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Ways to maximize your cognitive potential (scientificamerican.com)
326 points by brahmwg on June 30, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 146 comments

Here is my Cliff's Notes version of the article's list:

5 Ways to Increase Your Cognitive Potential:

1) Seek Novelty. Openness to new activities correlates with IQ, because those individuals are constantly seeking new information, new activities to engage in, new things to learn, and new experiences.

2) Challenge Yourself. Brain games like Sudoku don't work to increase cognitive potential if you keep playing them. You play them, learn how the game works, then move onto a new challenge.

3) Think Creatively. This doesn't mean "thinking with the right side of your brain." It means using both halves of your brain to make remote associations between ideas and switching back and forth between conventional and unconventional thinking (cognitive flexibility) to generate original ideas appropriate to the activity you are doing. Like thinking both inside and outside the box when trying to solve a problem.

4) Do Things the Hard Way. GPS as an example. You may use GPS because you have a poor sense of direction. Using GPS will make it worse because you aren't giving your brain a chance to learn and build its ability to navigate. Same thing with auto-correct/spell check. You can't spell anymore because you rely on software to fix your mistakes.

5) Network. Whether on social media or in person, this gives you exposure to different ideas and environments that you otherwise wouldn't be exposed to. It allows you opportunities to practice the previous 4 objectives. Knowing more people gives you the chance to tap into more collective knowledge and experience.

Remind me how the correlation between openness to experience and IQ test scores suggests that seeking novelty might possibly increase your cognitive potential. I think I missed that part. With the same kind of "reasoning" I might have to write an article claiming that you should take lots of psychoactive drugs and have more sex to increase your cognitive potential, because there are positive correlations between these things and IQ scores. Also, if you want to get smarter, listen to the bands on the right of this chart! http://musicthatmakesyoudumb.virgil.gr/ ...why? Because correlations, of course! Much scientificful.

Certainly it's a little misguided to suggest that an OCEAN correlate implies you can train intelligence; OCEAN is relatively stable across your life (that's what makes it a good personality metric). That said, I know at least one person who scored low on O taking an OCEAN battery but is in fact very diligent about seeking out novelty, so I think the O-factor depends more on how enthusiastic you look at the world at large versus deciding you want to be a polymath and working very hard at accomplishing that goal.

On the other hand, being able to have lots of sexual partners implies being able to convince lots of people you're worth having sex with (this is one of the two main goals which developed human intelligence in the first place, the other being killing people who were doing the first too effectively), and taking a lot of psychoactive drugs I think also implies a sort of mental fortitude (it's very difficult to habitually take strong psychedelics without having a solid grasp on reality and how to adjust your actions to account for the change in perspective, the people who can't do this but enjoy psychedelics anyway aren't who anyone is thinking of when they say intelligent people use psychedelics).

I listen to mostly metal, so you can trust what I say [https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2007/mar/21/whym...]

From the article 'Excellent learning condition = Novel Activity—>triggers dopamine—>creates a higher motivational state—>which fuels engagement and primes neurons—>neurogenesis can take place + increase in synaptic plasticity (increase in new neural connections, or learning).'

Not sure if it's scientifically correct, though.

My rather unscientific observation is that 'seeking novelty' enables you to think about things in different ways, to consider new approaches. I think 'expanding one's consciousness' could be aptly said in this regard.

Playing a sport, on a team involves so many dynamics that just don't exist when thinking in a classical intellectual sense whilst writing code, for example.

Living in a country for an extended period wherein the prevailing language and culture is not your own ... this can be really quite mind altering.

I think that the above correlation, pulled from the article maybe doesn't quite capture it. They basically state basically that 'novelty keeps you interested and motivated', I suspect there might be more than that.

Though obviously it's hard to discern since we don't really have a true model for brain functions and cognition.

I already do all these things and can report that none of them are compatible with most corporate jobs. Creative critical thinking and novelty seeking especially disturb management.

Depends on where you work. I work for a 24,000-person enterprise, and I definitely have the freedom to do this. However, this is in large part due to my direct management—they encourage and enable me to do this, despite disfunction in some other parts of the org.

Perhaps maximized cognitive potential isn't compatible with most corporate jobs.

who said any of this has anything to do with a corporate job? do it in the morning, the weekend; then use the benefits of increased cognitive potential at work?

The phrase "maximize potential" reeks of corporate performance, not personal growth. At least to me it does.

But... if you maximize your cognitive potential it'll make you clever enough to realize you should change jobs, n'est-ce pas?

