KEY POINTS from Episode 1

1. The Central Thesis: The human brain has far more potential than most realize, and releasing that potential requires that we understand and address the ways in which its function is limited, or “shackled”.

2. There are 3 key ways that the health, function, and capacity of the brain is compromised in today’s world:

Shackle #1: an incomplete understanding of the true nature and scope of human intelligence.

Shackle #2:  impairments in the brain’s biological function due to environmental mismatches.

Shackle #3: limiting beliefs and mindsets about our capacity for growth and change.

In this podcast, we’ll be exploring all 3 of those constraints.

3. Ultimately, understanding how to optimize the health and function of the brain is the best framework for understanding the conditions required for fulfillment and lasting well being.



The Brainjo Collective: a community of lifelong learners

Nourish Balance Thrive

Turknett Leadership Group

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, by Oliver Sacks

The Laws of Brainjo: The Art & Science of Effective Practice (

Why is Pharma Pulling Out of Alzheimer’s Research?”

The Migraine Miracle book


Intro – “Perception,” by

“Last Chance,” Hobart Smith

“Avalon Blues,” Mississippi John Hurt

“Monday Morning Blues,” Mississippi John Hurt

“Stagger Lee,” Mississippi John Hurt

“Snowdrop,” Kirk McGee

(music performed by Josh Turknett unless otherwise stated)


In January of 1643, a boy was born in a small farm in a tiny hamlet in the East Midlands of England. His father, a farmer who couldn’t read, died before the child was born. His mother remarried when the boy was three. The relationship between the boy and his stepfather wasn’t a good one. Altogether this resulted in an unstable and tumultuous childhood.

The boy didn’t do especially well in school and at the age of 17, his mother stopped his schooling so that he could help out on the family farm. Though later after it was clear that farming didn’t suit him, his mother allowed them to return and finish school.

In 1661 at the age of 18, he enrolled in college to study law, but while he was there, he discovered that science and math were his true passion. By his third year, he was mostly ignoring his formal studies in law and spending his time reading the works of Galileo, Boyle, Descartes, and Kepler.

In 1665, he took an 18 month long break from his studies in college, returning to his family farm where he spent day and night researching and developing his ideas. Then in 1667, he published the mathematical principles of natural philosophy, often referred to as just the Principia and which is regarded by many as the single most influential book on physics and possibly all of science, rivaled perhaps only by Albert Einstein’s, work on general and special relativity.

Those of you familiar with this story of course know that I’m referring to Isaac Newton, and in that book that he published at the age of 24 after 18 months of self study, he would describe the laws of motion and gravity which became the foundation of mechanics. In order to do all this, he had to invent an entirely new field of mathematics, which we now know as calculus, but he was just getting started.

Hi, I’m Dr. Josh Turknett, founder of Brainjo and the Brainjo Center for neurology and cognitive enhancement. And this is the Intelligence Unshackled podcast. Join me as we take a tour through the human brain to explore and understand the true nature and scope of human intelligence, and to unlock the secrets of optimizing brain health and function.

I chose to open here with the story of Isaac Newton because it challenges so much of the conventional wisdom about intelligence, and specifically it challenges what we think of as the conditions that are required to develop a mind that’s capable of the kind of breakthroughs that he generated. Not just any breakthroughs, but one of the most remarkable to ever emerge from a single mind. First of all, Newton was almost entirely self educated.

Not only did he teach himself science and math, but he learned it to a degree that allowed him to create what’s arguably the greatest work of science and math to date. He didn’t appear to have any particular gift of genetics.

There was no special aptitude of either of his parents, and he had an unremarkable childhood including his school performance. Furthermore, despite being enrolled in higher education at the time of this work, his breakthrough came from a field other than the one he was learning about in school.

And the major work that he created that would go onto influence scientists for centuries was created while he was outside of school, on his own back home in a small town in rural England. So how on earth do we reconcile the story of Newton with the conventional one we’re given about intelligence and education?

Now, one way to handle the story of Sir Isaac Newton would be to consider it a not an anomaly, maybe an exception to the rule, but I would argue and I will argue that the story of Newton isn’t an anomaly and that it’s much closer to an accurate representation of how intelligence develops and how creative insights and breakthroughs are made.

And explaining his story requires that we reexamine our prevailing ideas about intelligence. And so in this podcast series and in the broader Intelligence Unshackled project, I’ll be asking you to do that, to reconsider everything you think you know about intelligence and education and the human brain.

