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Ask LessWrong: Human cognitive enhancement now?

14 Post author: taw 16 June 2009 09:16PM

Transhumanists have high hopes for enhancing human cognitive abilities in the future. But what realistic steps can we take to enhance them now? On the one hand Flynn effect suggests IQ (which is a major factor in human cognition) can be increased a lot with current technology, on the other hand review of existing drugs seems rather pessimistic - they seem to have minor positive effect on low performers, and very little effect on high performers, what means they're mostly of therapeutic not enhancing use.

So, fellow rationalists, how can we enhance our cognition now? Solid research especially welcome, but consistent anecdotal evidence is also welcome.

Comments (72)

Comment author: Arenamontanus 17 June 2009 12:16:45AM 26 points [-]

(this is a rough sketch based on my research, which involves reviewing cognition enhancement literature)

Improving cognitive abilities can be done in a variety of ways, from excercise to drugs to computer games to asking clever people. The core question one should always ask is: what is my bottleneck? Usually there are a few faculties or traits that limit us the most, and these are the ones that ought to be dealt with first. Getting a better memory is useless if the real problem is lack of attention or the wrong priorities.

Training working memory using suitable software is probably one of the most useful enhancers around right now - cheap, safe, effect on core competencies.

When it comes to enhancement drugs, my top recommendations are: 1) sugar, 2) caffeine, 3) modafinil (and then comes a long list of other enhancers). Sugar is useful because it is effective, safe, legal and has well understood side effects. Just identify your optimum level and find a way of maintaining it (this requires training one's self-monitoring skills, always useful). For all drugs, there is a degree of personal variability one has to understand. Caffeine is similar, and mainly useful for reducing tiredness symptoms rather than boosting anything. Modafinil has some useful stimulant effects, appears reasonably safe and in particular doesn't seem to impair considered choice like amphetamines does. Metylphenidate may have its uses, but it depends on dopamine levels. Nicotine is a reasonable memory enhancer, as long as it is taken in a healthy form (gum, lozenges etc). Not sure piracetam actually works, and ginkgo biloba appears to be mostly a vasodilator (= good if you have circulatory problems, but perhaps not otherwise).

Healthy lifestyle matters. As I remarked in another comment, exercise has documented effect. It is rational to do not just for health but for cognition (so why don't I exercise? I need an anti-acrasia enhancement more than IQ!) Getting enough good sleep also improves performance as well as memory consolidation. Health in general appears to promote better cognition.

Learning to control one's mind is useful. A lot of people allow themselves to be distracted, annoyed or mentally sloppy. Doing a bit of internal cognitive behavioral therapy to identify bad ideas and behaviors, and fixing them, is a good idea. Easier said than done, but virtue is a habit. Just ask yourself whether you would like to have any given behavior as a habit, and then act accordingly (the nanoversion of the Categorical Imperative). Memory arts and other mental techniques can be useful, but are usually too specialized to be generally intelligence enhancing (I use memory arts just to remember grocery lists and ideas I get in the shower). Relaxation techniques (or just an awareness of how one works during stress) are very useful in everyday life.

Finally, the key thing is to exercise the mind by giving it challenges. Trite, but true. We tend to develop our skills best when we are at the edge of our abilities, not when the situation is routine or well-controlled. Hence attempting to climb higher cognitive mountains is both healthy and useful. If you have mastered special relativity, go for general relativity - or try to understand what poststructuralism really is about. As Drexler suggested on his blog, acquiring a broad knowledge of what exists in other fields is also useful.

One interesting finding shows that one's beliefs about the improvability of oneself strongly correlates with actual performance increases when training. I do not know whether this is true for all cognitive domains, but I wouldn't be too surprised if it was generally true.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 17 June 2009 07:25:10AM 9 points [-]

As I remarked in another comment, exercise has documented effect. It is rational to do not just for health but for cognition (so why don't I exercise?

Well, why don't you? And everyone else who complains about their "somehow" not exercising. It's a common complaint, even here on LW, where one might expect people to have already risen above such elementary failures of rationality.

This is not a rhetorical question. I speak as someone who does exercise, as a matter of course, every day, and have done for my entire adult life. (Before then, I wasn't averse to exercise, I just didn't give it much attention.) So I do not know what it is like, to not be this person.

So, what is it like, to be someone who thinks they should be doing that, but doesn't? What is going on when you see in front of you the choice to bike to work, to do 20 press-ups right now, to get a set of dumbbells and use them every day, or whatever -- and then not even click the "No" button on the dialog floating in the air in front of you, but just turn away from the choice?

Likewise, every other actual practice that you think would be a good thing for you to do. If you think that, and you are not doing it, why?

Calling it akrasia looks like a way of getting to not fix it.

Comment author: Sideways 17 June 2009 09:02:56AM 5 points [-]

Likewise, every other actual practice that you think would be a good thing for you to do. If you think that, and you are not doing it, why?

If you want to understand akrasia, I encourage you to take your own advice. Take a moment and write down two or three things that would have a major positive impact in your life, that you're not doing.

Now ask yourself: why am I not doing these things? Don't settle for excuses or elaborate System Two explanations why you don't really need to do them after all. You've already stipulated that they would have a major positive impact on your life! You're not looking for a list of all possible reasons; you're looking for the particular reason that you don't do those things.

