I got my first job as a teenager working in my grandfather’s garage. I started out washing the cars on his used car lot and worked my way up to helping the mechanics service customers’ cars and tune up their engines. Getting to drive the cars across the street from the used car lot to the wash rack and back was quite a thrill for me as a 14-year-old. But even more thrilling to me was gaining an understanding of how internal combustion engines worked, enabling cars to provide such wonderfully joyful transportation. I was especially struck by how looking at a car’s engine could be so misleading. It could look perfectly clean and shiny and new from the outside but at the same time be completely unable to run. It was only when the engine was running, or demonstrated to be unable to run, that we could discover what was wrong with it and correct the problems. In order to tune up an engine we had to start it up, connect it to the diagnostic equipment, and discover how to improve its function. We could then replace parts, adjust the timing or seal leaks as needed to improve the power and efficiency of the engine. I was thrilled when I saw how changing spark plugs or cleaning fuel injectors changed a car’s engine from a sputtering clunker to a purring powerhouse. These experiences inspired me to seek to apply these principles to life.
My little brother, Dean, suffered brain damage at birth and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. As we grew up together, I discovered that his inability to run and play and talk like me was due to his brain being injured. While working in my grandfather’s garage I thought about how we tuned up engines and improved the car’s ability to run and wondered, “If our brains were like our engines could they be tuned up to run our bodies better?” I wanted to learn how to tune up my little brother, Dean’s, brain and help him overcome his disabilities.
Now, over 40 years later, as a neuropsychologist and brain fitness coach, I find myself spending my days helping people tune up their brains to improve their experience of life. In the past several decades neuroscience has enabled us to peer under the hood and watch our brains at work, giving us a greater understanding of how we can tune them up to increase our health and happiness. It is through our discovery of neuroimaging techniques that we can now safely and noninvasively observe our brains’ structures and functions. Structural neuroimaging techniques like CT scans and MRI look at the physical parts of the brain. On the other hand, functional neuroimaging, like fMRI, EEG, MEG, PET, and SPECT scans enable us to observe brain activity, like looking at a car’s engine while it is running. And quite often, just like the car engines, looking at the parts of the brain through structural neuroimaging doesn’t tell us much about how well it is working. It is only when we watch a brain when it is running that we can tell what to do to make it run better.
Using advanced 3-D electrical neuroimaging and neural feedback techniques I help people understand and improve their brain functions and, as a result, improve their experience of life. Since your brain is your engine of experience, to tune up your brain is to tune up your life. I teach people how to use the information from neuroscience to tune up their brains and improve the quality of their lives. Recently, with computer technology becoming increasingly powerful and cheap, many people are training their brains in the comfort of their own homes with home brain training devices. Just like having a home exercise machine for your body, you can now have one for your brain.