OtherCareer fireman of 10 years for 3 professional departments. Also traveled the country providing disaster relief after major natural disasters. AMA
Jul 4th 2017 by XjonboyX • 39 Questions • 738 Points
I’m here to introduce you to strategies for growing your brain power, and for adopting strategies for managing your organic brain health. For nearly five decades, I’ve been a leading pioneer in the science of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change its anatomical, neurochemical, and functional performance status across the lifespan. Neuroplasticity can enable the brain to change for the better, or for the worse. We know the neurological rules that govern this remarkable process—which has led us to a new understanding of why most individuals functionally deteriorate at an older age and also reveal powerful new strategies for more effectively engaging your brain to restore its functionality. With the proper forms of brain engagement and intensive computer-guided training, you can increase key neurotransmitters controlling brain change; improve the structural integrity of your brain; accelerate, refine, and grow the reliability of the brain’s information processing and recording (remembering); and improve your overall brain health. In other words, we now know how you can AGAIN GROW your brain powers see my book, Soft-Wired.
When I first helped pioneer this research beginning in the 1970s, most mainstream neuroscientists rejected the conclusion that the brain was subject to continuous, large-scale, lifelong brain remodeling. Hundreds of thousands of research reports have subsequently documented the fact of ‘adult’ brain plasticity, and millions of individuals have now benefited from the application of our intensive, highly efficient computer-guided training programs.
More recently, when we tried to explain to the scientific community that using pharmaceuticals to clear amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease would and could never really restore cognitive function—that drug trials predicated on this assumption were doomed to fail—this avenue for treatment was still being very aggressively pursued to the tune of billions of dollars. That investment reflects a fundamental lack of understanding of brain plasticity-related science and Alzheimer’s/dementia ‘disease’ origin. Although there is an ongoing presumption that Alzheimer’s disease is a disease, our brain science argues that Alzheimer’s is actually the catastrophic end stage of a long, completely natural, negative-plasticity-driven change progression. A fundamental misunderstanding of the origins of this train wreck explains why more than 450 FDA drug trials searching for a ‘magic bullet’ to treat Alzheimer’s have failed.
I’m joining the Reddit community to try to help you understand that the ways that scientists and doctors have thought about neurological and psychiatric illnesses like Alzheimer’s has been substantially in error. The slow, unrelenting decline in our functional abilities that culminate in those train wrecks that we’ve labelled “Alzheimer’s” or “dementia” or “Parkinson’s” or “schizophrenia” (among dozens of other adult-acquired maladies) are natural change progressions. Importantly, the same scientific studies have clearly shown that these negative progressions are NOT inevitable. We have the power to throw the plasticity switch from ‘decline’ to ‘grow.’ Understanding how to throw that switch is a central topic that I’m opening up for discussion on Reddit! What, exactly, should you be doing, to sustain or even grow your abilities, to successfully manage your organic brain health, to improve your lot in life, and keep yourself safer? My goal on Reddit is to educate you and other citizens about this scientific, economic, and societal revolution that is educating us about better ways to combat—and hopefully defeat— Alzheimer’s and other brain-related catastrophes. Our failure to apply this science in the world is currently devastating elder and other human populations. A medical course correction may be extremely important for you, and for every other older or otherwise-at-risk individual who you care about.
Credentials: I am an Emeritus Professor from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), have published more than 250 articles in peer-reviewed journals, and been awarded more than 60 US patents. For this work, I have been awarded the Kavli Prize, the highest international honor in neuroscience. I have also received the Russ Prize (highest honor in bioengineering), Ipsen Prize, Zülch Prize, Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award, Purkinje Medal, and membership to the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine.
I will be here all day. My goal is to answer every question, which means I may visit again tomorrow.
Obligatory legal disclaimer: By law, medical information cannot be offered online. All information, content, and material is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider. What I say here are my own opinions and may not necessarily reflect the views of the brain training companies I have founded.
EDIT: Thanks everyone -- I enjoyed your questions, they were good ones. I will try to get to the ones I didn't answer yet tomorrow.
EDIT: I'm back and ready to answer more questions.
EDIT: I'm signing off for the day. I might be back tomorrow.
EDIT: Back again.
EDIT: See you later, Reddit. This was fun.
Nootropics is a very growing market. What are your thoughts on the use and/or the regulation of nootropics?
I've been in this field since I was dating my now wife of 5 years. According to her it was an odd adjustment. (I've always worked the 24/48 schedule) but after a while a lot of times it seems families enjoy it. I love my schedule. I work more hours than a 40 hour a week person but I only work 10 days a month.
The hard part for a family is missing the holidays, birthdays, events, etc. I've been scheduled to work every major holiday this year. But you make it work. My wife just left the station after dropping by with our 8 month old daughter. She brings her by to take pictures so down the road she can see the holiday I missed but she shared with me anyhow.
