Through the Wormhole s07e04 Episode Script

Can We All Become Geniuses?

1 It lies Somewhere in the human mind.
It brings mathematical insight, Sparks artistic inspiration.
It's the gift To see what others can't.
But is genius Only for a rare few Or do we all have Untapped potential? Now neuroscience Is beginning to unleash Our mind's hidden powers, Engineering "Eureka" moments And augmenting biology With technology To unlock the genius Inside us all.
Space, time, life itself.
The secrets of the cosmos Lie through the wormhole.
Music has stevie wonder.
Physics -- einstein.
Literature -- emily dickinson.
Every generation is blessed With men and women Who have exceptional minds.
Genius has many facets, From remarkable memory To inspiration To invention.
But what about you? As neuroscientists uncover The secrets of our brains, They're beginning to unlock The hidden talents In every one of us.
We may not all start With einstein's mind, But why can't we all Become geniuses? Jason padgett Is a mathematical phenomenon, But he wasn't born this way.
But one night in his early 30s, Jason's life and mind Were completely changed.
I heard, almost more than felt, This deep thud, And saw what was just like A bright puff of white light.
And the next thing I knew, I was on my knees, Just getting punched and kicked From every direction.
Before the mugging, Jason was a furniture salesman, A college dropout.
He had no interest in math.
I absolutely hated math.
I really believed It didn't apply to anything And there was no use for it.
But the injuries To jason's brain Somehow unlocked A new and exceptional way Of looking at the world.
Everything That was curved before Looks like it has little edges.
So all the smoothness Of everything is gone.
No matter what shape I looked at, I could cut it into a certain Number of triangles To make that shape.
But I never Had noticed it before.
I just made me realize That this connection With triangles and shapes Was everywhere, Which then just seemed obvious That it was mathematical.
Now whenever jason Looks at mathematical equations, His mind Immediately transforms them Into complex geometric shapes.
His mind imposes the same Geometry on the natural world Wherever he sees patterns.
Sometimes it almost Feels like a little superpower.
I see the world As pure geometry.
This one-time underachiever Now studies Advanced number theory And makes award-winning drawings Of complex Mathematical concepts.
But what exactly changed In his brain To turn jason Into a mathematical genius? And could we engineer the same Changes in our own brains? That's what university of miami Neuroscientist berit brogaard Wanted to find out.
Berit scanned jason's brain While he reviewed A sequence of equations.
She found that his brain had Rewired itself after his injury.
Most people use both hemispheres To process mathematics, But jason's brain relies on Newly formed neural circuits Exclusively In his left hemisphere.
Those areas Of his brain were so damaged That they triggered Extra connectivity In other areas of his brain And allowing those areas To communicate In ways that were not Possible before.
Berit believes These unusual patterns Of brain activity Triggered jason's Geometrical vision.
It's a form of a condition Called synesthesia.
There are different forms Of synesthesia.
Someone with color synesthesia Might sense numbers As patches of different colors.
A person with smell synesthesia Might hear music And smell the scent Of fresh-brewed coffee.
Jason's synesthesia Combines mathematics With his sense of sight.
So when he sees anything, He instantly sees Its underlying geometry.
It's as if he has x-ray vision, Revealing the mathematics That underpins the entire world.
Synesthesia often enhances Your cognitive abilities.
Synesthesia is sort of a key To unlock unconscious Or dormant areas of the brain.
Berit thinks We all have the potential To unlock these abilities Without a blow to the head.
She's finding promising results In a psychedelic drug Called psilocybin.
It's the ingredient In magic mushrooms That makes them magical.
But when we use it In experiments, We use it in a pure form Where it's isolated, So we can control the amount That we give to subjects.
Psilocybin Supercharges the brain To handle More sensory information.
The result is A synesthesia-like experience Where test subjects perceive An explosion Of patterns and colors Triggered by senses Other than sight.
Synesthesia That is typically induced Is sound to color synesthesia.
So people hear colors, In some sense.
But the mechanism Underlying that May be similar to the mechanism Underlying jason's synesthesia.
