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The Quantified Brain of a Self-Tracking Neuroscientist


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It takes more than a convenient MRI machine, however, to get a research-worthy data set, and Poldrack draws upon the tools and ideas of the Quantified Self movement (see “The Measured Life”) to enhance his project. “I am somebody who is attuned to my own body, I think a lot about diet and nutrition, so it wasn’t a big stretch for me to start thinking about tracking these data on myself,” he says. He says he spends a few hours each week just doing the data collection. “You have to be a little bit obsessive to want to do that,” says Poldrack. “If you don’t do it regularly, the data aren’t very useful.”

Poldrack also has a personal medical question in mind—is there a relationship between the psoriasis flare-ups he gets and other factors such as mood, stress, and gene activity changes?

For the most part, it’s too early to draw any conclusions from the data set, but Poldrack says he can already see a pattern emerging in his brain’s activity patterns. On Tuesdays, he gets an early morning scan on an empty stomach and without a cup of morning coffee. On Thursdays, he can eat and caffeinate. “The networks look more stable on days I’ve had caffeine and eaten,” he says.

(Almost started a new stash: "People Who Might Be Difficult to Live With".)

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