The Maverick of Brain Optimization

Tim Ferris interviews Dr. Adam Gazzaley of the Gazzaley Lab at UC San Francisco.

His recent studies go far beyond mere description — he and his lab are exploring neuroplasticity and how we can optimize cognitive abilities, even in healthy adults. So, what happens when you combine cognitive-focused video games with neurofeedback, magnetic and electrical stimulation, and even performance-enhancing drugs? Well, that’s just one of many things we cover in this conversation

See Also:
Lots more media from the Gazzaley Lab here:

An Evening with the Consciousness Hackers | The New Yorker

For the evening’s first demonstration, Siegel helped attach electrodes to the temples of Adam Goyer, a volunteer test subject, then cued Eugene Sinkevich, an electrical engineer, to start the current. “We are at the frontier,” Siegel said, looking out at the crowd as no more than two milliamps ran through Goyer’s head. “We’ll be able to tell our kids that we used to hook up arbitrary electrical signals to our brain.”Goyer sat still for several minutes, flinching only slightly. Then it was over. How did he feel?“First, let me say I’m really nervous about putting electricity through my brain. The first wave felt like a tingling on my forehead, and I guess I’m smarter afterward, sure. Then the second wave of tACS [transcranial alternating-current stimulation, a type of stimulation in which the flow of the charge varies] I kinda felt woozy, not in a bad way, but kind of like I’m on a boat. Then the third one, I definitely had some flickering, some eye flickering: in the outside of your eyes it’s like a flash, like a strobe.”

Source: An Evening with the Consciousness Hackers – The New Yorker

The benefits of mind-wandering |

The scientists also used “transcranial direct current stimulation,” in which an electrode is attached to the scalp, sending low electrical currents that activate neurons directly underneath. Electrodes were positioned over the dlPFC (or, for a control group, over an unrelated brain region) and turned on or off during the repetitive task. (Importantly, subjects typically couldn’t detect the current.)

The result? Stimulating the dlPFC increased the amount of mind-wandering. And did performance on the task plummet? No; it even improved a smidgen.

What does it mean that this hard-nosed, task-oriented, executive brain region helps to mediate mind-wandering? Why should the dlPFC want us to daydream? Probably because it can be beneficial.

For starters, mind-wandering fosters creative problem solving. It also aids decision-making by allowing you to run future-oriented simulations in your head: “Hmm, so how might things be if I decide to do X? How about if I do Y?” It’s ideal not just for thinking about possible outcomes but also for thinking about how different outcomes would feel.

Source: The benefits of mind-wandering
Study: Increasing propensity to mind-wander with transcranial direct current stimulation

Hooking up: zapping your brain

Katie, 23, has suffered from anxiety and depression since she was 18. When her boyfriend Lee told her about transcranial directcurrent stimulation (tDCS), a form of neurostimulation which involves administering a low level of electrical current to the brain, she was sceptical. But Lee had heard that it could help people with mood disorders and wondered if she might benefit from it.

“The first time, I freaked out,” she remembers. “I thought, ‘I can’t cope with putting electrical stimulations in my brain.’ Lee put this machine on and, it’s difficult to explain, but, everything went empty in a good way. I can’t remember if I’ve ever felt like that. I felt relaxed and chilled inside. It was a mad sensation and an out-of-body experience.”

She’d tried anti-depressants in the past but found they didn’t work for her. Now she uses the kit regularly. “It’s improved my life and improved my mind,” she says.

Source: Hooking up: zapping your brain

Scientists retrieve lost memories using optogenetics

I’m exposing my bias here, which is the hope that tDCS will be found to facilitate memory retrieval. This study, in mice, retrieved dormant memories using light (optogenetics) to activate cells used in memory formation. Recent studies suggest that memories are formed within a synaptic network, parts of which extend to areas of the brain more frequently targeted by tDCS. Probably closest to the research I’d like to see done (that I’m aware of) was reported in 2009, “Where Are Old Memories Stored in the Brain?“. I imagine a study where early memory, triggered by photos and recollections, are imaged using fMRI and that later, those same areas are targeted using tDCS. In the study reported on above, Medial Temporal Lobe Activity during Retrieval of Semantic Memory Is Related to the Age of the Memory, researchers concluded that older memories associated with regions in the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, and parietal lobe. (Though seems inconclusive as to whether memories are ‘stored’ there… “An additional way to understand the increasing involvement of some cortical areas, especially frontal cortex, as time passes is that older memories require more strategic, effortful search.”) Now, back to the post title article…

The researchers then attempted to discover what happens to memories without this consolidation process. By administering a compound called anisomycin, which blocks protein synthesis within neurons, immediately after mice had formed a new memory, the researchers were able to prevent the synapses from strengthening.

When they returned one day later and attempted to reactivate the memory using an emotional trigger, they could find no trace of it. “So even though the engram cells are there, without protein synthesis those cell synapses are not strengthened, and the memory is lost,” Tonegawa says.

