The Zen Machine: how a zap can cure depression or make you smarter

by Dominik Krupinski
Posted 28 August 2012; illustrations by the author.

BEFORE ONE OF HER RESEARCH ASSISTANTS PUTS ELECTRODES
on my temples and straps them in place with a tight latex headband that looks like a fetish bandana, and before they turn on the current, I ask Dr Colleen Loo what this is going to feel like, because I like touch and I like new sensations. I’ve had a near-death experience and felt the transcendent dumpage of DMT* into my bloodstream as my body shut down; I’ve put cigars out on my skin to see what it felt like; and I swoon when nurses touch me – I think you can feel their command over bodies, that it’s like no one else’s touch.

And almost as much as I like those things, I like hearing people describe sensations that they aren’t used to; attempting to find common touchstones to communicate. I think these choices of words are beautiful and dreamlike and they say a lot about people. Dr Loo’s description of her own brain zapping is what you might expect of a scientist talking about their work: she sticks to the facts, only telling me that at a brain level, she felt her thoughts being altered or influenced in some way. But she also volunteers other people’s more poetic descriptions.

She touches on another writer’s borderline zen state in which their self-doubt and hateful inner voice we briefly silenced; and she also tells me about one of her own research subjects, who I think is hard to top as a sales pitch for Direct Current Stimulation. Of the low wattage current being passed through their frontal cortex, this volunteer said that it was like plunging into the sea and feeling the tingling of salt water opening up their pores.

But if you’re more than just a sucker for novelty, there’s another sell. My day job is in technology journalism, and in that world we look at a lot of life improvement gizmos, from smartphones to weight loss apps to robot vacuum cleaners. And though these all empower in their own way, none offer a wholesale improvement to our quality of life. As the old adage goes – to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail – but even the quickest, sexiest smartphone isn’t going to make you smarter or faster, or less burdened by neuroses. On the contrary, all you have to see is one train carriage full of commuters looking down at their phones like snakes eating their own tails to question just what an improvement consumer technology offers to quality of life. When so much of our lives are funnelled through a glowing box in our palms, you have to ask whether there’s a line between empowerment and limitation.

But what if there was a different kind of gadget? One that wasn’t a conduit or an intervening step, but a box that could essentially accelerate your brain. Make you you, only better.

That’s what I went to Dr Loo’s lab at Sydney’s Black Dog Institute to find. The experimental therapy that Dr Loo’s team is researching, alongside a proliferation of labs worldwide, could be leading towards just such a device; a box that can do what almost no other technology can: upgrade your brain. I went to the lab in the hope of getting hands on with the ultimate self-improvement gadget.

It’s called the Neuroconn Edilth Stimulator.

*

When I told friends that I was getting my brain zapped at a neuropsychiatry lab in the course of researching this article, their minds leapt to electroconvulsive therapy, and they told me that I was either exceptionally reckless or exceptionally brave. It would be nice to think the latter, but I’m an unrepentant coward, and besides – the reality is that for anyone raised on images of electrical stimulation from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or Total Recall, the Edilth Stimulator is bound to be underwhelming.

Physically, it’s nothing special – an airport novel-sized grey box with two leads sticking out that attach to electrodes. And though those electrodes are typically affixed to people’s temples, it’s a struggle to picture either Randle McMurphy or Douglas Quaid gurning outlandishly and emitting smoke should they be hooked up to the Edilth and given some juice. Internally, the Edilth Stimulator is as pedestrian as it looks. Effectively a glorified nine-volt battery, the box is designed to deliver the sort of current that runs a household smoke detector or transistor radio. Usually around two milliamps (or 400 times weaker than the jolt involved in a typical session of ECT), the current is so mild that it’s administered while recipients are wide awake, without anaesthetic.

Indeed, the only exotic aspect of the stimulator, aside from a vaguely erotic name, is its price. Assuming you’re a neuroscientist purchasing one as a research tool (it’s not for sale to the public) one of these boxes will set you back around $7000. The only justification any of Dr Loo’s team could offer me for the Edilth’s steep price is that it automatically compensates for changes in resistance in the object between its electrodes: as people sweat and their brain activity changes, so does the electrical resistance of their heads, and the whole point of the Edilth Stimulator is to deliver a constant current.

Perhaps I missed something, and the Edilth contains an electrical secret sauce, some complicated circuitry that inflates its production cost. But based on the Black Dog team’s description, an electrical engineer friend later told me that anyone could construct a home version of this machine with $5 worth of parts.

