brain training experience. In general, intensive, serious, new-skill learning commands the attention of the machinery that controls learning rate. If you’re a life-long learner, and especially if that learning applies to elaborating your operational skills and abilities it is likely that your brain plasticity / control machinery is in good shape.

Scientists have extensively studied the way this learning machinery is controlled. They’ve directly demonstrated ways to engage it that results in an amplification of its powers. We apply those strategies in specific brain exercises and have shown that when we precede learning by those exercises, learning is faster and asymptotic performance achievements are elevated. If you want to self-assess the status of this machinery consider your basic level of alertness, brightness, sparkiness, and connection with the world. If you’re on the sparky side of life this machinery is probably in pretty good shape.

One last point: a key neuromodulator of change in the brain is dopamine which is associated with pleasure, happiness, and positive good spirits. Generous people, people that are sympathetic to one another, people that are connected to one another with positive good spirits have healthy assets in this sphere. Be one of them.


Q:

see above, and then continuing on. I have always been interested in strange treatments. be it electro shock, imprinting therapy. or how trauma can sometimes release a mind. some one is badly hurt, and wakes up somehow healed of something else.the writing of the script then began to unfold, and I became interested in one room in the film being live action, that is an interesting part too.

A:

I moved into the M Streets area 30 years ago and have stayed put. It's a great location. My favorite interview of all time was with the architect Philip Johnson who was designing the Crescent at that time. - SB


Q:

how's your knee man?

A:

1) Do the quality of our thoughts also change our brains? Can having positive self talk etc improve our brains?

2) Can I become smarter at 25 given I've been cognitively stagnant for the past 9 years? Is it possible?


Q:

What an interesting storyline! What was your inspiration and how did this script come to be?

A:

What suggestions would you have for a for a first time homebuyer in Collin County?


Q:

I broke my knee dude

A:

Can you get smarter at 25? Half of the variance of adaptive intelligence is explained by variance in brain speed. Can your brain speed be accelerated? Not a problem. The right kind of brain exercises on a computer, or the right kind of natural activities, can contribute to an acceleration of the natural processes of your brain at every brain system level. When scientists studying intelligence tried to understand other factors that contributed to adaptive or fluid intelligence, they added 4 or 5 other key factors to that list. Fortunately for you, they are also all plastic. So can you recover your brain power, and make yourself “smarter”? Get to it. I should say that psychologists that study these issues have wrestled with the mutability of intelligence for a long time. There is still a strong body of psychology deniers, sort of like the global warming deniers, that seem to lack a full appreciation of our capacity to change our neurological abilities to change the machinery of our brain, by engaging in the appropriate forms of exercise.

In time, they will get over this.

As for changing your attitude, to change your capabilities; can you talk to yourself and drive yourself into a ditch? Or to improve your performance abilities? Learning and achievement is contextual. If I simply explain to individuals – adults or children – that they have a clear capacity to change their brain for the better, I increase the likelihood that over time, they will be better. If I simply educate children in the fifth grade that their brains are plastic, they will do better in the sixth grade. This is well-established science. Of course, the same applies on the negative side of life. My dear sweet mother-in-law, a master pie maker, began telling herself at about age 70 that she could no longer make a good pie. Pretty soon, she couldn’t. It is a very good idea to live life with a positive attitude.


Q:

I was just seeing if I could make that square go away but I can't oblivion then.

A:

The best pricing will be east of U.S. 75. -SB


Q:

Yeah, how's your knee dude?

A:

Sorry for bombarding you with questions!

Do different parts of the brain express different levels of plasticity? If yes, what makes some parts more plastic than others?

Also, are NMDA and AMPA receptors absolutely necessary for plasticity? Do non-glutamatergic synapses exhibit plasticity as well?


Q:

How did you decide to dedicate yourself to a career in animation as opposed to non-animated films?

A:

So I'm currently looking for a house in the Dallas market. I keep getting told that the market will cool down soon because all the new housing being built will catch up with the market. What are your thoughts? Wait or get in now?


Q:

I broke my knee dude, it's doing fine

A:

There are very substantial differences across brain system levels in the extent to which plastic change can be induced by engagement or training. The way that the brain can change at any level is controlled by the sources and distributions of inputs to each location on that level. At lowest brain system levels those input distributions are relatively constrained. As you move up in cortical systems, more complex integration over greater representational distances, are in play. At highest-brain levels, connectivity effectively delivers information from almost all sources very broadly all across large functional brain regions. Very complicated integrated products can be represented at the top of brain systems. By contrast, at the entry levels, refinement is on a far more constrained and local scale. Still everything is plastic and as I acquire any ability I’m actually changing everything, at every level, all across engaged brain systems. Think of a simple behavior in which I am distinguishing whether I see the outline of a pear or other fruits. At the top of the brain, I am holding the expectation of a pear -like image as a constant-present memory (“working memory”) which is actually a representation of the expectation of the occurrence of a pear. By that process, everything across the brain system below, from the entry levels of the brain to this highest level, are going to be modified to improve my abilities to distinguish pears from other fruits. I’m going to refine the details on the bottom level, just as I refine the rapid recognition of pears or non-pears. It is the system that is plastically remodeling at every level. An important aspect of this process is the fact that the brain from the top, where things are most flexible, is actually broadly controlling what is permitted to change across the system by holding an ongoing representation of the “right answer” in memory. The brain is continually weighing success and when it identifies an achievement of success it releases those neurotransmitters that enable change at every system-level. The bottom line? The most magnificent plastic changes are expressed on the highest levels of brain systems. But at the same time, in any learning progression, important things are changing at every level, even though at the bottom those changes are far more constrained.

From another perspective, as the brain is engaged in early life, it generates highly reliable “mini-columns” that represent the details of what you see or hear or feel in a highly devolved way. The initial maturation of a reliable analytic machine is a product of coincident input-dependent (Hebbian) plasticity. As the internal coupling in mini-columns grows, the cooperativity of the mini-column produces a more powerfully coordinated output. At the same time, these same changes are also read by brain processes that are contributing to progressive myelination. As these changes occur to confer reliability at the entry level of the brain system, they enable the same process to occur at the next system level. This plastic “maturation” is expressed level-by-level across brain systems. Everything sweeps forward.

Why is the teenage brain still squirrely? In a sense it’s because these changes have not progressed to a level in which it has become reliable and predictable in its operations at the higher brain levels. In this sense, you can think of the areas of the brain that are the most plastic as varying as a function of an individual’s age. Finally as you age, this process rolls backward. The highest level of operation in the brain becomes more plastic again. This time, it is expressing a weakness and not a strength because counterbalancing plasticity has degraded higher-order reliability.


Q:

somewhat accidentally, It started with a crush on Sue Bachmin, who was taking an animation class (isn't that how many things start) but then I made my first animated and when I played it in a room full of people I realized that the assembly of people taking in a piece of art is what I wanted, I did live action film, video, and performance, but animation was in many ways what people responded to the most, and granting agencies also, so it became my trade, it is lovely and very painful also. your mind is going like a bird, and your images develope as slow as trees. I love the feeling of losing yourself in a crowd that is experiencing the same thing you are, and letting your Ego quiet down and just take something in, I like being on both sides of the screen the melter, and the melted.

A:

A couple of years ago I told folks to wait. That didn't work out so well. There will not be enough new houses built in this cycle to catch up with demand. So if you need to buy a house you should go for it. - SB


Q:

Do you really need 12 open mic comics on the same podcast?

A:

I recently started a Paleo / Ketogenic diet and while the weight loss has been fantastic, the real amazing part for me has been the mental focus I've recently acquired. Things that I have struggled with work wise for months are suddenly clear. Can you talk about the relationship of the diet to memory and focus?