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.
I knew this was a bad idea but #2, a lebanese house maiden
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.
Is there work being done on taking advantage of brain plasticity to heal from specific incidents, i.e., recovering from PTSD as an adult?
Well I do think my schedule is great. The pay isn't. But i have always enjoyed my schedule.
The schedule once I work all three jobs isn't fun. But that's different than just discussing the one schedule
We’re supporting a trial underway. This has been a subject of intense interest having been stimulated by the large number of war-wounded individuals who have come home to a life of PTSD. There are a half-dozen different brain-plasticity training strategies that are now being evaluated. One class of studies have involved virtual reality training that usually incorporates some form of directly dealing with, and attempting to weaken, that kind of signaling that sets off a PTSD epoch. Others have applied strategies like ours designed to more broadly normalize all of the distorted machinery that contributes to the repetitive, powerful hijacking of the brain by the historical terrors that are the basis of the problem. Many others personalize the intervention with recognition of the complex and very highly-individualized nature of traumatic human experiences. All of these strategies show promise. None have been demonstrated to be a completely reliably solution yet. My belief now is that some combination of strategies – integrated neurological collection with refined trauma-specific coaching – might be the strongest form of treatment that we can apply to help these individuals.
I’ve argued in meetings at the While House and elsewhere that when we train a soldier and teach them to accept the terrible things that they must do “on the job” we should think about training them just as seriously and intensely and carefully when they return home from duty and go back to civilian life. We’ve altered them neurologically through brain plasticity processes to play a role as an imposer of violence and as a witness of its horrors. They have acted in our service doing something that most of us couldn’t do. At the end of this incredibly generous action on our behalf, we have an equal responsibility to help them bring their brain back to normalcy.
Alas, we are not now doing a good job of this. Shame on us.
Hi OP, how much medical training does a fireman usually get? What kind of skills do you have to handle medical emergency? I have respect to firemen and will you guys always be the first one to show up whenever a medical 911 is called? Thanks for the AMA post.
If you had to pick one cast member from MTV's Jackass to have sex with your wife while you watch, who would it be and why?
What do you think about brain training companies like Lumosity?
Hey there, good question. The answer 100% depends on your region. Smaller volunteer departments usually have minimal training (usually not always) and usually bigger metro areas have much higher. I am personally a state licensed EMT-B which overall is very common across the nation. My department is a BLS dept which means there is always 1 out of 4 if not all 4 people in the truck certified to and EMT level.
A lot of places utilize higher certifications like paramedic. I started in Florida and almost every department there is ALS which means there's always a paramedic on the truck.
In most urban places the reason you see a fire truck coming to every EMS call is because we are held to a higher response time standard. Currently we are held to a 4 minute response time. The county EMS service here is held to a 9 minute window. So we arrive with similar equipment and a lot of times the same qualifications to mitigate the immediate life threat and stabilize before they get transported.
Hope this helps!
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.
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.
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.
For you what is the most challenging (physically and mentally) scenario you've been in as a firefighter?
Also thanks for everything you do/have done for folk like us! I am always in awe of people like you.
Do you get hard looking at sinks?
What is the latest research on reversing short term memory loss? Also in specific ,memory loss from damaged hippocampus. Thank you.
You're welcome first and foremost. Thanks for your support. Those are two different questions so to separate them I'll say, physically, a legitimate working fire (fire people here will understand) is one of the most physically demanding hostile environments you can put yourself through. It calls on every sense, in a time compressed task saturated environment, where you're called on to make life or death decisions in a moments notice. There's no one else coming to take your place. The people inside are expecting you to take extreme chances to make the push to remove them from whatever fire environment they are in.
Mentally a fire is also extremely draining. But seeing a lot of the ugly side of society to include death, drugs, murder, etc takes its toll. That and if you work in a busy company not having any sleep can really destroy you.
You're too wordy. Have someone punch that up and get back, there's something there
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.
In my book, Soft-wired, I’ve tried to provide some practical advice about how you might think about adapting your lifestyle so that you’re living your life to the advantage of your brain health. Of course, in this venue I can only provide a few off-hand suggestions. First, think of a life of continuous new learning. Every not-so-many months you should take on some fundamentally new operational domain that enables you to elaborate and enrich your neurological powers. Continuous new learning is a key to keeping your control machinery alive. Maybe you want to learn how to make a pot, play the ukulele, sing in the choir, write a novel, learn Portuguese, master Tiddlywinks. There are ten thousand things that you could begin to do tomorrow that would enrich you neurologically. It’s important that you take on such activities with seriousness of purpose and that you continually advance your ability in the direction of mastery. For activities you’re already fond of, get better at them. Work to become a master of the environment you live in. Pay attention to it again. Connect to it again. Look for the surprises in it again. Be like a child again. Drink in the smells and the beautiful, peculiar and complex objects in front of you. Listen for the natural music in the world as a life habit. When you’re in conversation, really listen. Really connect with the person in front of you. Be socially alive.