If you've chosen the right sort of inactions to reflect on, you'll realize that you don't know why you don't do them. It's not just that you want to do these things, but don't; it's that you don't know why you don't. There is a reason for your inaction, but you aren't consciously aware of what it is. Congratulations: you've discovered akrasia.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 17 June 2009 11:56:30AM *  6 points [-]

If you've chosen the right sort of inactions to reflect on, you'll realize that you don't know why you don't do them. It's not just that you want to do these things, but don't; it's that you don't know why you don't.

I can't come up with anything where I don't know the reasons why I am not doing the things I have reasons to do. Now, resolving such conflicts, that is another matter. There are techniques, but I'm not cut out to play the personal development guru, and I don't want to tout any, since what is wanted here is

deeper generalizations that will hold everywhere

ETA: I'll amplify that a little, as I believe the following is a deep generalisation that does hold everywhere, and there are some references to cite.

Any time you are "somehow" not doing what you want to do, it is because you also want to not do it, or want to do something that conflicts with it. The mysterious feeling of somehowness arises because you are unaware of the conflicting motives. But they are always there, and there are ways of uncovering them, and then resolving the conflicts.

For the theory behind this, see perceptual control theory (of which I have written here before). For the psychotherapeutic practice developed from that, see the Method Of Levels.

Comment author: pjeby 22 June 2009 03:31:47PM 3 points [-]

For the theory behind this, see perceptual control theory (of which I have written here before). For the psychotherapeutic practice developed from that, see the Method Of Levels.

After taking a few days to read up on PCT and MOL, here's my summation:

PCT is the Deep Theory behind mindhacking, hypnosis, and all other forms of self-help or therapy that actually work. It explains monoidealism and ideomotor responses, it explains backsliding, it provides a better conceptual basis for Ainslie's model of "interests", and it does an amazing job of explaining and connecting dozens of previously-isolated principles and techniques I've taught, and that I learned by hard experience, rather than deriving from a model. It explains the conflict-resolution model I've been posting about in the Applied Picoeconomics thread. And just grasping it almost instantly boosted my ability to self-apply many of my own techniques.

Most of the techniques and methods I've taught in the past have been effectively on the level of cutting the "wires" between different control systems, treating the actual control systems as fixed invariants. Now, I also see how to also connect wires, change the "settings", and even assemble new control systems.

PCT explains the Work of Byron Katie, the Law of Attraction, a sizable chunk of Tony Robbins, T. Harv Eker, and Michael Hall's work, and even Robert Fritz's "structural consulting" model.

I have never seen anything that connects so much, using so little. And every time I think of another previously-isolated model that I teach, like say, how self-conscious awareness is an error correction mechanism, I find how PCT ties that into the overall model, too.

Hell, PCT even explains many phenomena Richard Bandler describes as part of NLP, such as non-linear and paradoxical responses to submodality change, and his saying that "brains go in directions" (seek to establish ongoing constant levels of a value or experience, rather than achieving an external goal and then stopping).

All I can say is, why haven't you posted MORE about this? Your post about control systems seemed to mainly be an argument against brains having models, but PCT doesn't demand a lack of models, and in any case it's obvious that brains do model, and they model predictively as well as reflecting current states. And you didn't mention any of the things that make PCT actually interesting as a behavioral description in human beings. PCT pretty much explains everything that I would've wanted to cover in my post sequence on what akrasia really is and how it works, only from a different angle and a better conceptual connection beween the pieces.

Whew.

(Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: by contrast to PCT, MOL barely seems worth the electrons it's printed with. Many others have described essentially the same thing, with better practical information about how to do it, in more precise, more repeatable ways. The only thing novel is its direct link to PCT, but given that, one can make the same theory link to the other modalities and techniques.)

Comment author: SilasBarta 22 June 2009 05:02:27PM *  5 points [-]

Wow, you seem pretty satisfied with it. Now, I haven't done nearly enough reading on any of those topics to dispute anything you've said, but, as a poster on LW I'm obligated to check that you haven't entered an "affective death spiral" by asking the following:

Are there any non-phenomena that PCT can "explain"? That is, could you use PCT to "prove" why certain conceivable things happen, which don't really happen? Could I e.g. use PCT to prove why thinking hard about whatever I'm procrastinating about will make me motivated to do it, when you already know that doesn't work?

Comment author: pjeby 23 June 2009 03:06:15AM 1 point [-]

I'm obligated to check that you haven't entered an "affective death spiral"

I have to admit, the first bit of PCT literature I read (a sampler of papers and chapters from various PCT books) was a bit off-putting, since most of the first papers seemed a little too self-congratulatory, as if the intended audience were already cult memebrs. Later papers were more informative, enough to convince me to order a couple of the actual books.

Are there any non-phenomena that PCT can "explain"?

I can't presently imagine how you could do it without distorting the theory. It'd be like trying to equate atheism and amorality. In a sense, PCT is just stimulus-response atheism.

Could I e.g. use PCT to prove why thinking hard about whatever I'm procrastinating about will make me motivated to do it, when you already know that doesn't work?

It would depend on a far more specific definition of "thinking hard", and an adequate specification of the other control systems involved in your individual brain. For certain such definitions and specifications, it would work.

To be precise, if "thinking hard" means that you are actually envisioning a specific outcome or actions, linked to a desired reference value, and you do not have any systems that are trying to set common perceptions to match conflicting reference values, then "thinking hard" would work.

This is not the usual definition of "thinking hard", however, and PCT makes some very specific predictions about inner conflict that essentially say you are 100% screwed unless you fix the conflicts, because we are control systems (i.e. thermostats) "all the way down".

If it sounds like I'm saying it depends on the individual and some people are screwed, that's only sort of the case. Everyone can identify when they're conflicted, and resolve the conflicts in some fashion. Plenty of people have already noticed this and taught it, PCT simply gives a plausible, testable, physical, 100% reductionistic explanation of how our hardware might produce the results we see.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 22 June 2009 05:57:06PM *  0 points [-]

Glad you like it. :-)

All I can say is, why haven't you posted MORE about this? Your post about control systems seemed to mainly be an argument against brains having models, but PCT doesn't demand a lack of models, and in any case it's obvious that brains do model, and they model predictively as well as reflecting current states. And you didn't mention any of the things that make PCT actually interesting as a behavioral description in human beings. PCT pretty much explains everything that I would've wanted to cover in my post sequence on what akrasia really is and how it works, only from a different angle and a better conceptual connection beween the pieces.

My post on models was really a collective reply to comments on one aspect of my original post on PCT. I have been mean ing to post more, but haven't found the time or the inspiration to formulate something substantial yet.

Which of the PCT materials have you been reading?

Comment author: SilasBarta 22 June 2009 06:42:53PM *  1 point [-]

My post on models was really a collective reply to comments on one aspect of my original post on PCT. I have been mean ing to post more, but haven't found the time or the inspiration to formulate something substantial yet.

Wait, what? Your two top-level posts weren't about anything specific to human Perceptual Control Theory, just background control theory, and the whole time I didn't really see the point. I was thinking,

"Sure, you can model humans as controllers that receive some reference and track it, just as you can model a human as a set of "if-then" loops, but so what? How would that model do any good compressing our description of how human minds work? By the time you've actually described what reference someone is tracking (or even a sub-reference like "sexiness") and how observations are converted into a format capable of being compared, you've already solved the problem."

I wish I had made the point earlier, but I was waiting for a more explicit application to a problem involving a human, which I assumed you had.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 22 June 2009 07:17:16PM 0 points [-]

Sure, you can model humans as controllers that receive some reference and track it, just as you can model a human as a set of "if-then" loops, but so what?

The difference is that humans are not like control systems, they are control systems, and are not and cannot be modelled as sets of "if-then" loops, whatever those are supposed to be.

How would that model do any good compressing our description of how human minds work?

That presumes we already have such a description. PCT provides one. It provides the possibility to obtain actual understanding of the matter. Nothing else has yet done that.

And if people are control systems -- that is, they vary their actions to obtain their intended perceptions -- then that implies that the traditional methods of experimental psychology are invalid. Correlating experimental stimuli and subjects' responses tells you nothing. Here's a psychologist writing on this, the late Philip Runkel.

Comment author: SilasBarta 22 June 2009 10:50:32PM 5 points [-]

What Vladimir_Nesov said. And,

How would that model do any good compressing our description of how human minds work?

That presumes we already have such a description.

We do: it's the set of all observations of human behavior. The goal of science (or rationality) is to find ever-simpler ways of explaining (describing) the data. The worst case scenario is to explain the data by simply restating it. A theory allows you describe past data without simply restating it because it gives you a generative model.

(There's probably some LW wiki entry or Eliezer_Yudkowsky post I should reference to give more background about what I'm talking about, but I think you get the idea and it's pretty uncontroversial.)

That was the standard I was holding your post to: does this description of human behavior as "tweaking outputs to track a reference" help at all to provide a concise description of human behavior? Once again, I find myself trying to side-step a definitional dispute with you (over whether humans "are control systems") by identifying the more fundamental claim you're making.

Here, your claim is that there's some epistemic profit from describing human behavior as a control system. I completely agree that it can be done, just like you can describe human behavior with a long enough computer program. But does this approach actually simplify the problem, or just rename it? I am skeptical that it simplifies because, like I said before, any reference-being-tracked in your model must itself have all the answers that you're trying to use the model for.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 23 June 2009 09:53:39PM 1 point [-]

That presumes we already have such a description.

We do: it's the set of all observations of human behavior. The goal of science (or rationality) is to find ever-simpler ways of explaining (describing) the data. The worst case scenario is to explain the data by simply restating it. A theory allows you describe past data without simply restating it because it gives you a generative model.

(There's probably some LW wiki entry or Eliezer_Yudkowsky post I should reference to give more background about what I'm talking about, but I think you get the idea and it's pretty uncontroversial.)

I get the idea and am familiar with it, but I dispute it. There's a whole lot of background assumptions there to take issue with. Specifically, I believe that:

  1. Besides being consistent with past data, a theory must be consistent with future data as well, data that did not go into making the theory.

  2. Besides merely fitting observastions, past and future, a theory must provide a mechanism, a description not merely of what will be observed, but of how the world produces those observations. It must, in short, be a response to clicking the Explain button.

  3. Description length is not a useful criterion for either discovering or judging a theory. Sure, piling up epicycles is bad, but jumping from there to Kolmogorov complexity as the driver is putting the cart before the horse. (Need I add that I do not believe the Hutter Prize will drive any advance in strong AI?)

But having stated my own background assumptions, I shall address your criticisms in terms of yours, to avoid digressing to the meta-level. (I don't mind having that discussion, but I'd prefer it to be separate from the current thread. I am sure there are LW wiki entries or EY postings bearing on the matter, but I don't have an index to them etched on the inside of my forehead either.)

