Archive for February, 2013

A question I frequently get asked is about various diet supplements or nootropics (cognitive enhancers or “smart pills”).

The simple answer is that I don’t take anything stronger than vitamins, minerals and the sort of health supplements you can purchase from any reputable health food chain. Putting in the right fuel to be in top mental shape is something that I have certainly given a lot of attention to getting right.

Let’s start with the diet itself. Originally, I was put on a very restricted medical diet to handle certain food intolerances and candidiasis. I had to start reading the labels on everything to check that there weren’t all sorts of hidden “naughties” and I realised that so many ready prepared items and processed foods contained at least one verboten substance it was easier just not to buy them and cook everything from scratch.

Out had to go anything that contained wheat flour, and that included not only bread, pasta and pastries but things like sauces, gravy, dumplings and anything coated in breadcrumbs. Cow’s milk had to go, as did refined sugar, MSG (monosodium glutamate) and certain other additives (or “E numbers” as they are known in Europe). My favourite Marmite had to go, as the tests had shown I was also intolerant to yeast. Anything that contained mould (mushrooms and Quorn) or was based on fermentation had to go.

The first few months of the diet were a nightmare as I learned that most of the “convenient” things we buy in the shops are full of these items, particularly wheat. And it meant that puddings, sweets, chocolate, cakes, biscuits, fizzy pop and most junk food were off the menu. I couldn’t cheat, as even a small accident would make me feel violently ill.

As I became accustomed to the diet, not only did the weight drop off and the bloating go down, but I felt sharper than I had felt for a long time. It became easy to stick to after a while, as I simply no longer felt the desire to eat those sort of things.

So, what does my diet consist of? While it’s not quite the “caveman” diet, it is very simple: fruit, vegetables, fresh meat, porridge, eggs, occasional “Free From” bread or crackers, and black tea, water and weak cordial to drink.

Try as I might, I can’t bring my palate around to liking fish, so I take Omega 3-6-9 capsules instead. Perhaps this is not such a bad thing, if the stories we hear about there being mercury and other heavy metals in fish are anything to worry about.

So far as other supplements go, I take a couple of high-strength multivitamins a day, plus extra B complex.

If I’m having a hard time sleeping, I take a calcium-magnesium supplement. I don’t take that all the time as it seems to lose its effectiveness if it’s taken every night.

In the hot weather, and particularly when I am going to the gym, I take salt and potassium. I also take a (dairy free) protein shake when I’m going to the gym.

Ginseng and gingko biloba are also good, but I don’t take them all the time, only when I want an energy boost.

Those supplements seem to be sufficient for most purposes.

One thing I learned when training to run the full body detox program was that if you take too much of one type of dietary supplement, it creates artificial nutritional deficiencies in other areas. I suppose that is my reservation with regard to nootropics – if they fill your system full of one type of neurotransmitter, what deficiencies in other types are they creating? And what are they doing to the body’s ability to create all the necessary biochemical substances on its own once you stop the supplement? Do they create a dependency where you have to keep increasing the dose or trying stronger supplements? These are questions I would need to see very comprehensively addressed before I felt comfortable experimenting.

I am building a database of dietary supplements and nootropics, and that is an ongoing project which I will put up on the main site when it is ready. Recommendations are welcome, but to ensure some sort of quality control I am only going to include items that have been written about in a reputable publication.

I was going to write about various detox programs, as I feel it ties in to the subject of nutrition and supplements, but it was proving very long and I shall make that another post.

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Scientific American: “The End of Science Bandwagon is Getting Crowded“.

Two disturbing themes emerge from this article and the various readers’ comments at the bottom.

1. Even young students, never mind their jaded old professors, are now so cynical that they do not believe that projects enquiring into the big questions about the universe should receive funding from the taxpayer (but no doubt would have a different viewpoint if asked about some trendy, “P.C.” project that affected them directly). Disturbingly, one even used the term “return on investment” as if this were some hedge fund, rather than the process of learning and discovery, that were being asked about.

2. The idea that we will not see the sort of groundbreaking discoveries made in the past by Darwin, Einstein, Watson and Crick because “so much has already been discovered” is more likely explained by the phenomenon described by Bruce Charlton in “The Story of Real Science” than the amount of work that has gone before. Doesn’t every answer in science reveal up more questions? Remember that in 1899 it was claimed, “Everything that can be invented has been invented”?

If “establishment” scientists aren’t excited enough, or have the raw ability, to do real science, there are plenty of us out here without degrees who would be happy to step up to the plate.

My area is mind/brain research rather than physics, and I can tell you there is plenty to be discovered. About a year ago, at a neurofeedback workshop, I ran one of my research ideas past the university professor and neurofeedback clinician in charge of it, and they said they hadn’t heard of any studies being done on that specific topic. Incidentally, that was only one of my possible projects in that area of science, and doesn’t even touch upon my other potential projects in other areas, such as the humanities and arts.

The fact that I, and probably others like me, have these ideas but we are stopped by absence of money to follow through for the benefit of the rest of the world is just sick, sick, sick.

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Yesterday, this article was brought to my attention:


I particularly liked these gems:

“Companies still post boring jobs, hoping to find exceptional people where no one else looked before.”

And especially:

“We still preclude people who have great ability, but without the so-called “proper” background or requisite years of experience to be considered. In our rush to hire at scale we still ignore the needs of those being hired and how they make decisions.”

