Josh Turknett, MD is a trained neurologist, author, host of the Unshackled Intelligence Podcast, and the founder of the Brainjo Collective. Not only has he authored books on migraines, he is also the leading light in enhancing human cognition and human potential.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Hi, guys. Welcome to another episode of the Body Clock podcast by Owaves. Today, I have a very interesting guest, Josh Turknett, who is an M.D. and a trained neurologist. He’s written a book on migraines, as well as being a leading light in enhancing human cognition and human potential. He is founder of the Brainjo Collective, as well as host of the Unshackled Intelligence Podcast. How you doing, Josh?
Dr. Dr. Josh Turnkett: Doing great. Thanks for having me.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: No, I’m glad you could be on because the intelligence and neuroscience is some of the most interesting topics that are expanding today and there’s no one better than you to have on the show to discuss that.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: No.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Before we start, let’s just set a bit of a baseline for the listeners. So you obviously, you’re an M.D. trained in neurology. So you’re trained in how to tackle disease, but you’ve got an interest in prevention of almost cognitive enhancement. So how did you get interested in this field and what was your journey into this?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: So, yeah, so that’s a fairly long story. I’ll try to hit the highlights. But so as you say, I’m a train neurologist. So I completed medical school back in 2001 and entered into the field of neurology, partly because, you know, this was obviously the brain has been a very active area of research, you know, over the past several decades. So 2001, we just had the decade of the brain. There was a lot of excitement about, you know, what lay ahead in the future. And so part of the reason for this, you know, for wanting to sort of take my interest in the neurosciences into that area was because I figured I would see some pretty transformational treatments during the course of my career.
And I still remember it. In fact, when I was a senior medical student, I was doing a rotation in behavioral neurology, which is actually my personal area of interest. And I asked one of the prominent researchers there in Alzheimer’s disease, you know, when he thought we might have a cure for Alzheimer’s. And he thought about it for a minute and said, you know, he thought a reasonable estimate was ten years. And, you know, it’s not news to anybody to say that we haven’t gotten there yet. That was almost 20 years ago. And really.
And Alzheimer’s and almost all of the other major diseases that I see, day in a day, as a neurologist, we don’t have anything that’s really incrementally better than what was available back then in 2001 when I was entering into this field. So, you know, you have that which is a frustrating place to be in. And I think when you consider how much the rest of the world has changed over that period of time, how many technological advancements there have been, you kind of makes you stop and think-it should make you stop and think-you know, why is that? What’s going on?
Is there something fundamentally wrong with how we’re kind of going about trying to treat neurological illnesses and really most of the conditions that doctors are seeing day in and day out. So cut to about…let’s see, I think was 2010. I started kind of getting interested in nutrition and mainly through some sort of random stumbling around the Internet. I found a blog by a radiologist, actually, Dr. Kurt Harris, who is no longer blogging, but he wrote some really great stuff in the kind of the early days of the paleo movement. That was really influential. And then I found Gary Taubes’s book, Good Calories, Bad Calories.
And altogether, you know, I realized: number one, my idea is kind of about sort of the basic foundations of health and nutrition were wrong and had been inherited kind of from the conventional wisdom and stuff that we’d been told in medical school, which really wasn’t grounded in the kind of solid foundation. And so, you know, that led me to research into those topics further. And ultimately, I ended up kind of overhauling my own way of eating and living. I’d sort of bring it more in line with what I thought was the foundation of a healthy lifestyle.
Not really because I was trying to solve any particular problem, but just because, you know, I wanted to afford myself the best chance of a life well-lived. And after doing that, you know, I experienced all sorts of you know, great things that I imagine some of your listeners are probably familiar with. But, you know, adopting pretty much a sign of kind of an ancestral health or paleo-model and, you know, lost, you know, abdominal fat or on my midsection and had all this energy that I didn’t used to have of and my digestion improved, my skin improved, but the most significant thing was about six to eight weeks into it.
I noticed that I hadn’t had a headache. And I’m a neurologist, and I’m a longtime migraine or migraine suffer. And my migraines had steadily worsened over the course of my twenties and thirties. And so by the time I had made these changes, I was probably taking something, a prescription medicine, to relieve a migraine maybe 60 times a month or more. And so to have gone six to eight weeks, you know, with nothing was pretty remarkable. And I actually remember exactly where I was when it happened because it was so significant. I called my wife. I said I haven’t had a headache in this long.
And could it be this, you know, dietary changes that I made and things continued along those lines for the next several months. And in fact, that whole first year, I had one migraine and it was during an anniversary dinner when I went off my plan, but that was a remarkable experience. And so, you know, I began doing more research, found that other people had similar experiences after implementing either kind of an ancestral diet or even just low-carb type diets and began using it with patients and, ultimately, decided that this was too significant to keep to myself. So that’s when I wrote a book about it and that was published in 2013.
It’s called The Migrant Miracle, but it’s basically the ideas, you know, applying ancestral health principles in an ancestral diet lifestyle as a means of treating migraines. And, you know, that’s been transformative. And so that whole experience, you know, made me realize or rethink a lot of things, both in terms of how we go about treating people in the neurology clinic. Why I hadn’t seen any of those transformative breakthroughs over the course of my career? And you know what I should be doing with my life as a neurologist going forward to make the most impact.
So that’s kind of a story of how I got to where I am now, and where I’m very passionate about getting these ideas out into the world. Because, you know, I think we have the tools and what we need to make the kind of impact that I was hoping for. You know, when I went into neurology in the first place. But it’s going to take some pretty significant structural changes and significant changes kind of in the conventional wisdom about health and nutrition.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That’s quite a phenomenal journey and story. So it seems that you’ve kind of transformed your life as well.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: For sure.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So Owaves focusing on circadian rhythms in particular. What’s your day to day routine? How do you live a healthy life?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: So the first step for me, I think, I try to kind of keep the 80/20 principle in mind, meaning that, you know, I wanted to find the biggest levers that we have to move us forward. So in my initial time, it kind of implementing this stuff, you know, getting rid of added sugar in my diet, you know, getting rid of the wheat and gluten grains, you know, those alone made huge impact. So now, you know, the eating part of everything is just a second nature. So, you know, I stick to just a Whole Foods diet, you know, mainly just meat and vegetables and that alone is a huge, you know, a huge benefit.
And I wouldn’t switch to any other way. Kind of along the way, you know, as you get more and more into this stuff, you try to you know, add more and more things to the way you eat and live to optimize things even further. And there’s been also a lot of sort of improvement and progression in the ancestral health world. In terms of understanding, you know, the sorts of things that we can do. And the sort of the governing principle that I think about and I think probably it’s familiar to you and your listeners is this just concept of mismatch, right? Is bringing my day-to-day experience as much in line in a modern world with our hunter-gatherer ancestors, right?
