Aug 19, 2022

9-Volt Nirvana

Learn a new language faster than ever! Leave doubt in the dust! Be a better sniper! Could you do all that and more with just a zap to the noggin? Maybe.

Back in the early 2010s, Sally Adee, then an editor at New Scientist Magazine, went to a DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) conference and heard about a way to speed up learning with something called trans-cranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). A couple of years later, Sally found herself wielding an M4 assault rifle to pick off simulated enemy combatants with a battery wired to her temple. But that got then-producer Soren Wheeler thinking about this burgeoning world of electroceuticals, and if real, what limits will it reach.

For this episode, first aired back in 2014, we brought in Michael Weisend, then a neuroscientist at Wright State Research Institute, to tell us how it works (Bonus: you get to hear Jad get his brain zapped). And sat down with Peter Reiner and Nick Fitz, then at the University of British Columbia, to help us think through the consequences of a world where anyone with 20 dollars and access to a circuit board and a soldering iron, can make their own brain zapper. And then checked-in again to hear about the unexpected after-effects a day of super-charged sniper training can have on one mild-mannered science journalist.

Episode credits:

Reported by Sally Adee and Soren Wheeler
Original music by Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra

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LULU MILLER: Hello, Lulu Miller here. This week on Radiolab, we are rewinding to a far away time, a time when our North star, our editor in chief Soren Wheeler was but a young and green producer out in the field, getting tape, making it happen. In this episode, Soren tells the strange science fiction-y story of how a 9-volt battery can turn a mild-mannered journalist friend, Sally Adee, into a somewhat lethal weapon.

LULU: It's also a story about how the public used electricity from real 9-volt batteries to order up states of mind. But before I let you achieve this 9-volt nirvana, I wanted to let members of The Lab know about some bonus content coming your way. Landing very soon on the members' feed, you'll hear a few more secrets from whales. This is a companion conversation to our recent episode, The Humpback and The Killer. In this bonus conversation, producer Annie McEwen learns about how whales appear to have family reunions. And it's really lovely. So if you're not a member of The Lab but are Lab-curious, go to Radiolab.org/join and sign up not to miss out. And now onward to our story, 9-Volt Nirvana.

[RADIOLAB INTRO]

JAD ABUMRAD: This is Radiolab. Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

ROBERT KRULWICH: I'm Robert Krulwich.

SOREN WHEELER: I'm Soren Wheeler. And this ...

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Electricity. Elec-tri-ci-ty!]

TAPE SYNCHER: All right. If you wanna sit there.

SALLY ADEE: Okay.

TAPE SYNCHER: If you stick the phones on and start saying hello to someone. And I don’t know, can you hear anyone?

SALLY ADEE: Can I hear anyone?

SOREN: I don't know. Can you hear anyone?

SALLY ADEE: Oh, my God. Soren. Hi! [laughs]

TAPE SYNCHER: So you know this person.

SALLY ADEE: Thank you. Yes, I do. I do. [laughs]

SOREN: This is Sally Adee. She's a old friend of mine. 

SALLY ADEE: How are you? 

SOREN: We went to school together a long time ago, but these days she's an editor ...

SALLY ADEE: At New Scientist in London. 

SOREN: And the reason I called her into the studio is because of something that happened to her when she was working on a story for them.

SALLY ADEE: Yes. This was a story that I'd been chasing for years and years.

SOREN: It began for her …

SALLY ADEE: In 2007 at DARPA tech...

SOREN: Which is a big gathering of, like, weapons developers and researchers.

SALLY ADEE: It's like 5,000 guys, all, you know, looking like Agent Smith from The Matrix, you know, looking at the—the latest war toys.

SOREN: Drones, bazookas. Anyway, at some point she starts talking to this woman.

SALLY ADEE: And she was telling me about her program, which was that they had figured out how to apply a sort of electrical current to the brain in order to accelerate the learning process. And I was like, no [bleep]!

SOREN: So what Sally had stumbled into was something called TDCS. It stands for transcranial direct current stimulation. The idea is you take a couple little electrodes, you place them on your scalp, connect it with wires to a battery. You send a little bit of electricity into your brain and then all kinds of things happen if you believe the claims.

