Future Human

The Cognition Crisis

Anxiety. Depression. ADHD. Dementia. The human brain is in trouble. Technology is a cause — and a solution.

Adam Gazzaley MD, PhD
Elemental
Published in
18 min readJul 9, 2018

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Illustrations by Maria Medem

OOur lives on this planet have improved in so many amazing ways over the last century. On average, we are now healthier, more affluent and literate, less violent and longer living. Despite these unprecedented positive changes, clear signs exist that we are in the midst of an emerging crisis — one that has not yet been recognized in its full breadth, even though it lurks just beneath the surface of our casual conversations and swims in the undercurrents of our news feeds. This is not the well-known crisis that we’ve induced upon the earth’s climate, but one that is just as threatening to our future. This is a crisis of our minds. A cognition crisis.

A cognition crisis is not defined by a lack of information, knowledge or skills. We have done a fine job in accumulating those and passing them along across millennia. Rather, this a crisis at the core of what makes us human: the dynamic interplay between our brain and our environment — the ever-present cycle between how we perceive our surroundings, integrate this information, and act upon it.

This ancient perception-action cycle ensured our earliest survival by allowing our primordial predecessors to seek nutrients and avoid toxins. It is from these humble beginnings that the human brain evolved to pursue more diverse resources and elude more inventive threats. It is from here that human cognition emerged to support our success in an increasingly complex and competitive environment: attention, memory, perception, creativity, imagination, reasoning, decision making, emotion and aggression regulation, empathy, compassion, and wisdom. And it is here that our crisis exists.

Today, hundreds of millions of people around the world seek medical assistance for serious impairments in their cognition: major depressive disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, dyslexia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), addiction, dementia, and more. In the United States alone, depression affects 16.2 million adults, anxiety 18.7 million, and dementia 5.7 million — a number that…

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Adam Gazzaley MD, PhD
Elemental

Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry Physiology at UCSF, Founder & Director of Neuroscape, CoFounder of Akili Interactive, JAZZ VP, Sensync. https://gazzaley.com