Thursday, February 20, 2014

Skeptic Paranormal Challenge.

Hey guys,

I know I've been away from this blog for years, but life sort of happened. However,  I recently had something so interesting to share that I've decided to resurrect Mentathlete. 

I've only casually mentioned this before, but I was a paid ESP test subject while in college.  I did unusually well on one particular type of experiment called binary ESP (also called binary intuition, binary precognition, and binary presentiment).  I didn't think much of it during the time. It was in the category of my memory banks of "weird things I did for money" not "evidence I may have ESP."  Testing for binary ESP is pretty simple. You have one of two choices--heads or tails, 1 or 0, male or female, etc.--and you have to predict which will randomly show up after you guess.  Chance says you should only be right 50% of the time, especially over a very long run of, say, 100 guesses. But during my testing days I always did well above chance, no less than 66% (66/100 guesses) and sometimes as high as 85%. 

I mentioned that part of my history to a few of my skeptic friends years ago in a discussion, and it wasn't until they pointed it out (with lots and lots of skepticism) that I had an inkling of how "odd" my experiences as an ESP test subject were.    My friends of course were all over that one to shred. It had to be impossible, after all. I submitted myself to all of their testing to find out--there was a lot of assumptions about what all I should be able to do, so consequently lots of variations on testing in the beginning.  This was actually good, because I eventually started figuring out what I couldn't do, which resulted in a firmer description. 

During this exploratory phase, it went from,
"I can score high on binary ESP tests" to
"I can score high on binary ESP tests if there is immediate feedback" to
"I can score high on binary ESP tests if there is immediate direct feedback"
and so on, until there was nothing else we could identify as a requirement.

After somewhere of the ballpark of 130 trials (most of them involving 100 runs or guesses), it eventually became clear what were the requiring factors to consistently perform so robustly.

1 ) Generous amount of time to guess. I average about 2.5 hours for a run of 100 guesses.
2 ) Immediate feedback.  That is to say after I guess, I need a result in under a second.
3 )  Direct feedback.  I need to see the result for myself, not have a result reported to me by way of a second party.  This is simple if the number (I'm usually guessing "will it be 1 or 0")  shows up on the computer screen I'm sitting in front of after I hit the button. 
4 ) Feedback after each bit, not for a sequence.  So guessing for 1, then getting feedback, then 0  and getting feedback, then 1 and getting feedback works, but guessing for 101 will not. 

Without these four, my results consistently return to predictable scores. 

Given all the controversy over how to test for ESP, what I just described is a surprisingly simple thing to measure for if you use a good random number generator (RNG) or something mechanical like a fair coin. Yet I definitely have always done no worse than 66% on testing in the past and this should not be so unless I'm actually remembering the immediate future or there is a design flaw in the protocol that no one has yet found.  So after a lot of nagging by others and a lot of curiosity of my own, I finally mustered up the courage to have more sophisticated testing done to see what was going on, even though I had a good idea of what to expect for coming forward.

I contacted the Skeptic Society nearest to me for assistance to figure out what's really going on here when I do this kind of test after my contacting JREF for assistance proved fruitless.  As it happens, the Skeptic group local to me sponsors a Challenge of their own, and I thought, "Hey, why not?"  I must say I expected the correspondence with the Skeptic point of contact--a man by the name of John Blanton-- to go much more smoothly than it did. A few bumps along the road of communication, sure, but not someone who was almost looking for a fight.   Instead, our correspondence got rather comical and very back-and-forth.*  I guess I was more disappointed than anything else, because I'd have rather flat out failed in testing than to not even get to test because my insistence that neither party be in a position where they could tamper with the RNG used was considered unreasonable.  I'm even more disappointed in his follow-up write-up because he--either intentionally or unintentionally--misconstrued quite a number of things that need to be cleared up, which I've done so here.  It's a Google Doc set to be read by the public, but anyone who reads it can edit, unfortunately.