SALLY ADEE: But …

SOREN: For Sally, it started with a casual afternoon of ...

SALLY ADEE: Sniper training.

SOREN: So after that conversation at the conference, she tracked down a group in Carlsbad, California.

SALLY ADEE: It's about an hour and a half south of LA.

SOREN: Who were using this brain zapping stuff to train snipers.

SALLY ADEE: And I actually got New Scientist to agree to send me to LA from London, which is not an insignificant [laughs] expense.

SOREN: After a late night international flight and some LA traffic ...

SALLY ADEE: I haven't slept. I'm sleep deprived.

SOREN: Sally found herself at a place called Advanced Brain Monitoring, where they have a little room.

SALLY ADEE: This little room where they've set up a little sort of 360-degree training simulation. So it's kind of like a video game, but it's like the full—kind of like the full room in front of you. And so ...

SOREN: Like the whole wall is a screen?

SALLY ADEE: Yes.

SOREN: Not only that, she says, but all around you in this room are these props.

SALLY ADEE: You're behind real sandbags, you know, in proper position. They teach you how to hold the rifle properly.

SOREN: And the rifle, except for the fact that it shoots blanks, is basically the real deal.

SALLY ADEE: Yeah. And then it's got a laser—laser site.

SOREN: And they tell her, you know, okay, before we do this brain stimulation thing, we're actually gonna have you do some training without it. So they get her all set up. They put her behind the sandbags and they hit go.

SALLY ADEE: You know, at first it starts out with really easy stuff. Like you're shooting virtual targets that aren't people. Then it's quite—it's realistic. You get the [deeper gunshot sound] kickback from the CO2 cartridge, and then you get this, like, ding sound from when you hit the virtual metal target.

SOREN: And then it starts getting harder. So there's people instead of targets and then more and more people.

SALLY ADEE: Until the highest level is you are at a checkpoint, like an Iraqi checkpoint. And everything's fine. And then all of a sudden, the Humvee in front of you blows up, and then from all over the place dozens of people in suicide bomb vests start running at you with their rifles shooting you. And I'm just being blown up. I can't—I can't make the decisions fast enough.

SOREN: She said there were just too many of them. She couldn't figure out who to shoot first.

SALLY ADEE: It was so—oh, God! And I was so tired and I was so jet lagged, and I was so bad at it. And it's funny because you think, like, oh, whatever, it's a video game, but it's amazing how stressful that gets.

SOREN: And at a certain point, the stress started getting to her.

SALLY ADEE: I was like, all right, stop. Let's just end this.

SOREN: And she started thinking like, what the hell am I doing here anyway?

SALLY ADEE: Like, oh my God, this isn't gonna be a story. And really, you just flew out to California for this?

MICHAEL WEISEND: She was not very good at it, and it kind of stressed her out.

SOREN: And then this guy walked in the room.

SALLY ADEE: Yes.

SOREN: Mike Weisend.

SALLY ADEE: Mike Weisend.

SOREN: He's a neuroscientist.

SALLY ADEE: He looks like Greg Allman. He's got that, like, super long hair.

MICHAEL WEISEND: I am fairly clean cut at the moment, but I had hair down to my belt buckle.

SALLY ADEE: So Mike Weisend has put together this contraption.

JAD: What is that big box that's sitting in your lap there?

MICHAEL WEISEND: So this is a big red toolbox that we got literally from Sears.

JAD: Mike was actually passing through New York City, so we invited him into the studio.

MICHAEL WEISEND: And we have electrodes that allow us to deliver current.

JAD: You have a bunch of wires I saw.

MICHAEL WEISEND: Yeah. And a whole bunch of batteries.

SALLY ADEE: So …

MICHAEL WEISEND: So we take a set of electrodes …

SALLY ADEE: … one electrode is attached to my right temple.

MICHAEL WEISEND: Yep.

SALLY ADEE: And the other electrode is attached by a different wire to my left arm.

MICHAEL WEISEND: And we turn on the juice.

SOREN: Did it hurt?

