(upbeat music) – [Narrator] Welcome to
the Brain Coffee Podcast, where doctors Eric
Leuthardt and Albert Kim unlock life’s little
mysteries about health, wellness, entertainment, technology, and how the brain makes sense of it all. Sit back, relax, and open up your mind. – Again, there’s been several
movies about this notion of, you mentioned earlier, we
don’t use the full percentage of our cognitive capacity, of our brains. So, what would the world look like if, or what would a person look
like, if they increase, they went from, I don’t even
know the percentage but, 2x their percentage of
their brain utilization? – Yeah, I mean there are
movies about this, right? Scarlett Johansson, Bradley Cooper. – [Eric] Right, right, right. – People say Einstein
used 15% of his brain. Whatever that means, honestly. – [Eric] Right, right. – Yeah, so any general
thoughts about that? – Yeah, I guess I would
say that if I had to guess that probably as you go down the evolution, in terms of lower animals,
my guess would be that the lower animals use a higher percentage of their brain than we do. – [Eric] Oh, interesting. – That, I mean, I have no
evidence for that other than a… – Like, a worm’s gonna use all
it’s got because, you know. – To use its ten, or I mean
it’s not ten, but very few– – [Dr. Bonni] Yes.
– [Eric] Right! – For instance.
– [Dr. Bonni] Yeah. – So, how about other
differences between– Yeah, right, just a few hundred for worms. But how ’bout, what’s the difference between brains of lower animals and us? – That’s–
– How about– – What kind of differences?
– That’s what’s really… – Yeah so, there are,
we’ve been focused on neurons, which are nerve cells, right? These are the cells we talked about that receive information,
send information, make synaptic connections with each other. But actually there are
other types of cells, there’s another cell type in the brain that is really quite important, that we know even less about. And it’s somewhat
mysterious in that you find, what’s interesting in that
it’s called a glial cell. And glia because it basically stands for, basically, the German pathologist who discovered it, referred to it as glue. – Interesting!
– Oh, is that right? – So they’re basically,
but they’re not really– – Glue. – Yeah, they don’t,
they thought of them as support cells, that glue
– That’s right. – The rest of the brain
– Oh, interesting. together, but has no, perhaps you should check to make sure that’s correct. – No, no, that’s cool, but it’s always a German or French pathologist also, huh? – Yeah, the astrocyte
definitely it was Virchow who was a German pathologist,
who discovered the astrocyte, which is a star-like glial cell. And their idea was that the cells, like the astrocytes,
are just really there to essentially form connective tissue for the brain, so that it has support. What’s really exciting in terms of this lighter conversation we had earlier just a moment ago, about our brains and how much we’re using. As you go from lower
animals to higher animals, to the human brain, there
are actually, you see more and more glial cells, more
and more of these cells like astrocytes, relative to
the number of nerve cells. So, we still don’t really
know what these cells do. We do have some ideas. So, we know that they’re
really, really important during brain development for the neurons to be able to migrate, to
go from where they’re born to where they’re going to
reside within the brain. We also know that in some
animals the astrocytes are important in forming the barrier between the blood and the brain, ’cause that’s really important. But more and more, we think
that these glial cells are not just providing
support and nutrients and that sort of thing
for the nerve cells, but actually are also important
in information processing. – Well, they also have
electrical potentials. – [Dr. Bonni] They do. – And just like neurons
but at slower time scales. – [Dr. Bonni] Yeah. – And they actually, I remember looking at some of this stuff a while back, but also they can encode direction, and kind of field, for instance, in the occipital cortex they can also kind of encode
information about location. – Yeah, and so they are,
they have calcium waves, they have activity and, and of course a lot of, from a disease point of
view we really have to understand them because they are the cells that form, by and large, the brain tumors. – Yeah.
– Oh, yeah. The progenitors of glia definitely are our cell of origin for that.
– They do. And we have a very exciting story actually, right now, and it’s not published
even, where we’re studying the role of these glia in migraine. – [Eric] Oh, interesting!
