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You can increase your intelligence (scientificamerican.com)
259 points by jwdunne on Oct 9, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 111 comments

Every day, I train my memory by memorizing a pack of cards. I started because I had lousy memory and I wanted to improve it. I have been going at it for a few weeks now, memorizing and shuffling a deck of cards (twice a day). I can now memorize a deck of cards in just a little over 3 minutes (I started at a painful 19 minutes). Have I noticed am improvement in my memory? Yes, and much much more.

What I've come to realize is that memorizing a deck of cards trains so much more than your memory. The way I memorize is to associate every card with an object and its corresponding action, and memorizing the deck of cards is a matter of creating a sequence of events that corresponds to the sequence of cards. So by memorizing a deck of cards I'm actually training different parts of my mind: recalling the item that is associated with the card, coming up with creative stories on the fly when I see a card, and holding the story in my mind as I add 52 objects into the story one by one.

Each of these steps was painfully difficult in the beginning, but now I'm starting to see the fruits of my training. I almost never misplace my things (keys, wallet, etc) anymore. Mind blocks like, "what was the company's name? I used to know it...", happens less frequently and I can recollect facts much faster. Most importantly though, I have seen a dramatic improvement in the speed I learn and understand things. I'm not 100% sure, but I think that the rapid association of cards to objects and creatively creating a story have somehow improved my ability to comprehend and grasp new knowledge.

I whole heartedly believe that the brain is a muscle that can be strengthened through exercise.

My personal memory training challenge is that I don't keep anyone's name attached to their number in my phone. It has made me quite proficient at memorizing 10 digit numbers.

It is also a minimal first defense at would-be over-the-shoulder snoopers who see who I am messaging.

Haha! I do this unconsciously because all of my contacts are on my google voice app and everytime someone calls me on my phone (and not my google voice number) I don't see their name :)

Ooh, anecdote time! As an experiment, many years ago I memorized the first book of paradise lost:


...at the start, two or four lines a day. At the end? Two or four lines a day. Nothing improved. But I did memorize the whole goddamned thing.

Did you use a method like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_of_loci ?

What do you think about the research that says that solving crosswords only improves your solving crosswords ability and nothing more i.e., memorizing a deck of cards might only improve your performance on that particular task and everything else is just an illusion?

If you lift weights, will it only improve your ability to lift weights? ;)

The brain is not a muscle, as tempting as the analogy may be.

More like a collection of footpaths that become more accessible with use.

Actually, it looks like it is.

See brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which will be elevated after many exercise, be them of mental origin or just walking.

Lifting weights also counts.

> See brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which will be elevated after many exercise, be them of mental origin or just walking.

Just because they share some biological commonalties (of course they do! How could it be otherwise?) doesn't make them meaningfully the same thing, any more than them both having lots of mitochondria does.

Are you sure this isn't placebo effect? I.e. you've always had this capacity, but the reason you're having success is because you're now focused on utilizing it. That's somewhat different from not having the capacity in the first place.

If one has to train themselves to utilize this ability, is there a difference?

Yes, because some people might not have it and the training will be useless.

So don't try?

I can say that I've tried, and have a real problem with similar exercises.. that said, I don't learn the same way a lot of other seem to. I am pretty good at getting a couple dozen things into my head at once, but my mind tends to wander beyond that point and I will lose focus.

In some ways this works to my advantage, in general an application or system I am working on can fit mostly in what I am actively thinking of at a given time.. the down side is I will then lose track of time, and side thoughts... it will be 7-8-9 at night, and I'll stop because I need to use the restroom, realize how late it is and that I'm hungry.

On the flip side, I rarely misplace things, I have a photographic memory, not eidetic... In general if I write something and see it at the same time, I'll remember.. if I only see it, it depends, and if I only hear it, I'll likely forget.

I do most of the things mentioned in the article regularly though... I've managed to cope pretty well with my advantages and disadvantages.

How did you decide to embark on this challenge? Do you have any online resources that you can link to so we can learn more?

I started with this 10k memory competition, did really poorly, and decided to continue after the competition because it seemed to me helping me alot. http://www.memrise.com/course/44056/the-10k-memory-competiti...

Thanks for this! I really needed memory exercises but didn't know where to start.

Here's a bicycle shop analogy by Tim ferris about how to get started: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2013/02/07/how-to-memor...

There are some excellent books by Harry Lorayne that are still available. I got my fix in this department some 30+ years ago in high school. Great stuff.

