Six Month Anniversary Edition
In celebration of this newsletter/blog’s six month anniversary, I’ve compiled some of the coolest (In my opinion) sections from past posts. Enjoy!
Book I just re-read: Stealing Fire
If someone asked which three books I think everyone should read, Stealing Fire would make the list. In a nut shell, Stealing Fire is all about altered states of consciousness, and how individuals and organizations, (Such as Google, the Navy SEALs, and Red Bull) are using these states to their advantage in order to drive growth and provide insights into the nature of reality. It also describes many of the techniques and technologies anyone can use to achieve these states and reap the benefits for themselves. If you want a copy of this book, I’ll buy one and ship it to you. Seriously.
“In a recent University of Sydney study, 42 researchers relied on transcranial magnetic stimulation to induce flow—using a weak magnetic pulse to knock out the prefrontal cortex and create a twenty-to-forty-minute flow state. Subjects were then given a classic test of creative problem solving: the nine-dot problem. Connect nine dots with four lines without lifting pencil from paper in ten minutes. Under normal circumstances, fewer than 5 percent of the population pulls it off. In the control group, no one did. In the flow-induced group, 40 percent connected the dots in record time, or eight times better than the norm.”
“By using the tanks (sensory deprivation tanks) to eliminate all distraction, entrain specific brainwaves, and regulate heart rate frequency, the SEALs are able to cut the time it takes to learn a foreign language from six months to six weeks.”
“In a recent study, Apple and the speaker manufacturer Sonos16 took a deeper look at music’s power to connect. To track how much music people listened to at home (on average, four and a half hours a day) and what happened while they listened, they rigged thirty homes with Sonos speakers, Apple watches, Nest cams and iBeacons. When tunes were playing, the distance between housemates decreased by 12 percent, while chances of cooking together increased by 33 percent, laughing together by 15 percent, inviting other people over by 85 percent, saying “I love you” by 18 percent…”
Kotler, Steven. Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work (pp. 141-142). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Person to Follow: Peter Diamandis
Peter Diamandis is the founder and chairman of the X Prize Foundation, founder of Singularity University, and co-author of two of my favorite books Bold and Abundance. The X Prize foundation creates, funds, and directs massive public incentive competitions, generally with the goal of developing ideas and technologies that will greatly benefit humanity.
Singularity University is a B-Corp that offers classes and hosts summits, all with the intention of creating a beautiful, abundant future. They also have a fantastic youtube channel that posts mind blowing presentations on advances in Energy, Medicine, Transport, AI, and other cutting edge fields.
If you want to check out some past X Prize Competitions, click here.
If you would like to take a look at Singularity University’s YouTube channel, click here.
A few of my favorite Singularity University YouTube videos are attached below.
The Man Missing Most of His Brain
This story truly shook my view of reality. After forty four normal years of life, a French man went to the doctor complaining of leg weakness. Eventually, his brain was scanned in an attempt to diagnose the cause of the issue. Astonishingly, the scan revealed that 90% of the volume within the man’s skull was filled with nothing but fluid.
This result makes me wonder whether the brain is the only agent responsible for our consciousness and abilities. Although I used to be a hard core materialist, and believed that who we are and how we behave is entirely due to the activity of neurons, my view has been changing. These days, I’m considering theories such as idealism, panpsychism, dualism, and brain-as-a-receiver, as possible explanations for the mystery of consciousness and behavior.
- A Scientific American article that gives a few more examples of puzzling mind-brain phenomenon: Transcending the Brain
Excerpt: “…Even more intriguingly, it is well known that psychedelic substances induce powerful experiences of self-transcendence.12 It had been assumed that they did so by exciting parts of the brain. Yet, recent neuroimaging studies have shown that psychedelics do largely the opposite.13 Moreover, “the magnitude of this decrease [in brain activity] predicted the intensity of the subjective effects.”14 In other words, the less activated the brain becomes, the more intense the psychedelic experiences.”
Quote By Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens
“For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined. In the early twenty-first century, the average human is far more likely to die from bingeing at McDonald’s than from drought, Ebola or an al-Qaeda attack.”