Here, your claim is that there's some epistemic profit from describing human behavior as a control system. I completely agree that it can be done, just like you can describe human behavior with a long enough computer program. But does this approach actually simplify the problem, or just rename it?

This approach actually simplifies the problem. (It also satisfies my requirements for a theory.)

Here, for example (applet on a web page), is a demo of a control task. I actually wanted to cite another control demo, but I can't find it online. (I am asking around.) This other program fits a control model to the human performance in that task, with only a few parameters. Running the model on the same data presented to the human operator generates a performance correlating very highly with the human performance. It can also tell the difference between different people doing the same task, and the parameters it finds change very little for the same person attempting the task across many years. Just three numbers (or however many it is, it's something like that) closely fits an individual's performance on the task, for as long as they perform it. Is that the sort of thing you are asking for?

Comment author: pjeby 23 June 2009 03:25:26AM 0 points [-]

But does this approach actually simplify the problem, or just rename it?

The best answer to this particular question is the book, Behavior: The Control of Perception. In a way, it's like a miniature Origin of Species, showing how you can build up from trivial neural control systems to complex behavior... and how these levels more or less match various stages of development in a child's first year of life. It's a compelling physical description and hypothesis, not merely an abstract idea like "hey, let's model humans as control systems."

The part that I found most interesting is that it provides a plausible explanation for certain functions being widely distributed in the brain, and thereby clarified (for me anyway) some things that were a bit fuzzy or hand-wavy in my own models of how memory, monoidealism, and inner conflict actually work. (My model, being software-oriented, tended to portray the brain as a mostly-unified machine executing a program, whereas PCT shows why this is just an illusion.)

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 22 June 2009 08:38:03PM 4 points [-]

The difference is that humans are not like control systems, they are control systems, and are not and cannot be modelled as sets of "if-then" loops, whatever those are supposed to be.

Humans consist of atoms. The statement was obviously about humans being modelable as physical/[digital computation] processes, forgetting all the stuff about intelligence and control.

Comment author: pjeby 23 June 2009 03:18:37AM 0 points [-]

The difference is that humans are not like control systems, they are control systems, and are not and cannot be modelled as sets of "if-then" loops, whatever those are supposed to be.

Er, isn't that the "program" level of Powers's model? IOW, his model shows how you can build up from more fundamental control structures to get complex "programs". See chapters 13-18 of Behavior: The Control Of Perception. (At least in the 2nd edition, which is all I've read.)

Comment author: pjeby 23 June 2009 03:16:49AM 1 point [-]

By the time you've actually described what reference someone is tracking (or even a sub-reference like "sexiness") and how observations are converted into a format capable of being compared, you've already solved the problem

Yes, and that's precisely what's useful. That is, it identifies that to solve anyone's problems, you need only identify the reference values, and find a way to reorganize the control system to either set new reference values or have another behavior that changes the outside world to cause the new reference to be reached. (This is essentially the same idea as Robert Fritz's structural consulting, except that Fritz's model is labeled as being about "decisions" rather than "reference values".)

The main difference between PCT and other Things That Work is that PCT is a testable scientific hypothesis that includes many specific predictions of functional operations in the brain and nervous system that would reductionistically explain how the various Things That Work, do so.

Comment author: pjeby 23 June 2009 03:11:48AM 0 points [-]

Which of the PCT materials have you been reading?

The freebie at livingcontrolsystems.com, followed by "Behavior: The Control of Perception" and "Freedom From Stress". I figured I'd balance the deep theory version and the layman's practical version to get the best span of info in the shortest time.

Comment author: SilasBarta 23 June 2009 04:15:48AM *  0 points [-]

What is "the freebie at livingcontrolsystems.com"? Are you collectively referring to the introductory papers ? Or something more specific? ETA: I plan to read, from that page, the 10 minute intro, neglected phenomenon, and underpinnings to start with.

Btw, thanks for answering my other questions.

Comment author: pjeby 23 June 2009 05:11:17AM 0 points [-]

Are you collectively referring to the introductory papers ?

No, the "book of readings", although there appears to be a huge overlap between the book and the papers you linked to.

One of the incredibly unfortunate things about that website is that it spends way too much time talking about what you'll learn once you understand PCT, compared to how much time it spends actually explaining PCT. OTOH, my guess is that most of the people whose writing is quoted there have already read the key book (Behavior: The Control Of Perception), and find it hard to explain the concepts in a much shorter form. However, there are a few good chapters and a lot of small insights in the other chapters of the "book of readings", so that by the end I was at least convinced enough to plunk down 35 bucks for the 2nd edition of B:CP (as it's usually abbreviated).

For my purposes, it really didn't hurt that my mind was already on ideas rather similar to reference levels, based on some recent change experiences (not to mention some discussions here), so I was quite motivated to dig through the testimonials to find some actual meat.

One of the other really useful bits on the site are Powers' 1979 robotics articles for Byte magazine, which I didn't find before I bought the book, and which might be an adequate substitute for some portion of the book, if you read all four of them.

