April 15, 2004
Will Brain Scans Be Used To Choose Daily School Work?

Here is a pretty wild idea. Some day brain scans may be used to determine what each mind is in best condition to learn each day.

It's the future as imagined by Max Cynader, director of the Brain Research Centre at the University of British Columbia. "Forty or 50 years from now, a student will stick her head in a scanner and see what she could best learn that day," he says. "That's a dream. We aren't there, but we can see how to get to there from here."

Many types of scanners use radiation. The PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan uses radioactive glucose. The CAT or CT scan uses X-rays and so involves radiation exposure. In fact, CT scan doses are much larger than the dose from conventional X-ray images. Well, one alternative is Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Leaving aside the question of whether the high magnetic fields might cause some damage (my guess: yes!) it faces a more immediate obstacle: MRI requires a person to lie still for up to 20 minutes. This is not practical since it would take too much time, the kids wouldn't lie still, and too many machines would be needed. But if a means could be developed to get a good view of the brain on a daily basis without causing any radiation damage then why not check each brain to see what it appears to be up for learning?

It seems more likely to expect methods will first be found to enhance a brain's function for learning each particular type of material. One idea I've previously suggested is to use drugs to cycle more rapidly between wakefulness and the sleeping brain states in which memories are consolidated. It makes sense to enhance memory formations when one is experiencing memories that are worth remembering. The person who has a boring clerical job doesn't want to go to sleep to remember every boring detail of every day of drudgery. But when studying for a test or learning new technologies it would be very helpful to enhance memory formation.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 April 15 05:46 PM  Brain Enhancement

Rob Sperry said at April 15, 2004 10:43 PM:

Or you could look to see what the kid is interested in or even let him reveal his interest by action.

Its low tech but works much better than assuming the child happens to be interested in the pre-ordained subject because a bell rang and its ten o’clock.


jem said at April 16, 2004 5:41 AM:

uhm...a long-term problem I see with the approach is it isn't very "real world" in the sense that once you are an "employee" you can't move a deadline/meeting just b/c your noggin isn't "in tune" for such a challenge. Part of growing up (egads!) is learning you sometimes have to do things when you don't really feel like it.

In other words, "Hey, math class is at 10am...show up ready to learn/participate etc. or fall behind".

Simple as that...or is that going to become "child abuse".

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