You know, most of our regulatory mechanisms are still finely calibrated to that particular environment. So that is to me, that’s where we start with the foundation of health and that’s what we’ve missed for so long. But if we’re bringing things in line, so starts with, you know, with food is a part of that. And that’s where I started. And but since then, it’s kind of like bringing more and more of the lifestyle pieces in line. And to the point of the circadian alignment, that’s been one of those things that I probably added on, you know, since diet piece, which is made even more of an impact.
So, you know, things that I’ll do lifestyle wise besides, you know, keeping the nutrition up or is things like, you know, eating when the sun’s up. And being mindful of the changing seasons and sort of how that impacts circadian alignment. I will do things like just go outside in the morning for five minutes to kind of keep the clocks set, you know. So little things like that.
That I’ve added in along the way, can make a big return. And it ultimately, just come from just perspective of understanding where our key mismatches are between our present environment and our ancestral climate, and then kind of what things can we continue to add into our life-even though we can’t go back and live in the woods. You know, what can we add into our lives to into bringing further into alignment? And sometimes it doesn’t take that much to get a great return on it. So that’s an ongoing process. But the ultimate goal kind of is to habituate all this stuff so that all of it becomes second nature and easy. And that’s certainly kind of how things have evolved over the years.
That much of what I do now that I consider to be sort of the foundations of a healthy lifestyle- I don’t have to think about anymore. And every time I’m adding something new, that’s kind of how I’m thinking about it. How can I get this into my life in a way that, you know, it won’t take effort going forward?
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So it’s kind of a minimum viable approach to make it a behavior. And you said you’re interested in behavioral neurology, so do you think it’s easier to form habits when you’re a student as opposed to when you’re older? Or is that any kind of facets to forming habits that you could give us an insight into?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think it’s probably easier- I mean, in some respects, it’s easier to form habits when you have a regular schedule. I remember my student days and had I been mindful of these ideas, I might have approached certain things differently. But certainly my schedule back then was erratic and I wish I could do some things over, especially how I ate. But in terms of that behavior piece, I mean, I think that I realized years ago. The first realization was, “Oh, my goodness. All of this stuff that I see, day in and day out, as a physician is preventable,” right?
And these are primarily diseases of diet and lifestyle, which is not still not a prevailing idea. People may you know, some physicians may acknowledge that they play a role, but I don’t think they quite would concede that is the fundamental driver of so many of these things, which I 100 percent think it is. So that was the first step. But then the next step, you realize. So if this is true, the real issue is we can say what an optimum diet lifestyle for every human should be. But getting folks from where they are now to that point. That’s not easy.
And so the thing that I’ve been interested in for the past several years is kind of the science of behavior change and how you can get people, you know, move people from one place to another on the spectrum of behavior change. And that’s to me is the fundamental problem. I think that, you know, ultimately, the truth will win out. In other words, people will generally accept that what we face are diseases of diet and lifestyle. But even with that, you know, even if we were all to believe that tomorrow, the bigger challenge that we face is sort of collectively bring us to that point in solving the issue of behavior change. And that’s the nut to crack at next, in my opinion.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I couldn’t agree with you more. So this kind of thought of intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors. What motivates you to take care of your health?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah. I think for me probably the biggest thing was at this point we’re seeing the results that happen from making those changes. So like I said, when I went down this road almost a decade ago, I didn’t think I needed to make any changes. It was just sort of an aspirational, you know. This is what I’m doing to give myself the best chance of good health. And then after experiencing what happened and how I felt, I thought, “Oh, my goodness.” You know, we’re all living in the dark. You know, we’ve normalized the feeling of what it’s like to live in a world that’s mismatched in so many ways.
And so, you know, our basic biological function, our health, and our cognitive function is just compromised in so many different ways. But we’re not even aware of it. So for me, I don’t ever wanna go back to that place I was before. And I’ve seen what can happen. So, you know, the question is, well, first of all, you know, I don’t want to go back there, so let me make sure I habituate all these behaviors that I know have led to this place. And then think about what else can I get from this? You know, what are other things that I can add to enhance this even further? Let’s look at it. There’s no temptation for me. But also, I had a recurring throbbing headaches for years.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: The migraines. I mean, that’s a big relief.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah. So it’s pretty easy for me to stick to what I’m doing.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Its crazy the number of migraines you used to have and now, you know, you’re completely fine. Which is interesting because a lot of people do suffer from symptoms like brain fog when you can’t think. So like you saying, we don’t realize how we’re functioning in a cognitively impaired state where we could be optimized, right? The rules of math, right? Would you rather be spending 10 hours at 50 percent of your cognitive level or being like 80 or 90 percent? You only have to spend about four hours. I think everyone would choose the latter.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Absolutely.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz : So if we can be thinking clear in lifestyle, there’s a lot of evidence which shows a lot of links to clear thinking to, you know, reaching kind of, you know, the flow state or being more creative. That’s quite an interesting topic as well. So just because being a clinical entrepreneur, I’m very interested in cognition for entrepreneurship. Is there any insight you have for kind of creativity or flow states? I mean you hear Elon Musk and, you know, top entrepreneurs who claim to reach these states have kind of focus and flow.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Right.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: What could you add?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: So, you know, I kind of think of my framework for just thinking about cognition in general is, you know, I divide things into the hardware in the software components.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Ok.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: And so the hardware is, you know, the biological operation of the brain. And I think that, you know, for most people out there, you know, someone listening to a podcast like this maybe already concepts in mind to some degree. But most people, I don’t think are aware just how much the biological foundation of their brain impacts, their cognitive function, and their output. So for most people, that’s where the low hanging fruit is. And like you just talked about. You know, if you have you know, if you’re functioning at 50 percent capacity versus 90 percent capacity, you know, there’s just that alone. It makes a huge impact.
And I would say that for me personally, just having been through all this, the stability and energy levels and the amount of time that I can just spend focused on one thing right now versus, you know, before I went down this road is pretty significant and has been a major reason why I’ve been able to kind of move certain projects forward that I wouldn’t have even tried to before. I just wouldn’t have had the energy. So I think the very first step is simply, you know, optimizing the biological foundation. So attending to things like nutrition, sleep, and physical activity. You know, huge. I mean, we pay little service to it.
But, you know, once you experience it, you realize just how meaningful it is. And beyond sleep, you know, things like circadian alignment as well. So that’s kind of the first step. And I always talk about that first, because it’s something so many people neglect. And then they want to go straight to things like, you know, nootropics or, you know, that whatever supplement that will help them without tending to the basics and the basics are huge.
