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Warrior Monk Conversations 006: The Neuroscience of Cognitive Performance and Resilience

Updated: Jun 22

Warrior Monk Conversations 006: The Neuroscience of Cognitive Performance and Resilience with Dr. Ricardo Gil-da-Costa


This episode provides a scientific perspective backed by research towards survival and resilience. Dr. Ricardo Gil-da-Costa shares their work in Neuroverse to solve problems in mental health using neuroscience, aspects of resilience in terms of cognitive performance and aging, and the three pillars of maximizing human potential.


Dr. Ricardo also relates an incredible story of his research on vocal communication between monkeys as a result of the monkeys’ interaction between newly-introduced species of eagles, overriding this primal behavior of predator-prey in humans, the effects of hyper-vigilance and his suggestions on how to deal with it, and his vision for the world and Neuroverse.


Dr. Ricardo Gil-da-Costa is the founder and CEO of Neuroverse, an integrative neurotechnology company. For the last 19 years, his pursuit of how the mind and brain work led him to behavioral field studies in Africa and Central America and neurophysiology laboratory research from Harvard University to the National Institutes of Health.


Read more about Neuroverse on www.neuroverseinc.com


Intro and Outro Music: Hearts on Fire by Immersive Music


Connect with me for inspiring and educational content on Instagram @warriormonk and Facebook: facebook.com/thewarriormonk


Read more about the Warrior Monk mission here: www.thewarriormonk.com



#personalgrowth #wellness #resilience #wellbeing #drricardogildacosta #poonachamachaia


TRANSCRIPTION


Warrior Monk Conversations 006: The Neuroscience of Cognitive Performance and Resilience with Dr. Ricardo Gil-da-Costa


Welcome to Warrior Monk Conversations, a treasure trove of inspirational discussions in personal and professional development.

I am Poonacha Machaiah. Join me on this journey where I have immersive conversations with the most thought-provoking leaders and everyday heroes from our communities to inspire, educate, and empower you to build resilience and reach your highest potential. Join me on this mission to create a positive societal shift to the compassionate transformation of humankind.

Ricardo Gil-da-Costa holds Bachelors and Master's degrees in Biology and a PhD in Cognitive Neurosciences. Over the last two decades, his pursuit of how the mind and brain work led him to a behavioral field study in Africa and Central America and neurophysiology laboratory research from Harvard University to the National Institute of Health. His research has been distinguished with multiple awards, such as a Donald B. Lindsley Prize for Behavioral Neuroscience, featured in Nature Neuroscience, and selected for the Society of Neuroscience. In the last 10 years, Ricardo’s work has been focused on translational research, developing novel brain imaging methods, and brain-machine interfaces. First at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, where these endeavors led him to the development of several US patents and to the co-founding of Neuroverse.

Poonacha: Hey, Ricardo.

Ricardo: Poonacha. Good to be here.

Poonacha: I know. It's been a while. It's good to connect back in, at the Impact Forum every year. So I guess, we are in Orlando here. You flew in from Lisbon.

Ricardo: I flew in from Lisbon last night. That's correct. I'm still a little bit jet-lagged.

Poonacha: So let's get down to it.

Ricardo: Sounds good. It's good to be back here with you, man. I miss you. It's been a while.

Poonacha: I know! So how do we, you know, you are one of the, from my perspective, one of the thought leaders and the foremost thinkers when it comes to leveraging neuroscience technology to really helping people with their performance, human performance, right? So let's kind of get into, into sleep. What can one do today? Especially, you flew in, jet lag. How can technology in neuroscience, where is it advanced? What are the modalities available today to improve sleep?

Ricardo: That's a good question. And yes, you're absolutely right. I think sleep is at the core of a lot of these things. The way that we look at it, although a lot like to think about it, right, is number one, you need to actually have a way to really characterize your sleep. Was it a good sleep? Was it a bad night, a good night? Because people sometimes think that, 'oh, you know, if I sleep for nine hours, it was a great night,' but not necessarily, if it was crappy nine hours of sleep, right?

So you need to have a good way to actually understand the quality pattern of your sleep. That's, I think, is very important, and it goes beyond, you know, of course, it's important how much time you spend in bed, how long it took you to fall asleep, but it goes way beyond that. You need to understand how good or not your sleep was.

