So-called "Brain training" has been a consistent self-help theme ever since Cognitive Science and Neuroscience began to be popularised in the mid-60s, when the concept of left/right brain hemispheres was pounced upon and enthusiastically applied to many different fields of endeavour. This of course had the effect of compounding the reification of the brain, crystalising the mind/body dualism as well as notions that you are either artistic or mathematical, dexterous or inventive etc etc.
I remember my own grandfather (an amateur artist and full-time beret-wearer) devouring the 1979 manual "Drawing from the Right Side of Your Brain" if you bother to read a how-to book, you're left-brained".
So I was interested to stumble across Lumosity the hugely popular "brain-training" program (they call it "cognitive enhancement") which claims to "take advantage of the brain’s innate neuroplasticity to help shape it into a more effective, powerful organ''..
Available online and as a mobile app, the service now has 35m registered users and is adding another 100,000 users a day. Pretty phenomenal when you consider the cognitive behaviour data that is being gathered - I imagine that Facebook are watching with interest.
"Lumosity has the largest database of human cognition ever assembled. Researchers are actively exploring this database to understand the determinants of cognitive performance and cognitive enhancement — all in an effort to make the world a smarter place."
I'm not quite sure about "making the world a smarter place" claim, and feel that the use of the term "cognitive enhancement" should also be treated with some scepticism, as until now it referred to the (possibly dubious) field of Nootropics or "mind nutrition" drugs. Although I acknowledge there are some potentially useful therapeutic applications for Luminosity such as for patients with alzheimers* or traumatic brain injuries.
For the rest of us, I question whether consciously "training" your brain is really possible, and besides aren't we already vastly over-stimulated and over-informed? Indeed, isn't it when we are are actively moving that we often have our best, most creative ideas - e.g. while cycling or jogging. Which returns me to my original point, should we be thinking about the "brain" as an isolated entity? Can we legitimately extract the "mind" from the "body"?
So as I consider enrolling my brain for a costly cognitive enhancement program I ponder whether I might just turn off the computer and take my body for a stroll instead..
*Although the benefits to Alzheimer's patients are not undisputed.