If researchers like berit Can develop legal versions Of drugs like psilocybin, Many more of us Might soon discover We have exceptional Mental abilities.
In principle, We could all become geniuses By rewiring our brains.
Of course, The trick is how to do that.
You should definitely not go out And hit yourself in the head.
A blow to the head, or a drug, Can transform your mind.
But is there a way To nurture synesthesia And the inspiration It can bring? Albert einstein Had a passion for music.
He described His biggest stroke of genius, The theory of relativity, As a musical perception.
Neuroscientist and music teacher Dr.
Martin gardiner Thinks music is the key To getting kids On the path towards genius.
Music provides A fantastic opportunity To strengthen your mind.
It's one of the most marvelous Inventions of humanity.
Are you ready? Here we go.
In decades of research, Martin followed children's Academic achievements As they grew from age 7 to 35.
He found that the strongest Predictor of academic success Is whether a student Receives musical training At an early age.
All right, I have a new song For you, boys and girls.
-yay! -are you ready? Listening ears -- It goes like this.
Martin believes one Specific musical teaching system Hits all the right Neurological notes.
It's called the kodály method.
It teaches children To think of music As a three-dimensional space, One they can physically explore.
You could call this an Artificial form of synesthesia, Transforming sound Into geometry.
All right, So when you get your bag, You're to lay out your hearts In your work space.
In another exercise, Students spell out The rhythm of a song, Exercising parts of the brain Normally used in language.
So, I'm gonna clap The pattern for you.
You're gonna clap it back.
Kids taught With the kodály method Usually outperform their peers In math and reading skills Later in life.
There's a lot Of integration going on, And I think that's The most central thing That music helps us develop, Is how to apply This kind of integration.
When you play music, Your brain is doing Many things at once.
You read notes on the page, Use your muscles to play them, Listen to their sound Reverberating, And keep a perfect sense Of timing.
To perform all these functions At once, Your brain needs A good conductor.
The prefrontal cortex Stops various parts of the brain From stepping on one another, Turning discord Into a harmonious symphony.
The more these children Learn to blend Music, geometry, and language, The stronger their Prefrontal cortexes grow And the closer They get to genius.
Music helps build Some kind of a bridge That allows you to begin to use These kinds of highest areas.
Very good.
Music helps Many areas of our brain Work together In a symphony of creativity.
But you can't write a symphony Unless you have the inspiration For that first musical phrase.
Where do eureka moments Come from? Do we have to sit around And wait for them, Or can we make them happen On cue? Eureka! It's an ancient greek word Meaning "I've found it.
" It's connection to genius Started With the inventor archimedes, Who supposedly shouted it After finding the solution To a problem While sitting in a bathtub.
Inspiration often strikes At odd moments.
Philo t.
Farnsworth Dreamed up the idea of tv While plowing a potato field.
Einstein dreamed up relativity Riding on a train.
Do certain environments Help trigger breakthrough ideas? And if we knew the answer To that, Could we create places where Genius could strike any of us? Cognitive research scientist John kounios Wants each and every one of us To have a eureka moment.
In 1943, richard james Was an engineer Aboard a u.
Navy ship.
He was installing Some instruments with springs.
One of those springs got loose And started bouncing around, As if it had a life of its own.
In that instant, James had an aha moment.
He realized that that spring Could be the basis of a toy.
People in all walks of life Have aha moments.
They're sudden insights That confer a new perspective, A new way of looking at things.
For 15 years, John and his colleagues Have been studying These sudden genius insights, Trying to find Exactly what triggers them.
But how do you study Aha moments? Especially because they can Happen anytime, anywhere Getting coffee Taking a walk Even eating lunch.
We started At the very moment of insight, When an idea Pops into awareness, And we traced it backwards In time To reveal All of the brain processes That led up to that very moment.
You can have a seat here.
Before he can rewind a mind, John captures moments of insight By using a challenging Word association game.
While tracking brain activity With an eeg, He shows subjects three words And gives them 15 seconds To say another word They have in common.
Give it a try.
Can you find the common word? Sun? How about this one? Fire.
After each answer, The subject presses a button To indicate whether They got their answer From methodical analysis Or from a sudden moment Of insight.
