Building Your Brain for Success with Legendary Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran | Impact Theory | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Building Your Brain for Success with Legendary Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran | Impact Theory".
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- Hey everybody, welcome to Impact Theory. You are here my friends because you believe that human potential is nearly limitless, but you know as I do that having potential is not the same thing as actually doing something with it. So our goal with this show and company is to introduce you to the people and ideas that will help you execute on your dreams. All right, I am freakishly excited about today's guest. He's one of the most respected minds in all of neuroscience and his name is often uttered in the same breath as some of the most enduring names in the history of science. His insightful and quite frankly bad ass experiments coupled with his ability to boil the insanely complex down to the super simple has made him one of the most sought after lecturers living today. He's done multiple TED talks and additionally he was the Gifford lecturer of 2012 and honor reserved for history's brightest minds that dates back to the 1800s and has included such legendary figures as Niels Bohr, Roger Penrose, Werner Heisenberg and Carl Sagan. He obtained his PhD from Trinity College at Cambridge, received two additional honorary doctorates as well as the Henry Dale Medal and Richard Dawkins once called him the Marco Polo of Neuroscience. Please help me in welcoming the best-selling author of the Telltale Brain, Phantoms in the Brain and a brief tour of human consciousness, the man who created the astonishing mirror box and taught me more about the mind than anyone else, VS Ramachandran. - Yes, thank you so much for coming. - We love you, we appreciate it. - Please, take a seat. Welcome.
Exploring Aspects Of The Brain
The Old Brain (01:44)
- Thank you. - So this is a long time coming for me as somebody who really felt a victim to circumstance, a victim to my own mind. My journey really began with learning about the brain and thankfully that journey began with you and reading the Telltale Brain was the first one that I read. I think the one that impacted me the most was probably Phantoms in the Brain, which was just utterly revelatory in terms of the way that the brain impacts us. One of the most interesting things that I found in your books are the profound ways in which the brain is malleable and we can make changes. How much do you think, and God, this will be interesting depending on what you say, but how much do you think that we can really rewire consciously rewire our own brains? - It may be a while, but we've headed the right direction, I think. I mean, the old view of the brain, I was a medical student, one of the things I learned was the brain consists of isolated modules. This is a caricature, but roughly people believed. The isolated modules specialized for different functions. The modules don't talk to each other. There's a vision one on the touch one, there's a hearing one, there's a foresight one, there's a wisdom one, there's memory. They hardly interact. They're all hardwired, laid down at birth by the genome, and that was it. You study each module hoping to understand the brain. Now we're saying the exact opposite is true. Our research has shown patients with Phantom Looms, for example, that first of all, these so-called modules are not hardwired. They're constantly interacting with the environment they're immersed in and with other people. There's a sort of dynamic interplay of signals back and forth between the environment and the module in the brain. The module and the skin and bones, as I'll explain in a minute. And each module is talking to interacting powerfully with modules of other people's brains. So not only is it interacting within the brain, but it's crossing you over to other brains using mirror neurons. So this gives you a very dynamic picture of brain function embedded in society, embedded in social interaction, embedded in your physical body, physical flesh, and the anchor in the physical flesh of the body. It's a very dynamic picture of the brain, which is highly malleable, even though the basic scaffolding is laid down at birth. This is a very, very radical view of looking at the brain.
Mirror Neurons (04:00)
- So I wanna get back to mirror neurons because you have a really fascinating view about how mirror neurons are essentially the thing that allowed us to rapidly progress as a species by essentially giving birth to culture. One of the things, yes, not to oversimplify the brain. But what I wanna go a little bit deeper first on-- - Plasticity. - Yeah, plasticity, and how it's usable. So one, have you used it in your own life? If so, how? And if not, how have you seen it with patients? - Give you a couple of striking examples. If you amputated somebody, he develops a phantom arm. You know, you amputated the arm, you developed a phantom arm, in more than 98% of cases. Very vivid experience of the fingers, of the palm, of the wrist, right there, but he doesn't see it, obviously, he knows it's not there. Not delusional, but he experiences this phantom. He'll reach out and grab a cup, will answer the phone, will wave goodbye. Very vivid sensory experience. Major turning point in my career is when I saw a patient, but 20 years ago, who was sitting there, he had a phantom limb, phantom arm, and he'd come to see me because he knew of my interest in neurology and brain function. And he said he has a phantom that moves around and reaches him out, grabs objects and telephone when it rings. And out of a way, I wore a cup of coffee in front of him, empty cup. And I said, can you reach and grab that cup of coffee with your phantom? He smiled at me and he said, sure. As he was reaching for it, I grabbed it and pulled it away. And my question was very simple. Will the phantom then shoot out? Like that rubber hand of that movie with the horse's name, Jim Carrey. - Yeah, yeah. - Will it shoot out because, why should the physical limits of the flesh apply to a phantom? - It's a silly question if you think about it. That's not what happened. And I pulled it to me and said, he said, ouch. I said, what do you mean? He said, ouch, it's painful. I said, what do you mean? I already grabbed the handle when you pulled it. - Wow. - And I said, there's no handle, there's no cup, there's no arm, there's no fingers. What the hell is going on here? The brain is vastly more mysterious than we realize. So here is a phantom man reaching out, grabbing a cup that, and itself is surprising. And I pulled a cup away from the phantom and he feels phantom pain and heelps. - Right, and it's so interesting.