And then on the kind of the software side of things, you know, they are the things that I think about the most are kind of number one, how to exploit the mechanisms that we all have for learning or, you know, how the brain changes itself in response to experience. And then how do we kind of create the conditions that are necessary for creativity? So I think, you know, entrepreneurs in particular, you know, they want to be able to sustain focus for long periods of time and be productive. And they also won’t be able to come up with original ideas and be creative.
And I think one of the most important, helpful concepts to think about when it comes to creativity is that it’s not something that can be forced, but it is something that you can create the conditions for its emergence and go back to the topic of things that are often overlooked. So one of the most important things when it comes to creativity is kind of getting out of your comfort zone or multidisciplinary learning. So reading or consuming things that are kind of peripheral to whatever it is that you’re primarily interested in can have a huge impact. So I kind of think of it as you want to build a diverse set of kind of cognitive networks that are specialized in different things in the brain.
And the more of those you can build, the more sort of perspectives you can have on any given piece of information. And then the other thing that’s oftentimes neglected is the value of downtime. So, you know, there’s no shortage of stories or anecdotes in history of major discoveries in science, math, and other fields coming when people were not working on it. That’s almost the rule rather than the exception. So, you know, insights coming during sleep or on a walk or in the shower or whatever. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence. So you need both times where you’re intensely focused on things, but you also need times where you’re not. And I think the evidence at this point in time indicates that those periods of downtime sort of allow for the free flow of information in the brain.
That’s not possible. It doesn’t happen when you’re kind of in the more focused mode. You’re sort of engaging us a more restricted amount of the brain to focus on a particular problem. But if you want creative insights to emerge, you need to kind of let all those different circuits that you’ve developed chew on the problem. And a way to develop those circuits is kind of what I talked about before is making sure you’re taking time to think, to read things, to learn things that are kind of outside of your comfort zone. So that’s kind of the general framework that I use for thinking about, you know, how to ensure that I give myself the best chance of continuing to come up with original ideas and thoughts.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That’s the kind of bedrock of innovation. To be the most innovative, you’re saying, kind of obviously, have that diversity so you can see how things happen in different kinds of fields or parallel fields and then apply that to different environments.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Right. And it’s also the same kind of principle for an organization, right? The most innovative organizations have kind of this diverse population of perspectives and they allow them to collide with each other and collaborate.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I guess suppress that amygdala fear response, you know, that allowance to be free as well.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Absolutely. Yeah. I think particularly and I’m guilty of this as well. Entrepreneurs, you know, you want to be like hard-charging all the time working on, you know. There’s always a to-do list is always larger than you can ever accomplish. So you want to always become a kind of working. And but I try to schedule and personally times where I force myself to have that downtime, because I know, you know, all of the big ideas that have kind of move things forward for me always happen in the downtime. So and it’s easy to kind of get wrapped up in the day to day and forget that. So having a mechanism for you know, for making that happen. I think is really important.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Yeah. I’m glad you’ve hit the home for the listeners because that’s a big thing- the recovery time. Because I think I was reading The Rise of Superman and how after you kind of reach these states of incredible human performance and you know, they work as teams and it’s kind of this flow state. And they do leave a lot of time for recovery. Whereas knowledge workers or people working in academic fields don’t always factor that in. And you’ve also touched upon planning. So, I mean, the obviously the prefrontal cortex helps us plan and it seems like, you know, someone who plans a lot and with Owaves, we’re trying to kind of help people plan in a more agile way. So planning is important, is that correct?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. It’s an interesting mix of, you know, you having to set, you know, future goals, but and planning ahead, but also being adaptive, right? That’s kind of the critical balance that I think everybody’s trying to strike, especially this day and age where things are changing so fast. You want to you want to plan ahead, but then you want to build in some capacity to be able to adapt. Yeah.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Exactly. That’s the aim for with always because you kind of make your plans. But if an opportunity arises, which is maybe you arbitrarily worth more than what you were meant to do. You want to be flexible enough to quickly change, right?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Right.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And reap the rewards or get the advantage. But I’m glad you touch upon recovery because a big part of lifestyle medicine which often gets missed.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: It does. Yeah. It’s also a part that gets missed. So in another area that I’m big, big interested in is in learning. So the recovery period applies in so many different domains, certainly physical health and everybody who goes to…You know, you go to the gym and you work out. You don’t expect you’re gonna get stronger right there in that workout, right? If you’re bench pressing, you know, 200 pounds, you’re not going there thinking you’re going to get to 250 by the time you you’re done, right? You know, you’re hoping that the next time around you a little bit stronger, right?
And I think that a lot of times in learning, people get frustrated by not getting better or not understanding something or not being able to do something right then and there. And I think what’s important to remember is that anytime you’re learning something new, the goal of whatever you’re practicing is simply to kind of provide the inputs the brain needs to then turn that and turn that thing to where that your capacity for it is improved for it the next time around.
And so not only do you have to keep in mind that you’re not expecting things to improve right then and there, but also that there’s a recovery period for that as well, that the changes that are going to happen, that support, whatever it is you’re trying to learning, are going to happen while you’re not learning. So they’re going to happen in that recovery period. So you need times of intense focus and you need times of recovery. And critically important, you need sleep because that’s when most of the brain changes are going to happen. So, yeah, the recovery is huge. And it’s another one of those things related to kind of downtime that’s so often overlooked, especially these days.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I know I’ve been really looking at my recovery recently. The Oura Ring has really been helping me kind of see my deep sleep compared to my REM sleep. And it really kind of helps you track. Like are you consolidating, you know, what you are learning in the day? So technology is helping with that as well. Talking about technology, have you heard of the Muse headband?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah, I have. I haven’t used it personally, but I have heard of it. I am intrigued by it and technologies along those lines.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Because I mean, if we can measure the brainwaves like, alpha, theta, delta, beta, gamma, right? Because they’re using it for meditation right now even for kind of performing different tasks. I mean you could probably even train yourself to reach certain cognitive states.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Right. Yeah.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: What are your thoughts on that?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah. Because a lot of promise with that. And I mean, you know, some of it just may simply be from cultivating some kind of awareness that there are different cognitive states, right? It may have different uses and that you could you could sort of train yourself to enter in and out of them. So I think that’s a really promising area. You know, it’s easy to go overboard with technologies and to think that’s the answer and then miss kind of the basics. But that’s certainly an area. I see.