Secondly, what can we do then? Okay, now that I understand how good it is, how can I get to sleep better? Well, there's a lot of just basic habits, and there's been a lot of promotion around it, which is great, that you can change, you know. You can change the temperature of your room. You can change the lightness. You can avoid, you know, clear screens or be looking at the screen while you try to fall asleep, when it has blue light that, you know, that is basically stimulating you, contrary to pharmaceuticals, to actually be awake. So there's changes in your habits that you should do to get a better sleep, quality of sleep at night. We really believe, in our case, in our work, we're really trying to bring a lot of different inputs in strategies, if you will, to give you a good night's sleep. So for instance, we had many conversations about this.

Poonacha: Right.

Ricardo: Right? We know that there are specific meditation and other mindfulness strategies to get you calm and more relaxed and any good cognitive mental state to fall asleep, and you and me work together in some of these, to create some of them, right? To get you, you know, when you can do that for the 10, 15 minutes proceeding or going to sleep, when you lay down so that you can get your brain into that state, you can get your mind into that state of more relaxed and ready, prepared for a good night of sleep right afterwards.

So that's something you can do. So you can change your mental ability, and you can change your, your neural correlations of that, to get you to sleep. Now, in addition to that, there's now some pilot exploratory techniques for actually trying to do something while you're asleep. So improving your sleep quality. So there's different theories and different attempts of this going on. So I'm using electrical or magnetic currents to influence your brain activity, others using, in our case, we work with an approach of auditory stimulation. So we know that for instance, your brainstem, which is the part of your brain that is responsible for producing some of the sleep patterns. We all, well, most of us know that, you know, of course, anything on a sleep cycle matters, but deep sleep is very important to have enough deep sleep time. There is a part inside of that called slow wave oscillations. That is part of the deep sleep. So if you can improve the percent of time in each cycle, that you get on that state, theoretically, you should improve things like your resilience, memory consolidation, how sort of restful your sleep pattern is. So by using an auditory stimulation that forces the brainstem or pushes the brain cell to produce more of this type of brainwave, supposedly, you should be able to increase the percent of time on that state, and therefore have a more restful, relaxing night.

But I think that, honestly, you need to think about this holistically, right? The sleep really matters for everything that you're going to do during the day. Because if you have a bad night, if you're not rested, and not just for one night, it was a continuation, definitely all of your cognitive operations, which means everything as a human being would do on our day, right? The performance is going to be worse, but it's also a continuous factor. If you happen to be more anxious, you know, there are things perturbing you, you're going to have perturbations of your sleep as well.

So those two things are not disconnected: asleep and awake state. The way that one is being, you know, processed is going to push it to the next one and so forth. So I think that you need to look at sleep in a more holistic manner, in a more integrating on your life, and it might mean changing your habits and your life. It might mean creating strategies using neuro-feedback mindfulness or other tools to be more empowered in what your mind and your brain is doing. And that will, you know, as a result, include your sleep.

Poonacha: You know, I think as, I guess, since you're the founder and CEO of Neuroverse, I believe it's the one of the most leading technology out there, which is, I would say, compact, wearable, truly wearable as an EEG device, and something you can go to sleep with. Right? I think that's---I love the form factor. And I think more importantly, you touched on something which is, you actually unpacked a lot over the last three couple of minutes. One is the importance of slow wave, slow wave oscillations, and also the ability for us to extend it using pink noise. And truly the only way to be able to predict and capture near real-time is using EEG, right?

Ricardo: That's right.

Poonacha: Today, I think a lot of stuff in the market out there, using accelerometers here, heart rate variability, but to truly get to understanding slow wave oscillations, you would need to have some kind of EEG device, right?

Ricardo: That's right. That's right. I mean, everything is being processed, you know, and stimulated by your brain, right? So of course, you can use, you know, and there's a lot of techniques, you know, Fitbit, Apple Watch, etc., they're using combination of movement. With the accelerometers, which, sometimes, as you pointed out, heart rate variability, those things are interesting for the first pass, but they're, you know, second, third, fifth-order measures, and not measuring directly at the source, and the source is your brain, right? So if you really want to have precise measures, and if you actually want to know these fine distinctions, like, do you have this slow wave oscillations, for instance, to have a deep sleep, you cannot do it without the type of equipment that is reading your brainwaves. You know, the third order of inference is not going to get that for you.

