Developing creating solutions or ideas to problems requires us to look past the simple or readily accessible ideas. How this suppression happens in the brain has been a mystery, but a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA offers clues to how this might happen.Continue reading →
Data visualizations increasingly inform our daily decisions. Traffic visualizations inform which route to take to the office, business intelligence dashboards indicate how you’re doing on projects and key performance indicators. And data collected by fitness trackers tell you how close you are (or aren’t) to reaching your weight loss or fitness goals.
On April 30th, South China Morning Post reported that Chinese companies are using brain-reading technology to detect the emotional state of workers. The article was short on details but long on effectiveness claims. If you missed it, the device looks like this:
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The top news item this week is the death of Ascendance Biomedical’s CEO, Aaron Traywick. Also, artificial retinas, YouTube’s apparent attack on nootropics content, and the cognitive benefits of music and language training.
Musical training, bilingualism, and executive function: working memory and inhibitory control
Early studies suggested the possibility of a cognitive advantage from musical training and bilingualism but have failed to be replicated by recent findings. To assess whether cognitive benefits from training exist, and how unique they are to each training domain, this study compared musicians and bilinguals to each other, plus to individuals who had expertise in both skills, or neither. The findings confirm previous associations between musicians and improved cognition and extend existing evidence to show that benefits are narrower than expected but can be uniquely attributed to music compared to another specialized auditory skill domain.
Biohacker and CEO of Ascendence Biomedical Aaron Traywick Found Dead in DC
The biohacker community suffered a loss this week. Aaron was found dead in a float tank in DC. It is currently unknown if [Ascendence](https://ascendance.io] will continue operations. Before he died, Ascendance was planning a CRISPR-based trial for treating lung cancer.
YouTube Is Removing Some Nootropics Channels
YouTube deleted at least three nootropics channels over the past three days, leaving members of the community confused and worried that a larger crackdown is coming. Apparently this wasn’t targeted, per the updated Motherboard article, but it leaves more questions than answers about YouTube’s enforcement and appeal guidelines.
New Studies Show Dark Chocolate Can Enhance Cognitive And Immune Health
Although doctors have known about dark chocolate’s health benefits for awhile, these new studies are the first to look specifically at the brains and immune systems of human patients. Flavonoids, an antioxidant, are credited with reducing brain and heart inflammation, but these antioxidants aren’t limited to chocolate. They’re also found in dark vegetables and fruits.
Pupils are taking drugs to help them perform well in exams, says Dr Miriam Stoppard
It’s finals season for many college and university students, which means a raft of “smart drugs” articles. Many of these are overblown and designed to create more FUD than fact.
Scientists develop ‘artificial retina’ in hope to restore sight to the blind
A cheap new artificial retina could soon be used to restore sight to the blind. Researchers from Tel Aviv and Linkoping have developed a small, photoactive film capable of converting light into electrical signals that stimulate light-sensitive nerve cells in the eye. It is hoped that the research could lead to the development of a wireless implant which could be inserted in the eye of a person whose light-sensitive cells have degraded. This technology may be adapted for other biological applications.
Earlier this week, Vice reported that YouTube removed several channels that cover nootropics. I also had trouble publishing Cognitive Enhancement Weekly when MailChimp’s automated service detected a violation of its acceptable use policy. While MailChimp quickly resolved my problem, the YouTube channels have yet to be restored.
I think what’s triggering these automated responses is coverage of kratom. Kratom is an opioid-like herb promising relief from pain, depression and anxiety. The DEA has been on the warpath to ban sales of the herb and make it a Schedule 1 drug, putting it in the same category as heroin and LSD.
Prior to this week, I’ve never mentioned kratom in a mailer. The first time I did, the content was flagged. According the to Vice article, at least one the YouTube content creators believes his coverage of kratom is what triggered the ban. Platforms like YouTube have rules that are applied arbitrarily and they frequently leave no avenue for appeal. Suppressing information, especially for substances with questionable efficacy, benefits no one.
“Adderall and Instagram are hand in hand with being the perfect student.”
Alison Klayman’s look at Adderall is sometimes compelling, but often repetitive. The Netflix documentary, which premiered on March 16th, explores amphetamine use by students, professional athletes and working professionals. Adderall, the film’s focus, is alternatively depicted as a blessing for stressed out students and as an overprescribed crutch in demanding work environments.
Throughout the film, which intersperses subject interviews with the history of amphetamines and methylphenidate (Ritalin), you’re introduced to a variety of subjects. One Silicon Valley coder describes Adderall as “rocket fuel” and credits it with allowing to get a job at Google. A college student uses it to cope around exam time and sincerely hopes she’ll be able to manage her adult life without chemical enhancement. A former NFL offensive tackle described his Adderall use during his playing days to deal with pain and focus on otherwise boring tasks. Other than the coder, the sense was that Adderall was less of an enhancer and more of a way to block outside input, allowing users to complete boring or tedious tasks.
Klayman’s work only briefly touched on the issue authenticity. One student asks if she did her work, or if she and Adderall did her work? Should she value her accomplishments as much, knowing that amphetamines were giving her a lift? The question remains unresolved.
The topics of ethics and fairness never come up in “Take Your Pills.” The apparent view is that Adderall use is so widespread, especially on college campuses, that its use should be expected. If you’re not taking it when it is so readily available, you’re the one missing out. Stimulant use has become completely acceptable, at least on college campuses. And as Klayman accurately points out, adults are now the fastest growing segment of Adderall users. It is only a matter of time before it, and its cousins Ritalin and Provigil (modafinil), make their way into the office.
