A place to discuss potentially promising methods of intelligence amplification in the broad sense of general methods, tools, diets, regimens, or substances that boost cognition (memory, creativity, focus, etc.): anything from SuperMemo to Piracetam to regular exercise to eating lots of animal fat to binaural beats, whether it works or not. Where's the highest expected value? What's easiest to make part of your daily routine? Hopefully discussion here will lead to concise top level posts describing what works for a more self-improvement-savvy Less Wrong.

Lists of potential interventions are great, but even better would be a thorough analysis of a single intervention: costs, benefits, ease, et cetera. This way the comment threads will be more structured and organized. Less Wrong is pretty confused about IA, so even if you're not an expert, a quick analysis or link to a metastudy about e.g. exercise could be very helpful.

Added: Adam Atlas is now hosting an IA wiki: BetterBrains! Bookmark it, add to it, make it awesome.

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Not only are we reinventing the wheel here we are doing so as a community relatively poorly equipped to do so.

The guys at the Immortality Institute forums are reasonably like minded to lesswrong participants but many of them are obsessed with the kind of subject we discuss here and have done excessive amounts of investigation into both studies and typical experiences of self-experimenters.

We would in most cases be best off just reading through the best of the threads there and following their findings.

Which are the best threads? Fora do not seem optimal for synthesizing an answer. My impression is that they know a lot more than wikipedia. Why haven't they filled it out? Would they be interested in ata's wiki?

At the top of the Nootropics forum is a sticky which indexes the best threads by subject. It looks like exactly what you're looking for.

This one in particular looks like a great getting-started guide.

It would certainly be useful if the information was collected in wiki format. As you say, forums are far from optimal for collecting a concise synthesis of information! It would be a service to the universe if ata's wiki was filled out comprehensively.

Psychedelics can have cognitive benefits. It's not what you'd chose if you need to concentrate on something, but if the problem requires a creative solution and you're stuck, it might be the way to go.

"What if I had not taken LSD ever; would I have still invented PCR? I don't know. I doubt it. I seriously doubt it." -Kary Mullis

I have a friend who came to a pretty big personal revelation about reductionism/human behavior when under the influence of DMT.

Another friend took a threshold dose of LSD and said something along the lines of "I've always known intellectually that aging is bad, but it finally hit me- at an emotional level. These [old] people are everywhere. They're falling apart right in front of us and we act as if its normal and okay! This is not okay!!!"

The interesting thing about this is that a full "tripping" dose is not necessary. The latter friend was on a dose low enough that neither he nor anyone else could notice the effects- other than the slightly changed thought processes, of course.

Also note that cannabis is a psychedelic and has caused similar insights in all sorts of people, including myself.
Only some people experience psychedelic effects from marijuana, and then usually only some of the time.... and when you do get psychedelic effects, they're nowhere near as intense as they are for "traditional" psychedelics.... still it's enough to get some of the positive effects being talked about here. It's a real shame that its become rather hard to get ahold of "real" psychedelics these days.

Psychedelic means something that causes a profound change in thought patterns. In anything beyond a mild dose, cannabis induces profound changes in thought patterns.

There are plenty of legal plants that contain illegal psychedelics. These plants are legal to buy, grow, and sell, but they become illegal if you possess them with the knowledge of their use. It is an actual thoughtcrime (in the USA).

  • Peruvian torch cactus contains mescaline.
  • Mimosa hostilis root contains DMT.
  • Dried poppy pods contain the opium blend of alkaloids.
  • Morning glory seeds contain LSA. They are coated in poison if you buy them at flower shops or a place like Wal-Mart, but are safe when bought from specialty stores online.

All can be purchased online by searching Google.

A lot of places avoid the "thought crime" problem by making the live plants legal but their products illegal. For example, in places where psychedelic mushrooms grow naturally, it is often legal to have them fresh but illegal to have them dried, as one would only dry them in order to use them but you wouldn't want to arrest an old lady for having a lawn.
I hear that the experience of marijuana changes after you've tried LSD or mushrooms. The marijuana gets more "trippy." Do you think that is the case? And if so, why would that be?
Not in my experience.
You can have level 5 trips from THC, you just need enough of it. See http://www.erowid.org/psychoactives/faqs/psychedelic_experience_faq.shtml
I've spent months in my mind (chemical coma), the knowledge I've gained there I can compare to no other. Years later I am still working through the massive amount of data and introspective knowledge I gained. I was happy Inception was created because suddenly the vox pop can grasp some part of what it means when I say I've known many lifetimes, many courses of the universe, the ebb and flow of time. This thought thread is a book onto itself, getting into it now is like licking an iceberg worrying about getting my tongue stuck. Looking at the connections to religion is a good place to begin to grasp the importance of psychedelics in the shaping of our society. Most of the major religions were formed (though debated) through hallucinations assisted or not, psychedelics have been known as a "gateway to god" for thousands of years. The insights gained are as real as any other (though it is impossible to create new information other than through ones own creativity, people cannot learn things they did not already know or previously have the tools to find out). Psychedelics have been hidden/taken away from the general population for a purpose, which is, at least in my opinion, to keep the divide in power between leaders and followers. Many have used them to find answers, many more have found questions. A few of us have found problems, world or society or humanity ending problems, really, really scary stuff. I've seen all three, and I'm scared for and in love with humanity. I am trying to save the world. But for no little reason and with no little strength! Many of us are, trying to save the world that is, or trying to save humanity, etcetc, but few are willing to publicly declare it. I riposte every zealot who begs for my soul by trying to save their minds! Every mind lost to ignorance is another meathusk we will have to wait to die before we can move forward together Open your mind quiad!

How would people feel about an IA wiki, to collect and organize information about software, drugs/supplements, etc., including links to the best available research on each, plus perhaps space for anecdotes?

(I am volunteering to host and moderate it if there is interest, though I'm not an expert on the actual subject matter, so I'd need plenty of help with writing and researching it.)

I'll go ahead and get it started here. I need to head out now but I'll start filling things in later. Edit: If anyone has any better ideas for the site's title, please do let me know. I'm not attached to the current one, it's just the first thing I thought of.
Interesting initiative, bookmarked. Being a rather cautious layman in this area I look forward to a good and more importantly trustworthy resource on this. I feel the need to be extra careful with anything that targets the mind specifically. I'm concerned about side effects showing up in old age, especially anything that could increase the odds of Alzheimer's or something similar that could mess with my cryonics plans. Perhaps start the thing by stealing articles from wikipedia so to have a seed base? Also this sounds silly but a cool wiki emblem goes a long way. I don't know why but when I heard better brains I associated it with something similar like a level up icon, a + inside the a line shaped like a human brain. In some respect similar to the h+ logo.
I'm going to discourage copying entire articles, as Wikipedia articles will have a lot of information that this wiki won't need (information on substances' history, marketing, etc.); I want the pages to be focused on practicality. There'll probably be some information duplicated, and Wikipedia will be a good source, but if there's an existing Wikipedia article we'll just have a badge linking to it, the way the LW wiki does it. Indeed. I'm decent at designing things, so I'll put something up today, but maybe there could be a logo contest at some point if there's enough activity to warrant it.
The wiki is down. Was the content saved?
I made a page on the wiki collecting all of the links that were mentioned so far in this thread: http://ia.fubaria.org/index.php/External_links I also made a few other pages, but most of those will probably end up being deleted.

"We report that when C57BL/6 mice are maintained on an intermittent fasting (alternate-day fasting) dietary-restriction regimen their overall food intake is not decreased and their body weight is maintained. Nevertheless, intermittent fasting resulted in beneficial effects that met or exceeded those of caloric restriction including reduced serum glucose and insulin levels and increased resistance of neurons in the brain to excitotoxic stress."

"Since May 2003 we have experimented with alternate day calorie restriction, one day consuming 20-50% of estimated daily caloric requirement and the next day ad lib eating, and have observed health benefits starting in as little as two weeks, in insulin resistance, asthma, seasonal allergies, infectious diseases of viral, bacterial and fungal origin (viral URI, recurrent bacterial tonsillitis, chronic sinusitis, periodontal disease), autoimmune disorder (rheumatoid arthritis), osteoarthritis, symptoms due to CNS inflammatory lesions (Tourette's, Meniere's) cardiac arrhythmias (PVCs, atrial fibrillation), menopause related hot flashes. We hypothesize that other many conditions would be delayed, prevented or improved, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, brain injury due to thrombotic stroke atherosclerosis, NIDDM, congestive heart failure."

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Next year I have to do a study as a school project. I will probably have access to about 10-20 test subjects, maybe more if I beg, and a lab with a full battery of professional-level cognitive tests. I'd like to study nootropic drugs and see how well they work, but the only one I'm really familiar with, piracetam, is by prescription only in Ireland, and I'm not likely to be able to prescribe it for this study.

So, nootropics experts, can you think of a drug or supplement that needs testing, that you think will return measurable results in a study of only 10-20 people, that works quickly (ie no "have to take this for a month before seeing effects", preferably <2 hr onset of action) and which is sold over-the-counter in Europe?

Sulbutiamine. I don't know whether it will return measurable results for typical biochemistries or not, but I'd very much like to know. I'm also unsure what the test procedure for "reduced mental fatigue" would be like. Maybe give subjects control over their breaks and stopping point for a task, and measure their persistence?
Anecdote: I've tried out sulbutiamine (250-400 mg mixed with 2g piracetam) from smartpowders and didn't notice a difference -- certianly not the momentous results you obtained. However, I'm not diabetic (just fat, quick to sweat, and tired after eating).
I've had really good success with 5HTP. It begins working in your desired time frame, and has consistently make me calmer, more focused, and more positive. Piracetam and sulbutiamine didn't seem to do anything for me though.
I'd be VERY careful with 5-HTP . Very careful indeed. I used it for a couple of years and it had some beneficial effects (increased sleep, decreased migraine, decreased depression, general cognitive improvement). But anything that affects your serotonergetic system can have nasty unpredictable effects. In my case, I upped my caffeine intake a lot, without realising that caffeine can have a synergetic effect with 5-HTP, and gave myself mild serotonin syndrome. NOT pleasant. In particular, if you take any kind of SSRI, don't touch 5-HTP with a bargepole...
Coincidentally, I recently began trying l-tryptophan (which metabolizes into 5HTP). I think it helps sleep and may've helped motivation, but I'm not sure (coincided with a sleep schedule switch from day to night).
+1 for 5-HTP. I use it as a substitute for melatonin and think it is more broadly useful than melatonin.
More useful than melatonin for sleeping in particular?
My own experience was that 5-HTP had a VERY noticeable effect on my sleep for the first week or two, after which point I built up a tolerance to it in that respect at least. I switched to melatonin after the problems I mentioned above, and that had a much less noticeable effect, but the effect didn't taper off at all as it did with 5-HTP...
It depends on the person; there are genetic factors involved with processing of these kinds of things. 5-HTP is a partial prodrug for melatonin and I don't think is generally less useful than melatonin for sleeping.
Non-expert suggestion: Flax seed oil.
Personally, I can't. In nootropics, the more powerful something is the more likely it is to be illegal. If even piracetam is out... (Incidentally, the FDA letter to smartpowders.com banning it from selling piracetam went up on fda.gov today or yesterday.) Maybe the other racetams aren't banned? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racetam) Maybe you'd be better off trying n-backing. That at least is legal, although you might have trouble getting subjects to do enough to matter.
To the best of my knowledge only one small N-back study has been done and the results were strongly positive. There would be significant social value in getting more data on N-Backing.
http://www.gwern.net/N-back%20FAQ#support Besides Jaeggi 2008, there have been 2 or 3 studies supporting it to some degree, and 2 or 3 studies opposing it to some degree.
Has anyone ever done a systematic review of the literature for studies of nootropics that looked at cognitive outcomes in healthy people? This commentary from Nature indicates that there have only been a few trials. It might be worth the trouble to compile a database of all the trials of the compounds we're interested in. Anyone else use Mendeley? You can share a public database of documents among users.
Sulbutiamine could use some more study and is significant enough in effects that it would show a difference on that scale of investigation.
3Scott Alexander14y
Thanks, that's my first choice right now. Just got to find out how to find out if it's legal here.
So what did you find out?
1Scott Alexander14y
That it is very difficult to learn what supplements are and aren't legal in Ireland, especially since the appropriate government website seems permanently down. If anyone has a good idea how you'd go about it, let me know. Otherwise, I'm going to wait until I see my pharmacist friend and ask her how you find these things out.
You're of course aware of power and sample size considerations. With 20 participants, you'd need a pretty precise instrument or a very large effect size to get a useful answer, no? I haven't done research in cognitive science. Do you have fine measures of important cognitive function? Is expecting a large effect realistic? Very cool if you can get some useful data though!
Yvain, are there any cognitive tests that can measure creativity? I'm also curious about nootropics that improve focus and or mood, which seems to difficult to measure. Coffee and aderall work in this category, but I wonder how you test other potential nootropics for those effects.
Focus is sometimes tested by giving people a task and introducing distracting influences in a controlled manner. I recall nicotine being tested on children in this way (it works about as well as Adderall if memory serves me.) But there isn't too much incentive for people to formally research this kind of thing for most nootropics so a lot of the time we just have ad hoc anecdotal reports to go by. Modafinil is better for boosting mood than caffeine or adderall, especially in as much as it tends to provoke less agitation. The effect on focus is not quite as pronounced as with the amphetamine. This is sometimes considered a good thing when the overfocus is detrimental (eg. when socialising or exposed to TvTropes.) Selegeline also improves both focus and mood - in a more subtle way over periods of weeks (irreversible MAOB inhibition doesn't 'rebound' after a few hours). For mood specifically try Phenylethylamine while you are taking selegeline (carefully!) or use phenibut.
I don't know how reliable it would be, but you can try a book of "lateral thinking puzzles."

