Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Mind/Brain Exercises

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

Recently I have been observing what great benefits mental exercise each day can bring for one's mind. While I did not intend to pursue such ends, I have achieved as a result from such exercises (which I will explain below) the ability to concentrate better, think in a more focused manner and for longer periods, process things more efficiently, and to more easily adapt to a studious mindset during my personal studies, all from just a half-hour of arithmetic problems a day. One may do the exercises for only one purpose, but many fruits are picked.

Given the benefits, I am contemplating now as to what else is available and perhaps is even more rigorous. So I ask: What types of mental exercises (or combination thereof) do you consider beneficial to the maintenance and improvement of one's mind/brain?

I will start by using my contribution to explain the exercises mentioned above.

On a daily basis, or sometimes every other day, I will practice arithmetic problems with this Java applet for one half-hour, dedicating fifteen minutes to addition and fifteen minutes to subtraction. My personal rule, however, is to prohibit typing out the answer as it is being calculated so as to make things more difficult by forcing myself to work harder to mentally visualize and retain each step. This not only works one's mathematical faculties, but also one's concentration and memory.

What I like most about this Java program is how easy it is to keep track of progress, as it lists the number you have have gotten right and the number of failed attempts. In just a matter of days I have seen significant improvement. Having been mathematically lethargic for many years beforehand, at my first attempt (two numbers, two digits each) I was only able to score near fifty on addition and near forty on subtraction within the time limit. A few days of practice and I have managed to get 150+ right on both of them within the time limit, and have now upped the difficulty with more digits.

It is impressive to see not only what benefits one can get from mental exercise, but also how fast those benefits can be achieved!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Recently I have been observing what great benefits mental exercise each day can bring for one's mind.

When I'm biking I flash on a vehicle license plate and then try to recall the numbers & letters. (ok, I've been hit a few times, but not due to this exercise.) I find that if you actually try to read the plate as it moves past you, you cannot remember it. You have to flash on the plate, and allow your mind to rebuild the image for you. Guess it's what Jack Bauer does when he snap-looks around a corner at hostiles.

Also, I take aikido, which integrates mind and body, timing and distance, perception and energy, and teaches one to unlearn the programmed monkey brain response of retreating from an attack, where moving into it is the safe place to control it. Knowing where you are, the parts of your body are, where opponents are, and where their attention is, are all parts of the mental exercise that aikido teaches.

Your mileage may vary...

<Φ>aj

Edited by aristotlejones
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On a daily basis, or sometimes every other day, I will practice arithmetic problems with this Java applet for one half-hour, dedicating fifteen minutes to addition and fifteen minutes to subtraction.

Activities such as this can be very beneficial, in my opinion. I view them as improving the "machinery" of the brain. Even if you already have a certain concept, relentlessly practicing it can help to clarify your knowledge and build confidence. When I was in high school, I did a similar thing with solving simple 2-variable linear systems. I would solve every exercise in the back of my textbook, even though I already knew how to do that type of problem. What this did was move the problem from the status of something I could do but had to think about, to something that was obvious and effortless. This also allowed me to grasp more advanced concepts more easily, since I did not have to think anymore about the simpler concepts on which they depended.

Some caution is probably also advisable with such training: you want to make sure that you actually understand the problems you are solving, as well as simply being able to do them. With addition, for example, you should think deeply about why the algorithm you are repeating works. A large part of the reason many people have poor mathematical skills is that it never even occurs to them to do such a thing. Practice helps to concretize concepts, but it doesn't give you those concepts in the first place. This is why I think the ideal approach to mathematics (at least for beginning students) is to mix relentless practice with clear understanding. By "clear understanding" I mean that you should literally be able to trace all of your mathematical knowledge back to simple counting. If you can't do this, then what you have is not really knowledge, but just a memorized procedure. In my opinion, if you just memorize an algorithm, you might as well use a computer instead, since they do the same thing much faster. The power of the human mind lies in rational thought, not in lightning fast repetition of simple steps (this is basically what an algorithm is). The purpose of repetition for humans is simply to aid rational thought.