One insightful tidbit from the second article:

We have now established the fact that using natural logic and following causes and effects around the closed loop as a sequence of events will lead to a wrong prediction of control system behavior. This immediately eliminates three-quarters of what biologists, psychologists, neurologists, and even cyberneticians have published about control theory and behavior. We are just beginning to see that one must view all the variables in a control system as changing together, not one at a time. This is what I mean by retraining the intuition. Cartesian concepts of cause and effect, and Newtonian physics, have trained us to think along directed lines. What we need to do to understand control systems is to learn how to think in circles

The above came just after he painstakingly goes through the discrete math (using BASIC code) to show why the intuitive math for a certain control system is wrong, in that it leads to an unstable system... whereas the simpler, PCT-based approach results in more robust behavior. Another tidbit:

You will notice that doubling the error sensitivity, which doubles the amount of output generated by a given error, does not double the amount of output that actually occurs. Far from it. When, for any reason, the loop gain goes up, the steady state error simply gets smaller, assuming that the system remains stable. This fact does violence to the popular idea that the brain commands muscles to produce behavior. If that were the case, doubling the sensitivity of a muscle to the nerve signals reaching it ought to produce twice as much muscle tension. Nothing of the sort happens, unless you’ve lopped off the rest of the nervous system, particularly the feedback paths.

Basically (no pun intended), the articles describe a series of models and simulations (written in BASIC) that demonstrate the basic principles and models of behavior being generated by hierarchies of negative-feedback control, where the output of a "higher" control layer determines the reference values for the "lower" layers, and why this is a far more parsimonious and robust model of what living creatures appear to be doing, than more traditional models.

Comment author: pjeby 17 June 2009 05:07:38PM 2 points [-]

For the psychotherapeutic practice developed from that, see the Method Of Levels.

Fascinating stuff, there, thanks for the post. It sounds very much like something I've been observing recently with myself and certain clients, where a persistent behavioral pattern is being driven by a barely-noticed criterion being checked at a higher level.

That is, when trying to make a decision, there was sort of a "final check" being done in the mind, to check for some obscure criterion like what other people would think of it, or whether it made me look clever enough, or whether I would be "good". Consciously, there's only the sensations of hesitation (before the check) and either satisfaction or dissatisfaction afterwards.

Now, I have tools that quickly get rid of things like this once they can be captured in awareness, but I haven't had a method to reliably detect the presence of one and bring it into debugging scope. If MOL can do that, I will be all over that in a heartbeat.

It's interesting that the third link you gave describes a process very similar to certain pieces of what I already do, as far as mental observation training, just a little less directly. It also seems that in MOL, there's an expectation that simple awareness is therapeutic. In this respect it seems somewhat similar to Michael Hall's meta-states model, in which one is explicitly invited to check the criterion at one level against more global criteria, but in MOL this appears to be implicit.

Hm, oh well, enough rambling. It sounds like the key operator in MOL is to extract the implicit criteria from framing statements -- something I don't do systematically with clients, or at all on myself.

Comment author: byrnema 17 June 2009 04:39:57PM *  1 point [-]

Perceptual control theory sounds interesting. If a person spends half an hour a day either meditating (TM) or brainstorming on higher control levels, which do you think would be more useful (e.g., resulting in higher productivity over a three week period) compared to doing nothing for that half hour?

Comment author: pjeby 17 June 2009 05:19:14PM 1 point [-]

If a person spends half an hour a day either meditating (TM) or brainstorming on higher control levels

If I understand the links RichardKennaway gave, a "control level" has to become active in order for you to become aware of it -- which also matches my experience with other mindhacking techniques. It's unlikely that brainstorming will do this unless the thing that prompted your brainstorming was, say, a story of someone who does something that reminds you of you.

Meditation might be useful, if it's awareness-based. That is, if it's directed towards observing the thoughts that occur as you focus on the specific meditation task.

However, it would probably be most useful for you to meditate, not on a mantra or koan, but on a single, specific situation of interest (not a general category of situations, but one real or imagined incident, happening in present-tense terms), because then you will have the greatest specific activation of relevant control systems.

(In effect, in the analytic stages of mind-hacking, I'm directing clients to repeatedly "meditate" for brief intervals and observe their response to imagined stimuli, and the MOL documents RichardKennaway linked describe an almost-identical process, including a focus on observing thoughts as they occur, and any feelings happening in the body. These are certainly key distinctions in mind hacking, and appear to be in MOL as well.)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 18 June 2009 12:35:55PM 1 point [-]

If I understand the links RichardKennaway gave, a "control level" has to become active in order for you to become aware of it

It's active whether you're aware of it or not. The purpose of MOL is to become aware of things within yourself relevant to the problem but currently outside your awareness. Once you become aware of the conflicting goals (and the higher-level goals for which they are subgoals, and so on, as far as it's necessary to take it), then you are free to make different choices that eliminate the conflict. According to MOL practitioners, that reorganisation is generally the easiest part of the process. Once the real problem has been uncovered, the client is able to solve it on their own.

Comment author: pjeby 18 June 2009 03:10:15PM *  1 point [-]

It's active whether you're aware of it or not.

We're using two different meanings of "active", then. I'm just saying that to become aware of it, you need something that triggers the checking to occur.

According to MOL practitioners, that reorganisation is generally the easiest part of the process. Once the real problem has been uncovered, the client is able to solve it on their own.

I'd imagine so, since that's basically the same process that occurs in the Work of Byron Katie. Specifically, the parts that ask for "how do you react when you have that thought" and "who would you be without it" seem to be calling for evaluation of one level of control (the "should") from a higher level of control (the consequences of having that setting). And generally, once you do that, the "problem" just disappears.

