Physical Activity = Brain Activity: A sit-down with Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters


It’s long been accepted by the medical community that physical exercise has a dramatic effect on brain function, it even causes neurons to be made. In fact it would represent a commercial opportunity when you start to look at studies that show the delay of the onset of Alzheimer’s and senility, this applies mainly towards general brain health and function. My particular interest is in physical activity and brain function. What I have in mind is; for an example, say we have a machine that causes physical activity, a treadmill, and we have a variety of sensors, respiration, pulse, the others could be EEG, or whatever technology we can use to monitor the brain. Obviously we cannot use an MRI, it’s too big.  Say we put this person in a virtual environment and create an immersive experience.


cccccPut these things together with the specific goal of achieving tasks, or being successful with certain mental tasks that would otherwise seem unreachable to that person otherwise. We already know by observing MRIs the increase in oxygen levels with brain activity. There are a lot of things we can tell from observing with EEG, this technology has already been accessed for gaming head-gear and so on that can observe in some ways what’s going on. But basically if we were successful with this we would have a device that allows us to be smarter, and for me that’s a pretty interesting task.


This was the presentation Jamie Hyneman, Host of Mythbusters, gave at the VLAB “Business of the Brain” event.

Thanks to my friend EdRabbit and one of the co-chairs for the event, Tansy Brook, Comms. Mng. @ Neurosky we got to sit-own with him and ask him a few more questions in relation to his presentation, and a tiny delve into his interest into the brain, and where he sees BCI in the future.



What are your opinions on the current technology on the market today?

This kind of thing is in its infancy, I got interested in in the application I described because we are just getting to the point where we can have a look at what’s going on from a number of different points of view with these types of different technologies.  So far, there’s been no magic bullet that can tell us everything we want to know. By the time we get done with a number of them we start to feel we are peeling away the layers of an onion.

Its great that things are starting to happen, while nobody that I’ve seen has really gotten there yet [on that kind of scale] there is enough of a format and momentum that Im starting to feel like we are on the verge onf really being able to have some really deep insights and interaction.  It’s about the right time to take a step into the right direction.


Can you expand a little more on what your idea is?

This came from my own personal experience; I work out on a treadmill when I do my design work. For me, it’s like hitting a switch. Its almost like, when Im not on my treadmill, I’m stupid. I became intrigued with that, and because of my background in linguistics and language acquisition, a lot of things fell into place. Your brain doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are a lot of interactions that go on between the body and the brain. We typically don’t pay intention to it. We associate brain work with something you do at a desk.
I look at it from an evolutionary perspective. The guy in the cave who discovered a sharp stick to hunt animals with wasn’t sitting in a cave pondering the physics of sharp sticks. He was most likely active; in the act of hunting, or mating or defense where his system was fully active, and that’s how we fully evolved. The greatest mental activity during our evolution would had to of been through heavy physical activity. It’s a largely under-investigated feature that we see from what technology we have now. It points to us being much smarter the more physically active you are.


You mentioned this stems from linguistics?

Its all about how the brain works and how it adapts into its environment. There is another direction this comes from. When thoughts are formed, and neural cascades happen….if you think of this as a pile of sand, and you drop a single gran and it causes an avalanche, that’s a idea, that’s a concept, that’s a problem that was solved. It’s not necessary, often; it’s counterproductive to move in a linear fashion as opposed to something that you are more able to morph into. Thoughts aren’t lined up in little rows of neurons, or behave that way. They are connected all over the brain.

When something coalesces into an idea, this is a result of all these different connections that help anchor this thought that helps create this pile that helps create the cascade. While it’s not relative to theoretical physics, we know from some of the studies that have been done that simply randomly moving around your arms while thinking creates additional grains of sand to this pile so to speak that allow thoughts to attach, and structures to be built that eventually precipitate into either anchoring a new concept or a new vocabulary word, or a grammatical structure, or even higher level concepts that effectively turn intuitive leaps. Simple physical activity, combined with the chemicals of the brain and the oxygenation of the brain help create these cascades that basically mean, we have completed a mental task.


So at this point for you, it’s an idea and a concept, have you been looking into your own studies?
Yup, given even the rudimentary technology we have today, we have enough to create and are in the process of creating a perfect concept with it. Ive been working with nVidia, who has provided some support with this. Their interest in this has been exploring immersive environments for a lot of their gaming projects. The gaming aspect is low hanging fruit as far as trying to test the potential of this type of technology.


What steps do you think future and current companes need to take, and where do you see them in 5yrs?
VLAB is one of the types of venues where these types of connections are being made. That’s the most important thing. We have people involved in forensics and sleep technology and even gaming, a lot of these seemingly disconnecting technologies, at some point or another one of them is going to work with the other and then we will have something coalesce from that. A lot of what we have going here is this bit about the ageing population, and brain function is something that is at the top of the list that all people are concerned about as they get older. So there are a lot of resources that can therefore be applied.



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Steven Caputo is a 37 year old 16yr Technology Professional presently working out of Chicago, IL. In his free time; an artist, a musician, a geek, a gamer, a philosophy/neuroscience junkie, and nano coral-reef aquarist. His opinions are his own, especially the weird stuff!

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