Friday, April 30
My journey begins - I am starting a journey to Mount Everest where over the next few weeks I will be collecting “brain wave” or EEG data to examine the impact of altitude on the neural processes that underlie human decision-making. Simply put, we have known for quite some time that people make poor decisions at altitude – for example, the infamous Everest climbing disaster of 1996 wherein several climbers and guides died can be attributed to poor decision-making. For our project, I will be using a MUSE portable EEG system to collect brain wave data at various points on our ascent (see my Neuroscience Guy blog for details on EEG and EEG analysis). Our participants will be our expedition team – an international group of 24 scientists and students – all of whom will be studying various aspects of altitude related issues. In our study, after each day’s climb participants will play a series of decision-making games on a computer while we record EEG data. By examining participants EEG signals, we will be able to assess the decision-making systems in their brain – and importantly here, how altitude impacts these systems.
Not long ago, an opportunity opened up for us to conduct a rather cool additional study on this trip. My colleague and I, Gord Binsted, were given permission by the office of the Dalai Lama to collect EEG data from the Buddhist Monks at the Tengboche Monastery while they meditate. While previous studies have collected EEG data from monks during meditation – ours will be the first to collect EEG data while monks meditate in their natural habitat and further ours will be the first with a large sample size of participants - about 30 monks will be taking part in our study. We are collecting this data to gain further insight into “mindfulness” – or the brain wave state associated with meditation.
I am writing from the Vancouver International airport with a long journey ahead. I have already come from Calgary as I was in Banff last night to give the keynote talk at the BASICS conference. In a few hours, I will be flying to Frankfurt and then on to Dehli and finally onto Nepal. By my estimates, door to door it will be about 33 hours from the time I left Calgary. A long journey lies ahead, but I am excited and can’t wait to get to Nepal and begin the adventure!
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Olav Krigolson is a neuroscientist at the University of Victoria who has authored over 40 academic papers and given over 150 talks and presentations.