Seek positive social engagement. Adopt a generous and giving attitude. The level of your generosity of spirit is an index of the status of the machinery that controls positive brain change within your skull. Happiness expresses neurological power. In your physical activities, seek variety. Live life off the trail and off the road. Walk where every footfall is made with just a little level of uncertainty or insecurity. Avoid stereotypy in thought and in action. Avoid adopting negative habits that can stereotypically drive you into the ditch. I’ve discussed a whole series of these kinds of habits (negative learning habits) in Soft-Wired. Life lived to the advantage of your brain is a lot more fun than the life most people are leading. In the negative learning domain it’s important that your life is not completely dominated by modern technological distraction. Many people are now almost completely buried in their assistive and electronic devices in ways that are continuing to ongoing neurological deprivation. You could say they have a brain that is a master of an unnatural world which is scarcely what your brain was designed for.
You’re worried about sustaining your brain on a level in which its operating with brightness and alertness? Hey, seek brightness and alertness.
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?
My captain actually works part time for dispatch so I'm biased. A lot are really great but due to turnover like anywhere else you get some that just don't care. It's all good till they let you roll into a situation you shouldn't be rolling into. Overall they are the first line of defense in your safety! Be patient with them on the phone. They have a list of questions to ask and a job to do like everyone else.
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.
First of all, no. Second of all, I only have 3 comics on - 3 limit.
They're not open mics, they're middlers
I have been fascinated by the neurology of some of the world’s stranger creatures. One of my favorites studies I conducted as a young scientist was to try and understand the meaning of the very, very strange brain of that had been described in a burrowing animal in the Pacific Northwest called a mountain beaver (aplodontia). My colleagues and I were able to show that this animal had subsonic hearing. Compressing the air in a box 3x3x3 meters by 1cc was detectable in the animals hearing. It has a massive neurological specialization that processes this information. How does the animal use it? It plugs its burrow with its fat little body. It senses pressure changes from anything else in the burrow and has constructed a burrow in which it can always escape. By this single trick, this rodent with the lowest breeding rate of any rodent has survived unchanged from 70 million years. We humans have no single trick as good as this one. The animal kingdom is absolutely chock-full of neurological marvels like this. Many unknown, and even unsuspecting.
A friend in Australia discovered a second animal that had a brain that looked like just a mountain beaver’s. This animal was detecting minute changes in air pressure but not underground in a dark tunnel. It was located in the tops of the highest trees in the continent of Australia. It’s called the feather-tailed glider (the beloved animal on the Australian penny) and it uses the same incredible faculty to monitor the minute changes in wind current to stay aloft and not fall out of the tree. It’s amazing that these two creatures have such a similar brain.
We are largely abandoning the study of the neurology of interesting creatures like this. Modern science has just lost interest. What a shame.
One last point: my paper on the mountain beaver is the least often cited of the 250-300 peer-reviewed papers I have published in life as a scientist but is one of the papers (as the true nerd that I am) that I am most proud of.
I wish that we knew a lot more about the neurology of lots of creatures in the world because I think that knowing more would contribute to the role we have to play in conserving them on the planet. But my days of studying the brains of animals are long past, with one exception. That is, Homo sapiens, in some ways a primitive species and in some ways an advanced species with a pretty interesting brain. While it’s not nearly as special as most people imagine, Homo have a pretty impressive machine inside their skulls.
Have you seen inprovements in the firedepartments over the last 10 years? (money/equipment, training and general handling of emergencies)
How hot does magnesium burn?
First off, how do you spell magnesium. But if I were to guess approximately 3100 degrees celsius
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
No it happens. But what they air on tv is only going to be the rivalries because us hugging and slapping butts isn't what makes for good tv. Overall we get along. There's plenty of good hearted picking that happens but in the end they know we have their 6.
Have you ever struggled with PTSD? I know many other firefighters who have struggled with it after so many years of seeing such brutal stuff. It can really take its toll. I'm just a volunteer but many of my friends and some of my family work full on and for a few its hit hard. Thankfully I haven't been working long enough to see anything truly horrible. I just work in a sleepy town in South Carolina where not much happens anyway.
Who is the next BIG comedian to die, and why is it Artie Lange?
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?
I don't know if I would classify it as ptsd because I don't ever want to take away from those truly suffering. But there are a handful of calls I won't talk about that I struggle with leaving behind.
If you ever need someone always reach out!
