Human Excellence, Neuroscience and The Platypus Institute with David Bach, Founder and President: Platypus Institute
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: I really thank you for tuning in and I welcome you to go to outcomesrocket.health/reviews you rate and review. Today's podcast because we had a magnificent guest. He has done so much in health care by starting many different companies. He's a physician. He was a physician, frontline for some time. His particular expertise is in Applied Neuroscience and he's doing some pretty interesting work currently at the Platypus Institute. But let me tell you a little bit about the special guest. His name is Dr. David Bach. He's a Harvard trained neuroscientist and he's the founder of the Platypus Institute,a New York City based research and training institution focused on the question of how neuroscience can be practically applied to radically enhance cognitive functioning and the human experience. He's got much success to discuss. But right now his core focus is this and what I love about David is that he's a physician that's very focused on wellness. He's got a wonderful story that we're going to dive into as well as his work at the Platypus Institute. Lots to cover here. But what I want to do is open up the microphone to David to fill in any of the gaps in that introduction that I missed. Welcome to the podcast.
: Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here.
: And the other thing that I want to mention is that David also has a podcast which by the way if you wanna excel what you do in your life, it's called Neuronfire podcast. He interviews world's leading neuroscientists and elite performers that I think you'll find very intriguing. We'll leave you a link to that below. But David tell us about your story. Tell us about you?
: Well first of all thank you very much for the kind introduction. I kind of have. Two stories that ran in parallel that got me to the point where I wanted to start the Platypus Pnstitute so I guess you'd call it the external story is a pretty traditional I guess physician executive route so I went to Harvard College. I went to Harvard Medical School. I practiced medicine. I did science a lot of work in cancer research left and then went into business was a venture capitalist and then started a bunch of companies. And so that's the kind of resume story the parallel track though is an internal journey. I've been on in the last 15 years and this is probably what's most relevant that guided me to start the path of this institute. So around 15 years ago I hit a low point in my life. So that's the point when I had just started my first company I had left academia. And the bottom line is it was really not going well you know as I told you I had a history of you know at least from other people's perspective success but at this point I just couldn't make the company go anywhere we were doing okay on a revenue perspective but the problem was our expenses were a lot higher than the revenues and break it out. And I was working like 15 or 16 hours a day and just chronically exhausted I and I was just drinking coffee like by the gallon. And not only that I hit a point in my life where for the first time in my life my body started to give out on me. And I just didn't know what to do and there was one morning it's 6:00 AM I'm looking at myself in a bathroom mirror and I said to myself I said, OK David, enough, you know something needs to change.
: And it was just this bizarre thing and I had this thought as I was looking at myself and I said wait a second David you're a trained scientist. What if you approach this problem this moment from a scientific perspective saw that that was the moment that basically changed my life and began my journey into what I now do. Because from that point you see I started to look at myself differently I looked at myself objectively the way a scientist would look at a lab rat. And so I mean this is a bit of a strange story but the first thing I did as I started to do what any scientist would do so I started to collect data about myself. So I collected my brainwave data and I looked at my heart rate and I looked at my thoughts and my posture and my breathing you know what was I looking for it was I was looking for patterns you know something that I could scientifically measure that correlate with you know how much my life sucked right and you know and ask those patterns started to emerge. The next thing I did is I started to do experiments on myself to say OK can you change these things.
: And you know as I'm sure you can imagine through that process I learned a whole lot about myself and you know I obviously went down a bunch of rabbit hole. But what I can report to you is this the guy talking to you today is an unrecognizably different man than you would have met 15 years ago. So for example I turned around my health and I'm sure you know you can measure your body's biological age or just to measure of how old your body is based on your blood chemistry and not your chronology. Right. And what I could tell you is my biological age today is four years younger than it was 10 years ago when I stop. I know it's crazy. I you know if you do that math correctly 15 years from now I'm going to be eight. I'm kidding.
: I was going to say.