Incredible Person: John von Neumann
I’m always surprised that more people haven’t heard of John von Neumann. He was one of the greatest mathematical minds of all time and made significant contributions in a wide range of academic disciplines (Quantum Physics, Nuclear Physics, Computer Science, Biology, and Economics, to name a few). His wikipedia page is well worth reading, but if you don’t have time for that, here’s a short list of some of its most interesting excerpts:
- When he was six years old, he (von Neumann) could divide two eight digit numbers in his head and could converse in ancient Greek. When the six year old von Neumann caught his mother staring aimlessly, he asked her “What are you calculating?”
- At the age of 15, he began to study advanced calculus under the renowned analyst Gábor Szegó. On their first meeting, Szegó was so astounded by (von Neumann’s) mathematical talent that he was brought to tears.
- By the end of 1927 (Neumann was born in 1903) he had published twelve major papers in mathematics, and by the end of 1929, thirty two papers, at a rate of nearly one major paper per month.
- Despite being a notoriously bad driver, he nonetheless enjoyed driving – frequently while reading a book – occasioning numerous arrests as well as accidents.
- He believed much of his mathematical thought occurred intuitively, and he would often go to sleep with a problem unsolved and know the answer immediately upon waking up.
- Nobel Laureate Hans Bethe said “I have sometimes wondered whether a brain like von Neumann’s does not indicate a species superior to that of man.”
- Herman Goldstein once said: “One of his remarkable abilities was his power of absolute recall. As far as I could tell, von Neumann was able on once reading a book or article to quote it back verbatim; moreover, he could do it years later without hesitation. He could also translate it at no diminution in speed from its original language into English. On one occasion I tested his ability by asking him to tell me how A Tale of Two Cities started. Whereupon, without any pause, he immediately began to recite the first chapter and continued until asked to stop after about ten or fifteen minutes.”
Company I’m simultaneously disturbed and thrilled by: Neuralink
Neuralink is a neurotechnology company, founded in 2017 by Elon Musk, which is working on creating brain machine interfaces. More specifically, they are making a chip that can be implanted into one’s brain, and used to treat neurological disorders and link telepathically with computers.
Though this may seem somewhat far fetched, similar types of technology have already been used in the treatment of ailments such as Parkinson’s disease. The video below shows the dramatic improvement that a therapeutic brain implant can have on a patient with Parkinson’s.
However, the technology that neuralink is not only intended to treat diseases. As mentioned above, is eventually planning on using its chips to enhance human capabilities by linking us to our smartphone, computers, and the internet.
My feelings on this company/technology are very strong, and very mixed, for several reasons. For one, it is undeniable that much of who we are and what we do results from activity within the brain. The prevailing view among much of academia is that all of who we are and what we do results from this activity. Therefore, we could theoretically influence every aspect of our beings using this type of technology. On the plus side, speech impediments, blindness, deafness, memory loss, depression, anxiety, and an extensive list of other ailments could be partially or entirely done away with.
On the flip side, we have already managed to turn rats into thought controlled puppets by putting similar devices into their brains, as described in this Harvard study. It isn’t hard to imagine a future in which more advanced iterations of this technology could be used by nefarious organizations to influence human thought and movement. That’s not the type of future I want to live in. That said, if someone told me they could put a chip in my mind that would reduce or eliminate all my anxiety and neuroses, and make it so that I had perfect memory, was consistently the funniest person in the room, and could learn significantly faster than any non-enhanced person, I might find it difficult to resist. Though we are still probably a few decades from that level of brain machine interface being available, we are a lot closer than most people think, as the videos below show.
Highlights from Neuralink’s recent presentation:
Some reading recommendations for those of you who want to learn more about Neuralink and brain machine interface technology:
Elon Musk’s Neuralink unveils device to connect your brain to a smartphone
Paralyzed Man Uses Thoughts to Move a Cursor
A fantastic group presentation on the therapeutic applications of psychedelics:
For over a decade, institutions such as Johns Hopkins University and the Imperial College London have been conducting research on psychedelics as a treatment for anxiety and depression. The results of this research, described in the video below, have been nothing short of profound. For what is, in my mind, the coolest part of the discussion, skip to 4:11.
A few aerospace companies I’m excited about – Gravity and Opener
Although personal aerial vehicles have often failed to live up to the hype surrounding them, I’m hopeful that the companies below might break this trend. My optimism is largely fueled by the fact that the computers and batteries are more powerful/energy dense than they have ever been before, and their capabilities (At least those of computers) continue to increase at an astounding rate. Fingers crossed.
