Of course learning, working memory and cognitive control represent just a few aspects of thinking. Farah concluded that studies looking at other kinds of cognition - verbal fluency, for instance - were too few and too contradictory to tell us much. Both Chatterjee and Farah have wondered whether drugs that heighten users' focus might dampen their creativity. After all, some of our best ideas come to us not when we sit down at a desk but rather when we're in the shower or walking the dog - letting our minds roam. Jimi Hendrix reported that the inspiration for "Purple Haze" came to him in a dream; the chemist Friedrich August Kekule claimed that he discovered the ring structure of benzene during a reverie in which he saw the image of a snake biting its tail. Farah told me: "There is some evidence that suggests that individuals who are better able to focus on one thing and filter out distractions tend to be less creative.
Alpha Brain's most noticeable impact on hunting was making it easier to wake up early. Since I'm typically not a morning person, this was striking, and helpful. I also felt slightly more organized, and a curious sense of emotional stability. These changes could also be attributed to parenthood, and my determination to do the deed and get home as soon as possible.
With this experiment, I broke from the previous methodology, taking the remaining and final half Nuvigil at midnight. I am behind on work and could use a full night to catch up. By 8 AM, I am as usual impressed by the Nuvigil - with Modalert or something, I generally start to feel down by mid-morning, but with Nuvigil, I feel pretty much as I did at 1 AM. Sleep: 9:51/9:15/8:27
This was so unexpected that I wondered if I had somehow accidentally put the magnesium pills into the placebo pill baggie or had swapped values while typing up the data into a spreadsheet, and checked into that. The spreadsheet accorded with the log above, which rules out data entry mistakes; and looking over the log, I discovered that some earlier slip-ups were able to rule out the pill-swap: I had carelessly put in some placebo pills made using rice, in order to get rid of them, and that led to me being unblinded twice before I became irritated enough to pick them all out of the bag of placebos - but how could that happen if I had swapped the groups of pills?
It wasn't always helpful, but it does work sometimes. The first two days gave me stomach and head pain, so I began to test with taking before or after food, and with or without food. The bottle says to take before food, but I preferred taking this with food, more food is better. This doesn't go well in the stomach with something like chocolate, so take this with something like bread or a meal. More importantly, stay very hydrated unless you want a headache, these pills are very hydro-demanding. The pills also work better if you get your blood moving, just a short walk is fine. Energy drinks and coffee go very well with these, as I had a very clear minded experience when taking these with a Monster Java, it was like a cool breeze blowing away the mental fog.
A record of nootropics I have tried, with thoughts about which ones worked and did not work for me. These anecdotes should be considered only as anecdotes, and one’s efforts with nootropics a hobby to put only limited amounts of time into due to the inherent limits of drugs as a force-multiplier compared to other things like programming1; for an ironic counterpoint, I suggest the reader listen to a video of Jonathan Coulton’s I Feel Fantastic while reading.
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It’s that time of the year again. It’s Blue Monday. We’re halfway into January, trudging through the deepest and darkest of the winter months, as we try to keep our heads high after the Christmas festivities with the motivation of our New Year’s resolutions. Some of you may have never heard of Blue Monday and let’s just say you’re not exactly missing out.
This is not something you notice when you talk to Seltzer. And though our memory is probably at its peak in our early 20s, few 30-year-olds are aware of a deficit. But Seltzer considers himself a transhumanist, in the mould of the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom and the futuristic writer and inventor Ray Kurzweil. Transhumanists are interested in robots, cryogenics and living a really, really long time; they consider biological limitations that the rest of us might accept, or even appreciate, as creaky obstacles to be aggressively surmounted. On the ImmInst (Immortality Institute) forums, Seltzer and other members discuss life-extension strategies and the potential benefits of cognitive enhancers. Some members, Seltzer among them, use a drug called piracetam, which was first marketed by a Belgian pharmaceutical company in 1972 and in recent years has become available in the US from retailers that sell supplements. Although not approved for any use by the FDA, piracetam has been used experimentally on stroke patients - to little effect - and on patients with a rare neurological condition called progressive myoclonus epilepsy, for whom it proved helpful in alleviating muscle spasms. Data on piracetam's benefits for healthy people is virtually nonexistent, but many users believe that the drug increases blood flow to the brain.