The documentary’s message is clear: Take your pills, or be left behind in an increasingly dehumanizing work environment.
Cognitive Enhancement Weekly is a weekly email covering the latest news, events, journal articles and other content related to cognitive enhancement, nootropics, biohacking and neuroscience. If you want to get this in your inbox every Sunday, you can subscribe here.
This week includes a new book on the impact of nutrition on cognitive performance, the future role of performance enhancement on the battlefield, and why you should check your terms and conditions before embedding a chip into your skin.
Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power
Dr. Lisa Mosconi’s book on improving brain function through nutrition has just been released. The book includes recipes, a nutrition plan, and health assessments. Looking forward to reviewing it later.
Performance Enhancers: From Battlefield to Playing Field
Fascinating look at the history of performance enhancing drugs on the battlefield and what the next generation of enhancement might look like: robotic exoskeletons and brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). Also interesting is how the Australian Defense Force is using WADA as a jumping off point for research and policy definition.
Pill may be able to mimic the effects of exercise without having to run a single step
Compounds 516 and 14, referred to in the article, may mimic the effects of exercise by triggering a specific genetic circuit allowing patients to gain exercise-related benefits from those unable to exercise. Researchers are targeting specific kinds of muscular dystrophy and sclerosis as a path to regulatory approval, but the possibility of abuse is obvious.
Take Your Pills, Netflix — the highs and lows of ‘brain-hacking’
The FT has a take on the new Netflix documentary, “Take Your Pills,” exposing the impact of Adderall society on students. “Take Your Pills” is available on March 16th.
New Doccie Delves Deep Into America’s Massive Pharmaceutical Industry
Another Netflix documentary on doping in sport won an Oscar last weekend. “Icarus” details the Russian doping scandal and it’s pretty explosive. No one should be surprised, of course. Some of the most effective performance and cognitive enhancers are based on Russian and Soviet research.
Six Things You Learn When You Go Deep on Microbiome Research
This is a bit of a different take on biohacking, with a focus on your microbiome – the bacterial world that resides inside you. But regardless of what the article suggests, don’t start showering without soap.
The Cybernetic Implant That Attunes You to the Earth’s Poles
How useful would it be to know where magnetic north is? Useful enough to warrant a painful and invasive surgery? Then I’ve got the cyborg implant for you!
Would You Ditch the Gym for a Biohacking Facility?
In another spin-off of the Bulletproof brand, Bulletproof Labs is the company’s first biohacking facility located in Santa Monica. The approach is technology-heavy but appears to lack much in the way of technology rigor.
Authorities Deactivate Transit Pass Implanted In Biohacker’s Hand
Since I published my research on cognitive enhancement drugs in the workplace, I’ve been looking for ways to continue my research and share what I’ve learned. With email lists making a bit of a comeback over the last year, I decided to create a curated email list. Much of my inspiration came from the work Joe Crobak has done with Data Eng Weekly (formerly Hadoop Weekly) and I’ve stolen liberally from him to get started.
If you’re interested in smart drugs, nootropics, neuroethics, biohacking and other forms of cognitive enhancement, you can subscribe to the list here: cognitiveenhancementweekly.com
And feel free to submit links, news, events and journal articles to me via Twitter.
Today’s smart drugs weren’t created for cognitive enhancement. Drugs like modafinil and methylphenidate were created to treat real cognitive disorders. At best, these drugs have questionable effectiveness for enhancement. If the best option for smart drugs are drugs that were never intended for enhancement, when can we expect pharmaceutical companies to develop, test and market real smart drugs for cognitive enhancement?
The main blocker to targeted CED development, at least in the US and EU, are the regulations pharmaceutical companies must operate under. Regulations in these companies generally support the development of drugs to treat deficiencies or, as in the case of drugs like Viagra, restoring function. The development of drugs specifically to enhance a function, like cognition, is unlikely to get support from regulatory bodies. Without that support, there is little value in drugs companies allocating resources in drugs that won’t come to market.
Of course the EU and US aren’t the only regulatory environments. Brazil, China and especially Russia appear to have more lax regimes. CEDs developed there will certainly make their way into other markets, either legitimately or illegitimately. The safety of these drugs, particularly in the form of long-term side effects, will likely remain an open question. An all too likely outcome may look like this:
Brains are complicated
Putting aside the regulatory challenges, is it even possible to create CEDs that are both beneficial and lack side effects? Technologies like fMRI are improving the understanding of the brain, but that’s a long way from effectively influencing brain function.
It’s easy to dismiss how complicated it is to manipulate brain function. Don’t. Many of today’s therapeutic drugs have mechanisms that are only lightly understood. And this is for drugs used to treat deficiencies, when variations from the norm can be detected. There’s still little idea of what levers to pull to enhance already normally functioning brains.
That said, breakthroughs and insights occur regularly. New technologies may surpass what fMRI can tell us; or new substances may greatly improve working memory or executive function with little to no negative side effects. Our own sappho juice may be just around the corner.
DefCon 25 hosted a biohacking village this year. One of the stand-out presentations, at least IMO, was this pitch from Gingerbread:
This presentation greatly expanded my understanding of the leading edge of nootropics and what may be coming next.