Tag Archives: cognition
Paul LaFontaine is on an incredible journey to understand himself, his stress, and how he works through consistent examination of his heart rate variability (HRV). We’ve featured a few of his talks here on the Quantified Self website, and we were happy to have him present at a Bay Area QS meetup this past December. In this talk, Paul describes how he experimented with cognitive testing and recording his HRV to better understand if he was in a Flow state, and how to attain that balance between challenge and skill. Some very interesting personal conclusions about the role of belief in one’s own abilities versus actual skills.
We hope you enjoy this week’s list of articles, posts, show&tell descriptions, and visualizations!
I’m Terrified of My New TV: Why I’m Scared to Turn This Thing On — And You’d Be, Too by Michael Price. Michael, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, describes his experiences with his new “smart” TV. More sensors means more records being stored somewhere you might not have access to. Especially interesting when your device picks up every word you say:
“But the service comes with a rather ominous warning: ‘Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.’ Got that? Don’t say personal or sensitive stuff in front of the TV.”
Public Perceptions of Privacy and Security in the Post-Snowden Era by Mary Madden. A great report from the Pew Research Internet Project. I don’t want to give away any of the juicy stats so head over and read the executive summary.
This Is What Happens When Scientists Go Surfing by Nate Hoppes. It’s not all privacy talk this week. This is a fun article exploring how new sensors and systems are being used to monitor surfers as they train and practice.
How Private Data is Helping Cities Build Better Bike Routes by Shaun Courtney. We covered the new wave of personal data systems and tools feeding data back into public institutions a bit before. Interesting to hear that more cities are investing in understanding their citizens through the data they’re already collecting.
What Do Metrics Want? How Quantification Prescribes Social Interaction on Facebook by Benjamin Grosser. Ben is most commonly known around the QS community as the man behind the Facebook Demetricator, a tool to strip numbers from the Facebook user interface. In this article, published in Computational Culture, he lays out an interesting argument for how Facebook has created a system in which the users, “reimagine both self and friendship in quantitative terms, and situates them within a graphopticon, a self-induced audit of metricated social performance where the many watch the metrics of the many.”
The Cubicle Gym by Gregory Ferenstein. Gregory was overweight, overworked, and in pain. He started a series of experiments to improve his help, productivity, and wellbeing. I enjoyed his mention of using the Quantified Mind website to track cognition. If you find his experience interesting make sure to read a previous piece where he explains what happened when he replaced coffee with exercise.
Maximizing Sleep with Plotly and Sleep Cycle by Instructables user make_it_or_leave_it. A really nice step by step process and example here of graphing an making sense of Sleep Cycle data.
Toilet Matters by Chris Speed. A super interesting post on what a family was able to learn by having access to data on of all things, the amount of toilet paper left on a roll and when it was being used. Don’t forget to read all the way to end so you can get to gems like this:
“[…]the important note is that the source of this data is not only personal to me, it is also owned by me. We built the toilet roll holder and I own the data. There are very few products or smart phone apps that I can say the same about. Usually I find myself agreeing to all manner of data agreements in order to get the ‘free’ software that is on offer. The toilet roll holder is then my first experience of producing data that I own and that I have the potential to begin to trade with.“
E-Traces by Lesia Trubat. A beautiful and fun project by recently graduated design student, Lesia Trubat. Using adruinos and sensors places on the shoes of dances she was able to create unique visualizations of dance movement. Be sure to watch the video here.
Animated Abstractions of Human Data by James E. Pricer. James is an artist working on exposing self-collected data in new and interesting ways. Click through to see a dozen videos based on different types of data. The image above is a capture from a video based on genotypes derived from a 23anMe dataset.
The Great Wave of Kanagawa by Manuel Lima. Although this is an essay I’m placing it here in the visualization section because of it’s importance for those working on the design and delivery of data visualizations. Manuel uses the Great Wave off Kanagawa as a wonderful metaphor for designing how we visually experience data.
D3 Deconstructor by UC Berkeley VisLab. A really neat tool here for extracting and repurposing the data powering at D3.js based visualization.
Cliff Atkinson is a consultant who helps people tell their stories and showcase their data in clear and understandable ways. It’s no surprise that when he became interested in understanding himself he turned to his experiences with visual storytelling. In 2012, at a New York QS meetup, Cliff spoke about how he’s embarked on a project to “quantify the “unconscious.”
What Did He Do?
Cliff began this project because he was noticed that there were “recurring patterns of procrastination and motivation” going on in his life. He began trying to understand them by turning to the large body of literature on human psychology. Then he asked himself, “Would it be possible to use some quantitative methods to track what was happening.” Using what he’d learned in his research and his experiences he decided to track his body, emotions, and mind.
