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Math Science

Scientists Overclock People's Brains 314

arshadk writes with this excerpt from the BBC about researchers at Oxford University who found that inducing a small current in a subject's parietal lobe boosted their capacity for numerical learning: "The current could not be felt, and had no measurable effect on other brain functions. As it was turned on, the volunteers tried to learn a puzzle which involved substituting numbers for symbols. Those given the current from right to left across the parietal lobe did significantly better when given, compared to those who were given no electrical stimulation. The direction of the current was important — those given stimulation running in the opposite direction, left to right, did markedly worse at these puzzles than those given no current, with their ability matching that of an average six-year-old. The effects were not short-lived, either. When the volunteers whose performance improved was re-tested six months later, the benefits appear to have persisted. There was no wider effect on general maths ability in either group, just on the ability to complete the puzzles learned as the current was applied."
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Scientists Overclock People's Brains

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  • Er... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 05, 2010 @11:34AM (#34136636)

    So a third of the group who had current applied left to right had their brains underclocked for 6 months? And they were OK with that?

  • So basically... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @11:35AM (#34136654)

    So basically we're FPGAs?

  • Ridiculous (Score:0, Insightful)

    by windcask ( 1795642 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @11:36AM (#34136682) Homepage Journal
    Just because you know how to turn a computer on doesn't mean you should go messing around with registry keys or your CMOS. Let's curb our enthusiasm for our tiny understanding of how the brain works and learn more before we start screwing around with things.
  • by Pojut ( 1027544 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @11:37AM (#34136690) Homepage

    Back when I worked as a mechanic, the guy that owned the place and a buddy of his used to bring cars into the shop after hours, snort up a line of blow, and go to town. I once watched them pull a motor out of a Honda Civic in 15 minutes, surgeon style (one guy giving and taking tools/nuts/bolts, one guy using the tools to remove said nuts/bolts).

    No exaggeration. 15 minutes. It transcended bitchin'.

  • but in the end, you overtax the neurons, burn them out, killing them, lower their potential, etc

    take care of your body, you're only given one, you can't improve upon the performance of your brain and your body without longterm tradeoffs that are larger than any benefit you receive in the short term

    stop trying to improve on what you have. just use it, and take care of it

    "a candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned very brightly..." -bladerunner

  • Re:Uhhhh.... WHAT? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @11:38AM (#34136712) Homepage Journal

    The effect seemed to influence the learning process... IE when the current is applied in the correct direction the learning process takes place very quickly and when in the opposite direction it takes place very slowly. The subjects retested later showed they retained the learned skill, not the *ability* to learn that was afforded by the electrical stimulation.

    Of course, lacking any such mental enhancement my interpretation of this may be totally wrong.

  • Re:Overclocking? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by javelin682 ( 793007 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @11:39AM (#34136726)
    you don't get the BSO part, you just get D
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 05, 2010 @11:48AM (#34136900)

    "stop trying to improve on what you have. just use it, and take care of it" ??? Are you serious?

    I am really glad that nature, science, business, art, linguistics, etc. -- generally disagrees with your harmful advice. Thankfully, we have selfish genes. And these genes take risks. Because risk-taking is the natural path to growth, learning, innovation, etc.

    Life is not an exercise in conservation! Human nature seeks constant improvement. Humans are risk takers, thankfully. You only have one life to live, so don't squander it by being safe.

  • by martas ( 1439879 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @11:52AM (#34136968)

    you can't improve upon the performance of your brain and your body without longterm tradeoffs

    i hate that kind of defeatist, "nature/god knows best" attitude. everything you have right now is thanks to people who believed they could do better than nature, and they did. yes, you shouldn't do lines of coke to be better at your job, because that is a hack. it doesn't mean we can't make ourselves truly better, without "overclocking" and burning out. a candle that burns twice as bright could burn out twice as fast, or it could simply be a fucking light bulb that lasts 5 years.

  • by HeckRuler ( 1369601 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @11:57AM (#34137062)
    Well, these people are learning more about the brain BY screwing around with it. How else do you learn things? Unfortunately, we're missing the user's manual.
  • Re:Oldnews (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RockoTDF ( 1042780 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @12:02PM (#34137162) Homepage
    I know it is well studied, I'm a neuroscientist. What I am saying is that we must not assume that the effects over time are the exact opposite in each direction.
  • by KingSkippus ( 799657 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @12:05PM (#34137246) Homepage Journal

    Crud, then, because I and a LOT of my friends have had LASIK surgery to correct my vision. It turns out god gave me bum eyes that focused everything slightly in front of my retina, and that fixed it pretty well with minimal, if any, long-term trade-off.

    My dad had high blood pressure. In spite of efforts to control it through diet and exercise, he foolishly took drugs to control it, thinking that he could improve upon his natural system to regulate it. He died a few years ago of bladder cancer. I'm not sure how exactly that was a long-term tradeoff since the doctors told us they were completely unrelated, but he seemed not to mind the short-term benefit of living a reasonably long time.

    Also, where exactly do we draw the line? I mean, some people run 10 miles or more a day; surely that can't be normal and can be considered a measure to "improve on what you have," and statistically, those people tend to live longer. Do we consider eating certain foods that contain substances shown medically to lead to longer and more healthy lives, or for that matter, avoiding natural foods that contain substances shown medically to be harmful (fat, cholesterol, etc.) to be trying to improve on what we have? Before long, we'll be living in a world where technologies such as gene therapy could prevent or significantly reduce conditions like Down's Syndrome, diabetes, Alzheimer's, etc. Should we avoid those as well?

    I suspect that this study is the first in a long line of research that may lead to exciting new therapies for people who might not be able to learn normally. And yes, if it's shown effective without significant side effects, it might be used much as LASIK is today, a method of improve on what we were given with little to no risk. Personally, I don't see much wrong with that. If you disagree, that's certainly your right, but I would ask that you not judge others, try to impinge on the freedom of others to make informed decisions regarding their own body, or worst of all, try to keep the research from happening that could potentially improve the lives of many people who are not able to function normally in society due to preventable or even curable disabilities.

    Just some food for thought.

  • by Joe Snipe ( 224958 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @12:26PM (#34137542) Homepage Journal

    I like to phrase it like this:

    Drugs are like cheat codes on video games. They can be a lot of fun, and you might see and do things you wouldn't have been able to do otherwise. But then it starts to get boring, and playing without the cheat code starts to feel unsatisfying (or to difficult). Unfortunately you can't switch to a different video game because with drugs it's your life that you're playing.

  • Re:Oldnews (Score:2, Insightful)

    by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @01:46PM (#34138962) Journal

    Indeed, if you increase the current in the better-learning direction too much, the result will not be much better learning, but permanent damage. That's a very non-linear effect.

  • Re:sweet !! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Elder Entropist ( 788485 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @05:47PM (#34142234)

    But if they're dumber, will they realize it?

Beware of Programmers who carry screwdrivers. -- Leonard Brandwein