Perhaps because thats the contexts in which you hear it most often.

"Creative critical thinking and novelty seeking especially disturb management."

Not always.

If you can use your social intelligence to get your bosses peers to respect him more, I can assure you he/she will approve of that.

A large corporate body is a political entity, the product is only 30% of it. Call on your EI Jedi Powers. Sadly, most of them are kind of from the dark, or maybe 'grey' side, but hey.

But yes, large corporations usually have some kind of leverage or de-facto monopoly, and any significant change can risk the goose that lays the golden egg. So, they can be systematically averse to change, for good reason.

Disruptors value change because from a position of little power in a static system, it's the only way to gain power. But at some point, disruption becomes more of a risk than an opportunity.

Large consumer and retail banks are probably the best example of this.

Joining a Board Game Group or getting together with your own friends (and not just playing the same few games over and over) checks off many of these boxes and is a lot of fun!

Sounds too hard. Isn't there just a pill?

There's a whole bunch of pills and they're called Nootropics. Transhumanism anyone?

I think these are a bit like steroids though. They don't work on their own; you still have to train.

See this graph from [1] http://myzone-strengtheory.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads...

> Yes, you’re reading that chart correctly. The group that took a placebo and worked out only gained slightly more strength than the group that took testosterone and sat on the couch for 10 weeks. The group that took testosterone without exercise gained just as much, if not more, muscle mass than the people taking a placebo and actually working out.

[1]: http://strengtheory.com/the-science-of-steroids/

So, I like to learn new programming stuff, but most of that is mostly in front of a Pluralsight course, following along in Visual Studio or a text editor.

Any suggestions on how to make this novel or creative? I think I can find ways to activate the other 3

Write your own programs to solve your own problems! They can either be real problems, or just stuff you're interested in. Over the last few years I've written a program to help me cheat at Scrabble (great for creatively thinking around a problem, especially trying to optimize it), and wrote a very basic 2D game engine, just to see how it was done. Sometimes my SO complains about something and I write a little app to solve that problem.

One of the most consistent ways research has demonstrated to increase connectivity in the brain is to learn new physical skills. Controlling the body in space appears to be particularly good at stimulating the growth of new synapses (and possibly new neurons as well, though the research is not conclusive here outside the hippocampus). Yoga is a good start. Modern dance, breakdancing, capoeira and gymnastics are all excellent if you're slightly more athletic.

Beyond that, practicing thinking in different ways really helps your brain develop. One thing that most people neglect is geometric/mechanical intelligence. Get some 3D puzzles, and once you get really good at them, start building simple machines. If you never got good at math, trying to pick up some advanced mathematics can be a good exercise as well.

The more literature I read about this, the more compelling I find this. In mammals, the larger the body the larger the brain. That's because you need all those neurons to control all those muscles. I recently read some papers that hypothesize the muscle atrophy we experience as we get older is partially the result of the neurons controlling those muscle-fibers dying [1]. As infants, our brains grow into our bodies by producing more neurons than we need and then killing off the neurons that aren't being used [2]. It makes sense to me that if we don't use our bodies in a variety of exercises, the lack of signal from the muscles to the brain could result in pruning those neurons as we get older.

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3868452/

[2] http://mxplx.com/meme/922/

As a potentially related point - in autistic individuals there is markedly less synaptic pruning:


Does this mean you're saying you need _bigger_ muscles specifically to get bigger brains?

Is an elephant really more intelligent than a human then?

Nautilus has an article[1] that explores exactly this question. I beleive the conclusion was that it is the number of cortical neurons, not the total number of neurons and not brain mass that best predicts intelligence, or at least best correlates with our intuitive ranking of intelligence that puts humans and then primates at the top, above elephants.

[1] - http://nautil.us/issue/35/boundaries/the-paradox-of-the-elep...

No, an elephant needs a larger brain to run its larger body. Humans have enough brains to run our bodies, plus "extra" with which to think, in a manner of speaking.


I've always thought the metabolic needs must have been just as driving (specifically, being carnivores). Note: not a dig at vegetarians, we're talking about long before the proliferation of tofu and quinoa.

"A gram of brain tissue takes 20 times more energy to grow and maintain than a gram of tissue from the kidney, heart, or liver"


I think he's not talking about intelligence, but about muscle control which kind of makes sense..

To what extent is that connectivity valuable beyond physical exercise? Is there good evidence that this does more than improve coordination and proprioception?

(Obviously coordination and proprioception are valuable, but people who value them likely don't need convincing of the merits of exercise!)