Sign? The results show That answers Based on a eureka moment Are about 15% more accurate than Those from methodical analysis.
And the brain scans Allow john to pinpoint Where these aha moments Originated.
While analysis lights up The left side of the brain In the visual cortex, Eurekas come From the right side, In the right temporal lobe.
At the moment of insight, There's a burst Of what are called gamma waves.
These are fast brain waves, About 40 per second, And that reflects the new idea Or the solution popping Into awareness.
Now that john has mapped What a mental breakthrough Looks like, He wants to find out if certain Environments can foster them.
So, before he starts The word game, Some subjects Watch a comedy show he makes the other crazy people look not crazy.
aah! While others watch A scary movie.
can't work out why someone who's all superficial gets more popular when you mix The comedic subjects not only Got more right answers, But they also had A moment of insight more often Than the people who were scared.
Mood plays a very large role In whether you're open To aha moments, Or you're thinking In analytical fashion.
When you have a sense of threat, The scope of your attention Narrows to what that threat is.
aah! When you're feeling happy, That means you're feeling safe, That there's no threat, And that gives the person A sense of freedom To explore long-shot ideas, Which is the stuff Of creativity.
he's like the school kid who claims he knows karate but won't show you any moves.
Inspiration needs The right state of mind.
You can't force aha moments.
They're like cats.
You can coax them, But you can't command them.
But you can create conditions That make aha moments possible Or more likely.
In fact, john's research Has discovered several Other eureka dos and don'ts.
A room painted blue or green Is inspirational.
But the brain sees a red room As a threat And narrows its thinking.
A russian river and puppies Are good for eureka.
But loud sounds, being nagged, And deadlines Are inspiration killers.
Anyone can have an aha moment.
It's part of what distinguishes Human beings As creative thinkers.
The trick is to create The right circumstances, The right environment To maximize them.
It's too bad we live In a noisy, Distraction-filled world.
But one scientist Has found a way To turn noise to our advantage.
Not to distract us -are you ready? But to move our brains Closer to genius.
The great piano virtuoso Glenn gould had Many strange habits.
For one, he always hummed When he played.
And when he studied music, He did so to the accompaniment Of several tvs and radios All blaring at full volume.
It was an eccentric technique, But gould may have been On to something.
There is new evidence That noise, Instead of overwhelming Or distracting us, Might actually take us A step closer to genius.
To most of us, Noise is a nuisance, Something we try to escape.
But not neuroscientist Roi cohen kadosh.
In our everyday life, there is Sometimes a lot of noise Like here At the construction site, But the noise That I'm using is Quite different than the noise That you hear here.
So why we won't we go To somewhere quieter Where I can explain to you? At his lab At the university of oxford, Roi is injecting noise Directly into human brains To try to make people smarter.
Noise can be distracting, But when we use The certain level Of white noise, It can actually Really improve cognitive And learning capacities.
White noise -- Rivers naturally produce it.
It helps people sleep.
We even have apps for it.
Roi theorizes That a very specific kind Of white noise can Actually supercharge Our cognitive abilities.
It's based On very complicated ideas That is called Stochastic resonance.
When you add just The right amount of white noise To a very weak signal, Some of the frequencies In the white noise match Those in the signal And resonate with them, Boosting the signal.
This stochastic resonance Can work With any type of noise In sound or vision.
So you have a picture here, But you really cannot Detect reliably, "What is it in this picture?" Can you make out what this is? If you're going To add white noise At a certain level, You're going to see That it is the big ben.
Now if you're going to add Too much noise to that, It's not going to be Any more beneficial.
So, the noise needs to be At a certain level.
Too much noise Or too little noise -- Not going to improve Your ability.
Neuroscientists have Shown that individual neurons Use stochastic resonance To boost weak signals.
So, roi decided to try it out On a whole mind By adding electrical noise To his subjects' brains.
Hello, michael.
Please, take a seat.
Roi designed a test That delivers A targeted burst Of electrical noise To a specific area Of a subject's brain, The dorsolateral Prefrontal cortex.
This region plays a key role In problem solving And is also heavily connected To other parts of the brain.