The best-ROI techniques I've found to date are getting sufficient sleep, and trying hard. I know that these work, andthey work quite reliably.

Another which is somewhat less reliable is 'sleeping on it.' I mean quickly and intensively priming the mental pumps on a task, then doing something else, then coming back (ideally after a good night's sleep) to the task later. I often perceive the benefit of signicant effortless processing which must have taken place in the interim,

Back to trying hard. To help w/ this, I tend to psych myself differently dependi... (read more)


The best-ROI techniques I've found to date are getting sufficient sleep, and trying hard. I know that these work, andthey work quite reliably.

Also, I hear that fat people need more willpower, and depressed people should just cheer up.

Are you sure that it works because you're unconsciously working on it? Might it be that during the time off, you simply forget what you were thinking, and you take a new approach that works?

A shockingly high percentage of undergraduates illegally use ADHD drugs. A group of researchers questioned 1,811 undergraduates at a large public U.S. college and found that 34% admitted illegally using ADHA stimulants.

The researchers conducted detailed interviews with 175 of the users. None of these users "sought out information from health professionals, medical or pharmaceutical reference guides, or even Internet sites before taking their first dose."

From the paper "Illicit use of prescription ADHD medications on a college campus: a multimethodological approach" by DeSantis AD, Webb EM, Noar SM, published in the Journal of American College Health. Not available online.

It is online. google scholar is awesome. pdf_315-324/links/02e7e52ae673804d5a000000.pdf) doc

Exercise: Effect on brain function:

A 2008 review of cognitive enrichment therapies (strategies to slow or reverse cognitive decline) concluded that "physical activity, and aerobic exercise in particular, enhances older adults' cognitive function". In mice, exercise improves cognitive functioning via improvement of hippocampus-dependent spatial learning, and enhancement of synaptic plasticity and neurogenesis. In addition, physical activity has been shown to be neuroprotective in many neurodegenerative and neuromuscular diseases. For instance, i

... (read more)

For a no-brainer, you can easily adjust to listening to audiobooks at 2x on ipod/phone.

Fun quote. I bet you could read quickly, but also pause to think. The average US reader reads at 300wpm, but speech is typically 150wpm. I feel like the 1.4x speed option on bloggingheads doesn't reduce my comprehension at all, even for technical material.
I would think that the brain is devoting extra processing power to pickup on different social cues and status juxtapositions while listening to the bloggingheads versus text.
If you listen to it twice at 2x speed, especially with a sleep in between, I'm pretty confident that you'll get and retain more in the time you spend.
Same goes for videos (Yay action movies at 2x). Bonus points (for fun only): Play action games afterwards. Time sensation is a weird thing.
Interestingly I have noticed a similar "time slowing" effect in rapid reaction computer games following extreme bursts of adrenaline for whatever reason - I wonder if action movies at 2x give you an adrenaline boost?
I noticed real life slowing down after extended multiplayer sessions of Quake 3.
Doesn't the helium-voice effect completely kill the mood? Or, if your film player automatically compensates, which is it?
What's this like?
It appears slow. In particular I seem to think more things per time, sometimes noticing significant delays between thought and action. However according to the scores, performance improvement is only marginal (but existent). The effect wears off after 10 to 15 minutes according to my experience. I usually play Quake 3 (just in case anybody want's to compare effects between games).
What software are you using? I find audio parts of sped-up videos pretty difficult, other than on the ipod line of products (even in quicktime). There is some info here: http://www.catonmat.net/blog/how-to-save-time-by-watching-videos-at-higher-playback-speeds/
The blog post (but not the comments) omits mplayer's 'scaletempo' option, which de-chipmunkifies the sound. Perhaps the ipod line of products is doing that by default. (I personally only increase things like 110%. Still saves me time without ever bothering me.)
I use VLC's playback speed (fine) options. Right now I'm taking a few recorded lecture classes and I can get them up to 1.4x without any difficulty in understanding or comprehension.

The magic combination of things that work for me:

  • Regular exercise, i like running at least 5 days a week, tabata/endurance depending on the mood/energy levels.

  • Piracetam

  • Very strong coffee in the morning

  • Clear goals of what i want to accomplish

  • No sleep debt, and sufficient sleep everyday.

Last one is the hardest, but the weeks that manage to get enough sleep, i get things done like an animal.

Are you worried about caffeine addiction at all? My understanding is that once your body gets used to it, the coffee is really only bringing you up to what would otherwise be your baseline.
My experience is that when used in combination with sufficient sleep, i.e., much more sleep than most Americans get, small doses of caffeine (e.g. 1 espresso/day) can be a permanently useful stimulant. The 'cost' of the alertness gets taken out of your bone density and immune system rather than via chemical habituation.
Exercise, especially tabata seems to mitigate some of these problems. I get sick quite often, but i recover very fast and my bones seem to be stronger. Of course it's just my subjective observation.
Your experience with tabata: subjective or did you find some research?
I'll still take a pass. :)
What is your experience? Have you tried stopping caffeine? Do you have objective measure of alertness?
Yes, on most days I have no caffeine. I frequently go 2-3 weeks without taking any caffeine at all except for, say, a fun-sized dark chocolate bar. I do not drink soda, take caffeniated pills, drink office coffee, or have access to other popular surrepetitious sources of caffeine, so it is unlikely that I am in denial about my caffeine consumption. I do not have an objective measure of alertness, but I have been successfully confused by what appeared to be aytpical levels of alertness after misestimating the amount of caffeine in, e.g., a Grande Starbucks Frappucino (~120 mg vs. my estimate of 50 mg), gone back and checked the actual caffeine level, and found that it predicted my past alertness better than my estimated caffeine level. This happened twice with two different types of caffeniated beverages, both at times when I was habitually using caffeine at roughly the same dosages per day as the beverages in question.
This is a sufficient answer to my comment as well.

I recommend O'Reilly's Mind Performance Hacks and the accompanying Mentat Wiki. I was particularly interested in the exoself which is really just a combination of the Hipster PDA and a Motivaider.

Also, touchtyping is the closest thing to a Direct Neural Interface you can get today. If you don't know how to do it, learn!

Definitely if you program, and quite possibly if you don't, using a 'real' editor like vim, or emacs, is almost as much of an increase in productivity over something like textpad as touch-typing is over hunt-and-peck. That sentence was awkward... Using vim fluently : Textpad :: touch-typing : hunt-and-peck.
It's extremely frustrating returning to a 'normal' editor and trying to find the shortcut key for 'regex substitution'. ;)
Well, in Notepad, the keyboard shortcut for Find/Replace is Ctrl-H...
I'm referring to my favourite feature of vim: regex substitution. Commands like :%s:(\w+)(.*\s+)(\w+)$:\3\2\1:
Yeah, old-fashioned find/replace just isn't as versatile as regular expressions. :( Obligatory XKCD link.
Also related to direct experience: use TeXmacs instead of LaTeX (even if it's auctex).
I've never been able to get over the initial learning curve of emacs or vi.... every once in awhile I try for a few days, but find myself not advancing up the curve fast enough to get real work done and end up ditching it for a conventional editor. Do you have any tips for how to quickly bring yourself up to speed on one of the editors, i.e. get far enough up the learning curve to be more productive with it than with a traditional editor, in a short period of time?
Others have given good advice; in particular, the idea of using a cheat sheet. People have made nice ones, but it's easy to make your own. It should show how to do the things you're already doing in your current editor. Other than that, the "trick" is just to commit yourself to using your chosen new editor all the time (except for emergencies). If you don't already touch-type, learn that first. You should have a diagram of the keyboard (or at least the hard-to-remember parts). When you forget where a key is, look at the diagram not the keyboard. If you choose Vim, feel free to PM me if you can't figure out how to do something in it.
Emacs hardly even has a learning curve for basic use these days, what with the gui interface and ability to use the mouse. Even the console version tends to be better for new users than variations of vi since the keystroke-commands are (arguably) less arcane. You can improve your Emacs-effectiveness by reading a manual once, so you know what commands there are, and then just pay attention to when you're doing repetitive tasks or using a bunch of keystrokes for something you can think of as a one-step process; then there's probably a command for that. Also, use keyboard macros. And if you have a gui-version, only use the mouse as a last resort and then figure out what you should have done using the keyboard.
gvim is easier than vim and vim is easier than vi; with gvim, you can use the mouse, unlike console versions. In general, using *vi is most valuable for editing, as opposed to entry - things like reformatting code, adjusting text tables, that sort of thing. You only need a small set of commands to function in gvim - i/esc for modes, v for visual (selection mode), d, y and p for cut, yank (aka copy) and paste. You can skip the home-row cursor motion stuff at first and just use arrows. Once you're comfortable with a small set of commands, learn a few more at a time, spaced out, and when you have a particular need for them. Start with '.' (repeat last command), since having that while doing semi-redundant editing tasks will motivate you to learn more commands.
I use emacs as my editor of choice, though I've never really become a super-expert in it, and I recommend it warmly. What I advise is to make a list of basic keyboard commands and look it up whenever you're doing something; in my experience, you should memorize them effectively very soon. What I would initially include into the list are basic file commands (opening, saving, navigation, revert-buffer), copy/paste, find/search/replace, and etags commands (if you're programming). If you want, you can post your list, and I can tell you what I think should be added to it. (I still occasionally find out about some amazingly useful feature I hadn't known.) Also, the default setup for emacs can be ugly and inconvenient, so the first step should be to customize your .emacs configuration file. You can find lots of good examples if you just google for them, and modify one as you like. By the way, if you can, install emacs 23, which supports magnificent anti-aliased fonts.
Perhaps vimperator? It would enable you to get at least basic vi familiarity during your off-time, instead of hampering your productivity.
I'm a vim user and even so that thing drove me nuts. Have you used it enough to get past the learning curve? And if so is it useful? I'm half considering giving it another shot, but perhaps leaving the help screen open on my second monitor...
I don't use either myself - my studying activity is 90% searching/reading, 10% coding/LaTeXing, so I never really bothered to optimise my computer for keyboard control (whereas I'm always looking for the newest and most feature-rich mouse and make large use of gestures and button combinations). But I know a lot more people who swear by vimperator than people who actually use vi.
For an interface to a computer, I completely agree; mice are for art and play, keyboards are for getting other work done. However, while I have excellent touchtyping speed and a small portable netbook, I still take class notes, and often brainstorm, on paper. Why? It's the easiest possible way to work in two dimensions. I can make outlines, add margin notes, connect related ideas with arrows, and draw diagrams, without being confined to a grid or having to switch modes between location selection and input. I don't know of and have difficulty imagining the computer program that would let me do this anywhere near as fluidly, although if someone knows one I'd love to hear about it.
Another benefit is that you will remember your notes better if you write them on paper. The kinaesthetic involvement aids memory formation. I don't do it myself. But then, I don't usually take notes either.
Good point. I knew that, but forgot about it (probably since that's not my reason). They'll probably also be easier to browse and review if I care to. I didn't used to take notes either. The main conscious reason I do it now is that I know I'm inclined to do something with my hands while in class--doodling, writing something unrelated, even crocheting or embroidery sometimes. All of these activities take some of my attention away from the instructor. If I take notes, I satisfy the urge to keep my hands busy, and also pay more attention instead of less. (That, and I'm getting paid to take notes in one of my classes, and I would've felt silly if that was the only one I took notes for.)
A downside, it turns out, is that when a classmate asks to borrow my notes and our schedules conflict enough to not do a handoff in person, I can't just copy them into an email. I just scanned half a dozen pages instead. Oh well. :)
Also, does anyone remember that in the days before ubiquitous cheap electronics, the equivalent of the motivaider was tying a string around your finger? The only difference seems to be that the motivaider can actively alert you, whereas the string must passively rely on you noticing it.
And surely now in the days of ubiquitous (expensive) smart phones, there's an equivalent of a $60 piece of extra physical junk.... I'll add it to the wiki when I find it.