But the mildness of current is part of the point, and what this overpriced battery can do is potentially profound. In the course of researching this article, I read dozens of scientific abstracts detailing remarkable effects derived from attaching the Edilth stimulator or boxes like it to people’s heads and giving them a zap. In healthy volunteers, the machines have improved working memory, increased the speed of motor skill acquisition, and generally boosted cognition – the business of thinking. In one amusingly specific Japanese study, volunteers who were hooked up to boxes like the Edilth drew significantly rounder circles than those receiving sham (placebo) treatments. Meanwhile, a recent New Scientist article details how the US Army is experimenting with the technology to train marksmen (with extraordinary results), while other researchers are using it to chase “flow,” the transcendent state in which people are “in the zone” and enjoy effortless concentration.

And the applications for malfunctioning brains are even more significant. The Edilth’s barely-there current has been shown to effectively treat medication-resistant depression, improve pain management and even help keep dementia in check, all without significant side-effects. Importantly, those benefits also tend to outlast the time spent hooked up to the machine. A 20-minute stim session on the Edilth can yield results for up to three days. A few weeks of daily sessions, and results can stick.

If this all sounds like electrical snake oil – a panacea for the ill of mind and an upgrade for the well – good. It’s healthy to be skeptical. But the results from peer-reviewed studies emerging worldwide suggests that this is legit. To understand why, it’s important to grasp the theory behind this technology, how it has accrued, and the happy accidents that lead to its breadth of application. What the mystery box in Dr Loo’s lab does is called Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS). This is what she had to tell me about it.

*

Colleen Loo is unlike most of the shrinks I’ve met. A slight but confident and fast-talking woman, she belies the Dr Katz stereotype of the terminally bored head doctor. You can instinctively tell that her psychiatric qualifications are applied in a lab and not a therapist’s office: she’s engaged and enthusiastic in a way typical of research scientists. And even when I slow our interview down to half-speed to transcribe it, her words sound like they’re about to cascade over one another without ever actually tripping up; she just has so much to say.

Loo is also no stranger to zapping people’s brains. A senior research fellow and professor at the UNSW School of Psychiatry, her previous areas of research have included electroconvulsive therapy and a more precise but less effective cousin of tDCS – transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. Over the past seven years she has become one of the global authorities on tDCS.

As she puts it to me, the theory behind it is tantalisingly simple.

On a cellular level the working part of our brains is made up of neurons, electrically excitable cells that are linked together into long, intricate neural pathways. All of our thoughts and actions – from simple breath to complicated feelings of love or regret – come into being from neurons “firing” along these pathways in incredibly complex, interconnected sequences. In a way, everything we do can be reduced down to what sequence these cells fire in, like a computer can ultimately be simplified down to an elaborate sequence of on and off states at a transistor level; ones and zeros. Though with the typical neuron count in adult brains exceeding 85 billion – in turn connected by around 100 trillion synapses – even the fastest computer is still pretty lame by comparison.

What scientists have discovered, though, is that by passing a continuous, very low wattage current through parts of the brain, it’s possible to change how ready the neurons within a targeted area are to fire. Depending on the direction of the current, affected cells can become either more or less ready to discharge an action potential – the electrical zap that triggers chemical signal transmission to subsequent cells. A positive (anodal) current can give neurons a bit of a boost, lowering the signal strength necessary to set off an action potential and effectively priming those cells to fire. A negative (cathodal) current, on the other hand, does the opposite, inhibiting affected cells and making signal transmission more difficult. The scientific term for this is neuronal excitability, and at heart, that’s all there is to tDCS: applying current to a part of the brain to make it either easier or harder to do what it already does.

If that all sounds suspiciously simple, well, it is and it isn’t. The theory behind tDCS isn’t especially new. Recognisably modern equivalents of tDCS date back to the 1960s, when it went by the substantially radder name of ‘brain polarisation’ and showed some promise as a treatment for mood disorders. As Dr Loo puts it, “if you read the papers then, it looked very promising. They talked about studies in healthy volunteers where they giggled or looked happier, more attentive.”

But there’s a difference between knowing that giving the brain a zap does something and understanding what. Today, scientists still don’t know quite how the brain works, but they’ve come a long way. In the ’60s, the effects of tDCS were largely a mystery; closer to a benign curiosity than a legitimate area of research. “A few decades ago people just placed electrodes into all sorts of places and took their best guess,” says Dr Loo, “So unsurprisingly the results were very mixed. Some groups got current shunting across the surface of the scalp and saw no effect, others used machines with insufficient voltages.”

