Augmenting Human Cognition

It is important to understand that human cognitive ability is strongly influenced by genes — with the genetic influence generally increasing as a person grows older, from about 40% heritability in childhood to roughly 80% heritability in late maturity.

Intelligence is highly heritable and predicts important educational, occupational and health outcomes better than any other trait. Recent genome-wide association studies have successfully identified inherited genome sequence differences that account for 20% of the 50% heritability of intelligence. These findings open new avenues for research into the causes and consequences of intelligence using genome-wide polygenic scores that aggregate the effects of thousands of genetic variants. __ Plomin 2018

Also see Sniekers et al 2017 and Zabaneh 2017

We cannot easily change our genes, or the way that our genes are expressed. And so we must look for other methods if we are to find a way to augment our own intelligence.

An Overview of Different Approaches to Brain Augmentation

  1. Nootropic drugs in normal healthy brains
  2. Electromagnetic Brain Stimulation (tDCS and TMS)
  3. Brain Stimulation by transcranial laser
  4. Sleep for cognitive enhancement
  5. Donor-recipient enhancement
  6. Enhancement through complex reasoning training
  7. Decoding and reprocessing brain activity to enhance it
  8. Brain machine interfaces
  9. Memory prostheses and augmentation
  10. Modulating brain oscillations
  11. Gene therapy
  12. Action video games
  13. EEG Neurofeedback
  14. Stem cells and neural growth factors
  15. Nanotech devices
  16. More

Cover the Basics of Cognition First

Apathy is an important symptom of treatable physical and psychiatric disorders. A number of medical disorders can cause pseudo-dementia — some of them are easily treated. Sometimes reversible delirium is confused for dementia. Lethargy and anhedonia are further clues that a potentially treatable medical condition may have been overlooked.

As mentioned here recently, chronic inflammation of the body and brain can lead to disorders of thinking and premature decline of brain function. Bringing inflammation under control can restore some or most of previously lost cognitive function due to inflammation.

Our level of interest in our lives has a lot to do with our level of cognitive functioning. This is influenced by our diet, exercise, sleep habits, alcohol intake, social and family lives, our occupational satisfaction, medication, whether we can pay our bills, and levels of health and fitness.

Before chasing after experimental methods of cognitive enhancement, I would first recommend putting one’s basic life elements in order. Rudimentary mindfulness training may help, as might the use of basic self help books such as Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. Once you have covered the basics of social and emotional health and have optimised your physical health, you might consider pursuing some form of augmented reality.

But if you feel like you are ready to play around with low level cognitive enhancement, you might consider an inexpensive tDCS device, herbals such as ginkgo, or simple nootropics with relatively safe profiles (example in combination with nicotinamide mononucleotide).

As in the field of longevity and life extension, the human genome is at the heart of the enhancement and augmentation of cognition. And there is much to learn.

Each genetic variant slightly increases or decreases cognitive ability. Because it is determined by many small additive effects, cognitive ability is normally distributed, following the familiar bell-shaped curve, with more people in the middle than in the tails. A person with more than the average number of positive (IQ-increasing) variants will be above average in ability. The number of positive alleles above the population average required to raise the trait value by a standard deviation—that is, 15 points—is proportional to the square root of the number of variants, or about 100. In a nutshell, 100 or so additional positive variants could raise IQ by 15 points.

Given that there are many thousands of potential positive variants, the implication is clear: If a human being could be engineered to have the positive version of each causal variant, they might exhibit cognitive ability which is roughly 100 standard deviations above average. This corresponds to more than 1,000 IQ points. __ Stephen Hsu

Gene expression is more than a simple combination of SNP variants. Which makes the project to enhance human cognition much more complex, more interesting, and more exciting than Stephen Hsu lets on.

Sources: Lebedev, Opris, Casanova 2018

Stephen D.H. Hsu 2014

As for the idea of “super-intelligence,” it remains a long-sought goal — a far off beacon of light best used to motivate us to higher levels of rationality and inspiration. A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, after all. The video clip below provides just enough “cognitive rags to riches” to suggest what may be possible using some combination of advanced cognition enhancers of the future:

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