I think that _initially_ this new neural growth can be co-opted into general mental flexibility, particularly for things like mathematics and visual reasoning. In a sense, varied movement makes you more aware/perceptive of space. However, I think over time if you don't try to utilize your increased spatial awareness to solve spatial problems, eventually those new neurons will prune their synaptic connections to make the network as efficient as possible. Thus, I believe that pairing novel mental and physical training is the best bet for improving overall intellectual abilities.

Short answer: yes, physical exercise has been scientifically proven to improve cognition (working memory, attention, and other factors).

In addition to physical exercise, the two other things the author neglects to mention (though it might not be as relevant for her population, comprised of children) are diet and stress relief.

Why arent athletes the most intelligent then? Generally in society there is considered a negative correletion between people that exercise/play a ton of sports and intelligence. Whether this is true or not is up to debate, but stereotypes exist for a reason...

I think most professional athletes are highly intelligent, but some never learned to apply it to anything other than sport.

Watch Kobe or LeBron on the court. There is an incredible awareness of the shifting context of the game and the available moves. In the greatest athletes it is faster and more fluid than in most athletes.

It's a constantly shifting analytical mode that leans heavily on training and instinct, but is full of novelty. Consider that opponents spend weeks watching tape in hopes of understanding how to anticipate what Kobe will do.

In terms of physical metrics (size, speed, etc.) professional athletes are pretty close to average. I think it is a combination of intellect and general desire to win that makes some people become great athletes.

Because of what I like to call Cartesian Blindness (viewing the world through the mind/body duality) we assume it's simply a matter of great athletes having superior muscle fibers, etc.

Do you have a source for your statement that professional athletes are pretty close to average in "physical metrics"? By most accounts, there's been a recent Cambrian explosion in college and professional sports where larger pools of participants has resulted in a higher frequency of genetic outliers gravitating towards the sport for which their body is best suited.

David Epstein's "The Sports Gene" covers this topic with some depth.

Many people are brilliant, talented, and have a strong desire to win but lack the physical aptitude to support that at elite levels of play.

Aside from certain pathological cases (gymnasts need to be short and thin, offensive linemen need to be freaky massive), the difference genetics makes is pretty small in the grand scheme of things compared to proper training and mindset. Definitely less than 10% of total performance (with the exact number depending on the specific sport). Of course, at the very top, 10% is often a bigger margin than between first and last place.

grandalf speaks of team sports and situational awareness, complex planning, reading the floor, and other mental aspects of sports.

The examples in the "Sports Gene" are mostly about the kind of genetics that allow some to run micro to milliseconds faster than others, oxygenate slightly better, and so on. These things might help in the olympics where such minor distinctions matter but are certainly not a key or deciding factor in many sports.

While I completely agree about awareness being a form of intelligence, professional athletes (for the most part) are really on a different plane when it comes to physical metrics. An average person will never be able to attain a 4.4 40 for instance.

> An average person will never be able to attain a 4.4 40 for instance

Totally, true, but the number of people who are good at professional football is a very tiny subset of the people who can run a 4.4 40.

While I don't think athletes are the most intelligent, I think the stereotypes of dumb jocks is simply a type of bias. If you were an athlete with potential, you would put more focus on your sport instead of academics. If you were bad at sports you would typically spend less time doing them which would then allow you to focus your time on other things like academia. In America, when all you need to do to get As in like highschool is to put effort, the ones who weren't great in sports tend to get higher grades which is perceived as having a higher intelligence. Thinking that athleticism is negatively correlated to intelligence is just ignorant.

Athletes aren't exactly a random sample. They are people who have self-selected to spend time on athletics.

I also don't think the stereotype is accurate. We tend to confuse interest in pursuits that are perceived as intellectual with actual intelligence.

It takes a lot of hard work to be exceptional at symbolic manipulation/"smart". It also takes a lot of hard work to be an exceptional athlete. Unfortunately, there is only so much time in a day.

You might be surprised to learn that there is a negative correlation between obesity and IQ.

It depends on the sport. Check the average GPA for any top level university gymnastics team. It needs to be a sport that invokes complex coordination of a wide variety of muscle groups.

The basic idea is that while you are learning to do challenging gymnastic (or other physical) skills, the brain is releasing growth hormones to learn the skill. But they aren't targeted. It's hard to grow the part of the brain that does a cartwheel on a balance beam without also growing the part of the brain that does calculus.

