An exploration of how “modern brain science is not just observing anymore,” but can now “intervene, to change the way the brain and the mind works.”
Despite the perfervid title, this is not just another cheerful guide to spiritual self-improvement, but rather a fine journalistic account of how science can make you smarter. British science writer Adam (The Man Who Couldn't Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought, 2015), an editor at Nature, emphasizes that modern medicine, not content with curing the sick, is turning its attention to improving the already healthy. Viagra, the fastest-selling drug of all time, has been working its magic for 20 years. More to the author’s point, even if your ability to concentrate is normal, Provigil will make it better. Adam begins by defining intelligence and discovers that experts disagree bitterly. Ignorance hasn’t discouraged them from trying to measure it for two centuries, with generally deplorable results. The best of a bad lot turns out to be the widely denounced IQ test. Whatever it measures, people with more do better in school, careers, and life than those with less. Genetics influences intelligence, but so many genes are involved that, despite dramatically improved techniques for altering DNA, no one has figured out a viable approach. Delivering electricity or magnetism to the brain seems to work. Adam recounts studies that have reported dramatic results treating mental illness as well as boosting mood, focus, and even learning ability—so much so that amateur enthusiasts are zapping themselves, often with kits purchased over the internet. The author tried one and thinks that he benefited.
Except for a taste for anecdotes describing individuals experiencing a miraculous transformation, Adam delivers a sensible, often skeptical review of his subject. Most readers will agree that techniques to supercharge our brains are inevitable—but not yet.