Mind Hacks

by RyanCarey1 min read3rd Feb 201413 comments


Personal Blog

I've been in the bay area for a week, and already I've heard so many tips and tricks for becoming smarter that I can barely keep track. I think this is a very good thing. If effective altruists and rationalists can become smarter, then it should improve the probability of favourable far-future outcomes. Note that:

1) cognitive enhancement fits with the ideas that you will achieve most of your impact in your middle age, and that increasing your career capital is integral to achieving impact.

2) it might be possible to reinvest returns from cognitive enhancement by doing further research into cognitive enhancement. This is not to say that an intelligence explosion could occur within a human substrate - our capacity to alter our neural structure and thinking speed is likely to run up against hard evolutionary constraints in a way that machine intelligence will not. Nonetheless, cognitively enhanced humans could have an advantage in the creation of a friendly AI team.

I suggest that we collate our mind hacks here. Then we can vote them all up and down. This will generate a list of 'top rated posts of all time', which could give hints for curriculum design to organisations like CFAR. Here are a few suggestions:

  • The reversal test for status quo bias
  • Thinking for five minutes of plans that can be executed in five minutes
  • Mind maps
  • Asana
  • Anki
  • Speed reading
  • Goal factoring
  • Caffeine
  • Modafinil
  • Nicotine
  • Creatine
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation
  • and so on

Of course, if something is less plausibly obtainable than transcranial magnetic stimulation, then it won't get any votes at all and doesn't meaningfully belong on this list (e.g. deep brain stimulation, brain-computer interfaces)



13 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 1:15 AM
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This probably falls under the category of "too obvious to be worth mentioning", but I'll mention them anyway, because they're all probably more significant then anything on your list. I would say that the biggest things a person today can do to upgrade his mind are:

  1. Education (including self-education)

  2. Exercise:

There's a lot of evidence accumulating that regular exercise significantly improves intelligence, memory, and learning, in the short-term, medium term, and long term, in a wide variety of ways, and that it also delays cognitive decline and memory loss later in life.

Actually, that's probably true of anything that improves your heart and lung health, by improving your brain's supply of oxygen. I know that there's been recent a study that people in their 40's who smoke tend to have worse memories then people the same age who never smoked.

-3. Getting enough sleep.

I agree with putting education as #1. For the #2 slot, I'd say it's a combined Nutrition/Exercise/Sleep "General Health." All three of these feed into each other, resulting in synergistic improvements in your entire body functioning. This includes your brain and mental performance.

I suggest that we collate our mind hacks here.

Why not in the comments of this post?

I don't reddit, but I'll suggest mnemonic peg systems for the list. They're definitely a hack, and they are a surprisingly big boost for short-term memorization and building up ad hoc mnemonics.

I recently built a set of pegs (number/image pairs), myself, and love it. I don't use it for lists, but I find it helpful for memorizing numbers in general - it gives me a way to encode numbers and pin them to objects (say, someone's birthday, or the dose of a certain drug)

I'd like to point out that caffeine is overrated. Tolerance develops pretty quickly and then it does nothing except slightly increase your background anxiety levels.

I've been a more than a year without caffeine and glad to be rid of it. Very potent drug which is abused almost ubiquitously.

Can you please explain more about "Thinking for five minutes of plans that can be executed in five minutes?"


My suspicion is it's giving yourself 5 minutes to think of short, valuable things to do. For example, you might be planning to get dinner with a friend at a particular restaurant, and then stop to think of ways to prevent failure or make the dinner better. "I'm not certain they'll be open the day we're thinking of. It would only take a minute to call and see if they'll be open." -> "Oh, they aren't actually going to be open that day. Should we switch restaurants or days?"

What's good about that prompt is that the cost of doing it is low (the amount of time you've dedicated to searching) and the search space is constrained (things that you can do quickly, which will probably be low-cost for that reason).

How does this align with one of the repositories ( http://lesswrong.com/lw/i64/repository_repository/ )?

Do you propose to add the top scores to one of them?

Do you probpose a new mind hack repository?

[-][anonymous]7y 0

This is a great post, but I'm confused about some nuances of the terminology. What differentiates a mindhack from other productivity techniques? Is the pomodoro technique a "mindhack"? "Hack" seems to imply that it's a sort of quick and dirty fix, which is unattractive to me.

As a programmer, "Hack" has the connotation of a clever exploit of existing mechanics. It also has the connotation you specify, but I'd argue that the systematically flawed nature of humans requires us to employ such hacks (accepting that they are not ideal, but also that anything we replace them with is also likely to be a hack)