Great application of AI / Machine Learning: Breast Cancer Prediction
Researchers at MIT have created a machine learning algorithm that can accurately predict whether a woman will go on to develop breast cancer, even five years into the future. They did so by “showing” the algorithm over 60,000 mammograms, some from women who did not go on to develop breast cancer, and some from women who did. The algorithm was eventually able to pick up on the image patterns that were predictive of cancer development. To read more about this algorithm, click here. If you want to learn more about machine learning and how it works, you can check out the machine learning page on this blog, where I’ve attached a few videos on the topic.
Meditation’s effects on telomere length – Insight meditation and telomere biology: The effects of intensive retreat and the moderating role of personality
Mediation is becoming an increasingly hot topic these days and many companies, such as Google, are creating mindfulness programs for their workers. While mediation’s psychological benefits are becoming well documented (You can read about a few of them in this post: 4/24/2019) research is now beginning to suggest that meditation can also have a measurable positive effect on certain aspects of our biology. One such effect is the lengthening of telomeres.
Telomeres are “caps” that are attached to the end of every chromosome. Much like the caps on the ends of shoelaces, they prevent chromosomes from unraveling. However, every time a cell divides (which most cells do quite a lot) the telomeres on the ends of the its chromosomes become slightly shorter. After a certain amount of telomeric shortening, the cell dies. Although telomere shortening is a natural process, certain behaviors such as smoking can hasten it, leading to premature cell aging and death. Fortunately, it has also been shown that other behaviors can lengthen telomeres. One such behavior is meditation. As the study in the title details, mindfulness meditation, if practiced over a consistent period of time, can led to a marked increase in telomere length.
For more information on telomeres, click here.
A mind blowing interview: Stan Grof – Lessons from ~ 4,500 LSD Sessions and Beyond
Stanislav Grof is a Czech psychiatrist who has worked extensively with LSD (Back when it was legal) as a therapeutic agent. After the drug was criminalized, he went on to develop a technique known as Holotropic Breathwork, which can allegedly generate effects similar to experienced on psychedelics, without the ingestion of any foreign substance.
Although Grof might seem a little out there, I think he’s onto something. Unlike the many armchair professors in the field of psychology, Grof has spent thousands of hours in the trenches and these hours have clearly led to some astounding insights into the nature of the mind and consciousness. He’s also sharp as a tack at 87 years old.
To avoid the ads, skip to 4:27
Although I haven’t yet tried Grof’s method of Holotropic Breathing (I’m planning on doing a session in July) I have heard two first hand accounts of its effects from trusted sources. Both said the experience was equal in potency to that of an ayahuasca ceremony.
Click here if you’d like to watch a video of a Holotropic session.
Note: Since writing the piece above, I have done breathwork, and wrote about the experience and after effects in this post.
Side note: I’d highly recommend the above podcast (The Tim Ferriss Show) to pretty much everyone. Its episodes general consist of the host, Tim, interviewing world class performers, and attempting to deconstruct how they have achieved their success. Guests include chess prodigies, microbiologists, Navy SEALs, business titans (Such as Richard Branson) and athletes (Such as LeBron James). Episodes can be found on YouTube, as well as iTunes and Spotify. However, as with pretty much all podcasts, I listen to them using the app Overcast. It’s the best podcast app I’ve been able to find.
Book I’m Enjoying: The Industries of the Future, by Alec Ross
If I didn’t have a kindle and was reading a paper copy of this book, my highlighter would be running out of ink. And that’s in spite of the fact I’m not even half way finished. It’s packed full of hard stats and powerful anecdotes about the massive changes taking place in fields such as robotics, genetics, and digital currency. If you’re interested in what lies ahead, this one is for you.
“In 2013, 1,300 surgical robots were sold for an average cost of $1.5 million each, accounting for 6 percent of professional service robots and 41 percent of the total sales value of industry robots. The number of robotic procedures is increasing by 30% per year, and more than 1 million Americans have already undergone a robotic surgery.”
“Google has hired the former deputy director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Ron Medford, to be its director of safety for self driving cars. Medford explained that Americans collectively drive approximately 3 trillion miles per year, and more than 30,000 people die in car accidents. Worldwide, those statistics are enormous; approximately 1.3 million people die every year in car crashes.”