The idea behind it is That adding noise Will increase firing Of brain cells And therefore will lead To changes in their brain cells.
-are you ready? -I'm ready, yeah.
For 30 minutes, The subject plays A specially designed video game Where the player solves A series of cognitive challenges In a robot factory.
While this is happening, Through two electrodes On the scalp, The device floods the brain -- Painlessly -- With electrical white noise.
A separate control group Also plays the same game Wearing the same cap But with no stimulation.
Once it's finished, We repeat this procedure Multiple days, And eventually we assess How much did they change In their abilities.
We found that they learn faster And better compared To those who receive Placebo stimulation.
Roi believes The white noise stimulates All the electrical systems Across the brain And wakes them up.
The supercharged brains Improved in both the short And long term.
Half a year later, When roi tested The subjects again, He discovered the mental Improvements were still there.
This breakthrough technique Could also push us One step closer to genius.
Imagine one day being able To supercharge Any part of your brain And become a genius At any task.
The idea in the past was That we are born, And we're going To be genius or not.
But now we know That our brain is more plastic.
We can change it.
Where can it go? It's a $1 million question.
We're already beginning To use technology To supercharge Our neural pathways.
But there's another way We might unleash The hidden genius in our minds, If we dare.
We could tinker With our brain's basic biology.
To solve any problem, You have to get from "A" to "B.
" The trouble is, in real life, There are so many paths To choose from, And most of them Lead to dead ends.
Only a genius can remember Every single turn That led to a blind alley And which moved them Toward their goal.
But what if we could engineer Our brains to remember far more? We'd have perspective To see the bigger picture And see the path to genius.
John georgiou, a neuroscience Researcher in toronto, Believes memory is vital To everything we do.
Without memories, We can't do Many of the basic functions, Such as finding our way to work, Recognizing familiar people, Learning to do tasks.
Without memories and learning, We're essentially unable To function in daily life.
But john also believes We have the power To make our memories better Through genetic engineering.
We have systematically tried To manipulate the genes That we feel are important In learning and memory.
In theory, We can all become genius If we were to make modifications In the way our brain works.
To understand And improve human memory, John starts small with mice.
What we're trying to do here Is to measure the learning And memory Performance of the mice.
So, what we do is We take a mouse, And we place it in a round, Cylindrical pool of water.
And the mouse has To find its way To a submerged, hidden platform.
The mouse in john's test Cannot see the platform Because a non-toxic paint Has been added to the water.
The mouse's only means Of orienting itself Are visual cues hung On the walls.
Overhead, a camera tracks The path the mouse takes, Recording time, distance, And the path traveled.
On the first trial, The mouse will take Anywhere from 60 to 90 seconds To find the location Of the escape platform Because it's, essentially, A random process.
But then, with each Repeated trial, They get better at it.
The more times The mice swim the maze, The better they remember The location Of the hidden platform.
But john wanted to speed up Their learning process.
He wanted to enhance The mice's memory So they would remember After only one try.
The key for john Was targeting the hippocampus, A part of the brain crucial To memory formation.
As memories form, Neurons send electrical And chemical signals Back and forth Until an enzyme called pde4b Shuts down The signal between the neurons.
No more communication means The window closes For building bigger, Richer memories And the mouse can only focus On the water In front of its nose.
So, john created a mutation In the gene for pde4b.
The pde4b mutant mice That we created have a mutation That impairs the function Of the enzyme, Which results In neurons being able To communicate with each other For extended period of time And presumably this is What allows the mice To be better At encoding memories And recalling memories.
The result was exactly What he expected.
Where the non-mutant mice Take up to 90 seconds To solve the maze, The mutant mice complete it In less than 30.
The mutant mice were able To perform this task A lot better.
They were faster And remembered the location Of the escape platform Much better.
The mutant pde4b enzyme Allows more time For the mice To build stronger memories.
The mice get smarter.
But mice aren't the only ones That can have their brains Pushed past normal levels.
Human brains also use The pde4b enzyme.
If we were to mutate The pde4b gene in humans, It's possible that the same Effect could be recreated.
We believe that, yes, We can potentially improve Cognitive function in humans.