Poonacha: You know, we were talking about this earlier. So, you know, I'm very passionate about resilience.

Ricardo: Right.

Poonacha: What are things one can do, especially from a neuroscience perspective, to make people more resilient?

Ricardo: Right. That's, it's one of the hot topics keywords, right? Resilience. You hear a lot of resilience on the Brainspace these days, right? I would say that you should think, at very least, and probably, at 10 different ones, but at very least, two different aspects of resilience, right? One is resilience in terms of daily cognitive performance, right? Can you perform better? Can you pay more attention? Can you be, you know, encode more things into memory? Can you process language discussions, etc. better? So everything that we do in our daily lives, can you do that better?

Poonacha: Right.

Ricardo: And that's one aspect of resilience in terms of, you know, can you sustain fatigue and still be performing better, right? At the end of the day, when you're tired, or an operator at the end of a special ops if you're military, or a game before an athlete, so can you keep that cognitive performance, you know, despite fatigue? But the other aspect, also very important, is resilience in terms of aging, right? It's can you create cognitive resources to have resilience in terms of possible neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and others, right? That we know that extending your life, which is great, we all want to live to 100 years old, right?

But the truth is, your brain is not ready to do that, so, can you create some kind of ways to preserve that? And it's something that we get, and, you know, we've worked on some of this together and with other partners, but what we think about very seriously at Neuroverse, because we really believe that, you know, if you want to do something disruptive about mental health and about the brain, it can't just be from a medical perspective, it can't just be, even though we do that as well, working on specific projects for these disorders, you know, Alzheimer's, Schizophrenia, Generalized Anxiety Disorders, etc., but you need to look at the other side of the coin, right? Can you create that resilience? Can you create that level of cognitive health in the brain that actually, if it doesn't avoid, at least in some cases, pushes back on years that the onset of these disorders. So can you look into those two things? So those two aspects of resilience are incredibly important.

Poonacha: You know, I love your perspective on how Neuroverse vision is maximizing human potential. And you shared with me three pillars, right? Can you just share with the audience these three pillars?

Ricardo: Yeah. Sure. I mean, we think that, you know, and again, it says, you know, we know, for us, that the BrainStations are technologies or platforms and multipurpose platforms, so we use it in many different ways in different aspects. But we asked ourselves, okay, so we have so many things, right that we can do from memory, to language, to sleep, to attention, to all the things in our daily life that we need, but what we focus on, that if we could at least get some marginal benefit, would translate itself into a really significant benefit on performance, on behavior of people, on their own performance. And we think and really believe, and I've been testing this, that if we tackle at least three aspects, one is attention, and both, you know, sustained and focused attention. The other one is emotional regulation, emotional control. And the third one is sleep.

Poonacha: Sleep.

Ricardo: Right? If we think that if we can tackle these three things, and curate them, and have a way to both monitor and train them to be better on, an individual, and you can---regardless, you know, if you are an athlete or, you know, if you are a teacher, you're a researcher, a musician, any of those three things are really going to, you know, translate into a much better quality of life and definitely a much better human performance at the end of the day. Because, think about it, attention is something that we use, and is critical for almost every task, right? Can you sustain your attention? Can you keep your attention? Emotional regulation, again, incredibly important, right? To our society where the anxiety is growing, you know, rampaging, everywhere, we have all these different aspects.

We're very good about ramping up our guys, you know, and the adrenaline, testosterone pumping to go into some kind of conflict situation, but then the question is, when you get exposed to all the trials and challenges on an everyday life, being an athlete on the field, being, you know, an executive on the company, can you keep performing, you know, at your best? Even though you have all these conflicting messages emotionally coming to you, can you create strategies to regulate that control? I remember, it's interesting because I was working with you and Deepak and other partners in thinking about things like being in a state of flow. We've had many conversations about it. And what does it mean to be in that state of flow? Right?

Poonacha: Right.

