Cognitive Enhancers: A Real Life 'Limitless' or a Dangerous Fad?

Wednesday, 05 August 2015 - 3:44PM
Wednesday, 05 August 2015 - 3:44PM

Imagine a world where we could access 100% of our brain capacity. Now stop imagining, because we already can.

The new CBS show "Limitless," premiering this fall, expands on the 2011 movie of the same name. The premise involves the invention of a pill, NZT, which allows the hero, Brian Finch, to use 100% of his brain capacity. But what most people don't seem to realize is, we're already more than able to use 100% of our brains.

The only issue? Everyone uses 100% of their brains. The idea that we only use 10% of our brain capacity is a myth that has been perpetuated since the early 1900s. Just last year, the movie 'Lucy' capitalized on what is widely known as "The Silliest Lie Known to Neuroscience" to tell its story of a woman's mission of revenge.  

In her article "The 10 Percent of Brain Myth," psychologist Kendra Cherry states what many neuroscientists have been yelling at TV and Theater screens for years. Sci-Fi has been lying to us.

Opening quote
"Brain imaging scans clearly show that almost all regions of the brain are active during even fairly routine tasks such as talking, walking, and listening to music."
Closing quote

If we really want to improve Brian Finch's cognitive abilities, a pill that grants us the ability to do what every thinking human being can do is not going to help him much.

Luckily, we have options.


Cognitive Enhancement Devices, or CEDs, are already available and in use today. CEDs on the market today include transcranial direct current simulators, transcranial magnetic stimulation, cranial electrotherapy stimulators, and neurofeedback equipment. While these names might all sound a bit baffling, they all have a similar end result. CEDs, like NeuroStar TMS Therapy and the Fisher Wallace Stimulator, can be used for medical or therapeutic treatments for disorders such as depression and anxiety. However, there are also CEDs available for anyone who just want their brain to work faster, more efficiently, more creatively, or even control their emotions.

One of the many CEDs available for purchase is Thync, a device that promotes itself with the tagline, "How good feels." Thync marketers rename the slightly scary sounding "transcranial current stimulators" to the more consumer-friendly "vibes." You can choose between Calm Vibes to "settle down and overcome anxious moments," or Energy Vibes to "invigorate you for peak performance." For just $299, you can get your very own Thync headset that will ship out sometime this September, just in time to get you psyched for the "Limitless" premier, or calm you down when they try to recirculate the cliched 10% myth.

Does it sound like some sketchy device used in a sci-fi dystopia by robot overlords to control the emotional human population? 

But is it actually sketchy?
-Well, yes...

CEDs used for conditions like depression are regulated by organizations such as the EU Medical Devices Directive. However, if the device does not claim itself as a therapeutic device to be used as treatment for a specific diagnosis, the CED is not subject to medical regulation. In Europe, CEDs are only required to pass product safety requirements, even they change the electrical activity of the brain. Some of the risks of using CEDs are as mild such as sensitive skin at the headset contact point, but some fear that with a lack of industry regulation, new CEDs could emerge that could damage a user's brain and even cause seizures.

Is it worth the risk? That's up to for you to decide with all 100% of your brain capacity, because you shouldn't be fooled by shows like Limitless and movies like Lucy...our brains might not be firing on all cylinders, but they're certainly firing on more than 10% of them.


Science of Sci-Fi

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