I was inspired by a thread similar to this one several weeks ago to memorize a few digits of pi. I don't think it helped me in any way, but I like the imperative to recognize and identify simple patterns. It's just the right mix of hard and easy. It's not every day, but I often just grab a pen or New text file and start recalling.

The patterns are what draw me. How I remember it changes slightly (as I forget old patterns) over time but today: I go by groups of 5, 100 digits. There's the 8-2-2-8 near the beginning (w/ 2^3=8, & reversed), the 5-4-6-3 right after. The 5-7-5-7 (w/ 7 49, then 7, 81, 64) comes next. The permutations of 02668, the 34s, etc.

The thing is: the numbers are random(ish), but the patterns are there. The mind can find patterns in anything, you just have to cultivate it.

Do you think card-deck-memory could pull off any magic tricks? Pi isn't really a crowd pleaser.. :|

Pi is definitely a crowd pleaser. Many a time have I captivated fellow friends with it. Say it fast though.

"I almost never misplace my things (keys, wallet, etc) anymore. Mind blocks like, "what was the company's name? I used to know it...", happens less frequently and I can recollect facts much faster. Most importantly though, I have seen a dramatic improvement in the speed I learn and understand things."

This piqued my interest. I find myself forgetting simple things all the time and it's very unsettling given that I'm relatively young. Like JakeSc, I too would be interested in learning more about your experience and any resources that you could possibly share.

I started here: http://www.memrise.com/course/44056/the-10k-memory-competiti...

Memrise helped me get me off my feet, and then I created my own objects/actions for each card because I had no idea who half of those people are.

The Mentat wiki at http://www.ludism.org/mentat/ is full of related memory tricks. I call them "tricks" - they really do work. I've used memory palace and peg systems to memorise fairly long chunks of recital.

The thing that's always confused me about the "story" approach to memorising is what happens the next time you do it. Isn't the previous story still there in your memory, contradicting and interfering with any new one?

I was worried about the same thing when I started. What I found out is that the most recent memory is much much fresher than the past, and its very rare that you will mix up stories from the past with the ones you just memorized. Seems like our memories has a time dimension to it.

Do you do the Dominic method or something similar (tell a story with the cards, etc) ?

The article kindly submitted here is from 2011. There is a new article, from today,


that follows up on recent cognitive training research. The research conclusions are becoming more and more nuanced, and thus are better and better guides to practical things you can do for your own intelligence boosting.

It appears that the new study is as flawed as Jaeggi's previous one: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/2013/10/... (comment by this guy: http://www.uncg.edu/~mjkane/)

Thanks for the update! I do believe that there may be diminishing returns to focusing on intellectual improvement (a genius that can't get a date won't be happy) but it's clear that our minds are indeed malleable.

Most of us on HN have enough intelligence. Other qualities (focus, dedication, ambition, sociability) will have much greater impact on our success in life.


Here I am wasting time/procrastinating. There certain days, that no matter what I do, consistent concentration is impossible.

In my opinion, the urge to procrastinate is just our brain telling us that the kind and amount of effort we're demanding from it is not natural. People aren't meant to spend 40+ hours a week sitting behind a desk and concentrating on stuff they have little connection with. Marx wrote about that (the alienation of workers) 150 years ago.

As someone who has spent entire months not doing work, just doing things like studying Japanese, watching TV shows and playing chess online... I have to disagree.

I think the source of my motivation problem is having the feeling that what I do 'Does Not Matter.' Some months I can't shake this feeling and get absolutely nothing done. Other months I feel like I can take over the world - and end up making the progress of a normal programmer.

I "want" to implement my ideas, but there's not enough feedback or incentive to "make" me do it. There's also too many options. I have 100 ideas, which should I pick? If I haven't been successful with any ideas in the past, what's the point in dedicating myself to this specific one? Does it even matter? No one noticed last week when I wasted all my time (when not at my part-time job)... why would anyone care this week?

I made a chrome extension that helps me stay on task when motivated... but what I actually need is software that can help build my motivation. Anyone know of something?

You're not saying _why_ you want to implement those ideas in the first place.

Since your motivation doesn't seem to be intristic (if it was, you would've just found time and energy for at least some progress), you're most likely treating is a vehicle for something else: improving programming skills, padding resume, possibly basing a startup on the idea. In such case, you need to make yourself do things you're not really interested in doing (it's not always a bad thing, there's a ton of such things in everyone's life such as doing taxes etc.). Lots of motivation books on that subject exist, but from what I've noticed, it all boils down to imagining the fruits of your labor when it's done and also imagining negative consequences of not doing it.

