List of potential cognitive enhancement methods

Participants in the Singularity Summit 2011 workshops held on October 17-18 brainstormed a list of cognitive enhancement methods they would like to see tested — some of them for the first time, many of them more thoroughly than has been done so far. Here is that list:

  • rationality instruction
  • potassium and nutrients/micronutrients in general
  • modafinil and its class
  • racetam class, adderall, riatlin
  • paleo and other popular diets
  • multigenerational embryo selection
  • particular TMS interventions
  • doing math or logic problems every day
  • amount of sleep 
  • neurofeedback; EEG, etc.
  • physical health, specific types of exercise, yoga
  • more red blood cells
  • certain types of electrical stimulation
  • spaced repetition
  • practicing visualization
  • practicing chess and Go
  • dual n-back training
  • prolonged sensory deprivation
  • experience manipulating physical objects (craftsmanship and engineering)
  • listening to music actively (and engaging with other art forms actively)
  • using specific visual languages for specific tasks
  • happiness in general (gratitude, etc.)
  • changing the oxygen content of what you're breathing
  • gene expression levels
  • operant conditioning
  • irradiation or administration of other toxins
  • lucid dreaming
  • GHB
  • intermittent fasting
  • creatine
  • nicotine, caffeine
  • arterial glucose drip to get more sugar to the brain
  • Ekman training
  • steroids

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Surprised LSD is not mentioned.

I remember reading in one of Robert Anton Wilson's books than an early LSD study suggested a significant increase in IQ after several "therapeutic" sessions. I don't have the original book with me and can't find any info online.

I'm skeptical that LSD will have such a direct impact on measured IQ, but it definitely does something (probably acting on traits associated with creativity rather than intelligence). Wish it could be tested though...

On the strength of the psilocybin research, it wouldn't surprise me to learn LSD increased Openness as well.

Your dirty list is gross. Organize it with some sort of taxonomy, it will help to visualize what's missing from the list, and to prioritize from there.

My experiences with speed reading are that once you get up to a certain speed, your thinking speed is the limiting factor, not the way your eyes move. Correct me if I'm wrong, but most speed reading techniques offer nothing in terms of how to think quicker. Rather, they are methods of moving your eyes more efficiently.

On his old site lukeprog hosted a speedreading guide, the gist I got from it was that speed reading is appropriate for non dense material (such as self help books, popular science or light fiction) but after certain adjustments like following your line with a pen, keeping a challenging pace and keeping awareness of lines further down the page, watching for key terms to keep you conscious of the direction the book was moving in, there was little one could do to read more than 400 wpm while retaining a high rate of retention. A quicker pace is essentially well thought out scanning, which is wholly appropriate when you are looking for specific bits of knowledge that relate to you.

Since he updated his site I can't find the specific essay for reference.

Hm. I think that there are some people (say 1%) who can read as fast as 600 wpm and with high comprehension. And atypical folks like Kim Peek can definitely read much faster than 400 wpm, more like 1000 wpm. It would be interesting to know how fast various members of LW can read. If speed reading is a learnable skill and not strongly genetically determined like e.g. IQ, learning to read faster would be one of the most promisising ways to become more awesome.

GHB? That can be used for cognitive enhancement. My impression was that it was just neurotoxic.

arterial glucose drip to get more sugar to the brain

If you're willing to use invasive or dangerous medical procedures, Mike Darwin has been experimenting with inhaling insulin per recent research on that in the elderly; last I heard, good results.

What efforts were made before this session to understand the problem?

How would lucid dreaming help? I've heard mentions on the site before but I don't really get it. I'm interested because it seems like a way to effectively be alive longer but I don't see how it can make you smarter.

From Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming:

I discovered in high school that I was a lucid dreamer when I learned that I could study complicated mathe-matical and geometry problems before going to bed and discovered that I was able to solve the problems when I awakened. This phenomenon followed me through college and medical school. When I was in medical school, I began to apply my sleep-solving abilities to medical problems, quickly running through the questions of the day and usu-ally finding useful solutions or useful additional ques-tions in the process (even today I will occasionally wake up at 3: 00 in the morning and call the hospital to order a special laboratory test on a problem patient, the pos-sible solution of which had occurred to me in a lucid dream). At this point, the greatest use to which I have been able to put this facility is in the practice of surgery. Each night before retiring I review my list of surgical cases and I actually practice these cases in my sleep. I have gained a reputation for being a rapid and skilled surgeeon with almost no major complications. This surgical “practice” has allowed me from the very beginning to constantly review the anatomy and to refine and polish technique by eliminating unnecessary motions. I am presently able to perform most major complex procedures < 35 percent to 40 percent of the time taken by most off my peers. (R. V., Aiken, South Carolina)

I recently pulled second place in a math competition. When I received a copy of the problems (five in all), I spent most of the day mulling over various approaches. When I went to sleep that night, I dreamed lucidly of looking through a particular math reference book I own. I don’t think I dreamed of reading anything in particular in the book, just the act of flipping through it. Subjec-tively, the dream was only a couple of seconds long. When I woke, I didn’t have an opportunity to look through the book until that evening. When 1 did, 1 discovered the trick I needed to solve one of the problems. (T. D., Clarksville, Tennessee)

A little over a year ago, I was in a linear algebra class that introduced me to vector spaces. I was having a lot of trouble understanding the topic on more than a superficial level. After about a week of serious studying, I had a lucid dream about an abstract vector space. I perceived directly a four-dimensional space. The dream did not have a visual component, but such abstract dreams are not uncommon for me. The best I can describe that dream is to say that I perceived four coordinate axes that were mutually perpendicular. Since that night, both math and dreaming have been more fun for me, and I’ve had relatively little trouble understanding vector space calculus. (T. D., Clarksville, Tennessee)

There's a lot of mostly-unexplored territory in lucid dreaming. For instance, people have reported growing more eyes and seeing through all eyes simultaneously, or even being able to see in all directions at once. I once opened a poetry book in a lucid dream and found a poem I hadn't ever seen before, and on waking the poem actually seemed pretty good.

Piotr Woźniak doesn't seem to think lucid dreaming is worth pursuing.

Though speaking from my personal experience, it's pretty fun, and for that you don't have to be good at it; my control was pretty limited (flying is easy).

... more time to think means more thought-hours to dedicate to a given problem?

That's fair. Do you happen to know if one can do difficult math in this state. Is it exactly like being awake except that you're, y'know, not? You can't write things down (lastingly) obviously, so I think that would limit the usefulness of lucid dreaming in those cases, and you can't learn new things. I'm might be discounting it because most "cognitive enhancement" I've done so far has been through assimilated already known knowledge rather than by new-to-the-world insights, in which case it would make sense for people who ARE coming up with new valuable ideas but probably less so for me.

I recall that one popular reality check method (i.e. a reliable way of telling whether you're dreaming or IRL) is to check the time on your watch, look away, then check again. So you can see why any activity that involves having to write stuff down and have it remain unchanged while your attention is elsewhere might not be the best LD activity.

If you're remembering the time on the watch well enough to know whether it's changed, won't you remember it well enough for it to be the same?

Other reality checks include counting your fingers (you'll have more in lucid dreams) or flipping a light switch (the lights will flicker). Clearly, what determines whether a check works is whether you believe it works.

Also, see the quotes I posted above. With practice you can focus on things as well as when you're awake. I agree that you shouldn't do things that absolutely require you to write stuff down for future reference, like evaluating integrals, because if you really can't remember them then your written records won't persist.

The 'what you believe works' thing definitely has something going for it. There's a certain logic that can apply, though. Obviously having more than five fingers or lights flickering sound like just ways of asking yourself 'is this lucid'. But I've had somewhat lucid dreams* since I was a kid, and one of my earliest 'checks' was reading a book: my dreaming mind simply did not or could not make up text that way, so I'd pay attention to whether I was actually reading or thinking 'I am now reading a book' without any actual words being involved. Any very close attention to detailed works: my dreams, and indeed my usual observations, tend to run as a narrative about what's happening rather than a close inspection of circumstances.