You know, it’s kind of a happy convergence of the best of both worlds of taking technology and kind of using it to train something that is sort of a more basic function that that’s allowing you to sort of be more mindful about your moment to moment cognition and the kind of how you’re approaching the world. So, yeah I like that whole area. And that’s a tool that I’ve been wanting to explore more, so.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Yeah, same here. The muse tool out on neuro-tech seems to be one of the field, actually, a lot of people looking at the moment but learning… So you talked about learning. So with Owaves, we’re doing a beta trial with students at UC San Diego. And obviously, students have a lot of pressures to kind of learn and perform well in that kind of college degrees, right? So you talk about mental models of kind of learning, I’ve been listening to your podcast as well. You talk about music, or kind of how to map things out, or good, great example of learning. Could you tell me more about that and kind of some techniques which help learning, be it auditory, visual, you know, kind of static?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah. So a few years ago, I launched a company called BrainJo, which is, you know, at its core, a company about learning. So I wanted to take kind of the things that we that we’ve learned about how the brain changes in response to experience, which is the field of kind of neuroplasticity. Take what we learned there and sort of use it to inform the learning process. And one area where there’s a lot of benefit is in the realm of music. One, because the learning curve there can be pretty steep. And so it’s important, I think, to point out that up until pretty recently in human history, we didn’t even think our brains changed. You know, after adulthood, we thought that there was a period of active change during early childhood, then it stopped.
So this is all very new science in terms of the neurobiological mechanisms that support learning. It’s kind of crazy to begin with. But that’s how things were. So in a lot of ways, we’re still kind of dealing with the fallout of that whole era where many people, you know, while they may think that they can learn certain things when they’re older, tend to have a pretty limited view of what sorts of things that is and what it is not. And so one of my missions is just broadly to spread the ideas that you can pretty much learn anything you want throughout your life. And so the mission of BrainJo was to kind of codify or kind of create a set of best practices for how to learn things.
And I’ve kind of conceptualize it in two different ways and each time we’re thinking of whatever it is we’re trying to learn, right? We think about what are the ultimate cognitive networks that we’re trying to build that will support our ability to do this thing. And then what’s kind of the best procedure or how can we go about that process in a way that sort of maximizes the chances that we’ll get there? And so if we think about that in the realm of music. So there’s a lot of analogies or commonalities between playing a musical instrument and speaking and also the model for learning. There’s probably nothing better than seeing how a child learns a language.
You know, it’s a process that’s been scripted out, you know, for hundreds of thousands of years through evolution. So it’s probably kind of the optimized learning process right there for us to study. And with language, you know, ultimately what you’re doing is mapping. It is you’re taking concepts in the brain. You know, whether it’s things out in the world or different concepts. And you’re taking those and mapping those ideas onto a motor program for moving the vocal chords, right? So that’s what we’re doing every time we’re speaking. And essentially, when you’re learning to play music, you’re doing the exact same thing.
If you’re playing an instrument that’s a kind of an oral tradition or by your tradition, which is most folk instruments. So you’re wanting to take in a musical idea in your head and map that idea. In this case, not into your vocal chords unless you’re singing. But onto the movement of your hands to control an instrument. So then you take that, you know, that being sort of the ultimate objective. And then you can work backwards and figure out the steps that you’d need to get there. At least with respect to the learning of music and really of skill learning in general, that’s kind of the basic framework that I use for thinking about it.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So do you subscribe by the ten thousand hour?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: So there are things I like about that. And there are things that I don’t like. So the good thing about the ten thousand hour rule is that it has spread the concept that getting good at something is about practice, right? It’s about putting in the time. So it’s not about, you know, were you born with this capacity or not, right? So everybody who’s gotten really good at something and put in a ton of work to get there and that, you know, 20, 30 years ago, that really wasn’t a commonly held idea. Most people kind of held on to the idea that you were born talented at whatever it was. And kind of your job and you’re growing up is to figure out what you were good at, right?
And then do that rather than, you know, kind of figure out what you’re interested in and then pursue it. Because whatever you’re interested in and you’ll practice it, you’ll figure out, you know, get better. So I like the ten thousand hour concept because of that because it emphasizes that the critical thing there is practice. But I think what it misses and you know, Malcolm Gladwell was the person that popularized this and he probably would acknowledge this as well. What it kind of misses, at least in the popular conversation around it, is that it’s not just the quantity, right? That the quality of practice matters hugely.
So you can put in ten thousand hours of the wrong kind of practice and get nowhere. And you can also put in less time and get more awards. So ten thousand hours is kind of an average, but I think through optimizing the learning process, you can get riches and improvements even faster than the ten thousand hour. And I think that the more that we can kind of learn it and research and try to understand kind of the best mechanisms of practice, you know, the better we can get at optimizing that learning process.
And so that, you know, whenever we’re embarking on anything, we’re kind of doing it in the most efficient manner possible, and I think that because these concepts really haven’t been out there that there’s plenty of room for improvement along those lines. So I think we’ve kind of leapt over the first hump, which is just getting people to accept the idea that we can get better at things through practice. And then the next is spreading the idea that the quality and the type of practice matters a lot. And then figuring out what that is.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And with the practice, I’m guessing the environment and the circumstances play a big role as well. So do you believe there is kind of fluid intelligence or IQ that some people’s neurons firing quicker than others or, you know, have more capacity for neuroplasticity? What is the latest on that?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah. So there may be, you know, some general elements that kind of you know, partially aid the speed of firing and speed of processing. But I think that overall, you know, the message that I try to convey the most is even if there are fixed elements, there’s so much that’s plastic that if you look kind of at the final analysis of things, those things play a minor role. And so they may determine kind of where you start, but they won’t determine where you finish. There’s some interesting research from musical conservatories where they take students who are young and they ask the teachers, you know, “Predict who’s going to be the master musician 10 years from now.”
And they are unable to do it. So, you know, what those types of studies show us is that, you know, it’s not where you start that matters. It’s kind of the process you take to get there. So the failures or successes in learning anything I think are almost exactly a result of process and not a result of aptitude. And even if there are differences in terms of the general or fluid intelligence that there’s so much plasticity in the system that those things, you know, ultimately don’t matter a whole lot in the end.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That’s a great message for students, especially because it shows that you shouldn’t limit yourself because someone said, “Oh, you lack the potential but…”
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Absolutely. Yeah. I think too that- sorry. Let me just throw this in. In terms of thinking that we can get better at things, I think we’ve improved in terms of thinking that with respect to skills, you know, playing instrument or playing a sport. But we still haven’t collectively applied that as much to cognitive domains. So for a student who’s thinking about whether they’re good at math or I’m good at this or that. I think there’s remarkable plasticity in those systems as well. And I think that we have too long presented those sorts of things as well as results of some type of innate aptitude rather than learning.
And the same sorts of mechanisms that support your ability to learn how to play a musical instrument, support your ability to do anything else in an academic domain.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So with cognitive enhancement generally as well as circadian rhythms. I saw you did the circadian luxe challenge. What was that about? Was it with Tommy?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah. So I’m a consulting neurologist for an organization called Nourish, Balance, and Thrive. And Tommy was the chief scientific officer there.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: He’s coming on the podcast in about two weeks, actually.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Oh, okay. Great. Tell him I said Hi. It’s gonna be.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Will do!