So I know you're obviously approaching it as a researcher, as a neurologist, I approached that exact same phenomenon as an entrepreneur. There was a period in my life where I was, ah, God, I didn't feel like I was depressed at the time, but as I described the symptoms now, we'll call it bordering on depression. I was laying on the floor, my face mashed into the carpet, just feeling hopeless and feeling like, what can I do, right? And it was researching the brain that allowed me to get out of that state, because I realized if the brain is that powerful, that an arm I do not have can experience pain based on you pulling a cup away from it. What's it doing to me now, right? How, 'cause that's not real, right? But how much am I situation right now, this feeling of hopelessness, I actually have the chills thinking about it, this feeling of hopelessness. - Is your real? - To flamethrower. - Right, like can I do something, can I change it? If there's a mechanism at play, whether it's mapping or whatever, and you've been referred to as the mapper of the brain. So if this is, it doesn't necessarily, that particular thing doesn't necessarily have to be mapping. And if I could begin to understand these things and how they were being used against me, essentially, could I flip it and use it for me? - So anything we study, we have three agendas. One is, is it real? Second question, what's going on in the brain? You know, why does this happen in some individuals? Third question, who cares? - Why is it important? - Why is it important? - Why is it important? - Can you put it in a broader context? So we do that with phantom limbs, we develop the cure for it, which we can return to later if you want. Then there is, we did this for synesthesia, for example. Synesthesia is a condition where people see colors when they see numbers, like black and white numbers, I give you a number five and you see black and white. So these people will say, I see it red, or see green or blue, different numbers elicit different colors, stable throughout your life. Poused on from generation to generation. So your parents are all the synesthetes, so it's a genetic basis. What causes it when we've discovered that in an area in the brain for colors, the fusiform diodes and the temporal lobe, the area for numbers, visual appears in numbers, and these are sitting right next to each other, in this huge brain. You see, what's the likelihood that some people have this quirk, they see numbers as colored, and the number area and color area are sitting right next to each other in the brain, right? So we said in these people, maybe there's some cross-wiring, accidental cross-wiring. So when you see the number five, number five lights up in the brain, and cross-activates the cross-wiring, the red color, or the seven might be green color. Now again, you may say, well, Dr. Ramachandran, you showed that the neurons in the brain in the area, number area of its fire, and activate the color area in V4, this cross-wiring, so these people have this weird phenomenon, they see colored numbers. So why should I care, right? So it turns out that synesthesia is eight times more common among artist's poets and novelists, that's why we should care, so that gives you the clue. Why should it be eight times more common than artist's poets and novelists? But first we need to ask, why does it run in families synesthesia? And why is there this cross-wiring? You don't see it cross-wiring in normal people, when you see five, you just see five black and white, you don't see it colored. These people are cross-wires so they eat color. That's because all our brains are cross-wired when you're in your fetus, when you're infant. Everything is connected to everything, and as the child evolves, as the child grows up, the excess connections are pruned away. And what you're left with is a characteristic modularity of the adult brain, the different specialized area for color, number, alphabets and so on and so forth, right? If the pruning gene, which causes this pruning to occur, and removing all the excess connections mutates, then you get de facto pruning. So these connections are left behind from infancy. So every time you see a number five, you see a color, right? So this is a basis of synesthesia, your proposal to the synest has been confirmed in many labs. It's not the only thing that's going on, but it's one of the things that's going on. - I don't know how to take control of it yet, but I find synesthesia so fascinating from a creative standpoint. Do you know of Vladimir Nabokov? - Yes. - All right, so supposedly a synesthet. - Absolutely. - He wrote, I think it was Lolita in English, and it was his fifth language or something? And I thought, wait a second, this guy wrote a book in his fifth language that I think is better than I can write in my first. Like it's crazy to think that, and so the reason it's important to me to develop a theory of how I can leverage this in my own life is obviously gaining control of the brain, and to anybody watching, guys, the whole point of all learning about the brain, the whole point of that is to really begin to understand the things that you can use in your own life to empower you to pick a direction, to know what you're going after. So when I think about Nabokov, and I think about, here's a guy who found truly his calling, his calling was to deal with language, because there was so much crossover either between metaphor, emotion, color language, something. And I know that you've talked very powerfully about how metaphor is sort of on the spectrum of synesthesia. Walk us through that, walk us through how, is there a way for me to, as somebody who's not a synesthet, are there ways to train my brain to draw more of these connections? - It's a fascinating question. And we haven't quite got there yet, but we're getting there, I think. Synesthesia, so there's a gene that causes excess connections, because there are, what are called transcription factors, which allow the gene to be expressed selectively in one region. If it's expressed selectively in the fusiform gyrus where the number area and color area, they get cross-wired and you get number colors in anesthesia, and that's no big deal. It helps them to remember phone numbers. Unlike us, they see a spectrum of colors in front of them. - Never useful these days with-- - Exactly. - But it turns out if the gene is expressed diffusely, which can happen, then you get more cross-wiring throughout the brain. Now that I claim is the basis of creativity and metaphor. But when the bar takes place, it is the east and Juliet is the sun. You don't go Juliet is the sun, does that mean? She was a radiant fireball. Actually, as well as a bad metaphor. He meant she was radiant, she was nurturing, she was warm, she rises in bed like the sun rises in the east, and we can make any number of connections you want. She's the center of my solar system, like the sun is the center of the solar system. And she was a master of doing this. I bet she actually might have been a syncedo, I'm not sure, but could have been a syncedo. But syncedo's are more connections throughout the brain, and therefore, if concepts and ideas like sun and Juliet are enshrined in different neural architecture in different parts of the brain, even far from greenness of the brain, ideas and concepts, the excess connections across the brain creates a greater propensity to link seemingly unrelated ideas and concepts. And that's the basis of metaphor and creativity. So now you can get to the molecular basis. You can clone the gene, look at the brain connections, molecular basis, neural basis of esoteric abilities like creativity for the first time in history of neuroscience and brain research. This is not how you can tap into it. Now that's a big question I get to you. - No, no, no, please jump in. - Well, I was gonna say, there we're still, we just scratch the surface. We don't know quite how to harness it, this ability, a sort of genetic engineering or something. - Yeah. - But I would say in schools, and in fact, in your own life, poetry has a tremendous role. I think if you should all try to become poets.