Q:

Thanks for taking your time in this AMA! I'm an animation student from a country where animation has no future, any advice on how to obtain a job in animation in America? I mean, obtain it while living in another country. Is it worth it to immigrate first in other thing and then apply for animation jobs? Or should I be noticed somehow? How?

A:

What is your favorite neighborhood or street in Dallas?


Q:

First of all, no. Second of all, I only have 3 comics on - 3 limit.

They're not open mics, they're middlers

A:

I’m not familiar with the details of the arguments about the influence of a Paleo diet to memory and focus but people I respect have made arguments on a serious level and have related them to both brain and physical health. See Robert Lustig: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM See Dale Bredesen: https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/paperchase-aging/pdf/NjJf3fWGKw4e99CyC.pdf


Q:

The great thing about the animation world, is that it is an international world, and you can reach out wit ha film and be heard in other countries, the most lo fi kind of film you can make (equipment wise), is stop motion . with single frames on any devise. Most important , make something amazing.. also check out sites like Cartoon Brew, all the information on festivals and artists there, also I love animate projects, website from Britain.

A:

Have to say Tokalon in Lakewood. Swiss Avenue a close second. - SB


Q:

How hot does magnesium burn?

A:

For those who can't afford BrainHQ, what other domestic methods do you suggest to make their brains perform better and repel degradation?


Q:

Thank you for this AMA, very interesting answers!

I am wondering how did you finance your first projects and how are you funding your current projects? Only through kickstarter?

thx!

A:

What are your thoughts on tech companies entering the real estate market (i.e. OpenDoor)?


Q:

First off, how do you spell magnesium. But if I were to guess approximately 3100 degrees celsius

A:

Please take a look at my response to /u/venomeater69 for natural ways to maintain your organic brain health.

We very much wish we could provide it to every citizen in the world for free and hope that at some point in the future something close to that will be achieved. A BrainHQ subscription costs about $14 a month which is not too many cups of coffee and a person can do a lot in a month. Why not think about a several week long bootcamp once or twice a year where you take full advantage of that relatively small investment. If there is a reason why someone is devoid of resources, write a note to me and I’ll try to help.

Also note that quite a few public libraries now offer BrainHQ for the citizens of their community or town for free. If you’re lucky maybe your library can provide that for you. If not, you might ask them to consider providing that service.


Q:

my other projects where funded by art grants and my job, but the last three grants I recieved, where once in a life time Grants, so there is no returning to them, I think this is actually good. but I have to find other means.

A:

Real estate is still largely a local business. I expect it will stay that way when it comes to homes. - SB


Q:

Hi Bobby. I hope the answer to this is yes. Do you ever think about your miserable childhood and how your mother literally gave you away and get so sad that you eat even though you aren't hungry?

A:

Two questions. First, what is your opinion of nature vs. nuture? Do you think we all start out with tabula rasa, or are some of our quirks pre-determined? Second (and arguably more important) question, are you a 49ers or Raiders fan? Thank you very much for your time


Q:

What got you into becoming a real estate editor?

A:

Your wish is granted. Yes


Q:

That’s a complicated issue. Of course many books have been written about this. All of your refined abilities, all of those things that define the operational person that you are have evolved in your brain by change within the course of your lifetime. On the other hand, we all inherit strengths and weaknesses that tie us to our ancestors in a broad general sense. We all operate as humans with behavioral characteristics that apply to our species of course. And humans come in lots of detailed genetic varieties. At the same time, all of those characteristics that really matter to us are pretty much elaborated, refined, put in place by the brain changing itself as a function of our experiences across the span of our lives.

I have enjoyed watching the Raiders win right up until the time they decided to move to Las Vegas. That’s when I temporarily jumped off the ship.

A:

I always was interested in classical buildings and architecture. Stumbled into this 40 years ago. Never took a formal real estate or business class. - SB


Q:

Is there a correlation between rising ocean levels and your wading in the shallows?

A:

Is there a level of plasticity that can occur outside the brain? For example, given enough time (even if longer than a typical human life span) could a paraplegic reroute certain functions via peripheral nerves to reconnect below the point of injury? I know in cases of heart blockages there is often evidence of angiogenesis trying to route blood around the blockages. Anything like this in the neural arena?


Q:

How did you get into real estate reporting?

A:

Fb fans are awesome, reddit fans are trolls with different names. I get it, it's a moon joke. I'm as big as a planet, I get it


Q:

Of course plasticity is occurring on a substantial level within the spinal code and brainstem, that is to say below the forebrain itself. And peripheral nerves and sensory organs do have some level of regenerative power. It’s possible that some level of rerouting can occur but I can think of no illustration on a scale equivalent like that recorded in the tissues of the brain itself. I’ve long believed that it’s an understudied scientific issue. For example, we know that the quality of information from sensory receptors in the skin and internal organs progressively deteriorates as they die off at older ages. Is this die off use-dependent? Could we be doing things that better sustain them? We also know that we can recovery the integrity of the autonomic nervous system by brain exercises. Here we can see strong effects in the physical body expressed by changes in the power of actions recorded of course far outside the brain. These are not the kinds of things people have considered plastic but they clearly are.

A:

The only place you could do this job for 40 years is in Dallas, NYC or Chicago. I was lucky. - SB


Q:

Bobby, what was the meanest thing Patrice ever said to you?

A:

How can I know if I'm at risk for Alzheimer's?

In my mid 30s now, and noticing I'm not remembering things as well as I used to. Not sure if this is just a normal part of aging. I've done a commercial genetic test (23andMe), which was negative for increased Alzheimer’s risk, but my understanding is that Alzheimer’s is not strongly linked genetics anyway. Is there anything else I can do to get a sense for my current brain health, and potentially spot early warning signs of dementia?


Q:

Do you think city place will ever build the second tower across 75? I really like mutts so I hope they don't!

A:

He said so many mean things. He's called me a fat lesbian, I dunno there's too many mean things to come up with


Q:

Almost everybody is at risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. Or to put it in another way, risk is defined by (A) genetics (B) several hundred known vicissitudes that add to your risk of onset, (C) how you live your life in relation to the health of your brain. In the last case, how do you think you stack up? If you’re like 99% of the people in the world, you don’t really know what your brain is asking you to do to sustain its health and functionality. Genetics IS important and can clearly put you in a higher risk population but genetics is rarely definitive. We know that people in very high risk populations CAN sail through to the end of a long life without falling over the cliff.

Everyone should be monitoring their brain health from at least the middle of life onward. Calibrate yourself. One way to do this is to go to BrainHQ.com and complete exercises in the speed and attention categories. See how your performance relates to other individuals of your age. More generally, you can assess your speed of operations in any task that challenges you to recognize and respond to things at high speed. If you’re fast afoot, things are probably pretty ok inside. If you’re not, think about changing your approach to life with an ongoing consideration of brain health. I offer advice about this in a book I wrote called Soft Wired which you can find on Amazon. You need to adopt a life of continuous new learning. You need to challenge your brain to improve the very elementally faculties that control the speed, accuracy, and reliability of its operations. Even if you’re very slow and losing it, the brain is usually capable of relatively strong, even dramatic, restoration. I believe that recovery of speed with sustained accuracy is a pretty strong biomarker of recovered organic brain health.

Final point: If you have confirmation that you carry the APOe4 marker, take brain health exercises especially seriously. You should be working everyday deploying strategies designed to sustain the elaborated, healthy, high-speed operation of your brain.

A:

They won't build the second 42-story tower but eventually something will be built there. Land prices are too high for a dog park. Sorry dogs. - SB


Q:

Who were you more scared to sit next to at the Cellar table, Patrice or Colin?

A:

I used to be deep in the whole nutrition/homeopathy cult and now I tend to discount anything that even remotely sounds like woo. So I can't tell you how much it bothers me that every article I've seen on mindfulness meditation shows it produces positive changes in the brain as determined through fMRI studies in illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. Could you elaborate on how a simple exercise of consciously focusing on your breath with a quiet mind is able to change how the brain unconsciously handles business?


Q:

Patrice cause he's dead

A:

The brain has evolved strategies to control its state of arousal and alertness, flexibly living from a high-alert to a pensive thoughtful, quiet pre-sleep moment. The ideal brain can move under direct control to deal with high operational powers on either the quiet or the lively, active, noisy sides of life. Many people struggle in controlling their reactivity in managing to operate effectively in a noisy higher-anxiety world. One of my favorite studies of meditation was conducted in a wonderful laboratory at the U of Wisconsin to determine whether or not meditation altered processes that impacted anxiety or arousal in the brain. The initial study indicated that the responses recorded in practiced meditators were no different in control subjects. Surprised by this outcome, the researchers looked at the responses of individuals who sought meditation training. They immediately discovered that their machinery was distorted and sustained their ongoing higher-anxieties. When they were trained their brains were dramatically changed in the normal-ward direction. Because these shifts in neurological engagement are so powerful it’s a great advantage for a brain to be able to move at will to a quiet, uncluttered, thoughtful, highly-focused mode. If you practice this as a habit, you have the power to move from active engagement in the world to the thoughtful quiet moment. And you’re far better off for it. Not every citizen needs to engage in meditation practices but if you’re on the anxious side of life, it might be a very useful aspect of how you think about neurological self-improvement.

We’ve conducted several studies, and are conducting an ongoing study in an aging population, on the separate and integrated benefits of meditation and brain training. Everything to this point indicates that they might have even more value together. A holistic approach might be greater than the sum of the parts in at least many individuals.


Q:

Who is the next BIG comedian to die, and why is it Artie Lange?

A:

I apologize if this is somewhat broad, but could you discuss the role of neurotrophic factors in plasticity and adult neurogenesis?


Q:

I love Artie I would never say that to him. Keep all the mean shit to me you piece of gaaaarbage

A:

Neurtrophins are key enablers of plasticity and sustained brain health. Measures of neurotrophins are canaries in the coalmine for determining the physical and functional status of your brain health. In almost every clinical indication, in which people are neurologically and psychiatrically struggling, the production of these “growth factors” is downregulated. And in condition after condition, that relatively consistent finding has led to the hypothesis that that downregulation is central to all kinds of neurological weaknesses and diseases. Healthy brains make more neurotrophins. When we exercise the brain extensively, we need upregulation of neurotrophins and once it’s upregulated we see that its production is sustained over the longer term. Neurotrophins are one of the primary chemical indices we use – on that long list of chemical and physical changes in brains – to demonstrate that we have driven the brain in a positive brain-health-recovery direction.

I could of course talk about this in a lot more depth in a nerdy extension in neuroscience. If you’re interested in that ask me a follow-up question privately.


Q:

Hi Bobby, #Big fan! Was it troubling staying still on the flat bed when Jesse, Randolph and Rae were helping you escape from the park?

A:

Hi Dr. Merzenich!

Was wondering if you have studied brain plasticity as it relates to hearing loss. There is some interesting research regarding the reorganization of the brain following a hearing loss and following amplification. As far as I know, there is no definitive link between hearing loss and mental decrease but I am taught that a loss may in fact be linked. What is your opinion on this?

Thanks!


Q:

I really wanna laugh at that reference but I don't know what the fuck you're talking about. #gofuckyourmother #loveyou

A:

Actually there is quite compelling evidence that hearing loss, or the chronic tinnitus that is often associated with it, are very significant risk factors for the early onset of dementia. Language listening is obviously one of our most important sources of incoming information and play such a central role in the maintenance of our social cognition powers. As language listening and usage are degraded the higher level machinery that supports our language-related manipulations and thoughts are impacted. In hearing loss, as with almost any other serious vicissitudes, a person should be especially concerned about assuring that their life strategies include some level of natural or regular computer-based brain exercise.

When you lose your hearing, your neurological representations of language necessarily adjust and now in a sense you’re recognizing what you hear with new machinery operating in a new way. If I attempt to correct that hearing by amplifying sound, either by application of a hearing aid or by introduction of a cochlear implant, I enable a correction. However, merely amplifying sound is just stage 1 of recovery. Most people don’t realize that beyond turning on the hearing aid the brain has to make large-scale plastic readjustment to maximize effective hearing aid use. Given the hearing loss, hearing aid or cochlear implant-based correction is a very good idea. With or without that aid, continuous brain training to get the most out of your residual hearing should be a part of your life.


Q:

You're a delightfully lovable creep, Bobby. What was the meanest thing you said about Vos at the roast the other night?

A:

Does your work in neuroplasticity extend to the idea of changing from a "talent" to a "growth" mindset, or is it more concerned with actual medical conditions like Alzheimer's? If it does extend that far, do you have any advice?


Q:

Bonnie was dating Nathan Fillion from Castle and Firefly, and she dumped him and ended up marrying Vos. I put up a photo on the big screen of Fillion and read his credits. Firefly, Guardians of the Galaxy and a network ABC show with 170 episodes, 100,000 an episode

Then I read Vos' that started with Maxwell's and Poughkeepsie - what a bad choice she made

A:

Neuroplasticity has created within your skull that person that is you by massive schedules of change up to this point in your life. It has provided you with a machine that is the basis of you and that is absolutely unique in the world because it has been created through quadrillions of moments of change. You are incredibly highly specialized in all kinds of ways. There has never been anyone else in the world in its long history exactly like you and there will never be another. Still, you are a work in progress. Do you want to change what you are? Or how you operate? Or what you’re good at? Go for it. Dramatic transformation can often be achieved at any age. Many individuals squander this great human gift.

Many people seem to be endowed with special talents or abilities. It’s difficult to sort out the contributions on the path to special talent that come from life’s experiences from variations in genetics. But one thing that is certain is that high achievement in any domain is dependent on a heavy level of directed practice. That directed practice is all about changing, strengthening, refining, and increasing the power of that machine controlling those special abilities. No great artist, no great athlete, no great inventor arrives at that position of high achievement without a long history of progressive history of refinement and growth in their power. You distinguish growth from talent. I say talent is a product of growth. Growth is a requisite of talent.


Q:

I'm sure you've gained a lot of new fans here. My question is, is the festival exclusively for laughs, or is that just a marketing ploy?

A:

In terms of brain plasticity, what features must an artificially intelligent neural network be capable of to model the brains capability to adapt to the stimulus or environment with such efficiency?


Q:

That was too intelligent of a joke for me, dumb it down stupid

A:

You ask a deep question that is difficult to answer in a few lines. It is difficult for us to know how open the simulation of the characteristics of an operational brain might be with a retention of its fundamental, almost unbelievable, powers. One class have thought about it and have attempted to construct artificially intelligent machines that operate very much like brains, with similar component processors and areas and devolution of actions. If you think about artificial intelligence as to produce a machine, that is equivalent to the human brain and its operational powers, then you can define a set of governing principles on a systems organization level that would need to be in place to make the machine work like the human brain. I view the models created by individuals like Jeff Hawkins at Numenta as representing an attempt to produce a machine in this form. At the same time, I have a strong personal suspicion that we could define the governing principles through some complex series of equations that someone could write down on a chalkboard and duplicate its powers in alternate ways. It is a little like imagining whether an evolved intelligence on another planet might have exactly the same form. But perhaps, in detail, outcomes substantially different detailed solutions, on the path to develop its evolutionary powers.