SALLY ADEE: It wasn't so much that. I suddenly tasted metal in my mouth. It tastes—it tasted like I had licked the inside of an aluminum can. And then he's like, "All right. Try it again." I'm like, "Ugh!" I'm not exactly expecting different results. So they—they start me out again right at the really hard checkpoint one. The thing blows up, and then people start coming from all over the place. And I—I feel like they must have put it on an easy setting. Everything is just a little more straightforward. It's more obvious who I should pick off first.

 

SALLY ADEE: And I'm thinking to myself a little bit, like, you know, when is this gonna get really hard again? And then the, you know, intern or whoever comes in and turns on the lights. She's like, "Okay, you're done." I'm like, "Well, wait, that's not—that's not what—I've only been here for, like, three minutes." She's like, "No, no, no. That was 20 minutes." I'm like, "No, that's not true." And I look up, and the clocks have all shifted by 20 minutes. And I swear to God, it was three minutes.

MICHAEL WEISEND: So almost every person that we put this on says they get into what they call a "state of flow," where they don't recognize that the time is going by, they're just, boom, boom, boom, boom.

SALLY ADEE: And I was like, "Did you guys make it easier?" They're like, "No, same—same level." I'm like, "I think you guys made it easier." [laughs]

MICHAEL WEISEND: When Sally did it with brain stimulation, she performed at 100 percent accuracy.

SALLY ADEE: A hundred percent. I didn't leave anyone alive.

JAD: How—what was she before?

MICHAEL WEISEND: I don't know, but she wasn't very good.

SOREN: Roughly three out of 20 the first time and 20 outta 20 the second.

MICHAEL WEISEND: Yeah.

JAD: So wait, so you're saying with just electricity, she went from being, like, totally inept to, like, a trained killer?

MICHAEL WEISEND: Well, it's an N of one, so we—we can't go too far, but …

SOREN: I mean, this was just Sally's experience during this one demo. So it's not like a controlled study. But Mike has now used this device in a bunch of studies for the military.

MICHAEL WEISEND: Yep.

SOREN: For example, he had one study with people looking at those ...

MICHAEL WEISEND: Grainy black and white radar images.

SOREN: … trying to pick out, you know, what's an enemy vehicle and what isn't. And if he puts this device on their head, while they're trying to learn how to do that ...

MICHAEL WEISEND: We can double the rate of learning.

ROBERT: Really?

JAD: Well, how? I mean, what is it doing?

MICHAEL WEISEND: Okay, so what I think is that early on when you are learning something ...

SOREN: Mike says that when you're trying to learn how to do something that's kind of tough, what's happening is that you're trying a bunch of different things.

MICHAEL WEISEND: You try all kinds of different ways to solve the problem.

SOREN: And occasionally, your brain is stumbling across an ideal sequence of neurons. Every so often as you're practicing, all of a sudden your brain is like, "Oh, this then this then this and this. Okay. That's it." But then it struggles to find that again, and it keeps messing up and whatever. And if you look at an expert brain, you'll actually see that preferred circuit dialed in. Like, they just do that over and over and over again, no more stumbling around. And so what Mike does is he figures out where that circuit is and he gives it a little extra ...

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Elec-tri-city!]

SOREN: … juice.

MICHAEL WEISEND: To, in essence, prime the pump.

SOREN: So that that expert circuit is more likely to fire, and you're more likely to stumble into it. And when you do stumble into it, you're more likely to stick with it.

MICHAEL WEISEND: That's right. That's how we think it works.

JAD: But are you—are you sure of what you're hitting? I mean, like, you're putting electricity on the outside of people's heads, so are you able to target just a small cluster of brain cells? Or is it a region that you're hitting or, like, a thousand cells?

MICHAEL WEISEND: What I'm talking—what I'm talking about is millions of cells. Yeah.

JAD: That's a—that's a lot.

MICHAEL WEISEND: Yeah.

ROBERT: Is that precise enough to—to target the place where a task is being done in a brain, if it's a million?

MICHAEL WEISEND: In our work, yes.