: But it's really beautiful and you know I turned around my cognitive function. I became happy. And in fact I turned around my business as a result of that you know by stretching myself mentally by stretching myself physically. I became a different guy who was then able to find his way toward taking this company. We grew it up to a hundred and thirty five million dollars in sales and significant profitability and then I did that with a couple other companies. So I I'm kind of like the hair club for men guys I'm the first customer of a scientific approach to rewiring and it had a very powerful impact.
: That's such an interesting story.
: I know it's bizarre but.
: And The one thing that I do is I know you want to continue David but I do want to highlight listeners in the light of all the things that we do like David. We all have an internal and external story right. In a lot of times we're so focused on that external story. As healthcare leaders how could we improve this. How could we reshape that. How can we help patients feel better. How can we improve the finances at the expense of our internal story. And so I love that David shared this very personal story about himself and the transition. I think every one of us can identify with him and the things that he went to David continue please.
: Actually I am just building on what you just said. I guess what I will tell you is the discovery I made through this process and probably a dozen years ago and this was really the discovery that changed my life is you know speaking about this internal story is that you and I, we've got unconscious patterns right that is. Yes hatters that we have no conscious awareness about and those patterns have a huge impact on how we show up in life. You know that's things like how we hold our body how we breathe our automatic reaction to stimuli and the like. And what I discovered is because those unconscious patterns have such a profound impact on how we show up in life, we characterize measure and change those patterns. Our life can get better quite profoundly without any additional effort. And that's really that's really the insight that drove me personally and I think the insight that is is driving our work at Platypus.
: Super insightful and definitely want to dive into this and folks just want to highlight that David the three companies that he founded they all grew to be more than 100 million dollar enterprises venture capital. Now there's no doubt what he's doing produces not only internal but external results and impacts society in a very positive way. I'd love to dive into what you do at the Platypus Institute David. But first why platypus?
: So I don't know if you know anything about the platypus it's indigenous to Australia but what I love about that animal is it's made up of multiple component parts that don't normally go together and so it's got a duck feel about an Otter Tail and that's a mammal but it lays eggs and that's waterborne and that's got a poisonous Spore and the list goes on and so
: Australian animal right?
: Amalgam of multiple things that don't fit together and so when we named platypus we liked it as a metaphor because we see ourselves as doing something similar where we're kind of neither fish or fowl were glomming together a bunch of unconnected pieces to create what we think is a new and exciting opportunity. But the other thing about it is you know we're a scientific organisation and people like us we have this tendency sometimes to take ourselves a bit too seriously and so we kind of like it because it's whimsical and it's it's just really hard to look someone in the eye and say I worked at the Platypus Institute, seriously?
: Yeah right.
: It's like you know now that I've been through this whole entrepreneurial journey a bunch of times it's really important to me that we have fun. So you know I was telling you earlier we have a little stuffed platypus and every time we have company retreats we put the platypus up there in a leadership role so that we know kind of who we work for, you know.
: It's fun, it's really fun. You know I have to tell you. I know you listen to the podcast with Andy Walsh. Yes. To prepare for this fascinating. And he's a really cool guy and when I started this I didn't think I would be able to get him because he didn't know me and I just cold called the guy and they said I'm starting this thing called the Platypus Institute. And he told and he's from Australia and he.
: Wow cool.
: And he took the call is because anyone who names themselves after an Australian animal is going to be.
: I love it. And folks, Andy, he's in charge of all the amazing things that happen with Red Bull athletes and as David astutely put it in that episode. He teaches them how to fly and I'll provide a link to that episode something that you should definitely take a listen to. That's super interesting and congrats on getting him on the podcast.
: It was phenomenal. I was so proud of him because I think I think he went a whole three minutes without swearing which for him was an accounting record.
: That's awesome. So let's dive a little bit deeper David into the platypus Institute. What is it that you guys do. Why should the listeners be intrigued?
