Exercise and Brain Enhancement
The idea of “exercise” as something necessary for brain enhancement
The idea of bodybuilding and strength training as an analogy for brain enhancement
Strenuous physical exercise causes the bodies of healthy people to get even stronger. The exercise can be focused on very specific parts of the body. For example, a weight lifter who does bicep curls but nothing else will develop large biceps but very little else. Marathon runners focus on strengthening their cardiovascular systems, and as a result they often have extraordinary endurance, powerful hearts and lungs, and the torsos of ninety-eight pound weaklings with arms and legs like rubber bands! However, bodybuilding certainly works, and it works the same way in every instance, from weight lifters to distance runners: choose that part of your body that you want most to grow in size and strength, and then use it! Moreover, most importantly, use it against increasingly difficult challenges, since it is that steady increase in difficulty, whether it comes through lifting heavier weights or running longer or faster, that stimulates the targeted muscle to grow.
How does this analogy relate to the field of brain enhancement?
Simply imagine that all of this is true of the brain as well as of the body. Substituting “brain” for “Body”, the above paragraph states, in effect, that strenuous intellectual exercise causes the brains of healthy people to get stronger. This brain-building exercise can be focused on a very specific part of the brain- simply select the part or quality of the brain that you want to grow in size and strength, and then use it against increasingly difficult challenges.
Imagine further now that just as we have devices to stimulate the body to healthy growth and to speed up the slow process of body growth (barbells, treadmills, bikes and everything else) we also have devices to stimulate brain growth and speed the process of brain building enormously.
How do previous theories on brain enhancement and growth fit in with modern theories? How do they differ?
Long ago scientists established that absolute brain size has little to do with intelligence; when they weighted brains during autopsies, the found that the brains of supposed idiots were sometimes larger than those of great intellects, and that geniuses at times had comparatively small brains. Moreover, if brain size seemed irrelevant to intelligence, the idea that either brain size or intelligence could be changed by experiences seemed absurd. First, it was an accepted fact that intelligence was genetically determined; people with high intelligence are born that way.
Finally, it was commonly accepted that the growth in the total number of brain cells we have it completed by age two. In other words, the absolute number of one’s brain cells was supposedly determined from infancy, and no matter what experiences or stimulations the brain may have received, the number of brain cells could not increase. In this, the neurons are unlike the other cells of the body, which can reproduce many times- after all, if a muscle cell is destroyed it can be replaced by a new cell.
Oh, so is this where that bodybuilding analogy comes in? Is this how it relates to the process of brain enhancement by exercise?
It is this capability that is exploited by body builders, whose large muscles are the result of the repair and regeneration of muscle cells damaged or destroyed by strenuous exercise. No wonder scientists found it hard to conceive of any way brain structure and function could be changed by sensory input. No wonder people find it hard to believe in brain machines that can be used like body building devices, stimulating the brain and triggering brain growth and increases in mental powers. Brain enhancement natural evolutionary changes are directed toward the creation of the brain.