SOREN: And Mike claims that even though it's a blunt tool …

MICHAEL WEISEND: Yeah. This is not a scalpel. This is a sledgehammer.

SOREN: … if you know the right group of neurons or region of the brain to target, this can work with almost any task.

MICHAEL WEISEND: If you want to target visual, spatial learning, for example, searching an image, you'd put this on the right side of your head, roughly near the temple. But if you wanted to learn textual material, you can put this on the left side of your head and it will have a similar effect.

JAD: If you want to learn textual material ...

ROBERT: It can't be true.

MICHAEL WEISEND: No, it really … [laughs]

ROBERT: You mean if I'm-—if I want to learn irregular verbs in French, I get one of your things, I stick on the part of my head that is good for grammar?

MICHAEL WEISEND: We haven't tested it with learning foreign languages, but if a native English speaker is learning a long English sentence, they can recall it with greater fidelity if they have this on their head while they study those sentences. And if you go right parietal, back over just behind your ear and up above your ear, you can learn math better.

ROBERT: [laughs]

JAD: We were all kind of like, "Ah, I don't know." But since Mike had his device there with him ...

SOREN: Should we try it?

MICHAEL WEISEND: Sure. I'm ready.

JAD: We thought, yeah, let's try it and see for ourselves.

JAD: Do you wanna do it, Robert?

ROBERT: I don't know. I mean, I don't ...

JAD: Robert actually pretended he had an appointment and he left. But me?

MICHAEL WEISEND: Taking one for the team here.

JAD: I don't do fear.

JAD: Do I need to be seated for this or I can stand?

MICHAEL WEISEND: Yeah, you should be seated.

JAD: I should be seated.

ROBERT: Stick around because we are going to put electricity right into the man's head. And I'm talking about Jad.

JAD: All right. So you've got here in front of me, you have two little circles. Electrodes. Is that what these are?

MICHAEL WEISEND: Yep.

JAD: Red wires and black wires. So I get two of these on my head?

MICHAEL WEISEND: One on your upper arm.

JAD: One on my upper arm?

MICHAEL WEISEND: And one ...

JAD: For the demo ...

JAD: Just caught my…

JAD: Mike showed me a bunch of stereograms.

JAD: All right. So what am I doing here? I'm looking at a bunch of marbles. A million of them in some kind of repeating pattern.

JAD: Like, you know, these things Robert, like, where you're staring at this 2D picture of, like, I don't know, repeating pattern of marbles or something, and you're supposed to unfocus your eyes in just the right way so that a 3D picture will somehow emerge from the background?

ROBERT: Yeah.

JAD: These things make me—my eyes go batty.

JAD: So the idea of this demo was like, let's see if I can train my eyes to figure out how to pull the 3D picture out.

MICHAEL WEISEND: You see it? I didn't get it.

JAD: Yeah. I ain't got nothing.

JAD: I have never been good at these. I mean, I get headaches when I go to 3D movies. And it took me like 10 minutes to get one.

JAD: That's a butterfly. There he is. Whoa, that's cool!

JAD: Just to see, like, just one.

JAD: Well, look at that. All right. So now you can juice me.

MICHAEL WEISEND: System check. All right. I'm gonna turn it on.

JAD: Okay. Okay, I don't feel anything yet. Ooh, yeah. Okay. There it is. Ah!

MICHAEL WEISEND: What does it feel like?

JAD: It feels like a bunch of mosquitoes are biting me in my temple.

JAD: It's—I could taste it now, too.

MICHAEL WEISEND: Some people get that, yeah. We don't know what that is.

JAD: All right, so now I'm gonna—I'm gonna look at the stereoscopic images one more time. Here we are. We've got a green and pink—whoa! That just became a world. Look at that!

JAD: Suddenly a 3D globe just pops outta the background.

JAD: Okay, next one. [laughs] All right. So now I'm looking at a big green grass.

JAD: Blades of grass, repeating, repeating, repeating.

JAD: Let's see. Whoa! Swans. I see swans. Origami swans.

JAD: 3D swans. Next one.

JAD: Now I'm looking at a good—sort of a trippy Paisley background and Bambi!