We’re taught that in science, when you find data that either contradicts or can’t be accounted for by your current theory, you either throw that theory out or you amend it or adjust it so that it does account for all the available evidence.

What you’re not supposed to do is ignore it entirely, and there is a mountain of data from a variety of places, including my field of neurology that’s been ignored or unaccounted for. Which means that the prevailing theory of human intelligence is incomplete.

So welcome again to this podcast. I’m really excited to have you listening because I’m really excited about this Intelligence Unshackled project. This podcast is part of a larger endeavor that I’ll talk more about in a minute. And in this introductory episode, I’m going to provide an overview of what this whole Intelligence Unshackled podcast and project is going to be all about so you’ll know what to expect, and hopefully you’ll have lots of good reasons to keep listening.

So to start with, since this is the first episode, I’ll begin with telling you who I am for those who don’t know. And that’s not because I want this podcast to be about me far from it, but I think a few points of background will be useful in providing some context. So first of all, my professional background is that I am a board certified neurologist and have been practicing for over a decade in the Atlanta area.

I’ve also during that time been involved in clinical research, so early on in my career with a head full of enthusiasm about the promising future of neurological therapeutics. I was part of a few dozen clinical trials primarily in the areas of acute stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. So two huge areas that affect scores of people. In recent years I’ve made some pretty radical shifts in career path, and I think the reasons behind those shifts will become clear in a bit. And my decision to become a neurologist in the first place was driven by a lifelong obsession with the brain.

I’ve always had an affinity for math and science, and growing up I thought that if I didn’t end up being a professional baseball or tennis player, that I’d probably do something in the fields of math and science. And somewhere along the way, I realized or discovered that the brain was the last big scientific mystery or scientific frontier out there. So while fields like physics, chemistry, astronomy, and much of biology were all pretty mature sciences. Neuroscience will still very young by comparison and it still is, which meant that it was still wide open for new discoveries and that it promised to change a lot over the course of my lifetime.

And so that meant that there were still major breakthroughs to come, in particular breakthroughs in our understanding of the neurobiology of cognition, of how the biological machinery of the brain produces language, thoughts, memory, learning, reason, and ultimately our subjective experience or conscious awareness.

So like everyone, I considered all manner of things as possible careers, but was consistently drawn to the neurosciences. And subsequently decided to direct that towards a career in neurology, which meant of course going to medical school. And the decision to do that was based on the perceived promise of two things.

One was that I felt that neurology still seemed like one of the best places to go to understand the brain and to understand brain function. And while the popular conversation around the brain and neuroscience these days might lead people to believe that what we know about the brain, in particular the neurobiology of cognitive function in human behavior that much of that has been discovered through functional imaging or molecular biology and neurotransmitter analysis. I’d argue that the bulk of our knowledge and understanding still comes largely from the field of neurology and from the neurology clinic and ward from observing and analyzing how the brain breaks down when it’s damaged by disease or trauma.

And I’m sure that Oliver Sacks was a big influence on that line of thinking. So for those of you who don’t know, Oliver Sacks was a neurologist and author of multiple books, probably the most high profile neurologist of last century.

And most of those books were discussions of clinical cases. And what we learned about the brain through those cases, with a particular focus on cognitive disorders and deficits. And the very first book of his that I read, which is one of his most famous, was The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. And I read that actually just as I was entering college, deciding between a career and the neurosciences or engineering.

And reading it for me was like a revelation. I’d already had an interest in neuroscience and I’d read some books on the subject, but this gave me a level of and window and insight into human brain function that I previously just hadn’t gotten. And I was totally fascinated by all of it. And I still love this part of neurology and what we’re able to learn by observing the brain when it breaks down in certain ways.

And so you’ll find that throughout this podcast, I will be using clinical cases and continuing that tradition to illustrate various points. And then the other main reason for pursuing a career in neurology was that it seemed like a field poised for some major therapeutic breakthroughs. Which meant that I would see major changes in my ability to treat diseases of the nervous system, some of which are some of the most devastating that we know of. I was starting my medical career at the close of the decade of the brain and when we were close to fully mapping the human genome.

And so it certainly seemed to everyone like all that money and knowledge was going to soon pay off big time. And I still vividly remember as a fourth year resident asking a prominent Alzheimer’s researcher at my medical school when he thought we’d have a cure for Alzheimer’s.