Ricardo: And for me, even personally, it has been a growing experience in our work with Justin Feinstein as well, at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research, on the Float Tanks. You were with me at the Float Conference, working with you on mindfulness, and as well as other partners. It's been a really learning experience, and I really came to the conclusion that, well, saying, in many ways, the same thing, just using different words—Flow state, Emotional regulation, Interoceptive state. A lot of these things really come to the same thing, just different backgrounds talking about it, right?

Poonacha: Absolutely.

Ricardo: But if you can get to that being on the present, and performing at that present, without being hinged by, you know, 'There's not enough time on a clock, and I'm really worried that I lost to something already.'

Poonacha: There's something in the future. Basic moment of madness.

Ricardo: Exactly. It's, one is, just from a health perspective, a much more calm, soothing, and some anxiety control thing, but also significantly, again, increases your performance in any level. So if you can bring some of old wisdom from, you know, meditation, you know, practices, into new wisdom, with technology, neurofeedback, and more, we know about cognitive and neurophysiology, and if we all pair them together, I think, and that's what we are trying to do, you know, this multidisciplinary approach, we can have some pretty striking benefits.

Poonacha: You fascinate me, your background, and I would say, you're a warrior scientist. You spent time in Special Forces. You've been in Africa. You've been a marine biologist. You swam with the sharks. You also hung out with the howler monkeys and the Harpy Eagles, right?

Ricardo: (chuckles) I've done quite a bit.

Poonacha: And now, and then NIH, and then Scripps, and Neuroverse. You know, can you share a little bit of your research, especially some groundbreaking research, with communications and animals, right?

Ricardo: Sure. Yeah, I did. I did a lot of work on evolution of vocal communication, and when I was in academia, before working on translational medicine and all these aspects of semantic disorders. So I did a lot of work on the origins of vocal communication and how we develop it, how we get to have language, right? Then what do the animals have in the sense of vocal communication? How is that different from what we get? And how did we get here? And so we did some interesting stuff. I know that you love the whole howler monkeys. And so actually looking at the case of predator-prey interactions, so we know that specific species of monkeys, of non-human primates, have been hunted in some parts of the planet, and this was done in Panama, actually, by these incredible predators, which are Howler Eagle---sorry, Harpy Eagles.

Poonacha: Right.

Ricardo: So these are literally, like, huge raptors, you know, a female has a two-meter wingspan.

Poonacha: It’s probably the largest raptor, right?

Ricardo: Yeah. Well, it's among them. The Crown eagles and the Harpy are probably the two biggest ones, you know, two-meter wingspan, one 10th of crash on the talons. It's insane, right? So they can capture all sorts of different primates, and that's part of their diet. But we had a very interesting situation work with the Smithsonian Research Institute, Tropical Research Institute in Barro, Colorado, in Panama, and with an organization called Peregrine Falcon, which are great, and they look at protecting raptors all over the place, and RP Eagles, which is on Panama national symbols, was actually almost extinct, so they're trying to repopulate it.

So we took advantage of that, and reintroduced two eagles in a scenario and ecosystem that they haven't been for over 100 years. So because of that, these new troops of different primates, howler monkeys, capuchin spider monkeys get exposed to these predators which had no idea. So we uncovered and published some of these data showing that, you know, in fact, as a result of the interaction between these eagles and these macaques, they started developing their own vocal communication kind of system. So what happens is, in the beginning, the eagles just, you know, randomly, be looking for a troop of howler monkeys, grab one of, two of them, and capture them, kill them, eat them, and then, come back later.

Poonacha: Like a buffet.

Ricardo: Exactly. Pretty much like an open buffet, right? And then what happens is that the monkeys start organizing themselves, and you'll see things like, you know, alpha males taking more different positions on the branches, creating almost this blockade to the eagle, the mother is picking up young monkeys and protecting close to the trunk, etc. So it's an organized defense behavior. And also in, obviously, communication, vocal communication, the troops itself, which we thought of as different and quite new and interesting to us, was realized that the eagles also adjusted to that.

So when they start doing this behavior, and they still push and attack, sometimes they get literally beaten up by the monkeys, you know, punch back, and one of them falls from a branch. So after this point, they started adopting a new behavior as well. They put themselves within visual display and auditory display of the monkeys, and they issued a specific call, which we labeled The Predator Assessment Call. But basically, it was kind of like telling the monkey, you know, 'show me the best you got. So I'm here, what are you going to do about it?' So they would issue this specific call and see how the monkeys would react to the call.