I really appreciate the pointer to PCT/MOL, btw. Over the last 24 hours, I've been devouring all the material I've been able to find, as it's giving me a unifying view of how certain things fit together, like for example the connection between the Work and Hall's "executive states" model - a connection I hadn't seen before. For that matter, some of Tony Robbins' ideas of "standards" and "values", and T. Harv Eker's "wealth thermostat" concepts fit right in.

Even monoidealism and ideodynamics, my own "jedi mind trick" and "pull motivation", certain aspects of the law of attraction... PCT seems to describe them all, although it seems much easier to get to PCT from those existing things than to develop new things from PCT.

Nonetheless, I intend to do some experimenting to find out how much my methods can be streamlined by focusing on acquiring signal perception and setting high-level reference values directly, rather than operating on lower-level control systems.

In particular, Hall's executive states model, which previously struck me as vague and superstitious, seems to offer some useful application distinctions for PCT. Or, more precisely, PCT seems like a better explanation for the phenomena he appears to utilize, and his techniques appear to offer ways of rapidly setting up some types of control relationships.

Comment author: CannibalSmith 17 June 2009 11:40:23AM *  1 point [-]

From my experience, I can say that my motivation is external to me.

In summer of 2007 I got up at 5 AM and jogged because I read a motivational article and discovered that I like witnessing the sunrise. My motivation dissipated as soon as autumn came. Last summer I resolved to lift weights but failed. This year I read Playing to Win and saw a friend of mine who has been exercising for a year; and now I'm going to the gym three times a week.

So why am I not doing this or that? Because I lack a suitable source of motivation.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 17 June 2009 12:12:19PM 2 points [-]

Can you rewrite that explanation while tabooing "motivation"?

Comment author: CannibalSmith 17 June 2009 01:04:01PM *  6 points [-]

From my experience, I can say that whether I do things I want to do (and which ones) depends largely on the environment.

In summer of 2007 I got up at 5 AM and jogged because I read an article describing the benefits of rising early and upon trying it out discovered that I like witnessing the sunrise. As autumn came it became increasingly difficult to get up in darkness until I stopped. Last summer I thought wanted to lift weights but I didn't do anything. This year I read Playing to Win and saw a friend of mine who has been exercising for a year; and now I'm going to the gym three times a week.

So why am I not doing this or that? Because my external world lacks enough stuff that would change the default action from do-nothing to something else.

Comment author: taw 17 June 2009 01:45:53AM 4 points [-]

What would be mechanism of action of sugar for a healthy individual? Blood glucose levels are kept in a pretty narrow band, so eating sugar generates insulin spike, and unless you just exercised and have depleted muscle glycogen storage it gets converted straight into fat. Insulin spikes also cause sleepiness.

Modafinil works extremely badly on me - it masks lack of sleep well enough, but it makes my mental performance extremely low, and makes me very irritable and unfriendly. Basically I get all side effects of sleep deprivation except I'm not aware of needing some sleep.

I have mixed experience with caffeine and amphetamine-like drugs. They seem to be useful for tiredness and focus enhancements to a degree.

Comment author: saturn 17 June 2009 02:41:53PM 3 points [-]

This study showed that blood glucose was rapidly depleted by certain cognitive tasks and that drinking orange juice resulted in improved performance.

Comment author: Arenamontanus 18 June 2009 12:34:40PM 1 point [-]

Even small glucose levels can apparently have significant effects. I have some papers in my library arguing that the memory-enhancing effects of adrenaline (which doesn't cross the blood brain barrier) are mediated by the glucose increase it causes. One of them demonstrated that a glucose-mimetic molecule also acted as an enhancer. Overall, the data seems pretty convincing that getting a suitable dose of glucose is enhancing, but the effect has an inverted-U curve - there is an individual and task dependent optimal level.

Overall, drug responses are very individual and we shouldn't expect enhancers to be "one size fits all". For me, modafinil + sleep deprivation produces a state that feels like sleep deprivation but is apparently quite functional (as measured by my ability to write software). Mileages may vary, indeed.

Comment author: andrewc 17 June 2009 07:03:27AM 1 point [-]

Dunno the answer to your question but I noted a recent article that linked low carb diets to reduced mental performance discussed in this random medical publication

Comment author: rhollerith_dot_com 18 June 2009 12:53:45AM *  2 points [-]

Will Arenamontanus or someone else please elaborate on the problem with amphetamines not shared with modafinil? To tell me that amphetamines "impair considered choice" is not enough to inform a session with a search engine. I am aware that amphetamines can impair certain kinds of judgement, but was told that that happens only at doses high enough to cause euphoria. Thanks.

Comment author: Arenamontanus 18 June 2009 12:28:21PM 3 points [-]

The quick answer is that most stimulants make animals and people use well-learned stimulus-response responses more than considering the situation and figuring out an appropriate response, and often makes them impulsive - when it partially looks like a situation when you should do "A", the A response is hard to resist. A classic case was the US airforce friendly fire incident blamed on dexamphetamine. This is where the improved response inhibition of modafinil comes in. See

Turner DC, Clark L, Dowson J, Robbins TW, Sahakian BJ. Modafinil improves cognition and response inhibition in adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Biol Psychiatry. 2004 May 15;55(10):1031-40.