Humor and Poetry (13:31)
- Wow, that's interesting. - Yeah, because poetry and laughter and humor, because humor involves unusual juxtapositions of ideas. So as an all in common with creativity and not surprisingly, many very creative people have a great sense of humor. I mean, the only exception would be Germans. - Any Germans in the house? - We're exceptionally creative, you know. So telling this sounds frivolous, but having courses on humor and laughter, even in school. - Wow, well, let me derail us for a second. So when I was a kid, I wanted to be a stand up comic. So I would spend every day, every day, Monday through Friday, at lunch, doing stand up routines for my table, not like in front of the whole school or anything, but for my table, practice, practice, practice, day after day after day. - So when people ask me, 'cause my verbal skill is something that people would say, 'cause I don't claim to be smart, right? I've worked my ass off to get educated, I don't claim to be smart. And people say, yeah, but you have such an easy time talking. And I always point to the time that I spent, every day, every day, every day, practicing, practicing, practicing, and that just using the sheer number of words, especially 'cause I was still developing, like at that time, I'm sure I impacted the size of the verbal centers of my brain. But it's interesting that because in writing, one of the things that I find easy-est is metaphor, to make disparate connections, and I have this concept that I call think-attating, which is- - It's very interesting, yeah.
Humor creativity is not yet known for its application (14:44)
- Which is a reference to meditating. So I start by getting in a meditative state, which I'll define as an alpha wave state in my brain. I feel very relaxed, very creative. And I find that I'll make really interesting connections at that time. I'll put two things together that I wouldn't otherwise put, but I have to put my mind to it, right? I have to pick a problem and say, "This is what I'm gonna think about "in this alpha wave state." And then I just find that, whoa, like these really far-reaching things will come together and- - Come in. - Reconnect. Which I never thought of as being sort of on that spectrum, but it's interesting that, I don't know if there is a tie between my early obsession with comedy and my ability to do that or not, but it's interesting. - That's fascinating, and it seems to me, the strength of your approach is, instead of conventional science, where you objectively couldn't go to study somebody's behavior or somebody's perception, you're doing introspection, introspective experiments on your own mind by trial and error. And to me, it's very fascinating. A real question is, does the creativity in humor, seeing analogies, grasping analogies, seeing connections, which can be funny at times, but not always, whether that spills over into other domains, or you just become a very funny guy. - I mean, this question has not been adequately answered. If I introduce it into the school curriculum, a lot of humor, different styles of humor, is it gonna make them creative, or is it just gonna end up with a lot of comedians? - Can I tell you what it feels like? So I ended up doing stand-up comedy quite a bit at one point, sort of right towards the end of my high school, beginning of college, and then I stopped. And I wanted to take myself very seriously during college, so I completely stopped at study, study, study, but about two years out of college, I decided, hey, I wanna go back to it. And when I started practicing again, just trying to find the funny moments in life, doing routines in the mirror, like getting back into being funny, I could literally feel my brain speed up. And that's what it felt like. It felt like, and I don't know if that's just how it feels as you begin trying to make these other connections of some part of your brain as sort of lobbying random things in your mind. I don't know, but very much, the subjective experience, is the sense of, I always likened it to an engine, where you feel it turning over, and then it just gets very, very fast. And if I couldn't get my mind into that space, where I could feel it going quickly, I couldn't be funny. But once I got in there, and then I was able to make those random connections, make them quickly, 'cause obviously timing is a big part of comedy. - Yeah, something-- - That's very interesting. - Yeah, it's fascinating. And similarly with poetry, I think there are people who are quote-unquote, poetry blind, and I don't know if that's congenital or, even if it is, can you modify it? Can you educate people with poetry, and the beauty and impact of poetry? And does that help them in other ways, or does it just become poets? These are open questions that need to be investigated, but what I'm hearing you saying is that there is a tremendous change in the brain, which you can experience, and it might spill over into other domains, although you've all revolved it for humor, obviously. - That's really interesting. So I wanna go back to mirror neurons for a second. You had a great quote, I'm gonna paraphrase it, but it went, "The only thing standing between me "and true connectedness is my bloody skin." And I found that really interesting. What do you think that says about human relationships as people try to stop the separatism and feel more connected and feel this sense of unity to know that truly, from an experiential standpoint, that can be verified in a lab, the only thing that stands between you and actually experiencing someone else's circumstance is a null signal.