Now, in cases wherein they're naive troops, inexperienced, and they still either just don't care nor understand it's a predator, or go into some kind of panic mode, the eagle would still strike, and attack, and get to monkeys, but in the case or, you know, they had more exposure and organize themselves, and then sees this organized behavior, then she would fly away, and go search for another troop. So it became this sort of a display for them, doing that.

And this is sort of in the phase of other research that we've done, with, that we published for years when I was at Harvard, and then, at the NIH, which you mentioned, where we've seen that there's definitely a continuum in terms of the conceptual representation system that we have, like, how do we make sense of everything that is around us? How do we know that, you know, this is a chair, table, a piece of furniture versus food versus, you know, friends? How do we structure this in our brain? How do animals get to do it? And we will find out, as non-human primates like rhesus macaques and others share a continuation of the conceptual system with us. So there's a lot of commonalities between that and between their vocal communication. Of course, not being language, per se, there's no syntax, but there's a lot of a continuity between them. So it's very interesting to understand our origins and how we came to be where we are.

Poonacha: So how do we take this very engrained encoding of predator-prey, right? Which has been there for thousands and thousands of years to where we are right now? How do we override it? Today, obviously, we don't need to be in a predator-prey situation, but we have so much of it in our genetic encoding. Are there things we can do to override that very primal behavior?

Ricardo: Well, yes and no, right? To some extent. And you also, keep in mind that, you know, or, the objects on our constellation kind of changes, but some of the challenges still remain, right?

Poonacha: True.

Ricardo: So you still have, you know, you still want, you know, and you have two wonderful sons that I love, I have a daughter, and we want to keep our kids safe, right?

Poonacha: Right.

Ricardo: So there's some level of this, you know, fight or flight instinct that your son, understanding and recognizing what danger is and avoiding it, fighting if you have no other option, that you still want, you know, your kids to have, and it's still going to be critical to their survival, granted, they don't have saber-toothed tigers running after them every day.

Poonacha: Sure.

Ricardo: Right?

Poonacha: But as a different kind of a threat.

Ricardo: But the mechanisms, right? A lot of the brain mechanisms are still the same when you think about it, you know. When you throw up, for instance, and, you know, the famous things like, you know, we all go through our younger years in college,' right? Or this and that, and you drink a bit more and whatever, and you say, 'Oh, you know, I eat too much of this, or I drink too much of that. Now, I can't even stand looking at it,' you know. And this is part of your brain, you create a memory of something that was negative to you. And, you know, it's basically enforcing that with different organic tactics to make sure that you don't do it again. So there's definitely aspects that you want to preserve to that, you just, you know, adjust to what your current contemporary world. But then you were right about also, you know, some of the anxiety and some of the aggressivity that we still have, can we tone that down? Can we move some of that down?

Poonacha: Yeah. Especially in the context of what I'm very interested in mental health. I believe we talked about saber-toothed tigers. I guess for centuries, we've been optimized for negative bias versus a positive bias, right? The person who thought there was a tiger and ran versus a person who thought there was a tiger and says, 'It's going to be fine,' didn't make it. So the negative bias probably got ingrained and carried over almost to a point that we are kind of, in our psyche, that's what we've wired for. Not positive, mostly negative, right? We also have this very hyper vigilance. It's something I think our central nervous system is kind of optimized for, that if you're separated from the pack, then you have to be vigilant, right? So I was reading this paper on micro-awakening, saying that people who are alone or lonely or people who sleep alone actually have this sleep, which is just that they don't know that, they might sleep for eight hours, but they're micro-awakening. What are your thoughts on that? On loneliness?

Ricardo: Micro-arousals.

Poonacha: Yeah. Micro-arousals.

Ricardo: Yes. It's interesting that you mentioned that. Well, the first thing is, you're absolutely right, right? So our memory is, the way that we consolidate memories, there's a direct connection with emotional valence of that memory, right? So memories or, I should say, experiences with a neutral, so, you know, we don't care either way, tend to, you know, stick much less in memory. Experience with a high emotional valence, you tend to memorize them more and remember more, but you're also right that the negative ones, you even remember more than the positive ones.