– [Albert] That’s cool! – Yeah, so we think that it’s
gonna be really relevant. Now, there have been
some ideas about that. But we think we have something
really interesting on that. So, these cells are really
important in many aspects. – So, what’ll be interesting is, so, I remember we talked earlier. We had this debate about is
the size of your brain relevant to kind of global intelligence? So, for instance, a chimp’s brain is larger than a raven’s brain. But a raven could be argued
to be smarter than a chimp. – [Dr. Bonni] Well–
– [Albert] Does it– – Yeah, well, so ravens– – It’s specialization, or intelligent– – Well, no, no, no,
the fluid intelligence. So, ravens do a better job of memory and planning than a chimp does. So, for instance, a raven
is better at creating a tool to get what it needs and can then think in multiple steps,
that a chimp can’t do. – Really? – Yeah, there’s been a number of scientific studies done on this, which is really quite fascinating. So, a raven is smarter than a chimp in a– – Within certain domains,
I guess you’re saying? – Yeah.
– Executive planning. And tool use. – I see, I see, but maybe not social leadership behaviors, and. – Maybe, maybe yeah,
maybe that’s a good point. So, they don’t have as much
social kind of interactions like chimps do, but executive
planning they’re better. – That’s interesting. – In terms of evolution, I think it’s becoming also interesting
that the genes are somewhat, there’s very, well
if we stick to the primates. To a chimp and monkeys and human brain. There are over a very,
very high percentage, in the high 90s.
– [Eric] That’s right. – Very similar, right? – [Eric] That’s right.
– [Albert] Oh, yeah. – But there are actually
some genes that are different between the human brain
and the primate brain. – Isn’t that, doe it have to
do with the brain folding? Or isn’t that what they think? – Well, we think that it could
be that it’s relevant to that because that’s one of the things that’s quite different
in terms of the folding. – But you’re talking about genes that exist in a human
but do not exist then among the chimp, or?
– Well, they, no. They exist, it’s the same gene. – [Eric] They’re different.
– But they’re quite different. – [Albert] I see, I see.
– And there’s been a lot of evolutionary change
in those, within those genes. It’s not that it’s an entirely new gene. But there are changes within the gene that are quite different from
the human versus the chimp. – So, different enough so that maybe its function is modified? – And even in the way we’re talking about how genes are regulated by epigenetics. There are, in the regions
that are regulatory regions, those are, those can be different as well. – [Albert] I see, I see. – Between, and so, there’s
a lot of interest in that, because it could have
potential implications for why a human, a human learns to speak. – [Eric] Right. – And to basically have
all of the wonderful abilities that humans do. – [Eric] Right. – That a primate brain,
a primate, does not have. So, it’s–
– Could maybe our brain? – Maybe, going back to, yeah.
– To specifically use science. fiction and–
– Let’s, yeah, exactly. To cite some science, we’ve got some critical science fiction literature, in the “Planet of the
Apes”, if you remember that? – Yes, so, what happens there? – Well, so two things. One is in “Planet of the Apes”, basically they had figured
out some of these genetic modifications and made the apes smarter. And they learned speech, right? And then they became smarter and that led to the ape revolution. – [Dr. Bonni] Right. – But then, the… – Were these genes that
are involved in asymmetry? Because you know the human
brain has asymmetry, right? – I don’t know if the movie
went into that level of depth. But then the virus that
they made to change the apes affected humans and they
lost their ability to speak. – [Albert] Right.
– Oh, wow! – And that’s why in the future world of “Planet of the Apes”, the
apes were the smart people and the humans had lost
the ability of speech and were much more primate-like. And so, when that guy
shows up in the future there’s this whole world-reversal, so. – I think in terms of science fiction, if I recall correctly,
the one that I always think back to is, is an episode, I think of “Star Trek”, where they have these people who just have brains. And they’re in a, they’re–
– [Eric] I see. – It’s in a bowl almost. – Almost, yeah, in a bowl
or like an incubator. But they control everything, because ultimately you don’t really,
you just need a brain. You don’t need anything
else, so that’s how. – Well, the thing is, all our brain does is it can control muscles, right? And then gets input, so. – And then you have to feed the brain. – Right, right, right. – But with brain-machine interface, right, you probably don’t need, in terms of thinking, in terms of future. – Well, there’s a lot of
people who think about this. And there’s actually, again
my second book was about people downloading their brains into kind of a computer
system, but there’s actually people who, it’s called
Project 2052, I think. It’s been founded by a Russian oligarch. And basically his, the goal of this, and they’re doing it in stages, is to basically allow you to have digital immortality where basically you upload your brain
and your consciousness to a digital world and then, that then, you don’t need your body anymore. You don’t need anything, you
get your input and output and it’s all, they’re all on a server. – It’s a little bit similar
to “Westworld”, I guess. – Yeah!