All behavior is in a sense mimicry (18:20)
Is it usable? Like, what do we do with it? - Yeah, I think evolution has seen it fit that for rapid action and for its purposes, perpetuating genes and in your lineage, you need to take shortcuts. And it says, simplifying assumptions to say, your consciousness stops here, you know, you've got your skin to protect. That's a different person, but as far as the neurons are concerned and the mirror neurons, which are firing away and empathizing with another person, it's all one big connected network. It includes other people's brains and not just your own brain.
Brain Control of the Body Influences Pain in the Body (19:02)
And it includes the skin too, as I told you, and it turns out that there's a condition called RS-D, if you don't mind my way of an attention here for a second. If you have normally, if you have an injury to a metacarpal bone. - And RS-D is like the swelling, the red, yeah. - Yeah, so this is a tiny fracture. Normally the finger swells up and becomes red and it becomes warm, inflamed, painful. Classic signs of information. And then the bone starts healing after a couple of weeks and then the changes in the skin and flesh reverse. It's called healing, everything is fine. In about 1% of people, the fracture heals, but the fingers remain swollen, red, painful, and immobilized, you can't move that finger. Whole hand becomes immobilized, red, painful, swollen, and warm, entire arm. Okay, and this is stuck with this for life, typically for decades. There are 30 treatments, none of which work adequately. There's one treatment, some of the ganglion block, which helps somewhat. Now we develop a trick which is now widely known and used for phantom limb pain, but we suggested it could be used for this. On the grounds that when the brain had a small injury and it sent a command to move, it's getting a pain signal, saying, "Oh, don't move it, it's painful." And this results in a pseudo-paralysis. So the brain gives up attending to the move the hand because it's terrified, it's just where to try to move it, it's painful. So it learns, it's called learned pain. Now you put a mirror here, hide the dystrophic arm, swollen arm, painful arm, put your normal hand on the other side, I'm the patient. I look in the mirror and I move my normal arm like that, like that, my dystrophic arm looks like it's moving, but it's not, it's just lying still. I'm sending commands to both hands, only this hand is moving, this hand is not moving, and it looks like it's moving, but there's no pain because you're not moving the left hand. Are you with me so far? - Yeah, yeah. - So the brain says, "Look, your left hand is moving fine." And it's not painful, go ahead and move it. You unlearn the learned pain. And then soon afterwards the experiments were tried on about nine patients and astonishingly about half the patient online as you, the other patient has been, have this for months or years. And you watch the normal hands of reflection in the mirror so the dystrophic painful hand looks like it's moving with impunity, it starts moving. Not only does the inflammation, the pain subside, but the hand starts moving, paralysis subside, goes away. The redness changes, the color changes, and the hand stops sweating. And you get the temperature changes, you can't fake that with your mind. So visual input is going and affecting the temperature of the skin. As you watch with the mirror. - Rama, doesn't this stuff freak you out? Like, do you not go home and see what else you can put in the mirror box? And like, what can I do with this stuff? - Absolutely. You go home, play with mirrors, and discover all kinds of things. I mean, if I put two mirrors at the right angle and put my nose, position my nose correctly so it looks like a normal face. One half in each side of the mirror. Where a blink, you know what happens? - Yeah. - Mirror image, blink my right eye, it blinks its right eye. And he's pooks you out, you say, "My God, what's it doing?" Unless you know the optics. - Wow. - You go home and try it, it's beautiful. But now comes the fun part. I simply ask you to look at this gizmo, and I say, first look at a normal mirror and move your head around like this, circumduction. And you say, "Fine, you do it." Yeah, I'm doing it. I mean, you look at your eyes, it's important. Look at the bridge of your nose. Easy, right? Okay, now you put two mirrors like this, look in the center, do the same thing. You can't. You can't move your head. Oh, you do this. - Why? - With some practice, you can start doing it very slowly. Because the feedback is wrong. What do you get in the normal mirror? You use the feedback of the head to guide your head. This is what we don't realize, that your brain doesn't function on isolation. It's constantly monitoring sensitive input. So when you attempt a correction, the head moves the wrong direction. So you then correct again the other way. And then again, it goes the wrong direction. So you get into this feedback loop, and you get a pseudo paralysis of the head. So who would have thought that I can put two mirrors in front of your right angle, like a book? Ask you to look inside it. Ask you to move your head and you say, "I can't move my head."