Poonacha: Right.

Ricardo: Right? And there's also a reason for that, you know, evolutionarily speaking, it's that usually the negative ones have a bigger problem, right? It's kind of like, you know, you forgot this was a poison fruit, now you're dead, right? You forgot that, you know, your guy was great, well, okay, you'll have a chance to remember that again. So, you know, or, you know, that berry tastes good, and you can try that again. So the cost was too high to forget about the negative ones. Having that said, you're right. I think that you all have this very hyper vigilance, very hyper anxiety. You know what, keep in mind that we're still in a highly competitive society, right? It's not that the society, as a whole, in the context, became very lenient and nice on us. We still have that.

So I think it's really important, you know, when, we talked about this before, being whatever strategies, mindfulness or these flotation tanks, like what Justin Feinstein is experiencing. One thing I thought was very interesting on our research was, a lot of the things into perturbations that we see, for instance, on PTSD, right? On these disorders is that their baseline is not messed up, right? Their baseline of emotional arousal and how it quickly responds to something, how anxious it is, is now biased towards, you know, a heightened hyper state that happens a lot with our military on the field or anyone of those with severe trauma. So if you can actually find a way to reset it, to go back to a position, when you can reset, with different strategies that can be brought down again, it is extremely important.

Poonacha: From a PTSD perspective, what are things we can do from a neuroscience side, which you think first responders, anybody going through PTSD, can do from a behavioral perspective?

Ricardo: So for behavioral perspective, I think that creating that cognitive resilience we're talking about before, that emotional regulation, emotional control is going to be very important, so you're prepared to manage those emotions because---before you have a flash of emotion that you're going to have to now handle.

Poonacha: So what actually happens in the brain? Just walk me through PTSD at a very high level?

Ricardo: At a very high level, right? Basically, you have an experience that you find that is extremely relevant, right? And it could be a life or death experience, and so your brain feels that 'I absolutely need to memorize this thing and make sure that I take whatever measures I need to take to recognize the situation to avoid it' etc., right?

But then, what happens is, in some cases, for exposure to continuous trauma, like the military in the field, etc., it's so often, it comes up so many times that it just becomes your baseline, just becomes your state. So now, any, any kind of minimal things associated with that will trigger a much, much bigger emotional response, when there's not actually should be because the entire baseline is now lifted up, right? So now any loud sound, because you've been exposed to the fact that the environment that they put you in, there's a high likelihood that the loud sound is an explosive device, now, getting removed from that environment, but your baseline is still the same, so now you think that, you know,

Poonacha: The door shutting down causes you fear.

Ricardo: Exactly. The shutting down is going to trigger that really, you know, out-of-measure response, right? So it's a question then of how easy or hard, and as it turns out, it's pretty hard. Can you reset these values when you're removed from that context? Can you again go back to civil society and be in the so-called normal, you know, environment? And can you, you know, bring all of your sensors down? That's extremely hard to do.

Because again, you created this kind of real elevated aspect, and you memorize that state. So that's sort of what goes on at the high level. So then, the question is, what can we do about it? And the preparation we talked about is true, there's actually new things now. There's an attempt with new pharmacological components these days to say, 'okay, well, what about if we can give--so we know, for instance, a lot of the memory consolidation goes mostly on the first 24, 48 hours after the event, right?

Poonacha: Right.

Ricardo: So there's some experiments, some research looking at, 'well, okay. If I start giving you some pharmacological drugs that will actually prevent memory consolidation in 24 to 48 hours right after that event,' right? So basically, like, what we're trying to do is, prevent your brain from doing what it is going to naturally do, which is really reinforce, relive multiple times, so the brain will do the simulation that goes in your head, right? So subjects, patients will say, "Oh, I believed it. I've seen it many, many times." So he's doing that multiple times, and it keeps consolidating his memory. So I cannot give you, you know, pharmacological agent to prevent that process from occurring. And then, if I can do that, then you didn't really create and solidify his memory, is that going to be helpful for you in the long term, because now you don't have this thing pushing away in all of your general baseline and balance to it? So there are different strategies playing to these things.