“Johnson & Johnson’s SEDASYS system automates the sedation of patients undergoing colonoscopies, easing the over $1 billion cost of sedation each year. The services of anesthesiologists typically increase the price of surgery by $600 to $2,000. SEDASYS, already approved by the Food and Drug Administration and going into hospitals today, would cost only $150 per procedure. It would not eliminate anesthesiologists altogether. Instead, like autopilot, systems like SEDASYS merely aid the doctor, enabling an anesthesiologist to monitor ten procedures taking place simultaneously as opposed to having an anesthesiologist in each operating room.”
Ross, Alec. The Industries of the Future (p. 33). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
Quote From The Professor Who Spoke at My Baccalaureate
“Oftentimes, our contemporary dialog can sound something like this: “Speaking as an X, I am offended that you claim B. When in true liberal fashion, that is to say a fashion that honors tolerance and and broad mindedness, the more effective dialog might sound something more like this: “I think A, and here is my argument.”
– Professor K. Elizabeth Coggins
The History of the Term “Meme”
Turns out, the term “meme” was invented long before people began using the internet, and initially had nothing to do with pictures of cats. It was coined by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book “The Selfish Gene.” The term is defined by my dictionary as “An element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.” Examples of memes include clothing styles, slang terms, slogans, and of course, the images spread through social media with which most people associate the term.
Once you start thinking about memes, you realize that they are everywhere. We essentially live in a world of competing memes. The songs that play on the radio are memes our culture has selected. The “baby on board” bumper sticker is another example of meme that, for whatever reason, spread very effectively throughout society.
- (If you want to learn more about why things spread, I’d highly recommend reading the book Contagious by Jonah Berger.)
For a description of the term meme by it’s inventor, check out the video below.
Emerging Field – Nutrigenomics
Nutrigenomics is a relatively new field of study that looks at the connection between our diets and our genes. It turns out that different dietary and lifestyle choices can have a significant effect on the way our genes are expressed. Given that we all have a different set of genes, these expression tendencies often vary significantly from person to person, which is part of the reason why there is no one-size-fits-all diet. I, for example, seem to have certain mutations that negatively affect my folate metabolism pathways. It’s nothing too serious, but it does mean that I should consume more folate, as this vitamin is involved in a large number of metabolic operations.
To learn more about mutations affecting the folate pathway, click here. I’d recommend doing this, as a large number of people are unaware that they have these mutations and you might be one of them. For a more in-depth overview of what nutrigenomics is all about, and how you can tailor your diet based on your genetic information, click here.
I’m going to be keeping an eye on advances in nutrigenomics, mostly because I find the idea of genetically tailored diets that optimize energy and health to be very exciting.
Useful Genetics Resource – FoundMyFitness SNP report
Last December, I sent a sample of my saliva to the genetics company 23andMe. A few weeks later, they sent me a pretty interesting report, containing information on my health and ancestry. In addition to this report, they also provided me with a file containing my raw genetic data.
Although 23andMe doesn’t tell you anything about what the majority of this data might mean in their reports, other sites can. One such site is FoundMyFitness.com which, using raw genetic data, can generate a very comprehensive report on what diseases and conditions you might be at risk for. Using this report, you can make dietary and lifestyle changes, based on your genetics. I just ran my raw data through their system and got a bunch of great information on what tendencies and conditions my genes are associated with. Pictures of a few of my variations and recommendations are attached below.
- The link in the title of this section has some excellent information on genes, genetic testing, and other key terms that might be a bit foreign if you haven’t taken a biology class recently.
- If you want to use 23andMe or the genetic report on FoundMyFitness.com, but are struggling to do so, shoot me an email and I’ll send you some videos that will walk you through the whole process.
Screenshots of my report:
An interesting, 100% legal, method for altering your consciousness: Sensory Deprivation / Float Therapy
Although sensory deprivation tanks were initially developed in the 1950s and 60s, their use remained a relatively fringe activity for several decades. Recently however, spending time in sensory deprivation tanks (Also known as floating) has become far more popular with mainstream consumers.
A more in-depth description of floating from the center I usually go to: What Is Floating?