I used to do boxing earlier in college, and used to hit the gym religiously till last year, when my elbow fractured and got implants to hold it together. After that I wasn't able to do much activity, even if I wanted, apart from running. Even pushups carry a risk of screwing up the implants in my elbow.

What kind of physical activity do you think can be done in this type of scenario?

Maybe swimming? Possibly tennis or racquetball if you only use your other arm to hold the racquet. I'm not sure how easy it is to screw it up again, but if you can still handle running it seems like those two might be okay.

Pilates could be very useful. Most of it is very low impact strength training - instead of holding up your body weight, you're straining against springs, for example. There are a lot of exercises that don't focus on the arms because Pilates focuses on very discrete muscle groups for each exercise.

I wouldn't start with group classes, though: talk with your physical therapist (are you doing PT to help the recovery?) about appropriate exercises, and maybe sign up for a few introductory private pilates classes. Be sure to inform the instructor about the limitations you have.

It sounds like I have the same injury as you do. Five years ago I broke the olecranon in my left elbow and had to get it all screwed back together. To echo other suggestions, I would say swimming is definitely the way to go if you want to improve upper body fitness. Everything else I've found to be too high-impact and causes discomfort. Also keep up the running.

Some kind of casual low-impact sport (or at least low-bad-arm-impact), like pick-up soccer or disc golf. That way you'd still be getting the movement and coordination practice that you don't necessarily get from running. Also bicycling might give you the same benefits from running but with more new things to take in.

Swimming (try also cold water not pools). QiGong



Tai Chi

How would one get into 3D puzzles and simple machines/mechanics? I suppose IoT or Arduino could get you part of the way there but that's still very software-based.

You can buy puzzle cubes, they're made up of irregular blocks that need to be assembled in a certain way to hold together. The only downside to these is that after you "learn" how to put it together by assembling it a few times, it doesn't do much for you, though I suppose you could up the challenge by assembling it blindfolded.

Field stripping and reassembling guns is a good practical entry to mechanics. Again, after you've done it a few times it doesn't really teach you anything new, but the blindfold trick would work well here too.

Lego robots are another good basic intro into mechanical intelligence. You can graduate from them to DIY robotics kits.

What's a good example of a 3D puzzle?

Rubik's Cube. Try solving it yourself for a while (a few months/years). You will probably not completely solve it, but even solving one face, trying to solve a second one, trying to complete rings instead, etc, should get you to experiment and use new thinking models.

Juggling is also good for growth in both gray matter and white matter.

" Efficiency is not your friend when it comes to cognitive growth. In order to keep your brain making new connections and keeping them active, you need to keep moving on to another challenging activity as soon as you reach the point of mastery in the one you are engaging in. You want to be in a constant state of slight discomfort, struggling to barely achieve whatever it is you are trying to do " Then working in IT (aka being in a constant state of noob-ness) is making you ever smarter.

I didn't know that all these new Javascript frameworks were making me smart.

You joke, but honestly all the web devs that learn a new framework annually will be pretty good at picking up new frameworks after five or ten years. Of course, most of the people who fret about the state of the javascript ecosystem are doing it needlessly from the sidelines and don't themselves ever learn any of the new stuff.

Do your clients all have projects that shut down after a year then?

One of my clients has 2 projects in durandal that I've picked up. No-one uses it any more, the documentation sucks ass, there's sod all on SO, the original devs had only done data access pages, super easy, not the data editing pages, absolute nightmare, so you can't even copy what they did before.

It's a bloody nightmare to work in. Pages which would take me an hour or two in an older tech are taking me days in this half-baked SPA.

I'm not on the sidelines because I'm fretting mate, I'm on the sidelines because the messes left behind are a fucking nightmare for those afterwards and an absolute disgrace to the profession.

It feels like the framework switchers rip off their clients by giving them code in an untested tech, the code is almost instantly obsolete while claiming to be cutting edge, and then run away when the flaws in the new framework they've chosen becomes obvious and they can't handle it and the complexity is too much to deal with and they run off and start a new project in the latest koolaid tech, pretending it's not history repeating itself, ad nauseum.

Or perhaps, not everyone on the sideline is a Luddite and not everyone jumping from js framework to js framework each year has chronic ADHD that can't see a project through.

> will be pretty good at picking up new frameworks after five or ten years

..or however long until the concept in question becomes irrelevant..

Not necessarily smart but trained. Yes, many times I thought about the problems I am solving, and new things I learn from the last 20 something years since I am in love with IT world. There are times when the problems repeat but many times problems are different so my approach and solution is different. Also new tech waves keep me trained cause I want to stay up to date and I want to learn what the new tech is solving or improving.

