Health, Fitness & Medicine

Power really does corrupt

by Limbic on September 13, 2016

I learned last week that becoming powerful has measurable neurological effects on your ability to empathize.

Listen to this fascinating episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain on “The Perils of Power”.

If you have a Harvard Business Review subscription there is a long article in the October 2016 edition called “Don’t let power corrupt you”.


The Tree of Contemplative Practices

by Limbic on April 27, 2014

Tree of Contemplative Practices



GoPro cameras and the active life

by Limbic on March 21, 2012

Michael Yon posted in Facebook that the best camera for soldiers to take to Afghanistan are GoPro sports camera.

I popped over to the site and the video they have on the front page is superb!



Civilization building kit

by Limbic on March 16, 2012

Sci-Fi author David Brin links to a great project – Open Source Ecology  :

Following the DIY “maker” trend, one ad-hoc group is producing open source modular plans to the 50 different industrial machines necessary to build a civilization — or at least provide a self-sustaining village with basic comforts. The basic fifty include: backhoe, bulldozer, baler, wind turbine, cement mixer, electric motor, steam engine, dairy milker, baker oven, aluminum extractor from clay, and bioplastic extruder, among others. The more complicated ones build upon the simpler ones. In northern Missouri, they have used their compressed brick press and tractor to build a manufacturing facility to construct more models.

The founder, Marchin Jabukowski (TED Senior Fellow) is a Physics Ph.D., who dropped out to work on this project. His orientation is post-scarcity society rather than disaster, but if one were wanting to create a generalized resiliency rather than prepare for specific movie scenario plots, it would be a good place to start. See his TED talk: Open Sourced Blueprints for Civilization .

And now, Open Source Ecology is teaming with WikiSpeed to build an open source, modular, configurable car with high fuel efficiency that meets U.S. safety standards.

The 2012 hippies are making everyone jumpy about societal collapse and the collapsitarian movement is still growing. Just yesterday I got a memo from Neil “The Game” Strauss with 13 hacks to survive a disaster.

I am not immune. I track this stuff….


Imagining Life Without Oil, and Being Ready – NY Times

Apocalypse Ciao: Let the End Times Roll – Mother Jones


Lies about lying

by Limbic on November 20, 2011

On a recent series of flights to Las Vegas (18 hours in the air!) I finished Sam Harris’s new book “Lying“.

The book is a manifesto for truth-telling and as such reminds me of Brad Blandon’s classic “Radical Honesty“.

Both books argue persuasively that lying (“to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication”) is both morally wrong and deleterious.

Of the two books, Blandon’s is the more aggressive, but both insist that one must always be honest, even if it means apparent harm to others will come of it.

I do not have my cliff notes from Radical Honesty, but here are my clippings from Harris’ “Lying”:

“People lie so that others will form beliefs that are not true. The more consequential the beliefs—that is, the more a person’s well-being depends upon a correct understanding of the world—the more consequential the lie.”

“The intent to communicate honestly is the measure of truthfulness…It is in believing one thing while intending to communicate another that every lie is born.”

“Once one commits to telling the truth, one begins to notice how unusual it is to meet someone who shares this commitment. Honest people are a refuge: You know they mean what they say; you know they will not say one thing to your face and another behind your back; you know they will tell you when they think you have failed—and for this reason their praise cannot be mistaken for mere flattery.”

“Honesty is a gift we can give to others. It is also a source of power and an engine of simplicity. Knowing that we will attempt to tell the truth, whatever the circumstances, leaves us with little to prepare for. We can simply be ourselves.”

“It can take practice to feel comfortable with this way of being in the world—to cancel plans, decline invitations, critique others’ work, etc., all while being honest about what one is thinking and feeling. To do this is also to hold a mirror up to one’s life—because a commitment to telling the truth requires that one pay attention to what the truth is in every moment. What sort of person are you? How judgemental, self-interested, or petty have you become?”

“While we imagine that we tell certain lies out of compassion for others, it is rarely difficult to spot the damage we do in the process. By lying, we deny our friends access to reality—and their resulting ignorance often harms them in ways we did not anticipate. Our friends may act on our falsehoods, or fail to solve problems that could have been solved only on the basis of good information. Rather often, to lie is to infringe upon the freedom of those we care about.”