Dr. Josh Turnkett: So I have a BrainJo collective, which is a group of people that kind of support the podcasts that I have. And so there’s a private member forum. And it’s linked up with them. Nourish, Balance, Thrive has the same thing for their members. So a little while back we did the Circadian Lux Challenge. And the idea and it was done during the wintertime. So the idea was tried. It was to help try to maintain our circadian alignments during the winter months. So we used an app there. I can’t remember the name of it. It’s the one that Satchin and Panda does.
But anyway, you can measure the, you know, the lux in any environment. So the goal was to get at least ten thousand lux for an hour in the morning and then under 20 for the hour before bedtime for the month. And basically the idea they’re trying to do the best we can to mitigate the impact of the winter months on our circadian rhythms, which I think is a pain point for a lot of people.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Did you notice yourself being more alert?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah, I did. So I am. So I bought a lamp for the days that I couldn’t go outside and get the light. And I definitely note improvements. I think for me it’s more mood than anything else. So improving winter months, I always tend to notice the little bit of a dip in my sort of overall enthusiasm for everything. And so I did notice some improvements in that regard. But I also, you know, I’m concerned enough about the possible impact of that just in general, as one of our environmental mismatches that we have. And I think there’s I think there’s value in doing it.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: What’s this lamp? Where’s the lamp from? Which company?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: I can’t remember… Amazon.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Amazon. Yeah, probably. Amazon does everything these days. So is it like a blue light lamp?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: No, it is a lamp that you could set to put out ten thousand lux.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Oh. Wow. So it’s kind of get towards that. Okay.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah. It’s like a sun lamp kind of thing you know.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Nice. I might have to give that a go actually.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Challenge myself.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Right.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: With organizations they kind of think about decision making and optimal decision making and decision fatigue being something which happens, you know, near the end of the day. Yeah. Are you someone who kind of makes most decisions, you know, midday in the morning when you’re most alert? Or did you believe in that? Or is there any kind of science to back that up?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah. So that’s a good question. I think there’s science to back up the fact that individuals have different times of day where they’re maybe best suited towards certain activities, whether it’s creative activities or focused activities. And that’s probably somewhat flexible. So I used to be a heavily night person and now I consider myself more of a morning person. And I’ve kind of adapted to that. And you know, where I might be best to do certain things may differ now than where it was. But I still feel like there’s certain times a day where I’m best my creative work.
You know, for someone else that maybe different. So I definitely think there’s value in that concept and value in kind of understanding you know, where you fall in that regard. What times of day are best for certain types of things, whether it’s, you know, folks, you know, doing e-mail or coming up with original ideas and that sort of thing? And then along with lines of decision fatigue. And so that is something that’s important to me and kind of the way that I try to deal with it. So you know for sure if you’re spending your day, you know your morning, and you’re facing a thousand different decisions that you have to make.
You know, I think everybody can recognize that they’ll be pretty wiped out. You know, after doing that. And so you want to make sure that you’re spending that kind of cognitive energy on things that matter, right? And not wasting it on stuff that you shouldn’t be. So from that and I do try to as much as possible, you know, take the decisions that I don’t need to be thinking about off the table. So, you know, there’s famously people who wear the same clothes every day to take that out of the equation. Yeah, I actually do. And I do have like the same shirts that I wear all the time. But I try to apply that concept to wherever I can and that’s kind of an ongoing process.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Yeah, a lot of things where you would eliminate the decision making helps.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah eliminate the decision making. And by the same token, I think that you can kind of couple that with, you know, what are the behaviors that you think are going to move the needle the most in terms of your health and maybe your business or whatever? And how can you make those sort of effortless? How can you make those sort of natural rhythm of your day rather than something that you have to willfully try to do? And so that’s another area where I think that kind of the same concept supply making the stuff that you want to do easy and the stuff that you don’t want to be doing hard.
And I think it’s another way to kind of counteract decision fatigue, but also sort of make it even easier for you to do that. Spend your days doing the things that you want to do and not doing the things you don’t want to do.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So almost linking positive habits as well. I mean, even things like, you know, if you have something healthy inside or in a convenient place, you’re more likely to get it, right?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Absolutely.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: The gym is within 12 minutes of you. Research has shown you’re more likely to go convenient, right?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Right. And I think yeah, absolutely. I think there’s huge, huge value in those concepts. And I think that collectively what you’ve talked about before. You know, if we want to get behavior change on a broad scale, that’s really the kind of thing we have to be thinking about.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So now with the kind of coming of behavioral economics as well- that links in quite well with behavioral science and with diet, exercise, sleep. Now, I think there’s a lot of tech companies which are looking at how can we almost nudge people to be healthier? Because if people aren’t going to intrinsically take care of the health, external environment through tech and nudging as famously-the concept- coined can be used to effectively change people’s behavior. So for kind of learning and kind of cognitive health, would you be someone who was an advocate for that?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think speaking of the technology and nudging in that area, you know, we’ve seen I think over the past decade, the understanding of human behavior has been used to great effect by tech companies. But kind of for ends that we didn’t really want- they’ve made, you know, the Facebook. And, you know, things that are far stickier. And that’s kind of brought out the worst sides of people, primarily to help, you know, keep them on the platform longer for profits. But I think what that does show us is that, you know, there’s a lot of promise in using technology in a good way.
In a way that could sort of promote our better selves. And I’m hopeful. And I think there’s kind of a bit of a reckoning right now in that sector in terms of thinking about what we could be doing to nudge folks in the right direction in terms of health behaviors and so forth. So, yeah. And that certainly includes behaviors that will, you know, protect the biological integrity of the brain and enhance cognitive function. So there’s, I think, lots of promise in taking what we’ve learned about human behavior and using technology to kind of promote the things that we really want that are gonna elevate the human experience overall. So I am hopeful that’s where things go. And I think that probably, you know, the app that you guys have is along those lines.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Thanks. So we’re hoping with Owaves. On the other side, one thing happening is that there’s so many apps and there’s so much information, like information overload. So I think for innovation, creativity is good because you can almost access so much different and diverse knowledge at once that your brain can be going a million miles an hour where you come up with an idea, because you’re kind of fronted with so much diverse information that, you know, your pattern recognition is improving. But on the other hand, you can’t focus. We’re losing focus. We can’t because we’re always, you know, switched on.