Poonacha: So what would be, I think, if you look at the world 10 years from now, if you'll look at the future of neuroscience, the future of brain computer interface, the---what is your vision for, what is your vision for the world? And then the universe?

Ricardo: Oh, that's a big question. It's an easy one, right? It's always like it's the easy question. Look, I think that---you know, it's funny, I was asked a very similar thing a couple months ago at the Future Transform that banking through organized in Madrid. And it's a challenging question, right? Like, what do you think the brain of the future is? What do you think is going to happen next 10 years, 20 years? I think that there's a big, big portion, regardless if you like it or not like it, you're not going to escape it, which is this integration of---technology is so present in our daily lives that, you know, unless you have some major disaster that did wipe things out, and resources, and you can't use it, it's here to stay, and you're going to keep using it.

So I do think that you're going to see, every time, more and more integrated brains, so to speak, in terms of technology. Now, I think that for me, from my perspective, anyway, some of the common mistakes people try to always think about AI is this competition between the human brain and AI. AI, you know, can do these things better, and you have, you know, an engineering background as well, or the human brain. I think the way they should think about it, the way I would like to think about it, and hopefully, I like Neuroverse to have a positive contribution on that level, is thinking about it much more as augmented cognition.

Poonacha: Yup.

Ricardo: So there are things that our brain is very good about doing. There are things that computers are very good about doing. Analyzing massive data of information, it's hard for our brain, you know, machines can do that easily.

But then do some level of high level integrative triage in decision making, our brain is actually very good about doing that. So it will be more about this notion of augmented cognition, of having closer ways and new interfaces, the way that, you know, your brain is communicating with this digital environment, finding better, faster, cleaner ways to do that, and then, really taking advantage of what this environment can do as well. Being, you know, by doing cross section of knowledge from different disciplines, and being able to find, you know, applications. We're seeing this with medicine right now, right? They're looking for different types of drugs and treatments with AI that are traditionally given in one circumstance for cancer, but then we find out that you have a completely different pathology, just because some of the markers aren't the same when you look at it, and---but nobody compares it at a very high level. So there are things that you can do with AI, that is going to get more and more prominent.

But hopefully, you know, this notion of augmented cognition is going to help better. The thing that I'm concerned about is, can we as a species, and socially, psychologically, can we find a balance between this increasingly digital society and some kind of healthy lifestyle, right? And this is why as you know, with Neuroverse, we started more focused on the medical aspects, and then, really got into this well-being aspect.

Poonacha: I believe there's an amazing work with migraine. You have a paper out, right?

Ricardo: That's right. That's right. Yeah, we just---we're very happy about our work where we're looking at, you know, migraine is, you know, is, you know, 14% of the world population, you know, 36 million Americans alone, and, and we're able to find, using our system, a way to predict upcoming migraine attacks.

Poonacha: Fantastic.

Ricardo: So, we can, you know, can give the likelihood of an attack to happen within the next 24 hours. And then if you do that, you can take, you know, your treatment, which is usually some kind of anti-inflammatory, earlier and increased treatment efficacy, prepare, plan your life, and doing all that

So, so that's, you know, one example of what I think can be very helpful, and can mean that way. But we get more and more increasingly thinking as well that, you know, you need to have the other side of the coin, you need to have this well-being, you need to have this preparation.

Poonacha: As a way of approach.

Ricardo: Exactly. This integration. So I would like to see in Neuroverse, you know, involved in that, in finding better ways to, to deal with technology. So we say, for instance, okay, we're going to go back to sleep, right? And you say, 'oh! You have all these technologies. They're perturbing you from sleep, and you have the cell phones blinking, and this thing's doing this, and we need to get off of these technologies, you know, to get a good sleep night. There's absolutely some truth in that, of course, if you want to get to the point where you have technologies blinking and then doing lights at you and whatnot, when you should be asleep, but you know, TVs are in our bedrooms, most of us anyway, you know, cell phones are here to stay, right?

Poonacha: It's pervasive.