For programming/startup ideas procrastination, my theory is that the sub-conscious part of the brain has already done the calculations for you, and the expected value just isn't that great - ie. you're likely to work hard for months and the most likely outcome is going to be a better job (ie. more work, probably also unengaging...). So maybe, it's just your subconscious telling you you need an idea which engages you before you start executing :)

You sound like me. I currently work in healthcare doing non-patient-care stuff, and I'm learning programming when I'm not working. My days are normally boring and steady-paced.

When my boss asked me to temporarily pick up some slack and new responsibilities, I immediately surged into action and got some praise. I was feeling productive, so I built a few things when I got home even after doing 10 hour days.

If someone asks me to build something for them, it gets a fair amount of attention right now (mostly because I'm trying to break into programming/webdev), and occupies my thoughts. When I have no demands, I'm pretty meh on projects unless I think I have a good idea.

I simply need an external demand to operate productively. I think I would end up ignoring any productivity programs.

There are many reasons for the urge of procrastination. A good article mentioning them (including approaches to fight it): http://lesswrong.com/lw/3w3/how_to_beat_procrastination/

Agreed. Thank you for writing stuff I agree with.

I wish my brain had a switch.

Monday: follow crazy ideas, absorb everything, novelty hunting. Tuesday - Friday: focus.

Right now that switch is ADD medication, meditation, exercise (in order of increasing effectiveness and access).

>I wish my brain had a switch.

We might be able to develop one by using non-invasive brain stimulation: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110615123647.ht....

"Here I am wasting time/procrastinating."

Interesting though that there is no data with regards to how much time people spend on HN and whether it results in success or not. Or just adds to entertainment, knowledge, or enjoyment.

Even anecdotal although I do know there are some outliers like tpatcek and patio11 that have benefited. But we don't know how that compares to time that they spent.

Hear, hear. I'm getting kinda desperate in my non existing pursuit of being able to focus / getting things done. I am considering meditation but I'm not sure there's actual evidence that it actually makes it easier to focus.

Meditation is all about controlling your concentration and attention. It certainly helps, heaps. Speaking from experience. Please try it. :)

(Although I also attacked the lack of attention span problem by doing totally seeminly dumb tasks such as reading a book backwards which makes no sense and really forces you to re-focus all the time. From a few minutes I was able to get up to 10, and later 15 minutes per time without huge mental wandering. Same goes for meditation, from minutes to tens of minutes with ease in a matter of weeks.)

Here are two no-BS, straight forward guided meditations by Sam Harris, one is 9 and another 26 minutes long.


Here is a bit more background on it: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/how-to-meditate

There is plenty of scientifically backed studies and documents out there when it comes to mindfulness If you are a skeptic though, as am I, be wary of the masses of esoterically/religiously contaminated resources on the web, when it comes to meditation.

Jogging outdoors... the effect is quite profound. Difficult terrain is best because you are forced to be vigilant and you cannot let your mind wander. Make sure there is a clear start and finish.

If meditation does not make it easier for you to focus, you will be unable to progress with your meditation. It's that simple - increasing your focus is integral to progress in meditation practice.

Meditation consists of two main "directions": Concentration practice and contemplation practices. Most schools of meditation has one of these as their main focus, but contemplation practice includes certain levels of concentration practice as pre-requisite, either explicitly (separate ways to train your concentration), or indirectly as part of practising a form of contemplative meditation.

Concentration practice is generally what you might think of if you think of meditation as emptying your mind, repeating mantras or similar.

Try this simple exercise:

Set an alarm for five minutes.

Sit comfortably. Floor is traditional, but not at all necessary; a position that is comfortable enough that physical discomfort does not distract you too much is much more important. Half close your eyes (you can meditate with your eyes fully open, or fully closed, or anything in between - it is a matter of preference, but until you know consider that fully open means your eyes will be dry and there will be more distraction, and fully closed increases your chance of falling asleep).

Then breathe in and out through your nostrils. Count 1, 2, 1, 2, 1,2 as you breathe in and out.

Every time you notice that you have stopped counting, try to estimate (quickly) how long you have been "off track", and start again, until the alarm goes off.

Congratulations, you have just meditated. If you can make the whole five minutes, try it again but without counting, just noticing the breath.