Have you heard of the website "Lumosity"? It has a set of mind games which are specially designed to improve mental performance. I am a member, and I have certainly seen improvement as a result of my practice there, even though I don't have much time to devote to it. Be aware that there is a membership fee, although they do have a free trial.

Alternatively, you could take up a competitive mind game, such as chess, Scrabble, or Go. I studied chess very intensely in high school, and I saw huge improvements in my reasoning ability (especially in memory, visualization, problem solving, and rational decision-making).

I also second aristotlejones' recommendation of martial arts, which can improve your discipline and concentration (besides the obvious physical benefits).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I also second aristotlejones' recommendation of martial arts, which can improve your discipline and concentration (besides the obvious physical benefits).

Your comment sparked a thought that may help me understand why I don't like most computer games or doing mind/exercises as suggested, because I think they might be too one-dimensional. Martial arts, aikido in particular, requires integration of not only mind and body, but also for any technique to work, integration of your entire body at each stage. If your opponent is inexperienced or the same size & strength as you, you can get away with incomplete integration in your movements and mental focus. But when you go up against a 6 foot 3 inch serving RCMP officer who has been on the Prime Minister's security detail, you have to have everything working together.

That is why I suspect mind games, or computer games as only teaching the mental part, but in the real world, one needs to train both mind and body to work together. If you only specialize on the mind, and you're sick, or distracted, or tired, or someone is shouting at you, or you're angry, etc., often your mind is not working to its full potential. The only way to train this is to train both together. Yes, the learning curve is steeper, because there are more ways to screw up, but the result, over the long term, is more worthwhile and actionable.

This is why some of the characters I like in fiction include Jason Bourne, Neil Burnside, Jedi, Jack Bauer, etc, as examples of a fuller mind body integration.

Stay Focused,

<Φ>aj

Edited by aristotlejones
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Also, I take aikido, which integrates mind and body, timing and distance, perception and energy, and teaches one to unlearn the programmed monkey brain response of retreating from an attack, where moving into it is the safe place to control it. Knowing where you are, the parts of your body are, where opponents are, and where their attention is, are all parts of the mental exercise that aikido teaches.

Is Aikido a martial art? I haven't a proper financial standing to be able to consider paid lessons, so might there be a free resource to refer to? Would a specialized workout be a sufficient substitute?

Have you heard of the website "Lumosity"? It has a set of mind games which are specially designed to improve mental performance. I am a member, and I have certainly seen improvement as a result of my practice there, even though I don't have much time to devote to it. Be aware that there is a membership fee, although they do have a free trial.

Alternatively, you could take up a competitive mind game, such as chess, Scrabble, or Go. I studied chess very intensely in high school, and I saw huge improvements in my reasoning ability (especially in memory, visualization, problem solving, and rational decision-making).

Thank you, I'll set it on my to-do list to check out.

Thanks for the recommendation Ben. I just tried addition for 15 minutes, and found that it took longer to do each problem as I got closer to the time limit. Did you find the same thing?

Yes, it happens to me every time I do it. Most probably it is just the strain of concentration, but I see it as the greatest opportunity for improvement because we are pushing our limits outward by actually reaching our limits.

What's the time limit on this thing? When I play the game it just keeps going and going, I can get as high a number as I want.

There is no time limit. I have merely chosen fifteen-minutes per section (kept track of by an egg timer) so that I may easily fit it into a daily schedule without worrying about the risk of burning myself out with monotony.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That is why I suspect mind games, or computer games as only teaching the mental part, but in the real world, one needs to train both mind and body to work together. If you only specialize on the mind, and you're sick, or distracted, or tired, or someone is shouting at you, or you're angry, etc., often your mind is not working to its full potential. The only way to train this is to train both together. Yes, the learning curve is steeper, because there are more ways to screw up, but the result, over the long term, is more worthwhile and actionable.