The Brain Has Different Languages (23:20)
- All right, see, this stuff to me is so powerful. It's so important. And when you start thinking about the duality of the brain, the corpus callosum, and what happens when you sever the corpus callosum, and you talk about in a second the atheist and the theist, I mean it's so fascinating. But what I hear in all this stuff is, there are things that I can do right now to begin to develop my brain in a way that I want. So there's some guys here just off camera, and they were asking me before you got here, like, "Oh, hey, you used to visualize," 'cause my wife and I used to drive up into Beverly Hills and look at nice houses, and when we were poor, that's how we stayed motivated. And as they're asking me about this, I get what they're really trying to do, which is they wanna know on those days where they feel insanely lazy, and they don't wanna do anything, what tricks can they do to motivate themselves? And people write in and ask that kind of thing all the time. And the real question that they're asking you is, "How do I take control of my brain?" 'Cause your brain is fucking with you. Your brain is lying to you. Your brain is making things up. Your brain has multiple voices. And the only thing that keeps them moving in one line is a bit of tissue between them. But when you find yourself arguing in your own head, it's because there really are two competing voices. There really is one that's fearful, that doesn't even have language, talking to one that has language, but is much less emotional, and trying to balance those two out. But when I hear stuff like the mirror box and being able to have, and what are the initials, R-F-M-R-F-D? - R-S-D. - R-S-D. - B-Flex sympathetic dystrophy. - All right, so if you look that up on Google, it is so horrifying. It's huge and red and nasty, and you've got people living with that for 10 years. You put it in a mirror box, that this man makes for $2, and you can trick your brain into thinking that all is well to the point that you'll begin to see the swelling go down in real time, right? - About half the patience. - That's fucking crazy. So the brain to me is ripe for, I'll take this wrong way, but manipulation. On yourself, to be able to create an improvement, to be able to get yourself moving in a direction, and here, I mean, guys watching the show, the thing that I want to stand for personally is, it doesn't matter where you start, it doesn't matter who you are, everyone's a lump of flesh, they can't hold its own head up and poops in its diapers, right? That's where we all start, and we all learn to do something over time. Now, you can learn to do that, but man, you've gotta learn about the brain. If you're not researching the brain and finding the tricks that it is pulling on you, so that you can reverse it and pull it back on the brain, you're missing a trick. - That's fascinating, I think, and the point that you made about corpus callosum and left and right hemisphere, studied extensively by Roger Spere, Gazeniga, Joe Bogan, various others, right here in Pasadena, actually. It raises a fascinating question, that the right hemisphere has its own language. Of course, both emissaries use the language of nerve impulses. There are tiny wisps of protoplasm of jelly, called neurons, and they're firing away 100 billion of these, and you know, there's you and me, and then you look at the world out there, how does all this happen, and it's mysterious. But even more directly intriguing is that the right hemisphere speaks a different language, of emotions, introspection, or left hemisphere is conventional, what we refer to as language, spoken language. I think it's more fundamental than that. There's a translation barrier between these two hemispheres. In this musical scale, this extraordinarily beautiful, a flourish here, a flourish there, Mozart or Indian classical music, Bhagavad-i-Khanad-a or something like that. So there is improvisation going on, and then there's a musical scale or melody. That says it all sometimes. And to translate music into words is impossible because it's bad, and I think what happens is music itself is a bridge between the right hemisphere's emotional language, which is hard to convey, and the left hemisphere's propositional language. This is just a far out idea. I don't even know how to test it, but there's the kind of issues that we think about, or starting to think about. - Yeah.
Manipulating Brain States (27:33)
Michael Strahan, I don't know if you know, that is one of the guys on Good Morning America, Hall of Fame NFL football player, and he talks about how he'll orchestrate his music, depending on what he's trying to achieve. So as he prepares for going out onto the field, about two hours out, he's actually listening to slower tempo music, R&B, it's very emotive. And then as he gets closer to going out, he starts listening to very aggressive music, things that create a brain state change in his mind. And the notion of changing brain states to me is so important, 'cause maybe there are just some people that for whatever reason, they're wired to do XYZ, but take this show for me. So this provokes tremendous anxiety for me. And to be able to come on and perform and call my nerves, it's like, I have to go do this super fucking elaborate thing to change my brain state to get it where I want. Tony Robbins talks about instant state changes and things you can do to really hype yourself up. And I find that I can do an instant state change to aggression, but I can't do an instant state change to something more subtle than that. - So you mean towards aggression? - Yeah, so-- - In response to somebody's aggression behavior? - No, it doesn't have to be that, but let's say that I wanted to, to Michael Strahan, you're about to go out into the football field and you need to like bring it and be a killer. You haven't even seen anybody else yet, but you know you have to walk on just like totally amped up. I have a technique that I use that I think a lot of people use which is to hit yourself, to have like physical contact with yourself.
Creative Brain Advantage (29:03)
If I strike my chest really hard in an instant drama, I can like really get amped up or I can put music on that exists in a like Jay-Z for me has, if I want to be cock sure, I'll put on Jay-Z. Like you just, it's got this like swagger. - Before you go. - It depends on what I'm trying to do, right? So in fact, in the early days, when I first started doing this show, back when it was inside Quest, I had to put myself in a position of confidence because I didn't have the confidence to do the show. So I would listen to Jay-Z, like that's all I would listen to for like an hour leading up to the show. I'd pace around and just listen to this music just to get myself in the right mental state. And the reason I bring that up is, is there's so much going on in the brain but so much of it is controllable. And what's really interesting, and we don't have time for it here, but you've talked so powerfully about what it means to be self-aware and how the self can contemplate the universe and contemplate itself contemplating the universe, right? And like, what does that mean? And to me, once you realize that you can contemplate yourself contemplating, you can control it. You can start to steer it. You can move it in different directions. And one thing I want to ask is, what is for a normal person? What's something that they can control and would allow them a better quality of life if they learn to control it? - The best answer to that is creativity. Creativity, metaphor, poetry and all of that. - So what do you think they can do to practice that? - Well, the risk of sounding frivolous expose themselves to a lot of poetry, write a lot of poetry, even if it's bad stuff, copy it maybe if you need to change it, alter it, eventually write your own poetry, write your own jokes if you can, and hang it on people who are poetic mind and people who are passionate about what they do, who think of life as a grand adventure, like hang it on poets, you know, it's cliche, but that's the key. - It is cliche.