Most first timers/beginners are lucky if they manage 30 seconds consecutively without going off track, often for minutes at a time. If you manage the full five minutes without finding yourself thinking about something completely difference, your concentration skills are already well above average. With practice, you can keep attention like that for hours. And it does translate to being able to keep focus in other situations.

If you want to try more, "Mindfulness in Plain English" is a good introduction: http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma4/mpe.html ; the html version is free. Gil Fronsdals "Introduction to Meditation" series of recordings are also great, free, and includes guided meditations that are quite useful to beginners: http://www.audiodharma.org/series/1/talk/1762/

These focus on vipassana - insight meditation or mindfulness. This is a contemplation practice, but the introductions above spend a substantial part on the basic concentration practice of meditating on the breath, which is a common concentration practice in many schools of meditation.

The "mindfulness" part is sort of in the gaps: Rather than trying to hold an "iron grip" on your mind to focus on the breath, the purpose is closer to "catching you thinking" (or feeling, or sensing, etc.) and paying attention to the sensations an quality of what arises in you, while you try not to get pulled away from paying attention to the breath, and then rather than forcing the thought away, to let it "fade" by "simply" (it is by no means simple) not follow the thought with another.

Both of these introductions are of buddhist origins, though if it matters to you one of the things that appealed greatly to me about them is that they are careful to keep the material mostly secular (there's some brief mentions of buddhist faith, but they are explanatory rather than essential toe the meditation practice).

While I'm familiar with everything you described from previous experience I have to say that was masterfully described. I've found that meditation has so much cultural and 'religious' sounding baggage attached to it that people who would benefit most dismiss it out of hand. Your post cut through that.

When I started meditation I thought it would give me some sort of mental superpowers (Tibetan Buddhist IMO are quick to sell you on those). However in my experience the benefit is more like developing resilience against all the drama and bullshit that life or your own mind throws at you. A potential downside is that I notice more clearly how other around me are swept up into unnecessary frustration or anger. Of course it would be overstating to say I'm a competent meditator, but on some days I consider meditation the most valuable thing I do for myself.

I'm motivated now to try the guided meditation your linked above. Thanks!

The spiritual baggage comes from the fact that in these traditions meditation is a tool to develop concentration so that the meditator can focus his/her full attention on some form of the question "who am I" - that is, "what is my true identity" - sometimes aided by focus on a koan (a puzzle meant to spur an insight into ones real identity)

Spoiler alert - you're supposed to discover by direct experience that your real self is neither a homunculus looking out through your eyes, nor is it coterminous with your body, and this direct experience that your true self is everything that is, is intended to lead to compassion for other beings.

Have you read Steven Pressfield's "The War of Art"?

The right solution is to do something else and have more then one task on your plate.

You forgot luck.

I don't think one can increase that.

Depends how you define it - in a way, you can. There is a book called "The Luck Factor" that explores that scientifically (by Wiseman). I liked it.

You can of course not change the odds of rolling a 6 if you roll one dice. But you can influence how often the dice roll for you, and thereby increase your odds of rolling a six.

Be prepared. Luck favors the prepared.

That oddly motivates me! Thanks!

Yes, it's been known for a while that IQ works in a "good enough" fashion -- once it's good enough there are so many other things more important. A good example is of course Einstein, which was tested and had a normal IQ.

I don't think he ever took an IQ test and that anecdote he failed math was made up[1]. His estimated IQ was 160[2]:


2. http://www.cse.emory.edu/sciencenet/mismeasure/genius/resear...

You were probably thinking of Feynman. From Wikipedia[1]:

In high school, his IQ was determined to be 125—high, but "merely respectable" according to biographer James Gleick.[14]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feynman#Education

While we're debunking IQ tests of historical figures, I'll add some context for Feynman: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1251164 And I'll add something which probably isn't obvious from the summary: given the context of Feynman's test, 125 may have been the ceiling on it, since for educational purposes there would be little reason to detect anything higher.

There's no evidence Einstein had done an IQ test:


This is wrong. As you move up the ladder to more and more intellectually demanding jobs, the median IQ gets higher and higher, even as the fraction of the population with such an IQ falls off exponentially. Yes, there are other important factors. And yes, if you have low conscientiousness then there will be diminishing returns going from high to very high IQ. But there is no threshold, and IQ remains the largest single predictive factor for success by far.