Great fun to think about! No clear answers here, pal. Maybe you are the individual who will sort it all out.


Q:

What was that weird noise you made getting out of the car that one time?

A:

Dr. Merzenich, At the age of 19 I contracted viral Encephlomyelitis from a presumed enteroviral source. It was a long and ardorous healing process, and I can tell it made changes to my memory. My visual memory seems to be taking over for the pneumonic memory. (I now recall test material better by "reading the words in the textbook again in my minds eye" during tests, as opposed to word memorization, which mine has deteriorated.)

My question is, can neuroplasticity be jump started by inflammatory challenges such as encephalitis?


Q:

I don't know what that was, that was so weird

A:

We have studied brains that have suffered diffuse broad damage in an attempt to try and understand plastic changes associated with brain poisoning (e.g., PCBs, antipsychotic meds, antidepressants, chemotherapeutic meds, heavy metals, and brain infections like meningitis, encephalitis, cerebral malaria, tick diseases, et alia). We’ve also supported training studies conducted in a number of these populations including large trials in Canada and in the U.S. in individuals that have brains affected by HIV/AIDS, brains treated with chemotherapeutic drugs, and brains altered by very diffuse head injury (e.g., as occurs in professional contract-sports athletes). In all such instances, as has been well documented, almost every aspect of brain function is degraded by the infection or poison, although there is some differentiation by condition as a function of the specific drug, poison, viral or bacterial agent. Virtually every change that is expressed negatively can be improved by reengagement. It’s all plastic. These changes are best documented in breast cancer survivors where the “brain fog” induced by chemo has been described in controlled trials as almost completely overcome by intensive training. Importantly, in the largest and most controlled by these trials, the women who participated actually continued to improve substantially to achieve above-normal performance in a non-training period after an initial intense training epoch. Scientists have also recorded strong recovery of function in individuals whose brains have been broadly impacted by HIV/AIDS infections. In these and other studies, imaging and brain recording measures confirm a substantial physical restoration of brain health in these damaged-brain individuals.

It should be noted that when you have a history of brain infection or brain poisoning, that’s another of a long list of unfortunate set of happenstances that should focus some of your attention on brain health pretty much for the rest of your life.


Q:

Hi Bobby. I'm a huge fan and respect you as a human being. My wife is terminally sick and my family is having a really hard time coping. Do you have any words of encouragement?

A:

How much do you think that genetics play a role in the overall brain functions? I know people that smoked , drank and ate extremely unhealthy diets for most of their lives . They still do that and they are doing pretty well (keep in mind they are over 50 years of age) .No symptoms of Alzheimer's or Parkinson's , no strokes or heart problems.

Another question I got for you is why clearing amyloid plaques would not restore cognitive functions? Wouldn't BDNF and NGF injections (plus brain exercise) help partially restore these functions once (or at least create new ones which can relieve some of the damage done by the disease) all amyloid plaques got cleared?

Also... There has been a ton of research focused on psychedelics ultimately. Do you think LSD got any potential in helping with brain plasticity? Maybe combined with specific brain exercises?


Q:

I hope your fat wife dies. No I'm sorry, scratch that, I hope your whole family dies

A:

A brain full of amyloid plaques has undergone massive physical change. Large numbers of neurons have died, there has been a great degree of connectional simplification with the highest of brain levels substantially offline, the machinery for controlling brain change and sustaining brain health is grossly dysfunctional, and the physical brain has shrunken ultimately dramatically. In many failed drug trials, scientists have sought ways to get rid of amyloid plaques, believing that they are an active source of disruption. But actually, once expressed most of the damage is done. The only possibility of substantial recovery of function would require the regeneration, regrowth, and restoration of recovery of all of that lost connectivity. Moreover, now it must be achieved with sparser, dis-elaborated, constituent neuronal populations. A massive amount of corrective change must be made. That’s why any truly informed integrative neuroscientist knew well in advance that the drug trials targeting amyloid bodies designed to erase them or stop their formation would not change the performance characteristics of the already-damaged brain. The notion that you would wake up after taking a drug in significantly better shape is ridiculous. 450 times drug companies have staked their fortunes on drugs that do something like this in AD-infected brains. The current success rate in these trials is 0/450.

Something is wrong in Denmark.

You’ve initially asked about genetics and their importance, and of course they are important. Good genes are a good thing. Bad genes are unlucky, of course. People with good genes still often end up in the home. People with lots against them often live longer, better, more successful, and healthier lives. Because your brain is plastic, whether you have good genes are not and because brain use related to brain health is under your control, YOUR actions make all the difference. Your job, regardless of how you think the likely power of your genetics, is to make the most out of your life (your brain) in any event. Too many people sit back and say “I have good genes” even while their brain is slowly going to hell. Too many people mope “I have bad genes” even while they could be doing a lot to make their life next year a very much better one.

A final brief point: yes, upregulating BDNF and engaging the brain is an emphasized strategy for recovery. At the same time, training itself results in BDNF upregulation. You probably don’t really have to take the shot.


Q:

Do you actually do bang bangs in real life and if so what is your favorite cuisine pairing?

A:

What is your professional opinion, and your personal opinion, about this little corner of reddit called r/Tulpas?


Q:

Yes unfortunately I have, it would have to be dinner then chinese

A:

Isn’t the brain wonderful in its ability to create powerful and elaborate constructions that seem “real”? Hey, that’s all it does. Do you think the world out in front of you, with it’s bright and dull colors, is “real”? It is in the sense that our sensory organs provide us with, if not linear, at least systematic reconstruction of its physical dimensions and qualities. In every other respect, it is a neurological fiction. One of the greatest of its fictions is you. Isn’t it also great that it can attach you so strongly to the other fictional characters that you love (of course they have a physical atomic reality)? Do you want to create another one that has no physical atomic reality? That’s OK by me.

Brain plasticity applies to “mental actions” just as well as it applies to your operations in interaction with the physical world. When I rehearse my part in life’s drama I am changing by brain of course. Just as I change it I systematically improve my ability to use a tool or master a craft. It’s all plastic.


Q:

what do you think it will take to leave your child without a father?

A:

Can a neurological condition like ASD impact neuroplasticity (or vice versa)? If so, how?


Q:

Lie - eggs whites with orange slices

Truth - two eggs sandwiches and a cuban cigar

A:

Scientists have extensively studied the genetic bases of ASD and they have shown that it can involve aspects of the plasticity processes themselves. Because the genetics of origin of ASD are so complicated it is not at all clear that this is always the case but we know that it can apply in some ASD individuals. At the same time, ASD individuals have very plastic brains. Plasticity is the brain’s big trick and it takes a lot to completely block or frustrate it. We’ve trained tens of thousands of individuals in the ASD spectrum using our computer-based training strategies and we’ve been repeatedly struck by their capacity to learn, advance, and improve in their operational abilities for the better. Sometimes these changes are completely transformative. They’re almost always helpful. There aren’t very many brains in the world in which plasticity cannot by engaged to change a life very much for the better.

You can send me a note for more details if you have a specific subclass of ASD in mind.

Edit: added last sentence.


Q:

Were you drawing from personal experience with your scene in Sirens? It all seemed so real

A:

My father died from Alzheimer’s. Per your intriguing intro, will you help us understand how to throw the switch? What, exactly, should we be doing to sustain or even grow our abilities, to successfully manage our organic brain health, to improve our lot in life, and keep ourselves safer? Thank you!