So that's why webdevs are so smart!

I'm skeptical that learning new things in the same domain will achieve meaningful cognitive growth. It feels like the Sudoku analogy in the OP except your are continuously tweaking the rules and symbols of the game. It's challenging, but it is sufficiently challenging ?

It would be interesting to study just how much variation there needs to be. If I've mastered the GNU Debugger and now I'm learning how to use Docker, does that count (it certainly feels that it does)?

Spot on!

> being in a constant state of noob-ness

This is pretty much euphoric for me. The best thing is to overcome obstacles by finally realizing how to reason about something new.

First of all, let me explain what I mean when I say the word "intelligence". ...I'm talking about increasing your fluid intelligence, or your capacity to learn new information, retain it, then use that new knowledge as a foundation to solve the next problem, or learn the next new skill, and so on.

And when you define intelligence this way, it turns out that the best way to increase your intelligence is to practice learning new things.

But what if you defined intelligence as depth of insight instead? It would seem that were one to define it that way, dropping new skills as soon as the novelty wears off would be counterproductive.

> once the "training" stopped, they went right back to their previously low cognitive levels... not to create a lasting change.

This article criticizes previous methods for lacking enduring effect, but does not claim enduring improvement for any of the promoted methods (including for the boy with PDD-NOS, and dual n-back) nor revisit the issue. On the contrary, it later claims that on-going training is required. This is not "lasting change".

This article is written enthusiastically rather than scientifically. It reminds me of "In Search of Excellence", that had sensible, intuitively appealing advice, but whose supporting data turned out to be fabricated.

Also, quoting Einstein is a red flag. He wasn't a polymath (unless you count several areas of theoretical physics as wide learning).

Still, it's interesting, and what more can you expect from popsci Scientific American?

I thought dual n-back had been discredited as a method of increasing cognitive performance. I know there must be some experts on here - would you care to comment?

Aside from that, the article is full of plenty of dubious claims. For example,

> In order to [generate novel ideas], you need both right and left hemispheres working in conjunction with each other.

The simplistic idea of the hemispheres being different types of thinking, or that originality requires them "working together", is not supported.

In fact very interesting things happen when the two hemispheres are separated, but it isn't something to do with the topic of the article.

> Efficiency is not your friend when it comes to cognitive growth. In order to keep your brain making new connections and keeping them active, you need to keep moving on to another challenging activity

Of course efficiency is not your friend if your goal is apparent growth and increased activity in the brain. But that's not the goal. The goal is to be effective. An effective brain is using less resources because it needs less. A chess master can consider fewer moves than a novice, for example.

Unless we had evidence that any brain growth is good for general intelligence in some way. We don't. Taxi drivers have growth in areas responsible for mapping and spatial location, for example, but no evidence suggests that makes them better at anything else.

In any case, the advice provided is badly justified, but still valid. The 5 principles are just common sense - which is why the author can find people like Einstein suggesting them many decades ago.

I see only one move ahead, but it is always the correct one. — Chess Master Jose Raoul Capablanca

See this very thorough article on gwern's [1] website: https://www.gwern.net/DNB%20meta-analysis

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/threads?id=gwern

Awesome, thanks. So N-back is not likely a useful method. Therefore this article misconstrues the scientific evidence regarding training.

The article was written in 2011 before many of the follow up studies questioning Jaeggi's initial findings were published.

While I think the evidence available today had muddied the water relative to what people thought after Jaeggi was first published, not all avenues have been covered (e.g. do people in knowledge I industries who are more motivated to increase iq try harder and as a result achieve better results). In my opinion, if you can spare the time, there's little to be lost from trying n back training. If it does work for you, the upside is tremendous. Anecdotally I tried it and came up with novel solutions to problems I hadn't previously cracked within a few months of training.

I can relate to that. I am not super-intelligent, I have ADD, and generally consider myself to be lazy and distraction-prone.

However, for some reasons unknown, I have excellent working memory, which allows me to perform feats. Multi-choice exams? Can prepare for anything in few hours. Learn Scala (and another 5-6 programming languages) in a few months? Easy! I don't use password managers, as I remember all my long passwords. And credit card numbers. And phone numbers. This multiplies my intelligence quite significantly.

If only I could be consistently productive...

Minor point: What you describe isn't usually called working memory. Working memory is what you can "keep in mind" at any one point. It lasts for a few seconds and then has to be refreshed, e.g. by repeatedly saying a phone number to yourself in your head. Working memory is more or less synonymous with short-term memory.