: It'll take me a few minutes to answer that question. So let me start with what we do at a high level give you an example and then talk about what I think the implications are which is pretty big. So what we do for a living as you said in the introduction is we try to translate neuroscience research into practical applications to upgrade human performance and to upgrade the human experience. You know it's funny. Back when I started my first company I was at a conference in Silicon Valley and it was talking about the future of technology and I'll never forget there was this Silicon Valley investor a very famous accomplished guy who got up there and he said I predict that ten years from now mobile technology is going to be pervasive. It's going to effectively replace the computer. People are not only going to look at e-mails but they're going to be searching on the Internet they're going to use that to connect with each other not only through telephone calls and it's going to become a new mode of communicating. And I remember sitting in the audience just rolling my eyes and saying this will never happen. And even if it does one thing I'll tell you for sure is I'm not going to be one of those guys carrying a device like that around. You know. Of course now. Everything I do is through my iPhone. Right.
: That's some foresight.
: So I. It was amazing. Why is it that he and everybody you worked with knew that was going to happen while I I mean I ran a kind of a health care tech company that I had no idea. And the answer is he was in the middle of the science and he saw what was happening about it. He saw the implications, he saw the impact on consumers. And so for him it was blindingly obvious that this would soon become pervasive. Now the reason I tell you that story is that's where I am today with Applied Neuroscience. The fact of the matter is 10 years from now what I do is going to wind up being pervasive worldwide. That is people will be using neuro technology in a way that they are fundamentally rewiring and upgrading their brains and it's going to be pervasive like the internet and mobile phones simply because it is so incredibly powerful and it's a really kind of exciting place to be. So let me go back and tell you practically speaking what I'm talking about and I'll just tell you a case study about this. So I would imagine you might have you've heard of the notion of neuroplasticity?
: Right. So the history is when I went to medical school we were taught the adult brain is fixed right? That essentially after your kid your brain takes on a certain shape and then it just doesn't change. Now since that time neuroscience researchers have demonstrated that that conclusion is just completely wrong. Our brain is continually rewiring itself in response to stimuli. And so what it looks like today is very different than what it may look like a year from now or even a month from now and that rewiring happens throughout the lifetime so you can see that even in very elderly people. About 10 years ago neuroscientist started to ask the question well OK if the brain can be rewired can we do stuff to it to induce that rewiring that is to kind of make it go from point A to Point B? And so they said what can we do things like accelerating learning speeds where you're trying to learn a new language or you're trying to learn a new skill? Can you speed up the process and speed? Can you reduce cognitive decline that comes with aging and they started building a series of technologies in order to do that. So I'll give you the classic experiment which was done. And this is probably a dozen years ago. It was done out of DARPA which is the defense agency research program that does all the sort of secret stuff, they're the ones who did the original work for the Internet and so on. This was done by the chief science officer at Platypus Amy Cruz. And what she did and it was a pretty revolutionary study back then and she asked the question is there a difference in the brains of experts and novices and she studied a bunch of tasks and the one that was the most important to the military was shooting, and a shooting a gun. So she took a bunch of elite snipers. She put sensors on their head and on her chest and so on. And she looked up what happened when they took a perfect shot. And then she took a control group of people who didn't really know how to hold a gun. These were people who were just come into the military who were being taught and what she discovered and it was a big discovery is that there is a signature brain pattern associated with the lead shooting. That is you take the perfect shot your brain always looks the same. And that way your brain looks is radically different from the brain of somebody who's never shot. So it's a trained state. Yes. That comes through practice. She asked the second question which was even more exciting and she said, "OK now that I know what an expert brain looks like could I do something with technology to accelerate the process for people learning how to become expert snipers?" So she built what's called a neuro feedback paradigm and what she did is she just put a headset on somebody measured whether they were in the zone or not and then gave them feedback saying you're in the zone, you're not in the zone, you're in the zone you're not in the zone. And she did it in a whole bunch of ways she did it with haptic feedback where it would buzz on their body. She gave them visual feedback and what she found is she could radically accelerate the process for people to become experts snipers basically with an hour of training. She could get them 85 percent of the way there. And not only that she.