Turner DC, Robbins TW, Clark L, Aron AR, Dowson J, Sahakian BJ. Cognitive enhancing effects of modafinil in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2003 Jan;165(3):260-9. Epub 2002 Nov 1.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 17 June 2009 04:50:11PM 4 points [-]

If you're interested in cognitive drugs, the first thing to do is to have a community effort in which everybody pays to have a microarray detect their SNPs and repeat counts, and then experiments with different drugs, and reports the results and links them to the microarray results.

The NIH is paying for a large genotyping experiment, but they're not recording phenotype data, so the results will a) be mostly useless, and b) deter anyone from allocating the money to gather useful data anytime soon.

Comment author: Arenamontanus 18 June 2009 12:15:58PM 2 points [-]

I think this is a good idea, although SNPs might be overdoing it (for now; soon it will be cheap enough to sequence the whole genome and run whatever tests we like). There is a dearth of data on cognitive enhancers in real settings, and a real need to see what actually works for who and for what.

What I would like to see is volunteers testing themselves on a number of dimensions including IQ, working memory span, big 5 personality, ideally a bunch of biomarkers. In particular it would be good if we could get neurotransmitter levels, but to my knowledge there are no direct measurement methods which aren't invasive - there are a few indirect measures that may have some validity. Genotyping for cytochromes might be a good thing to check for pharmacogenomic effects.

In this ideal experiment, these volunteers would then run small online cognitive tests of various kinds every day, as well as enter comments (including side effects) into a medical blog. In an even more ideal experiment there would be extra data from life recording and in a complete dream world people would actually get bottles with placebo and the drug in mixed pills. One could imagine a site, "enhancement@home", that gathered these data and acted as a flexible privacy filter. People could use an API to data mine the reports and look for the effect, especially when controlling for various traits.

I think it is doable. I think it could be very helpful. I also think that developing this kind of "wikiepidemiology" would require some serious planning beforehand, to ensure the data collected actually is likely to tell something useful, not run afoul of bad laws (medical and drug use data does have some hefty regulations) and to make it appealing for everybody.

Comment author: cousin_it 16 June 2009 09:26:20PM 8 points [-]

Jaeggi and Buschkuehl's dual n-back task has been shown to improve fluid intelligence. Citation, Wikipedia, online implementation.

Comment author: Drahflow 17 June 2009 11:58:54AM 2 points [-]

I can only urge everybody who believes that training improves perfomance to visit that "online implementation" site.

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 17 June 2009 09:22:13PM 3 points [-]

I stumbled on this critique of the Jaeggi et al. results which, while not conclusively damning, makes me somewhat suspicious of the reported effect on fluid intelligence.

Do you know of any further studies that have shown the same results?

Comment author: Arenamontanus 18 June 2009 12:46:02PM 2 points [-]

The Klingberg group in Sweden have done somewhat similar experiments, with positive results in children with or without ADHD. See their publications: http://www.klingberglab.se/pub.html

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 19 June 2009 12:30:01AM *  0 points [-]

Yes, I found their work while crawling cites as I mentioned earlier. They seemed to deal with improving working memory capacity, as opposed to fluid intelligence. These may be related, but aren't the same thing. Did I overlook any publications that were about intelligence instead?

Comment author: cousin_it 17 June 2009 10:05:24PM *  2 points [-]

Thank you. I didn't know of this critique and it seems pretty serious. No, I don't know of any followup studies.

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 18 June 2009 01:05:38AM 0 points [-]

After crawling cites a bit from Wikipedia and other sources it seems like there are, at least, studies indicating successful improvements in working memory capacity from cognitive training. The DNB task is incredibly demanding on working memory, so it seems likely it is successful at least for improving that.

Furthermore it seems that some researchers suspect deep connections between working memory capacity and fluid intelligence, so there's still a plausible connection here--which makes the methodological issues even more frustrating.

Comment author: andrewc 17 June 2009 07:08:08AM 2 points [-]

I like the staples - they all have their role to play in pushing the brain where you want it to go. Caffeine enhances concentration - my understanding is that continual small does (e.g. drink tea all day) are better than one big hit.

Alcohol mitigates biases against socially acceptable ideas by reducing inhibition. Think spirited debate over a pint, not all night bender. I find I am more receptive to odd ideas after a couple of beers.

THC (the main active agent in marijuana) is good for flashes of inspiration. I find my software designs when baked are brilliantly out of the box (the code itself usually needs a cleanup the next day). A downside is that it can affect short term memory, which reduces your ability to perform mental accounting. Best for working on large sheets of paper or whiteboards, during the planning/design phase of a project. The brain seems to adapt to it - smoke every day and you just think you're more inspired...

Comment author: PhilGoetz 17 June 2009 04:45:32PM 1 point [-]

I like the staples - they all have their role to play in pushing the brain where you want it to go.

I really had the wrong picture on first reading this.

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 16 June 2009 10:32:11PM 3 points [-]

Okay; increasing IQ is, where possible at all, very difficult.

What other, perhaps more specific, cognitive skills with practical value could we try to enhance? A lot of debiasing techniques discussed before fall in this category, but in very narrow ranges of application.

Other cognitive skills are more general-purpose. For instance, are there any known, tested means of improving recall from long-term memory, or improving cognitive focus?

If improving general intelligence is difficult, let's go for any low-hanging fruit first.

Comment author: taw 17 June 2009 01:33:31AM 5 points [-]

I would guess attention/focus/akrasia would be the best target area, as what we want now is very definitely different from what was useful in ancestral environment and there's no obvious reason why we cannot focus more.