– Yeah, right, that’s right! – [Albert] Great show! – The ultimate project in
“Westworld” is really about– – [Albert] Digital immortality. – Spoiler alert! – [Albert] Oh, yeah! But yeah, but that’s right,
can you fully decode a brain and convert that information
into a non-biologic format, so that you can exist. And that would allow you
to have, essentially, infinitely interchangeable parts. And infinitely new sensory capabilities and output capabilities. – [Albert] Right. – Yeah, I think it’s, but how do you? So, in terms of thinking about the brain in relative to the other organs. And we always think
about in popular language and so on, interactions, we
talk about making decisions with your head versus with
your gut, or your heart. So, do you think that is, I mean, is it when we talk about the heart and the gut, does it, do you feel
like also it’s actually a reflection of the part of
the nervous system that’s the autonomic nervous system?
– You know what? I actually think this is really– – Yeah, this is a lot of
different areas, yeah. – It’s a brain, but
basically it’s another brain. Because there’s another
brain within our gut. – There’s an– – [Dr. Bonni] Enteric nervous system. – Absolutely, I think this is
really, really interesting, for we always assume that
the seat of our conscious and all the decision-making,
happens kind of within that thing, in our calvarium, right? – [Albert] Right.
– [Dr. Bonni] Right. – Within our skull, but– – In the pineal gland. – [Eric] That’s it, right within the pineal gland!
– Oh, yeah, the soul is in the pineal gland, right? – But that we, that whole
information processing system may actually be much
more widely distributed. We’ve got a nervous system
in our gut, as we mentioned. But there’s actually been recent studies about the immune system being integral in our ability to sense
kind of our gut biome and how it interacts with our brain. And that’s another kind of way that we’re interacting with
the world around us. – No, but, I mean you
and I have seen this. And it’s been reported on, I mean, people who lose the ability to move. Let’s say they have a
fractured cervical spine. After a while they say they feel that they’ve lost some part of themselves. And I think a lot of that
might be just the feedback that they get from their limbs and the feedback within that, right? – I think it all comes back
to the cerebellum, actually. Because I think, you’re talking
about downloading things. So, then the cerebellum, but just as an aside, let me give you this picture. So, when I started the lab
almost two decades ago. And we focused the lab on
studying the cerebellum. Basically looking at how nerve
cells respond to stimuli, how the nerve cells develop,
but we really focused it on the cerebellum because
it’s a really great structure. Relatively simple compared to the cerebral cortex, which
is much more evolved. And my now oldest was, I’m trying to remember how old he was, he was probably something
like seven years old or something like that, seven or eight. And he, I told him about
that we’re studying the cerebellum and where it was. And so, he didn’t, I,
he thought that I meant that the cerebellum controls
the rest of the brain. So, he drew this picture,
which I don’t have anymore, the computer, which had a
picture of the human brain. And then there was inside this skull was a little brain, in the back. And then he had arrows going
to the other part of the brain. – That’s pretty awesome! – And I asked him what does that mean? And he said, well, you
told me you work on this little brain that controls the brain. You know how kids are interested in the serial logic of what controls what. – [Eric] Right, right.
– [Albert] Right, right. – So, but then that
actually gave me an idea. Which is that, and I think it’s really, it’s probably something realistic, which is that the cerebellum is important in controlling other parts of the brain. And what’s interesting is we know for motor coordination that as the brain, as the
cerebral cortex commands the muscles to do something, it always leaves a copy of that information in the cerebellum. It’s called efferent copy. – Right. – And I think in the human brain the cerebellum is actually quite evolved. And it’s not just for motor
coordination, it’s actually– – Well, there’s a language connection too. – Absolutely, and I think even for say social interactions, for everything. – [Eric] I think that’s absolutely right. – So, I think there’s an effrent copy of everything in the cerebellum. So, I feel that there’s untapped potential in the cerebellum. – So, if we wanna basically
download our brains. – [Dr. Bonni] Yes, we should yes, I think so.
