In Search Of… S03E22 Brain Power

And we open on… Oh God. This looks like it's going to be a bad one.

Some women are manipulating the body of a small child. Nimoy claims this is a 'controversial' new approach to communicating with children suffering from brain damage. He also compares it to medaeval torture. I don't know if this is a legit approach but even if it is, I'm not sure I want to watch.

Anyway, apparently we're talking about studies to help people with brain damage, and naturally those of us without brain damage are wondering if we can swipe that research to benefit ourselves. No, no. Thank us later.

In Search of brain power leonard nimoy
This may look like a cheap prop from a B-Movie but apparently it was a real thing

This is followed by some really nice footage of animals – eagles and dogs mostly. They guys have senses that are better than ours, so what's up with our brain? I mean, we a have better sense of smell than eagles do and better eyesight than dogs so… Did I just answer the question?

We move onto the Brain Research Institute at UCLA where Dr Michael Chase tells us some serious stuff about brains that he learned from his studies on laboratory cats… Huh. 'Lab cats' is a thing, I guess? Cool. Anyway, he sits in front of a huge 1970s computer in his lab coat and talks about neurons. His work leads to what looks like a picture of the brain that's been coloured in by a kid.

We move on to talking about the whole 'left-brain, right-brain' thing. You know, I hadn't heard that one in years. Checking the Internet… and there is some evidence that some brain activities are lateralised, but this is overstated in popular psychology. Neat.

Anyway, we watch a bunch of people doing left-right brain experiments. A professor with a cardigan and a cool moustache (didn't catch the name) explains he's trying to localise brain function to help with assist people with brain injuries.

Nimoy, in a black suit and tie like he was going to a funeral – sits next to a brain and tells us that we're going to look at idiot savants. I thought that wasn't a real thing, but looking it up it's a rare form of Autism. (Note – I am NOT a psychologist or a neurologist. I welcome corrections so if I have this one wrong, please let me know.)

Anyway, we talk to a young man named Chuck who lacks the ability to do formal mathematics but can do some extraordinary calculations, seemingly by intuition. On the other hand, he can barely read a menu. We also look at John, who can draw airplane flightpaths freehand. It's quite interesting, but I wonder whether we're going somewhere with this. The psychologists helping these young men are women – this one of the rare episode where we see quite a few technically qualified women.

Now we get to the meat of the issue. After oo-ing and aa-ing at people with disabilities, Nimoy wonders aloud whether we can all do these things.

The next bit is a claim that epileptics can be trained to not have seizures. I'll look it up later. Dr Barry Sturmon talks about this at length. If he's right, it's interesting but again I think we're supposed to be wondering how to help ourselves rather than help people with epilepsy.

We move back onto the therapy for children with brain damage. This bit is less awful looking than the sensational footage at the beginning. Again, the therapist working with the little girl is a woman. Interesting. As soon as children get involved, women are allowed to be scientists, I guess.

But the boss guy with the grey suit and the bow tie is a guy of course. He says his piece, and I realise that the other interesting thing about this episode is that serious academics are allowed to talk at length about neurology… Oh. He starts getting into the people only use 5% of their brain's potential crap. He does phrase it more correctly than usual and say '5% at any one time' which is actually the answer to the question. We do use 100% of the brain – just not all at once.

There's a little talk about a three year old named Tommy, who has brain damage but is now going to kindergarten. So I don't know if this therapy is still used, but I guess it had one success. We go back to talking to the brain hemisphere guy, who concludes that both sides of the brain are important. Good point.

This is followed by Dr Betty Edwards, an art teacher who teaches creativity by getting people to copy pictures that are upside down. She talks about her work, which is based on a study she did. She suggests that drawing this way forces the brain to process information in a different way. She wears a safari suit. On some level, she's not wrong – doing things in a way you aren't used to forces you to think about it. I don't know if this particular strategy has caught on, though.

Next, we speak to Dr Thelma Moss of UCLA. She believes in telekinesis. She wears a green, flowing dress and a bead necklace. She actually seems kind of awesome, other than the fact that she is taking enthusiastically about Soviet footage of a woman supposedly moving matchsticks.

Finally, we talk to Dr William Tiller of Stanford then talks about tapping brainpower. He basically starts talking about people turning into X-Men, or that Scarlett Johanssen character from that super forgettable movie she was in. The end.

All in all, not as horrible as I though. Some interesting vignettes about the state of neurological research in the late 1970s, with a little New Age twist at the end. I don't know why when people talk about improving brain power they go straight to telekinesis, and skip over things like 'being good at sums' or 'always remembering where you left your keys.

I'm also a little surprised In Search Of… hasn't tapped Yuri Gehler for an interview yet. I can only guess that they couldn't afford his appearance fee.

Summing up:

Sensitive treatment of disability: 5/10, Nimoyness: 5/10, Electronic music: 5/10, Coloured in brains: 5/10, General mediocrity: 5/10. Overall: 25/50. Pass

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