A Guide To Elite Cognitive Performance
The primary objective of The Optimal Brain is to create and share a manual for developing elite cognitive performance.
The framework for brain optimization, which also serves as the framework for the Elite Cognition program, is divided into a 4-step process.
These 4 categories provide a structure for organizing relevant information, as well as a logical sequence and prioritization scheme for brain optimization efforts, facilitating a systematic and comprehensive approach to the process that addresses function at all levels of brain organization, from the individual neuron, to the broadly distributed neural networks that support our most sophisticated cognitive functions.
This framework will also be the lens through which we explore relevant research. As such, the following will also serve as the content map for this entire site, and this page as your gateway to it.
As new material is added, it will be linked into its relevant location.
The Biological Foundation
Perhaps naturally, enhancing human brain function is often considered synonymous with enhancing intellectual function, and efforts then are directed exclusively towards improvements in those domains.
What is overlooked is that all of human cognition is the output of a biological entity, and its health and integrity is ultimately what defines the range of our cognitive potential.
In large part because of this oversight, this is typically the place where we can maximize the return on our initial efforts in improving cognitive function, and thus for most individuals is the ideal place to begin.
Furthermore, recent advances in our analytical tools for assessing neurobiological processes down to the cellular level, along with growth in our ability to shape those processes to our advantage, has greatly expanded our capabilities along these lines.
Since these tools and techniques are not a part of conventional medical care, nor will they likely be incorporated, realizing these capabilities will necessarily take place outside of the conventional health care system, delivered by providers with expertise in the emerging field of health optimization.
The first 3 steps target the biological foundation of cognition to optimize our "wetware." They are:
STEP 1 - Debug
The objective of the “debug” phase is to identify and eliminate barriers and bottlenecks in the brain's operation, especially at the cellular level.
Our adaptive homeostatic systems (systems for maintaining the internal state of the body within an ideal range) were forged and calibrated under a set of environmental conditions that differ in certain fundamental ways from the modern human environment.
While these homeostatic systems are exquisitely well tuned for the life of a wild human, they are poorly matched in key areas of modern life. Dysfunction and disease arises from this mismatch, manifesting when the capacities of those homeostatic systems are exceeded.
This mismatch concept provides the most useful framing device for both identifying and eliminating impediments to optimal biological function.
Much of this can be achieved through simple audits of and adjustments in diet and lifestyle, and further refined when needed through advanced laboratory testing.
STEP 2 - Refine
The objective of the refine phase is to support and, where applicable, amplify the brain's critical metabolic pathways.
Once operational bottlenecks and barriers to our homeostatic systems have been identified and removed in step 1, the next goal is to fine tune those systems in ways that are customized to individual needs.
Much of this metabolic fine tuning can be achieved through specific dietary protocols and strategic supplementation.
STEP 3 - Protect
Our brain is our most precious asset.
This sounds abundantly obvious when stated. And yet, a sober accounting of how most of us typically allocate our time, resources, and energy will reveal how comparatively little we do to protect it.
The objective of this phase is to protect the health and integrity of the brain, mitigating the effects of aging, and instituting measures to minimize the risk of neurodegenerative disease.
Furthermore, optimizing human brain function over the entirety of our life span means we must also ensure that any steps taken towards enhancing cognitive function in the short term do not increase our risk of dysfunction and degeneration over the long term.
STEP 4 - Augment
The objective of the augment stage is to continue to grow and develop the broadly distributed neural networks that support our most uniquely human capacities: general purpose learning, communication, novel problem solving, idea generation, and creativity.
Studies of those at peak cognitive performance, whose ideas have most impacted human thought and life, reveal common threads:
- cross disciplinary learning
- relentless curiosity, and
- original thinking
Viewed through the lens of cognitive neuroscience, we can describe their brains as having robust, widely distributed, and well developed neural networks supporting multiple cognitive domains.
This type of neural architecture creates fertile ground for the emergence of creative insights, which we can define as the identification of previously unrecognized connections between seemingly disparate subjects and novel solutions to previously intractable problems.