What you describe is long-term memory (everything beyond a few seconds is considered long-term).

Edit: Too slow. Some more justification: Very broadly, one hypothesis is that working/short term memory is stored in the currently present activity patterns of neurons, which fade/decorelate after a few secodns. Anything longer is thought to be stored in the weights of the synapses between neurons (there are alternative theories but I like this one).

As a person who has trouble focusing--

A.) Minimize visual stimuli in your work area. Get everything off your desk, and shove your face in a corner. (I've turned my desk to face away from the hallway.)

B.) Take notes as you work. I will write 15 minutes of code, take a note on what I'm doing, then get (purposefully) distracted for a minute or two. When I come back to my work, I can look at my note to see what I was doing and pick back up where I left off. It really minimizes the impact of distraction on my work. You can start out with lower chunks of "productive" time if you want. Practicing focus helps you to build up amount of time you can focus. Relevant talk on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlU-zDU6aQ0

Thanks for the advice, these ideas make sense.

The things you describe are long term memory, not working memory, I believe.

I forget things I don't use as fast as the next person (perhaps faster). The only difference is the speed of acquisition.


> I am not super-intelligent, I have ADD, and generally consider myself to be lazy and distraction-prone.

I'd say that about myself

> However, for some reasons unknown, I have excellent working memory, which allows me to perform feats. Multi-choice exams? Can prepare for anything in few hours. Learn Scala (and another 5-6 programming languages) in a few months? Easy! I don't use password managers, as I remember all my long passwords. And credit card numbers. And phone numbers. This multiplies my intelligence quite significantly.

And I'd say I'm the opposite here. My memory is terrible. Sure, I can study short term for a subject, but it goes away pretty quickly. And I have to study. If I want to "just remember" something in day-to-day life, I have to write it down and reference it later, or I'll forget.

Have you tried any meds to ADD?

Yes. They make things slightly better, but they don't magically fix everything.

You mean legal cocaine?

Legal amphetamine.

Incidentally, the response of somebody with ADD to Adderall is completely different compared to response of a normal person to amphetamines. It is more like "relaxed concentration" than stimulation.

Therapeutic dose of Adderall is way smaller than "recreational" doses of amphetamine. It has to be carefully calibrated by therapist. Higher doses will lead to headaches and, paradoxically, tiredness and drowsiness — not stimulation.

"Higher doses will lead to headaches and, paradoxically, tiredness and drowsiness — not stimulation."

False. You're right in that it won't help them very much -- specifically because taking overdoses of amphetamines tends to lead to things like insomnia, tachycardia/dehydration, and mania/psychosis.

The effects I described were experienced by me during the calibration period, where I took higher dose than me and my therapist eventually settled on. Perhaps it might work differently for some people, but this is what I heard from other people who suffer from ADHD and tried to take higher doses.

My apologies, didn't realize there was a difference between two drugs that both flood your receptors with dopamine in almost the exact same brain regions.

They act similarly, but it's weird to call it legal cocaine. Cocaine also strongly targets serotonin and norepinephrine and is a lot more addictive.

The 5 ways listed are:

1. Seek Novelty

2. Challenge Yourself

3. Think Creatively

4. Do Things The Hard Way

5. Network

Oh, so it's just the feel-good BS everyone is already aware of. Thank you for saving me the time.

Perhaps you may want to seek some novelty and challenge yourself to think creatively and do things the hard way... by reading the article, recommended by someone in your affinity network.

The elaboration on those points is the interesting part.

They appear to have mistaken "increase your capacity to do cool stuff" for "increase your intelligence."

how is one supposed to network when you work in a 9-5 job in a company no one gives a shit about.

The article says you can network via social media or in person. The goal is to know more people so you may be exposed to more collective experiences, viewpoints, and intelligence.

It's mostly about increasing the size of your filter bubble.

What do you want to do? Tech related? Find a meet-up or hacker space or make one. Something more physical like a sport or physical activity? Join a rec league, find a cycling group, join a gym, find groups that go hiking/climbing. Community involvement? Attend city council meetings, find out who's active and talk to them and find out what they do and where.

Host lunch and learns at your office. Go to a public speaking club before work or after. Join some meetups. No one at any of those care about what company you work at.

9-5? Damn, you have a lot of free time.

You meant non-job time, right? There are other inevitable time sinks.

Everyone has time sinks. Just about everyone over the age of 22 works at least 8 hours. 9-5 are lighter hours than anyone I know excluding those who are shift workers. I don't know anyone with a white-collar job that gets off before 6, and many start before 8. I work some of the lightest hours of people I know at 9-6:30. We all find time to network.

