Trans-Cranial Direct Current Stimulation
Who thinks they can figure out how to put one of these together at Radio Shack.
Post results and blueprints.
We'll all be EU experts
(I'm only part-kidding. I'd love to learn how this is done)
The hottest new topic in brain research these days involves a technique called "transcranial direct current stimulation," or tDCS for short.
The setup couldn't be simpler: Clamp a set of electrodes to the head, pass a miniscule direct electric current (2 milliamperes or less) through the brain for 20-30 minutes, and presto, instant immersion in the flow state. The whole thing can be run off of a common nine-volt battery.
So far, much of the lab work on tDCS has been done by or for the military, which has an obvious interest in reducing the time it takes for soldiers to acquire certain skillsets. Researchers have found that they can more than double the rate at which subjects learn a wide range of tasks, such as object recognition, math skills, and marksmanship. Thus, unsurprisingly, one DARPA program has been using the technique to cut the time it takes to train snipers in half.
What's it like to quite literally put on a "thinking cap?" A handful of journalists have submitted themselves to the electrodes and written up their experiences. What stands out are a couple of things. First, time compression. The twenty minutes goes by without the awareness of that amount of time passing. More important, there is a suppression of the crosstalk with which our brains are normally occupied. The subject is able to focus totally on the task at hand.
Journalist Sally Adee submitted to the procedure as part of a course in advanced marksmanship, at which she was admittedly terrible. But then they turned on the current and, as she wrote in Better Living Through Electrochemistry:
The 20 minutes I spent hitting targets while electricity coursed through my brain were far from transcendent. I only remember feeling like I had just had an excellent cup of coffee, but without the caffeine jitters. I felt clear-headed and like myself, just sharper. Calmer. Without fear and without doubt. From there on, I just spent the time waiting for a problem to appear so that I could solve it. ....
Relieved of the minefield of self-doubt that constitutes my basic personality, I was a hell of a shot.
The flow state lasted beyond the session, "gradually diminishing over a period of about three days," and causing her to confess that "the thing I wanted most acutely for the weeks following my experience was to go back and strap on those electrodes."
How does tDCS work? No one's really sure, and any technical discussion is beyond the scope of this article. But if you're interested in exploring the science, Zap Your Brain into the Zone is a good starting point.