JAD: 3D Bambi. Next one.

JAD: All right. Now we have flower background.

JAD: Sort of yellow and pink flower tiling background.

JAD: Whoa! Boxes. Boxes floating in space.

JAD: Next.

JAD: Whoa! A little ballerina doing a handstand on the balance beam. Robots! Little Hershey's kisses popping right out. A star! They're coming out really fast. Mmm, big pretzel. This is awesome. Coiled snake.

MICHAEL WEISEND: So anyway …

JAD: Wow!

MICHAEL WEISEND: That's the—that's what it feels like to get your brain juiced up.

JAD: Okay. I definitely felt like I could—you couldn't give them to me fast enough. I was like, "Another one! Another one! Another one." So maybe that's a flow state, like you were describing. I don't know.

MICHAEL WEISEND: Yeah.

JAD: I feel very, very awake.

JAD: Okay. So in the end I ended up doing something like 50 stereograms in a really short amount of time.

ROBERT: Wow.

JAD: So I definitely think something was going on, but I have to be honest. I mean, I was—I was skeptical.

ROBERT: You were skeptical even when you were flying free?

JAD: Well, it's like—it's—I don't entirely trust the experience I had, because it could simply be like a placebo. It could be adrenaline. I don't know.

SOREN: Yeah. I mean, that's the thing. It just—no matter what, it just seems like the next flavor of new age thing. So …

PETER REINER: Hello?

SOREN: Hey.

SOREN: I started calling around.

PETER REINER: My name is Peter Reiner, and I'm a professor at the University of British Columbia.

SOREN: Cool.

SOREN: So—so Peter Reiner actually studies this whole field. He looks at public perception and the quality of research. And I just basically asked him, you know, is this for real?

SOREN: Like, if you have a healthy brain and you put a little electricity into it, has it been proven that that will enhance learning or whatever else they claim? 

PETER REINER: Well, maybe the best way to answer that is that part of the reason that there's all this interest is that TDCS appears to be relatively effective.

SOREN: And he says this is based on a lot of different studies in a lot of different areas.

PETER REINER: But the key to what I just said is "relatively." And so the caveat that I have to add is that pretty much all of the studies that have been done to date are relatively small.

SOREN: He says it's early days, and the studies that have been done have only been done with a few subjects.

PETER REINER: Maybe 20 people. Larger studies, 40 or 50.

SOREN: Now a lot of these studies do find a positive effect, but if you're a hard-nosed scientist, you know, those small sample sizes aren't enough to make a very big claim. Even so …

[ARCHIVE CLIP, YouTube: Turn it on. Moment of truth.]

SOREN: The cat's kind of already out of the bag, because if you go on YouTube ...

[ARCHIVE CLIP, YouTube: White flash. Really brief, really quick. That's cool.]

SOREN: You can find a surprisingly large number of videos of people experimenting with these devices.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, YouTube: I instantly feel very good, very calm, very safe. Not really worried about anything.]

SOREN: A lot of the videos show you how to make your own.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, YouTube: First, we'll start with the circuit diagram.]

SOREN: You just go to Radio Shack and buy a few simple parts.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, YouTube: There's the battery. That's gonna be your nine volt.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, YouTube: And here's a few alligator clips since I don't have any solder with me. Although I ...]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, YouTube: … have a switch in the circuit.]

SOREN: I mean, YouTube just seems to be filled with people who are trying to hotwire their own brain.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, YouTube: So for the past year, I've been wanting to increase my brain power since I have probably below average brain power compared to normal people.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, YouTube: I want to study neurosciences, but as many of you, I don't have the resources to go to the school right now.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, YouTube: So what I like to do is I like to use TDCS while I'm learning my vocabulary list.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, YouTube: All right. So I want to give you an update on using TDCS to learn a foreign language.]

NICK FITZ: People are using this for a whole range of things, given how flexible the technique is.

SOREN: That's Nick Fitz. He works with Peter Reiner, the guy we talked to earlier. And he says not only can you do a lot of different kinds of things with this device, on top of that, it's dirt cheap.