Having said that, his write-up wasn't as bad as I thought it would have been. I can at least give him that. 
For the record, I'm pretty sure that my results on this test are not paranormal.  It's not because I don't believe in ESP, it's because this particular thing doesn't "feel psychic" to me.  The closest thing I can liken it to is a stimulus-response memory, only the response precedes the stimulus in this case.  I'm also pretty suspicious--or perhaps curious--why I would be *this* consistent on this test and have such a large effect size.  It's usually one or the other with ESP studies.

In fact, this endeavor has made me even more curious about what is going on here, so I'll continue to do research, both on my own and collaboratively to get a definitive answer.  I swear it's the most curious thing... 

*For whatever reason many of my own emails he posted are mis-formatted, so you can sometimes only read glyphs and hypertext commands where you should be reading what I actually wrote.  I'm sure it's just an accident, but if anyone wants an un-butchered copy just let me know as well as knowing where to send the

Note: Sometime in July of 2014, I went to check on the correspondence Blanton listed on his website, and discovered Blanton had taken it down.   But no worries, I found out it was archived, so the link to our correspondence is now changed to that one.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Asperger's Antipode.

 I'm still working on the Brainetics program, but wanted to take a break to share something that occurred to me some time ago. 

It's no secret that Asperger syndrome, a type of autism, is overly represented in the high IQ community. You know the traits:
-Difficulty with social interactions
-Limited grasp of the pragmatic side of language (ex. they may not pick up on subtlety or wordplay).
-Narrow range of interests and insistence on routines.
-Physically uncoordinated.
-Mechanistic thinking
-Hypersensitive to some stimuli and hyposensitive to others (physical sensitivity, not emotional).

I'm actually 1-for-6.  I can "switch" to mechanistic-logical thinking, but it's not my default setting. And I was at one point in my life physically uncoordinated, but that is not the case now. The only trait I definitely have is the hyper- and/or hypo- sensitivity issue, which sounds like something most people would have, given how many signals we are bombarded with. The rest of the traits are in fact my strength areas.  This led me to wonder if there is a counterpart to autism, individuals with "hyperempathy" so to speak. 

Apparently yes, but for now such people exist mostly in a theoretical sense for science.

Simon Baron-Cohen has a theory that autism can be seen as having an extreme male brain, and,
"The theory also predicts the existence of the mirror-image of autism or Asperger syndrome, namely, the extreme female brain. Science has not even begun to investigate what such people are like, but we know they must have impairments in systemising, alongside normal or even talented empathising."

I haven't read his book, but I did get some excerpts from a blog.

"All scientists know about the extreme female brain is that it is predicted to arise ... Scientists have never got up close to these individuals. It is a bit like positing the existence of a new animal on theoretical grounds, and then setting out to discover if it is really found in nature."

"[W]hat would such people look like?

... Their empathizing ability would be average or significantly better than that of other people in the general population, but their systemizing would be impaired. So these would be people who have difficulty understanding math or physics or machines or chemistry, as systems. But they could be extremely accurate at tuning in to others' feelings and thoughts.

Would such a profile carry any necessary disability? Hyperempathizing could be a great asset, and poor systemizing may not be too crippling. It is possible that the extreme female brain is not seen in clinics because it is not maladaptive.

We saw that those with the extreme male brain do experience a disability, but only when the person is expected to be socially able. Remove this expectation, and the person can flourish. Unfortunately, in our society this social expectation is pervasive: at school, in the workplace and in the home. So it is hard to avoid.

But for those with the extreme female brain, the disability might only show up in circumstances where the person is expected to be systematic or technical. The person with the extreme female brain would be system-blind. Fortunately, in our society there is considerable tolerance for such individuals. For example, if you were a child who was systemblind, your teachers might simply allow you to drop mathematics and science at the earliest possible stage, and encourage you to pursue your stronger subjects. If you were a systemblind adult and your car didn't work, you could just call the mechanic (who is likely to be at least a Type S). If your computer needs putting together, and you can't work out which lead goes into which socket, there are phone numbers that you can ring for technical support. And in evolutionary terms, there were likely equivalent people that a systemblind person could turn to for help when that person's home was destroyed in strong
winds, or when their spear broke."