50 pairs of active/placebos or 100 days. With 120 tablets and 4 tablets used up, that leaves me 58 doses. That might seem adequate except the paired t-test approximation is overly-optimistic, and I also expect the non-randomized non-blinded correlation is too high which means that is overly-optimistic as well. The power would be lower than I’d prefer. I decided to simply order another bottle of Solgar’s & double the sample size to be safe.
The evidence? In small studies, healthy people taking modafinil showed improved planning and working memory, and better reaction time, spatial planning, and visual pattern recognition. A 2015 meta-analysis claimed that “when more complex assessments are used, modafinil appears to consistently engender enhancement of attention, executive functions, and learning” without affecting a user’s mood. In a study from earlier this year involving 39 male chess players, subjects taking modafinil were found to perform better in chess games played against a computer.
Next generation medical imaging and genomic sequencing studies, including my own work, have helped reveal that some foods are neuro-protective, literally shielding the brain from harm and supporting cognitive fitness over the course of a lifetime. Conversely, other foods are harmful for the brain, slowing us down in general, making us feel sluggish and tired, while at the same time increasing our risk of dementia.
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Common issues such as poor sleep during pregnancy and sleep deprivation following the birth can often heighten cravings for stimulants and sugary foods, which may seem like a good option for quick sources of energy, however, these foods can often cause further issues with energy and lead to fatigue and low mood. Eating foods that are high in refined sugar and refined grains such as commercial white bread, pastries, cakes and biscuits, give us an unsustainable source of energy. The brain is a very metabolically active organ; despite it only being 7% of the body’s weight, it can take up to 20% of the body’s metabolic needs (2), meaning that it is very energy hungry. This is why it is important to nourish the brain with foods that are nutrient rich, providing the body the building blocks to produce neurotransmitters, as well as a sustainable source of energy. The best options are fresh, unprocessed foods such as wholegrains (brown bread, brown rice, quinoa, rye and oats), pulses, vegetables, good quality sources of protein (meat, poultry and fish) and healthy fats such as those found in olive oil, coconut oil, avocados and oily fish.
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Artichoke + Forskolin: There is plenty of evidence that suggests artichoke extract supplements (made from the leaves of artichokes) offer strong neural antioxidant properties. Additionally, Forskolin (Coleus forskohlii) is one of the few studied compounds known to naturally boost cAMP (Cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate) in your brain and is also important for neural signaling within brain cells (291m 292). I’ve experienced noticeably enhanced memory and word recall when consuming this combo. Tim Ferriss talked about this one a bit in my podcast with him, particularly referencing its presence in the somewhat popular cognition supplement “CILTEP”. Made primarily from artichoke extracts and forskolin, CILTEP is a stack that also contains vitamin B6, L-phenylalanine and acetyl-L-carnitine. It is recommended to take two to three capsules at the beginning of each day and to skip dosage one or two days per week to achieve optimal results.
Alpha Lipoic Acid is a vitamin-like chemical filled with antioxidant properties, that naturally occur in broccoli, spinach, yeast, kidney, liver, and potatoes. The compound is generally prescribed to patients suffering from nerve-related symptoms of diabetes because it helps in preventing damage to the nerve cells and improves the functioning of neurons.
The AC-11 that Marcus mentioned for health is an extract from the Amazon jungle vine una de gato, and has been shown in laboratory and clinical trials to encourage DNA repair. The Mucuna pruriens he named for motivation is a legume that's a concentrated source of L-Dopa, which the body converts to the neurotransmitter dopamine. The Huperzia serrata Marcus selected for hunting is the same substance that induces lucid dreaming. This seems appropriate. While I felt the Alpha Brain helped my hunting, maybe I was dreaming. Or maybe a dream state of mind is good for hunting.