How Did He Do It?
Cliff used his expertise and knowledge around visual storytelling to create an interesting system of visual diaries with which he could record information in his three areas of interest: the body, emotions, and the mind. Using Penultimate, and iPad app for sketching and notation, along with some clip art, he tracked physical, emotional, and cognitive events.
What Did He Learn?
The process of creating a space to reflect and record how he’s feeling across these three chosen domains has created a space for Cliff to better understand himself and how his mind works. This is still a work in progress and it sounds like Cliff is still exploring how to better understand the data he’s capturing over a longer period of time and even correlating it with other information such as his work and speaking engagements.
“One of the models for therapy is that somebody else helps you. I think with the quantified self and the things we’re doing we can take some of that power into our own hand and start to come to some personal understanding of what’s going on in our own lives.”
One of the benefits of long-term self-tracking is that one builds up a toolbox of investigatory methods that can be drawn upon when medical adversity hits. One year ago, when Mark Drangsholt experienced brain fog during a research retreat while on Orcas Island in the Pacific Northwest, he had to draw upon the self-tracking tools at his disposal to figure out what was behind this troubling symptom.
Watch this invaluable talk on how Mark was able to combine his self-tracking investigation with his medical treatments to significantly improve his neurocognitive condition.
Here is Mark’s description of his talk:
What did you do?
I identified that I had neurocognitive (brain) abnormalities – which decreased my memory function (less recall) – and verified it with a neuropsychologist’s extensive tests. I tried several trials of supplements with only slight improvement. I searched for possible causes which included being an APOE-4 gene carrier and having past bouts of atrial fibrillation.
How did you do it?
Through daily, weekly and monthly tracking of many variables including body weight, percent body fat, physical activity, Total, HDL, LDL cholesterol, depression, etc. I created global indices of neurocognitive function and reconstructed global neurocog function using a daily schedule and electronic diary with notes, recall of days and events of decreased memory function, academic and clinical work output, etc. I asked for a referral to a neuropsychologist and had 4 hours of comprehensive neurocog testing.
What did you learn?
My hunch that I had developed some neurocognitive changes was verified by the neuropsychologist as “early white matter dysfunction”. A brain MRI showed no abnormalities. Trials of resveratrol supplements only helped slightly. There were some waxing and waning of symptoms, worsened by lack of sleep and high negative stress while working. A trial with a statin called, “Simvastatin” (10 mg) began to lessen the memory problems, and a dramatic improvement occurred after 2.5-3 weeks. Subsequent retesting 3 months later showed significant improvement in the category related to white matter dysfunction in the brain. Eight months later, I am still doing well – perhaps even more improvement – in neurocog function.
As a long-time meditator, Peter Lewis had a suspicion that meditation could improve brain function, so he conducted a self-experiment and enlisted a few other individuals to help test his hypothesis. By using an arithmetic testing application, a timed meditation app, and an ABA research design he was find out that there was some support for meditation improving his brain function. However, other participant’s results weren’t as supportive. Watch Peter’s talk, presented at the 2013 Quantified Self Europe Conference, to learn more about his process and hear what he learned by conducting this experiment. We also invite you to read Peter’s excellent write up on Seth Robert’s blog: Journal of Personal Science: Effect of Meditation on Math Speed and the great statistical follow-up by our friend Gwern.
Ari Berwaldt wanted to better understand how his sleep affected his mental performance. In this great talk Ari explains his insights from tracking his cognitive skills using Quantified Mind and some surprising results about the lack of correlation between his Zeo data and his mental performance. Make sure to keep watching as Ari also explains some very interesting data and conclusions from blood glucose and ketone tracking during fasting. Filmed at the QS Silicon Valley meetup group.
Ryota Kanai does brain scans for a living. He can assess a person’s intelligence level, personality traits, and social proclivity from these scans. He even did a study correlating number of friends on Facebook with brain structure. In the video below, Ryota shows a 3-D scan of his brain, highlighted with colors to show where he has more or less brain than average. He also answers questions about changes in brain structure and how to get a brain scan on the cheap. (Filmed by the London QS Show&Tell meetup group.)
Today’s breakout session preview for the upcoming QS conference comes from Steve Fowkes, a QS regular. Here is Steve describing his session “pH tracking for learning about inflammation, sleep, and mental performance:”
I like to see QS people distill down self quantification to fundamental aspects of wellbeing. Cognitive performance and sleep, for example, go to the core of self, the mind-brain aspect of wellness. But beneath that is the cellular dynamic, the metabolism of the body’s and brain’s many cells, which oscillate on a 24-hour basis to create specialization of energy metabolism during the day and peak healing/sleeping at night. This creates a tidal pH in tissue and in urine that can be tracked to verify that this basic biological rhythm is functioning and robust. And if not, these data can be used to evaluate interventions intended to repair and restore this rhythm.