"[A]re individuals with these psychiatric conditions (for that is what paranoia and personality disorders are) revealing the extreme female brain?

This cannot be the case. If someone is over-attributing intentions, or has become preoccupied by their own emotions, then by definition they are not exhibiting hyperempathy. Hyperempathy is the ability to ascertain the mental states of others to an unusually accurate and sensitive degree, and it can only occur if one is appropriately tuned in to the other person's feelings. A paranoid person, or someone who is easily inflamed into aggression by suspecting that others are hostile, has a problem. But their problem is not hyperempathy."

I truly wish Baron-Cohen came up with different descriptors than "male brain" and "female brain" but I can get over that. Anyone who reads the first article will know that one can occur in either gender, but people being people...

 I actually do fit the extreme female brain's description more than the other.  I was dyslexic in all kinds of ways as a kid, so math wasn't my thing until about the age of 15. Thankfully I found strategies for working around most of my other dyslexic hiccups, but physical orientation still gets me.  And computers are still my kryptonite.  On the other hand, I'm naturally good at picking up emotional information from others (though I often ignore the data). I'm willing to bet that these theoretical hyperempathy people also experience mirror-touch synesthesia like I often do. 

I got a lot out of reading all the links above, and I hope others do as well. Naturally I don't agree with everything
written, but respectful differences make life interesting. At the very least, this post may give some insight to those who consider themselves or are considered by others to be the overly empathetic type.

--Nathan (Nth)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Brainetics Update: Day 1 Magic Squares and Lightning Calendars

Hey Guys,

So I popped in DVD 1 of the Brainetics program, and must say that it's not starting out so great.  Within the first five minutes, they offer an erroneous factoid that humans only use a small percentage of their brain.  We've known for years that this isn't true.  However, it's actually not all bad.  Although Brainetics claims that their product is "Ages 9-99!", it's clearly aimed toward K-8 kiddos.  The videos are reminiscent of Nickelodeon's Truth or Dare from the early 1990's.  The music, the animated hosts, the competition element...all designed for keeping a kid engaged (and adults with short attention spans).

The first thing up is learning magic number squares.  At first I thought this was silly, but I have to admit that it makes a great deal of  sense to start out with this kind of game.  Math phobia is real, but for some reason, sudoku type games don't invoke that fear in many people.  Probably because it's more about pattern-recognition than numbers, and people are naturally good at picking up patterns, even when we're not consciously looking for them.  

My younger brother Brandon, who has no love for math, did enjoy the number squares.  However, he quickly realized that they only work under certain conditions--see what I mean about people recognizing patterns?  In truth he's right, the magic number squares taught in this product aren't all that robust.  Maybe that will change later on.  But if it doesn't, I think it would be a great exercise to extrapolate on how magic squares could work under different conditions. 

Up next was mental calendaring--learning how to calculate any day of the year. One of the mind sports that I'd like to train for is the Mental Calculation World Cup, which has mental calendaring as one of the competitive events.   The host in the DVD, Mike Byster, went through this part of Brainetics rather quickly. Strange, considering how multi-stepped the algorithm is he offers.  It's like even he knew there's no way you were going to get this skill down in one sitting.  The DVD recommends you give this "some practice." I'd have to agree.

Well, that is the review for today.  I have to work tomorrow, so I can't guarantee that I'll be able to post tomorrow, although I will try.    

It's way too early to say anything conclusive, but as of right now, I'd have to give this product a tentative C average. 



Monday, June 20, 2011


Hey Guys,

My birthday gift has come early.  I'm now in possession of the Brainetics program.  We'll see how it goes. I won't be able to toy around with with this thing until my next days off of work, which are Thursday and Friday.  Should be interesting.  Unlike with the EyeQ speed-reading program, I have no expectations one way or the other.  I'm more curious than anything (ah, my friend Nathan would be proud).   