“False encouragement is a kind of theft: it steals time, energy, and motivation a person could put toward some other purpose.”

“A wasteland of embarrassment and social upheaval can be neatly avoided by following a single precept in life: Do not lie.”

“This is among the many corrosive effects of having unjust laws: They tempt peaceful and (otherwise) honest people to lie so as to avoid being punished for behavior that is ethically blameless.”

“What does it mean to have integrity? It means many things, of course, but one criterion is to avoid behavior that readily leads to shame or remorse. The ethical terrain here extends well beyond the question of honesty—but to truly have integrity, we must not feel the need to lie about our personal lives. To lie is to erect a boundary between the truth we are living and the perception others have of us. The temptation to do this is often born of an understanding that others will disapprove of our behavior.”

“Vulnerability comes in pretending to be someone you are not.”

“An unhappy truth of human psychology is probably also at work here, which makes it hard to abolish lies once they have escaped into the world: We seem to be predisposed to remember statements as true even after they have been disconfirmed.”

“Lying is, almost by definition, a refusal to cooperate with others. It condenses a lack of trust and trustworthiness into a single act. It is both a failure of understanding and an unwillingness to be understood. To lie is to recoil from relationship. ”

“By lying, we deny others a view of the world as it is. Our dishonesty not only influences the choices they make, it often determines the choices they can make—and in ways we cannot always predict. Every lie is a direct assault upon the autonomy of those we lie to. And by lying to one person, we potentially spread falsehoods to many others—even to whole societies. We also force upon ourselves subsequent choices—to maintain the deception or not—that can complicate our lives. In this way, every lie haunts our future. There is no telling when or how it might collide with reality, requiring further maintenance. The truth never needs to be tended in this way. It can simply be reiterated.”

When I arrived back from Las Vegas, I was catching up with the fine reads on The Browser, and came across a great article on this very topic.

In a piece called, “7 Things Happen to You When You Are Completely Honest“, James Altucher explores the consequences of living a truthful life.

His advice is saner that Harris and Blandon.  He warns of the following consequences:


His advice is lovely though:

“My own personal motto is: honesty to a point. I will never harm anyone. I believe in what Buddha said to his son Rahula the day after he showed up after abandoning his son for 7 years:

before, during, and even AFTER you say something, make sure it doesn’t hurt anyone.

But even despite that rule, people will stop speaking to you because not every hurt you can control. Historical is hysterical for many people.”

In his final section, “#7 You become free”, he writes:

“At first we hug our boundaries in chains. We think “if we tell the girl we like her, she might not like me back”. We think, “If I say I like this candidate, my friends might hate me.” If I say X, everyone else might say Y. And so on. But more and more we start to feel where those boundaries are and we push them out. We push them further and further away from ourselves. Until finally they are so far away it’s as if they don’t exist at all. You don’t need money for that. Or a big house. Or a fancy degree or car. Every day, just push out those boundaries a little further.

We reach for that freedom. We never truly get there. We’re always striving to see how far they can go, just like a little child with her parents. But eventually, the boundaries are so far away we begin to feel the pleasures of true freedom.”

Finally, just tonight, I came across two stories in the Economist on the subject of lying and how technology can peek inside the mind.

The terrible truth: Technology can now see what people are thinking. Be afraid

Mind-goggling: It is now possible to scan someone’s brain and get a reasonable idea of what is going through his mind


Mindhacker US edition cover

Completely forgot to announce that the new Mindhacker book was released on 6th September 2011, featuring a very long (over 4000 words) hack by authored by me (“Hack 73: Take a Semantic Pause”).

The book is actually a delight to read, especially for techie hacker types.

Congratulations to the authors Ron and Marty Hale-Evans. They represent an ideal of the polymathic autodidact omnologist.

Mindhacker: 60 Tips, Tricks, and Games to Take Your Mind to the Next Level is  available from Amazon and bookstores.