Q:

Oh when I had the coke bottle stuck in my ass. No I've never used a coke bottle

A:

We’ve conducted series of studies in animal models in which we’ve studied brains near the end of the animal’s life and contracted a long list of physical, chemical, and functional brain assets to the status of those assets in the brains of young adult animals in their “prime of life”. In those studies we’ve asked: “What’s different?” The answer: everything. Then we ask, “What’s stronger in an old brain?” Answer: nothing. Old brains are less reliable. They’re slower, less intact, less well-served by the vasculature of the brain. They’re less responsive to immunological challenge. They disconnect, simplify, chemically degrade, reduce in sophistication, dis-elaborate, and lose attentional control. Then we ask, “How many of these assets that distinguish very old brain from prime of life brains can be overcome by brain training?” The answer is all of them.

What do I need to do to drive these changes? Do I have a brain that looks like it’s approaching the cliff?

First of all, calibrate yourself. I recommend considering your brain speed as an index of your brain health, just as it provides an index of an animal’s brain health. When the brain is operating at speed with high reliability it means that your positive switch is still on. If you’re problem-solving and if you’re fast in mental operations then you’ve sustained your competitive edge. If you recognize any slowing at all and if your grandchild can now whoop you at a game then you probably need some serious brain work. If your situation is still relatively positive you can accomplish keeping yourself in a safe position by adopting natural lifestyle changes. If your situation is a little more questionable you might consider engaging in progressive computerized exercises designed to drive your brain speed and accuracy back to a youthful performance level. Fortunately, these elemental abilities are plastic and strong rejuvenation is commonly achievable. I don’t want to be too promotional but another simple thing you could do is visit BrainHQ.com and compare your performance to others in your age group.

In the ACTIVE trial computerized brain exercises focused on processing accuracy at speed were applied in a controlled trial conducted more 15 years ago. At the beginning of the trial the average age was around 74. Individuals who trained for 10 hours at the trial outset, then an additional 2-4 hours a year later and an additional 2-4 two years after that had strong improvement in everyday life. They were more active in their communities and had only around half as many driving accidents. They were significantly less likely to develop senior depression and significantly more likely to sustain effective control of their everyday lives. Ten years after training initiation and 7 years after the last “dose” of brain training (they only received 14-18 hours overall), scientists asked: “What happened to these people? What was their fate?” The answer: 48% fewer had developed dementia than in the random-assigned control population. While these studies are preliminary they’re consistent with our perspective that recovering and sustaining high-speed high-accuracy performance in a brain is a very good thing for all concerned. My guess is that this includes you.

P.S. on BrainHQ the exercise used in the ACTIVE trial is called “Double Decision”. This task was developed by Karlene Ball from UMB and Daniel Roenker UWK.


Q:

How long does it take you to scrape the barnacles off your face every morning?

A:

I do my own neurorehab using physical activity and using my own system for biofeedback (Heart Rate, skin respons, Blood glycos,muscle control) and I notice a correlation between having a sharp mind and getting better muscle control or not being able to think and no power to the muscles.

Basically I use existing physical activities with a different low load profile short duration, pacing, Heart Rate zone and daily repetition combined with extreme loading that forces shutdown muscles to engage.

Does it exits "neuro plastic" research that evaluate best practice physical training methods ?

My ANS function is effected and my sensory brain / vision/hearing is a limiting factor. Adjusted physical activity reduces pain and stiffness for me. How can physical activity/training replace computer based for brain plasticity training?


Q:

I get it it's a whale joke but too hacky, try harder

A:

I strongly believe that time best spend from a brain perspective are exercises in which you’re increasing the power of the brain to control your physical actions. The brain’s role in your physical life is as a master controller of moving and acting. The more you can elaborate those powers while you’re engaging yourself physically, the better. A more common physical exercise strategy is to pound on aerobics with exercise machines that actually promote stereotypical actions and control. Unfortunately, you’re repeating the same cycle of movements over and over. It’s better to master highly flexible control because that’s the form of engagement, command, and control that you brain was actually designed for. You want to engage your body at every speed and position possible. Go off-trail biking or skiing, walk barefoot across an uneven landscape, play a net game that increases in speed and difficulty. Any exercise form in which your movements begin slow and ultimately become fast and elaborated will help. At the same time, physical exercise does not provide all of the brain exercise that you need.

People that have substantial visual or auditory impairment are limited in the capacity to change their brain for the better, just like people who can’t control their actions. Every individual who finds themselves in this situation has to take brain exercises especially seriously. It’s wonderful that you instinctively understand this and are acting upon it on the basis of that understanding. Keep it up.

P.S. If you tell me a little bit more about the nature of your visual and auditory impairment then I may be able to provide additional information.


Q:

Why do you love food more than your child?

A:

What do you think of neuroprotective mechanisms following injury to the brain? Be it a concussion, stroke, or cardiac arrest, there have been studies showing a delayed onset of symptoms, approximately a day or two after injury. How do you think the brain is responding to this? Or, why do you think this delay happens? Sorry if this is too broad. Thanks!


Q:

Stop with the fucking, stop getting real, don't make statements. Either be funny or fuck yourself

A:

When you have a concussive injury, or a stroke, or often when you have a heart attack or heart failure, or spend a period in the ICU of a day or more and you suffer from delirium, these are commonly expressed by a compromise of the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier seals off the brain compartment from the blood compartment, which is important for brain function in two ways. First, chemical agents from blood change the excitability of brain tissues, and thereby disable them functionally. They radically increase the noisiness of the brain and the brain rapidly adjusts to this change by plastically changing its speed of operations. In all of these conditions, brain slowing is the signature aspect of the incurred impairments. It has to slow down to sustain control. A break in the blood brain barrier also enables the passage of infectious agents from blood to directly enter brain tissue. The brain responds by walling off viruses and bacteria, with amyloid – a natural brain chemical which helps protect the brain. Unfortunately, by that protection, it creates an inclusion called an amyloid body, which is a forerunner—an expression – of impending Alzheimer’s disease. This is why all of these conditions increase the risk of an earlier onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Basically, especially in older brains, they initiate the processes that put it into play. It is very important that you do whatever you can to sustain the integrity of your blood brain barrier!

We are conducting trials at Vanderbilt University in which we are trying to help people who have a scheduled serious surgical procedure in which we anticipate a likely compromise of their blood-brain barrier. We know that the barrier is plastic, and we know that we can probably increase its resilience to breakdown when it is put through the strings of a long and elaborate surgical operation. We will know soon whether we can decrease the probability of its compromise as a consequence of an individual going through this body and brain altering experience. We have also been applying training in individuals that have suffered from concussion and stroke as well as individuals who have been through a period of delirium in ICU, with one of our objectives being the restoration of the integrity of the blood brain barrier.

When most people think about brain remodeling or brain recovery conferred by intensive training, they think about it in neurological terms. It turns out that something is different about a relationship between the vascular supply to the tissue to the brain and the brain tissues themselves is also plastic, and can be very positively impacted by the right forms of intensive training. In an individual that is struggling because of such a history, the training has a dual purpose: a recovering high speed, high accuracy performance characteristics, and restoring this very special vascular to brain tissue relationship.


Q:

Will you dress up as Victor, the Just for Laughs mascot?

A:

In the early days of your research, the accepted idea was that the brain was static and that the only change in structure and function that occurred during mid-late life was degeneration. What was some of the early evidence and findings that led to the acceptance of the idea of neuroplasticity? What made you go against the largely accepted school of thought?