So what kind of networking do you do? Go to company happy hour? Freelance? "Connecting" to people on LinkedIn?

New grads/young professionals track me down regularly asking for "career advice" (a job). People my age/older email me about potential job opportunities. Coffee with either of them is pretty effortless given that both of them will typically come to you. Meetups[0] after work usually start at 7. I probably get to about 3 or 4 a month which is plenty to build a superficial network outside of my immediate friends and family. I don't have children. Even if I did though, trading 2 nights a month my significant other for personal/career networking isn't all that unreasonable. A friend of mine runs a meetup and he has 3 kids.

I sleep 7 hours, I'm at work/commuting 11 hours. That leaves me with 30 hours on weekdays to divide however I please (obviously there are other basic sunk costs like basic hygiene and eating). I've found that once I quantify the time I have in life, it's a lot easier to notice when it's available and be productive with it. I'm really not even one of those super motivated people. I just like to be conscientious of my free time.

[0] http://www.meetup.com/

Make use of the 5-9?

Admit it. You don't have kids - right?

Having kids does not exclude you from having a social life. Even one night a week to go to a local meetup would be great for improving one's network.

That was not included as a constraint.

That said, I do have a kid, and while he definitely represents a huge draw on my time and attention, I still manage to make and maintain technical connections outside of work.

Depending on circumstances, "we have kids of a similar age and both work in tech" is an easy instant connection.

Maybe look for other work? Try other angles on life?

Follow people on twitter, etc.

> In order to keep your brain making new connections and keeping them active, you need to keep moving on to another challenging activity as soon as you reach the point of mastery in the one you are engaging in.

Mastery may be too strong of a word here but the intention is definitely clear. It seems to me that certain activities are more suited to naturally force novelty on someone. Musicianship comes to mind, as when one finishes learning a piece, they can advance to a more challenging one, which would be considered 'novel'.

As the article is pretty old I suggest looking at a more recent discussion of the topic: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v531/n7592_supp/full/53...

Hypotheses concerning intelligence from this article:

1. It is correlated with short term memory.

2. It is anti-correlated with experience. "Efficiency is not your friend."

3. Technology affecting cognition (think of a map or a calculator) acts as a crutch to reduce the required intelligence for an activity. Just like physical technology.

4. Intelligence is correlated with social skills.

So plowing through many different games on e.g. Steam, and just playing each game for a short period (not trying to excel or improve your scores) before moving on to the next game, could somewhat satisfy #1 and #2 (novely + challenge)?

Mastering or thoroughly understand the system before moving on is implied :)

It might also be important to play differently challenging games (#1), e.g. DotA2 + Europa Universalis 4 + CS:GO will give you a much wider spectrum of brain training than going through the japanese RPG catalog.

That said, constantly seeking novelty is not good for your grit score, which seems to be a better predictor for 'success' than intelligence.

Depends on how much actual cognition is involved, after playing many games it could easily just become repetition. Also could come at the expense of some of the others, like networking.

As someone who previously fit the diagnostic criteria for PDD-NOS as a child and no longer does - I wonder how much of the described effect comes from a potential, sparsely documented trait of HF autism spectrum disorders that starts a person at a lower cognitive level but has more potential than others to overcome such a handicap?

I'd love to see more study in this - at age 15 (whilst heavily medicated) I had the social skills of a 9 year old, generally because of the lag of having to find processes that worked for me where neurotypical kids had a naturally good environment to learn these things. Since striking out and finding my own path I've grown leaps and bounds and many people I respect as having good social skills and emotional intelligence call me charismatic.

My hypothesis is that autistic kids /require/ a rational framework with which to work in dynamic situations, but while young do not have enough well-developed/healthy cognitive maps or experience to achieve a workable one until later. Couple that with low expectations and special treatment - necessary to stave off active pain but eventually turning into a crutch - had I stayed on medication/done what the doctors/teachers/parent said I have no doubt I would probably be on some sort of disability or at the very least not have the skillsets that have given me success today.

All that said, I'm certainly a firm believer of being able to grow cognitively at any age. There's just a hell of a lot of inertia that is very easy to get into - habits die very very hard and require a lot of effort to overcome. When you don't have the ability to do a hard reset and move away, get out of the space you're in it gets harder.

Since when has Scientific American resorted to listicles?

Very few publications haven't at this point.