: Experts and she could make them better snipers just by teaching them what they're like when they get a perfect shot so that they got much more consistent at it. This was a big deal. And so then you know that was the beginning. And since that point in laboratory settings. So people have done things like doubling the brain's processing speed, tripling learning speed for a many many things like language learning quadrupling memory dramatically reducing cognitive decline. And we're just beginning. And it's not all neurofeedback. There's a lot of techniques. But the bottom line is what we're doing is we're measuring what an optimal brain looks like and then using technology to induce rewiring to get the brain to that state. And the end result is we are now building I guess you'd call it the capability to rewire the human brain, to bring it up to levels of performance and experience that no one has ever conceived of. And that's actually just the beginning. We're also doing things where we're learning to connect brains to other brains connect brains to computers connect brains to the Internet of Things. So it's a very exciting world where in essence 20 years from now probably 10-20 years from now the experience of being human is going to be fundamentally altered because of neuroscience and neurotechnology what we're calling neuro performance technology.
: Super fascinating David and there's no doubt that through the process you're definitely improving outcomes for the people that are there doing these things. You mentioned I read on your site that you're working in some examples include like peak performance athletes, elite Wall Street traders. You're helping them take their games to the next level. How is it that you're doing it right. I'm sure that audiences still left with the question of how what mechanisms are used?
: So let's just talk about those two examples. So in athletics let's take basketball for example. I would give you two examples in basketball where neuroscience directly impacts people and by the way this is true in every athletic endeavor but it's different by sport. And so I'll give you the most obvious one. Think about free throw shooting.
: In NBA, you see some people who have free throw percentages in the low 90s, 91, 92, 93%. But you've got other really good basketball players who shoot 65 70 75 percent The same exact technology that was used to train snipers can be used to train free throws. It's exactly the same thing you get into a zone. You can teach yourself to get there. And through neuroscience, you can rewire people's brains so that you can you know I think pretty consistently take someone who's shooting 70 percent and get them into the low 80s. And if you think about the economic impact for a player or a team that's huge. That's actually a small example. Here's another one remember I told you you can accelerate the processing speed of a brain. Yes. It's the same thing as this processing speed of a computer. And there's different processing speeds. You process visual stuff and you process auditory stuff. But let's talk about visual stuff. If I take the worst NBA player out there, there are visual processing speed is about eight times as fast as mine. So when we test them they can see stuff. I can't even begin to see it's crazy
: But I'll also tell you is the processing speed for the best people in the NBA is 32 times as fast as mine. Right. So there's a threefold difference. And then if you build a correlation analysis and you say what does that processing speed correlate in anything it turns out it correlates immensely with a number of points they score per minute is specifically assists and steals. So your ability to play in the NBA and generate assistance steals, number of assistance steals per minute is directly tied to the visual process and speed because you're just trying to anticipate where the ball is faster than someone else. Amazing. And so it's a right. I mean it sounds silly but athletes all know that mental capacity has a huge impact on performance. We can measure that. And so the fact is we know now here is a metric you know the same as body fat or heart rate that you can measure which is tied to performance and we can somewhere between 50 and 100 percent improvement in visual processing speed for any athlete and that translates directly into points. And so you can imagine if you're a professional athlete, you can't afford to not do this and what you're seeing is it's just starting to work its way in. But the best football players in the basket basketball players are now spending a bunch of their time during neurocognitive training because just like weightlifting are just like running. It's training their brain to allow them to be happy.
: Yeah and you know one of the things to David thanks for walking us through that and if we take a look at the you know this is the athletic side of things and we take a look at for example in your in your analysis here you got the physical part but then you also have the neuro scientific part. The same is true when going to your primary care doctor on a yearly basis you go, you get a checkup. Why not go and get a mental health checkup. I think it's just as important and this should become more routine.
: Yeah I think our belief is that ten years from now there are going to be probably five years from now, there'll be a set of brain vital signs which are standard in most medical offices. Right now, this stuff is still kind of laboratory based but there is I can't even tell you how much venture capital money is getting poured into this. And I think it's essentially inevitable that there is going to be very affordable rapid testing where most people are going to just have seven or eight key metrics about their brain measured.