So when antidepressant medications started to become widely available in the 1970s, research into tDCS effectively ceased. After all, even Loo admits that “it’s easier to take a pill than to have these electrodes strapped to your head and have stimulation every day.”

But recently that attitude has changed. Though antidepressant medications are so widely used that they are the third-most prescribed class of drug in the pharmacology-friendly United States, their lustre has been fading for some time. A recent New York Times article, for instance, claimed that for many sufferers of mild-to-moderate depression, medication is no more effective than a placebo. And even the severe depressives that get life-changing reprieve from their symptoms through pills often rue the side effects. When you consider the crushed libido and weight gain that often accompanies anti-sad pills, that’s hardly surprising. This isn’t lost on researchers: pills “are effective,” says Dr Loo, “but there’s a proportion of people that won’t get well with them or can’t tolerate the side effects. So I think now the interest is turning back to other alternatives like tDCS.”

At the same time as the appeal of antidepressant medications has waned, medical technology has advanced to the stage that scientists have reasonably accurate maps of the brain. Magnetic Resonance Imaging and sophisticated computational models of brain structures and activity have allowed them to understand better which parts of the brain do what.

It’s where these two trends intersect that the potential of tDCS has been rediscovered.

*

The Black Dog Institute is a centre for understanding mood disorders, and for the most part, that’s what Dr Loo’s team have been devoted to. They’ve been studying treatments for depression and similar disorders since 1997. As far as they’re concerned, advances in brain mapping have been invaluable. Dr Loo says it better than I can:

Depression is very complex, and investigations of what is happening in the brain have yielded all sorts of findings. But one of the more consistent findings in terms of activity levels is that the front part of the brain is under-active.

The frontal lobes of the brain are considered where your higher order functions reside, so they’re things that you call “executive control” – monitoring yourself and what’s going on in your environment … and also things like personality, judgement and cognitive thinking about things and deciding what to do reside there.

What we’ve found is that part is under-active in depression, and at the same time, the next part of the network, which resides deeper, is called the anterior cingulate. That’s a bit of a relay to other, more primitive parts of the brain. What we often find in depression – one of the more consistent findings in brain imaging studies – is that the front part of the brain is under-active, and that other part, and the other parts of the brain that are involved in emotion, are over-active.

People that are depressed often describe how they are pre-occupied with very negative ruminations. They feel really bad, they feel guilty, and they just can’t switch it off and it goes around and around and around. And that subjective experience fits into our hypothesis of what’s happening. That the part of the brain that should control and switch off those things and put them in their place is not working. Whereas the other parts of the brain, that have more primitive, emotional functions, are disinhibited and over-active.

Since 2005, Dr Loo’s team has been applying anodal tDCS to the frontal lobes of depressed volunteers in the hope of activating their control centre; of giving their brains enough of a boost to do what they should already be doing but aren’t.

The results have been remarkable.

The volunteers that Dr Loo’s team use to test tDCS are severely depressed. On average, they have failed to respond to two courses of antidepressant medication as well as psychological counselling. At that point, the only remaining options are usually more drugs, ECT, and surgery. Tragically, it does show. Studies like this are careful to screen for suicidal ideation in volunteers, but one patient of the team’s 2010 tDCS trial killed themselves during the course of treatment. There’s no suggestion that stimulation contributed to their decision – it didn’t make them worse – but it’s a sad reminder of what bad brains can do.

What Loo’s team has found, though, is that given anodal stimulation, a large proportion of these badly ill people have improved. So much so that the Black Dog researchers have had to design their studies with an eye for mercy. Loo’s most recent trial, which involved 20 minutes of active or sham stimulation for five days a week, discontinued sham treatments half way through. “We thought it wasn’t fair to people come in for research trials day after day,” Dr Loo tells me, “for a large number of weeks of inactive treatment. So after three weeks, we allowed people to continue with an open label extension.” Given the outcome, that honestly seems like the only ethical thing they could do.

After three weeks of treatment, the active group was clearly separated from sham recipients. At the end of six weeks of active stimulation, the results were striking. Around half of the recipients of active tDCS showed a “clinically significant result” – a significant reduction of previously untreatable depression. And as Loo points out, “50% had a clinical response that’s defined by research criteria, but a larger proportion that that had what they would consider a good outcome.” The data is so promising that Loo’s team is now leading a worldwide trial to confirm the efficacy of tDCS for treatment of various forms of depression.