Inflammation is one way this rhythm is broken. Purposefully. Inflammation from infection is potentially catastrophic, so the body defers healing/sleeping processes (i.e., the “alkaline” circadian phase) in favor of energy production and immunity (i.e., “acidic” processes). This is highly adaptive when the infection goes on for two days or a week, but maladaptive when the time course is months, years and decades. The loss of alkaline metabolism, and the deferred repair/healing of body infrastructure, is devastating to the body, the brain and the mind when it accumulates over extended periods of time. In our modern age, as we depart further and further from our “natural” roots, inflammation is becoming the endemic normality.
Inflammation from non-infectious processes causes these same effects. But it is probably much more common. Allergic foods (triggering IgA, IgM and IgG-mediated reactions) cause deferred healing of the intestine and colon, which leads to leaky-gut and irritable-bowel syndromes, and can develop into celiac and Crohn’s diseases. Early symptoms include fatigue (which can become chronic fatigue syndrome), increased sensitivity to pain (which can become fibromyalgia), sleep disturbances (shallow sleep, difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep, apnea, and not feeling rested in the morning), brain fog (particularly mid-day, 12-hours opposite your deepest sleep), increase of compulsive behaviors, increased obsessive ideation, increased emotional volatility and borderline depression. Weight-gain, too.
Sequential urine pH testing is a pain-in-the-ass way to assess such aspects of wellbeing. When used as a biofeedback device, it can change your health for the better. So if you are sufficiently motivated to employ a lifestyle-invasive health technique (testing your urine pH every time you pee for 2-5 days at a time), come join the discussion.
There is no more important meta-idea than knowing where every idea comes from. - Jonah Lehrer
Creativity is a vague term describing a complex phenomenon belonging to the group of humanity’s ultimate riddles. And just like with the terms consciousness and happiness, we may encounter two dominant groups looking at creativity: those satisfied with the true but not very enriching remark of “it’s the result of the brain’s activity” and those pointing towards a Bill O’Reilly-themed phrase “you can’t explain that”.
While modern neuroscience and bioinformatics are making a serious attempt to decypher the mysteries of our exceptional ability to connect X with Y in novel and useful ways, our self-tracking community can make inroads by testing the abundance of mental strategies, environmental changes, supplements, and brain stimulation techniques and quantifying the results.
During my session, I would like to present you a synthetic, integrative summary of various approaches in studying the neuronal and psychological mechanisms engaged in creativity. All in all, generating breaktrough ideas may be the single best thing we can do with our minds in the conceptual age. After that, I will be happy to share some of my concepts, and I look forward to a fruitful and productive discussion that would enable us to measure higher cognitive skills without being too simplistic.
Feel free to contact me, make suggestions and share your views. Failing big and upgrading “stolen” concepts is the key!
Another breakout session preview for the upcoming QS conference: feel free to connect with the leaders in the comments!
Measuring cognitive functions is difficult but provides a much richer understanding of ourselves compared to single-dimension measurements (such as steps taken, heart-rate and weight) that have been the primary focus of the QS community.
One approach to measuring cognitive functions is behavioral: inferring cognitive state from our actions and our ability to respond to stimuli. This lies at the heart of traditional psychometrics, the field of psychology concerned with such measurements. Unfortunately, traditional psychometrics mostly focused on measuring differences between individuals, treating a person as a single data point and comparing them to the general population. In QS, we care about within-person variation: how do our cognitive functions vary at different times and how does this variance relate to our actions? This kind of knowledge can lead us to choose actions that lead to desired cognitive outcomes.
Quantified Mind is a tool designed specifically for measuring within-person variation in cognitive abilities and learning which actions we can take to influence our cognitive functions. In other words, what makes you smarter? It uses short and engaging cognitive tests that are based on many years of academic research but modified to be short, repeatable and adaptive. Quantified Mind can be used by any individual to learn about their own brains, and also invites users to participate in structured experiments that examine common factors such as diet, exercise and sleep.
In the session we will also briefly discuss the ‘Smartphone brain scanner’ — a low-cost portable cognitive measuring device that can be used to continuously monitor and record the electrical activity (EEG) along the scalp in order to determine different states of brain activity in everyday natural settings. The system uses an off-the- shelf low-cost wireless Emotiv EPOC neuroheadset with 14 electrodes, which is connected wirelessly to a smartphone. The smartphone receives the EEG data with a sampling rate of 128 Hz and software on the smartphone then performs a complex real-time analysis in order to do brain state decoding.
Please join us to discuss these topics, and bring your questions and engaged minds!