Stranges loops

by Limbic on June 2, 2011

This afternoon I finished Jon Ronson’s “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry“. At the beginning of the book, he meets a lady called Deborah Talmi, who has received a very odd book from a psychopath called “Being or Nothingness”. Hundreds of fellow academics also receive the book, which sparks off a huge community of people trying to figure it out. Ronson is there to investigate who the author/sender is. His sleuthing involves Professor Douglas Hoffstader, who’s famous book “I Am A Strange Loop” is quoted in the the book. Ms Talmi thinks the book involves Hofstader:

“That’s what I Am a Strange Loop is about,” said Deborah. “It’s about how we spend our lives self-referencing, over and over, in a kind of strange loop. Now lots of people are asking themselves, *Why was I selected to receive this book?’ They aren’t talking about the book or the message. They’re talking about themselves. So Being or Nothingness has created a strange loop of people and its a vessel for them to self-reference.” She paused. “I think that’s Hofstader’s message”.

Ronson ends up exchanging mails with HGofstader and investigating claims that Mr Hofstader has orgies with French women (all nonsense), but he sounds like an interesting guy.

At dinner, I brought my Kindle along as I am along in Copenhagen thanks to the Indian embassy not having my visa ready in time (that will be another story). I decided to start “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement” by David Bloom. I read a rave review in The Guardian a few days ago and decided to bump it up to the top of the reading list.

Less than 20 pages in, still in the Introduction, and who does Mr Brooks quote? Professor Hofstader’s “I Am a Strange Loop”!

That’s as close as I will ever get to believing in ‘signs’. “I am a strange loop” ordered!

David Brooks also quotes one of my all time favourite psychology books “Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious ” by Timothy D Wilson.

Its looking very promising so far….


Nappy free baby and baby sign language

by Limbic on August 11, 2010

As I await the arrival of my daughter any day now, I spotted an article about teaching babies sign language.

Parents finding benefit in teaching babies sign language as well as speech

Toward the end of lunch, Phoenix Ferragame, 17 months old, raised both hands in front of his chest and tapped his fingertips together.

His mother smiled.

“You want more? More chips?” Gina Ferragame asked, mimicking the hand movement and then passing the bowl to her son.

For parents, hardly anything is as satisfying as being able to communicate with their children. But speech requires development of three muscle groups. Toddlers typically have motor control of their hands and fingers months sooner.

Teaching a short vocabulary of American Sign Language – milk, more, please, and a handful of other words – is so simple that parents are networking, classes are spreading, and how-to sites are booming.

Ferragame and her husband began working on basic signs with their older son, Theo, when he was 5 months old.

“I saw a response immediately,” she said. “I was inspired by the fact that I could acknowledge him.”

It reminded me of something I saw years ago on CoolTools, a post reviewing a book called “Diaper Free! The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene

In my many years traveling throughout Asia I saw almost no babies with diapers. Yet I commonly saw infants who would seem to eliminate on command. Their moms would hold them over a gutter with their pants down, whistle a quiet hiss, or grunt, and then the baby would go. At one year! Two-year olds would find their own place to squat. The real story behind this magic is that the child communicates their elimination needs to the mom, who learns to understand their unique signals, and then she communicates back whether all is ready or not. The result is a baby toilet-trained long before anyone in developed countries believes is possible, or even healthy. And this diaper-less, yet mess-less, state is common in parts of Africa and Latin America as well.

I love this idea of teaching my daughter to sign, and being able to read her elimination signals, an avoid “walking toilets” that are nappies.

In practice I think these sorts of methods take enormous time and energy, and I am afraid those are in short supply with a new baby.

we’ll see….


Westerners have been getting fatter and fatter at alarming rates since the 80s. Now Chinese and Indians are rapidly catching up.

Now it seems, we have been unfairly blaming fat for the obesity epidemic, but it has been carbohydrates all along.

From End the War on Fat, It could be making us sicker.

Thirty years ago, America declared war against fat. The inaugural edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published in 1980 and subsequently updated every five years, advised people to steer clear of “too much fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol,” because of purported ties between fat intake and heart disease. The message has remained essentially the same ever since, with current guidelines recommending that Americans consume less than 10 percent of their daily calories from saturated fat.

But heart disease continues to devastate the country, and, as you may have noticed, we certainly haven’t gotten any thinner. Ultimately, that’s because fat should never have been our enemy. The big question is whether the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, due out at the end of the year, will finally announce retreat.