So would you say that there is a need for kind of having these periods of kind of intense, you know, where you can be kind of juggling three or four things? What about multi-tasking? What is that? I’ve heard multitasking isn’t good.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah, it’s tricky. It’s you know, it’s complex because on the one hand, right? We can multitask. If you’ve driven a car and you’ve talked on the phone and, you know, they’re obviously certain domains. And really the difference there being you can only consciously attend to one thing at a time. So the driving example, if you’ve automated all the rest of the driving abilities and you can devote your conscious mind to something other than that. You know, that’s in the sense a form of multitasking. But you’re right that in terms of, it’s very easy these days, especially if you’re a curious person.
You know, we’re all like kids in a candy store and there’s no end to the amount of information you can consume. And we’re probably wired right to think, “Oh, my gosh, there’s more good treasures out there that we can take. So let’s keep hunting them all the time.” So that’s one of those areas where just like, you know, scheduling and downtime, figuring out a way to mitigate against that and sticking to some kind of routine and habituate those behaviors where you do have those times because honestly, you won’t be able to use that information without the time to digest and assimilate it.
And so you need times where you’re not taking anything in, where you’re allowing the brain’s kind of subconscious intelligence, which is where most of our intelligence is allowing them to chew on that information. So, you know, and that gets back to the issue of its heart. That’s an easy thing to say. It’s a hard thing to do. And the less you can try to use willpower to do it, the better. So the more you can just figure out a way to habituate those periods of downtime into your routine, the better. And I think that’s a significant challenge. The other challenge too is, you know, it’s just the quality of information we have.
We have more information than ever, but we also have more bad information. So that’s another problem in need of solving.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I mean, now with humans now talking about the future. Well, with a lot of talk about humans being augmented with, you know, A.I. and bright learning mechanisms. So if we’re going towards a more cognitive economy where people are doing well functioning in jobs, which require kind of the higher cognitive functioning rather than repetitive tasks, then an A.I. is making the repetitive tasks easier for us to perform by doing it for us. Then when a state where are generally improving human cognition because everyone is kind of up-skilled?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah, I do think that’s a possible future and hopefully that’s the future we will go towards. I think if clearly, you know, the A.I. revolution is going to change the nature of how we work in profound ways and, you know, their approach, their features that don’t consider the human element very much or how that impacts human experiences. And then there are other features that do and where we can sort of use those technologies to get the best of both worlds to take our intelligence, you know, take the things that we’re good at. Combine the thing with the things that A.I. is good at and sort of, you know, use that to solve our most important problems.
And, you know, that’s a great future. And I think that’s a possible future. And that’s certainly one where human cognition is elevated overall. And ultimately, you know, the reason I care about this field in general is that, you know, I think that a brain that’s sort of optimize its function on its kind of firing on all cell cylinders, where that’s kind of the hardware and software pieces are optimized. That’s the recipe for optimal well-being, right? That’s that. You know, you can’t mess up. Yeah. A brain that’s functioning as it’s supposed to is gonna be a fulfilled human being. And so for me, that’s kind of one of the best framing to fight devices for understanding, you know, what it’s gonna take for us, for all humans to live, you know, lives where they thrive and are fulfilled.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: But do you think if we are less trained to kind of calculate numbers and remember things, where does that balance with kind of developing things like dementia?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: You know, I think what I hope is that if we sort of, you know, understand what humans are really good at and what machines are really good at, we’ll be cultivating those things that are best for our brains. So, you know, creativity, collaboration. You know, those are the things that… You know, there are certain things that A.I. doesn’t do very well. And the things that we do well in comparison to A.I. are the things that really use the most of our neural real estate. So, you know, A.I. is good at repetitive tasks. You know, if someone who’s doing the same kind of cognitive operation all day long, it’s probably not the best thing for their brain.
So I think that there’s room for the things that we ultimately end up doing, you know, sort of augmented with A.I. would be the best in terms of, you know, protecting us against cognitive decline and sort of building the most robust brain that we can.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That’s interesting because recently I was at an A.I. and medicine conference in London. Yeah, they mapped up the differences between human brain and what A.I. can do, and kind of emotional capabilities and kind of collaboration and creativity was what A.I. is lacking. You being an expert in the brain and obviously knowing the antonym and everything about it is perfectly positioned to kind of make those comparisons. But also now A.I. researchers are looking at like convolutional neural networks and how we can map these algorithms on the brain, but the brain is so complicated that it’s a difficult task.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, certainly, there’s been so much progress in taking things that the brain does it, trying to, you know, use those with computers. But it’s still a fraction of what the brain is actually doing.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So with reaction times, some gamers, what is your take on people who kind of, you know, play brain training games or just generally play kind of video games? Does that kind of fine-tune their cognition because their reaction times do get quicker and they’re all kind of… I listen to a podcast where there was a world-class- this gaming athlete, right? And his reaction time was like half the speed of a normal person.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Right. Right. Yeah, that’s interesting. So I think that overall, you know, so this is kind of like the ten thousand hours thing with the whole brain training field in terms in and specifically kind of the brain games that have evolved from that. On the one hand, they’re good because it promotes the idea that, you know, use it or lose it, right? So try to build your cognitive function as in that can be protective against cognitive decline and conceivably things like dementia. On the other hand, the evidence for whether or not that sort of translates to more general improvements in cognitive function or less clear.
So my bias is still towards if someone comes to me and asks me what are the best things for, you know, improving cognitive function, protection against decline and protecting its disease? You know, I would still say, you know, do things that are sort of uniquely human, like, you know, learn a language or you learn an instrument or you learn to dance or whatever. Yeah, but I do think, that to your point about the reaction time, the utility there may be kind of as a metric of biological function of the brain. So I think that in terms of tracking, I think there’s probably value in tracking things.
