TED Radio Hour: The Hackers

What if there were a way to hack into your brain and make your life better? Neurosurgeon Andres Lozano is doing just that. He told TED Radio Hour host Guy Raz how.

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CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

Time now for an idea worth spreading from the TED Radio Hour. What if there were a way to hack into your brain and make your life better. Neurosurgeon Andres Lozano is doing just that. He told host Guy Raz how.

DR. ANDRES LOZANO: We are able to adjust the activity of circuits in the brain by using electricity...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LOZANO: ...for example, a circuit that controls movement, a circuit that controls your mood, a circuit that controls your memory, and we are able to alter the activity of that circuit. We're able to either turn it up or we can turn it down if it's overactive. And I was reading about how this technology could help things like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's?

Indeed, there are a hundred thousand patients in the world with Parkinson's disease that have these deep-brain stimulating electrodes. And their symptoms can be alleviated to a great extent such that some of these patients look perfectly normal.

GUY RAZ, BYLINE: You must - on a regular basis - conduct these experiments and come home at night and just think: That was amazing, that was incredible, what I just witnessed.

LOZANO: What is incredible is when we go to an area of the brain where we don't have good understanding of what it does, and we stimulate there and all of a sudden, we get a totally unexpected finding. A good example of that was when we were treating a patient with obesity by implanting electrodes in the area of the brain that regulates appetite.

As soon as we turned on the stimulator, he told us that he felt he was 30 years younger and was walking through a field with his girlfriend. So we were not anticipating that. As soon as we turned off the stimulation, this memory went away. As soon as we went back at the same level...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LOZANO: ...we were able to re-create this memory. And as we turned up the current, the details of the scene became more vivid.

(LAUGHTER)

LOZANO: And so he was able to tell us, it was a sunny day. He was able to tell us, his girlfriend - what she was wearing. Although we had started out looking for an area of the brain where we could suppress appetite, we were completely turned around towards looking at an area of the brain where we could unlock a memory of an event that had occurred some 30 years earlier.

(LAUGHTER)

RAZ: It's like science fiction.

LOZANO: It's cartography. It's mapping an unexplored galaxy, an unexplored universe.

HEADLEE: Neurosurgeon Andres Lozano speaking to NPR's Guy Raz, hacking your brain, the climate even the animal kingdom, this weekend on the TED Radio Hour.

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