I'm considering writing a post on meditation if there is enough interest (see my comment here).

God helmet. More info here where it's sold for $650. Kooky or credible or both?

Also, anyone know where to buy transcranial magnetic stimulation devices? Closest I found was this without an easily findable price tag. If not, do any engineers know if they'd be difficult to build?

I found a place that does TMS sessions in Berkeley that treat depression. Website here. I'll do more research to figure out if it'd be useful for things other than depression. This looks potentially promising, but I haven't found the original study yet (using Google Scholar).

Clearly credible that the God helmet produces hallucinations, possibly really cool ones.
See this podcast for a description of one neuroscientist's experience with the God Helmet.
Shouldn't be too tough to build. I'd sure want to make sure I know what field strengths to go for before I start inducing eddy currents in my brain though.

In the Foucault Reader, Michel Foucault claims his greatest trick is an old one called hypomnemata. The last time I googled on hypomnemata, all the top hits were explicit Foucault references.

The hypomnema or hypomnemata are similar to diaries (or weblogs even), except they are not written one time and maybe never looked at again. They are to be reread and rewritten over and over for the writer's education and work and progress. I have been doing a bunch of this for years and it is only since November of 2008 that I have established a system that I am conf... (read more)

OK a couple more details. My system is not that complicated and very much resembles what I was doing seven or eight years ago, which was close to plain-vanilla journaling. Now I use printer paper, which I line myself with microsoft word in alternating colors: tan-lavender-orange-light green-rose-light blue-gray. There are fifteen pages per color. At any given time I carry with me sixty pages; the fifteen in the active queue and the filled three previous sets. Right now my active pile goes back to the 23 rd of August. The first thing written on every new page is the date and this date's page number in the top right corner. When I fill up the current active set (of fifteen pages), I carefully read the set that will go upside down on the stack of a thousand pages or so on my bedroom floor. Some stuff will get copied onto a new fresh sheet to keep in the current active bin. Other stuff will get circled in red, starred, or otherwise annotated as something I would like to be able to review, or to find fairly fast. I use a lot of cartoon drawings and glyphs and diagrams and graphs. I personally find it easier to find stuff out of hardcopy because keyword searches only work if you can remember the keyword and how to spell most of it. Depending on what I am looking for, I can scan through up to ten or fifteen pages in a minute; also, if it takes me a long time to find something and I have to search through a lot, I always find at least one pleasant surprise by happy happenstance. JenniferRM, I looked at those links and some of it is intriguing. I do not log everything and am not interested in a complete map of every thought I think. What I am after is to refine and rewrite and connect my very best thoughts. This is the sense I read Foucault's discussion of the hypomnemata. If you are interested in looking at this, you can find it on page 364 of the 1st edition of the Foucalt Reader, edited by Paul Rabinow, Pantheon Books. Foucault is generally thought of as intimidating,
Can you give an example of the kind of thing you use this to record? Is it for ideas, new concepts, notes to self, things to do later ... ? What kind of things do you save, and how are they useful? I was thinking about something similar recently, although I came at it from a different direction. Every once in a while I'll think of something I call a "puzzle piece"--a bit of my own personality, or a rationale for something I do or feel. A piece of the puzzle that is me. Examples are along the lines of "Oh, I just remembered this experience I once had regarding such-and-such; no wonder I react to such-and-such so strongly now." I usually talk to someone about the puzzle pieces in a logged medium, but I don't otherwise record them. It occurred to me that if I did, I'd be writing a manual to myself, and that might be very handy. Would anyone else be interested in some kind of structured site with the purpose of helping people develop their own "manuals" in this way? I'll need to think about the requirements a little more before committing to building it, but I'm tentatively interested, especially if someone wants to help. (It wouldn't be IA specifically, but self-knowledge is a useful thing.) It's also possible that the right format for this would not be an interactive site so much as a text guide for finding your own puzzle pieces.
Everything that is now up on my blog comes directly from my hypomnemata.
Sorry for the delay, I didn't see the reply because it wasn't "leafward" of my response but on another branch so the software didn't point me back here. Thanks, I appreciate the reference! Its in my system now, with a link back to here. It sounds like I do similar things already though not optimized for finding my mental gems. My working processes tend to be more "coral like" - with waves of growth and death and re-use of ancient content, but without a strong habit or theory to keep things stably repeating. Still, I like to see how other people tend their own thought gardens out of pure curiosity even when I don't apply very much. Kimbro's system sounds like an impractically expensive version of yours, but there are similar themes. He prefers the flexible utility of physical note taking systems, uses four-color pens to track different phases and attitudes toward writing and re-writing, encourages ideogram invention, has mutating archival/mobile distinctions, and has numbering/sorting/reference systems so that the structure can be adjusted on the fly.
I would love to have some sort of browser plugin that would be a combination of this and supermemo, where, before going to bed, it would compile a sort of TL;DR summary of all of the most interesting and relevant articles I read that day, as well as those from a week ago (or whatever the optimal cadence for memory) for me to review and better commit to memory. I attempted a weak version of this the other day by simply reviewing all of the page titles in my browser history, and I think it did help a bit, but the real challenge would be in filtering it down to a short list of the information we most wish to remember, for those of us who find the web too shiny.
I think it would make for a really fascinating read if you plugged some keywords into google scholar like "diary", "life logging", "personal journal", "mind mapping", or something else that you think might be methodologically similar and found experimental research conclusions that you could vividly illustrate by reference to your personal experiences -- "Hey I've seen that!" Also, I'm curious about your mechanics and producing a truly fixed habit that is actually valuable and which persists over periods longer than a year. Have you ever heard of Lion Kimbro's How to Make a Complete Map of Every Thought you Think and if so, do you have any thoughts on it?
The title sounded interesting, so I followed the link and tried to read it. (Ow, my head! It hurts...) There are some very intriguing ideas in there, and also some very scary ones, and I haven't finished it yet, and I'm not sure I want to and... ow. Just, ow. I think there should be some kind of warning on your link, but I'm not sure what it should warn about exactly. Those are my thoughts on it, to the degree that I am still able to think at the moment. ;-)
I don't know about tossing into the dumpster. It seems that one interested in cryonics could get more mileage out of this by doubling this as part of that really long letter that partially amnesiac you could read after revival or that omega could use to reconstruct a approximation of you. Perhaps locking it away where you can't read it?
Could you elaborate on this system (or link to a description)?

Is this a good thread to talk about sleep in? I'm not sure if sleep deprivation reduces intelligence, but it reduces executive function, which is necessary for effective use of one's intelligence.

I've had excellent success with melatonin (2-3 mg) in getting myself on a good sleep cycle. I take it about 1 hr before I want to be sleeping; works like a charm. Before I used to sit in bed for hours waiting to feel sleepy. Other people here report similar effects. Only drawback is sometimes I feel groggy in the morning, and I've had lots of crazy dreams on the nights I've taken it (or maybe just remember them better?).
I've tried melatonin, and it helps sometimes, but it doesn't fix the root of the problems: 1. My main problem is akrasia over getting to bed because after 9 PM I do a Jekyll and Hyde switch where Hyde comes out and wants to stay up late trying reading, writing, programming, or stopping people on the internets from being wrong. My value system changes. Every night. I've tried stuff like cronjobs to quit my browser, but it's no good. I need a cronjob to switch off my brain. 2. Melatonin doesn't necessarily make me go to sleep. It can make me feel a bit more sleepy, but my brain doesn't experience sleepiness as motivation to go to sleep. It experiences sleepiness as motivation to focus even harder. All day I'm distractable from being sleep deprived, then after like 8 or 9 PM, my brain suddenly focuses on things, I turn into Hyde, and I can't break it. 3. Melatonin makes me groggy in the morning a lot of the time. 4. Ladyfriends like to sleep over, or to chat online. Melatonin does help me sleep when I can actually get to bed, and it helps me not get woken up in the middle of the night, or get back to sleep if I do.
So go to bed before 9. ;-) (Seriously, though, I've found that there are certain time windows for me to go to bed, and once they pass, I then want to stay up a few more hours, so catching a sleep window before 9 might actually work for you.)
Might this be caused by the calories you eat at dinner? Does it still happen if you swap the sizes and contents of your lunchtime and dinnertime meals?
I second the crazy dreams (which I usually enjoy very much...). I've heard from other people that they get them as well.

I have posted about my positive experiences with piracetam and sulbutiamine here before. Since then I've also tried L-tyrosine (precursor to a bunch of important neurotransmitters), but it hasn't had a discernible effect on me.