But startlingly, when the researchers then reactivated the protein synthesis-blocked engram cells using optogenetic tools, they found that the mice exhibited all the signs of recalling the memory in full.

“If you test memory recall with natural recall triggers in an anisomycin-treated animal, it will be amnesiac, you cannot induce memory recall,” Tonegawa says. “But if you go directly to the putative engram-bearing cells and activate them with light, you can restore the memory, despite the fact that there has been no LTP.”

Source: Scientists retrieve lost memories using optogenetics
See Also: Neuroanatomy of memory
Gone But Not Forgotten? The Mystery Behind Infant Memories
The Hippocampus and episodic memory
Neuron Basics (video)

Time to Take Another Look At tDCS and more | SpeakWisdom

It’s a Software World Now!
If you purchase a V2 (or own one now), you may wish to update its firmware periodically to take advantage of new features. Here are some key steps:

  1. Go to the web site and create an account:
  2. Log in with the account
  3. Connect your V2 doc to your capable PC (or Mac)
  4. On the left of your screen (once logged in), select “My Downloadable Products”
  5. Click the “Microsoft Software” (or Mac) download button and install
  6. Run the installed application and allow it to check and upgrade your V2 to the latest firmware

Source: Time to Take Another Look At tDCS and more | SpeakWisdom

Here’s What Zapping Your Brain with Electricity Feels Like | LiveScience

Interesting to note that Michael Weisend is now associated with San Francisco based company Rio Grande Neurosciences.

The current was set to 2 milliamps, about 1,000 times less than the electrical current that flows through a typical iPad charger. But only about 1/50th of that current makes it through the skull to the brain, Weisend said. The stimulation, which lasted for 10 minutes, was aimed at my right inferior frontal cortex and the right anterior temporal lobe, which are brain areas thought to be important for learning. If this were a real experiment, Weisend would have scanned my brain first to determine the optimal placement for the electrode, but in my case, he made an approximation.

I turned the electricity on myself, and the first thing I noticed was the mild stinging where the electrode attached to my head. Weisend assured me this was normal, but said if the sensation continued, he would turn it off and try to get a better connection. Next I noticed a slight taste of metal in my mouth, a common side effect of tDCS, according to Weisend.


Does tDCS accelerate learning safely? – Dr. Michael Weisend | The Quantified Body

Excellent! A full hour with Dr. Wesiend. Haven’t listened yet but guaranteed to be the latest info in our understanding of tDCS. We met Dr. Weisend earlier in podcast #4,

Recently, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) or the non-invasive targeting of weak direct current (DC) to specific brain regions has received media attention. Among the scientific research community, tDCS has been a subject of great interest owing to its usage ease, relative inexpensiveness, and encouraging research results on a range of functions. Studies have seen tDCS accelerate learning, reduce symptoms of dementia, and improve attention in those with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Understandably, a coinciding rise in the DIY community has also prompted an increase in consumer devices available for home use in hopes of mimicking tDCS’s potential neuroenhancement abilities.

Source: Does tDCS accelerate learning safely? – Dr. Michael Weisend | The Quantified Body

Make New Memories But Keep the Old, With a Little Help From Electrodes | Smithsonian

Scarce on details but certainly I will be keeping tabs on this.

Deep sleep, a period that’s known as vital for memory formation, becomes rarer as people age, waning more and more after individuals hit their mid-30s. By attaching two electrodes to a person’s scalp, Walker can direct a current into the prefrontal area and simulate the slow waves of deep sleep while the wearer slumbers.
The technique is called transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS), and while the equipment to do it is commercially available, it is not FDA approved for use on medical conditions. The devices in their current form aren’t intelligent enough to know when a wearer is in deep non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and so they aren’t able to start stimulating in that sleep stage on their own and sync up with the brain’s waves. “At present, we scientists need to do this in a sleep lab,” says Walker. “We have to measure someone’s sleep, and then switch the stimulator on at the desired stimulating rhythm to have a beneficial effect.” That said, he believes in five to eight years these issues will be resolved, and these devices could help those with Alzheimer’s, dementia, insomnia, depression and anxiety.

Source: Make New Memories But Keep the Old, With a Little Help From Electrodes | Innovation | Smithsonian

Why your brain stimulator is probably not making you stupider

But read the whole article to hear Nathan’s perspective on the paper that created a deluge of negative media.

This is very, very different from the montages that have been used in studies of cognitive enhancement in the past (and the most common ones used by the DIY community), which typically use an anode placed near some site on the prefrontal cortex and another either placed on the same region on the other side of the head, above the eye on the other side of the head, or somewhere on the contralateral body below the neck (to generate a montage with only one site with high current density). The authors explain why they wanted to stimulate both sides simultaneously (complex tasks engage large regions of the frontal cortex, therefore they thought stimulating a large area would be desirable. Oddly, they even mention the more conventional way of doing this (an F3-F4 montage), but never explain why they decided against it.