NICK FITZ: So let's say in the time that it takes me to listen to one of your episodes, I could probably go to the store, come back and build a TDCS device for around $20.

SOREN: For $20?

NICK FITZ: Right. And so I'm—as I said, I'm …

SOREN: I mean, is that something that makes you nervous?

NICK FITZ: I'll say first, I think the DIY community is quite thoughtful. But it does make me nervous. There's some people that report loss of consciousness after using it. There are some people that are reporting feeling burns.

SOREN: There's actually one report of somebody going temporarily blind. This guy on YouTube …

[ARCHIVE CLIP, YouTube: So …]

SOREN: Young, Asian kid.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, YouTube: … I've been experimenting on where—which places on my head would improve memory.]

SOREN: He talks about how he spent a year kind of experimenting with it. He put it in one place and …

[ARCHIVE CLIP, YouTube: After about five minutes, I felt really—like, really angry and depressed.]

SOREN: Put it in another place …

[ARCHIVE CLIP, YouTube: That got me a really high score on Lumosity. And I've only been stimulating my brain for about five minutes.]

SOREN: It's like he's playing Russian roulette with that thing.

ROBERT: Ay, yi, yi.

SOREN: Which brings up the larger point, you know, that this device is kind of impossibly hard to regulate because a kid like this can put it anywhere he wants on his head, and if he moves it just a couple of inches, it could have a drastically different effect.

PETER REINER: And that's really what is a—a concern.

SOREN: Because according to Peter Reiner, while we might like to think of the brain as being a bunch of separate circuits that do separate tasks, really it's an ecosystem. Every part affects every other part in some way.

PETER REINER: And when you put your electrodes on the head, you affect in theory, a small area of the brain right under the electrodes. But it's already been shown that that effect can then multiply and spread throughout the nervous system, even down to your spinal cord.

JAD: Huh.

SOREN: I mean, there's a theory out there. It's called the zero sum theory of the brain that some people use as a framework for thinking about all this, which is like, you know, one part goes up, another part goes—like, there's only so much juice in the brain. So if you send juice one direction, there's less juice somewhere else.

JAD: Huh. So then if you were enhancing one part, you're by definition diminishing another.

SOREN: Maybe, and to be honest …

SALLY ADEE: There was definitely an after effect.

SOREN: This is kind of why I ended up talking to Sally about this. Why I got so interested in this piece in the first place is because of what happened to her after the sniper training.

SALLY ADEE: So driving down from LA to Carlsbad to go do this was an absolute nightmare. I hadn't driven in like a year, because I've been living in London where I just do public transportation. But on the way up it's kind of like—I mean, I hate to compare it to Mario Kart, but it's just this extremely pleasant experience. I feel like I drove better that day than I ever drove before. Like, it was very obvious where I could pass people without irritating them, and just—I don't know. It's a weird—it's a weird memory, but I think I had more fun driving that day than I ever did since.

SOREN: And at some point she realized it wasn't just about her driving ability.

SALLY ADEE: So I would say that—I mean, I don't know how much I want to get into sort of in public on the radio about, you know, being a bit anxious. I mean, I guess that's not particularly controversial. Probably all writers, like, are sort of riddled with anxiety. But, you know, I have this constant struggle with all the little angry gnomes in my head, you know, populating my head and telling me, like, all the things that I don't do right and, you know, all the things that I've done wrong that day. They just keep this incredibly, like, comprehensive tally of them. [laughs] And then, you know, the ones who worry about the future and, you know, the ones who tell me I'm gonna be living in a cardboard box in a year. I mean, it's just like an amazing cacophony.

SOREN: But, she says, sitting in that car …

SALLY ADEE: They were—they were just completely turned off I think for a couple of days, and it was a really, you know ...

SOREN: Really? For a couple days?

SALLY ADEE: For a couple of days. And to tell you the truth, it was kind of like everything just—I was just this person that I hadn't experienced before. And I thought maybe this is the actual sort of core person who I am when I'm not—when all my baggage isn't just weighing on me. It was like somebody had wiped a really steamy window, and I was just able to look at the world for what it was.