Q:

I think I already am. I look very similar right now. Just paint me green and take my clothes off

A:

First of all, there were prior studies conducted primarily in the domain of physiological psychology that argued contrary to the predominant view that the brain was continuously plastic. They just weren’t taken very seriously by the neuroscientific mainstream. My transformation came from two sources: a research team that I lead at the University of California contributed to the invention of a device called the cochlear implant and we realized in its application that what can appear to be an almost miraculous recovery in listening ability must be attributed to brain remodeling. These devices shocked the sector of the hearing range that normally only represents highest frequency sounds with only a very crude simulation of the normal patterns of input representing intelligible speech. Not surprisingly, the speech that most individuals initially heard was very degraded. In time, a miracle occurred. They heard everything. And, they described what they heard as sounding completely natural, just as it sounded before they lost their hearing. This was not a miracle accounted for by our engineering. The brain did it by changing itself to account for this recovered power.

In parallel, we were conducting studies on the basic organization of great sensory systems of the brain and very early on showed that the changes that occurred following damage to a peripheral nerve innervating the hand manifested powerful adult brain remodeling. We quite quickly showed that we could drive such changes very easily by manipulating inputs from the skin, or by training in an animal of any age. That led us to conduct studies in which we trained animals to define the rules that govern plastic change. We saw that plasticity was rule-based, and following those rules, we could change the brain positively or negatively in performance and in its operational powers at will.

After a long series of studies designed to optimize this level of control, we have looked for models in which we could translate this science out into the world, to the benefit of struggling human populations. Initial focus was on children that struggle in their language abilities, and struggled to learn to read, and struggle in their cognitive development in school. Up to this point, we have trained more than 6 million such children in American public schools. Our interest then turned to individuals in the adult world, in adult populations, who acquire problems in life, expressed as psychiatric illness, or neurological injury or illness. Because everyone’s brain is plastic, every individual that struggles on planet earth can improve their functional abilities and brain health through appropriate forms of intensive brain remodeling.

Finally, it is not just about the struggling. It is about every one of us. It is about every individual making the most out of life. About working to improve their operational performance abilities; on the job, in life, in the things that matter to them. It includes you.


Q:

Can you comment on how your findings could help improve brains of those with some form of addition? (alcohol, drug, video games,...) Given some research indicates their ability to reason diminishes. thank you

A:

There are three aspects of related science in play that I can comment about. First, we know that a brain that has not evolved highly stable operations puts its owner at high risk for onset of a serious addiction. For example, children that have multiple adverse childhood experiences are delayed in their development and are left with brains that are commonly attentionally impaired. They struggle to control the child’s impulses. They struggle to suppress inappropriate responding. If a child in their early life has four categories of adverse childhood experiences against them, as shown by the Kaiser Health Initiative Research, they are 15 times more likely to develop a serious addiction as a teenager or young adult. So, the first line of attack in addressing issues of addiction are to strengthen those brains in ways that reduce the probability that addiction will be in such a child’s future. Second, we have been training individuals in small studies with ongoing addictions of alcohol or drugs and we now know that we can plastically drive changes in the brain that can plausibly help in recovery. For example, we have preliminarily shown that we can reduce craving for the addicted substance. It should be understood that we do not view brain training alone as likely to be effective in addiction related therapy because we think other life coaching and other cognitive and social therapeutic strategies almost certainly have to come into play.

Finally, the chronic addict has neurological changes that arise in their brain as a consequence of the addiction. Those changes weaken an individual operationally in elementary and in complex higher order processes. For example, ultimately, they slow down the brain and impair the individual’s cognitive and other abilities. Ultimately, they distort the machinery that contributes centrally to the individual’s sense of well-being and happiness. Things that should be central in the individual’s life and affections (like their marriage partner, or their child, or the natural beauties of life) can be weak as rewarding or stimulating sources of experience for them. And, the rebalancing and recovery of the rewards of these abilities is a very valuable aspect of recovery.

Scientists have shown that improvements in cognitive status resulting from therapy, directly predict that the person will stay off the drug or the alcohol once they leave the clinic and recovery of their attachment to the people that are at the core of their lives. Again, brain training and exercise in the appropriate forms can contribute to the recovery of these lost or degraded faculties.


Q:

Thank you, sir, for this amazing post. What can be done regarding anger? Is this an inherited characteristic?

A:

Anger is out of the immediate realm of my expertise. We commonly measure responses that relate to anger in individuals that we are trying to help. In general, we know that uncontrolled anger responses and expressions of hyper-reactivity emerge from the emotional control machinery of the brain, from the amygdala and the structures that feed it. This machinery can be quieted by specific forms of training. We apply that training, for example, in “wild children”, who cannot be sustained in a conventional home or foster care home because of their inherent strong emotional instability. “Mad all the time” or maybe more correctly, “upset all the time”, can describe many such children. In studies that we have supported in Australia, for example, the trainees are children who, because they have been in more than five foster care homes in the previous year, have been taken from them to live in a group facility where they can be minded 24 hours a day because of their ongoing, almost complete lack of personal control. Even in these extreme cases, these children’s brains can be plastically changed to get them past this completely self-defeating epoch in their life, in the great majority of cases.

What does it take to do that? First, we apply the kind of calming strategies that are commonly expressed within the science of meditation. Children are trained to understand that their brain is responsible and is highjacking them when they have an angry, out of control episode. That they simply must wait until it passes, until the brain storm, in their amygdala, moves out over the horizon again. Children are also trained in ways that are designed to positively reconnect them to other people, and to more accurately interpret where other people are coming from emotionally, that commonly lead to their misinterpretations that lead to their anger responses. I know this is probably not a very direct answer to your question about your own anger and the way it arises within you, but what I know for sure is that your angry moments are also subject to plastic modification. That you, too, can learn to wait until the storm passes. That you, too, can change your brain, and how you interpret the actions of others that reduce the probability that you respond inappropriately so often.

One last point. If, at some point in life, I poke my finger in your eye every so often, you might be inclined later in life to a bit more prone to be angry every once in a while. It’s very possible that in your early life, maybe without you knowing it, someone was poking a finger in your eye pretty regularly. It doesn’t actually have to be an outside agency, because you can often do the poking. When a child goes to school and is bullied or doesn’t do well in school, or feels inadequate or friendless, they can be poking their own eye. Something like this in your life might be the true origin of the moments of anger that are expressed later in life. Thank goodness you have a plastic brain, because if you live your whole life without doing something about it, shame on you!


Q:

You don't literally mean the eye poking, do you?

A:

No, I do not literally mean eye-poking. I mean generating high-level stress in your life by their actions. Maybe they’re bullying you, maybe they’re abusing you, maybe they’re punishing you when it's not fair, maybe you know or believe the teacher thinks you’re a little loser, maybe no one wants to be your friend, maybe your mom wishes you weren’t underfoot, maybe things are really going badly almost everyday in the home you live in. All of things fall within my eye-poking category.


Q:

Hello Dr. Merzenich. Can neural feedback sessions correct ASD and ADHD symptoms in adolescents? What is your view of the Qeeg as a valid test for understanding what aspects of the brain need treatment?

A:

The scientific reviews about the clinical uses of biofeedback for individuals with ADHD and ASD are mixed. Some reviews strongly support arguments about its effectiveness; an equally large number emphasis its lack of impacts in these and other subject populations. In my view, it is still somewhat of an art form; in the hands of an enlightened practitioner, it may be very beneficial. But how do you know that your child has been delivered to an enlightened practitioner? That remains a problem.

