If you could enhance just one aspect of your brain, what would you choose? We recently asked online readers this question and received a bevy of creative responses. As we sifted through your 215 specific suggestions, we noticed a trend. Many of you used the language of technology—random-access memory, SD cards—to describe the brain's features and abilities. Clearly, the prevalence of smartphones and computers has shaped the way we think about mental abilities.
This technology focus may explain why the most popular upgrade was memory, with a whopping 25 percent of the total votes. Our data-packed devices remind us routinely of the value of enhanced access to information. Yet the growing prevalence of dementia, which affects 35.6 million people worldwide, might also make memory especially salient. Fortunately, scientists are developing ways to help combat its loss. One novel approach employs ultrasound to strengthen the power of drug treatments [see “The Sound of Healing”].
Another highly rated desire was to learn better—often to master a subject such as mathematics, music, science or foreign languages. Research already hints that strategically altering the firing patterns of neurons can enhance learning. For now such approaches are gaining the most ground in medical uses [see “Hitting Just the Right Neurons,” below], but similar techniques could also rev up creativity and focus. To learn more about this topic, see “Your Electric Pharmacy.”
Finally, no survey of brain-upgrade fantasies would be complete without a few proposals that draw inspiration from science fiction. Two readers requested thought recorders to play back their inner monologues. Others suggested neural links to the Web for faster information browsing. Another reader wished for a switch that could unite all people's minds in cosmic consciousness to avert humanitarian crises. Such notions may seem farfetched, but real-world research continues to astound us with strange but true technology. For instance, tongue stimulation is restoring mobility to patients with neural damage [see “A Shock to the Tongue”]. We can only stay tuned to see what mental plug-ins and power-ups come next.