A stronger memory wouldn't Just help us remember details Like directions.
It could give us a larger Window of experience, Leading to the kind Of visionary genius That people like steve jobs Or jackson pollock had, The ability to step back From the small details And see the big picture.
The road to this type Of visionary genius may come From directly tinkering With the biology of our brain.
We are, indeed, Getting closer to unlocking The key to genius inside of us.
Will it be possible to take A pill and become genius? Theoretically, it is possible.
Human brains have evolved Over millions of years.
We may soon be able to leap Far beyond Our evolutionary limits.
But should we make that leap? Or is there a reason We're not all geniuses? Bigger, faster, smarter -- Almost daily, Science seems to promise A new kind Of supercharged mind.
Diets promise A burst of intelligence.
Drugs promise To boost attention or memory.
But if we do pop that pill, What might the consequences be? Instead of being a blessing, Could genius be a curse? In warwick, england, psychology Professor thomas hills has come To the conclusion That genius is overrated.
His local pub is The perfect place To demonstrate this.
It's a complicated context -- An environment that requires you To be able to choose beers, To be able to talk With different people.
It's a challenging situation, And minds like ours are adapted For this kind of thing.
We tend to think Supercharged brains could Only make us better.
They'll help us deal With life's complex problems.
But thomas disagrees.
His reason -- evolution.
So, there's this idea That more is better, right? More memory, more focus, More self-control, More willpower -- But you have to realize That evolution's been Sort of selecting For our minds For millions of years.
And if those things Were just good, Why wouldn't we have minds Like that already? Looking at the human mind Through the lens Of evolution explains Why most of us aren't geniuses.
In a complex And ever-changing environment, Our minds don't need To be exceptional.
They need to find The right balance Between accuracy and speed.
So, evolution has To pay attention To both how quickly we want To be able to do things As well as how accurately We want to be able To do things.
And a dart game is A good analogy For this kind of problem.
You can see, first, I'm trying To be fairly accurate.
But as I increase my speed, I start to lose that accuracy.
So, this represents that balance Between being focused And taking your time And being too fast And throwing too many things, Maybe in the wrong directions.
Our brains have been Guided by evolution To be pretty good At many things, Not geniuses at one thing.
Our mental limits In any one area Are all too apparent.
Take our memories.
Hey, everybody.
Want to play a pub game? -yeah.
All right, So, in this game, I'm gonna give you a category, And you say all the items From that category You can think of.
Thomas is giving What's called A semantic fluency test To some of his students.
It measures verbal memory.
Jay, your category Is occupations.
-doctor, lawyer, barman, Cleaner, plumber, Electrician Clinicians use this test To measure brain health.
Extra, actor Everyone has 60 seconds.
Window cleaner But most start To stumble a lot earlier.
Jar filler.
Um We may know Hundreds of professions, But most people can only recall About 10 to 20 in a minute.
Not all of our memory is Instantly available.
I saw the jars on the -- But what if it was? Polar bear, Mouse, lion What if every animal You ever learned was Right there At the tip of your tongue? Tiger, horse, snake, Alligator, dog, squirrel Let's suppose you had A perfect memory.
Do you want to remember Every blade of grass You've ever seen? Do you want to remember Every slight You've ever experienced In your life, Every breakup, Every time You've ever stubbed your toe? How well do you want To remember those things? What may seem at first Like a superpower Might quickly Become a curse.
You could remember everything You've ever experienced, And that might Make it more difficult To learn new things, right? In some sense, forgetting Helps you learn new contexts And learn new ways To deal with new problems.
Dog, cat, Horse, spider In other words, Forgetting is Just as important a mental skill As remembering.
Um Thomas says It's critical to understand That our evolved brain is A system seeking balance, Operating within limits in order To survive a complex world.
Improving on what nature gave us May seem tempting, But the brain has taken Millions of years to evolve.
Supercharge one area, And you could upset the balance.
Genius like van gogh, tesla, Or mathematician john nash Had incredible minds But also struggled to connect To other people, Understand society, Or even experience Deep emotions.
So, there's sort of a mythology Around genius, right, That it's kind of a -- Potentially a curse.