And he thought about it for a bit, and said he was confident that in 10 years we would have it. And so the promise of seeing a massive transformation in that type of timeframe was really exciting. So on the first count there, I got what I was after, and that promise was fulfilled. So I still think there’s no better place to understand the operation of the brain than the neurology ward, and nothing could replace that experience.

So as I mentioned, my undergraduate degree ended up being behavioral neuroscience. And when I was an intern in medicine, so before beginning my neurology residency, I was treated like the expert in all things neurological even though I hadn’t begun any formal training outside of my medical school rotations. So just things I learned in college and in the research lab. And it took maybe three days into my neurology residency to realize that I knew next to nothing. In fact, I think I knew just enough to be dangerous. Which as an aside, was a great illustration of me of the difference between book or academic knowledge, and experiential knowledge, and the blind spots that we can have when we have one without the other.

So those years as a neurology resident at the University of Florida, which happened to have probably the best behavioral neurology department around, and my years since practicing as a neurologist, have unequivocally been the best education I could have ever received on human brain function.

On the other hand, when it comes to the second half of that perceived promise, which was that I would see major breakthroughs in therapeutics for neurological illness in my career, that has yet to materialize to put it lightly. So as I mentioned, I asked a senior Alzheimer’s researcher how long he thought it would be till we had a cure and he said 10 years. And that was back in 2000. And so now it’s 18 years later, and not only is there no cure, but we don’t even have any pharmaceutical treatment that’s even an incremental improvement over what was available then.

And it’s certainly not for a lack of resources or a lack of effort. So as I mentioned, I was involved with multiple clinical trials for investigational drugs for Alzheimer’s earlier in my career. And all of these had promising science behind them and theoretical reasons why they should help, at least based on the prevailing model of Alzheimer’s pathogenesis. And none of those panned out. And that story has been repeated time and again over the past couple of decades.

In fact, it was been recently reported at several drug companies are pulling out of Alzheimer’s research altogether due to the perceived futility of it. And we’ll be exploring some of the reasons for why those efforts have been so unsuccessful. On the face of it, that’s a pretty depressing and demoralizing story. So as a neurologist, I’ve cared for thousands of people with Alzheimer’s disease over the past several years, so I know all too well its devastating impact. And as our population ages, it’s a problem that at least right now stands to continue to grow considerably.

But there’s a flip side to this story and a big silver lining, which also happens to be one of the primary motivations for doing this podcast and this project. So while that story of the search for a pharmaceutical cure for Alzheimer’s may give the impression that we’ve made no progress, the reality is a lot of progress has been made.

It just hasn’t been in the way that we expected back in 2000 when that researcher made his prediction. But in my opinion, it’s still just as exciting. But it’s the story that nowhere near enough people are hearing, and that needs to change as soon as possible.

Now, along with those more academic and professional interests, sports and music have also been major parts of my life, in part for similar reasons. So I’ve always found the learning process to be one of the most rewarding things to do.

Especially those early stages of learning when you go from being really terrible at something, to acquiring the initial skillset. And for really as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with the mechanics and the process of practice. And I also realized pretty early on that I got back what I put in.

So my results were directly tied to my efforts. And moreover, and this is something that’s often overlooked in the conversation around practice, that the specifics of that effort mattered a lot. So in other words, it wasn’t just how much I practiced, but also how I practiced.

So I would obsess over the finer details of practice because I saw those details as the key to reaching my goals and whatever it is I was trying to learn. So in addition to many other great things, one commonality that I love about both sports and music is that they are feedback rich environments typically with steep initial learning curves, and so they make really good testing grounds for practice methods.

Now ultimately, the entire purpose of learning is to construct neural networks in the brain, or sub routines that mediate the learned behaviors. And so later on, as my interest in the brain took hold, not surprisingly I became deeply interested in the neurophysiology that supports learning, which is neuroplasticity or the brain’s ability to change itself in response to our experience. Another effect of those experiences was to reinforce to me that my results were far more dependent on my process, my learning process than anything innate or specific to me.

And looking back, that kind of realization really helped to fuel a growth mindset. And I’ve long been bothered by how much of the traditional narrative around learning, whether it’s sports, music, art, or more academic pursuits like math and science is centered around this idea of talent or innate aptitudes as being the primary driver of success. And my experiences were entirely incompatible with that story. Like I said, it was my process and how I went about learning that mattered.

