Tag Archives: cognition
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!
Nick Winter has done some dedicated testing of the effect of different interventions on his cognitive function. He discovered that butter had an unexpected impact on his mental performance, while things like cutting out gluten had no effect. In the video below, Nick gives an entertaining and informative talk about his experimental design and what he has learned so far. (Filmed by the Bay Area QS Show&Tell meetup group.)
Many people think the Quantified Self mostly involves physical metrics: heart rate, sleep, diet, etc. but what about what goes on in our brains? Can we quantify that? There have been several inspiring Quantified Self talks about tracking learning and memory. This post will collect all them into one place, along with good resources for further exploration.
Memorization is only a small part of learning, but it in many circumstances it is unavoidable. There is an ideal moment to practice what you want to memorize. Practice too soon and you waste your time. Practice too late and you’ve forgotten the material and have to relearn it. The right time to practice is just at the moment you’re about to forget. If you are using a computer to practice, a spaced repetition program can predict when you are likely to forget an item, and schedule it on the right day.
In this graph, you can see how successive reminders change the shape of the forgetting curve, a pattern in our mental life that was first discovered by one of the great modern self-trackers, Hermann Ebbinghaus. With each well-timed practice, you extend the time before your next practice. Spaced repetition software tracks your practice history, and schedules each review at the right time.
Convenient tools to take advantage of fast memorization techniques have been around since Piotr Wozniak began developing his Supermemo software in the early 1980s. (I wrote a profile of Wozniak for Wired in 2008, which is cited in some of these talks.) Many of us in the Quantified Self use spaced repetition. We’ve put together this page to list resources, share experiences, and invite comments and questions. We hope you find it useful. If you do, please contribute some knowledge or questions to the comments.
Nicholas Manolakos is a programmer and avid reader who has been self-tracking for twenty years. He’s recently been improving his left-right body balance, and can write proficiently with both hands now. In the video below, he talks about many of his experiments, including optimizing cognitive performance, managing anxiety, introducing complexity, dietary experiments and fasting – interestingly, one of the things he discovered is that fasting and giving blood improved his cognitive performance. (Filmed by the Toronto QS Show&Tell meetup group.)