Scoring better in IQ tests means understanding the problems better -- if you encounter similar problems, or problems which provoke the same areas of brain -- better IQ test score should correlate with better performance in the said problems. Whether this happens alot or not is another thing though. However, as the TFA implies, we can practice and better our brain, intelligence and mental skils, maybe that's exactly what happens when we "work hard". We become more intelligent, more skilled, our brains work more efficiently which, when added with the fact that we use that brain more by working hard, makes us more intelligent/mentally capable/whatever.

Of course high IQ/mental capability/intelligence means nothing if it isn't put to use, so step first is to start doing stuff which matters and learning from it.

Really? I never knew that! Can you point me to some sources?

From the article: >"One of my first clients was a little boy w/ PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Delays-Not Otherwise Specified), a mild form of autism. When we began therapy, his IQ was tested and scored in the low 80s—which is considered borderline mental retardation. After I worked with him for about three years— one on one, teaching in areas such as communication, reading, math, social functioning, play skills, leisure activities—using multimodal techniques [pdf] —he was retested. His IQ score was well over 100 (with 100 considered "average", as compared to the general population). That’s a 20 point increase, more than one standard deviation improvement, by a child with an autism spectrum disorder!"

As a parent of a PDDNOS child this put a lot of noise in my mind. When my son got his diagnostics, the psychologist couldn't finish the IQ test because he couldn't focus on the questions. Now three years later, all people who know the case agreed that he is a brilliant boy. So was that a huge increase on his IQ? or Was just a noisy measure of the IQ at the beginning?

I've always been surprised people thought any different, given the content of IQ tests. Is basically just puzzles and you usually get much better at puzzles if you do them all the time.

Increasing your score on an IQ test is one thing; getting the benefits expected from more "intelligence" may be another.

In such matters, keep in mind Goodhart's Law: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

In the domain of IQ, we might observe a very high correlation between higher-IQ and certain desirable results, like a longer/healthier life, lower rates of victimization, higher incomes, and so forth. And we might have a strong case that the test is, at least at the outset, measuring some sort of "general intelligence", and that there is a causal link from "general intelligence" to the other correlated beneficial outcomes.

But, then you start aiming to increase "general intelligence", and your only measure is the IQ test, so your target for evaluating all interventions is the IQ score. Now you are quite likely finding interventions that only raise the IQ score, and perhaps skip any "general intelligence" benefits. Even if your IQ score goes up, you might not get the other benefits. Meanwhile, others still researching the correlation/causation questions may see the original correlations start to weaken, or the case that IQ measures "general intelligence" weaken.

And in fact the originally-valid ideas are weakening! Motivated action around that target has started to thwart whatever signal it once offered.

The problem is universal - in regulation, in education, in investment, in semantics. It's why a lot of high-performing organizations keep their true 'measures' secret... to slow their dilution through motivated optimizations.

The other thing with optimising as a strategy is while it likes small changes, it really hates structural ones as they make it very hard to compare what you have now with what went before, so anything that is hard to measure is resisted. But usefulness and ease of measurement are not always particularly aligned.

IQ tests are very robust. The correlation between scores is greater than 0.9. These working memory results are usually good for just a few extra IQ points (as in, literally 2 or 3), and they are far and away the largest boosts people have been able to induce through training.

True, but since virtually no one takes IQ tests on a daily basis, the IQ test is still a valid measure of one's intelligence (or potential, I don't really know what IQ is supposed to measure).

People who score high on IQ tests do take IQ tests (or similar puzles on a daily basis).

> I don't really know what IQ is supposed to measure

Neither does anyone else.

They attempt to measure the theoretical concept of generalized intelligence, known by psychometricians as g. They're obviously not perfect, but they're better than anything else we have.

>People who score high on IQ tests do take IQ tests (or similar puzles on a daily basis).

not necessarily, on an official test, I scored 140 (which I'd consider high), and I don't do any puzzles or similar at all.

that said, obviously an IQ test is not perfect, but, I'd argue a high score is a good indication that a person is relatively intelligent. Middle scores and below can be attributed to a lot of other things (distractions, etc etc), but, the high score is still indicative of your brains capabilities. If that made sense?

I'm happy with mine, I want to improve other people's. I'm sure you can think of a couple places where that might be handy today.

Interesting! If anyone wants to give it a go, I just made a quick Dual-N-back app a couple of days ago, after reading Gwern's (who else?) excellent FAQ on the subject.