The whole article is worth reading, as are the readers’ comments at the bottom of the page.

I think the author makes an important observation with his #1 point: defining the role in terms of future performance objectives, rather than years on the job and shopping lists of arbitrary requirements.

I have met enough box-ticking recruiters to last several lifetimes. I was asked at an agency whether I had ever used a certain Outlook-based file management system before, and she looked solemn and dubious when I said that wasn’t a package I had seen, but I was perfectly willing to learn.

When I finally went to a company that had this system, it took me about five minutes to find my way around it and how it worked. How many openings was my application not put forward for, simply because of these arbitrary requirements that are only an obstacle because the first stage recruitment staff make them one?

I’m reminded once again of the correlations of various factors to job performance. When are bosses going to bring their recruitment policies into the 21st century and start heeding it? 

Psychometric intelligence test: 0.51
Work sample test: 0.54
Integrity test: 0.41
Conscientiousness test 0.51
Employment interview (structured): 0.51
Employment interview (unstructured): 0.38
Reference checks: 0.26
Job experience (years): 0.18
Years of education: 0.10
Interests: 0.10
Graphology (handwriting analysis): 0.02
Age: -0.01

Source: J. E. Hunter and R. F. Hunter (1984) “Validity and utility of alternative predictors of job performance.” Psychological Bulletin, 96, 72-98 and F. L. Schmidt and J. E. Hunter (1998) “The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings.” Psychological Bulletin, 124, 262-74.

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This post follows on from my earlier post on how my formal schooling got nuked, and I now describe how I managed to fix myself as a student.

There were very few jobs available when I left school for those without proper qualifications, especially for a person who did not interview well due to some manifestation of lasting shock from my school experiences. The prospect of being able to get back to where I needed to be educationally looked like an impossible feat. There was no minimum wage back then, and I was extremely nervous of dipping into my precious savings to pay for classes where there was no guarantee that I wasn’t going to get just as much obstructiveness from the lecturer and my colleagues in the class as I got from teachers and students at school.

Well, I had a library membership card, and I made use of it. I was interested in mind development even back then, and so I set about borrowing and reading every book in the psychology, self-development, and mind-body-spirit sections of our local public library.

Perhaps I was just being sensitive about the following because of my own experiences (or lack of them), but has anyone else noticed how so many so-called “inspirational” or self-development books start with the author’s “When I was at University” story?

I found myself being regaled with the story of how Evelyn Wood (of “Reading Dynamics” fame) was at university, and she was reading a book on the beach on a summer break, got annoyed, and threw the book onto the ground. While dusting off the sand from the book, she found her eyes could track the sweeping movement of her hand, and so an idea for a reading technique was germinated.

I found myself reading how Tony Buzan was impressed by a professor at his university who had memorized all the names and personal details of every student in the lecture hall before the start of term.

Later, when I discovered the Barbara Sher and her books for “scanners”, yet again I found myself reading a story about how she didn’t want to have to choose only a few classes at university, because so many of them looked fascinating.

I found myself thinking, “They don’t know how lucky they are to have been able to finish school properly and make it to university.”  And, “How do I get to meet these sort of people when all anyone sees is a high school dropout?”

Well, I might not have a “When I was at University” story to tell, but I not only managed to fix myself as a student, but I learned how to hone my study abilities to the point where I was able to get straight distinctions, if not 100%s, and that is even before I started practising visual mnemonics. I found and enrolled on a study course that offered a structured and disciplined set of techniques to identify and handle study bugs as they came up, and so my quest to become an Olympic athlete of the mind started in earnest in the early 1990s.

I’m not going to pretend that the early part of my road to success was easy, because it wasn’t. The study skills course on which I had enrolled was intended for people who were already on the route to training in a specific technology, and it was full of both technical and organizational terms which I had never encountered before, and it made constant references to a certain type of organization in which I had never worked and had no personal reality.

Added to that, there was the baggage of years of being bullied by kids, underestimated by teachers and futzed with by senior department heads, which would rear its ugly head constantly, to my embarrassment, and I would get hugely upset. I was intimidated by the course supervisor who, I felt, didn’t suffer fools gladly. And my family were alarmed that I was taking classes at an organization that they thought was some bizarre New Age thing.

However, having come this far, there was no way I was going to back down. I kept coming to class, chipping away at the materials, which I could study at my own pace, and I came to learn that the course supervisor Chris actually had a heart of gold and was totally supportive of what I was trying to do.

I noticed my productivity start to soar. My already quite considerable vocabulary (from all that solitary reading) skyrocketed. My confidence increased week on week. I realised that I had been wrong in thinking that I wasn’t that smart, or that there was something wrong with my memory – actually, quite the opposite. I’d just never been challenged in a way that allowed my native abilities to connect up to the driving wheels.

After taking a couple of other courses, I decided I was going to train to be a course supervisor too, and I started helping Chris out in the course room.

Then when the opportunity came up for people to attend an elite training program in the US to train to a very high level in running the courses and learning all the technical skills for debugging any kind of study difficulty that students in the course room might be encountering, my name was at the top of the list.

Here is an article I wrote explaining about this study methodology. (This article was published in IQ Nexus magazine in March 2010.)

I have continued to self-educate and hone my own skills, as well as look into other techniques and technologies for enhancing the study and learning experience for myself and others.

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