But the trial uncovered something else: volunteers were getting smarter.

*

One of the attractive aspects of tDCS is that compared to other treatments for mood disorders, the side effects are almost comically mild. There’s a risk of skin burns if electrodes are applied improperly and voltage is too high, but aside from that, tDCS appears to be extraordinarily safe and relatively gentle. It doesn’t kill recipients’ sex drive, it doesn’t make them constipated, and it doesn’t put them into the fog that many medication users describe.

Nevertheless, as a safety measure, the Black Dog team monitor volunteers’ cognition and working memory throughout each study to ensure that no damage is being done.

They discovered the opposite. Many of Loo’s volunteers reported the ability to think more clearly, experienced improved pain management and had clearer speech. Initially, the Black Dog team largely disregarded this as “individual experiences,” but as more volunteers reported improved brain function, they had to check their readings. “We measured things like people’s working memory and thinking for safety reasons,” says Dr Loo, “we wanted to make sure it wasn’t being affected. And when we analysed the results between active and sham tDCS, the tests of mental processing speeds showed significant differences. People were actually able to think more quickly after tDCS. Their brains were sharper and clearer.”

The results are so striking that the Black Dog team has started another study, centred around cognition. “We’ve been doing that for a year now,” says Loo, “We’re getting the brain to train itself to do certain tasks, while at the same time assisting the brain by giving it tDCS.”

Loo says she’s not quite sure why tDCS improves cognition. She thinks it probably has something to do with the activation of neurons, but also perhaps with the creation of neural pathways. As we perform actions, our brains become more used to doing them – the neurons involved form more connections to other neurons responsible for that task and everything gets faster. As Loo puts it, “the brain’s wiring up.” It’s possible that those neural pathways are being built faster under the influence of tDCS.

And once they’re wired up, they stay wired. Another recent discovery is that neural pathways are constantly being built as we learn things, but tend only to disappear when they fall into disuse. That’s exactly what Black Dog researchers have seen. Dr Loo says that the early results indicate that volunteers in the cognition/working memory studies continued to show improved function a month after tDCS ceased. “We applied it for ten days and then tested them again a month later. It appeared that those changes had stuck.”

I ask Loo about specific results, but the cognition study is on the brink of publication. All she says is that they look very promising.

*

And they’re looking promising all over the world. The principle behind tDCS depression treatment is being applied to a range of neurological disorders. Loo estimates that there are ten depression studies going on right now, of which hers is currently the largest. But research is also ongoing on activating the depressed inhibition-control centres in problem gamblers and drug addicts, as well as rebuilding neural pathways in stroke victims, to name but two of the range of potential applications.

Meanwhile, Japanese volunteers are drawing rounder circles and American marksmen are acquiring targets faster.

Even the inhibiting effect of cathodal stimulation shows promise. According to Dr Loo, a common finding in depressed individuals is an under-active frontal cortex, whereas schizophrenics tend to display overactivity in their visual and hearing centres. The application of an inhibitory current there may alleviate the auditory and visual hallucinations common to sufferers.

You can see why this is kind of cool.

*

Which brings us back to the Edilth.

I ask Dr Loo where this is going – when I’ll be able to buy a smaller, cheaper descendant of the Edilth Stimulator and do this myself. She’s hesitant. The way she sees it, in five to ten years time tDCS might be ready for clinical practice, but that doesn’t mean home use. “You’ll come into the clinic and we will do it, see how you go for the first few sessions,” she says. “If you’re having a good effect and are the kind of person who can get your mind around this, then yes, we could send you home with the machine, but then you come and see us so we can just monitor how you’re going.”

She doesn’t envisage commercially-available home kits: “I think it’s dangerous to just send people home with a machine. They could make a mistake, or give themselves too much stimulation. I think people will need some oversight and regular monitoring.”

I don’t really see it that way, and I’m not the only one. I point out that as the word of tDCS has spread, websites have been popping up everywhere advocating DIY kits. If the technology’s as safe as she says, I posit, there’s nothing stopping people from zapping their own brains. Surprisingly, she concedes the point, admitting that even her team had bought a $500 “budget” research machine to see if it worked. “I won’t tell you the brand,” she says “but we bought one and used it ourselves just to see. We found it quite unreliable. The cheap ones are essentially a battery with a circuit and very little other programming or built-in safeguards.”