My web app: http://nnback.ukoki.com

Gwern's FAQ: http://www.gwern.net/DNB%20FAQ

Incidentally, if this is intended as some sort of response to gwern's other post [1] as if he's never heard of dual n-back... please do read that FAQ. All 124 pages of it, according to my Firefox print preview.


Or if you're lazy, just check the latest version of my n-back meta-analysis (http://www.gwern.net/DNB%20meta-analysis#control-groups): looks like the current point estimate for n-back's increase of IQ is 0.15 (so, 2 IQ points), and is not statistically-significant (p=0.14).

A few of the researchers in the area have encouraged me to clean this up for publication, which would be nice.

(Not that the rest of OP is much better than the n-back material. 'I worked with autistic kids and I can cherrypick a few examples of improvement!' As if he had never heard of regression to the mean or selection effects.)

The instructions of the webapp are incorrect, isn't LEFT and RIGHT mixed up? At least for 1n and 2n, I didn't try more. update yep, the instruction text doesn't match the keyboard shortcut list

oops thanks. Updating the instructions now.

The author says roughly "I helped many kids raise their IQ"; there is nothing novel about that, it is well established that intervention has large effects on IQ in children, but most of those effects have disappeared by the time they are 18.

As gwern points out in his meta-analysis of Dual N-Back [1], and his Dual N-Back FAQ [2], the results of Dual N-Back have been very mixed. Some studies show massive improvement. Other studies show minor improvement, while some studies show no improvement at all. It is by no means clear in the literature that Dual N-Back actually helps more than an active placebo.

    This is very damaging to the case that dual n-back increases IQ. Not only do the
    better studies find a drastically smaller effect, they are not sufficiently 
    powered to find such a small effect at all, even aggregated in a meta-analysis, 
    with a power of ~11%, which is dismal indeed when compared to the usual 
    benchmark of 80%, and leads to worries that even that is too high an estimate 
    and that the active control studies are aberrant somehow in being subject to a 
    winner’s curse or subject to other biases. (Because most studies used convenient 
    passive control groups and the passive effect size is 3x larger, they in 
    aggregate are very well-powered: 94%; however, we already know how they are 
    skewed upwards, so we don’t care if we can detect a biased effect or not.) In 
    particular, Boot et al 2013 argues that active control groups do not suffice to 
    identify the true causal effect because the subjects in the active control group 
    can still have different expectations than the experimental group, and the 
    group’ differing awareness & expectations can cause differing performance on 
    tests; they suggest recording expectancies (somewhat similar to Redick et al 
    2013), checking for a dose-response relationship (see the following section for 
    whether dose-response exists for dual n-back/IQ), and using different 
    experimental designs which actively manipulate subject expectations to identify 
    how much effects are inflated by remaining placebo/expectancy effects.
That said, there isn't any evidence of harm, either, so at worst, you'll waste your time if it doesn't work out for you.

[1] http://www.gwern.net/DNB%20meta-analysis [2] http://www.gwern.net/DNB%20FAQ

The question is... Can you make yourself less intelligent by indulging in the antithesis of the authors five principles? (viz. Seek Novelty; Challenge Yourself; Think Creatively; Do Things The Hard Way; Network)

Let's see... Avoid novelty; Only take on easy things; Don't think creatively; Do things the most convenient way; Don't network.

...in other words, live a stationary life, do the same things you always did in the same way with the same people.

I don't know if any research exists to support this but it seems pretty likely, to me, that this will make one less intelligent.

I think brain can be thought to behave like a muscle and skeleton. If you put it under stress(learning) and let it recover(sleeping) it improves and grows stronger. Similarly if you let it idle, atrophy hits and it weakens. Just like muscles and bones do. Both can be trained with consistent and proper effort.

This may seem very good and useful at first sight but it actually doesn't mean anything. The classical stance is that intelligence it's something fixed and can't be improved, so the smart guy will outsmart the average guy. Now they say that intelligence can actually improve so it's possible for the average guy to outsmart the smart guy. Well, not at all. If intelligence can improve this means that the average guy can achieve an intelligence on par with that of the smart guy, but the smart guy can also, so the gap still remains. Maybe I'm missing the point but I don't really know what make of the whole article.

It means that effort becomes more of a factor. OK, if you hold effort constant, maybe the gap remains, but not everyone is equally hard-working.

You don't see the point for the average guy to be better than they themselves were 6 months ago? Why must this be adversarial?

You're forgetting that plenty of intelligent people don't work to maintain their intelligence, which means their intelligence will flatline or even decline.