Nathaniel "Nth"

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The MAT Booklet.

Hey guys,

I did get a response from the guy who sent me a booklet about the MAT.  He does not want me sharing it with anyone, so I will honor that.  No worries, though, I doubt it would help anyone any better than the little "cheat sheets" in the back of ordinary MAT books.  It wasn't at all a magical solution or anything. 

For what it is worth, I'd encourage those reading this to take some advice from me.  With questions you don't know, rely on your intuition rather than on your recently acquired general knowledge!  My friend, Nathan Grimsley, gave me this sage advice, and I didn't listen.  Perhaps that is why he scored 517 on the MAT and I only scored 481.   Yes, the MAT is a highly culture-loaded test, but it is first and foremost a reasoning test (for US Americans, anyway). The best advice I could give someone (other than learn mnemonics and cram) is to learn how to hone your intuition (i.e. tacit reasoning).

Don't believe me?
Try this approach for yourself and compare.  Just take a practice test where you let your *first* instinct--your gut and heart-- answer the questions you're uncertain about. Now compare the results to your original method. I did this, and was astonished at my score, 113 out of 120, which I'm figuring is in the 520's or so. I doubt Nathan and I are unique.

Lessons from this in order to be a better mentathlete:

1. Don't overstress.  Relax.  I was a little stressed when I took the test; there was a scholarship on the line, after all.   Nathan, on the other hand was not.  He was just interested in what the high IQ society's were like.  Since they almost all accept the MAT (and it's a rather inexpensive and quick test) he opted for that.  I went in with a mildly stressed mind, Nathan went in with a curious and relaxed one. Look who did better.

  By the way, he dropped out of all of the high IQ groups he joined out of sheer disinterest and a little disappointment.

If you're struggling with relaxing, try these techniques. I personally use autogenics

2. Trust your reasoning powers.  Not just your linear and sequential reasoning powers,  your nonlinear tacit reasoning abilities (your intuition) too.  Intuition is scary, I suppose, because it means different things to different people, but it always involves some bit of a mysterious process.  For what it is worth, I'm talking about the kind of intuition mentioned here, not ESP or anything else that also uses the term (although I guess that wouldn't hurt, if you have it).  I suppose #2 is another way to say believe in yourself, in what is already inside of you. 

3. Have fun learning.  I came across this funky site which, in retrospect, could be applied to the MAT.  Perhaps I enjoy the site so much because I go there with a kid-like attitude. "Oh, I didn't know that! Cool."  It's never work. As a mentathlete, having fun learning is equivalent to an athlete having fun training.  

Best of luck, whatever you all choose to do.


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Them Precognition Days

Hey everyone,

Sorry for the long gap in posts.  I've recently moved to Texas from California.  Talk about a study in contrasts! But that's another story for another time.  Anyhoo, that and my general lack of ideas about what concerning cognitive development to discuss explains my dearth of attention paid to my baby, mentathlete.  Ah, but Daddy's back!

I did not get to go to New York at all this March.  The US Memory Championship, The American Crossword Puzzles Tournament, and all the rest will have to wait until next year.  No biggie.  You'd think that after all of the training I did for those things, I'd be let down about not being able to attend, but I'm not.  At some point, the training for those mind sports had morphed from fun to a full-time job.  This wouldn't have been so bad had I not already had a full-time job. 

There is only so much one can do in a day.  So I've reverted to "dabbling" in mind sports, much like the Williams sisters (and Kim Clijsters, now that I think of it) have been accused of "dabbling" in tennis.   Hey, there was a time when being an amateur or dilettante was considered respected. Such a person was considered to be a well rounded-person and Renaissance Man...or Woman. 

There's so many things that I want to do and take a stab at, that "professional dabbler" or "scanner" may best sum me up.  Now, mind you, I'm still about being a responsible adult, with some sort of consistent way to support oneself (in my case, pursuing the work as a statistician of some kind), but that is merely so that I can support the other endeavors. 