She goes on to warn me about the home option. “We’re talking about clinically meaningful effects when we stimulate the brain like this. You risk dangerously stimulating your brain in the wrong spot or with the wrong stimulation strength. And if technique is not good with how you’ve applied the electrodes, then you can risk burning your skin.”

I start to doubt my engineer buddy’s price estimate. But then I think about something else. About how the cat’s already out of the bag.

*

New Scientist journalist Sally Adee also got her brain zapped for a feature. Why deny it? It was her reporting that inspired me to get wired myself. After writing for New Scientist about DARPA’s tDCS sniper school, she published a follow-up piece for science blog Last Word On Nothing. In it, she wrote that, sure, she could shoot better when her brain was zapped – tDCS turned her from a timorous wreck into a virtual elite marksman – but the real epiphany was why.

Adee characterised herself as a repository of infinite self doubt, and her anxiety as “the angry little gnomes that populate my mind and drive me to failure because I’m too scared to try.” But when her brain was wired, she was someone else. “Relieved of the minefield of self-doubt that constitutes my basic personality,” she wrote, “I was a hell of a shot.”

Over the course of our interview, I mentioned Adee’s story to Loo, who told me she’d read it herself. I’ve been careful to quote Dr Loo verbatim as much as possible throughout this piece, because I don’t want to confuse the meaning of the science terms she uses. But I think I can safely paraphrase Loo’s response here. She said that it sounds like Adee’s frontal cortex had finally been given enough juice to kick those gnomes to the curb.

In her blog piece, Adee goes on to say that, given the chance, she’d wear a tDCS cap permanently. That she’d wear the shit out of that cap. “I’d wear one at all times and have two in my backpack in case something happened to the first one.”

*

This is where I come clean. I’d wear one too. I didn’t go to Dr Loo’s lab to see if I could get smarter. I’m happy enough with that aspect of my brain, and my middling intelligence isn’t something that keeps me up at night. I went because I know the inner voice Adee’s writing about.

From a storytelling perspective, I could tell you that I’ve had a pretty interesting life. I wouldn’t say that I’ve had it tough by any means, but remember when I alluded to a near death experience at the start of this piece? Yeah, well, it happened when I was 20. I tried to save a drowning man’s life.

It didn’t work out.

Believe it or not, that sort of thing happens to me a lot – opportunities to be good morphing into something awful. Rather than dwell on the details, I’ll simply tell you this. There’s a common phrase that whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. Well, that’s true up to a point, but then it doesn’t. It makes you weaker and more likely to cry. I hit the wall last year when my father faked cancer and I rushed to his “death bed” on the other side of the country, ready to be his nurse. It turns out the asshole didn’t have cancer; he told me I wasn’t his son.

You know what? That takes its toll. I can’t tell you what Sally Adee’s angry little gnomes say, but I can tell you a little about mine.

Almost every conversation I have with another person comprises three voices. Theirs, mine, and the voice in my head that tells me I’m not worth their attention, that someone is going to get hurt, and that the other person is secretly laughing at me. After all, my brain says, how couldn’t they be?

Take it from me – that’s a drag. And it’s a drag that impacts my life a lot more than how smart I am (or aren’t). Not long ago a partner gave me a 30-point list of reasons that she loved me. She was talented and pretty, and in all honesty I was punching above my weight by dating her. The list should have made me ecstatic. But reading it, my brain composed the same response to each of her points.

“Yeah, bullshit,” it said. “She’s lying. She has to be.”

My brain plays a particularly vehement cover of ‘I Don’t Believe You’. I wanted to see what it was like to live without that. And I got that opportunity by asking Dr Loo for a trial zap. “Just to see what it’s like,” I said.

*

At the head of this piece I wrote that the way people describe new sensations tells you a lot about them, but I’m not sure what this says about me, aside from that I’m easily disappointed. Most of the writing on tDCS says that it’s painless, but my own experience didn’t quite conform to that. The headband that Angelo Alonzo, an affable post-doc in Dr Loo’s team, used to strap the electrodes to my head was so tight that it hurt a little, and the tingling of active current was stronger than I expected. It was closer to an all-too-familiar burn than a gentle zap. It sure wasn’t like jumping into the sea, nor did I think it was particularly zen-like. Lame as this sounds, as a writer my zen is making sense of things. The slight mania I felt when Angelo gave me ten minutes of current couldn’t match the rare feeling of writing well – when the rest of the world retreats into irrelevance as I focus on a piece that’s starting to compose itself.