– With an easier, we can go to the cerebellum. – [Dr.Bonni] I think the
cerebellum is good place to start! – And then basically
keep the efferent copy. – And everything goes to
the cerebellum, right? – Or turbocharge the cerebellum,
is another thought to increase cognitive ability, maybe? – [Dr. Bonni] Yes, yes, yeah.
– Interesting. – And I think that if you lose
a part of the cerebral cortex there may be a way to
retrieve that information from the cerebellum to another
region of the cerebrum. – It’s your backup copy.
– [Dr. Bonni] Exactly. It’s a backup copy.
– It’s a motor hard drive or something. – No, it’s done, it’s put there because it’s a way to control. For motor coordination
it’s easy to understand. If you move your, or when
the doctor, neurologist, asks you to do the finger nose test. Touch your nose, touch my finger. And you’re doing it very smoothly, without the cerebellum, of course, it would be sort of.
– You wobble. Maybe this is worth unpacking. – I think it’s gonna be
similar for other things. For social interactions, for memory, or. – To smoothen social interactions. – Exactly.
– Absolutely. – It’s actually fascinating. – So, this is an idea that I.
– It’s an optimization system. – That I was inspired by Juvan, by my kid, from this picture that he drew. – Basically it’s an optimizer, right? So, it maintains a copy,
so that you get feedback, so that you can optimize
whatever it is you’re doing. – [Dr. Bonni] Yes.
– Whether it’s language, social, motor.
– [Dr. Bonni] I think so. – And I mean, I think
there’s real truth to this. As an example, I did a surgery on a guy who had a tumor and
actually I had to take out a big portion of his cerebellum. High-functioning individual,
he was a principal at a school, and as it turned
out, he had problems working. Because he couldn’t multitask anymore. And one wouldn’t expect that multitasking would be affected by
your cerebellum, right? – Oh, that’s interesting, yeah. – And he actually had
to kind of stop working. And so, I think his optimization skills for a lot of social–
– [Albert] That’s interesting. things were challenged after that. – I should also credit
Ito, who is an expert on the cerebellum from
Japan, who refer– He hasn’t talked about this
thing for social and language, but he talks about the cerebellum as the implicit cell
for something like that. – [Eric] Oh, interesting. – And it’s interesting, because
even in Alzheimer’s, right? Could be interesting, because
in Alzheimer’s, as you know, and in dementia, I mean this
is completely science fiction. – Yeah, no. – So, don’t hold me to this, but– – That’s the point. – But the pathology that takes place is, doesn’t affect the
cerebellum, for some reason the cerebellum is immune to–
– That’s fascinating. –the amyloidophaties
and that sort of thing. You often, people use
it as a control usually. – No, you’re right, yeah. – Because it usually happens
in the cerebral cortex, right? But what if we could, what
if that information is stored in the cerebellar hemisphere, not the mid-line part of the cerebellum but the, could we somehow? – [Eric] Transfer it back? – Transfer it back to a
region that’s not affected or once we, this could be
a hundred years from now. – Your computer crashes,
basically like when your computer crashes
you’ve got your backup copy. – [Dr. Bonni] Exactly. – And basically so, I’m gonna wipe it and then I’m gonna reload it. – I think so, I think that
the, and remember what’s really interesting about the cerebellum is there are actually more nerve cells in the cerebellum than in
the entire brain combined. – Yeah, that’s right. – Isn’t that fascinating? – Yeah, that is fascinating.
– Yeah, it is amazing. – And so, there are lots
and lots of connections. And people have been thinking, well, it’s a relatively simple system, they wanna understand
the cerebral cortex, I– – A lot of time from a neuro-surgical standpoint you’re like, ah, it’s in the cerebellum, you know what?