: That's exciting. I always had a sense.
: I was actually just on the phone yesterday. I don't want to give his name because I don't know if he wants it but with you know let's say one of the most famous scientists in in neuroscience and he was talking about exactly that and we're very confident that that's going to be affordable. And when you look at research, what you will see is there's actually tremendous consumer appetite to have these brain Vital Signs measured. And so yeah, I think it's pretty much an inevitability that that that's evolving and that's why I'm saying this neuroscience is going to wind up being pervasive because once you can measure how your brain does, you're going to want to do it the same as if you're wearing a Fitbit and you're tracking your steps or you're tracking your heart rate.
: Absolutely. Well I didn't mean to disrupt your train of thought here you were going to dive into the. The other example of Wall Street.
: You want to go into that? Ok.
: Now let me say you're asking me for specific examples but we could go through a bunch of them and I actually want to tell you about one more.
: Because it's just because it's so fun, I'm about to record a podcast about it. I'll tell you about the finance one quickly and then I'll then I'll save it for last. Well first of all when I talk about finance, I'm talking about Wall Street traders these are the people who work at the large hedge funds what are called portfolio managers and they are the ones sitting in front of a series of computer monitors making buy and sell decisions where every one of these decisions is worth you know a million dollars, 5 million dollars, 20 million dollars or so. Right.
: So neuroscientists have done research where they've put sensors on these traders and asked the question, "Is there something I can measure about the brain that correlates with the profitability of an individual trade?" Right. Remember the sniper saying, "OK your brain looks like this, when you hit a shot it looks like that when you when you miss it". So it turns out that same thing appears to be true with portfolio managers that you can use neuroscience we believe to predict whether a trade is going to be profitable or not before the trade estimate. And it's really cool and appears to be really reproducible. And I'll walk you through the science it's actually very simple. It turns out that the key predictor of profitability for an individual trade is the amount of stress that's in the person's system. Now you may know when your nervous system is in a fight or flight mode right when you're really kind of stressed out. What happens is you have a lot of blood flow going to your muscles, you're pulling blood away from your brain and the part of your brain that is primarily deprived of blood and fuel is the frontal part what's called the prefrontal cortex where you do your executive thinking. So if a wall street trader gets into that fight or flight mode and they are lizard brain takes over that lizard brain which is really useful if you're in the woods getting attacked by an animal turns out to be very counterproductive.
: And so in that scenario, you can actually use neuroscience to monitor your neurocognitive state and make sure you're in the zone when you're making trading decisions and it can also be used by the people who run the hedge funds to track how their individual traders are doing. And you know in Wall Street where it's all about trying to find an edge in where it's all about using cutting edge technology. This is a very hot area right there so.
: That's my second example but I want to tell you the third one that's here. So it turns out that another application area for what we do is in the world of sex. Have you ever heard of these people who have these like eight hour long tantric orgasms. You know like stag.
: And you know what I actually haven't heard of the eight hours long huh.
: Well it's apocryphal. Anyway I'm interviewing I think in a week some tantric practitioners. But it turns out, there's people who've spent decades learning how to experience ecstasy better than kind of your average person and appears. There's a measurable brain state associated with. So we believe we should be able to use neuroscience to train people to get there more quickly. Now, unlike Wall Street or sports I actually haven't done any market research confirming that there is a market appetite for it but we have this hypothesis that there may be a market opportunity in that arena as well.
: Yeah, it's very cool.
: Your covering all areas David. And listeners, it's fascinating to think about this right. We've got to start thinking outside of the box and I really am intrigued and I'm sure that you are too with what David and his team are doing to make our experience here as humans that much better. David what would you say right now is one of the most exciting focused areas that you're working on?
: I think the thing which is the most exciting is the fact that today we are at a point in history where this is science which is no longer going to be only in the laboratory, it's going to be able to make an impact on individuals. And the most gratifying thing for me is when I see it having an impact on people, when I see them reducing their stress. Becoming more happy, becoming more of who they are capable of being. It's just wonderful and I feel, I feel really fortunate to I think probably the only time in my life to be part of a new industry emerging. It's just a really cool thing so I think that's how I'll answer your question.