But then I tried to listen to the voice of my self-doubt. I tried to tell myself that I was a loser; that Angelo thought I was a joke; that no one would ever find me attractive.

It didn’t work. That voice was gone. If anything I felt ridiculous. As I sat receiving the current, I joked about this and that with Angelo and if he laughed, I didn’t think it was at me. I wrapped up my interview and thanked Colleen Loo. If she thought my questions were stupid (something I’d had a panic attack about beforehand) that wasn’t my problem anymore.

I caught a taxi home and chatted to the driver about kung-fu, fluid movement, and what it means to be alive. I don’t know if we really clicked on some fundamental human level. For the most part, he wanted to show me his broken hand – he’d driven a bone back into his fist after punching something off-centre a few weeks back – and I wanted to tell him how awesome it looked. We spoke at each other, rather than really conversing. But I didn’t feel the exhaustion inherent in simultaneously telling myself to stop wondering how much of an idiot he thought I was.

*

The usual dosage length of tDCS is 20 minutes, and the effect of those 20 minutes can last for up to three days. I got half that. Later that evening, I went to an awards dinner with a colleague. We were joking over a beer and he was telling me about an upcoming holiday with his wife when I suddenly thought something: Wow, I suck. I suck more than anyone that’s ever lived.

The zapping had worn off. I spent the rest of the weekend in tears.

Sometimes we only realise how bad things are in relief, like leaving a toxic relationship. It was only when I got a break from my own angry gnomes that I realised just what an impact they have on my life. My break from myself wasn’t permanent, but it was long enough to effect change. I’m one of those people that can’t really deal with medication. I’ve tried it, and the trade-offs were too great.

But since getting zapped I feel a lot better in a way. I can hardly believe I’m copping to this, but I now go to yoga three times a week (its transcendent). I watch what I eat. And knowing that my anterior cingulate has it in for me makes it easier to talk back.

“Eh,” I tell it. “I don’t suck that bad.”

*

I started this article writing about the ultimate life improvement gadget, and I’ll let you decide whether I found it.  If you’ve ever had a mood disorder, though, let me reiterate: tDCS is life-changing. But even if you’re well and just want to be that little bit more capable, there’s something for you here. When we spoke, Dr Loo did make the point that people with healthy brains find the difference that tDCS makes more subtle – it’s not as radical a change as depression lifting. “When the brain is already in its optimal state, it’s hard to improve on, apart from specific things like speeding up your thinking process.” There’s more to gain from tDCS if you identify more closely with Woody Allen’s nebbish self-caricatures more than the frighteningly self-actualised likes of Beyonce or Jay-Z. But the current research indicates that even that bit of a boost makes a difference across a near-limitless range of competencies. No matter how well you rap, f’instance, you’ll probably benefit from a working memory that can keep more rhymes in play.

No offence, though, whether you’re sick or well or a rap mogul, at this point I’m not really speaking to you. I’m speaking to any venture capitalists that are reading.

Listen, moneybags: right now there’s a $99 tDCS home kit being marketed by an internet startup. In all honesty, it looks like a piece of crap, the stuff of late night infomercials, big promises and shoddy wiring. Having taken on board some of Dr Loo’s cautionary advice, I’m not strapping that to my temples. If you pay someone to develop a sexy, high-quality version of one of these, though, and make sure it works, you can name your price. I’ll buy it. I’ll buy three. And evidently, I’m not the only one. Do it. You’ll make a fortune. Do it.

Do it because we’re all evolving towards something. All these consumer gadgets do ultimately change people. I can’t even think of existing without a smartphone now, but I shudder when I think of the overman looking down at his palm or gazing at the world through Google Goggles’ terminator vision. Equating that sort of passive consumption with living is to call tonguing your own hand the same thing as kissing. Technologies like tDCS offer another alternative. You’d have to be a dunce to think of any technology or therapy as a cure all, a magic bullet, but tDCS does alter my picture of the future me. It makes it easier to see myself as someone that’s a little smarter, a little more able, and capable of accepting love.

I’d like that.

Dr Loo’s team is looking for volunteers for further mood disorder and cognition studies with tDCS. If you want to get your brain zapped, check the Black Dog website.

 

* DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) is the brain’s “walk into the light” chemical. The jury’s still out on this, but there are theories that this natural psychedelic is released in massive doses by the pineal gland at death. That this is responsible for what people that have almost died and survived saw. For obvious reasons, I pay that theory.