I'd just like to say that there are many safe, potentially nootropic and anti-akrasic supplements to try, and while individual biochemistry varies too much to reliably predict whether any particular one will work for you or not, the expected return on investment from experimentation is extremely high. I would also like to add that ch... (read more)

How long have you been on piracetam and sulbutiamine? Have you been collecting data on your does over time and any subjective evaluations (a diary/log or whatever)? Individual experiements such as that can be quite useful for others. Have an idea which works better? After reading about your sulbutiamine experiment I went and got a B-vitamin complex which I now take, and I'm curious about actually trying sulbutiamine next.
I've taken piracetam and measured the effects on a one dose basis. I notice more 'clear' thinking, but the measurable part is in terms of action/reaction time. My 'maximum typing rate' (my typing speed when I type a memorized sentence and don't make mistakes) goes up about 10%. My reaction time goes down about 10%. My guitar playing speed seems to improve by more than 10% (haven't actually measured it). The increase is large enough that my friends can tell that I've taken a 'racetam without me mentioning it. One of the first times I took piracetam I had forgotten about taking it and when I went to play guitar I was shocked and confused until I remembered taking it.
That is really interesting jimmy. Is it still legally available in the US? I am motivated now to research it more. Of course a 10% speed increase isn't earth-shattering and probably doesn't result in anything near a 10% benefit in most tasks, but it's fascinating to me because I wasn't aware that any pharmaceutical could significantly increase speed of thought. Although I guess perhaps some stimulants can, but I've also thought of there effects as increasing alertness more than speed.
Piracetam is still legal, apparently. smartpowders.com, for example, is still selling it, although note the timer gives you only 2 days. There are other retailers, of course.
Wow, that's close timing. The place I previously bought from has already stopped selling it. I gotta stock up now. Thanks a ton for the warning.
Wait, they have? I was under the impression that smartpowders.com was the first to be notified.
Yeah, but now that I look closer, it looks like it was several months back. http://www.bodybuilding.com/store/prima/piracetam.html
Yup, bulknutrition.com also stopped selling it months back.
It's legal and cheap in the US. I bought 500g for ~$20 if I remember correctly. Aniracetam is similar and also legal and worth playing with. I have a friend that's into MMA and likes taking aniracetam before grappling. To cut a few snips from a conversation about it: "more free flowing instictual thought processes instead of frantic fleeting moments when it gets intense.." " id say no more than a 10% improvement, but i will say i felt invincible on ground and pound days when i got on top, it was just so easy to flow and maintain top position... it seemed like it improved timing and sense of body awareness"
About 3 weeks on sulbutiamine, 5 on piracetam. I haven't gotten any quantitative data. Before I started, I thought I ought to get in the habit of using dual N-back and Anki and some other tests so I'd have a baseline, but didn't really have the energy and motivation to set those up and do them. Once I realized that was stopping me from trying nootropics at all, I dropped that idea and settled for subjective impressions, collected informally. I have some subjective feeling data recorded in my private diary, but it pretty much just duplicates what I posted in comments. Piracetam and sulbutiamine have pretty much orthogonal effects. If you're already taking a supplement with lots of thiamine, then sulbutiamine will have a smaller effect than it would otherwise since they are analogues of the same molecule, but I think there's a limit to how much thiamine can cross the blood-brain barrier which doesn't apply to sulbutiamine so you may still get some effect.
In the piracetam post you mentioned some controlled studies -- I'm not sure if I would blindly trust the results as applied to me, but I'd certainly be interested in the methodology. Got any links? (I'd be much more inclined to experiment with these on myself if I could do actual experiments.)
Is there anything wrong with Wikipedia'ing it? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piracetam
Nope, nothing wrong, Wikipedia has a rather overflowing wealth of information. I was just wondering if JRH had any specific references that struck him as very interesting, or if he had any particular techniques to measure his own performance.
I don't know about the methodologies those studies have used, but the one I would recommend for measuring effects on long-term memory is to study flash cards with Anki, and monitor its statistics on the success rate for new, young and mature cards.
Intelligence is hard to define, let alone measure. Even if some nootropic showed an increase in long-term memory, I would be concerned that might involve a decrase in some other more important cognitive quality, such as creativity. Memory is important only to a degree. I most value creativity, short term working memory, and focus. The latter is often the most important for success, and mood/motivation is thus critical.
IQ and working memory are good enough approximations most of the time.
Tradeoffs do exist, but most forms of self-improvement really are just improvement, not tradeoff-adjustments, and assuming otherwise would cause you to miss opportunities. Beware of putting obstacles in the way of things you should do; deciding you need a creativity test before you work on improving your memory is more likely to drive you to inaction and loss of benefits than to lead to an actual test.

Most if not all of the comments so far are focused on individual intelligence augmentation.

I suspect there is big, juicy, low-hanging fruit in collective intelligence augmentation. We're pretty smart by ourselves but really dumb when we get together in groups, small and big.

For an interesting (if controversial) example of IA for groups, see Software For Your Head.

Hold off on proposing solutions..
I'm planning to start an organisation that experiments with a different feedback system for organisations. It is about trying to improve organisational sanity more than intelligence though.
Improving organizational sanity? But... organizations are not found to be conscious, are they?
Morendil, Thank you for reminding me of this book! A technique I remember being described there is very attractive to me. My memory will mangle the details, but basically it is a convention by which either party in a discussion (say, party A in a discussion with party B) can call a point of order to ask the other party (in this case, B) to state A's position to A's satisfaction. I have tried this some with mixed results, which I suspect could have been better with more preparatory groundwork. I'd love to hear of others' experiences.
"What do you think I believe?" "Why do you think I believe what I believe?" I haven't tried these out yet.
Yes Nisan, that is the gist as I recall it. One can see how such a tool might help with a whole host of dysfunctional discussion/meeting behaviors. A skeptic might regard this as gimmicky, and point out that the discipline required to use the tool properly would, if present, have prevented the dysfunctions in the first place. To which I reply: Well, maybe. But it's cheap to try. You might even enjoy it.
That sounds like either a Protocol Check or the more useful Intention Check. What I like about the Protocols is that most of them can be practiced unilaterally and without even sounding weird. "Okay, what is our intention here" can be a powerful question when a discussion is getting bogged down.

I've been mulling over getting an iPhone, basically weighing two considerations.

On the one hand, it's another distraction. As Paul Graham wrote, the ability to carry the internet around is not necessarily a move someone aspiring to get more done should make.

On the other, it seems like it must have awesome potential as an intelligence amplification tool! I feel like I'm missing a step towards human-machine integration by not getting one.

Anyone have any thoughts on how to optimize the tool for intelligence amplification?

A few apps that seem to have potential... (read more)

Being the possessor of a Motorola Backflip, I find that I do not use it for time-wasting Internet browsing. It has four major advantages over my previous dumbphone: * I can look up words / facts in mid-conversation or while listening to a talk * I can browse Twitter/Facebook any moment I'm not doing something useful, so I don't feel compelled to check them when I could be doing productive work in front of a computer * My contacts are all imported automatically from Facebook, and when I call someone I immediately see their last facebook/twitter update and picture (and all other possible combinations of this functionality) * If I want to find something locally, I can just start Google Maps. It knows where I am and I can call the place with one touch. Also, I can call numbers on websites with one touch.
Honestly, having the ability to access any piece of knowledge as long as I know how to find it has revolutionized my life. I would for years get hung up in my own mind when I was missing a key fact in a discussion or debate, now I find I can more eloquently present myself while essentially throwing links at the other person (rarely in real time and if in real time usually just as an exercise in my own mind). As someone with a short attention span my ability to pull hard data from my active memory has always been difficult. But now, what was a hindrance, is now an incredibly powerful asset. My conversation now lives at the edge of my consciousness almost continuously, my responses are natural and precise. I study the "zone" as an adrenaline and video game junkie, just knowing that I have the internet's knowledge comfortably in my pocket has freed my mind to exist in this state more often than ever before. I don't have an iphone, I have a blackberry. I use it for talking and email, web browsing when needed. I also have an extensive social network and at any given time can converse through bbm/gchat/fbchat/msn with around 100 people. Where before I was forced to be stuck at home on my desktop or to lug around my laptop to connect with my peers I can now go anywhere and do anything and still be able to make those connections when I have to. I've found myself becoming a much more social creature, shedding chains while at the same time gaining real time information updates that allow me to know where to go on any given night. I've just started keeping my phone on silent, no vibration, no nothing. I haven't had a ringtone since 2002, but even the vibrations started to get to be too much. I check my phone often, but its always on my terms. When I'm at home I have my phone facing me on my desk and the alert light fits nicely into what is essentially my HUD of monitors and input devices. Though sometimes "phone calls only" which is essentially the same as silent with the ob
I've also benefited from Sleep Cycle, Meebo (IM aggregator), and Epic Win (a to-do list/incentive system that hijacks the shininess of RPG progress). I also fill otherwise useless moments with a number of very entertaining games, but whether I'm losing important introspection during these moments is another question.
This one Sleep Cycle? http://mdlabs.se/sleepcycle/
Yes. Occasionally it will wait until the last moment of the 30min window to go off, which just means that I was unfortunate enough to be in deep sleep for that entire period. Unfortunately it is not very customizable, but it is definitely worth the app's cost if you already have an iPhone.
Maybe a valuable smartphone app would be one which blocks your web browsing access unless you explicitly request a five-minute unblock -- and gives out larger intervals only after making you click through an irritatingly long series of "Are you sure you're sure?" dialogs that jump around the screen so you can't just tap on "OK" repeatedly. Not enough to cripple your phone, but enough to make you think twice about idly rechecking your email for the 18th time today.
When I want to get work done, I put my network cable into some corner of my electronics wastedump (and my eeepc into some other edge of the room).
If IA is your goal from a smartphone, you probably want reasonably fast text input. A Motorola Droid is significantly better in that regard, since it has a physical keyboard. It's still not nearly as fast as a full-size keyboard, though. For that, I suggest getting a folding keyboard. One bit of software I really want, and have considered writing myself, is a text editor that can be used blind with the screen locked. In some contexts, like the subway, it's easy to take out and use a folding keyboard, but only if the phone is left in a pocket. It would need some clever use of text-to-speech for navigation and typo detection, but the Android OS already provides the hard part of that.
Have you tried Swype? I've got a physical keyboard on mine, but I find that that method of input is actually even faster.
I haven't, mainly because the authors refuse to take my money for it. But if it's that good, then I suppose I ought to seek out a pirated copy.
That would be advisable. It's been a big hit with at least one other #lesswrong person, so I can now generalize from a set of two.
I've been using Swype for a while, and was very impressed with it. It did make a big improvement when I got the hang of it. SwiftKey is also very good when you're writing a lot of text on your phone. I currently switch between the two of them, depending on what I'm going to be writing.
An iPhone? Use it to call people and maintain ongoing and stable relationships with intelligent peers. The identity grounding and mental health benefits of such interactions far outweigh anything you can get from apps.
I'm not a recluse and I already have a phone, so this isn't really an answer to my question. Certainly true though, were I interested in comparing apps to relationships.
That was never suggested. The communication device is merely a lead in to the two points I made that are critical to the subject of the post and have not yet been mentioned.

It is clear that the human body is good at adjusting and fine-tuning itself in response to immediate need. What in-built "amplification" do we have when intelligence is needed, and how could it be harnessed?

For example: The natural fight-or-flight reflex appears to provide instant alertness and focus, and I would imagine blood-flow to decision making functions is enhanced? Linked to a comment below I have found my reaction time and competance at rapid reaction computer games improves rapidly following surges in adrenaline. Is this coming from the improved focus (could this be simulated?), or increased bloodflow?

Sympathomimetics? Ephedrine is an example that is often available OTC.
Mostly the former. Blood flow can help cognition a little (see vasodilators such as ginko biloba) but it doesn't really target rapid response. The improve focus effect from adrenaline can definitely be simulated. Take anything from caffeine to amphetamine in large quantities.

Suggestions for statistical software (ideally freeware) for self-experimentation data analysis? Or data tracking? Ideally something that takes very little knowledge of stats and isn't programmer-oriented. I suppose I should ask people at Quantified Self.

Report back, if you do?
This list looks promising.
I have looked for several solutions for sleep logging and found nothing really amazing if you want to be OCD about details (food, mood, etc.). As for something very simple, that works only with free-running sleep, try the no-frills Sleep Chart. By the way, I recommend experimenting with free-running sleep, i.e., go to sleep when sleepy and wake up when rested — no alarm clocks, no schedules.

Personally, I find physical pain to be somewhat helpful. When I start getting drowsy in one of my lectures, winding my hair around one of my fingers and pulling on it keeps me awake and cognitively alert. I've also found that biting my tongue is less effective at it.

Yep. I used to use electric shocks to keep awake during classes.
From what source? I used to make good use of static electricity in some of my classes that had suitable carpet and chairs... but we kind of had different goals in mind than alertness. ;)
A cheap electrical muscle stimulation device.
Did that work better than OTC chemical stimulants? Did the practice create any social penalties? And are you planning on making a top-level post with your rationalist's guide to operating politically?
No social penalties. Not conspicuous. Not stimulating myself during a period of low physical activity seems obviously correct to me. No plans to.
The time granularity for the stimulation does sound like an advantage. If the abandonment of the post is due to time constraints, and you have a general idea and a list of sources, I'd be happy to attempt fleshing it out to article size and send it back for review.
Email me. Maybe we can set up a Skype conversation on it in a few weeks.
If you're getting drowsy in lectures wouldn't you be better off either arriving at lectures better rested, or if you already are and the presenter bores you, learning information in another way? When I went to university, lecturers would get two weeks' trial to prove that their lectures were worth attending. If they weren't, I just read the syllabus, and would study the material from a textbook or the internet during the time allocated for the lecture. It's rather unfortunate that the majority of lectures were thus avoided, but better to use the allocated learning time optimally.
It probably would be, but that's not always possible, and something about attending lectures and riding buses seems to trigger the "go to sleep" response in my brain whenever I'm not properly rested. I also seem to have adapted to getting six hours of sleep each night; I naturally wake up about that much time after I go to sleep. Not sure why; it might have been a response to years of sleep deprivation (yay neural plasticity), in which case it might well be worth looking at to determine if it decreases my mental capabilities, and if it can be replicated. An extra two hours each day adds up, after all.
I often find myself getting drowsy while driving. The most effective thing I know of to do about this is to eat sunflower seeds (in the shell). I suspect this would also work during lectures.
Some people use a peg on either a finger or an ear to harness that effect.
You mean like the sort of peg you use to hang up clothes with? I've heard of people using them for kinky bondage stuff, but not for keeping themselves awake. Don't they have the disadvantage that the longer you leave them on, the more they hurt when you take them off, thanks to cut off circulation? At least with hair-pulling, you can keep it up indefinitely, and you can vary the pain level depending on how much you want and how much you can take. You'd also probably look a bit less weird fidgeting with your hair than you would wearing a clothespin clamped on your ear, even if you have to take up a hand to do so.
Yes, I'm referring to clothes pegs. One acquaintance of mine in particular who made use of it was quite adept at managing the sensory experience effectively to create different physical associations to subjects for various peg locations. He was also an arts major and sufficiently socially adept as to harness the 'weirdness' as a peacock effect. And when we went out at night the peg doubled as some kind of drinking game... Other self-inflicted-pain based learning aids include elastic bands and the cat o' nine tails.
Wouldn't rubber bands be dangerous, due to the risk of losing a limb or something? Tourniquets aren't supposed to be applied unless you're in danger of bleeding to death or you've basically already lost the limb already, after all, and while a rubber band might not be as tight, it still seems dangerous. I haven't got any first hand experience with them, so I might be wrong, though. Also, cat o' nine tails? Seriously? What are you going to do, pull your shirt off and start self-flagellating while you're in the middle of a test or a lecture or a business meeting or something? :P XD
Only in the sense that plastic bags are dangerous. If young children get the crazy idea of putting plastic bags over their heads or using elastic bands as tourniquets then they might suffocate or lose limbs. Sane people who use elastic bands as a source of self stimulus flick them against their wrist. I thought I was safe with that one. It's a cat o' nine tails, an instrument used for brutal torture and maiming. No, you don't use that as a substitute for a bottle of mountain dew when you need help paying attention. (Yet th self flaggelation usages still fits the category 'self-inflicted-pain based learning aids'.)

SSRIs have neuroprotective properties among other things, some good (insomnia treatment, depression treatment, premature ejaculation treatment), and some bad (big list of typical drug side effects like nausea).

I'm unsure how much alcohol I should drink.

I'm perfectly happy abstaining. And I know that my memory and computer programming abilities are temporarily impaired by even one drink.

But there's fairly persuasive evidence that several drinks daily causes old people to live longer. With the notable exception of social isolation (people tend to drink more when they're socializing), just about everything I can imagine was controlled for.

Background: Growing epidemiological evidence indicates that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with reduced total mo

... (read more)
I wonder how many of the non-drinkers are super-tasters. If so, this could make dietary differences (like avoiding dark green veggies) which would affect longevity. On the other hand, this is a long inferential chain, and just to generalize from one example, I don't like the taste of alcohol or other bitter flavors (grapefruit, coffee unless considerably buffered), but enjoy most dark green veggies.
I suspect, although I haven't tested the hypothesis, that I am a supertaster. Dark green veggies are delicious cooked. I love the smell but hate the taste of coffee. I don't like grapefruit by itself, although I've consumed sweetened grapefruit juice that was okay. And the single most repulsive taste experience I have ever had involved a rum-soaked tiramisu crust. I haven't tasted any alcohol since - I'll use wine to cook once in a while, but I make sure that the alcohol all boils off. I can't get myself to bring anything that smells like alcohol to my lips.
I tried eating some raw Swiss chard-- it was tolerable, and the texture of the stalks is like celery but better, but I definitely prefer the taste cooked. Someone with less tolerance for bitter would probably have hated it.
Fascinating idea for another confound they didn't control against. How common is what you call a super-taster, though? If it's infrequent enough, it can't possibly explain the entirety of the huge effect in the study.
wikipedia-- the article puts the prevalence at about 25% for people of European decent, but they're defining supertasters as people who experience tastes more intensely, and it does correlate with disliking alcohol and bitter flavors. On the other hand, using the expansive definition of supertaster, for all I know there are people who experience bitter intensely, enjoy it, and make fine distinctions between different bitter flavors.
Another thing that should be taken into account -- though, as far as I know, it's not discussed explicitly by any serious research into the subject -- is that with many people who drink, being a total abstainer can be a great obstacle to building trust . From what I've observed, drinkers are apt to be prejudiced against abstainers in social situations, treating them as prissy and judgmental types in front of whom one should be extremely cautious before divulging any potentially compromising opinions and information. I myself usually have this attitude when I first meet people in parties and similar places, and I think it is on the whole a useful heuristic, though I will quickly override it as soon as I get more information about the person. (There are several people who are abstainers and nevertheless enjoy the highest level of trust from me.) I obviously have no systematic data, but it does seem like lots of people employ the same heuristic, though many would never admit it explicitly.
Excellent point: I know I tend to feel the same way about vegans (I eat dairy+meat) initially.
'Drinks' is really ambiguous. Wine drinkers average something like 18 points better than beer drinkers on IQ tests, indicating that there are very large confounding variables at play.
True. You really have to believe it's alcohol that's making a difference to just talk about "drinks". I do believe they would have noticed if it were only red-wine drinkers who benefited (via reservatol, say), though. I imagine their data included the kind of drinks imbibed. The 18 IQ points of wine > beer is clearly mostly snobbery/signaling :)
They didn't control for social isolation? I wouldn't take that lightly at all. I would be astonished if sociable people didn't live longer.
I didn't read the full text of the original study, but someone pointed out that "social-behavior factors" didn't include the amount of time spent hanging out with friends/colleagues/family and drinking. The reason I take this study as any evidence at all is that it's not the first such study to indicate that drinking increases lifespan, and because they did control for quite a few things.
The link didn't work for me but assuming it refers to this study, controlling for socio-behavioural factors (which includes measures of social support) significantly reduces but does not eliminate the effect.
Could that just be because the controls used are imperfect measures of what we should be controlling for?
It could. The balance of evidence makes it seem unlikely that moderate alcohol consumption has negative health consequences and quite plausible that it has some health benefits (particularly if red wine is consumed) however.
That's right. The link no longer points directly to the text.

Cannabis works well for me (helps me focus, seems to make me more likely to come up with a creative solution, beats out akrasia and generally makes me more productive), but not for my roommate, who can't concentrate when he's high and has short-term memory problems. Based on reports from other friends and anecdotal evidence from the Internet, it seems like cannabis is pretty hit-and-miss with respect to cognitive enhancement... but I'd say it's worth a try for everyone.

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Supplementing D-vitamin (D3 in my case) seems to add more energy and efficient hours in the day for me.

Breakfast. Discuss:

Probably the biggest single thing you can do (if you aren't doing it already). It took me till my junior year of high school to realize that feeling exhausted and light-headed till lunch isn't normal.
I find that I do not want to eat until at least an hour after waking up in the morning, and if I do anyway, it doesn't settle properly in my stomach or something and I feel sort of nauseated until midafternoon.
On the other hand, I find that if I don't eat shortly after waking up I'm unlikely to remember to eat at all for the rest of the day unless something prompts me to do so, which tends to result in further difficulties the following day when I'm ravenous and can't think straight. If I do eat within an hour or so of waking up, I'm much more likely to notice hunger-signals for the rest of the day.
I've always had the same problem, which is why I went that long without eating breakfast in the first place. Eating a small amount of something liquid-ish like a fruit smoothie or oatmeal/fine cereal makes a big difference.
Hmm... I usually don't feel awake enough in the early morning to make a smoothie. I've tried oatmeal and didn't find that I reacted any differently to it than to solid breakfasts eaten too early. Perhaps I should just drink juice or something? Might that do the trick?
Depending on where you are and what your schedule is like in the morning, you could also bring along something portable (granola bar, fruit, boiled egg as jimrandomh suggests) and eat it whenever your stomach is ready for it.
I leave the house once a week, and don't need to get up at any particular time in the morning. I do eat once I want food - the question is whether I'm depriving myself of some of the value of breakfast by waiting as long as that takes.
This seems a strangely hermit-like lifestyle for a self-professed extrovert. Does this not affect your happiness?
The Internet "counts" for me as far as my dose of social interaction. Also, I have roommates.
Ok. I ask in part because it took me a while to recognize the (in retrospect quite strong and obvious) correlation between not leaving my apartment for > 24 hours and serious negative effects on my emotional state. Internet based social interaction did not alleviate the negative effects for me.
Ah, got it. Not knowing that is why I'd refrained from making that suggestion in the first place; I figured other commenters knew something I didn't. :) My suspicion is that you're fine, unless you're doing some severely energy-intensive tasks in between getting up and feeling hungry.
Make it in advance and refrigerate. If it has too short a shelf life for that, experiment with recipes and/or storage conditions until you find one that lasts long enough. I had the same issue with making eggs, until I realized that they have a pretty long shelf life when boiled and it was stupid to let laziness affect my diet when I could just make two batches per week in the evenings and have a constant supply.
I don't think there are any storage conditions that would let a smoothie the way I make them last that long. I like them with equal parts ice, frozen fruit, and fresh fruit, plus a dollop of yogurt and three good squirts of agave - all of which items are stored at a variety of temperatures. It'd freeze solid in the freezer, melt in the fridge, and lose texture in a thermos.
Well, it doesn't necessarily have to be simplified all the way down to zero preparation. What if you premixed two containers, one frozen and the other refrigerated, so that only one mixing and one blending step had to be done in the morning? For maximum simplicity, one of those containers could be a piece of the blender itself.
I'm pretty sure that a puree of ice and frozen banana (or whatever) would freeze solid in the freezer overnight, and not be amenable to blending in the morning with the other ingredients. (Also, I use a stick blender.)
Boiled eggs have a shorter shelf-life than raw eggs (4-6 days tops). Raw eggs can last for weeks, if the temperature is stable.
Actually, boiled eggs have a shorter shelf-life than raw eggs. Raw eggs can last for weeks -- even a couple of months -- so long as they stay in the same cool temperature. Boiled eggs will last 4-6 days tops, in my experience. They get slimy, then rot.
I didn't mean to imply that boiling increased their shelf life; rather, boiling in advance is necessary to make them convenient enough to have for breakfast, and the shortened shelf life is still long enough for that purpose. (The 4-6 day range agrees with my experience, hence two batches per week.)
I just make a couple of fried eggs for breakfast usually. Takes less than 5 minutes and can be done in parallel with making my morning cup of tea. Advance preparation looks like overkill to me - why not just get up 3 minutes earlier?
We had chickens for a while before they were all murdered by a mink. A freshly-laid egg would last 3 months in a constant temperature. A fiend of mine keeps his eggs on the counter. He lives in a country with a hot climate, and his eggs last for weeks and weeks, too. I think it's amazing : )
An egg has to be able to stay fresh while a chick is developing in it.-- about 3 weeks, and the hen will be keeping it quite warm. It's amazing that something which isn't alive, and is full of fat and protein and water doesn't go bad in that time.
To go bad, it has to undergo processes which make it go bad. For most food, the primary ones are consumption by microbes -- bacteria or yeast, typically. Eggs are pretty good at keeping these out.
I've heard that as an egg sits, the yolk slowly descends and as soon as the yolk sits against the shell, it'll go bad. If you keep turning the eggs every week or so, they'll keep for months even at room temperature. I've never tested this, but someone I know found that eggs could last at least 8 weeks this way. This is the Mother Earth News study that often comes up on Google that fertile eggs, and possibly infertile eggs, could keep as long as 7 months if you refrigerate them and don't wash off their natural coating.
Actually, boiled eggs have a shorter shelf-life than raw eggs. Raw eggs can last for weeks -- even a couple of months -- so long as they stay in the same cool temperature. Boiled eggs will last 4-6 days tops, in my experience. They get slimy, then rot.
You could try ultra-fine oats. I make a drink thing with them and some fruit juice, and it only takes some shaking if you can cope with that first thing. Maybe cooking makes a difference? I've been mean to make some of my own, when I've got my own place. Or palatinose, but that is more expensive. Unsure of US suppliers.
Those pouches make my snobby food heuristics scream.
Food is just a mixture of chemicals of one variety or another... their containers have no causal power on the nature of the chemicals.
I am aware of that (except that I suspect I dislike bottled water at least in part because of something leaching out of the plastic). However, there is a correlation between packaging and certain food types, and I've trained myself to steer away from the type that is indicated by those pouches. Edit: I am puzzled by downvotes to this comment. Is it off topic? Are my packaging neuroses bothering someone?
Odd, I hadn't come across this type of packaging before that website. Different social conventions? Seriously all that packaging says to me is bulk purchase of goods from website where packaging isn't really compared to others on the shelf, so no incentive for people to make it fancy to signal worth.
The package is opaque and apparently airtight plastic. This rarely corresponds with food I prefer to eat: if it's opaque, it should be metal or paper, and if it's plastic, it should let me see the food, or at least have a photorealistic picture of the food on it. I can override this preference if I want to, especially if I'm familiar with the food, but it makes me uncomfortable (I got slightly weirded out by buying Hood milk last week, which came in an opaque plastic container). I just went down my grocery list and expect to get everything on it in packages that meet these constraints, with the possible exception of milk (I might get Hood again) and the non-diastatic malt powder, which I have no idea how it comes but I'm informed by the Internet that I need it to make bagels.
This is a cultural bias that Hood is trying to fight. Light damages milk, but the public wants to see their milk when it's sold in plastic.
What damage does light do to milk?
It damages both nutrition and flavor. article
Since most of the products on the website a colourless powder of one variety or another having pictures of them are not very illuminating. Like a picture of sugar doesn't help you figure out whether it is sugar or salt. It is a website for people into sports that care about the precise chemicals they ingest, which visual inspection means very little. Feel free to be weirded out about it, it is a little weird. The question is, is it a bad idea. Would you convince me to not buy it?
No, I wouldn't convince you not to buy it. They're my snobbish food heuristics, not yours; only me and the people I cook for need live with them. But all my food-related algorithms together are, I'm told, doing something right...
Out of curiousity, If they came in pill form would the same heuristics kick in? I suppose I am trying to say I wouldn't eat the stuff for pleasure, but because it gives me nutrients in a convenient form I stick it in the same category as vitamins.
If they came in pill form, then no, the opaque plastic would not be problematic. I prefer to avoid taking vast arrays of pills, though. I take iron because when I didn't I was so anemic that I ought to have been fainting on a daily basis, and I take vitamin D because my M.D. uncle said I should; that's all. But pills don't take up space that I use for enjoyable food. I love food! I don't want to replace it with displeasing things.
Ever since I bore a child, I've been more-or-less unable to stomach food until 9 am. Even weak tea. (Might be psychological, for all I know.) Yet recently, I tried tea with two pieces of lozenge-like candy, and it worked.
I have the same problem but it seems to mostly apply to larger meals and certain types of food. I don't know how well this will work for others but I found that a single protein/breakfast bar usually works ok.
I can drink juice without a problem - this is usually what I do if I need to bolt out the door soon after waking and don't anticipate having a chance to eat anytime soon, so I can get some calories into me.
Not just carbohydrates. Fat and protein.

Which classes could I reasonably sit in on at U.C. Berkeley that would give me the most leverage for IA research? I was thinking neuroscience-type classes, but perhaps pharmacology or nutrition classes would be equally or more useful? I have no idea how universities work.

I have no idea how universities work

If what you want is information, you're probably better off not bothering with the classrooms and sticking to the library. If you need personal contact (whether for status/networking reasons or for more effectively locating the information you want), the important thing is to become acquainted with the right people, and going to their classes is only one way to do that.

My interest in the area has led me to go and start a full phamacology degree. Give me a few years and I'll tell you which subjects were the most interesting. ;)
Hi, neighbor! (Are there many LWers around here?)
Yes indeed! I'm not actually your neighbor yet: the SIAI Visiting Fellows house is trying to move to Berkeley. Hopefully they'll get that figured out soon. I personally fly into town early October. LW folk Kevin, MBlume, and Emil all live in a house in Berkeley. If SIAI moves to Berkeley then to that list will be added quite a few others. There are probably other LWers in Berkeley that I don't know about yet. With some luck Berkeley will become the Singularitarian/Neorationalist nexus.
4Eliezer Yudkowsky14y
Berkeley? Center of the next great rationalist movement? That's going to take some luck.
That's okay too. I'm interested in interesting social people with good communication skills. I confess I don't give a damn if they call themselves rationalists or roosters.
Is neorationalist the term we are adopting for the kind of Rationality espoused on LW, to distinguish from Cartesian Rationalism?
I sort of wish it were, but I think only one or two people use it. The problem is that it's not really anything like old-style rationalism and so calling it neorationalism is misleading. 'Bayesianism' is normally taken to be the philosophy, 'rationalist' the adherent. Unfortunately, rationality is more than just Bayesianism, so that too is inaccurate. The whole lack of an -ism thing is kind of a downer. 'Evidentialism' or something might work as a description of our epistemology but it fails to connect to the 'winning' part of rationality. Bayesian decision theory-ism is what we're trying to achieve, I think, but we need something more aesthetic. Suggestions?
The lack of an -ism thing is a strength. -isms are bad thinking.
-isms are bad to identify with, but make philosophies easier to talk about. People here already call themselves aspiring rationalists; they're already identifying with a group. But they're generally smart enough to keep that from crippling their ability to think. Having an -ism would allow 'our movement' to have a Wikipedia page and the like, for instance. It's just a mechanism of nomenclature.
If people here really do call themselves aspiring rationalists, especially elsewhere, that's bad. I really need to finish my post on this.
I heuristically associate people who "reject all labels" or "refuse to be pigeonholed" with a) High Broderism, b) conceited windbaggism, c) lack of intent to communicate clearly and efficiently. I also think "aspiring rationalist" is a perfectly reasonable thing for someone to call herself. But I do hope you write your post and make your argument - perhaps you don't mean to say anything like the things I am imagining.
They do so rather context sensitively from what I've seen. It seems a not unreasonable name to call one who is aspiring to be more rational. I think that perhaps you're taking it more seriously than most? Two cult koans comes to mind.
I once suggested "optimizer". But really, I think "rationalist" works just fine. The connection with "rationality" is immediate; as for (Cartesian) "rationalism", that's a historical term applied by academics in the specific context of an obsolete debate between (mostly) dead people that has been utterly superseded by modern concepts such as those discussed here. Does anyone visit LW and seriously come away with the impression that we're "anti-empiricist"? I didn't think so.
Does this count?
Rationalist works fine, but I'm still kinda meh on "rationalism". I guess it's okay...
Yvain has used x-rationality for extreme rationality.
I can't say I'm surprised--I can imagine that a certain segment of Berkeley culture intersects neatly with LW's premise.
Well, there's about five in my house =) Plus John Maxwell, Lucas Sloan, and probably some folks I'm forgetting.

People have told me that human growth hormone supplements and sprays just don't work and that the only way to take it is via injection, with potential for dangerous side effects et cetera, making it infeasible for IA. Do others have additional input?

Noopept is the only drug i would actually consider a nootropic. it is extremely effective at increasing metal ability and it does not have known side effects. in my experience it similar to the effects adderall, however it is more subtle, not necessarily weaker, but harder to notice.

"Deleting a certain gene in mice can make them smarter by unlocking a mysterious region of the brain considered to be relatively inflexible, scientists at Emory University School of Medicine have found."


With human genetic engineering having such a controversial status and without a Seasteading Institute presence it seems especially unlikely that we'll get to make use of all our knowledge of intelligence-related genes before FOOM or crash or whatever. :/ Maybe if we found a series of genes that regulated speed of human development such that a human could become fully mature in 3 years and die in 15? Seems unlikely...
Even more unlikely when we note that the process of maturing the mind requires decades of novel environmental stimulus. To pull it off within 3 years would require basically creating a new species, not just tweaking the speed of physical development in this one.
Smarter wiser minds should be able to do a lot more with a lot less environmental stimulus, especially if such stimulus was optimized for the nourishment of smarter wiser minds, no? (By the way, I find it really improbably that such a project could ever work, but I figure it's worth at least 5 minutes of contemplation. In case anyone's doubting my sanity. :P )
Absolutely. And it is getting that sort of improvement in smarts at the same time as doing the maturation acceleration that will add most of the difficulty. Speeding up the aging itself is the easy part.
It's going to be legal somewhere in Asia, if not throughout Asia
Even so, unless such a project was started really soon with a really big budget then we just don't have enough time. Would it be possible to get such a project started in the next... say, 5 years? I don't know who has a vested interesting in human genetic engineering for intelligence or if we know enough about genetic engineering yet.
All humans, for a start?
If they learn what the genes do at a biochemical level they can make drugs to replicate the effect. That is the direction a lot of gene research goes into, from what I've heard.