On the 'what you believe works', what appeals to your imagination is obviously relevant. I used to be able to get out of lucid dreams by shutting my eyes, which as I was 8 or something is probably a pretty classic response. When that stopped working I found I could shut my eyes and tip myself forward, giving the sensation of tumbling over into some sort of endless abyss (honestly) and that would get me out of the dream. One time I got out by grabbing the surface of the dream and ripping it to reveal the purple static behind, and stepping into that got me out. I had been reading His Dark Materials, though.

  • precisely, I tend to go in and out of being aware I'm in a dream, control what I do to a significant extent and the surroundings/rules to a varied extent, never remain stable long enough to do anything massively fun/productive. I think this may be related to the fact that my earliest/main lucid dreams have been nightmares, or at least very creepy. Also to the fact that I rarely have particularly detailed/involved dreams anyway.

When I'm reading in dreams, there appears to be text, and I feel like I'm recognizing little bits of ideas in it, but it's very unstable. It's an odd sensation.

I occasionally get tiny amounts: but it's not just reading. I'm fairly sure that when I have conversations in dreams this often works by me accepting that 'I said X they said Y' rather than bothering with noise. I wasn't sure if I dreamt in sound or colour at all until I had a couple of dreams where those two things were particularly vivid.

Lucid dreaming is fascinating, but I do sometimes wonder about how UNlucid dreams tend to be. How much we construct the bare minimum. Although IIRC we also lack real colour vision in bits of our peripheral vision and similar weirdnesses without noticing, and we don't really notice colour loss in bad lighting.

in which case it would make sense for people who ARE coming up with new valuable ideas but probably less so for me.

The mere fact that you aren't deriving earth-shatteringly new heretofore unknown insights does not make the usefulness of contemplation null-and-void.

Of course, lucid dreaming still suffers (for me anyhow) from the problem of it being difficult to actually recall what occurs in said dreams long after the fact. But still; being given more time to 'muddle through' personal troubles would give one more ability to derive answers than otherwise would be the case. Of course, this isn't a particularly useful strategy to me personally (my history has included attempts to refine/inform/understand my intuitions thereby allowing me to reliably make more-rational decisions 'instantaneously'.)

The mere fact that you aren't deriving earth-shatteringly new heretofore unknown insights does not make the usefulness of contemplation null-and-void.

This is clearly true, but if I ever get around to mastering lucid dreaming I'll probably just fly around, blow stuff up, and generally have fun before I start using it for anything reasonable. I wonder if then I'll feel like I need to spend less time while awake on time-wasting activities.

Do you know of any good tutorials? How did you learn to do it (if you had to learn it) and do you lucid dream all the time?

How did you learn to do it (if you had to learn it) and do you lucid dream all the time?

I am somewhat unusual in that I never "learned" to lucid dream, and I don't know that I ever do dream any other way.

This is clearly true, but if I ever get around to mastering lucid dreaming I'll probably just fly around, blow stuff up, and generally have fun before I start using it for anything reasonable.

That gets old far quicker than you'd think.

That gets old far quicker than you'd think.

I'd be willing to bet that other parts of the 'generally have fun' would get old far more slowly.

My personal experience is my visual imagination is far more vivid but my verbal reasoning is much diminished. I've semi-consciously thought through and planned social situations, and I hazard that it might be useful in artistic fields or in design, where what is important is to 'experiment' with lots of possible visual designs then pick a single one, which diminishes the problems caused by not taking notes as you only have to remember the final result. (Plausibly the reports of people waking up with fully formed paintings/music are semi-subconscious instances of this.)

An article in the Atlantic talks about a paradox in modern societies; people are more lonely despite (supposedly) more opportunities to interact with others. This also coincides with the rise of cognitive declining mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. It references the falling of close confidants and more rocky relationships with family and spouses as a possible source. Indeed, 10 minutes of conversation can enhance cognition, less quality (but not quantity of) relationships predict cognitive decline in the elderly, and people with more friends have better executive functioning. Forced social isolation deteriorates cognition in other social animals such as rodents.

I think this is important because cognitive enhancement is discussed somewhat frequently in LW (to my knowledge), but developing close friendships less so, and (also) to my knowledge, never in the context of cognitive enhancement. The knee-jerk reaction is that correlation is not causation, and indeed loneliness is hereditary despite it being increased in the past several decades. I suspect, the hereditary aspect is in part, due to the fact that some people are more prone to seek out close relationships, and receive the mood and cognitive enhancement as a positive side effect.