– [Dr. Bonni] Yeah, I know! – You usually think you can just take it out and not miss half of it. – We still don’t really
understand how it works. And the field has really kind
of neglected it, I think. And there are multiple
learning paradigms for the hippocampus, for the
cerebral cortex and so on. But in the cerebellum
there are only two learning paradigms that are well-established. One is, this is getting technical, but the delay eyeblink conditioning. And one is the vestibulo-ocular
reflex, adaptation of that. – [Albert] Oh yeah, we
do that all the time. – In my lab recently a really
talented set of postdocs have established a new, a completely new learning paradigm in the cerebellum. And we’re learning a lot about how, this is also not published yet, we’re learning about how the
nerve cells respond to that. What happens to the
activation of the nerve cells? And even on the epigenetics,
what are the epigenetics? – This gets my whole brain-computer
interface mind going. – [Dr. Bonni] Yeah, so we should talk! – What, how could you,
because the thing is if that, would it be an easy area to stimulate? – Yeah! – I mean the question is, how do you access that information again? – Well, that, and I think
it’s not gonna be as simple as saying, okay, here is
a set of numbers there. But it’s probably, what are the changes that have taken place at a synaptic level, at a cellular level, at a molecular level. And this is why it’s science fiction, because I don’t know how
you would take all of that information and say,
reload it, upload it back. – Well, there’s a neural code, right? So, basically you would have to say, okay, here’s how the
brain encodes information. Here’s how the cerebellum
encodes information. Here’s how that transference happens. – And then, how would you decode
the cerebellar code again? – Essentially, it’s encrypted
in the cerebellum, right? – But this could be, at this moment, could be a nice substrate
for another book. – [Eric] I’ll work on
it, yeah, online, yeah. – Another novel!
– [Eric] Yeah, yeah. – But I’m really excited about it. I mean, there’s an element
of, I think, reality to that. – Yeah, yeah, no, that’s
super interesting. – It’s complete. – Well, it gets at, and again
this is just speculation, but if the cerebellum
is really important for, again the, let’s say I just
use optimization paradigm. – Yes, yes. – Motor, speech, social,
perhaps in things like, in people with autism
are poorly optimized, maybe super-charging their
cerebellum, may actually– – That’s an interesting idea actually. – Where basically you do
cerebellar stimulation and you see if actually that
enhances their ability to– – That, that’s really exciting. Because I just came back from a conference where someone, not for
autism, but for dystonia. There are these patients
who have, as you know, these problems where they’re,
basically they have a posture, they get into a posture
and they can’t because there’s incoordination of the muscles. – Like writer’s cramp is
one common form of it. – Writer’s cramp is one of them. – Violinist thing where they– – Right, and so this scientist
actually stimulated a region using deep brain stimulation
in the cerebellum. And it, really it was like
a miracle in these mice. – Oh, is that right? – Yeah, and I mean it was
based on prior evidence that this part of the
cerebellum is important. But imagine if we could do
that for social interactions! – Well, because an autistic
child is socially rigid. – [Dr. Bonni] Exactly. – You know what I mean, they
cannot adapt to changes. And so, you basically
just gotta stimulate– – So, their moves in, sort of socially, would be very rigid and angular. – And that’s what I think. – They’ve got cramped social interactions. – Right.
– Yeah. – I mean this one idea. The other thing that really fascinated me about the cerebellum was
through a slide that I saw here when I came to Washington University. So, as you know, the former chair of our, the department that I’m leading right now, led the Human Connectome Project. – [Eric] Yeah.
– [Albert] Yeah. – And so, he did, he
took like 1,200 subjects and basically looked at all sorts of activities in the brain participants. And one of the things that
struck me, was that every time that a person was subjected to a task, whether it was memory or
social cognition task, understandably, or not
surprisingly the cerebral cortex and the temporal lobe was activated. But almost always, the
cerebellum was also activated. So, there is this thing called
the cerebellar-termporal, sorry, the cerebo-temporal-cerebellar loop, that takes place. And so, it actually does happen
in the human brain as well. So, there’s real evidence for it. – And when we studied
this with resting state, functional MRI, looking at brain networks. – [Dr. Bonni] Yes. – There’s actually, it’s the
only area in the cerebellum. Basically if you look
at cerebellar networks, the only thing that shows an asymmetry in resting state networks, is language. – Interesting. – It’s on the right side. – Oh, that would make sense for the, in the right side of the cerebellum? – Cerebellum, yeah. – ‘Cause it’s connecting
to the left side of the cerebral cortex, yeah.
– Exactly. – Interesting. – Anyway, something for the
future of science fiction maybe? (upbeat music)