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Omneuron: pioneering inner space

July 13, 2009

original soloflexI’ll confess I’ve done it. I’ve stood next to a mirror with my shirt off after a workout, examining my arms and my abs, comparing them to the photo of the fitness model in the Soloflex manual. I’ll even confess that I’ve done it over weeks at a time—observing meticulously to watch for the development of a new ridge on my triceps or a new contour on my stomach, all the while visually referencing the model image for how it’s “supposed” to look.

Now imagine this: instead of watching the development of your body toward some fitness ideal, what if you could watch the development of your brain toward an ideal of personal character and mind? Yes, you read that correctly—what if you could watch your brain develop—from the inside?

This may sound like the trappings for a sophisticated science fiction movie. Not so. For the folks at Omneuron, this is the day to day reality. Further, it is the reality they would like to share with the entire world.

Omneuron is a Palo Alto-based biotech company that is harnessing the power of fMRI brain imaging to help patients who experience chronic pain. By putting patients with chronic pain in a brain scanner and letting the patients see their brain actively working, Omneuron is giving chronic pain patients an opportunity to deliberately calm the regions associated with their pain, and further allowing these individuals the opportunity to rationally stimulate brain regions that release endorphins. This is tremendous. Endorphins are opiate molecules that your brain naturally produces. Opiates are contained in many of the powerful medications that are utilized to reduce physical pain, such as morphine. So imagine that instead of going to get a line of morphine funneled into your body, you instead were able to see live video footage of your brain, and could train your brain to calm the regions that were producing pain, while simultaneously stimulating brain regions that create natural opiates and mentally allowing these pain-reducing molecules to be released into your brain and spinal cord? None of this would require surgery, medication, or high-risk experimental options—only your own thinking, carefully guided by direct visual images of what your brain is doing at that exact moment in time (give or take a second or two).

brain-fmriNow let’s move beyond thoughts about chronic pain and think for a moment about compassion. Many people sit down daily with mindfulness or loving-kindness CDs and MP3s, listening to spiritual masters talk them through mental practices designed to train their brain to become less reactive and more empathetic. What if instead of just listening and intuiting your way through mental development of meditation, you could see your brain during the process? What if instead of just hearing your Zen master describe their internal experience verbally, you could actually see their internal experience in a video? And here’s the kicker: what if you could also see a real-time video of your own brain, and compare its activity to the brain activity of your guru of choice? Much like watching an aerobic workout video in which you can watch your fitness leader’s body and match your own body movements to resemble theirs, we’re talking about a whole new paradigm for mental and personal character development. This new paradigm does not just rely upon groping in the dark and intuition, but is turbo-charged by direct visual feedback and imitation.

Think of the possibilities.

What if instead of sitting for decades to gain progressive enlightenment, your practice could be enhanced by the power of imitation and visual feedback to make quantum leaps in your internal development? If we could both attract more people to the serious disciplines of moral and personal development through mental and internal training, as well as rocket-boost the practices of personal character development through the modalities of visual feedback, could we ultimately augment the net tonnage of compassion or empathy or understanding or happiness on the planet?

If Omneuron has anything to do with it, then I am very optimistic about the answer to these questions.

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