Early on, this talent narrative bothered me because it just seemed to be wrong. But also because I could see how it created a false limitation for so many people. If you believe that your results in any endeavor are largely determined or defined by your innate talents and capabilities, which for most people translates to your genetics, then that leads to what we would now describe as a fixed mindset.

A concept that was created and popularized by Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck in her excellent book Mindset. And so in that way of thinking with a fixed mindset, failures are interpreted as failures of aptitude. And in my opinion, the reality is failures are almost always failures of process. And so then life becomes about figuring out what you’re good at rather than figuring out how to get better at the things that excite and interest you.

I also found that not only did the quality of practice determine my success or failure, but the speed of my progress was also significantly dependent on it as well. And so that drew careful attention to practice methods, I could drastically shorten the timeframe of learning much shorter than the conventional wisdom in many domains would lead you to believe.

And later on, I would ultimately realize that this was about leveraging the mechanisms that support neuroplasticity, which means that the more we can understand about those mechanisms, the biological foundation of learning, the more effective our practice can be, and really the more effective we can make learning of any kind.

And of course when you start looking at the biological mechanisms of learning, you start to notice that so much of how we educate is entirely misaligned with how the brain actually learns things. And it also like the specifics of the learning process or detailed instruction on how to learn things rather than what to learn, was really underrepresented in so many fields. And furthermore, that even though the process of learning was ultimately governed by neuro biological mechanisms, our understanding of those mechanisms which was growing all the time wasn’t really being applied to the conversation around learning.

This was something that I’d noticed and struggled with in my own learning, especially in the realm of music. So I wanted to know how to go about learning something, I didn’t know just what I was supposed to play or what I was supposed to do with my fingers.

I wanted to understand what the best processes were for how to do that, for how to learn that, because I knew that the learning process would be the thing that determined whether I failed or succeeded. But I couldn’t find that really anywhere in music instruction. What I really wanted to know was how did the people who mastered this go about it. And I couldn’t find that anywhere. And so I saw and I still see that as a significant problem.

And so that was ultimately the motivation for launching Brainjo, and I’m sure some of you listening and that’s where you know me from. So for those who don’t, as I mentioned, I’m a musician also. And my favorite instrument, which I believe has been scientifically proven to be the world’s greatest instrument, is the five string banjo. And so Brainjo, which was first launched in 2014, began as a system of musical instruction for the Banjo that covers both what to learn and how to learn it.

And that instruction around the learning process is informed by both the neuroscience of learning and of neuroplasticity, as well as through studying the process and practice methods of those who have mastered musical instruments. And if you’re interested in reading more about that and the principles that are integrated into the Brainjo system of instruction, you can check out the laws of Brainjo series of articles and you can get to those by going to

I’ll also link that in the notes for this episode, and you can get to all of those by going to the website and just clicking on the podcast tab from the top menu.

So learning and the science of how the brain changes itself in response to experience will be a topic we’ll explore in depth on this podcast as it is one obvious way we can expand the capacity of our intelligence, and our brain’s ability to change itself throughout our lives in response to experience is one of its most magical qualities in my opinion.

And so before we can even have a conversation about how to expand human intelligence, we have to first acknowledge that such a thing is even possible. And even though it’s demonstrably false, the idea that we have a fixed set of talents and innate aptitudes that we’re born with, it’s still a pervasive one. So for years in the field of neuroscience, it was believed that the brain couldn’t change itself over time, that once development was over in childhood that that was pretty much it.

In retrospect, it seems pretty absurd, but it was a widely held belief in the field for many years, and layered on top of that was our discovery of DNA and genes, which then led to an overestimation of the impact of genes or genetics on our potential. Those two things in combination help to reinforce the fixed mindset for many people, and I think we’re still dealing with the fallout from that.

And so one of the primary missions of Brainjo was not just to give people a more reliable path to success with learning to play a musical instrument, but also as a way to disprove the fixed mindset to themselves. Because I think once you do that in any domain and you realize all of the limiting beliefs you’ve been holding onto in this area, it can be a really powerful thing. And leads people to explore other things that they may not have ever considered out of the notion that they weren’t cut out for it.

And so to unshackle the intelligence of our brain which is the objective of this podcast, we must first understand all the mechanisms that are at our disposal for doing so. And fundamental to unshackling intelligence is losing those limiting ideas, especially the limiting ideas that are demonstrably wrong. So exploiting the neuro biological mechanisms of learning is certainly one way we can expand intelligence, but it’s far from the only way.

