Opinion | Brain Computer Interfaces for fitter brains and better mental health3 min read . Updated: 23 Apr 2020, 09:35 PM IST
BCIs provide an evidence-based, risk-free approach to understand how our brain works
Humankind is going through a crisis, which will change the way we work and live. If the current trends are anything to go by, people will give top priority to health and wellness, going forward.
A World Health Organization report had earlier indicated that about 20% of the population in India is suffering from mental health issues. Current events will not make it any better.
However, advances in neuroscience over the past few decades have been steadily providing people with astounding opportunities in the pursuit of understanding their brain function and enhancing it.
It is important to understand that the mind and brain are not one and the same. The mind is an intangible manifestation, but the brain is a physical organ, which is most responsible for our thoughts, emotions, actions, memory, fears, imagination, and more. The brain has around a 100 trillion neuron connections and is constantly generating electrical activity to enable us to perform all physical and ‘mental’ activities—even dreaming while we are asleep. We can now measure its functioning in a scientific manner.
This involves using a brain computer interface (BCI): A host of sensors, sophisticated hardware and software that connect the brain to a computer so that the natural electrical activity in the brain (brainwaves) can be acquired and analysed.
There are several type of BCIs including invasive, which require inserting sensors or stimulators physically inside the brain; and non-invasive, which need the sensors only to be placed on the scalp without any invasive procedure. Let’s focus on non-invasive BCIs.
For years, we have used technology for understanding our health by generating data directly from our biology and not relying on our own judgement or that of other humans alone: Thermometer, blood pressure monitor, blood glucose monitor, heart rate monitor, weighing scale, and more. Then why does understanding our mental health problems and getting help with them rely so heavily on our self-assessment via psychometrics, or someone else’s understanding based on what we tell them?
BCIs provide an evidence-based, risk-free approach, proven to have helped businessmen, athletes, celebrities, students and just about anyone in enhancing all aspects of their performance. The most advanced ones are developed in the US with support of Darpa (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency), NASA and the Department of Defence.
With the NeuroLeap Brain Function Assessment, one has a completely scientific and proven way to measure and understand their brain’s function, feelings, behaviour and performance, without having to answer any psychometric questions or divulging personal secrets.
It involves placing sensors on the head to read the brainwaves. Detailed quantitative analysis of the neurometric data from these brainwaves is done using US FDA-registered technology. A consultation session helps the person (and if needed his or her family) understand the findings; relate it to their behaviour and performance. This is invaluable to them to know the root cause of their habits and behaviour, their mental strengths and areas of improvement. Then a series of BCI-based NeuroLeap Brain Enhancement sessions with customized protocols help individual aspects of the brain function, including depression, anxiety, attention-deficit, hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), insomnia, migraine, executive functions, attention, memory, focus, quitting smoking. Importantly, there is no medication involved and it is completely non-invasive, with no electric current, radiation, ultrasound, magnetic waves involved; and with zero side-effects.
It leverages neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change, and uses operant conditioning to help the brain self-regulate, using its own ability to learn and heal. It uses real-time measurement of the brain activity in milliseconds and provides instant rewards upon optimal neuronal activity through feedback. This reinforces the brain at the subconscious level to change itself. Change that is lasting. Almost any brain can be trained to function better using this approach, of course, with physical limitations.
The growth of BCIs in India does face challenges in terms of talent—it requires understanding of data science, neural pathways, nuanced experience of using it with different mental health issues. There are archaic versions, which use very few sensors and limit the quality of data, and are no good. Furthermore, like all disruptive technologies in history that have reduced the importance of existing gatekeepers, here, too, the mainstream medicine thriving on years of psychiatric drug prescriptions or ‘therapy’ will continue to resist while they can. The wise and prudent though have adopted and are safely enhancing themselves.
Kumaar Bagrodia is the founder of NeuroLeap, a neuroscience company.