Ginkgo Biloba, Bacopa Monnieri, and Lion’s Mane: This particular unique blend boosts mental focus, memory, learning, and cognitive performance while reducing anxiety and depression, and I’ve found that it can significantly boost mental alertness for around six hours at a time without any jitteriness or irritability – or any significant amounts of caffeine. It’s important to allow for a grace period of about 12 weeks before you feel the stack’s full potential, so don’t expect immediate results with this combination.
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The evidence? Ritalin is FDA-approved to treat ADHD. It has also been shown to help patients with traumatic brain injury concentrate for longer periods, but does not improve memory in those patients, according to a 2016 meta-analysis of several trials. A study published in 2012 found that low doses of methylphenidate improved cognitive performance, including working memory, in healthy adult volunteers, but high doses impaired cognitive performance and a person’s ability to focus. (Since the brains of teens have been found to be more sensitive to the drug’s effect, it’s possible that methylphenidate in lower doses could have adverse effects on working memory and cognitive functions.)
And as before, around 9 AM I began to feel the peculiar feeling that I was mentally able and apathetic (in a sort of aboulia way); so I decided to try what helped last time, a short nap. But this time, though I took a full hour, I slept not a wink and my Zeo recorded only 2 transient episodes of light sleep! A back-handed sort of proof of alertness, I suppose. I didn’t bother trying again. The rest of the day was mediocre, and I wound up spending much of it on chores and whatnot out of my control. Mentally, I felt better past 3 PM.
Clinical psychiatrist Emily Deans has a private practice in Massachusetts and teaches at Harvard Medical School. She told me by phone that, in principle, there's "probably nothing dangerous" about the occasional course of nootropics for a hunting trip, finals week, or some big project. Beyond that, she suggests considering that it's possible to build up a tolerance to many neuroactive products if you use them often enough.
Cytisine is not known as a stimulant and I’m not addicted to nicotine, so why give it a try? Nicotine is one of the more effective stimulants available, and it’s odd how few nicotine analogues or nicotinic agonists there are available; nicotine has a few flaws like short half-life and increasing blood pressure, so I would be interested in a replacement. The nicotine metabolite cotinine, in the human studies available, looks intriguing and potentially better, but I have been unable to find a source for it. One of the few relevant drugs which I can obtain is cytisine, from Ceretropic, at 2x1.5mg doses. There are not many anecdotal reports on cytisine, but at least a few suggest somewhat comparable effects with nicotine, so I gave it a try.
While too much alcohol can certainly destroy healthy brain tissue, drinking in moderation may be good for your mind. A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Biological Chemistry found that the antioxidant EGCG—found in red wine and green tea—helped stop beta-amyloid proteins from harming brain cells in the lab. Additionally, research from UCLA found that wine’s antioxidants may block proteins that build brain-destroying plaques. In other recent news, British researchers discovered that rats improved spatial memory when they consumed what would be the equivalent of a daily glass of champagne; certain antioxidants in the bubbly may encourage growth of and better communication among nerve cells.
All of the coefficients are positive, as one would hope, and one specific factor (MR7) squeaks in at d=0.34 (p=0.05). The graph is much less impressive than the graph for just MP, suggesting that the correlation may be spread out over a lot of factors, the current dataset isn’t doing a good job of capturing the effect compared to the MP self-rating, or it really was a placebo effect:
Take at 10 AM; seem a bit more active but that could just be the pressure of the holiday season combined with my nice clean desk. I do the chores without too much issue and make progress on other things, but nothing major; I survive going to The Sitter without too much tiredness, so ultimately I decide to give the palm to it being active, but only with 60% confidence. I check the next day, and it was placebo. Oops.
The important factors seem to be: #1/MR6 (Creativity.self.rating, Time.Bitcoin, Time.Backups, Time.Blackmarkets, Gwern.net.linecount.log), #2/MR1 (Time.PDF, Time.Stats), #7/MR7 (Time.Writing, Time.Sysadmin, Time.Programming, Gwern.net.patches.log), and #8/MR8 (Time.States, Time.SRS, Time.Sysadmin, Time.Backups, Time.Blackmarkets). The rest seem to be time-wasting or reflect dual n-back/DNB usage (which is not relevant in the LLLT time period).