The foundation for the “fat is bad” mantra comes from the following logic: Since saturated fat is known to increase blood levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, and people with high LDL cholesterol are more likely to develop heart disease, saturated fat must increase heart disease risk. If A equals B and B equals C, then A must equal C.

Well, no. With this extrapolation, scientists and policymakers made a grave miscalculation: They assumed that all LDL cholesterol is the same and that all of it is bad. A spate of recent research is now overturning this fallacy and raising major questions about the wisdom of avoiding fat, especially considering that the food Americans have been replacing fat with—processed carbohydrates—could be far worse for heart health. “

Scientific America also picked up on this theme recently.

From “Carbs against Cardio: More Evidence that Refined Carbohydrates, not Fats, Threaten the Heart

Eat less saturated fat: that has been the take-home message from the U.S. government for the past 30 years. But while Americans have dutifully reduced the percentage of daily calories from saturated fat since 1970, the obesity rate during that time has more than doubled, diabetes has tripled, and heart disease is still the country’s biggest killer. Now a spate of new research, including a meta-analysis of nearly two dozen studies, suggests a reason why: investigators may have picked the wrong culprit. Processed carbohydrates, which many Americans eat today in place of fat, may increase the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease more than fat does—a finding that has serious implications for new dietary guidelines expected this year.

In March the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a meta-analysis—which combines data from several studies—that compared the reported daily food intake of nearly 350,000 people against their risk of developing cardiovascular disease over a period of five to 23 years. The analysis, overseen by Ronald M. Krauss, director of atherosclerosis research at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, found no association between the amount of saturated fat consumed and the risk of heart disease.”

This is a staggering finding.

Its not that saturated fats are good, but its likely that carbohydrates are significantly worse, especially high GI refined carbohydrates.

“If you reduce saturated fat and replace it with high glycemic-index carbohydrates, you may not only not get benefits—you might actually produce harm,” Ludwig argues. The next time you eat a piece of buttered toast, he says, consider that “butter is actually the more healthful component.”


Neuromarketing and the Pepsi Paradox

by Limbic on June 5, 2010

Great discussion with Danish science journalist Lorne Frank on “All In The Mind“.

Natasha Mitchell:…the Pepsi paradox: that actually is very interesting isn’t it? In a sense it gets at the neurobiology of branding.

Lorne Frank: That was a study that started off this whole neuromarketing, I think it was in 2004, it’s been known for a long time that there’s this thing called the Pepsi paradox because Coca Cola of course sells much more than Pepsi. But in blind tastings most people will say that they prefer Pepsi, so why do they actually buy Coke? So there’s this guy Clinton Kilts in Georgia who wanted to find out what is going on in the brain, where is branding actually happening, can we pinpoint it somewhere? So he took people and did that blind tasting while they were in a MRI scanner (they just had very, very long straws).

Natasha Mitchell: Is that what they did?

Lorne Frank: Yeah, it looks crazy to see a picture of it, they would be sucking on these straws metres long, and they would guess Pepsi or Coke, and in the first round it was blind tasting, they didn’t know what was what. And you could see the response in the brain and the response to the one, the drink they liked the most, there was more reward, basically, in reward areas.

Natasha Mitchell: It’s a whole sort of circuitry in the brain, it’s no one spot.

Lorne Frank: Everything in the brain is basically circuitry, but there are areas where you can see that will really light up and become active when you ingest something sweet for example—oh, that gives you a reward. And Pepsi is sweeter than Coke, so most people would like that best and it would give the best response, basically. And then in the next round they would tell people, now you’re ingesting Pepsi and now you’re ingesting Coke. And then you would have the same, initially the same kind of reward reaction, but then an area in the front of the brain where we actually do our conscious thinking and whatever would come on. There would be an area that is usually involved when you think about yourself, and you think about what you like in the world. This would come on and would sort of actually convince the reward system that oh no, Pepsi is not the best drink, Coke is the best drink. So the reward would actually be dampened so they would actually trick themselves to like Coke better because of this branding effect that goes on in the thinking part of the brain.

Natasha Mitchell: Real identification with the branding.

Lorne Frank: Yes, this is more me.

In The Mind – 29 May 2010 – It’s a Mindfield! All in the Mind at the
2010 Sydney Writers’ Festival

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