Based on what I could find, no experiments have looked at developing quality relationships and seeing its effects on cognition, and most studies are correlational or based on animal-models. At the very least, it is something to look at.

Links:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/is-facebook-making-us-lonely/308930/ http://psychsocgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/58/2/S93.full http://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Abstract/2010/11000/What_Aspects_of_Social_Network_Are_Protective_for.12.aspx http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306452210006159

I suffer from extreme social isolation, and I have a constant mental fog which sometimes lifts during periods of emotional intensity. By itself I think this is evidence that cognition is tied to social health. Not that it can tell you much else.

I suspect there is a bidirectional relationship regarding quality relationships and cognition.

Even without direct evidence, there is indirect evidence that supports the lack of confidants affects cognition. Socializing is an experiment with measurable effects on cognition that I already mentioned. Animal models, which historically have been a pretty good proxy for human models, certainly support isolation affecting cognition. Prisoners put in solitary confinement show signs of deteriorating mental functioning. Close knit communities, not to be confused with rural communities, have much lower rates of mental illness (almost all of which deteriorate cognition after onset, some to devastating magnitudes) despite lower educational achievement. These lend support that the correlational data is not a simple matter of poor cogniton affecting social skills, and warrants actual experimentation.

A few more ideas:

  • Extreme immersion into some narrow skill or mode of thought. For instance, doing nothing other than playing chess or tetris or minecraft during all waking time for a month. This seems like it would have big cognitive effects. I'm not sure whether the effects would be good or bad, but it's certainly worth trying.

  • Rewiring / relearning procedural skills or sense data interpretation. For instance, wearing goggles that flip your vision upside down for a month, or that invert all colours. Even something as simple as learning a new keyboard layout or learning to be ambidextrous. There's evidence that juggling and playing tetris increase white matter.

  • Saccading a lot.

  • Doing weird stuff. Driving different routes to work just because you've never tried them before, or thinking in patterns you never have before. Trying to have each day differ significantly from all previous days.

Extreme immersion into some narrow skill or mode of thought. For instance, doing nothing other than playing chess or tetris or minecraft during all waking time for a month. This seems like it would have big cognitive effects. I'm not sure whether the effects would be good or bad, but it's certainly worth trying.

In my experience, doing stuff like that screws up my cognition in far less than a month -- even after two days of doing the same thing “during all waking time” I start to feel I'm (temporarily) losing my ability to think in a normal way. YMMV.

There's evidence that juggling and playing tetris increase white matter.

For some reason I found learning to shoot a hockey puck with either hand as the dominant one much easier than trying to do the same for either hitting or throwing a baseball. Throwing a football left handed is even more difficult than the baseball motor skills. Catching a baseball with the right hand was easiest of all to learn (as I learned to catch with my non-dominant hand, as Americans tend to be trained).

There may be a universal hierarchy of the difficulty of these skills, with some easier to start with.

TMS?

Thinking at the Edge-- tracking down the cognitive components of a felt sense which may be the beginning of a new idea.

During the ensuring year many people wrote to us. They reported that they found themselves able to speak from what they could not say before, and that they were now talking about it all the time. And some of them also explained another excitement. Some individuals had discovered that they could think! What “thinking” had previously meant to many of them involved putting oneself aside and rearranging remembered concepts. For some the fact that they could create and derive ideas was the fulfillment of a need which they had despaired of long ago.

Now after five American and four German TAE meetings I am very aware of the deep political significance of all this. People, especially intellectuals, believe that they cannot think! They are trained to say what fits into a pre-existing public discourse. They remain numb about what could arise from themselves in response to the literature and the world. People live through a great deal which cannot be said. They are forced to remain inarticulate about it because it cannot be said in the common phrases. People are silenced! TAE can empower them to speak from what they are living through.

If the second paragraph is representative, I tentatively classify this as low-quality, though I will likely take another look at it.

writing things on lesswrong, so one's ideas are given non-insane feedback