If I stop tonight and do nothing Monday (and I sleep the normal eight hours and do not pay any penalty), then that’ll be 4 out of 5 days on modafinil, each saving 3 or 4 hours. Each day took one pill which cost me $1.20, but each pill saved let’s call it 3.5 hours; if I value my time at minimum wage, or 7.25/hr (federal minimum wage), then that 3.5 hours is worth $25.37, which is much more than $1.20, ~21x more.
Took pill 1:27 PM. At 2 my hunger gets the best of me (despite my usual tea drinking and caffeine+piracetam pills) and I eat a large lunch. This makes me suspicious it was placebo - on the previous days I had noted a considerable appetite-suppressant effect. 5:25 PM: I don’t feel unusually tired, but nothing special about my productivity. 8 PM; no longer so sure. Read and excerpted a fair bit of research I had been putting off since the morning. After putting away all the laundry at 10, still feeling active, I check. It was Adderall. I can’t claim this one either way. By 9 or 10 I had begun to wonder whether it was really Adderall, but I didn’t feel confident saying it was; my feeling could be fairly described as 50%.
It is not because of the few thousand francs which would have to be spent to put a roof [!] over the third-class carriages or to upholster the third-class seats that some company or other has open carriages with wooden benches. What the company is trying to do is to prevent the passengers who can pay the second class fare from traveling third class; it hits the poor, not because it wants to hurt them, but to frighten the rich. And it is again for the same reason that the companies, having proved almost cruel to the third-class passengers and mean to the second-class ones, become lavish in dealing with first-class passengers. Having refused the poor what is necessary, they give the rich what is superfluous.
In 2011, a story surfaced that struck fear into many: A woman was being treated for brain and memory disorders, when in reality she was just incredibly low in B12 stores. Turns out, this isn’t uncommon; many physicians don’t run routine blood tests for the nutrient, which is especially troublesome considering that our ability to absorb B12 is dramatically reduced with age. Over time, low vitamin B12 can do a number of your cognition.
A young man I'll call Alex recently graduated from Harvard. As a history major, Alex wrote about a dozen papers a term. He also ran a student organisation, for which he often worked more than 40 hours a week; when he wasn't working, he had classes. Weeknights were devoted to all the schoolwork he couldn't finish during the day, and weekend nights were spent drinking with friends and going to parties. "Trite as it sounds," he told me, it seemed important to "maybe appreciate my own youth". Since, in essence, this life was impossible, Alex began taking Adderall to make it possible.
Is 200 enough? There are no canned power functions for the ordinal logistic regression I would be using, so the standard advice is to estimate power by simulation: generating thousands of new datasets where we know by construction that the binary magnesium variable increases MP by 0.27 (such as by bootstrapping the original Noopept experiment’s data), and seeing how often in this collection the cutoff of statistical-significance is passed when the usual analysis is done (background: CrossValidated or Power Analysis and Sample Size Estimation using Bootstrap). In this case, we leave alpha at 0.05, reuse the Noopept experiment’s data with its Magtein correlation, and ask for the power when n=200
As for newer nootropic drugs, there are unknown risks. “Piracetam has been studied for decades,” says cognitive neuroscientist Andrew Hill, the founder of a neurofeedback company in Los Angeles called Peak Brain Institute. But “some of [the newer] compounds are things that some random editor found in a scientific article, copied the formula down and sent it to China and had a bulk powder developed three months later that they’re selling. Please don’t take it, people!”
Nootropics. You might have heard of them. The “limitless pill” that keeps Billionaires rich. The ‘smart drugs’ that students are taking to help boost their hyperfocus. The cognitive enhancers that give corporate executives an advantage. All very exciting. But as always, the media are way behind the curve. Yes, for the past few decades, cognitive enhancers were largely sketchy substances that people used to grasp at a short term edge at the expense of their health and wellbeing. But the days of taking prescription pills to pull an all-nighter are so 2010. The better, safer path isn’t with these stimulants but with nootropics. Nootropics consist of supplements and substances which enhance your cognition, in particular when it comes to motivation, creativity, memory, and other executive functions.