I first started floating in 2016, and have been intrigued by its effects on my mental state, both inside of the tank, and in the days following a float session. Although some of my floats have been mostly filled with boredom, during others I have dropped into a deep state of relaxation, and have occasionally seen pleasant blue visuals dancing across my field of vision. Post float, I generally feel calmer than usual, and enjoy a release of muscular tension. I even noticed an improvement in my handwriting in the days following a particularly deep float.
A decent amount of scientific research on the efficacy of floating been now been published. One of the largest of such studies can be read by clicking here.
For additional studies, click here.
The Roseto Study
This is, in my mind, one of the most important scientific studies ever conducted. It makes a compelling case that having an active social life, and being around people you love might actually be just as important for your health and longevity than what you eat or how much you exercise. If you’d like to read the study, click here. If you’d prefer to watch a summary of its contents, check out the video below.
- In the 1960s, researchers observed that inhabitants of Roseto, Pennsylvania has incredible cardiovascular health relative to the average U.S population, despite the fact that they ate relatively poor diets and frequently smoked.
- Additionally local death rate for men living in Roseto was half the national average.
- The only factor that significantly differentiated Roseto and other neighboring towns, was the high level of social cohesion.
- Roseto eventually modernized and the social cohesion between its inhabitants dropped. After this transition, Rosetans’ heart attack rates rose to the national average.
A Weirdly Effective Therapeutic Technique – Expressive Writing Therapy
In expressive writing therapy, subjects free write about the most challenging and traumatic events in their lives, without giving much thought to editing, spelling, or grammar. I first heard of this practice in a podcast episode, and was completely floored when I heard about the physiological effects it can have on those who use it. For one, the immune systems of test subjects who tried the therapy were better able to respond to foreign substances six weeks after the writing than they were previously. If I remember correctly, their blood pressure was also lowered. Most interestingly, in my opinion, college students who participated in studies on the effects of expressive writing ended up visiting the campus physician’s office less than control subjects in the months following their writing sessions. For more details on this practice, I’d highly recommend listening to the podcast episode I linked to above. Although you can listen the app on the link I embedded, I suggest listening to it using the podcast app Overcast. I would also highly recommend reading the books of the man behind the initial experiments in expressive writing, Dr. James Pennebaker. In addition to his work with therapeutic writing, he has also done some amazing research on pronoun use. This research is beautifully detailed in his eye-opening book: The Secret Life of Pronouns.
In the video below, Dr. Pennebaker discusses the structure and results of his studies with therapeutic writing. The first twenty five minutes are nothing short of mind-blowing.
The Health Benefits of Sauna Use
I started spending time in saunas about six months ago. I was inspired to do so after reading up on the health benefits of sauna use, some of which seem almost too good to be true. The most compelling evidence the efficacy of sauna use comes from a study performed over the course of 20 years by the University of Finland. An article from the Harvard Health Blog summarized the results of the study:
“Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland tracked 2,300 middle-aged men for an average of 20 years. They categorized the men into three groups according to how often they used a sauna each week. The men spent an average of 14 minutes per visit baking in 175° F heat. Over the course of the study, 49% of men who went to a sauna once a week died, compared with 38% of those who went two to three times a week and just 31% of those who went four to seven times a week. Frequent visits to a sauna were also associated with lower death rates from cardiovascular disease and stroke.”
To read the entire article, click here.
Although my health is, to my knowledge, very good, spending time in the sauna seems like a worthwhile preventative measure. While sitting in a 170 degree room for 15 to 20 minutes is pretty arduous, it’s becoming easier with time, and I always feel great after getting out and taking a cold shower.
Great Website – Nutritionfacts.org
It can be incredibly tough to figure out what to eat; in general, there are both nay sayers and yay sayers for virtually every type of food out there. The best place I have found to find data driven dietary recommendations is nutritionfacts.org. All content on the website is well backed by scientific studies and delivered in an easy to understand format.
While the creators of the site have come to the conclusion that a plant based diet is generally the best choice, I strongly recommend eating whatever foods make you feel the most healthy / vital. Although I eat an almost entirely vegan diet, some people get by just fine eating meat, and some have even claimed that transitioning to a meat only diet cured them of chronic diseases. It all depends on personal physiology.
I’ve attached some videos from the site below.
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