Sleeping in India and Putting My Brain Straight [en]

[fr] Le silence nécessaire au sommeil, c'est il me semble quelque chose d'acquis. Un segment du podcast mentionné avant-hier parle de l'Inde... je ne pense pas que donner des boules quiès aux indiens améliorera vraiment leur qualité de sommeil. Et sinon, je continue avec intention à reprendre mon cerveau en main, y compris pour l'administratif et la compta!

After writing my post the day before yesterday, I listened to the end of the two-part series on sleep from Freakonomics Radio. I like Freakonomics because they go beyond the easy fluffy questions, and dig down to where things can be uncomfortably unclear. Maybe I should read the book.

Liseron coloré

Anyway. There was a segment on sleep in India (Chennai to be precise), and some of the comments stuck me as a little… ethnocentric and uncritical. Yes, India is noisy, definitely. And we westerners have trouble sleeping in the noise.  But remember that we have had to learn to sleep in the calm. The womb, where we all come from, is a noisy place. It is only with time that noise starts waking us up.

I remember hearing about the miller who will wake up when his mill stops (sound gives way to silence). More recently, I’m sure I read something about a study where they put volunteers in a terribly noisy sleep lab and kept their eyes open to flashing lights, and they fell asleep just fine. (Couldn’t dig it out, if you find it let me know.)

Many Indians, in my experience, have no trouble whatsoever sleeping in the noise. Some cannot sleep without the noise and wind of the fan whirring above their heads, even when it is cold. So, I’m not sure that providing Indians with earplugs will actually help them get better sleep.

Also, one thing that stuck me in India is that a bed is just “a place to sleep”. It seems to be less of a private, intimate place than in the West. In that respect, I’m not sure one should interpret people sleeping in weird places the same way one would here: maybe they’re just sleeping, and not “passed out from exhaustion”.

This Indian sleeping comment aside, I’ve been mulling over my efforts to get my brain back on track. One thing I didn’t mention in my last post was that I am trying to put more intention in things. If I realise I have forgotten something, I make an effort to recall it. I make an effort to be organised and not let things slip. I am making a conscious effort to get back on top of things, and it seems to be working.

Obviously it’s not enough to help me keep track of everything I’ve read, because I can’t seem to find the piece which talked about this guy who made a conscious effort to floss every day as an exercise in self-discipline. If you can’t get yourself to floss each day (less than a minute of your time!), how can you hope to stick to bigger things?

So, I’m flossing. These last two nights, I also went to bed with my phone on airplane mode and in the living-room — just me, the cats and my kindle. This morning, I didn’t touch my e-mail or social media until I had showered, had breakfast, and headed down to the office. Environment design

I’ve also decided to stop being flaky about certain things, in particular around admin and accounting. I have no love for either of them, and like to say that I am with financial stuff like some are with algebra: my brain just blacks out. Well, enough of that. It’s not rocket science. If I was capable of doing Fourier transforms at some point in my life, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to remember which papers I need to bring my accountant for my taxes and accounting each year. Hell, I’m even enjoying listening to Planet Money!

LeWeb13: Ramez Naam [en]

Wiring the human brain. Sending information from one’s person mind to another. Nexus: mankind gets an upgrade.

LeWeb'13, Ramez Naam 2

Keanu Reeves “I know Kung Fu”.

Working circuit printed on human skin, with sensors & ambient supply. Google glass style contact lenses. Pill cam, in use since 2008 in thousands of patients (clinical trial). 3 cameras taking 30fps from inside you.

Let’s go beyond that and talk about the brain. Internet of things: the “thing” we’re the most concerned about is ourselves.

Cochlear implants. 200K people that no hearing aid can help. Data sent directly to the brain.

First motivation for these “cyborg” technologies is medical.

Also progress for sight. Man who lost an eye at 18, and the second (accident) a year later. Now he has a CCTV camera on his glasses. Limited mobility vision. Can very carefully park a car. 16px by 16px grid. Terrible, but a quantum leap up from 0px, and a proof of concept: we can send digital vision to the brain.

