It takes him only a couple of minutes to get into a meditative state, which calms him and helps him analyze and address anxious thoughts.
I was surprised when he said he didn't know anything about the neuroscience behind meditation, which is a hot topic among other researchers, nor did he care about it as far as his own practice.
"I think that people should be careful about the need to see something in the brain to justify its worth," he said. "If you don't see anything in the brain, that might just mean the resolution of our brain (scans) just isn't good enough yet."
You can tell Boyden thinks a lot, for his own curiosity, and his vibe is more "grad student"-like than professorial. His frizzy beard resembles the thin branch-like connections between neurons that he's talking about. Every time he runs his hand through his curly brown hair, it falls down in a different unkempt way.
He's thinking these days about what is needed to "solve" the brain, which he believes could be done in 40 years. "Solving" it would probably involve understanding what gives rise to a thought or an emotion, as well as maps of molecules and circuits that allow the design of therapeutic interventions. Building technology platforms that enable this kind of research -- so "we can repair the brain" -- is one of his core hopes.
Stanley isn't sure all that can happen in the next few decades, but he does envision that it's possible that, just as cancer can be a chronically managed disease, disorders of the nervous system may be able to go in that direction.
Forest chimes in: "There are prosthetics today, and those will continue to improve; these things exist in a rudimentary form today," he said. "Over our lifetimes, we will see increasing roles for technology in managing disease states."
Boyden admitted to enjoying the prominence of his work insofar as it makes more people invested in turning these ideas at the frontiers of brain science into reality.
"I think you really need to understand how your mind computes your thoughts," Boyden said. "I think that's incredibly important, so I like the fact that the prominence means the field and people entering it (and), you know, the world, want to make this happen."
Attention doesn't seem to be what's driving him. He's a man of many ideas, and wants to understand the biology behind where ideas come from.
"I guess I'm still drawn by the philosophy," he said.