On the one hand, it would appear that in the right hands, biofeedback strategies can improve the control abilities that relate to ADHD. Things are a little more obscure for ASD, and it is more difficult to talk about it because the expressions of deficits in the ASD cohort are so dramatically variable. Biofeedback specialists have begun to use elementary strategies to map strengths of connectivity in brain systems as a source of insight for clinical manipulation (qEEG). It is too early to evaluate the practical utility of this integrated approach. At the same time, hypothetically, looking at connectivity maps is a not unreasonable initial strategy for generating a first-level understanding of neurological strengths and weaknesses. These strategies are rapidly evolving in application, and are likely to be more widely and intensively used in the immediate future.


Q:

Hi, Dr Merzenich. I am a student practitioner of The Anat Baniel Method. I have heard you speak a couple of times. The last time I heard you speak, you were talking about reversing the negative brain changes that come with age. At the end of your lecture you said something to the effect of - What can change in the brain? Everything. - I was very encouraged, particularly because I have a 3 year old with an intellectual disability, due to a chromosomal deletion (5p minus syndrome). My question to you is, do you think that it is possible for a child with a genetic syndrome's brain to make the same type of changes, to the point where there is no longer an intellectual disability? Many thanks.

A:

We have been interested in this specific deletion syndrome because it is of a not-infrequent occurrence, and because the expressions of ASD that arise from it are so dramatically variable. We have actually used computerized assessments to evaluate nearly 50 different elemental neurological faculties in children with this deletion to try to create a profile that was intended to describe what is common to all of these kids. What we see, in fact, is extraordinary diversity in the expression of deficits in this very intriguing child population. They raise the question: how can the same genetic deletion result in differences in phenotype that result in relatively mild to relatively severe cognitive impacts – a child that may be very “autistic” to only relatively mildly impacted?

There is an underlying related second question, and that is that we know that autism is strongly inherited; more than 70% of children with ASD with an identical twin, share ASD with that twin; but on the other hand, around 30% do not. So, how can it be that two genetically identical individuals with a strongly inherited disease, can differ so dramatically? One child, strongly negatively impacted; the second, primarily merely language delayed and impaired? This is a question that has interested my colleagues and I for a very long time. We have tried to address it in two ways. The first thing that we have tried to ask is, do these children have brains that have the normal capacities for improvement or change that apply for non-ASD children? While the plasticity control processes may differ in some ways, we have repeatedly seen that the brains of these children are highly plastic – just as in any other kid.

Second, we try to understand what the basis might be for the expression of a strong negative phenotype in one child genetically equivalent to a second child in which the phenotypic ASD is weak. To study this, we created an animal model whose brain is struggling in the listening domain, a core common deficit in ASD, and then we ask, “what environmental factors can very substantially add to the struggling brain of this inherently impaired child? We examined a total of 6 factors that were chosen, because we believe they have all grown in modern cultural environments across the last 35-40 years. You could say that what we are really trying to understand is not just what accounts for the variation in the penetrance in impacts in different genetically identical individuals, but also what could account for a clear, unequivocal increase in the percentage of children across the last 30-40 years identified as ASD. Our factors include: (1) poisoning the infant with a breakdown product from flame-retardant chemicals (the fluorinated equivalence of PCBs), (2) heavy exposure in the third trimester to repeated ultrasound examinations of the fetal head and brain, (3) perinatal exposure to heavy metals, (4) rapid cord clamping that results in inadequate delivery of hemoglobin from placental tissues into the infant and later to oxygen deprivation in the developing brain (5) exposure to continuous noise in the postnatal environment, as contrasted with raising the newborn infant in quiet, and (6) exposure of the mother to SSRIs. Every one of these added burdens contributed very significantly to the impairments that had been initiated by the initial insult. Put another way, a whole series of environmental factors are probably contributing to strength of ASD expression and to the increased probability that it is going to be a part of the child’s life.

For your child, the water is already over the dam. Whatever may have contributed to the child’s present neurological performance abilities is established and in place, which may mean that your child is off to a little more struggling beginning in life for nobody’s fault than was absolutely necessary. But, that child’s brain, like every other kid in the spectrum, is just beginning in life to organize itself and its powers. And, fantastic things can potentially come from it. Your job is to do everything you can to grow its powers and to help that child be somebody who is very special.

A final note, I admire Anat Baniel and the therapeutic strategies implemented by the Anat Baniel Method. You and I know that this provides another important source of insight to you in understanding how to help your kid.


Q:

There is a saying in academia that 'mathematics is a young man's game'. This is disheartening to many researchers who reach 30 without proving something important, and evidence seems to suggest that most of the best theorems in mathematics were proven by people younger than 30. Is this just a remarkable coincidence, or is something going on here? Maybe it is not related to cognitive ability, per se, but a willingness to take on a daring and seemingly hopeless task and keep at it for up to a decade. I'd be interested in your take on this phenomenon.

A:

I would like to address your wonderful question just a little bit hypothetically. So, as I integrate information and I advance my powers in thinking outside the box, it is an advantage not to know too much. It is an advantage to have a certain level of intrinsic unreliability. Because, in a sense, the more I drive structured representation in my brain, the more I imbed the rules of formulaic mathematics, the more constrained I am for engendering the truly original solution. In a sense, the older brain always bears the weight of its experiences, which can be constraining and limiting. We have a tendency to think that the more we know, the more original we will be. Actually, knowing a little from an isolated position (like, for example, working in the patent office, and not in the university laboratory) can be a big advantage. I have noticed that over the years, some of the most original scientific thought has come from the more surprising places where people have the advantage of a level of intellectual obscurity. On the other hand, you can go to a scientific meeting in my country and in my discipline, and find a thousand people who hold the same, virtually identical, scientific religious convictions.

I think mathematics might present a special problem in this respect, because it commands the mastery of symbolic manipulation that is rule based, that ultimately makes a hide bound creature out of an originally very open minded individual. I really don’t know any way to get over deeply established hide-boundedness. On the other hand, your brain is plastic. It is possible for old dogs to learn new tricks.


Q:

What modulates brain plasticity?

A:

The modulation or control of brain plasticity is a subject of thousands of scientific reports. There is a control system deep in the brain that releases chemical modulators – we call them modulatory neurotransmitters. Included on this list are the transmitters norepinephrine, acetylcholine, serotonin, dopamine, and endogenous opioids – along with two or three other minor players. Modulators are engaged as a function of behavioral context; you can think of them as having enabling power for plasticity. Or, they are released as a function of performance success – you could think of those as having “confirming power”. For example, norepinephrine broadly increases the excitability of responses across the cerebral cortex for those momentary times when it is released. When I am challenged to solve a problem, or challenged because something surprising has just occurred, its level of expression goes up. You could think of it as turning up the lights in the brain in ways that contribute to getting the answer right.

The neurotransmitter acetylcholine plays a different, crucial role. Acetylcholine is also released during moments of close attention – it actually increases the excitability of all of those things that are close to something I expect to occur, or something I am listening or searching for, or sensing to occur in my feelings. It actually allows the brain to change, to find a new solution, because the brain can actually engage the processes that can allow a substitution of what inputs dominate neural responses at each affected location. You can think of it as opening up the repertoire in the domain of possible change; once it is turned on, it gives you about two minutes to go through a behavioral cycle with the possibility of changing its effectively engaged neurons for the ones that were most valuable to improving behavioral performance.

Dopamine, another key neurotransmitter, is released as a function of the occurrence of a reward, or as the brain informs itself that it has responded correctly or made a correct judgment (a “self-recognized reward”), or by the expectation of a reward. That is to say, as soon as the brain expects you get the answer right, you get that rush of pleasure that tells you, “way to go!” – even before you respond to indicate that you know the right answer. Dopamine does two critical things: it modulates enduring change. Dopamine release does another wonderful thing; dopamine related processes actually change rapidly from having an initial positive plastic effect to having an immediately following negative plastic effect. What it is doing is strengthening all of those activities that contributed to performance success, then it takes the next moment in time to weaken everything connectionally that did not contribute. So, there is a positive and negative effect, which taken together, amplifies the power of change.