Metrics like that, and which would more than likely correlate with sort of certain operations on the biological level that we might care about. So if you’re seeing, you know, in even terms of day to day function, if you notice that your reaction time is, you know, slow after doing X or after not sleeping or whatever, that may be a useful feedback mechanism for sort of dialing in certain components of diet and lifestyle. So I think that for me, that’s where I kind of see the utility of stuff like that rather than improving the actual, you know, the specific domains for their own sake, but rather as a feedback mechanism to know kind of how are the certain changes that I’m making sort of improving some of the most basic operations of the brain.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I guess that would be the ultimate biohacking self-quantification. It’s interesting because I’m a big fan of tennis and I play tennis and I…
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Same here.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Yeah. Oh, great. It’s two tennis fans here, we should play sometime.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Absolutely.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: But so my problem was like I enjoy weightlifting and playing other sports. Playing tennis, as you know, the main injury- tennis elbow. So to prevent that, when I took up tennis, it was a bit of a crazy idea. But I thought, “Why don’t I train left side as well to serve and have a forehand. So I don’t need a backhand,” right? I started training my left side, which was much weaker than my right. But right now, my left forehand is almost as good as my right forehand and it’s just from training. So it’s a very crazy. But yeah, something I worked on.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: And so I’ve been very tempted to actually try to go lefty. I mean, it would be a fantastic sort of brain… I mean, I think that would be great.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Yeah. Because teaching you the other side of your brain, right? And it was interesting. And then like I developed like a spin serve with my left. My right is more power. Left, I’ve develop this spins serve. So yeah, it was fascinating to learn and I kept practicing and the nuances of it. It does confuse a lot of people, but it’s cool when I swap halfway through.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Right. Yeah. I played in college and we had this guy, who lived locally. OK. He would come in and practice with us every now and then and he would just all of a sudden switch to a lefty forehand or lefty volley. And it was just like, blow our minds.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Yeah. Because you’re not expecting it either.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Expecting it? No.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And going back on topic as well. So caffeine being the normal kind of the stimulant that most people could use it as like a nootropical or actual kind of brain enhancer at the moment. Well, we’re drinking a lot of caffeine and people I mean, you have energy drinks before exams or even before sports events or workout sessions just to improve that performance. What is your take on a caffeine and then the emerging kind of nootropics? Or you know, that coming with kind of companies like HVMN and who are kind of promoting quite a few different things where you kind of achieve a level of calm and kind of productivity at the same time. Quite a few different supplements on the market.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Right. Right. Yeah, it’s tricky. And, you know, my experience as a neurologist as well as with migraines. And just a whole realm of pharmaceuticals in general and particularly ones that monkey with neurotransmitters. I’m definitely apprehensive or I probably have a much higher threshold for what things I would jump in on personally. Just because we still are level of understanding of things at that level is still extremely limited, which means that there’s more potential for unintended consequences than I’m comfortable with and a lot of different areas.
I think there’s probably, you know, we’ve got enough experience with caffeine. We have a pretty good understanding of its risks and its benefits. And, you know, I think overall- first of all- when it comes to this whole topic in general, the one thing that I would not want anyone to do would be to jump to this before they’ve tended to the basics, right? And that’s what we talked about before. So for me, you know, the diet and lifestyle mismatches is number one are always going to be first priority when we’re talking about, you know, wanting to improve cognitive function, wanting to improve the biological function of the brain.
So these would all be considered, you know, enhancements for supplements on that process. And for me personally, I have a pretty high threshold for what I would jump in on. But I think caffeine, primarily, if it’s going to be used, my own kind of framework is to use it sort of in a circadian context. So if it’s sort of promoting what my brain is trying to do already. So if it’s, you know, promoting alertness at a time when my brain’s trying to alert, then I’m okay with its use. The times where I’d be apprehensive is if I’m sleepy because either it’s time for me to go to sleep or I haven’t been sleeping well and I’m using caffeine, then sort of mitigate that.
That’s a use that I wouldn’t, you know, that was college for me. Yeah. That’s used in medical school. That’s a use that I really wouldn’t advocate for. So I think that sort of being mindful of, you know, what the brain wants at any given time and what it’s trying to do and not doing things that will undermine that is important. And then I think just in general in this realm, I mean, I’m not opposed at all to the idea of using supplements or nootropics or whatever, but just being mindful of the fact that there’s more that we don’t know than we know; and sort of to be to be careful and understand that the possibility for unintended consequences is a lot higher.
For those sorts of interventions than they are for, you know, things like optimizing sleep and nutrition and so forth.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz : It would be an interesting trade-off because say you’re doing you have an exam and to gain that extra alertness to study later into the night, you take caffeine, But then if that’s decreasing, your deep sleep or your REM and then you’re not consolidating the memory. It’s like you’re not thinking about that. But it could be, you know, harming your performance, where you’re thinking because you study for extra half an hour, you know?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Exactly.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So, yeah, you have to think of those tradeoffs, I think. I think you’ve put it very well. With that, stress. So stress. I know cortisol levels. I know it kind of interferes with kind of creativity, innovation, you know. Hospital being a very stressful environment. I can vouch for that. I’ll be the least creative when I’m in the hospital. But with stress, would you validate that in terms of is minimizing stress better for cognition? Is this stress to a certain level of a positive effect but passed a threshold is it bad for us?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah. I mean, I think that there’s certainly plenty of evidence that would indicate that, you know, past a certain level, it’s definitely harmful. So there’s the whole concept of hormones. That’s where you might have a short term stressor. That’s good. You know, that includes things like weight lifting, where you do something that stresses the body in some capacity and its response to it, you know, improves our health or improves our capacity in some respect. But obviously, everything’s got a point where, you know, where the balance tips in the wrong direction.
And I think that, you know, stress, and that by that we mean kind of the psychosocial stressors that we face in our modern lives, particularly in a hospital environment, for sure, you know, exceed that point. And so, you know, the question is, what do you know if you’re in that environment? I mean, I remember, you know, I’ve been there myself many times. If you can’t change the environment you’re in, you know, what can you do to mitigate the consequences? And to me, I think that’s where things like mindfulness practice is so useful and valuable.
So even if you can’t control the things that happen to you, you can’t you still have tremendous ability to influence how that ultimately impacts you. And so, you know, it’s in your environment. So the channel for how environment can affect the stress response this day and age is primarily through our thoughts and how we interpret experiences. And so if your thoughts or comments are sort of automatically or if their environment is triggering certain thoughts, which are then linking to your stress response and you sort of reinforcing that feedback mechanism day in and day out, then those environments are just going to be stressful and there’s kind of no way around it other than changing the environment.
But if you can sort of break that thought to stress response loop, which is, you know, exist in the brain, then that environment and, you know, even if it’s outwardly stressful, won’t have the same physiological consequences on you. And I think that’s enormously important and a really useful concept, particularly for those who find themselves in situations where, you know, they can’t. They have to train in a hospital for this much time and they’re going to be in stressful rotations or residency programs or whatever that you can start that training that muscle or sort of breaking that stress loop can be so valuable.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So there you have it. A kind of an endorsement of mindfulness from a neurologist because mindfulness has been having a lot of evidence being produced. But apps like, Calm, for example, today reached a billion dollar valuation, which means people must be seeing an effect.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: It’s great. Yeah. I mean, I think everybody recognizes that there’s an issue, right? You know, people want to be less stressed out. And, you know, if there’s a something there that can help with that than they’re all for it.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And so looking to the future, obviously, I think in neurology being one of the most exciting fields and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of developments. Do you believe in the studies with kind of FMRI scans of the brains with kind of sudden interventions? Does that work to prove, you know, certain things?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah. I mean, I think there’s certainly…So the FMRI era has kind of had a bumpy road in terms of the kind of an initial-there were some mistakes that were made in some of the early research with some of the statistical methods and so forth. So it kind of took a beating for a while. And there was some articles published a few years ago, you know, saying that the bulk of the research that had been done in that field was not valid because of that. But I think there’s been a recovery from that. And so, I think, I feel like we’re fine. We’re now in an era where that type of data and that type of research is going to be more useful.
