Brain Training – Here’s a better way

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Long-time correspondent Dan Rea recently put in a request for a look at the new industry of Brain Training, citing the example of the Luminosity program.

Before Dan’s email, I hadn’t really thought about it much, although I have heard quite a bit of discussion about it. The first things that brain training conjures up for me are those hokey ads featuring Delta Goodrem and Olivia Newton John with their little gadgets, playing games and claiming it improves their brain.

The second, and more annoying thing is that one of these crowds have appropriated another of science’s words! Luminosity. You know how much I hate it when that happens, so I’m not feeling very charitable towards them, regardless of the merits of the program.

The bottom line, however, is fairly simple to summarise. Brain training by repeating various tasks improves your brain… at doing those tasks. But nothing else. In addition, while a computer may make it more fun, or less arduous, it’s not better than good old pencil and paper.

Yes, brain training, is what we old folks call ‘learning’!

Want to train your brain at chess? Play more chess. Cricket? Play more cricket. Solve little puzzles? Do more puzzles. Golf? Play more golf.(although that last one doesn’t seem to work for me).

And, wow, even the normally credulous Fox News has a reasonably balanced article on this.

But by far the best summary is by Steve Novella on Science Based Medicine. In his no-nonsense article, he reviews the latest studies for us, and summarises the findings far better than I could.

This article is written from the point of view of a journalist who tries it out for themselves – an interesting first-person perspective, but basically the same findings.

So instead of shelling out for these programs, I suggest you pick whatever you want to improve, and just, well, practice.

And here’s an idea – instead of trying to improve your brain, improve your mind by practicing clear thinking – which is what this blog has been on about.  So here’s a good place to start: one of my early posts on sorting fact from fiction. Enjoy.



Fear vs Hope – Of doomsayers and atheists

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There is no better way to promote the achievements of mankind than to contrast them with his reluctance to let go of magical thinking.

Below we have such a contrast.

First take a look at yet another doomsayer here, who tells us that the world will end on the 27th May – yes, this Sunday!  Actually, the world will end in the US on the 27th, we here in Oz will have more time I guess. If you browse this site and take it all in, you get this sense of despair mixed with the pointlessness of existence.  It’s amazing how some people give themselves over to unseen scary things and superstition. Interestingly the guy is selling books, but obviously you will need to be a snappy reader to get through them before Sunday.

Anyway, in complete contrast, we have the contribution by TheThinkingAtheist, which highlights mankind’s achievements in a nice 5 minute video, leaving you with pride and hope, instead of fear and despair.

On which side of the spectrum are you?

The gospel according to rationalbrain

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The usual end-of-year introspection, coupled with a beer or two, gets one to thinking.

And so is born the gospel according to rationalbrain. 

In case you were wondering, the word gospel derives from the Old English ‘gōd-spell’, meaning ‘good news’ or ‘glad tidings’.

Happy New Year to you all.

The Scheme of  Things 1

1:1   Beginnings

  1. It is self evident:
  2. That We are a group of complex biological organisms on quite a nice little planet.
  3. That the planet is quite nice simply because We evolved to match what it could provide for Us.
  4. That We have senses and responses which developed for the purpose of surviving and thriving on this quite nice little planet.
  5. That those senses also provide the functionality required to for Us to see beyond the trees, the ground and the sea, to the expanses beyond our nice little planet and to the microscopic components within it.

1:2 Awakenings

  1. It is also clear:
  2. That We have developed sufficient complexity over millions of years to transcend mere observation and reaction, and to add to Our inventory the ability to plan, to dream, to calculate, to communicate and to conceive of that which does not exist in physical form.
  3. And thus to conceive of Self and understand Its place on this quite nice little planet, and Its place in the We.
  4. But also to conceive of shadows and ghosts and consider them real, born of the senses and responses developed for the purpose of surviving and thriving on this quite nice little planet.

1:3 Conflicts

  1. And thus We now see:
  2. That the We differentiated according to the shadows and ghosts and the location of the We on this quite nice little planet.
  3. That the shadows and ghosts of each of the We became the reason for the existence of the We.
  4. That, for the biological organisms, obedience to the shadows and ghosts superseded the purpose of of surviving and thriving on this quite nice little planet.
  5. And thus some organisms were selected for survival by the followers of the shadows and ghosts, while others were extinguished.

1:3 Ages of Reason

  1. And furthermore We now see:
  2. That conception of the non-physical was developed by the complex organisms for the purpose of surviving and thriving, and not as tools for division of the We.
  3. For exploration and understanding of the abstract and unseen.
  4. For invention and extrapolation of the unknown.
  5. And therefore the survival of biological organisms is incompatible with obedience to shadows and ghosts.

1:4 Transcendence

  1. And finally We now see:
  2. That reality consists of the We, and of the quite nice little planet.
  3. And that the complex biological organisms must re-focus their well-earned capabilities to the purpose of surviving and thriving on this quite nice little planet .
  4. And not in the obedience of the shadows and ghosts.

1:5 That will be all.

Essay: Humanity analysed

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Care for an analysis of what makes humanity tick?

Correspondent Neutralturn has further developed his thoughts, originally sketched in this post, into an essay. In case you looked at this link, Pizza is the original pseudonym, and Neutralturn is the pseudo-pseudonym. And that also explains why you never see Pizza and Neutralturn in the same room together.

In this essay, Humanae Vitae – An Unauthorised Version, Neutralturn tackles this modest little topic with his now customary ‘surgical’ analysis, and in the process perhaps challenges our intuition on the subject.

Vale Christopher Hitchens

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One of my first posts on rationalbrain was a review of ‘God is Not Great’ by Christopher Hitchens.

His writing actually served to inspire me to start this blog, so it was sad to read yesterday that he has died, aged 62. Tobacco claims another scalp.

I was a late-comer to his work, but was immediately impressed by his clear, direct and often witty writing style.

I’m sure he’s in heaven at the keyboard of his word processor.

And I’m certain he would have hated anyone saying that, even as a joke.

A motto to live by

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Rationalbrain comes to you today from our new digs near Bad Reichenhall, a small town north of Salzburg.

One of the features of the local town is the art of  ‘Luftlmalerei’, a Bavarian speciality which means ‘open air painting’. The result of this is that many of the older houses have external murals for passers-by to admire. Some are religious messages, some are a description of the business of the owners, as in the case of the shingle maker shown below:

Cute. Blow it up and you’ll see the terrific detail describing the process of making shingles. By the way, there was a shed full of shingles to the left, awaiting orders.

But as if in response to my previous heavy post on the human cost of grand monuments, I subsequently spotted this mural painted on one of the houses, bearing an uplifting message:

The message is: “Enjoy life – it’s later than you think”.

What a terrific antidote to the religious mumbo jumbo which bombards the senses throughout Europe.

The diary of rationalbrain

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Rationalbrain is currently on holiday in Europe for a while, and for this week it’s Amsterdam. While initially I thought I might dig up some euro-pseudo-science about which to rant, I’ve been struck quite unexpectedly by something a little more serious.

No, I don’t mean how s**t the wireless broadband is in this otherwise excellent hotel.

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