Another man, paralysed from the neck down and vocal cords destroyed by tracheotomy. Electrode in motor area of his brain allows him to type on computer.

Damaged hippocampus tissue can be replaced by chip.

Increasing performance in certain tasks in monkeys (Planet of the Apes).

Two monkeys in two rooms with electrodes in their auditory cortex, connected. One monkey hears one sound, the other hears the same sound and knows what it means.

Rats: one is trained to respond to a series of lights => specific lever. Second rat performs much better on the test than if he had no prior knowledge. (Thousands of km away.)

Two computer scientists playing a video game as a single player thousands of miles away.

Hippocampal bridge: prior knowledge of the maze for a second rat.

This is far ahead, more than 10 years.

Issues: this is your brain. Who wants to play with it? If you’re blind of deaf, benefits can be great, but if you’re healthy… ahem.

Digital stuff never malfunctions and is never hacked. (NOT)

You don’t want the NSA in your brain either…

All that said, Ramez is very optimistic, because of the history of information technology.

The printing press increased the pace of innovation and scientific progress. Newton was able to write his book only because he was able to absorb the ideas of hundreds of others before him through books. And printing allowed him to spread his ideas to hundreds and thousands of others.

Increase our ability to spread ideas => more ideas. Also, democratisation of knowledge. Changed the relationship between the government and the governed.

Even the idea of civil rights was only made possible by the cheap distribution of new disruptive ideas.

See things through others’ eyes? Maybe literally possible in the future.

Habituation, Variety, and Intermittent Rewards [en]

[fr] Habituation, variété, récompenses aléatoires... il me manque un petit quelque chose pour lier tout ça ensemble.

Here’s another post in the “variety is the spice of life” series. My first intuition that it might make sense to vary the type of blog posts one produces to sustain reader interest didn’t actually have to do with my readings about habituation in The How of Happiness, although it was at the same moment and I then quickly put the two together.

When I initially suggested varying blog post type/topic to somebody who had a blog which was made of a series of very similar posts, I was thinking of intermittent rewards. So now, I’m wondering: how does what I’ve understood about habituation, the need to vary one’s happiness strategies, and intermittent reward reinforcement fit together?

Clearly, a system with intermittent rewards keeps your brain on high alert. Is varying one’s happiness activities also simply just keeping one’s brain alert, by providing “rewards” (the boost one gets from doing something that makes one happy) not on a completely regular schedule? Do intermittent rewards work against habituation?

I feel I’m onto something here but I can’t quite bring it all together.

We have: habituation => need for variety; vary reward schedule => increased reinforcement. Are we talking about the same thing (brain-wise, are the same phenomenons/chemicals involved) — or are these two similar things, that look similar, but are in fact two separate issues? What is the missing link here?

If you have thoughts, data, research, or case studies around this, I’m interested.

I also think there is something in this which explains why we have “phases” (go a lot to the cinema during a few months/years, then less, or read a lot, then less, take up a hobby, abandon it) and why (at least in my case) we play games for a moment, then move on to another one (I’m playing Zombie Café right now but feel the need for something new soon).

Brain Downtime [en]

[fr] On a besoin de débrancher son cerveau -- avez-vous assez l'occasion de le faire?

My brain needs downtime. So does yours.

We’ve managed to make our lives so efficient that we’ve removed all the downtime that used to be part of them. We can work on the train, listen to podcasts while we clean and cook, why, we even read on our iPhones as we walk through town.

Sleeping just doesn’t cut it. Of course, we need sleep (that’s also body-downtime), but we need awake-downtime.

What’s your downtime?

For me, reading fiction and watching TV series qualify as brain downtime. My conscious mind is immersed in fiction, though I’m sure a lot is going on in the background. Sailing and judo qualify to, as does riding my exercise bike if I’m listening to music rather than a podcast.

When I’m on the bus and reading FML or flicking idly through my Twitter stream, is that brain downtime?

When I’m walking in the mountains, drinking a cup of tea on my balcony, watching the sun set, taking a bath, or meditating, that’s definitely brain downtime.

Do you get enough brain downtime?