Low dose ketamine has been shown to promote synaptogenesis in the prefrontal cortex. (in rats) Link to abstract

It is currently being investigated as a potential antidepressant in humans, but based on anecdotal evidence, it seems likely that it's also a nootropic.


Listening to certain pieces of classical music can "enhance spatial–temporal tasks involving mental imagery and temporal ordering."

These are audio patterns primarily created for pleasure. Perhaps this is a necessary component of making them work. However if they are not this opens up a new interesting field of investigation into synthesised audio (music ect.) and visual patterns specifically designed for enhancing performance on certain tasks or perhaps even g in general.

Also let me emphasise that currently the science seems to be leaning towards... (read more)


Is this post supposed to be seen as a reply to this one? Just curious.

Hm, kinda. Indeed I figured I'd take advantage of the slightly different atmosphere. It's also my evil selfish attempt at crowdsourcing exploratory IA research. Louie Helm has convinced me that if you can outsource something, you should.

For something slightly different, I am attempting to increase my reading speed ( I am primarily an English speaker, but English was my second language, which probably explains the initial slowness) using QuickReader app for iPad.

This app lets you predefine the reading speed (timing yourself and word counting is annoying) and uses a pointer to pace you through the material.

I am up to 380 wpm in the app, cannot confirm how transferable the skill is outside of the app quantitatively, but it feels like there is some improvement, though sometimes it feels like... (read more)

One problem I have had with speed reading techniques is a difficulty in adapating to the wide variety of reading habits one may employ. I speed read both research papers and novels, but in very different ways. With research papers I browse and download many, skim abstracts, jump into the middle of papers, usually look first at the pictures, then eventually start reading paragraphs. I usually can 'get' the paper's key concepts without having to read most of the text, although it depends heavily on the type of paper. When reading a novel, I usually alternate between full reading for important/interesting portions and skip reading for boring or fluffier parts. I typically skip long visual descriptions (I find that whatever visual imagery I randomly summon usually works just about as well). When skip-reading, I typically scan the upper left corner of a paragraph and it's first sentence to decide if I want to skip it. I rarely spend more than a day or two on a novel. If it is really unusually good I will spend more time with it. I have yet to find more advanced techniques that actually allow me to read dense material at higher speeds. The simpler level-of-detail control is effective enough and doesn't sacrifice comprehension for important material.
Oh, wow. I literally pause reading completely at non-trivial visual descriptions in novels to build the scene in my mind, and rarely go on until I have imagined the whole thing and sat on it a little bit. I find that the "page-to-imagination" process is the most relaxing and pleasant thing to me about reading most novels, so I relish it. (That might be a property of the sort of literature I tend toward, though -- a lot of magical realism.)
Interesting. So I used to do that more often, and may still in some cases, but what I eventually found was that it just wasn't worth it. Not because I don't like the detailed visual imagery. But because I found that what my mind would conjure up regardless was just as good, and actually the explicit visual wordcraft often doesn't make for better imagery. It depends of course. A good character description is more important to me than say a complex architectural description.
Do You Skim?-- a discussion of reading styles-- there's much more variety than I would have expected. A little more discussion of the subject.
I read novels in the same manner just a step further, I purge character and place names from from my memory just keeping the relations. If the book is really good, well maybe I will check out some discussion or the sequels and pick up the names then (they usually stick if its very good). If its just good, I won't bother with the names and just discuss the idea or the themes behind it. I find I keep all the enjoyment of the novel while saving a small bit of memory this way.
Tim Ferris' speed reading tutorial.
"How to read an article about speed reading in 20 minutes" would me a more honest title, considering that some brain re-wiring is required.

Mindfulness Meditation#Scientific_research).

The article you linked doesn't actually mention any intelligence benefits.
As far as I know, there are none. I mention it because I find I tend to be fresher and more motivated in the morning, so if I wanted to take up a new habit such as practicing dual n-back, I would schedule it in the morning. I'm really just throwing out ideas for the wiki.
As far as DNB goes, evening is better than morning: http://www.gwern.net/N-back%20FAQ#sleep (My rule of thumb is that if something has to do with memory, you're best off doing it ceteris paribus before sleep.)
Thank you, I stand corrected.

For anyone interested, the SoCal LW Meetup will be getting together on the 25th and is soliciting activity suggestions.

If anyone can swiftly come up with a brilliant, written intelligence amplification intervention protocol "if only they had a handful of willing and motivated volunteers" you should write it up on the wiki and link to it as a suggestion from a comment in the appropriate place. You have 10 days. Act now because you'll get feedback swiftly.

I think Justin might be interested - he's in charge of the IA project at Benton. ETA: And he said he is, and might be in contact.

It's thought that the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid intake is more important to cardiovascular health and inflammation than absolute omega-3 intake. Has anyone addressed whether or not this is also the case for cognitive effects / whether reducing omega-6 intake alone has a cognitive benefit? How much do we know about the mechanism behind omega-3's cognitive benefit? (Apparently inflammation alone is associated with lower intelligence, though possibly because of common causes in childhood.)

Given how important o-3 is to cell membranes (even if o-3 did not reduce inflammation) and how important cell membranes probably are to brain function, reducing -6 intake is unlikely to have a strong cognitive benefit. According the my amateurish models, the most important way keeping o-6 intake low impacts cognition for a young guy like you is by slowing the rate at which your brain will deteriorate over the decades. In other words, the inflammation reduction is caused by a reduction in prostaglandins, which are synthesized from fatty acids, where prostaglandins have no particular role that I know of in the maintenance of cell membranes -- they're paracrine hormones.

Having read some of this and being curious enough now to consider experimenting, I am catching myself worrying about social backlash.

I am a graduate student and I vaguely recall at least an episode of Boston Legal discussing nootropics; do schools often have policies hostile to their use? Where would I find this information?

EDIT: I have searched through the student code of conduct for my school as thoroughly as I could stand and found a bunch of vague references to (a) academic dishonesty and (b) loads of other policies. The impression that I get is that if someone didn't like nootropics they could make my life unpleasant but maybe I'm projecting from this.

As long as you follow the law (ie, nothing that requires a prescription you don't have), you're safe from academic consequences. The episode you're thinking of was probably about Ritalin and/or Adderall, which are illegal without a prescription but widely used anyways.
While I believe this and intend to pursue it, my sense of weirdness and nervousness remains. If, as wikipedia mentions, piracetam is totally unregulated then there just might not be anything about it but it doesn't relieve the worry in my mind that there could be something that I'm missing.
Piracetam is totally legal and unregulated in the US. (I guess in most of Europe it is prescription only.) People take Piracetam all the time. From what I've heard, most schools will deliberately look the other way regarding even illicit brain-doping. If you're discreet you have little to worry about from your school. The authorities are less tolerant, but the Feds barely ever intercept even prescription drugs unless they're commonly sold for recreational purposes. In any case, Piracetam is regulated as a "nutritional supplement" not a drug.
Piracetam is currently questionable. Please see http://www.imminst.org/forum/topic/43965-piracetam-not-banned%3B-but-its-going-to-be-difficult-to-sell/ and other threads.

This was mentioned in a previous thread, but the game of Go seems intuitively to be beneficial when it comes to updating your beliefs and acting on those updates. You have to continuously adopt better and better heuristics in order to outperform your opponent, and you have to actively propagate learned tactical heuristics when you encounter relevant patterns of game play in order to gain their full benefit. It seems as though this might merit further investigation.


I haven't added much, not out of lack of interest, but because I haven't done much (rigorous) experimentation. I'm sure it's the case for many other silent lurkers. I support this open venture wholeheartedly!

Should I have a glass of wine with dinner every day? I'd heard that recommended somewhere but the Wikipedia article doesn't seem all that convincing: it instead indicates that I should be eating more grapes to get resveratrol. Maybe. The other health benefits of wine seem negligible if existent.

I am not aware of any study that indicates health benefits of wine over any other form of alcohol. There are studies, mainly in mice, that show benefits of resveratrol, but only in tremendous doses. Wikipedia does mention the claim that one can get tremendous doses by sipping slowly and absorbing the resveratrol through the mouth, rather than the stomach. Probably not an option with grapes.
If the goal is to get resveratrol, then take pure resveratrol as a supplement. Getting it from wine or grapes ties it to other things (alcohol, or sugar and growing seasons) and limits your ability to control the dose.
(And the dose is also ridiculously small considering the low bioavailability of resveratrol for humans.)
Grapes freeze really well, and then you can suck on them - would that work?
Subjectively and anecdotally, when I have tried this (on special occasions), I have found that it made the evening more pleasant and more productive. My assumption is that I would become habituated if I did it "every day", and those benefits would disappear. Those with information about whether this is likely to be the case may want to chime in.
I linked this in another comment: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/%28ISSN%291530-0277 I'm not sure, either.

“Besides, we are friends of the lento, I and my book. I have not been a philologist in vain — perhaps I am one yet: a teacher of slow reading. I even come to write slowly. At present it is not only my habit, but even my taste — a perverted taste, maybe — to write nothing but what will drive to despair every one who is ‘in a hurry.’ For philology is that venerable art which exacts from its followers one thing above all — to step to one side, to leave themselves spare moments, to grow silent, to become slow — the leisurely art of the goldsmith applied to la

... (read more)

Anecdotal evidence: coffee followed by tea works best for me. (I.e. better than coffee alone.)

If you spill one of them on your clothes and need to have it dry cleaned, be sure to note which one it was. If it's tea and the cleaner treats it for coffee, it'll set the stain and you're boned. (Totally unrelated to IA, but true. I used to work at a dry cleaner.)
How does it compare to coffee followed by coffee, or any of the other permutations?
Actually, it turns out that I have consistently better results by not having coffee at all. I haven't bothered yet to purchase theanine supplements to test if it's from theanine or from more leveled dosage of caffeine over the day.
After two coffees in a row I tend to procrastinate (more), and tiredness comes quicker. I enjoy drinking one tea after another, I lose taste for coffee after I've had about three per day (I lose "craving" after one-two per day) in normal conditions (but not for example in the beginning stage of a cold/flu).
and why not just a caffeine pill?
I wonder if it is because tea has theanine in it. Perhaps you could try comparing against a theanine supplement?

My "Intelligence Augmentation" essay/video argues that intelligence augmentation is often (inaccurately) seen as an alternative to machine intelligence - whereas it is best seen as being complementary to it.

It also suggests that preprocessing your sensory inputs with machines and post-processing your motor outputs with more machines is an area where much useful work can be done.

I would suggest that the greatest leap forward in recent years of combined human intelligence has been the internet, and an Intelligence Amplification method is having ready access to it and the base level of intelligence required to correctly use it for information!

To all of you who are considering taking various chemical substances to boost your intelligence - consider the nature of the evolutionary algorithm.

Evolution, as an algorithm, is more suited to optimisation than it is to innovation. The general theme of evolution is of nicely optimised versions of designs with significant flaws in them.

Simple changes, like placing various substances into your bloodstream which affect your neurochemistry, are going to be interacting with chemical systems which already exist, and which evolution can already tune. Why has thi... (read more)

Being able to synthesize vitamin C would have been a huge evolutionary advantage, given how many people died of scurvy throughout history, but evolution never managed it. Other chemicals have the same problem: evolution is severely limited in how many things it can try, which sorts of chemicals it can try, and how large the selection effect has to be for it to take off.