Comment author: Drahflow 17 June 2009 11:10:12AM 1 point [-]

Regarding recall from long-term memory: Write it down!

I know a person who actually does that. That recall and precision is greatly improved should be obvious. The problem lies more in acquiring the habit of actually writing everything down if it looks important.

I envision to build something electronic for me, because I hate handwriting. Also that would add search capability.

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 17 June 2009 07:17:39PM 0 points [-]

Regarding recall from long-term memory: Write it down!

By this, do you mean that the act of recording the information will itself improve recall, independent of later reference to the recorded information? I recall hearing at least anecdotal evidence for such, but I'm not sure how well documented the effect is.

Of course, even without such an effect writing important things down in general is a good habit to acquire.

Comment author: Drahflow 18 June 2009 02:55:35PM 0 points [-]

I was actually thinking more about looking it up later, i.e. extending your long term memory via paper and pencil.

Although I can also report that I remember stuff better if I wrote it down.

Comment author: QuestionTime 16 June 2009 11:17:22PM 2 points [-]

I take ritalin and a single cup of coffee most days. Physical exercise is supposedly helpful as well.

Comment author: Arenamontanus 16 June 2009 11:52:01PM 3 points [-]

Exercise has demonstrated good effect on memory and a bunch of other mental stats; the cause apepars to be the release of neural growth factors (and likely better circulation and general health).

Comment author: CannibalSmith 17 June 2009 05:50:48AM -1 points [-]

Sooo, pumping iron makes me smarter?

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 17 June 2009 10:10:50AM 0 points [-]

Do you have a citation with more details on this, or at least recall what kind of exercise? i.e., low-intensity endurance, high-intensity strength building, cardiovascular improvement, &c.?

Comment author: Arenamontanus 18 June 2009 12:51:13PM 3 points [-]

Charles H. Hillman, Kirk I. Erickson & Arthur F. Kramer, Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects on brain and cognition, Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9, 58-65 (January 2008) especially suggest aerobic fitness training as being important.

Comment author: timtyler 17 June 2009 09:33:52AM *  1 point [-]

Research on short-term intelligence test result modifications by activity - by Kevin Warwick

  • Results - Activity

Reading/Swatting -6

Listening to classical music -2

Watching a chat show on TV +5

Playing with a construction toy -4

Sitting/Chatting -2

Watching a documentary on TV +4

Walking +1

Meditating +2

Watching Friends on TV +1

Completing a crossword puzzle 0

  • Results - Food

Alcohol 0

Chocolate -2

Coffee +3

Orange Juice -2

Peanuts +1

  • Results – Breakfast

Toast + Orange Juice +3

Bacon Sandwich +3

Control 0

Cereal -1

Eggs (various) -5

A bigger and better table would be nice.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 17 June 2009 04:44:27PM 3 points [-]

Experimental procedure? Sample size? Means of measuring IQ?

"Reading/Swatting"?

Comment author: timtyler 17 June 2009 09:59:22PM 0 points [-]

Top 2 results sections: "200 first year students at Reading University".

Bottom results section: "50 children (aged 8-11) at Thameside School, Caversham were given regular breakfasts over a one month period."

Comment author: RobinHanson 18 June 2009 11:43:46AM 1 point [-]

Cite?

Comment author: Arenamontanus 18 June 2009 12:41:54PM 0 points [-]

I found a power point from Kevin Warwick by googling for "Reading/Swatting -6" that included the data, but only lose references to the studies. I'll email him and ask.

Comment author: timtyler 18 June 2009 04:38:48PM 0 points [-]

Also, Kevin presents his results here:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8080230062336457573

1:35:00.

Comment author: jimrandomh 17 June 2009 02:02:37PM 1 point [-]

Is higher better or lower?

Comment author: timtyler 17 June 2009 09:53:58PM 0 points [-]

These are IQ deltas - so +ve values are good.

Comment author: saturn 16 June 2009 10:38:27PM 1 point [-]

Further information about this (both research and anecdotes) can be found here, here, and here

Comment author: taw 17 June 2009 01:36:25AM 0 points [-]

It's loads of data, but it's hard to find out what really makes a big difference. It's also hard to find out what would work on oneself due to lack of objective tests, very strong placebo effect relative to drug effect, and long term most of the drugs need to work.

Comment author: cousin_it 17 June 2009 08:26:08AM 3 points [-]

I love the idea of using the placebo effect for intelligence enhancement. :-)

Comment author: timtyler 17 June 2009 09:16:34AM 0 points [-]

Education and computers seem like the big ones to me. For education, see the internet. For computer-based intelligence augmentation, I have an essay on that, here:

http://alife.co.uk/essays/intelligence_augmentation/

Comment author: CannibalSmith 17 June 2009 06:00:35AM 0 points [-]

Most importantly, how do I get diagnosed with ADHD? How is one tested for it?

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 17 June 2009 10:20:41AM 0 points [-]

A good start is probably having a demonstrated history of life problems caused by lack of attention/focus, ideally consistently shown and starting from childhood. Complain about inability to concentrate, losing track of time easily, &c.

Of course, I assume your goal here is to get an amphetamine prescription. That's not the only treatment used for ADHD, and if you walk in complaining of ADHD symptoms and asking about Adderall you may send up some red flags. Be careful with the law here, prescription drug abuse is frowned upon.