Saturday, September 10, 2011

Action: Setting up a baseline

It’s never too early or too late to set a baseline. Even if you don’t plan on starting brain training any time soon, take five minutes a day and set a baseline. If that’s too much, take fifteen minutes every Saturday to set a baseline. This is perhaps the most important step you can take, because it gives you something concrete to measure against, despite all the dangers of concrete measure.

Here are a few ways you can start setting a baseline:

Measures working memory.

Flash cards:

To really measure your baseline, you will need to set up a number of sets. I'll talk more about how to do this as I do it.

A surprisingly challenging game, probably the most fun of these options:

I look forward to the day that I actually get organized enough to do in-depth reviews and comparisons of these, especially as I attempt to see how something like mind-tree influences my Dual-N-Back task. And yes, I'm probably overthinking this, I really just need to choose one.

Book Review: Improve Your Memory by Ron Fry

Fry, Ronald W, and Ronald W Fry. Improve Your Memory. 5th ed. Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Delmar Learning, 2005. Print. Ron Fry’s how to study program.

TL;DR: Skip it. There are better.

Longer version: Fry covers the basics of memory training, and scatters a fair number of very, very basic (in my opinion, often ineffectual) study tools in as well. You're better off reading other books, which will be reviewed here hereafter. Very little by way of scientific method as well. An anemic introduction at best.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Lessons Learned: Have a baseline... but how?

Over the past few weeks, I've been doing a number of experiments. I've practiced through a memory book (book review to come) and I've been trying different sleeping schedules. There's only one thing I neglected - I didn't set a solid baseline, against which to measure any progress I've made.

My guess is most of us don't have a set baseline for mental performance, and being able to establish one would help move us all forward. Yet, especially when it comes to the brain, how does one set a baseline? Sure, there are some basic tests like word and number-spans, mental object rotation, etc, and I do want to improve on those tests - but what about complicated mental creativity? If I improve my dual-n-back, will my writing skill and accuracy really improve? Entirely plausible - but difficult to say. Dual-N-Back is just one among many competing baselines.

And of course, once you have chosen a baseline for mental activity, how do you create isolated experiments? You may sleep less or more at night, but how do you know that's having the effect, and not the time you woke up, or the timing of your breakfast?

A possible answer: Results must be big.

Sorry about the vague, philosophical post, but I'm feeling vague and philosophical at the moment. And unsolved.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Continued interruption

I forgot to mention - about Inception. It wouldn't have to change much to incorporate a different theory of mind. I think I've mentioned before that one of my favorite ideas for a different ending to Inception would be making Mal a pure creation of Cobb - Ariadne is actually his wife, trying to bring him out of the dream-world. In this case, Mal might have been so convinced of his ability to incept that he created a reality in which it made sense and worked - and to bring him out of it, Ariadne creates a labyrinth (which could have worked in all that cool labyrinth stuff I wish had been included toward the end...) and the entirety of the labyrinth - the context - could have been her way of inception - to create a context, rather than a single item. Which is really what a movie does, come to think of it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

An interruption: Inception

Still haven't re-watched it (need to do that one of these days...) but a thought struck me the other day:

Inception seems to have a very rationalistic theory of mind - as if the mind is very organized - if you get down through the security and plant an idea deep enough, that idea can change all someone's life.

I'm not an expert by any stretch, but it would seem to me that the best studies of mind today have come to the opposite conclusion - whether or not one is a rationalist, one's mind is very empirical and tends to base ideas strongly on preponderance of evidence.

As Thomas Harris said, our conclusions are a lump, not a sum.
AKA Context, context, context.

Read more efficiently: Audiobooks

Whether you believe in Evolution or an intelligent designer, you should agree that the eyes were not made for long-term reading.

If you're an evolutionist, you are convinced the eyes are there to comprehend a world at multiple layers and depths, watching out for the predator in the bush, or the berries, or the grain.

If you're a creationist, you believe the eyes were formed by God to interact with the world he created - a world full of light and color and depth - different levels of focus, things to see to the side, and to the front.

The ears, however, in both cases, are for hearing - and primarily for hearing human voices. The ears are so good at human voices, they will actually detect them in random samples of sound. (

It is puzzling and saddening, then, that visual reading is far and away the most popular sort of reading, and having a book read to you is much more rare - often relegated to the long car trip.

I, for one, find audiobooks to be a wonderful way to read, while resting my eyes. Vocal performance adds another layer of meaning that can be analyzed and learned from. I especially enjoy listening to Faulkner on tape - in book format, he's a bit difficult to understand, but with the right reading, he's lucid, thunderous, and awe-striking. If you've ever wanted to understand Faulkner but been unable to, I heartily recommend 42 Short stories by William Faulkner. You'll actually get the jokes, and they aren't even the best part.

Game of Thrones, on the other hand, even with a good reading, is too thin on the ground with real creativity.
Why is it that every fantasy book must have:
Named swords.
Estranged royalty.
Scary dreams.
and all the other cliches that are too boring to name here?

Really? You get the chance to create  whole world. You have people trusting enough to read volumes of your work, and you aren't interested in doing more.

It's rather sad, really.