This podcast is brought to you by the Brainjo Collective. The Brainjo Collective is a community of like-minded people interested in furthering our understanding of the brain and translating that knowledge into ways we can release potential, protect the integrity of our brain over the course of our lifespan, and create lives of lasting fulfillment and wellbeing.

Members of the collective receive access to a private forum moderated by a team of advisors, including myself. And by becoming a member of the collective, you’ll also be supporting the research and production costs of this podcast so that it can always remain free from advertisements. So if you like to geek out on cognitive neuroscience and the optimization of brain health and function, I’d love to have you as part of the collective. To learn more about it and to join, just head over to

Okay. So there’s a little backstory that hopefully give some context about this podcast. The next question you may have is what is a banjo playing neurologist doing hosting a podcast about intelligence? So what’s the motivation for this podcast in particular? So on a deeper level, Brainjo is also about applying neuroscience to help realize human potential of taking insights and knowledge that we’ve acquired about the brain, and translating it into practical ways that we can improve health and function.

And the subject matter here is to explore how to optimize health and function of the brain, which in my view also provides the very best framework and the very best lens through which to understand the conditions for human flourishing and wellbeing. So ultimately here, the objective is to create a manual for human thriving.

Now the title Intelligence Unshackled implies that our brain is constrained or shackled in some manner, and indeed I think that this is absolutely true. That the typical brain in today’s world is shackled in multiple ways, both transparent and opaque, and one way it’s constrained is by mismatches between the environments that our brains find themselves in now and the ones that our brains evolved in, and that those mismatches compromise its biological function in multiple ways that we’ll talk about.

So in ways that can lead to sub optimal function day to day or dysfunction, and in ways that over time ultimately lead to breakdown, damage, and disease. So understanding those mismatches is key to both knowing how to improve function in the here and now, and also how to protect ourselves over the long run. As I’ve alluded to, our brains are also shackled by limiting beliefs that are fueled by conventional wisdom about certain things and like the belief that our potential is predetermined or largely defined by our genetics.

And furthermore, it’s shackled or limited by a conception of human intelligence that in my view is far too narrowly defined and oftentimes focused in the wrong places. So I believe our intelligence is much broader than we typically think of, and that our greatest gifts are in areas that we typically don’t focus on.

And this particular podcast was born of a peculiar mix of frustration and optimism. So I already mentioned the frustration side of things in the realm of neurology. It’s been 17 years since I graduated medical school and there have been no meaningful new treatments, at least drug based treatments or things that I can implement within the healthcare system.

But as I mentioned, there’s another side to this story and a big silver lining. And that’s because while we’ve made literally no progress on the drug front, the science and our understanding of neurodegenerative disorders has continued to advance, and our knowledge of the brain has grown considerably.

So watching this research unfold meant that every day as a clinical neurologist inside of the healthcare system where I could deliver none of it, the gap between what I could be doing and what I could actually do was growing all the time. And ultimately, that gap became too large for me to ignore. Which resulted in a lot of frustration at knowing I had the knowledge and tools to do the very thing that I wanted to do and that I was charged with doing as a physician, but being entirely unable to deliver it. And so really this podcast and the broader effort with the Brainjo Center for Neurology and Cognitive Enhancement arose out of my desire to fulfill that promise that I thought going into neurology would deliver on which was being able to deliver revolutionary new treatments to my patients.

I think that’s possible right now, but I don’t think it’s possible inside of the conventional healthcare system. I’ve actually experienced this very issue quite acutely in another realm of neurology. So I have migraine headaches, which also happens to be a primary area of expertise for neurologists. In fact, most neurologists see more patients for migraine and other forms of headache than anything else. And back in 2010 through some diet and lifestyle changes that we’ll talk much more about in future episodes, those migraines went away.

So I went from having to take prescription medication 60 times a year in the year leading up to that change, to the following year. I began spreading the word about this approach. I wrote a book, it’s reached thousands of people around the world. We’ve built a community around it, and it’s literally transformed the lives of thousands of people all over in ways that I could never do inside of a regular neurology clinic.

So here I had this way of helping to relieve massive suffering for my patients, a way that I had direct personal experience with. A way that far surpassed any of the tools I was given as a neurologist. And not only were they not available in the clinic, but there are multiple mechanisms in place to discourage anything but the conventional drug treatments. And because I knew firsthand how much potential there was in this approach, I had to figure out another way of reaching people with it.