I think you might be surprised how much "pure" competitive mind games help in real-life situations. I am most familiar with chess, so I'll take that as an example:

Suppose, as you say, that you are sick, tired, distracted, or angry, and you have to sit down and play a six-hour chess game, in which the position may stay the same for an hour or more at times. In this situation, you are faced with an alternative: calm down, focus, and think rationally, or be brutally blown off the board. I have several times allowed myself to become distracted in serious tournament games, with disasterous results. In order to be a good chessplayer, you have to be able to ignore physical discomfort, emotional impulses, and annoying distractions in the environment. If you are annoyed at yourself for having made an error earlier in the game, you are on the verge of winning a tournament and are excited, you didn't get much sleep the previous night, some other players are making a scene at the table next to you, etc., you have to forget all those things and coldly evaluate your options. Basically, competitive chess forces you to adopt a primacy of existence approach, at least in that part of your life.

These factors apply less if you just play casually or over the internet, and not at all if you just study the game abstractly. If you play mind games in serious one-on-one competition, however, then they can be just as helpful as martial arts. Which one is more helpful probably depends on your specific personality-I do both, but have far more talent in chess, which makes it more suited to me; others may find that the opposte is true.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Is Aikido a martial art? I haven't a proper financial standing to be able to consider paid lessons, so might there be a free resource to refer to? Would a specialized workout be a sufficient substitute?

Yes, aikido may be called a martial art because it is founded on Bushido, Japanese sword arts, etc. However, it is also strictly the least martial of the martial arts in the sense that if you are good at it, the only attacks you do are feints, and your attacker must initiate force for you to have something to do. The optimum result is when you are attacked, you either throw, pin, or disarm your attacker, and if you're good enough, nobody gets hurt. Robbers often sue victims who fight back.

At the best of times, I wouldn't advise anyone to try to learn a martial art from books or vids, but if it's all you have access to right now, there is much out there. Youtube, aikiweb & aikido journal online, the book Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere, etc. I highly suggest that you visit a few dojos (aikido gyms), and just watch, which is always free. You should try to watch advanced students practicing, so you can see the range of responses possible to skilled practictioners. But everything the advanced students can do is based on what the beginners must master. And I'm discovering that if you master the basic moves cold, you actually have a lot of options for practical self-defence in a relatively short period of time. (assuming you have good teachers)

Aikido is a journey which teaches one to breath properly, move with proper posture, cultivate awareness of energy, relax when attacked, and one which requires consistent dedication to learn the basics over many years, not just a few lessons. That being said, I started with a handful of night classes, then tried one dojo for a month, then another for about six months, as finances allowed. I went to another dojo for several years, but only when I could afford the dues, and even missed several winters.

But when first I started training, and did a little reading about the founder and the style, I knew that I would be back, and that I would be dedicating myself to training as much as I could. I recently switched local dojos because, while in the movies a blind sensei is a cool thing, in the real world it is just not the best way to learn. In three months at the new dojo, I successfully passed my first testing at a seminar with a visiting teacher from Japan.

In case you didn't know, Steven Segal is a highly ranked instructor of aikido and this is the style he uses in his movies.

Stay Focused,

<Φ>aj

Edited by aristotlejones
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Practice helps to concretize concepts, but it doesn't give you those concepts in the first place.

This did not occur to me until I had recalled this sentence, but I actually do have a conceptual activity of the sorts, only I never considered it until now to be a mind exercise. It's an epistemological exercise to be exact.

What I do, on the first day, is select five words (concepts) that are completely foreign to my understanding or I am confused about, and then write them down in a list (the majority of the time I just pick words according to what I come across in my reading). Then I, on a separate sheet of paper:

  1. Copy down the definition of the word from the dictionary word-for-word, with minor shortcuts such as cutting out phonetic spellings or not copying down the word origin.
  2. Make a note of how high the concept is, that is, whether it can be directly perceived, understood after having integrated other concepts, and so on.
  3. Make a note of what it denotes exactly, i.e., what it referent is. For example, if I were writing about the concept "angry", I would write "Denotes: An automatic response stemming from a evaluation of a situation/action/existent."
  4. Record any thoughts I have about the concept. I put anything here, whether it be about whether the dictionary's definition is properly delimited or valid, or parts I'm confused about.
  5. Finally, I write a sentence applying the concept.

