I've been trying to figure out ways that I can defy age. I'm turning 30 this year, which means I will have a harder time remembering things, filtering information, and staying in shape. Since I'm not Ray Kurzweil and I can't afford plastic surgery, I'm banking on Brain Age 2, Nintendo's cognitive training software, to keep me away from wrinkles and Alzheimer's. Every day before I go to bed, I do a round of math problems (they give me the numbers; I have to find the sign that will make sense out of them), I play a song a virtual piano with my stylus (yesterday it was The Blue Bells of Scotland), and I count the change from my imaginary purchase. The primary goal is to beat yesterday's me—if I can do that on a fairly consistent basis, maybe that means I'm reversing the aging process, at least cognitively.
I wanted to make sure my regime was legit, so I called up Ryuta Kawashima, the the Tohoku University neuroscientist featured in Brain Age and Brain Age 2, and asked him some questions to make sure I was on track. Here's an excerpt from our interview:
Q: What does "brain training" mean?I already told you guys about my love affair with Tetris as a kid. It made me smarter, more insightful, and more zen than I could have been had I not obsessed over blocks my entire childhood. If a video game can make me a better person, then who's to say that a video game can't make me younger? I think the reason a lot of Asian people look half our age is because we are genetically inclined to play more video games at higher frequencies throughout our formative years and beyond.
A: By performing a cognitive task, you raise your ability to perform that specific task, and you can transfer that ability to other tasks, too. Think of it as enhancing your neural networks.
Q: Can I really get smarter just by playing this game?
A: You can't really measure smartness, but older people with Alzheimer's did improve their condition.
Q: Why should I play this game instead of going out and getting a PhD?
A: Times are tough. We live in a tough world, and people are trying to find ways to ease their souls. There's the theory that the heart is actually in the brain, so by training your brain, you're going to live a happier life. People are just starting to realize this.
Q: Yeah, and games are fun. Do any of the other brain games work?
A: I don't know about the copycats. I'm skeptical.
Q: Do people recognize you on the street?
A: They've started to, yes. It's a bit disconcerting.
Q: I would definitely recognize you if I saw you on the street. My mom, my brother, and I all watch your animated face bounce around on our DS screens every night before we go to bed.
A: Wow. Thanks.