Since when has HN let fluff on the front page? The article presents dubious claims with tenuous support. There's not even a mention of how many people were studied in the linked abstracts.

Yet so many here are taking the article as fact.

It's not that bad. Juice is in the details. Give it a chance.

This fits well for anyone working in web development. The quote: "You want to be in a constant state of slight discomfort, struggling to barely achieve whatever it is you are trying to do" explains how I feel whenever I'm starting out with new frameworks, languages and tools. The webdev world is in a constant state of flux. This year is a great example for me, as I'm in the process of learning: ES6, Typescript, Angular2, RxJS and Webpack--I'm always in a state of "slight discomfort".

I just have to avoid using "Google" and "StackOverflow" to parallel the author's experience of travelling in Boston without GPS, but I don't think I'm ready for that yet.

> While Einstein was not a neuroscientist, he sure knew what he was talking about in regards to the human capacity to achieve.

This line gets to me because it paints a neuroscientist in an unqualified light. This kind of implicit trust breeds pseudoscience through inflated egos.

By the way, this is why Lumosity is generally regarded as "crap" by the scientific community (and why they were fined $2M for deceptive advertising[1]). Any "improvement" you see in playing Lumosity's games isn't improvement in mental acuity, but efficiencies in repetition (#2).


Should have "2011" in the title, as there has been new research on the article topic since then, and this article isn't the last word on the topic.

It is one thing to improve the IQ of rapidly-growing children who have developmental disorders, and quite another to improve the fluid intelligence of adults.

Brain training games don't boost IQ http://www.vox.com/2016/6/22/11993078/brain-training-games-d...

The author does mention this under '2. Challenge Yourself':

> I'm going to shatter some of that stuff you've previously heard about brain training games. Here goes: They don't work. Individual brain training games don't make you smarter—they make you more proficient at the brain training games.

My problem is that whenever I encounter something that requires serious brain power, I start feeling sleepy. Anyone else feel this way?

Are you sleeping well? When I don't, things that require brainpower tend to make me feel sleepy. Maybe you have some form of apnea and you don't realize it. Could also be something like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

This may be it. I don't think I'm sleeping that well.

if I'm not excited/motivated by it; yes. if I am excited about it, I'll dive in and only get distracted by the sun coming up having forgotten to sleep.

> Novel Activity—>triggers dopamine—>creates a higher motivational state—>which fuels engagement

Is there anyone else that doesn't get this reaction?

I usually just feel tired and then ennui sets in.

Perhaps the activity just doesn't interest you or doesn't suit you?

I've been repeatedly frustrated by efforts to learn new languages, and usually let my attempts fade off. Without a clear motivation for learning the language other than to learn it it's hard to maintain the effort. (This has changed recently with my attempt to relearn Spanish, I was almost fluent 18 years ago and now have a good reason to regain and maintain it.)

So what sort of novel activities have left you feeling tired?

I used to be the same way - it eventually turned out I had ADHD-PI. Now that I take d-methamphetamine that's no longer a problem, fortunately.

That's called depression.


Personal attacks are not allowed on Hacker News. Please don't be nasty here.

We detached this comment from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12008350 and marked it off-topic.

Well, I can tell you this... I did tests long time ago and since the test I got many contacts around since my IQ is extremely high. I don't socialize with people I had only few people with who I have spended some longer time and I have noticed since the begining of our friendship untill now their way of thinking extremely changed. Sometimes I even don't like this... I feel like a battery which is charging others for nothing.

>since my IQ is extremely high

Just like everyone else on the internet.


Source: When I was in high school, I got a look at my permanent record. I had a measured IQ of 150 in the 4th grade and 138 in the 6th.

Extending the plot out to infinity, I should be well into the negative numbers now.

Suppose an environment e.g. stimuli/education was difficulty adjusted as you went up a grade so you were always on the very bleeding edge of your cognitive abilities.

You'd throw out the entire education system in order to do that, but would it mean that children would have higher IQ as adults?

tldr; if by modern standards we were cruel to children could we maintain high IQ levels?

I'm reminded of Dr Spock as a child in the 'education pits' in that new Star Trek movie ;-)

Using two data points to fit a curve is indeed not very intelligent. ;)

I'm using the assumption that intelligence is a linear relationship to the quantity of intellectual phlogiston in the skull.

Well at least you have some friends that would take your teachings and run with it I on the other hand had lost contact with all the friends that would do that for various reasons.

Now I'm surrounded by people stuck in their ways that ignore everything that challenges their view and I have to say that is even more frustrating.

Sigh... I need surround myself with more interesting people.

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