A Scientific Digression

Skip forward to around 6:10 in the video above to the start of Adam Gazzaley’s (MD, PhD) talk on his quest to optimise the human mind using advanced tools of cognitive neuroscience.

Gazzaley’s lab at UCSF is working to enhance brain function using sophisticated technologies capable of observing the brain at work, and of helping individuals to achieve more with their brains than they currently can do.

The lab designs video games that are based upon real-time neurofeedback. The player’s brain reacts instantly to events in the game — and the game reacts to what is happening in the brain. Gazzaley describes this videogame neurofeedback learning process as a “closed loop system” (see image below).

Closed Loop System Adam Gazzaley UCSF
Closed Loop System
Adam Gazzaley UCSF

Much of the experimentation with these neurofeedback videogames has focused on combat-oriented training, being funded by the US Pentagon. But a moment’s reflection suggests that this “closed loop neurofeedback videogame” approach to brain training could be readily applied — with appropriate adaptation — to humans at almost any age, for multiple purposes of enhanced development, enhanced performance, rehabilitation after injury or disease, or for mitigation of the effects of ageing and neurodegeneration.

Gazzaley’s published efforts are so far still quite primitive, but the possibilities for the future are impressive on many fronts.

Modern societies have grown stagnant and corrupted by a widespread philosophy of rent-seeking, of minimising risk for the sake of long-term security. This philosophy is the opposite of what we at the Dangerous Child Institutes train and teach. We train contrarian thinkers to develop a broad range of skills and competencies which build self-confidence. This self-confidence fuels innovative thinking and risk taking — which are what drives societies to be great.

We are on record as opposing passive popular entertainments for children such as mainstream television and cinema. The developing mind has enough to do without being stuffed full of the low-quality nonsense that movie and television producers crank out for popular consumption.

We are also not enthusiastic about most popular video games and the modern obsession with electronic social media, which takes away from time that would be better spent developing competence in movement, music, language, pattern, and practical skills of all kinds. Electronic gadgets also tend to alienate children from their immediate environments, which can be a deadly failing in many situations.

But real-time EEG and MRI neurofeedback — particularly when combined with sophisticated virtual reality — is different, and holds the potential for enhancing brain function for general learning and for perfecting specific types of tasks.

The brains of children are naturally attracted to play and games of all kinds. The danger that the child will become lost in some types of game-playing is quite real, in the modern age of abusive commercial and ideological child baiting. But if game-playing is used to drive learning and competence-building, the natural child’s drive to play can be used to motivate him to build parts of his brain that can bootstrap later learning which might have otherwise been very difficult to achieve.

Again, even videogames that are used in training skills and competencies should be used sparingly, so as not to create barriers between the child and the real world around him. The competence and confidence for working within the real world is what Dangerous Child training is meant to build.

Teachers, parents, mentors, and coaches cannot ignore developments in advanced applied cognitive neuroscience. Every child runs up against barriers to some subject area of learning or another. Clever and timely use of closed-loop videogame training can help move a child from one learning plateau to a higher plateau — enabling a new and higher world of competence on the road to mastery.

More on applied videogames

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