: Now that's really great David and you know from the perspective of frontline physicians right we're sort of in a kind of a crisis let's call it what it is. Where you know physicians are committing suicide. There's burnout and I'm sure there's people listening to this thinking what is it that we could do with the Platypus Institute to help our frontline physicians. How would you answer that?
: First of all let me say you could answer that question on two levels. There's a question about how applied neuroscience will effect healthcare itself. But I think you're really asking personally if I'm a doctor. How will neuroscience have an impact on the internet. I think the answer is burnout is a neurocognitive state right the same as being in the zone or having an orgasm it's it's just a thing that your brain does automatically. And right now it's a very challenging time to be a doctor. But you can rewire your brain so that you don't go to burnout so that in the face of a stress sore, you know something triggering you your body moves into a place of relaxation and ease rather than this fight or flight reaction that I was telling you about Wall Street. And so the alternative to that fight or flight reaction is this thing that we call the flow state where you actually relax where your your brain actually calms itself down you get more of what are called alpha and theta waves which are kind of associated with meditation. And in that case, your body is healthier but your productivity is actually higher than it is when you're operating from stress. And so I think what Applied Neuroscience or neuro performance technology will offer specific to that burnout issue is a way of rewiring the brain so you just don't go there. It just has an automatic behavior pattern. Your unconscious reaction to stress will be to relax rather than to tense up and it's going to make a huge difference on you know of health of people who learn that and productivity.
: That's super fascinating.
: It's very cool.
: Yeah, if you've got questions about this, if you're curious I definitely recommend that you check out David's website. It's platypus.org, that's P L A T Y P U S dot org. Super fascinating work that's happening there and so David this has been a really fun discussion. I think what you've done is created curiosity in this realm of neuroscience and applied neuroscience and what it could do for us as health leaders and individuals. I'd love if you could just give us a closing thought and the best place for the listeners to get in touch?
: You know I hate to say this because it sounds egocentric but I do think my story is relevant. The insight that our brains can be rewired I think is a really profound one. And so I think if I'm going to leave someone with a closing thought it would be this, "if you start paying attention to your automatic and unconscious behaviors with the understanding that those are neural patterns that can be changed. The process of becoming aware and trying to change them can have a very profound impact on your life" and that's what I would say and in terms of getting in touch with us as you said the website url is platypus.org. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And I get a lot of e-mails but if you're right I will absolutely right back and you know the podcast we do. It's great. Not just you know not because of me but I get really cool guests and I have the opportunity to do interview. You know the world's best neuroscientists and Tantric Sex experts. So you know I feel like podcasts would be a privilege to have to listen to ours.
: And now definitely a testament to that folks. The neuro fire podcast is fascinating. They're talking about big data. They're talking about hacking consciousness. Some really fascinating episodes and the guests that David brings on are just wonderful so.
: And they're so cool.
: They're so cool right?
: I know. I think you feel how lucky I am.
: Hey, and I feel the same way here you know at the outcomes rocket. We're just having folks like you David. It's just a privilege. And so folks check that out. All the things that we discussed. You're going to be able to find links to David's podcast neuro fire. You're going to be able to find the Platypus Institute website as well as a transcript of what we just discussed. Just go to outcomesrocket.health/platypus. That's P L A T Y P U S. Really excited to have you check that out. And David, I just want to give you a big thanks my friend. I'm looking forward to staying in touch.
: Thank you so much.
Thanks for tuning in to the outcomes rocket podcast if you want the show notes, inspiration, transcripts and everything that we talked about on this episode. Just go to outcomesrocket.health. And again don't forget to check out the amazing healthcare Thinkathon where we can get together took form the blueprint for the future of healthcare. You can find more information on that and how to get involved in our theme which is "implementation is innovation". Just go to outcomesrocket.health/conference that's outcomesrocket.health/conference. Be one of the 200 that will participate. Looking forward to seeing you there.
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