I'm not sure whether it applies to ascorbic acid specifically but for many essential vitamins (and amino acids) humans actually lost the ability to synthesise them where some of our ancestors could. Evolution had higher priorities and didn't bother maintaining those adaptations when the environment provided a sufficient supply.
It does apply to C: all mammals but primates, bats, and guinea pigs synthesize it.
As others have said, vitamin C synthesis is something most mammals could do. Apes lost it because there's not much use for the ability when your diet contains so much fruit. Adaptations with no use get dropped by evolution pretty quickly deterministic way. Once it's gone, it's hard to get it back. Evolution has no problem with small selection effects - even tiny ones work quite nicely once a mutation gets past the early small numbers stage (which admittedly makes mutations less likely to stick.) Evolution in humans would historically have been quite slow because humans historically had all the wrong traits - long lifetime, slow breeding, small numbers. And the most difficult of traits to evolve is novel chemistry - the bugs that do this best have short lifetimes, fast breeding and enormous numbers - and all that makes a big difference. There are easy things to evolve. One is to take an existing gene, copy it, and insert it back in roughly the same area. This kind of duplication can easily lead to larger quantities of a chemical being made. This could lead to more of a chemical being made, or more of a chemical receptor. Or it could lead to the chemical being received or created in a new area. It can also be the first step in a process where the second copy becomes slightly different, and then gets used in slightly different places. It can rebalance all sorts of things. It is the case that you can try chemicals which evolution never would. But so what? They can only influence your brain by plugging into receptors which evolution created to receive something which it can make. A receptor in the brain which your body can't trigger would most definitely not be something that evolution would keep. I don't think you can do much that couldn't equally be done by evolution's duplicate and modify technique. Most of the things you're trying have probably already been tried, as duplications are easy mutations to have. Overall, adding chemicals is operating at the wrong sca

Does the same reasoning apply to cancer treatment and antibiotics?

"If God wanted us to fly he would have given us wings!"

We don't know, and that's the point. There must be a reason, though. If it were that easy to increase your brainpower that way, and there were no other drawbacks, this modification would already have been selected for.

All else being equal we can expect our evolutionary heritage to be reasonably well optimised. But all else isn't equal. I don't have the same goals that the selection for my allelles in the ancestral environment implicitly optimised for. Evolution couldn't optimise for my specific needs at specific times which is one of the reasons we evolved general intelligence to handle that sort of thing.

Interventions, chemical or otherwise that we would consider using are not selected by random. They are created (often) by intelligent design and then selected for via a process of cultural evolution and empirical study.

Does the same reasoning apply to cancer treatment and antibiotics? No, it doesn't. Cancer and antibiotics are about creating new chemicals to combat an organism that's evolving against you. I'm talking about evolution that merely changes the quantities of chemicals your body already knows how to make. Your brain uses chemical signallers - this requires producing a chemical which fits into a receptor somewhere. You're suggesting either making more of these chemicals, or something that can perhaps jam a receptor. Or something that looks like one of these chemicals. Either of these effects can evolve pretty easily - merely making more or less receptors or chemicals than you already do. I'm not suggesting a hard piece of evolution like evolving the capability to produce a new chemical with a novel effect. Novel artificial chemicals will either affect receptors you already have, and which already fit chemicals your body can make, or won't have a cognitive effect at all. Look at any other part of the body. The parts are pretty well balanced. Your muscles are present in roughly the right quantities to drive limbs of a sensible size. Evolution is very good at balancing the relative quantities of things to make a good overall solution. Evolving novel structures is hard for evolution. Balancing existing ones is easy. Your chemicals aren't making novel structures, they're affecting the balance. Personally I suspect evolution did a good job with that already.
(Didn't downvote and was rather surprised to see others did.) I concede the weakness of both those analogies. My evolutionary heritage does not share my goals and did not occur in western civilisation in the year 2010. And this is a good analogy to where the point of contention lays. We need exercise. Optimal physical and mental performance requires large amounts of artificially induced exercise in things like gymnasiums. Evolution didn't share my goals and didn't optimise for my environment. Science says you are wrong. These are testable phenomena that have been tested.
I agree with your sentence here - "Evolution didn't share my goals, and didn't optimise for my environment." We are going to be seriously suboptimal at living in cities. There's also no shortage of articles about improved intelligence. For example.... http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/2009/10/smart_mice.php Here's the problem. Most of these mutations are actually pretty easy mutations. They will occur naturally. The systems the mutations act on are also venerable - we share these systems with mice for the most part even though we haven't had a common ancestor in absolutely ages. The inescapable conclusion is that evolution has tried most if not all of these mutations already, and threw them out. Why would that happen when intelligence has such an advantage? We don't know - however I think we can consider it almost statistically inevitable that it must have happened on quite a few occasions. All I'm saying is this - we don't know why evolution threw these things out. There must be a reason, and that reason may imply that it's not advisable for you or I to mimic the effect. There is a flip side - maybe evolution really hasn't optimised this correctly - selectively speaking we're largely cavemen with a bit of farmer thrown in. Civilisation really hasn't been around long enough to make much difference. So in summary - I think there is evidence to suggest that you'll be able to change your brain function to enhance measured intelligence by taking certain substances. I also think that nearly all of these changes will correspond to changes that evolution has tried and has rejected - for reasons as yet unknown. Your call.

There must be a reason, though. If it were that easy to increase your brainpower that way, and there were no other drawbacks, this modification would already have been selected for.

If you take them, perhaps you will discover later why this potential evolutionary change was not beneficial, and not selected.

Maybe the ability to synthesize a particular chemical could not (or merely has not yet in humans) be reached by a single change, or a path of individually selected-for single changes. In other words, your argument only works if the reachability of the improvement is high enough, and our species has existed for enough time in an environment where it would be rewarded.

I think you're saying what I mean, but I'm not quite sure, so here's how I came at it: Evolution relies on mutation, and mutation is random. If a certain feature is currently observed, that doesn't mean the mutation has already occurred and been selected against; it might just not have occurred, or not widely enough to catch on. For example--just because skinks lay eggs doesn't mean live birth isn't a good mutation for some of them. In general, I don't know that it's ever accurate to talk about evolution in the past tense when referring to a living species.
You're right - my argument is intended for easily reachable improvements. Your brain is full of neurons that are sending chemical messages to one another. For this to work, the brain has to be able to receive all the messages sent, and to send all the messages received. Your extra chemicals have to change this process somehow, and they can only do this by interfering with the signalling process. But your body already knows how to make these signals. You're not creating hard-to-reach improvements by adding chemicals. You can only alter the balance of the chemical network that already exists, and evolution has already balanced that network pretty well. If you could do something more radical, like adding a different kind of signalling, or fundamentally speeding the thing up, then I'd be interested. But chemicals can do neither of those things.
I think you're assuming that all brains are in pretty good shape, but there are people who benefit tremendously from psych drugs. It doesn't seem implausible that there are people who'd benefit from less drastic tweakage.
Thanks. Good thinking about the possible mechanisms for a drug. I only know of a few general mechanisms for drugs: 1) activate a receptor directly (as you say, this seems like something that evolution could possibly tweak). However, if there are other receptors elsewhere, then it's possible that the chemical messenger reached by evolution will hit them all, whereas a synthetic compound could be more selective (e.g. SkQ1 is more targeted than anything we naturally produce and seems helpful). 2) block a receptor by partially occupying its jigsaw gaps (metaphorically) 3) act as a specific toxin, or react with another compound, consuming or destroying the target (e.g. chemotherapy - it seems like they're going to be able to biopsy, sequence the particular cancer gene signature, and create a toxin just for that) 4) change something about the coarse chemical environment (acidity, osmality, etc.) to slow/increase a particular reaction 5) act as a virus, modifying DNA of all or specific cells (someday, maybe) That's all I can think of right now. I'm sure there are tons more. "receptor" is a pretty abstract concept.
Intelligence isn't actually all that useful for evolutionary purposes, so there's no pressing reason for our intelligence to have been optimised. There's also a large difference between synthesising useful chemicals yourself and taking them in concentrated forms that don't occur naturally.
Comparing humans to all other life forms we know about, I think there's good evidence that we ARE optimized for intelligence, at least as far as random mutation has so far brought us.
Gah, I had a longish reply written that got eaten when I tried to see my own comment for more context :( Anyway, the gist of what I was going to say is that tens of thousands of years ago we hit an optimal balance between intelligence and other factors like being able to run for a long time and not having all that much protein in our diet, and it's only recently (in evolutionary terms) that we've stopped needing those other factors. So now there's a lot more space for optimisation of intelligence.
If the metaphor of "more space" refers to the balance of intelligence and more directly physically useful attributes, and that balance is shifting towards the former, doesn't that imply that as we get smarter we'll get less physically fit, or at least no fitter?
If we're actually selecting for intelligence, then probably yes. But I don't see a lot of evidence of that happening since guys who are really sporty aren't exactly selected against in the dating pool. Actually, now that I think about it it's probably too flippant to say it's a direct trade off between running marathons and being smart. It might be something else that gets traded off. Alternatively, the next step might just be for our bodies to adapt to our nigh-unlimited energy intake and start consuming more of it, without anything getting traded. Niche construction theory implies that since we've made conditions better for ourselves it's only a matter of time until we physically adapt to fit the niche more effectively.

the next step might just be for our bodies to adapt to our nigh-unlimited energy intake and start consuming more of it

That's actually an interesting point. I'm in a biological anthropology class at the moment, and a point that's been made a few times about human brain evolution is that it uses up a LOT of energy, which definitely was a tradeoff at a time when food input was scarce. (Why this was worth it for us is one of the questions of the field.) It would be neat if first-world humans adapted to the ready supply of food by growing their brains further to use the extra energy. This would, in fact, correspond to an increase in physical fitness, as well as intelligence, because it would help maintain an energy balance.

It's a flight of fancy, of course, but a fun one.

On a side note, apparently koalas adapted the other way--when they began eating eucalyptus, enabling them to stay in one tree all day instead of roving around searching for food, they needed the brain less and the successful koalas in each generation expended less energy on it. Result: dumber koalas. Still awfully cute though. (I don't have an academic link about this handy, but this page alludes to their small brains, and the History page mentions that the animal predates the tree. I can probably get a real cite from my anthro teacher if it's called for. Google image search will serve to cite the cuteness.)

Heh, I'm Australian and so have seen the cuteness many times, and up close :) I didn't know they'd gone in that direction though! I learnt that marsupials have basically no brains compared to their placental mammal counterparts but I always assumed that the causation went something like: Very little food in Australian bush -> animals which already had low energy requirements (by being dumb) thrived -> no pressure to change because the environment was boring Let me know if you think you have an answer to the bigger brains question! I recently read a linguistics book about the origins of language, and there was a lot of historical background on our savannah ancestry and how we might have come to need language in the first place. But the author handwaved the brains part completely, just noting that in his scenario where we were scavenging dead mammoths and whatnot, the increased protein and fat would have let us grow bigger brains - nothing about why.
I'm jealous. I'm still totally a five-year-old at heart when it comes to fuzzy little mammals. Haha. Well, according to the page I just linked (which I just noticed cites its source as The Koala. Natural History, Conservation & Management. Martin & Handasyde. UNSW Press. 1999. P53), koalas have small brains even among marsupials. Don't hold your breath--I'm not in an anthro program, it just happens to be the science I'm taking (because it's closer to my area of interest than bio or chem is). However, I can tell you that if you put a ferocious-looking mechanical leopard in chimpanzee territory, upon being "attacked" by the leopard, the chimps will pick up sticks and rocks to throw at it. Way to go, li'l cousins.
Just mammals? I've petted an owl. It was softer than a chinchilla.
Good point! A set of fuzzy animals which has a large intersection with mammals. Wow.
Good point! A set of fuzzy animals which has a large intersection with mammals.