Warning: transcranial direct current stimulation can do your head in | The Guardian

This is what the media does! They are referencing the article discussed here, where Nathan Whitmore (ohsnapitsnathan) points out that due to the unusual electrode configuration, “…the current density at the cathode is actually greater than at the “active” electrodes…).

Who ever thought this was a good idea? A form of electrical brain stimulation was first used to treat melancholy in the 19th century.

Melancholy isn’t even a thing. In the 1960s, tDCS became briefly fashionable when it was shown that it could alter the excitability of neurons in the motor cortex. More recently, it’s been used to increase or decrease cortical activity with the aim of alleviating depression or insomnia.

Hopefully, doctors will exercise extreme caution with the treatment now the possibility of detrimental effects has been raised. Are you kidding? People are out there zapping themselves – you can buy a tDCS kit online for less than £100. You can even find instructions to make your own.

So this isn’t the end for tDCS? Probably not. And a similar application, but with alternating current – tACS – is also being researched.

Do say: “The effect of electrical stimulation on the brain has fascinated scientists for centuries, and yet it remains so little understood.”

Don’t say: “My IQ’s gone down? I’m shocked.”

Source: Warning: transcranial direct current stimulation can do your head in | Science | The Guardian

Therapy Borne on Electrical Currents –

Thync’s strategy is to bypass the brain and instead use pulsed currents to stimulate peripheral nerves closer to the surface of the skin, with the goal of modulating the user’s stress response.
“We spent a year and a half optimizing the wave forms to the point that we felt really confident in the science,” said Jamie Tyler, the company’s chief science officer. His team has tested about 3,300 people in single-blind and double-blind, placebo-controlled studies.
Wave forms refer to a series of electric pulses that change frequency and amplitude over time. Like a sound equalizer, the theory goes, the parameters can be “tuned” to produce an intended biological effect.
Soon into my 20-minute demonstration, I feel a sharp, slightly painful tingling above my eye, like vibrating pinpricks. I brace myself, awaiting relaxation.
According to Dr. Tyler, the “calm vibe” at its peak produces a relaxation greater than that provided by three Benadryls, according to a common statistical measure for effect size. The “energy vibe” is said to be stronger than that produced by a 20-ounce can of Red Bull. Each mood lasts for about 45 minutes without a subsequent crash, Thync says.
But some experts are skeptical, insisting that the company show evidence of peer-reviewed, independently replicated results.

Source: Therapy Borne on Electrical Currents –

Neuroelectrics wants to be Fitbit for the brain

We met Ana in our first podcast interview.

Maiques compares Neuroelectrics to the “DIY” ethos of health-tracking technology, such as Fitbit and other wearables. “We have an ageing population dealing with chronic illnesses, but people are also becoming more self-aware when it comes to monitoring their health. We believe these self-monitoring technologies are going to become popular in the home over the next few years.”

Source: Neuroelectrics wants to be Fitbit for the brain

Quick, to the rat cave! — Montage Explorer, a search engine for brain…

Nathan Whitmore just launched a tDCS search engine!

The goal of Montage Explorer is slightly different from that of a traditional montage website. While most of these sites attempt to provide details one a montage used in one or two studies, the goal of Montage Explorer is to provide an aggregate view and summary of all the research on a particular montage (including side effects that are discovered in studies by other authors and “null results” where an effect fails to replicate) and provide access to the original results and publications, using automated analysis of articles published on noninvasive brain stimulation.


Augmentation of cognitive brain functions with transcranial lasers

I was inspired to revisit this paper today after reading a fascinating post on by member, Lostfalco, an avid, one might venture to say extreme, proponent of self-experimenting. Here’s another very thorough post on by Joseph Cohen. And Gwern weighs in! Low-level light/laser therapy (LLLT) works in an entirely different way than tDCS. Feeling like I have a lot of reading ahead of me. I will begin to share more research as it becomes available. Check out the video below for a basic understanding of the process.

Cognitive and emotional functions
LLLT via commercial low-power sources (such as FDA-cleared laser diodes and LEDs) is a highly promising, affordable, non-pharmacological alternative for improving cognitive function. LLLT delivers safe doses of light energy that are sufficiently high to modulate neuronal functions, but low enough to not result in any damage.  In 2002, the FDA approved LLLT for pain relief in cases of head and neck pain, arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. LLLT has been used non-invasively in humans after ischemic stroke to improve neurological outcome. It also led to improved recovery and reduced fatigue after exercise. One LLLT stimulation session to the forehead, as reported by Schiffer et al. (2009), produced a significant antidepressant effect in depressed patients. No adverse side effects were found either immediately or at 2 or 4 weeks after LLLT. Thus, these beneficial LLLT treatments have been found to be safe in humans. Even though LLLT has been regarded as safe and received FDA approval for pain treatment, the use of transcranial lasers for cognitive augmentation should be restricted to research until further controlled studies support this application for clinical use.

via Augmentation of cognitive brain functions with transcranial lasers.

In this video LLLT is described as a treatment for damaged tissue. In the paper above, the same process is used to ‘augment brain function’.