Television is more likely to be described as a medium that rots your brain, than one that assists you in developing a better one. But a new ABC series promises to turn us into Einsteins from the comfort of our couch.
Redesign My Brain is a three-part series that might have just slipped past unnoticed for many TV viewers but is well worth resurrecting on iView. It’s hosted by Todd Sampson, one of the regular advertising gurus from Gruen Planet, and it centres on his personal quest to develop a better brain.
Each episode Todd involves himself in a series of experiments designed by neuroscientists to expand his memory, attention span and thinking speed. Subsequent programs also have him tackling less quantifiable but equally cerebral topics like ‘creativity’. The goal? “To prove that modern science can turn any brain into a super brain … We can all improve on the brain we were born with.”
Can you really change your brain?
The series was filmed over a period of three months during which Todd interviewed leading experts from around the world, participated in various challenges and devoted himself to at least an hour’s mental exercise a day – and so far it sounds very much like a stock-standard science documentary. But Redesign My Brain differs in two very specific details:
1. The changes are measurable: Todd doesn’t just go on how much smarter he feels. The results of his training are measured by a bevy of high-tech devices to legitimately determine whether the promises being made some fringe sciences are more than just snake oil. The results are quite startling. For example medical researchers have long known that our ability to process visual signals diminishes with the loss of our peripheral vision – by 80, the average person has lost as much as 50% of their vision. However after just 24 hours of practice Todd discovers that 20 years of deterioration can be reversed.
2. The improvements are within everyone’s reach: Well, everyone with a computer. TV tends to overflow with the sort ‘medical breakthrough!’ that won’t actually make it to market for the next ten years. But the brain-building tasks Todd undertakes are often as simple as juggling – “One of the best ways of increasing brain speed!” – and when computer exercises are involved, the show regularly pauses so that the viewer can participate on-screen. Several programs are also available via a third-party web site called BrainHQ provided by Posit Science.
In an age where we’re being asked to concentrate on so much more, a program like Redesign Your Brain could be a welcome addition to your broadcast schedule. However beyond the personal benefits I can see an immediate bonus for parents.
Good news for parents
There was a time when the brain was considered to be something like a fabulously complex Swiss watch which, once damaged, might be impossible to repair. However ‘neural plasticity’ – the discovery that the brain is actually very flexible and capable of adapting to heal itself – has brought a great deal of hope to the mothers and fathers of children with neurological problems. That said, for all its benefits, Redesign Your Brain makes one crucial error.
Like many programs built around scientific advances, Redesign Your Brain has something of a triumphal ring to it. The title says it all – we’re going to take charge and deal ourselves a better hand than the one we were born with. But the truth is Todd Sampson isn’t creating any new capacity, he's merely discovering one that was always there. He isn’t gaining new skills, so much as developing ones that were latent. The brain is, indeed, a fantastic organ, but one that was designed to be so.
As a Christian, I think programs like Redesign Your Brain should lead us to celebrate God’s incredible creation, both without and within. Scientific television might make humans look brilliant but we’re only discovering what He has already put in place. And learning how to use God’s gifts better is a great thing, so long as we don’t forget the Giver. If there was a better name for this program, it might be Rediscover Your Brain – or even Rediscover His Brain? Less catchy but certainly more accurate.
Watching Redesign Your Brain with your kids
Redesign My Brain has the benefit of being both educational and linked with competitive activities kids could do with their parents. Juggling might just be a way of talking about how great God has made us. If not, try one of these:
- Did you have any idea how amazing your brain is – more connections in one square centimetre than stars in our galaxy!
- Is Todd really redesigning his brain – or just rediscovering it?
- When you find something that’s amazingly made, do you think it’s reasonable to look for an amazing Maker?