VR Revolution (31:14)
- But in terms of actually using the brain and tampering with it, because we're not there yet, that can be undoubtedly be done maybe 100 years, 20 years from now, but not anytime soon. - Well, let's bring in a little bit sooner. So I know that your mirror box came from VR. You saw VR and thought, well, I can't afford that. 'Cause it's like 10 or 15 years ago, right? - Well, it didn't actually come from VR, but the idea came from when I looked at this patient, the drawing from the cup, and then it's changing out, for told me the powerful role of vision in modulating the pain. So I said vision can cause pain, it can also reduce pain, it can, let me find a way of correcting this. And then I saw a mirror somewhere in the basement and it must have clicked, because I've seen them in museums before. Now, the virtual writer came later because people said you cannot use the mirror if you have two hands both amputated. Then they said you can start using virtual reality to treat this, and based on the mirror box principle, they started using virtual reality. But you're right, in terms of my initial thought, when I saw this patient doing this, and I said I need to give him visual feedback from the hand to eliminate pain, not this patient, another patient. I need to give him visual feedback that the hand is moving, that might eliminate the pain. First thing I thought of was virtual reality, I said I can maybe get this constructed, and then I realized it's horrendously expensive and hit on the idea of using a mirror. - Yeah, that's, what do you think about the coming VR revolution? Do you think that it's gonna be usable? Do you think it's? - Absolutely, yeah. I think that you can develop visual reality tricks for things like anorexia nervosa, something we've been thinking about. - That's interesting. - Where the patient looks at the mirror image and then says she's obese, you know, she's fat. Here's some skinny person looking at a emaciated, skinny reflection. Their visual perception is being distorted. Now, can you somehow change that by giving them false feedback or something like that, by creating a virtual reality image of themselves and then manipulate the image and give the brain some version of themselves which makes them motivated to start eating again. So it's primarily a disorder not of feeding. People think of anorexia loss of appetite, not true. Often their appetite is good. It's a body image issue. They think of themselves as fat and bloated and they need to lose weight, to keep losing weight and sometimes it can be fatal in rare cases which is serious disorder. So we've been thinking about the use of virtual reality for that. We're thinking about it for things like OCD. Another use of mirror neurons, by the way, is my mirror neuron fires when you reach and grab that glass and when I reach and grab that glass and fires, already talked about mirror neurons. I mean OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder, let's say I'm the patient. I have this constant compulsion to go wash my hand like Lady Macbeth. And I touch a piece of wood or touch a table or I touch a bathroom door knob. I would immediately go and scrub my hand until it's red and inflamed and skin spilling off. For 20 minutes, and every hour I have to go back to the bathroom because I touch something. This is extraordinarily distressing for the patient in addition to the skin excoriations. We said, okay, when you get the urge to go and wash his hand and rub his, keep rubbing his hand, why do you want to watch an amp? You know, somebody else watching their hand. So maybe it'll get rid of the urge back to mirror neuron. Very simple idea. We tried this, Balaan Jalalini. We tried this and in about, we're not experts on OCD because it's a very old field devoted to that. People studying for years. But we just said as an amateur, let's just try it for fun. And in three out of six patients, we found that the patient, the patient was in the pain of OCD traits, not full blown OCD. They said, you know, my urge goes away. I don't need to go and wash my hand anymore. By simply watching another guy, I mean, take a thing about this. And the patient said, I didn't even expect this. I mean, if I see somebody, I should get more of an urge because it's frustrating. I mean, he's watching his hand, I'm not able to. But the opposite happens. I watch him wash his hand. It relieves my urge to wash my hand. And I don't understand it. Then we explain to him mirror neuron principle. So another example of tapping into mirror neurons, abilities to cure a seemingly incurable disease. But this is early days, we've seen it only in about a couple of patients and we're doing rigorous tests to establish it. But I just wanted to add that.
Kramers Findings (35:31)
- Yeah, very interesting. Now, in a time where people think all the sort of easy, simple discoveries are already done, and now the only thing that's gonna work is really expensive lab equipment. How have you been so successful in finding so many new discoveries? What's that secret that other people seem to be missing? - Well, that's a tough question to answer. And I think that this, because of misconception, people think that more difficult a problem, the more difficult it is to solve. But more fundamental a problem, more important a problem, the more difficult it is to solve. But there is no correlation. Sometimes there's a simple solution staring at you in the face and you're just missing it. I mean, to give you a classic example, everybody thinks Newton showed that white light is made of seven colors, right? Everybody knows it, every school boy knows that. Put a prism, had white light going through this from a slight projector or whatever they were using at that time, low and behold, you get a rainbow. Newton said white light is made up of seven wavelengths of different colors. And they said, "Balloni." They're about 20 critics of it. They said, "This is impurities in the glass. It's splitting the white color into a spectrum." So Newton's supporters said, "That's nonsense. You're Newton gonna be wrong. Let's get it right." So they polished the prism, purified the glass, again, seven colors. So the critics said, "You're not purified enough." So they went on and on and on 15 years, 20 years ago. No matter how much you purified, they can always say this is impurity. And Newton looked at the debate and he said, "It takes 10 minutes to show this. If they're right or wrong, why is painting, painting, or impurifying the glass? I'm not gonna get them anywhere." He took a second prism, put it upside down in front of the seven colors, collected them, became white again. If you say this impurities in glass, you're becoming even more colorful. How come it's becoming white again? So I'm right. These people spending 20 years grinding the glass and removing impurities, they're not gonna have done that. So this simple solution is staring at you in the face and you just miss it. So even today, hundreds of discoveries are waiting to be made without high tech. The classic example is the cure for ulcers. I didn't know-- - My lord, yeah. - Yeah, I mean, this is a classic example of people thinking that ulcers are caused by back stress and acid in your stomach and so give man-tacids or do hand-tractomy, remove the stomach, people used to do that when I was a medical student. - Wow. - Now you don't need to do an antleurctomy or a legotomy or any of that. How long, prolonged diets, milk diets and no spicy food, you just give them antibiotic. It turns out this young resident looked at the stomach slices of biopsies and found that they started with bacteria. And his professor said, "That's a secondary infection "from bacterial flora in the stomach, "going and infecting the ulcer." Now this guy asked a simple question and nobody else asked. What was that? He said, "How do you know?" I think, "How do you know?" is a fundamental question in science. So every kid should ask his professor, if his professor says something, "How the hell do you know the secondary infection?" Maybe the bacteria are causing the ulcer.