SOREN: And I was curious whether, like, there's a connection there. That, like, to be a good performer of some task goes along with shutting down the parts of yourself that say, "I don't know. I don't think. Maybe I can't. Maybe I shouldn't." And that, like, there's actually a real connection between amping up one and tamping down the other.

JAD: I mean, it makes sense because if you're giving one circuit more power, you might be taking away from other places.

SOREN: Yeah.

JAD: It's funny. I mean, it does—I find this, like, you know, since you and I have just been on stage, Robert?

ROBERT: Mm-hmm.

JAD: One of the things I struggle with most during the performances is I'm sitting there, we're both sitting there, we've got our scripts. And I have this box of buttons, and I have to remember which buttons do what things. And there's like the musicians, and I have to figure out where they come in and out. And all of these things, they become competing voices.

ROBERT: Yeah.

JAD: They become these little chattering gnomes as Sally puts it, in my head. And I'm like, "Wait. When does that hit? Okay, now when does that come in? Where are we? What—what's happening? Oh, my God. You're—you're messing this up. Jad, come on! Oh, why do you keep doing?" And I get, like, kind of crazy. Sometimes during a show, I can't actually even focus on what you're saying. It's not a good feeling. And then there are other times where something happens. It's almost like a mode, and suddenly it's like right there. I know I—I'm right with you. It's the easiest thing in the world to listen to what you're saying and respond instinctively and in the moment. And they literally feel like different chemical modes. Or maybe electrical modes. You know what I mean?

ROBERT: That's really—that's—that's very interesting to me because I mean, going back to the performance stuff, you can't really make it happen. I mean, I guess you could, I suppose, but it—it doesn't feel that way. It feels like it's somehow …

JAD: It feels like it's a gift, you know? Like, "Oh, thank you, universe. I feel really awake and present right now. Thank you." What happens when it's an expectation? You know, what happens to our—the way in which we move through the world if we can just—if we can create that on demand?

SOREN: If we can order it up?

ROBERT: Yeah.

SOREN: But I mean, it's—I think the gift versus ordering it up is—that's pretty deep to me. I mean, I don't—I feel like in a world where you order things up, then you're in a world where you think you deserve things or you think you've earned them or you think other people haven't.

ROBERT: Yeah. I agree with that completely.

SOREN: That's a—that's a world that's empty of true gratitude.

SALLY ADEE: To tell you the truth, one of the really worrying things to me was afterward how—how much I craved doing it again. It felt like a drug with no side effect. I mean, I don't know if I'm gonna get addicted to electricity [laughs]. It seems unlikely, but …

SOREN: Gotta get some, man! [laughs]

SALLY ADEE: Shoplifting batteries [laughs]

SOREN: Licking them. [laughs]

SALLY ADEE: [laughs]

SOREN: In the supermarket corner, licking 9-volt batteries [laughs].

JAD: Thank you, Soren.

SOREN: No problem. And thanks a lot to Sally Adee.

ROBERT: So time to say goodbye. I'm Robert Krulwich.

JAD: I'm Jad Abumrad.

ROBERT: Thanks for listening.

[LISTENER: Radiolab was created by Jad Abumrad, and is edited by Soren Wheeler. Lulu Miller and Latif Nasser are our co-hosts. Suzie Lechtenberg is our executive producer. Dylan Keefe is our director of sound design. Our staff includes: Simon Adler, Jeremy Bloom, Becca Bressler, Rachael Cusick, W. Harry Fortuna, David Gebel, Maria Paz Gutiérrez, Sindhu Gnanasambandan, Matt Kielty, Annie McEwen, Alex Neason, Sarah Qari, Anna Rascouët-Paz, Sarah Sandbach, Arianne Wack, Pat Walters and Molly Webster. With help from Bowen Wang. Our fact-checkers are Diane Kelly, Emily Krieger and Natalie Middleton.]

[LISTENER: This is Joel Mosbacher calling from New York City. Leadership support for Radiolab's Science programming is provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Science Sandbox—a Science Foundation initiative, and the John Templeton Foundation. Foundational support for Radiolab was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.]

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