Serotonin and endogenous opioids and other modulators are also in play, but explaining their specific roles would take another page, or two…or three. I recommend Wikipedia.

In the meantime, think about the marvels of owning a brain that controls its own evolution and change. What do these modulatory neurotransmitters do in sum? They turn on your plasticity machine when something important is about to happen (or has just happened). They open up the machinery for broad change, just for those learning moments when change can be important or valuable to you. They evaluate the success of your behavioral “try” – if it is a good one, they save all of those changes that contribute to its success, and by doing that progressively and iteratively, they give you the power of master controller for even very complex activities. All of this occurs with the brain operating on the basis of enabling change that it interprets to be in its own best interest. What a machine you possess. What a wondrous thing. I sure hope you have a healthy one. I sure hope you are taking good care of your very own most powerful organ.


Q:

Do crosswords work as well as the exercises in BrainHQ? Intuitively, it seems like directly engaging in exercises that are seemingly the most mentally difficult would be the best brain training exercises. Maybe things like crossword or logic puzzles, or games like Chess/Go, or vigorous debate, or some of the video games kids play these days. And yet, Double Decision seems so tame, simple, easy. It is hard to believe it is more effective at preserving cognition than some other tasks.

Also, like Arun, I am curious about dance. I know some geriatricians recommend to their at-risk Alzheimer's patients that they remain socially engaged by doing things like dancing or going to bridge clubs. Is there evidence to support such recommendations?

A:

Actually, when we’ve done control trials in which we evaluate the effectiveness of brain exercises like Double Decision, in a number of studies we’ve used progressively more challenging crossword or other puzzles completed on a computer or phone as the active control task. Alas, it has little or no recordable neurological or performance benefits, except one: getting better at crossword puzzles. I might point out that I’ve completed the NYT crossword puzzle every morning for quite a few years and generally am very concerned about how long it takes me to complete it. You might be happy to know that this morning, I completed a Thursday puzzle 17 minutes faster than my average and I was really proud of myself. But alas, no benefit, except that it puts me in a good mood. Of course if I had been 17 minutes slower than the average I might be grouchier.

We’ve also used a wide variety of other computer games and control tasks and see strong differential benefits of BrainHQ over their use.

So the question is: what daily activities could matter? Your geriatrician is right about dancing. Progressive improvement in dancing is an example of an activity that adds value to your neurological life from 2 directions. First, it involves complex new learning in which you are complexly translating new information from the body, vision, audition, and memory into actions. You’re wakening up your learning brain. You’re elaborating your movements and their neurological control. You’re exercising complex sequential memory in a variety of ways that are healthy for your brain. Secondly, dancing is a social experience usually played out in the social arena where you are exercising your social cognition and control -- that machinery that is so close to the heart of the person you are. The more fun you have dancing around the floor, the healthier that core machinery is.

If you think Double Decision is always easy, perhaps you haven’t reached the highest levels. I find those to be pretty difficult. On the other hand, maybe you’re a lot swifter than I am in which case, way to go.


Q:

Hi Dr Merzenich, im asking myself how much information a human brain can handle? and what happens when it reach the limit if there is one.

Greetings from spain

A:

You remind me of a famous cartoon of a child sitting at the front of his class, raising his hand, with the caption: “Mr. Shultz? I think my brain is full”.

I don’t think you’re in any danger of overfilling your own cerebral vessel.

Seriously, you have an enormous capacity for acquiring new skills and abilities and for loading your neurological encyclopedia with massive amounts of information. I strongly suggest that you take on these personally empowering activities with the greatest of earnestness.


Q:

Hi Dr. Merzenich, do you have any experience with hemifacial spasm?

A:

Since the predominant hypothesis of origin seems to lie in the facial nerve (a nerve enervating the muscle of the face and not the brain) there is relatively little that I could say about it except that any widespread engagement of those muscles will result in a very powerful feedback from sensory receptors from muscles, skin and other tissues in the face to the brainstem (which could contribute to generating an enduring problem). I’m uncertain as to whether or not there might be a brain plasticity-related strategy to impact it but it’s not impossible to think there might be.

If I were you I would have someone stimulate the surface of my face (as I was blindfolded) and see if I could accurately reconstruct the locations of felt stimuli on the effected as well on the unaffected side. If you can’t, have that person help you with a 20-minute daily training session and see if you can improve your sensory feedback from the face. It’s possible that any weakening from that highly correlated activity fed back to the brain from skin and muscles could be on a path to at least limited improvement and generation of these strong co-contracting events. Of course you might also find that such an exercise is valueless. In which case, sorry for bringing it up.


Q:

What are you thoughts on tinnitus and brain plasticity?

A:

Most people don’t realize that 1 in 10 of their fellow citizens has to live with chronic tinnitus and that for several million Americans tinnitus is a source of almost-continuous distress. Most people don’t realize that something as seemingly innocuous as ringing of your ears can destroy a life, degrade performance on the job, disrupt sleep, drive emotional and psychiatric changes, and accelerate a progression to dementia. Most people don’t realize that a large proportion of individuals who serve in the military or who are working life as police officers, are at especially high risk for tinnitus onset.

Trials have been conducted by an independent scientist, Jay Picarillo, from Wash U using our listening training programs. About half of the trained people have better control over their tinnitus and those individuals expressed strong gratitude for having established that control even while the magnitude of the tinnitus was unaffected. Because they can put it out of mind at will, they can live and sleep with it and this is a great relief to them. Although almost all say they would do it again, there is a subclass that showed little or no benefit from this intensive training. We are now revising our training strategies because we think we should be able to impact it more powerfully and help more people escape from the clutches of tinnitus.

I’m also excited by studies being led by a former fellow of mine (Michael Kilgard at UT-Dallas) who has been amplifying learning strategies to try and drive stronger and faster brain-plasticity based changes in tinnitus suffers. Maybe he’ll come up with the true answer. In any event he and we know that this population represents a very important target for brain-plasticity based therapeutics. If there is nothing else for you to do with your present tinnitus, do what Dr. Picarillo did in his outcome trial. Do 40 hours of training on the Auditory Intensive training suite. There’s about a 50/50 chance that it will make a big difference in improving your control of the ringing or noises. These scientists showed that even individuals that did not have significant benefits in establishing better control of their tinnitus had at least modest improvement in brain connectivity which were in a normalizing (albeit, still far from perfect) direction.

Here are the details of the paper: https://www.zotero.org/groups/301482/cognitive_training_data/items/itemKey/JDSF5FG2/tag/Tinnitus


Q:

Thank you for this AMA and for your work, and for your perseverance in getting this information known throughout the years.

I have sleep apnea (I am not the stereotypical person that has it) and almost died from empyema as a baby (I suspect they all may have an effect on my brain). My memory is noticibly worse the last few years and I'm in my 50's.

I am my mother's sole caregiver (her dementia is getting much worse and she is often angry). I would like the chance at a better life after. I'm upset and scared, I really had hopes for more education, etc., in the future, but worry this is all slipping away.

I tried BrainHQ last night but even the free parts won't load on my older phone. I can't afford a new phone nor the paid part of the program.

PLEASE tell me other courses of action--other similar programs more accessible to me, supplements, and other activities. I am just starting to feel like I'm worth it and am interested in improving myself and giving myself a better future. I am trying to take better care of myself and improve my brain.

What are all of the things I can and should do, please?

Many thanks in advance!!