Contemplations On Truth And Control
Untested truths (38:29)
Professor said, "But that's not what my professor told me." They have the secondary infection. He said, "How do you know it's a secondary infection?" Then he gave people antibiotic to remove the so-called secondary infection, the ulcer infection, the ulcer infection. He also went away. And then he correlated with the distribution of ulcers in the population with the distribution of an oligobacter, perfect correlation. Even then people didn't believe him. He laughed off the stage when he presented this. He took the final step of swallowing the helical bacter. I don't know if you know this. - Yeah, that's crazy. - And he didn't endoscopy and his lining was studded with ulcers. Then finally they believed him. This was about 15, 20 years ago. And then, even then, 10 years, 15 years, they didn't adopt his extremity of swallowing antibiotic. - Wow. - They said, "No, no, there's nothing with antibiotics." The average physician gastroenterologist would still prescribe this standard regimen of diet and vagalomy and some rare cases that had entered to me, not antibiotics. Antibiotics kicked in about five years ago, people started using it widely. They did a course, I think, and got a Nobel Prize for that. - That's a great quote. I think it's by Max Planck where he says, "People have this illusion that when a new piece "of information comes out that people recognize "the faults in their old views and adopt the new view "and march forward." He says, "What really happens is people begin to die off "and the new people are just raised on the new truth "and then ultimately it becomes accepted." - I won't say my, I'm waiting for my colleagues to die. - That's nice, yeah. That's hilarious. Yeah, I can't believe that people are that stubborn, but people really cling to old beliefs. But I love that H. by Lori story that he was willing to put it to the ultimate test, that he was so convinced he was right, that he would go to the lengths of swallowing H. by Lori. - Univit, it could have been discovered 100 years ago. - Why? - Anybody could have done this, the animal is-- - Just ask that question. - It's 50 years ago. Anybody who had access to antibiotics would have said, "Let me just try it." - Yes, finally, do you meditate? - No, I'm ashamed to say I'm from India and people always have it. And I want to, and I will soon, but I haven't attempted it yet. - For me, what I need is to be able to picture the anatomy of it. Once I understood what I'm really doing is tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system, I'm slowing my heart rate down, I'm slowing my breathing down. I'm, in essence, regaining control of certain things, right?
Conscious control (40:39)
I am now consciously controlling my breathing. - Very interesting. You're saying that the ability to consciously control these things and be aware of what's going on helped you tremendously, right? - Tremendously. - Right, now that this is very interesting, but in phantom pain patients, what they'll say is, "You've helped me eliminate the pain, "but more than anything else, you've told me "that a phantom is not a figment of my imagination. "It's a construct in my brain, in the body image center, "so it's real, I'm not going crazy." And you can put it in something as simple as a mirror and eliminate it for a while. - Rama, I really think it's a big deal. And when you were saying that people, 'cause I promise you, people saw their girlfriend rubbing their phantom hand a thousand times and it didn't give them any relief. Because the belief they had about it was something totally different, so how could it have that impact? - They don't notice it, I mean, you see, but you do not observe as Sherlock Holmes stole Watson. So they'll notice it, many of my patients have said, "Well, I've noticed when I'm shaving, "I feel something in my phantom." But I told my doctor and he said, "It's all in your mind, don't worry about it." So they all have observed it, but they ignore it. But as your mind is tuned to it, so you notice it more or you observe it more, and you see its significance. I think that's what it will be. - And I think that that has significance with the placebo effect. And if, here's, I struggle with the placebo effect, 'cause I think it's super powerful, and I bet it is really effective, but I worry that if I know I'm trying to trigger the placebo effect, that it won't work. - Largely enough, there's an experiment showing it does. - Even if I think it's-- - Even if you show somebody that something is a placebo, - Whoa. - That's a placebo. The placebo works almost to the same extent. - That's crazy. - Which is very interesting, because if you take a drug like Prozac, it's 70% effective, compared to a placebo, which is 50% effective. The difference is margin of difference, but quite small. - Wow. - So why not give a guy for depression? Here's a placebo. - Right, it's not-- - But you know a placebo's work, even when you know they're a placebo's. Start 'em on trial of that, and then if that doesn't work, then you can, it's a very cheap, the placebo's. If it doesn't work, let's fit you to the real Prozac. - That is amazing. - Yeah, yeah. - Wow, I'm really surprised that the numbers are that high. And on that line, what is the impact that you wanna have on the world? - Twofold, one is to, whether accidentally or purposefully make discoveries which help alleviate pain and mental anguish. You've succeeded in, as far as pain is concerned, or tremendous extent. There's nothing more satisfying than a patient who's been in pain for years or months, excruciating pain, coming to you, and then going away with some experimental procedure and weekly, he says, "It's all gone." And every now and then, this happens, and it makes all enterprise worthwhile. The awards and honors, of course, ego trip, and it's fun to have, but the main reward is the alleviation of pain. Second thing is, we are curious about the higher functions of the mind, like you are. What is creativity? What is humor? What is poetry that moves you to tears? What's great literature? All of this. It's all enshrined in the neural architecture of the brain. You wanna understand the basic elementary aspects of brain function, like how you see a cup, and how you see a table, or