So that included writing a book, starting a podcast, building an online community. And the result has been an impact that’s many orders of magnitude beyond what I could’ve done in a clinic, where the average patient there rather than getting better, tended to get worse over time. And I believe we have the exact same potential to transform the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders through a similar approach.

So while the decision to initially go down this road was born partly out of frustration, there’s also a tremendous amount of optimism that fuels this project. Our future isn’t settled, and it will ultimately be shaped by what we do. And as I see it, we possess all the tools we need to solve these major healthcare problems.

It’s just a matter of acting on it to make it happen. So that’s one major motivation for this podcast, to deliver information about how to improve brain health and protect against disease to those who need it so we can stem and reverse the tide of Alzheimer’s disease, and simply just to get more out of the day to day function of our brain. Because it turns out that the things that we do to protect our brain against degeneration and disease in the future also improve our cognitive function today.

And so another key and commonly overlooked way in which our intelligence and cognitive function is currently shackled is by the diet and lifestyles that we lead, which are the mismatches that I alluded to earlier. Our brain is ultimately a physical entity. And so obviously optimizing its health is critical to optimizing how it performs.

So while I’m extremely frustrated by the current state of our healthcare system and the amount of limitations that it imposes on us, and the lack of progress that’s been made over the last few decades in the realm of pharmaceuticals, I’m also very optimistic because of the possibilities I see. It’s just going to require us to rethink how we deliver this care. But that’s a process that’s already begun and is continuing to gain momentum.

This is also part of a broader project to try to translate clinical neurology into actionable insights for people and to broaden our understanding of the brain. So I began writing about neuroplasticity and learning and music over a decade ago. And back then, these really weren’t concepts that were in the popular conversation much at all. But in recent years there’s been a huge surge and interest in how we can learn better and expand our cognitive potential in general, and the community of people who are interested in cognitive enhancement continues to grow.

But I do think there are some things missing from this conversation that sometimes can lead to either dubious claims or advice, and it could benefit from a clinical perspective.
As I mentioned before, our understanding of the brain as it stands now has been shaped and enormously by clinical neurology. Yet, that’s a piece that’s missing from the larger conversation around cognition and cognitive enhancement. And so I think there’s a lot to add by bringing this perspective. So hopefully for those of you who are interested in this field and this entire endeavor will enjoy learning about behavioral neuroscience and behavioral neurology.

Like I said, I’m very enthusiastic about this movement and how it’s taken hold. And so as someone who really cares about this topic, I want to do my part to help nudge it in the right direction.

Okay. So what all can you expect from this Intelligence Unshackled podcast? Well with respect to the format that are going to be multiple types, some like this episode will just be me giving my thoughts about a specific topic. In this initial set of episodes in particular, I’ll be constructing a foundation of common knowledge that I think will be useful as we explore these topics further, and to help frame and understand some of the questions I’ll be asking and the claims that I’ll be making.

Much of that foundation will involve an understanding of human cognitive function. And as is the tradition in my field of neurology, I will be using my fair share of clinical cases. So ones from my own case files as well as some classic ones, to help demonstrate certain concepts. And then as we dig deeper into specific topics, I’ll also be interviewing experts in those respective areas.

Additionally, I’ll be joined here periodically by a guest host, Dr. Tommy Wood As I’ve said, this podcast is part of a broader project to help bring these ideas out into the world to develop human potential through optimizing brain health and function. And I am currently partnered with two organizations that are also committed to this mission and vision, and who also have expertise in the areas needed to bring this mission to reality.

One of those organizations is Nourish Balance Thrive, and Dr. Tommy Wood is the chief scientific officer. Dr. Wood and I first met through the Physicians for Ancestral Health Organization, which we’re still actively involved in, and we a cohost a podcast as well. Dr. Wood also has an extensive background in neuroscience, but both his academic and experiential knowledge is complimentary to mine.

So he has an extensive background in biochemistry, and nutrition, and metabolism. And whereas I’ve been in the traditional medical clinic dealing with patients with disease and dysfunction of the nervous system, he’s been working at the absolute cutting edge in the world of health and wellness, using the latest diagnostic and analytic tools to improve and optimize the health and performance of elite athletes from around the world.

