Episode 16: The Brain

Understanding grey matter

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Adam's Weekly Blog

The Brain

The Brain

I do not like golf and it turns out that I am rubbish at it anyway. But it...
I do not like golf and it turns out that I am rubbish at it anyway. But it is my golfing skills that form part of our programme on the brain.

Science and technology is not just working out how the brain works, it is about developing technology that works with the brain to help us achieve what was previously impossible.

Some of this science is making breakthroughs which are life-changing. But I started with something a little less significant - improving my swing.

Sports professionals talk of being in the zone, a mental space in which they can focus everything on the task at hand. Getting into the zone is not easy and I certainly do not know the route there.

In an indoor golf simulator in a grand hotel in Miami, my brain is being wired up to see how far from the zone I am.

The technology does not just monitor my brain waves, it also monitors my heart rate and when both are in state of peak concentration, a sensor attached to my chest stops vibrating telling me ‘now is the perfect time to hit the golf ball’.

The idea is that using the technology one can learn to identify what it feels like to be in a heightened state of focus and learn how to get there quickly. It also improved my golf from comically dangerous to appalling.

It is an interesting and fun piece of technology, but the ideas behind it have a much more serious application.

Chris Berka is leading a team of scientists from the California-based company Advanced Brain Monitoring which has designed a system that they believe can help us better understand the brain and as a result help people to actually regain skills they thought were lost forever.

In a bright laboratory at the university I met Felton Brown. He was paralysed during a game of high school football. But now he is working with the Paralysis Unit at the University of Miami in Florida to see if movement to his hands can be restored.

The equipment records the messages brain cells send to each other and those messages are picked up as small electrical impulses on the scalp.

Mr Brown cannot move his hands at all, so a mechanical extension is fixed to his hand. When he thinks about closing his hand the machine spots the brain pattern, understands what he is trying to do, and then helps close his paralysed hand for him.

This is a machine which is understanding his thoughts and helping his body respond.

In front of us, we are witnessing a new era in science that can read our minds and help us achieve what our bodies cannot.

When Mr Brown closes his hand it is not a small thing, it is evidence of a whole new field of technology that could revolutionise the potential of our bodies.
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