Ricardo: It's pervasive, and it's there! So the question for us is, okay, can we actually---can you recruit these technologies to help you with this, right? Can you transform yourself instead of being something that is, you know, provoking in any, some kind of negative presence onto your sleep, right? Than doing infractions and waking you up? Can we use that to actually, in an instance, record your sleep and help you, pushing with some kind of stimulation during your sleep to make you sleep better? Can we recruit these things that, you know, they're just tools, right?

Poonacha: Yeah. I think technology is neutral. I think how we use technology is key.

Ricardo: Exactly. So how can we come up with smart ideas and smart ways to use this technology, you know, in our favor, and then, also, can we create, you know, respites of, out of technologies, like the flow tanks of others that helps you, you know, be more balanced in the whole thing.

Poonacha: So, in conclusion, what do you---I know you have a beautiful young daughter. What is, from a dad's perspective, what are the three things you want her---what do you want to pass on to her?

Ricardo: Oh, my goodness. So the previous question was hard.

Poonacha: (chuckles) She's like, "My daddy was this" when she's---

Ricardo: What I want to pass on to her, well, you know,

Poonacha: Messages.

Ricardo: You know, for me, there are definitely things that are very, very important, right? Ethics and principles, and as you know, my grandfather, and then, my mom used to say that, you know, 'principles are only principles when they're inconvenient to you, if they change at that point, then, it was just an opinion.' (both chuckle) A principle---so I want her to have those principles and to be able to stick by them. I, hopefully, want to be able to, to raise her in a way to create the strength that takes, a lot of times, to stick to those principles, and the mental health, and the mental sanity to be able to do that, without, you know, falling in any depressive state. Sometimes, we're intended to do, and to really be able to do it in a healthy way, and be empathic to others.

You know, apart from that, I just hope that we don't mess up the rest of the world in a way that is irreparable, you know, for her. You know, it's funny, as you mentioned my background in marine biology, we talked about this before in our---Java that I was thinking about how much it bothered me that, you know, some of the coral reefs that I got to scuba dive, you know, when I was younger, and I thought it was amazing, and I would love to show them to my daughter, except they're not there anymore. Or they're, they're in a very washed out space. So what can we all do? And, you know, keep moving away from this, you know, non-discussion, this pro monologues of, 'oh, you can do anything. We need to resolve all technology. Stop everything.' It's never going to happen.

Poonacha: Right.

Ricardo: But also, not from the point of saying, 'well, there's nothing we can do. It is too late.' Whatever. What are the things we can pragmatically, realistically do to protect this for our kids? I think it's very important.

Poonacha: Absolutely. It cannot be in a museum or VR or AR experience. It needs to be an in-body experience, and not destroy it for our future generations. I think we have borrowed this world from the future. So we should do a little bit of our part, you know, to bring it back.

Ricardo: Yup. And I think that the last thing is the excitement, you know. I think, I'll pass it on to her, the excitement, because it just---I don't care which profession she is going to take, and whatever she's going to do, as long as it's something she's really passionate about, and gives that sense of awe and interest. And, you know, I had a mentor and a very close friend, who is a marine biologist, when I was doing research, that, you know, we're loving working with him, and his name was Professor Lee Soldan. And at some point, he asked me, "Well, you're having fun, right?"

And I said, "Sure, yeah, I'm having great fun. This is awesome!"

And he said, "Good. Because if you're not having fun, your research will be, at best, mediocre, probably worse than that. And look, the money is not that good. So you should go do something else with your life."

And I always feel that you need to keep that pursuit of doing something that is rewarding to you, and it helps you maintain this sense of awe, and wonder, and excitement about what's around you. And I hope that I can pass that on to her, and then, she can, you know, have a life that allows her to stay with that.

Poonacha: Thank you, Ricardo. It's beautiful.

Ricardo: Thank you very much, Poonacha.

Poonacha: I think it's a good message to everybody who's listening.

Ricardo: Hopefully. It's great---so good to be with you again, and I want to work with you.

Poonacha: The feeling's mutual. Thank you, Ricardo.

Ricardo: Thanks, brother. Have a good one.

Poonacha: Bye.

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Warrior Monk Conversations 006: The Neuroscience of Cognitive Performance and Resilience with Dr. Ricardo Gil-da-Costa

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© 2023 by Poonacha Machaiah. Warrior Monk Conversations

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