As I’ve already said, this area is the next revolution in healthcare. And if we have any hope of solving our growing healthcare crisis, this is how we’re going to do it. And Nourish Balance Thrive is at the forefront of developing and refining the tools that are going to be needed to accomplish that. And since this is such a new area, it’s a bit like the wild west. And so even though I have an extensive background in human health and biology, their experience and expertise in this area is invaluable in helping me to find the signal through the noise.

So Tommy will be joining me for discussions where we talk about specifically the health of the brain and the tools that are available for improving and optimizing its function. Also, it’s probably a good time to mention that if you become a member of the Brainjo Collective, you’ll also have access not only to the private elite cognition forum that I’ll moderate, but you also will have access to the private elite performance forum that’s moderated by Tommy and the rest of the team at Nourish Balance Thrive.

So altogether, it’s really an incredible resource for anyone interested in optimizing the health of the body and the brain, and finding the best information that’s out there. It’s really amazing to live in a time where such a thing like this as possible. And so to learn more again about the Brainjo Collective, visit And the other organization that I’m partnered with to help make this vision a reality is Turknett leadership group.

So Turknett leadership group was a company founded over 30 years ago by my mother and father, who remain very actively involved in that business. Their company provides services for developing leadership at all levels of an organization, and for helping to transform organizational cultures. So you might ask how that relates to unshackling human intelligence. Well number one, because work is where we spend so much of our time.

Earlier I mentioned that mismatches are the main way in which the biological function of the brain is compromised, in ways that impairs our cognitive performance in the short term and increases our risk of disease and degeneration in the longterm.

And it’s really hard to underestimate the impact of the work environment on our brain, health and function. And so we have a choice of whether or not we can shape that environment in ways that help us or harm us and the leadership and the organization has an enormous impact on those environments both directly and indirectly.

But overall, I still think there’s very little awareness about this issue. And hopefully that’s something that’s going to change a good bit in the coming years. And that’s partly just because the incentives are in the right place. So what’s good for the goose here is good for the Gander. Without question, every company’s greatest asset is the collective intelligence of its people. Yet, most of that intelligence is still being left on the table. So clearly, understanding how to develop and release the capacity that’s in every human brain should be a top priority.

But if we are to realize the improvements in brain function and help that we’ll be talking about in this podcast, it is going to require some major changes in the way we work and what those work environments look like, and what those cultures are like. The good news is that we know a lot about what that should look like, and so it requires integrating this knowledge into the places we work and creating the type of environment where brains thrive.

And so it’s critical that the leadership in organizations understand these concepts, and that leadership includes doing things that improves the health of the brains of those people in the organization. As I said, our current healthcare system is not designed to deliver health and wellness, it’s designed to detect and manage acute disease. And even in that regard, it’s still very limited in its ability to impact most diseases.

And that means that the best strategy for the foreseeable future is going to be preventing disease in the first place. And since we spend so much of our time at work in these environments, they profoundly shape our health.

Furthermore, one of the keys to improving cognitive performance is through improving the health of the brain. So again, efforts to improve brain health and function will ultimately translate into improvements in the bottom line. So creating a culture where human brains thrive is going to be central to success in the workplace of tomorrow. And creating that culture requires understanding how our environment impacts brain health and function.

Also, since this is a concept that really hasn’t been part of the business world’s consciousness much at all, there’s a lot of low hanging fruit. In other words, potential for large rewards on relatively small investments. And so we’ll be covering topics pertaining to leadership and organizational culture, and how that can translate into releasing the potential that’s in every brain in an organization.

And if you want to learn more about the Turknett Leadership Group AND Brainjo Partnership and the services that we have to create brain friendly organizational cultures, you can also find more information about that

All right, so that’s what to expect. So this podcast is going to be far reaching in its scope as we attempt to understand how to get the most out of our brain at all levels of organization, from the operation of single neurons to the broadly distributed neural networks that support our most complex cognitive functions. And along the way, I’ll be making and attempting to defend some very bold claims.

Most notably that every human is capable of far more than he or she realizes. And that the prevailing ideas around human intelligence have been too narrowly defined and largely focused on the wrong kinds of things. That genius is an act and not a trait. That the kinds of creative insights that transformed the world aren’t the product of special aberrant biology, but rather of ordinary biology placed under the right kinds of conditions.

That understanding those conditions is critical to this project of unshackling our intelligence and that overall we make far too much of our differences and have overlooked the biology we all share that supports the intellectual potential in every single person.