My only kind of reservation about it in general is that in this kind of is probably a theme of mind, but is that we’re inherently biased. I think towards thinking that anything that involves the technology or some sort of higher form of truth or knowledge. And that was one of the things that plagued this field. One of the problems was that when it first came out, everybody thought,”Oh, my gosh, we can see the brain now and we’re going to learn all that stuff.” You didn’t have to do anything to get research funded. You just had to say it was FMRI and you’re good. So I caution against seeing that as kind of the only form of knowledge.
And still, if we think about the totality of what we know about the brain, including in the realm of cognitive neuroscience. It’s still come from other domains rather than sort of high tech but still come from the basics of behavioral neurology and much of what, you know, we still know to be true in those realms, you know, came before the advent of functional imaging. But I do think that we’re now at a time where we’re going to see that really start to enhance what we do know. So I think there’s promise in the field, but I always do try to remind folks that there’s are other places to look for knowledge about how the brain works.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I saw a study on kind of resistance training and how those individuals seemed to have a larger hippocampus, which for the listeners, that’s where your memories are stored. So they have made that correlation. There’s also always studies coming out like blueberries and polyphenols and, you know, DHEA, omega 3s. Do those things in particular help with cognition?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: So I think there is some evidence that would indicate that they do. Probably the biggest oversight, in my opinion, has been that we kind of are always looking for the thing that we can take that will help rather than the thing that we can remove that’s hurting us. And so I would if it’s someone who’s enhanced, who’s coming to me to try to enhance cognitive function, my first step is just to kind of audit things that they’re doing and remove this stuff that’s an obstacle. And I think that’s the foundation to start.
And then adding on these other things that like, you know, like blueberries, polyphenols and that sort of thing, that can have some evidence that would support enhance function are great. But again, I would want to make sure the foundation is in order. And the foundation is mainly, you know, what are you doing right now that’s gumming up the system? And that’s where that’s kind of starting with an ancestral framework. And so the diet that’s, you know, most match to our evolutionary history.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: And I guess as this evolves, the microbiome and the gut brain axis being such an emerging concept as well. I guess you’ll be having a lot more, I mean, with being in neurology, you’ll be kind of learning more about the gut as well.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface because we just only just begun to even recognize how huge of an impact this has on brain function and cognitive function. And so, yes, they’re super, super exciting field. I think people want to do something about it before, you know, our knowledge is still so immature. And how to? What is? You know, what is microbiome? What do you know? What should we do? What are the best ways to influence it? We know it’s like super important so we want to do something. But I think what we’re going to learn a lot the next couple of decades about what works and what doesn’t. But it’s definitely a promising area.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I guess is like CBD oils are hitting the marketplace mainstream with like skin products and cognitive axis. In Silicon Valley, you hear about micro dosing on different substances and cannabis being something that people would use for kind of calm and, you know, for cognition. What is your take on that?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah. So I think there’s promise in using sort of plant substances. So, you know, the psychedelics in general, a there’s some pretty incredible, you know, research that’s been done in those areas that shows great promise. And there’s certainly no reason to consider a synthetic pharmaceutical, as, you know, preferable to a plant compound that humans have been using for far longer. So it’s definitely an area that we need to open up research too, big time. And particularly given, you know, I mean, I’m not an expert on the area of psychedelics, but I’ve learned enough about it over the past several years.
And, you know, some of the research is pretty remarkable, particularly on conditions that we don’t really have great therapeutic approaches to. So, yeah, I think that’s an area that I hope will continue to expand and probably has great promise and honestly has seemingly more promise for improving outcomes with, you know, less negative effects and less unintended consequences than a lot of the modern pharmaceutical deals that have been developed for various conditions. And, you know, there’s a lot of the things in mental health and psychiatric issues that are that are being explored. And so I think there’s a lot of promise in that regard. And so I’m hopeful about that.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: With wearable tech as well, we discussed a lot of devices previously. But I was listening to one of the kind of leading A.I. researchers who’s also got an interest in neuroscience. She’s from America, Vivian. I think from Stanford. She study at UC San Diego as well previously. She was talking about how there’ll be well, they’re working on kind of, you know, brain machine interfaces as well. So you can almost transmit thoughts from brain scans, but even brain to brain, which seems quite freakishly cyborg type, you know. But yeah, there was a study which showed that people transmitted thoughts between three people.
Came out from M.I.T., I think, if I’m correct. But yeah. So it seems like there’s a lot of things happening in the brain space, as always. Always been. I think humanities always been intrigued by the brain more than anything else. And where can listeners follow you and what’s the mission now with BrainJo? And how can they become a part of your mission?
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah, sure. So my mission is kind of using what we’ve learned about the brain in neuroscience to optimize human potential. And it kind of is a framework for also maximizing well-being. So and that’s kind of combining my interest in neurology, you know, which is basically looking into the biological foundation of the brain. And like we’ve talked about, I think they’re the primary way we can make huge improvements, in that regard.
It is just being mindful of the mismatches that are there between our current environments and in our ancestral one and how we can minimize those. And then on the software side, sort of how we can optimize the learning process and take advantage of the remarkable plasticity and capacity for growth that our brain has. So all of that irks kind of the topics of the Intelligence Unshackled podcast that I started last year and kind of the broad mission of the Brainjo Center for Neurology and Cognitive Enhancement so people can find the podcast.
You can search Brainjo, which is B-R-I-A-N-J-O. And that comes from a combination of brain and banjo because banjo is my primary instrument, but you can search that on the podcast app.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: We should have asked you to play!
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Well you’ll hear samples on the podcast.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Oh really? Ok!
Dr. Josh Turnkett: I usually open and close with something on the banjo during the podcast show. So you can find it that way. And then the sort of web home for all that is elitecognition.com. So either of those places will work. And then there’s opportunities to become part of the Brainjo Collective, if you really like to geek out on these topics, then you can become a part of that as well. So I think the best places.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Right up my street. So I look forward to it. So amazing having you on this podcast. I mean, we’ve discussed such a diverse range of topics and it’s been quite amazing. It’s been quite cognitively enhancing actually. And I guess I’ll meet you on a tennis court or ensure you perform the banjo.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: Yeah, definitely. Bring a racket if we cross paths, right?
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Definitely. So thank you for listening to this episode and it’ll be releasing quite soon. So thank you, Josh.
Dr. Josh Turnkett: All right. You’re welcome. Thanks.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Bye.
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