On the second day, I reread the list for ten or fifteen minutes to reinforce it into my memory.

It has clarified and expanded my vocabulary, but, I must admit, I am not sure if my particular system is the best that it can be, considering I am still fresh into my epistemology studies, so I welcome and encourage suggestions for improvements.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think you might be surprised how much "pure" competitive mind games help in real-life situations. I am most familiar with chess, so I'll take that as an example:

Your example of high level chess competition is not what I imagine when I think of mind/brain exercises. I was thinking more of Niggle, which is Scrabble for the Palm. (an evil game I tell you...it cheats)

While neither a game nor an exercise, performing comprehensive and accurate patent searches requires a similar skill set, including the ablility to stay focused while employing the crow epistemology to clump data.

<Φ>aj

Edited by aristotlejones
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Given the benefits, I am contemplating now as to what else is available and perhaps is even more rigorous. So I ask: What types of mental exercises (or combination thereof) do you consider beneficial to the maintenance and improvement of one's mind/brain?

Argue with a philosopher. They train their minds rigorously through college and graduate school, and they think with incredible precision as a result. You will have to state your position clearly and carefully to get it by them, and even then they will be able to come up with interesting objections. (I realize that not everyone has the opportunity to do this, of course, but I have found it useful.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I did the free trial of Lumosity, but I didn't have a job at the time, so I couldn't speak for its effect on focus in productive endeavors. I certainly enjoyed the games for their own sake.

The game of poker, played at higher levels, requires not only math, strategy, observation, and psychology, but emotional fortitude, patience, self-motivation, and courage.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've been playing with my free Lumosity trial for five days now and I must say that I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I just got employed, so I may consider subscribing for a bit.

Anyhow, Lumosity gave me an idea. If you go the site, you'll see that they break down your brain skills into several different attributes: (thinking/calculation) speed, attention, memory, flexibility (how quickly/well you adjust to switching tasks), and problem solving. I propose on specializing this thread even further by asking if anyone can come up with any exercises that trains these specific attributes in isolation or combination.

I do the same thing with a book of logic puzzles to help with my deductive skills

Do you mean formal (symbolic) logic?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
It has clarified and expanded my vocabulary, but, I must admit, I am not sure if my particular system is the best that it can be, considering I am still fresh into my epistemology studies, so I welcome and encourage suggestions for improvements.

And I do indeed have an improvement to make. I realized that a concept can mean different things or subsume different existents depending on what sense is being used, so it is merely a waste of time to copy down all the senses and sub-senses, and it makes it the concept much more confusing, harder to retrace to the perceptual level, and more difficult to retain (given my system).

What I suggest then is to keep track of the source(s) you got your vocabulary words from (book titles and pages numbers and the like) when you write them down, so that you can only refer back to it if you don't know what context the word was used it, and then copy down *only* the relevant senses. Saves time and makes the learning process easier.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
  • 3 months later...
And I do indeed have an improvement to make.

And I do indeed have another improvement to make. After some thinking I realized that it would be much more beneficial to try and understand conceptual chains rather than isolated concepts. With isolated concepts there may be the tendency for confusion, since not every concept is a perceptual concept. It may therefore possibly lead to a fruitless exercise if one was to make an entry for a concept only to find out that other concepts were required to understand it.

Here is the change to the exercise I propose: Instead of picking out several concepts to look up in isolation, look up one abstract concept and under the section "Height" (in the exercise on your homework sheet) list the various concepts, however many, that are required to ground an understanding of the particular concept. Then do separate entries for all those concepts and keep going until you've hit the level of perceptual reality. To avoid going off into infinity, keep your focus honed in on trying to understand the first concept you started with and skip doing entries for concepts you already understand. Granted, this will indeed make the exercise take a much longer time (or possibly shorter if you should choose a concept not that far from perceptual reality to begin with), but it is work well worth it if conceptual precision is the goal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...