Also, my primary aim is not to prove that I’m right or the claims that I’m making are right, but rather that there are competing alternative explanations to the ones commonly held about human intelligence and cognition that haven’t been adequately considered, and there are questions that haven’t been asked or answered. And what I am certain of is that this has resulted in some significant gaps in our knowledge and understanding and very likely an under appreciation of the capacities in every brain.

With Brainjo for example, just by giving people a process for learning how to play a musical instrument that is aligned with how the brain learns, people who thought that they were entirely incapable of playing an instrument or had tried previously and failed now do things that they once thought were impossible.

And that includes people in their eighties and nineties who were doing this for the first time. And those beliefs were a direct result of the prevailing ideas around intelligence and aptitude, and they are now living proof that those ideas are wrong. So if this podcast challenges and forces you to reexamine what you believe to be some ground truths about how the brain works, what makes you who you are, of what it means to be smart and of what you’re truly capable of, then it will have achieved its objective.

I fully expect that you will resist some of these ideas, and all that I ask is you approach them with an open mind and castaway any preconceptions that you might bring to this topic. And as best you can, reexamine these ideas with fresh eyes and try to follow the science naturally to where it leads.

So this is an audacious and ambitious project, as you would expect from anything titled Intelligence Unshackled. But it also should be loads of fun. Also, I think it’s worth noting that the ideas I’m going to be talking about have been shaped and informed by scores of people, some of which I know of and somewhere which are unknown. And we are all indebted to those who’ve come before us who’ve worked to understand the world and share their knowledge.

And to me the accumulation of knowledge about our world is the grandest and most exciting part of being alive. To me, there’s nothing more exciting than a good original idea. And I think that most of us are wired this way. So here, I’ll be trying to add another piece to the knowledge pile by taking what is known, running it through my own cognitive filters, and see if I can add something to it.

I think that every brain is a unique filter and is capable of making novel insights and adding to this grand human knowledge project. And in this way, the more we improve every brain’s ability to contribute, the faster our knowledge accumulates, the better we are at solving problems. And the better our ability to make a better world for each other. So thank you for coming along for this ride and for being a participant in the great human knowledge building process. And if you want to support this effort and you like geeking out extra hard on this stuff, consider becoming part of the Brainjo Collective.

Lastly, the central headquarters for this podcast can be found at You can just click on the podcast tab on the top menu, and there you’ll find links to the individual episodes which will contain a summary of the key points from each episode along with any of the links mentioned, and a full written transcript.

So thanks so much for listening, and I’ll see you next time.

Episode 1: The Unshackling of Human Intelligence

4 thoughts on “Episode 1: The Unshackling of Human Intelligence

  • November 10, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    Thank you for this fascinating commentary. I am a ‘late-comer’ to playing music, having taken up banjo and guitar in my mid sixties. I am now eight years into my musical journey, and it has provided me with no end of joy. I’ve tuned into your brainjo lessons from time to time and they have been a nice compliment to improve my clawhammering.
    I am most interested in your cognition podcasts as my wife has had several strokes and a number t.i.a.’s in recent years. Your passion for sharing is truly inspiring. I look forward to absorbing more of your messages. (I’m also a like-long sports junkie/weekend warrior)

  • November 27, 2018 at 5:19 am

    Thanks for this rich and thoughtful story. Brainjo’s many parts all make eminently good sense, practically/pedagogically speaking, but the background and reflection that you provide here will help a lot of us start thinking a little more about it all as you have thought about it. That’s likely a big step on the way to not just doing it, but also “getting it” and eventually becoming our own teachers.

    • December 26, 2018 at 8:22 pm

      Very well said, Eric. Thanks so much.

  • February 5, 2019 at 12:26 am

    Just from reading this introductory passage alone, I started to understand many reasons for my life’s challenges. Most of it marred by childhood trauma, the inability to function well and socialize, and also cancer and heart disease. Picked up banjo and guitar in my 40s (my new husband was a bluegrass musician) and i received a lot of support (which I couldn’t recognize). People said I had a gift because my pull-offs, etc were perfect from the start. I didn’t practice because every time I got better it scared me and I stopped playing. Also practice routines were poor. Now in my late 50s and finally seeing major improvements in my brain functioning and playing more. Also helped by cognitive behavioral therapist. I discovered Brainjo tunes and your thoughts on neuroplasticity, etc and now Intelligence Unshackled. You are helping me so much. I’m so grateful. If the pharmas did come up with better meds, maybe all these great projects wouldn’t have transpired! 🙂

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