Alrighty, bye for now. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Neurobics--Easy Work Out for the Brain

 Recently a friend of mine emailed me to inquire about an issue that perhaps some people reading this can relate to, directly or indirectly.  My friend wrote:

"Recently several family members are getting older and having memory difficulties.  Sometimes they will tell me the same story over and over unaware that they told it to me before, or not remember their agreements or scheduled appointments.  At times they realize they are doing it and it causes them to be quite nervous and afraid for their future and I don't enjoy seeing them in that state of mind.

I am looking for some exercises that I could get them to do which meet the following criteria:

1.  They are easy to do
2.  They won't have too many objections to doing them (some get defensive and insist their memory is perfect)
3.  They measurably improve their memory
4.  They continue to improve their memory with practice as opposed to reaching a plateau
I purchased the pmemory course at one point and like it quite a bit, but I am finding my relatives either can not
do the exercises or don't want to do them, preferring to do things like crossword puzzles or to use affirmations.

The articles I have read don't seem to really have a clue, and don't provide any studies or tests showing credible
statistical evidence in a controlled study."

I mentioned to my friend that the loved ones in question honestly should get checked out professionally.  There could be a variety of reasons why a person's memory is starting to fail, regardless of their age.  The underlying cause may be a nutritional deficiency, depression, or a genuine disease. Each would require different treatments to rectify memory issues or at least ameliorate the symptoms.  For example, when I worked mixed-shifts for years, my sleeping suffered and consequently so did my memory.  For me the right thing at the time was to take modafinil and then later a soporific. The brain exercises prescribed to someone who is suffering memory loss from a degenerative disease like multiple sclerosis would have done nothing for me, because my memory problem did not have an organic origin, it was a sleep pattern issue. 
Sadly, from my friend's response, it seems like some of his family members are much like some of mine.  A few Fieldses and Barfields just will not go to the hospital until something extreme happens, like their skin turns green or something falls off that isn't supposed to.  Even then, they may think their willpower can still fix the problem and skip the hospital visit.  
My friend replied to me:


They would definitely not go see a therapist, but were open to doing a few exercises with me."
That's unfortunate, as I am a strong advocate of always getting a doctor's opinion before trying anything for your health.  But I also try to work with where people are at in their life.   So I searched through my own personal memory banks, and recalled  doing the exercises in the book _Neurobics_ a few years ago.  The book is rather terse, but has dozens of activities you can do to keep your mind fresh.  The book is co-written by the late neurologist Dr. Lawrence C. Katz, and the activities (I call them "activities" rather than "exercises" because that better describes them) fulfill all of my friend's criteria.
Neurobics is all about making new neuronal connections by exposing yourself to quotidian novel situations.  Taking a new route to home and work, brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, and experimenting with new recipes are but a few examples of activities suggested in the book to help you do this. I tried out all of them. 
In a way what is expected from doing these activities is similar to how children's brains stay engaged in a stimulating environment.  The world is a playground to them, and there is always something new for them to discover.  And kids so often do discover whatever it may be...rapidly.   No doubt because children are constantly making new neuronal connections when doing new activities throughout the day.
When I was doing neurobics, I obviously couldn't scan my own brain to see if I did indeed develop more neuronal connections by trying something new every day.  But I  i) definitely felt like a kid again in terms of energy and engagement of the present, and ii) remember that it was easier for me to see ordinary things in a different light as well as "think outside the box." I certainly felt like my brain was fitter.   
Neurobics is sort of a general remedy for a lack of cognitive fitness the way aerobics is a general remedy for a lack of physical fitness.  I think most people could benefit from incorporating a few neurobic activities into their everyday life--though of course, always consult your physician before trying anything recommended by me.
 Having said that,  their website shares a few activities you can try out for yourself. You can buy the book from Amazon or likely check it out from your local library if you're interested.
Happy New Year & Neurons, 

--Nathan (Nth)