I love Artie I would never say that to him. Keep all the mean shit to me you piece of gaaaarbage
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.
Thanks for your response! Do you think these methods are effective? Or in your opinion/experience is there a different way of training or structuring the work environment that would create a better fire department? Not coming in with any bias, just curious :)
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?
That was too intelligent of a joke for me, dumb it down stupid
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.
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
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.
I apologize if this is somewhat broad, but could you discuss the role of neurotrophic factors in plasticity and adult neurogenesis?
It's hard to say "largest"
There's been small homes that put off more fire when fully involved compared to an enormous commercial building that is partially involved. You also have to account for wildfires if you're talking size.
But in general a 2 story wood frame home in the 3000+ square foot range makes for a good show when it's rocking.
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?
I've actually worked for the county service on the side. We usually get along fine. There's sometimes rivalries with EMS thinking they are better than us, and we think they are pretentious sometimes. But overall we work together to get the job done
Yes unfortunately I have, it would have to be dinner then chinese
As you know Dr. Sarno was a controversial physician who argued that chronic pain was powerfully contributed to by an anxious demeanor or personality. That it could be an exaggerated outcome of uncontrolled or unrepressed anxieties or worries. This perspective stems from studies that began to emerge in the second World War that strongly argued that pain is powerfully modulated by context. For example, severe wounding on the battle field could be a good thing if it translated into survival and going home to your family. The same wound in a homeland factory could be devastating where job loss meant deep family troubles. The wounded soldier didn’t hurt nearly so much as the wounded civilian. We know that there are powerful processes in the brain / plastic processes that can contribute to and sustain pain genesis or that can contribute to pain suppression. Dr. Sarno probably exaggerated the cure-all nature of this therapies but it’s generally that this class of therapy helps many people and that the help can be transformational.
Chronic pain has a plasticity-based origin. When a painful source of information comes from the body, roaring activity from the source of the pain degrades the representation of innocuous inputs from that body region. The machinery of the brain is unstable and oscillates and that oscillatory activity is sine qua non with pain. When it’s there, you hurt. When it’s not there, you don't. This degradation can actually be amplified. It can grow by continuously reliving and reimagining it (i.e., practiced suffering) to extend beyond the insult itself by plastic changes that arise in the brain. It can clearly be related to the anxiety and other factors emphasized by Dr. Sarno. Through growth the pain can achieve a life of its own long after the source of the pain has been eliminated. In my view, Dr. Sarno was a little reckless, perhaps, but he was also quite a bit ahead of his time.
Hi xjonboyx, what effect have the politics in emergency services had on your job satisfaction?
Were you drawing from personal experience with your scene in Sirens? It all seemed so real
What attracted you to the job at first and what what part do you find liking the best now?
And what would you say was/is the most unexpected routine part of the job? And/or most WTF moment if you wanna throw that in.
what do you think it will take to leave your child without a father?
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?
So starting out I honestly was sort of lost. I got accepted to art college and backed out. I met with some recruiters but changed my mind. It looked like adventure mixed with blue collar working with your hands doing cool stuff kinda job. So I went for it with no true insight.
Now being in it, I am absolutely in love with the concept that people are having legitimate emergencies and when they call 911 they get my rig coming to help. And they expect me to fix the problem no matter what. I love that expectation to perform. Especially when it comes to fires.
Most unexpected I think maybe was learning how strange the subculture can be around the house. Everyone is from a different walk of life and has different beliefs, values, personalities, hobbies, etc. a lot of them you might not have ever hung out with outside of work but you learn to love them (most of them) and they become a family to you. A family with a bond almost as close to your real families bond.
Most wtf moment that pops in my head. (There's so many) is one time I was a brand new guy in my first dept. I was writing some reports in a small closet computer room. When all the sudden a grown man in a speedo, flippers and a sailors hat (that's it) comes busting in the station. He rapidly flops past me and down to the captains quarters. I hear all this clammering and yelling. Saying "its the platypus!!!" Lots of stuff being thrown and all sorts of crap. I shut myself in that room and waiting it out like a tornado. I finally came out and found a few guys straightening up a room. They all looked at me and were like "did you see him?! Did you see the platypus!?" I was terrified for some reason and didn't ask any questions. Just helped clean up. Never found out if it was an elaborate probie joke or some legit crazy guy. (We had a few of those known for breaking in)
Stop with the fucking, stop getting real, don't make statements. Either be funny or fuck yourself
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.
Will you dress up as Victor, the Just for Laughs mascot?
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?
I think I already am. I look very similar right now. Just paint me green and take my clothes off
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.
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.
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?
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.
Thank you, sir, for this amazing post. What can be done regarding anger? Is this an inherited characteristic?
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!
Hi Dr. Merzenich, do you have any experience with hemifacial spasm?
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.