how you feel warmth. Once you've done that, you also wanna get to the big questions. Like how do you construct body image? What are Freudian defense mechanisms? Can you gain a deeper understanding of them? Can you avoid being, avoid self-deception, being more authentic to yourself? Is it always a good idea to avoid self-deception? Maybe it's healthy, in small doses, right? So that's my overall agenda. I understand human nature, I understand enigmatic aspects of our minds, like creativity and metaphor, and how you construct a calendar in your mind, and you have the sense of time and place, you're anchored here and now. Right now I'm here in the studio, and I'm being interviewed by you, and then a few hours later I'm gonna be in LA again, back in my hotel, I'm waiting for my Uber ride, then I'm gonna go home, and then a month later I might be going to India, and I got this sense of a calendar. Where is it in my brain? What parts of the brain are involved? So questions of that nature, which have no clinical utility, or practical application, but eventually they might, because they enrich your understanding of who you are, and that's one of your goals. And then once you understand who you are, then you can harness this knowledge towards practical utility. Yeah, I'm very excited about all these new inventions and new ideas, and it's important also not to get carried away by them. Some of them have been repeated by many scholars, many groups throughout the world, and are implemented widely in clinics. Some of the other discoveries, still early stages, we're barely scratched the surface of the problem, like the calendar in the brain, or another example would be the use of the mirror for stroke. Some of this work is very recent, and we need to add the qualifying remark that needs to be replicated by colleagues in double-blind clinical trials before they can be accepted for routine treatment of patients. Same thing holds for some of our basic discoveries on calendars or any of the other discoveries I mentioned, mirror neurons. Some of them are rock-solid, excepted widely, others are still in the test phase. I love, though, that you do bring things up even when they're early, just to spark creativity and give things to think about. So long as you make it clear which findings, this is the key, whether it's a book or a lecture or an interview, it's your job, not the audience's job, to spell out which part is rock-solid, clear, has been established by colleagues, and by yourself, by repeating the experiment, which part you're skating on thin ice.
Final Questions (45:47)
And I always tell my colleagues to make this clear, too, when they're giving lectures. - Makes sense. Where can they find you online? - They go into my webpage in UCSD, CBC, Center for Brain and Cognition, UCSD, and they find a list of references to mirror visual feedback, the various treatments that are offered, and my current book, "Telltale Brain," and if you go to the Charlie Rose Show where I'm interviewed, so interviews like your interview, Charlie Rose's interview, TED Talks, that gives you an overview. - All great talks, I promise you, I've seen them all, they're amazing, watch each and every one of them. - Rama, thank you so much for coming to the show and sharing with us, that was amazing. Guys, never before have I recommended somebody as aggressively as I'm going to recommend that you dive into VS Ramachandran. Nobody has had a bigger impact on my life and my understanding of my own brain and my ability to get ahold of it. And he is so entertaining, you've gotta read his book. In fact, I will tell you that one of the alternate titles for "Phantoms in the Brain" was gonna be the man who mistook his foot for a penis. So there's all kinds of just amazing, hilarious, unbelievable, and always true stories. So go in, check his books out. What you're going to get out of it is not only an amazing appreciation for the mind, the ability to then conceptualize it, and through conceptualizing it, be able to actually grab ahold of it and do things in your own life to begin to truly reshape and rewire your brain and the way that you're going to need to in order to be successful. You will find endless applications for the things that he talks about. It is really, really incredible stuff. And the one thing that I hope that you heard him say today, which really struck me, and it was not something I was expecting to hear, which is if he was gonna give you any advice to empower yourself, it would be to study creativity, to surround yourself with creative people, to dig into poetry, and when you understand the entire ummvelt of his world and all of the things that he gets into, you'll understand why. That is the most beautiful advice that he could ever give you, is to really leverage those pounds of jelly between your ears to have a more beautiful experience. That's so fucking cool. I love it, Rama, I cannot thank you enough. - Thank you very much, so much. - That was amazing. Guys, if you haven't already, be sure to subscribe. You can find me at @TomBillio and you can find this amazing team and everything that we're up to at @ImpactTheory. We are all over the web, so find us everywhere, including Medium, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, all of it. We are putting out content that we think will make your life better and allow you to be successful in the way that you want, and at the very core of this company is a desire to help you build the company that you want. So if you want to get in, if you want advice, we offer that as well, so hit us up, let us know how we can help, let us do something amazing together. Guys, it's a weekly show, so be sure to subscribe. And until next time, my friends, be legendary, take care. - Rama, man, this is so much, that was amazing.
Hey everybody, thanks so much for joining us for another episode of Impact Theory. If this content is adding value to your life, our one ask is that you go to iTunes and Stitcher and Rate and Review, not only does that help us build this community, which at the end of the day is all we care about, but it also helps us get even more amazing guests on here to show their knowledge with all of us. Thank you guys so much for being a part of this community, and until next time, be legendary, my friends.