We see this in different types Of individuals Who've gained fame Because they knew A lot of different kinds Of things.
But at the same time, They seemed somehow trapped In their own world, Which presents problems For social activities, Like hanging out in the pub.
Thomas believes We should celebrate Our limitations.
What we call genius might be A mind that's overdeveloped In one area And deficient in another.
So, having a super mind is An interesting kind of question.
As soon as you start to unpack What "Super mind" means, You start to realize maybe it's Not such a good idea after all.
But their might be A way to break through Our mental limitations Without paying the social And emotional price.
Technology may soon Artificially expand the brain, Link all of our minds together, And show us the path To true genius.
One of my favorite memories is The taste of my grandmother's Iced tea.
But how many memories Are now beyond retrieval? My classmates' names, Books I read, Movies I saw decades ago.
The human brain can't -- Shouldn't fit All of life's experiences.
But perhaps there's a way To beat our evolutionary limits.
Imagine off-loading Most of our memories, Accessing them only when needed.
And why stop there? You could have all Of mankind's knowledge on tap.
Our collective minds Could make us all geniuses.
Ted berger is A biomedical engineer Who's trying to push The brain past its limits.
We very often in science Pay attention To how brains break down, But we don't often pay attention To how we can accelerate Brain function, How we can make brain function Above normal.
His lab at the university Of southern california Is developing a way To load digital memories Into our biological brains.
His first hope is To help repair brains That have trouble Retaining memories.
But his research May give us all a way To become Digitally-enhanced geniuses.
Ted's first step was To understand How the brain stores memories.
This storage Facility could represent The process By which short-term memories Become long-term memories.
When the brain receives New information, It comes first To short-term memory, Like when a building receives A package on its loading dock.
A part of the brain Called the hippocampus Then scans And categorizes the item, Like this memory of ted And his daughter, So it can be sent To long-term storage.
What the hippocampus does is To pick up These short-term memories And move them From the loading dock To the right floor And the right location.
But if the hippocampus Doesn't do its job right, This memory-storage system Can go haywire.
Memories can be misfiled Or not created at all.
If the hippocampus Were malfunctioning, Then the new information That's on the loading dock May not get delivered To the right location.
It might even go In the right door But not all of the memory Made it to the door.
Ted is trying to work out How the hippocampus Actually stores memories So he can hack into The system electronically.
When there's a memory That's generated by the brain, It involves literally hundreds If not thousands of cells.
And each cell generates A series of pulses.
So, we're actually Seeing the memory codes That are generated By this part of the brain.
With a set Of electrodes implanted In the hippocampus Of volunteer patients, Ted is beginning to decipher How our brains turn Short-term memories Into coded form So that they can be stored As long-term memories.
We ask the patients To look at a picture, And we can read the code For the picture.
And that means That we could generate, Ourselves, the code And put it back into the brain.
Having cracked The long-term memory code, Ted can now use A microchip to send memories Directly into our brain's Permanent storage.
Human trials have already begun In patients suffering From memory loss due to epilepsy And for soldiers dealing With brain trauma.
But the implications Of ted's breakthrough Could be Far greater for humanity And our quest for genius.
If we can hack into our brains' Memory-coding system, There's no limit To which memories Or whose memories We could access.
It may be possible To take memories From one organism And put them into the brain Of another organism.
And to a certain extent, That's been shown already.
We can imagine Sharing those memories In such a way That genius evolves Not from an individual But from a collective Set of memories.
Our individual, Biologically limited brains Could have instant access To the collective wisdom Of all of humanity.
Thanks to this technology, The whole world Can work together And think together to solve Our biggest problems.
Genius means more Than just memory.
Together, as a group, We might have A greater genius, A greater capability Than we would have As individuals.
We could really grow The capability for genius By collectively using Our memories And our creativities.
One day, we might No longer be prisoners To the inherited genetics And acts of happenstance That created our brains.
Instead, technology and medicine Will make us masters Of all that we want to know.
But even The smartest minds among us Can't know everything That is to come.
We always need to be able To change, to adapt.
True genius is To never stop learning.