To take the gym metaphor you used, some people are naturally athletic and some are not. A non-athletic person can work out to improve their fitness level, and a naturally athletic person can eat pizza and smoke a pack of cigarettes every day. In not too much time at all they will have traded places as far as their athletic ability goes.

"The point" is that, with work, intelligence can allegedly be improved. Your comparison is false as the not-smart guy who works hard will almost always outperform the smart guy who doesn't work hard. The smart guy who works hard is something to be feared (or followed). HN is full of people who were told they were smart and then stopped trying. That is why they are on websites like HN rather than, you know, actually achieving anything.

Are you suggesting that if both weak and strong people go to the gym regularly then the differences between them will remain?

Not weak and strong, but rather big and small. If someone is 1.6m and another one is 1.8m; the second guy obviously has an advantage (being a bigger guy).

Sure the 1.6m can beat him. (exercise often, learn fighting techniques...) but if they both exercise in the same amount, the difference will remain.

I was going to counter this with gymnasts, since size past a point becomes a problem that can't be overcome by the larger man (it is better to be smaller), and then I realized that the idea still holds, there are certain limitations of which we cannot overcome no matter how hard we try.

People do not go to the gym to increase their height.They are focused on things like increasing the size of their bicep,so the weak/strong analogy holds better.

I was not talking about biceps size, but about who is stronger in a fight. The bigger guy has an advantage. See the other child comment as it explains that it can work the other way around (bigger being a disadvantage)

Your comparison is completely silly as it relies on something which can't be changed by determinated effort, unlike human brain and mental skills/capabilities and our physical body.

The comparison of going to gym holds perfectly, as anybody can go there and bulk themselves way, way bigger, fitter and more muscular with effort than almost anybody else who doesn't go there. Same is definitely possible with human brain as numerous studies show that after exposure to a new skill, learning it does physical changes to our brain(neuroplasticity) and thus modifies it to work better/more optimally, making it more capable.

The Holy One can elaborate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYfNvmF0Bqw

By a strange coincidence, yesterday a link to this article appeared on the same Hacker News page as this.


The argument there is that - in healthy people - not much can be done to improve intelligence, and speculates on reasons why. The qualification suggests that experience working with autistic children is not relevant to the general population.

That this link has been voted up to the front page and the other hasn't perhaps says more about the optimism of the community than the respective merits of the two positions.

Couple of points:

1) Use it or lose it, neurons act just like muscle fiber in this regard. I'd be more interest if someone can prove that deep thought and learning can lower the chances of cognitive disabilities like age-related dementia.

2) If you want to have a high IQ just retake the IQ test until you do. Maybe one day someone will make a test that will indeed measure intellect across a wide range of contexts, including social and abstract thinking.

It amuses me that even in today's times we believe that IQ = intelligence. Not true. All it requires is some practice. That doesn't make you intelligent. I mean "Einstein intelligent" :). Every few days I read the news anyway "This child has an IQ more than that of Einstein". Oh well. No wonder. He used his mind at better places than solving some puzzles "fast" enough.

Of course I can. If I manage to stop drinking.

Drinking excessively makes one smarter. Consider it culling the herd. The weaker slower brain cells die off, leaving the stronger faster brain cells to propell your brain power to peak levels.

I don't know. But for the fifteen years I've been doing it, every weekend when I go out with my friends I can feel my IQ dropping down with every drink. And don't even ask me to solve the simplest crossword puzzle on a Sunday morning. Not necessarily bad, though. It's fun and releases a lot of stress...

Exactly my point, it also does wonders for my liver by killing the old cells so that new ones can take their place - eventually, if I stop drinking. Perhaps even a new liver!

If you are interested in how people learn, you may be interested in this comprehensive review published by the National Academy of Sciences: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368

all well and good, for a lot of people i know the more immediate concerns are the basic trilogies of diet/exercise/rest, and learning the tiger parent things your whole life (math, programming, foreign languages, musical instruments). These things work because they require sustained effort/concentration, adn dealing with frustration and plateaus


(the 6 things above: bright light, tDCS, food, exercise, playing music, meditation

I had to stop reading when I got to the part about GPS where the author says he almost lost his job, due to tardiness, becuase he refused to use GPS.

Andrea Kuszewski is awesome! I recall reading this when it published, have been following her on twitter ever since.

But will I get dumber by wasting my intellectual capacity?

Intelligence is just a fancy name to "determination"

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