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The Source: Your Brain On Batteries

Robb Nunn / http://bit.ly/1CddCwO
Hear Host David Martin Davies Get connected to #tDCS

*This episode of The Source features host David Martin Davies being connected to a #tDCS device. It was administered by a trained professional. TPR doesn't endorse building homemade #tDCS devices.

Where do you send your kids to school? Trying to clarify that proposal? Sifting through a morass of data and need to concentrate? 

Decisions, analyses, synthesis, your brain provides you with some of the most complex cognition on the planet. And while you might not appreciate the work it does, the body allocates about 20 percent of all the energy you have to the organ, which is more than any other single organ.

After a day of decisions and  the expenditure of massive amounts of energy, a new battery for your brain sounds appealing. 

It sounds like a joke, but hooking your brain up to a low-power source may actually make sense. A vein of research involving Transcranial Direct Stimulus (tDCS), has shown promising results in medicine as well as in thinking. This isn't a car battery, it isn't even a triple A, the average test amount is 2 milliamps of current.

Much like many new sciences it is as yet being established as to just how promising this could be and in what areas tCDS could potentially be applied, but studies have shown some positives in the treatment of fibromyalgia,  cerebral palsy, post-stroke aphasia, and clinical depression.

The Department of Defense has been working with the technology for accelerated learning. One DARPA-funded project has been used to increase concentration. An article for New Scientist , later explored in Radiolab, took one reporter from a woefully inept target shooter into a good marksman over the course of 20 minutes.

The market may not be waiting for the science to be conclusive though. One technology company called Thync says its product—which is still off market and waiting on FDA approval—will alter moods with the tap of a smart phone app controlling its brain battery. Another called GoFlow reportedly wants to sell home kits for as little as $99.  And a lot of inventive do-it-yourselfers are out there trying out their own versions, sometimes to negative effect.

From medical treatments to altering our perception, the technology raises a host of questions regarding effectiveness and ethics.


  • Dr. Felipe Fregni, director of the Spaulding Neuromodulation Center at Harvard University
  • Jeff Yang, journalist and blogger at the Wall Street Journal wrote the piece "I tried a brain-altering wearable that allows users to change their mood on demand."
  • Dr. Jeremy Nelson, Science Advisor, Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence started a noninvasive brain stimulation laboratory for the U.S. military
Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive