Mental core exercises, and the difference between doing and not stopping

The 5-second version: do some math to exercise the brain, or at least do something scary. Also: Ask yourself the reason you keep doing something and the (alternative) reason why you don’t stop

math brain retarded hedge fund manager novelty plasticity

You go to the gym to live, not make a living

Even if you never plan to enter a race or compete in sports in any way, you know you should still be keeping your body reasonably fit. If you want to live a longer, healthier life, that is.

aneurysm SpreZZaturian

Here’s the shocking news: The same goes for your mental “core”!

There are several ways of keeping your brain fit; and, yes, it’s at least as important as maintaining the rest of your body – even if you never plan to actually use the top level of your brain’s capabilities.

A fit brain keeps the body healthy, a fit brain postpones Alzheimer’s and other diseases. An active and fit brain simply doesn’t age the same way an idle one does. [Ref: the entire body of approximately 120 episodes of the Brain Science podcast]

brain plasticity science retarded math

Do math to live longer, not for actual calculations


In addition to all the other recommendations I have given [see some kind of partial summary below], yesterday I heard something new:

The [female] mathematician Eugenia Cheng, who is doing pioneering work in category theory (“the math of math”) called “doing math” a “core exercise” for the brain.

a lot of very low hanging

novelty fruit within math

to benefit from

Few people use more than simple arithmetic (in the grocery store, e.g.) and thus has a lot of very low hanging novelty fruit within math to benefit from. Why not try doing some slightly more advanced calculations in your head when suntanning, or if you have trouble sleeping. One “fun” exercise is doing “Power 2s” or simply “doubling”. Just try to go as high as possible in your head in this series: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16384, 32768, 65536 and beyond.

When I was a teenager, I regularly went up into the millions in that series, when I and my girlfriend lacked prophylactics… so the series does nothing good for me these days.

Check if I got the 2^0-2^16 series right. By the way 65 536 was how high the total memory count (in bytes!) my first computer went. After doubling numbers in your head, it might be time for some simple equations, or going hard core and firing up Khan Academy’s math section.

math find x retarded


(sometimes) Learn skills for the exercise, not the skill in itself

Languages. Cheng’s idea falls right in line with my advice to learn a new language for a while, the skip to another one. Never mind maintaining a semi-fluent level, unless you do it automatically by socializing with native speakers. just focus on fun learning to maintain brain plasticity.

Programming. And then, of course, there is programming, which is language and math all baked in the same cake. It can be just as frustrating as it can be fun. Actually more so. Nevertheless, you’re bound to make a lot of progress and get the satisfaction of controlling pixels on your screen and sound in your speakers like a God.

There are many other ways of feeding your brain with novelty (which apart from keeping you sane and sound longer also makes the present flowing, enjoyable and ephemeral, while the past – your life – will seem longer, fuller and more meaningful):

Walk barefoot on uneven surfaces

Do things blindfolded (just judging the distance 10-20 meters ahead, walking with your eyes closed to a certain tree, stone or lamp is enough, but try harder stuff too, like navigating your house… cook dinner?!)

Do something that frightens you (but not too dangerous; just scary)

Try controlling your neurotransmitters as advised in this article. It’s basic premise is to conquer social fear and submissive behavior, by “psyching up” (generating neurotransmitters), doing, letting go of the potential “failure shame” afterward by just relaxing instead of analyzing.

Mindfulness exercises – paying close attention to single sensory stimulus or activities.


New things, hard things, scary things

The key word here is novelty – experiencing new things, new challenges, using the brain and the body in new ways. Surprise and scare yourself.

And do math – at least a little when you are idle anyway, or if you have trouble sleeping and used to fall asleep in math class.

Cheng also shared this profound thought: There is a difference between the reason for doing something and the reason for not stopping. She was referring to herself: She does category theory because she loves math, not because it’s useful. To her it’s like art or music. It’s simply beautiful. However, if it wasn’t useful too she would stop.

Try applying that system of thought to your job, a TV series you follow, your somewhat stale relationship…

Now, 1) subscribe to my newsletter for more tips and for my free book, and 2) can you do 2^20 in your head? …”Michael, where are you?”


Will technology take your job? Part I

PIC: exploding radio by Rutger Prins

This article will consume about 2 (two) minutes of your time and give you a list of the best science pod casts around.

You’d better stay informed or you just might lose your job unexpectedly. However, Part I is mainly about a handful of really good pod casts.

PIC: exploding radio by Rutger Prins

“Exploding Radio” by Rutger Prins

Summary: start listening to the TED Radio Hour pod cast by NPR. It will educate you, broaden your perspective on the human mind, keep you prepared and ready, as well as stimulate your own brain’s plasticity and make acquiring other skills easier, when you lose your current job (or the one you’re aiming for with your education).


Walking With Science

Avoid growing old

I recently listened to a “radio” program about brain plasticity. One topic concerned how a flawed “noisy” brain (neurons firing or being quiet when they shouldn’t) learns to avoid using the noisy parts and those parts thus slowly atrophy and die, leading to severe dysfunction.

A less severe variation of that happens when you voluntarily retire your brain, don’t challenge it in a wide range of areas, don’t expose it enough to novelty or strong emotions. Some would call it growing old, whereas I and some scientists these days see it as an avoidable brain disease.

You can understand these things and dodge them at the same time, by taking part of new science through “radio”. It’s fun too.

The most stimulating, educational and interesting pod casts are about science, new discoveries and people. Sure, we are wired to be interested in gossip and empty talk too (there is research made on the science of gossip on some of these pod casts), but that’s about as fulfilling in the long run as eating candy.

Motion and emotion

Humans are made for moving; the brain evolved to understand motion (and happened to develop emotion as a by-product; as a way to understand the motions/behavior of other people). Brain plasticity and learning is enhanced during motion (not that surprising, considering moving is what the brain was made for).

I’ve learned these things particularly well, by listening to programs about the brain while going for long walks :)

If you have trouble focusing on talking heads casts, talk shows, nonsense popular news yapping, you really should give “walking with science” a try.

In short it means 1) Listen to well edited science pod casts while 2) Taking a walk. The walking can be substituted by any kind of drone-like tasks, such as vacuuming, cooking a familiar dish, walking the dog or light exercise.

NPR TED Radio Hour is number one

If you are new to this you should try NPR TED Radio Hour.

There are already hundreds of episodes available on all kinds of topics ranging from health and happiness to technology, biology, neurology and politics. One 1-hour show is made from 2-4 different TED talks on a certain topic (usually mind-blowing in themselves at at full length one a a time, but made more accessible this way).

The show is narrated by the ever cheerful and curious Guy Ross who interviews the TED speakers, explains concepts, as well as plays excerpts from the talks.

You will exercise every part of your brain trying to understand the wide ranging topics presented by some of the smartest people on the planet.

The current episode is a re-run about originality, creativity, copyright infringement etc.

Other pod casts can only fight for second place


Popular science: Recent episodes include Gene Editing, Music and Thought, How English Became Dominant. You won’t be disappointed if you subscribe to Nature.

Brain Science

Everything neurological: My favorite episodes are about the connectome (the brain’s physical wiring) and findings about plasticity. Recent episodes include The Brain’s Way Of Healing. BS is probably my favorite show after TED.

The human connectome



Documentaries, science, new findings…: A recent eye opener was the February 9, 2015, show about the science of smell and how olfactory cells have cured a paralyzed man. By the way, did you know that whereas you have 3 (three) different vision receptors responsible for all the millions of colors you can see, you have 350 different olfactory receptors.

More recent episodes concern the nocebo effect, the psychology of money (does it make us mean and selfish?) and the growing mountain of electronic waste (I hope you don’t have any old cell phones or WiFi routers just sitting in a drawer). A great show.

60-Second science

1-minute scientific tidbits (new findings); perfect for a short walk to the grocery store or the office, and as inspiration for other pod casts or web sites (I have recently subscribed to the gastropod about the history of food). 

Science Talk

This show is less sciency and more talky than the other shows. It’s still good, but in this list it ends up last


I’ve included a non-natural sciences show too. Freakonomics deals with how human psychology, rationally irrational decisions affect the macroeconomy around us. Recent topics include Advertising, Obsolete Technological Paradigms, Willpower and Temptation, Online dating.

Economics is not really a science but it’s still about discovery and that’s the most pleasurable activity there is.

60 minutes

Okay, not everybody is a science nerd like I am, so here is something for you. 60 minutes will give you investigative and penetrating news stories about terrorism, politics, leaders, racism, cyber security, Ebola, movie stars (Bradley Cooper, e.g.) and the U.S. military.

Even if this usually is the very last pod cast I go to, I am out with my dog for four hours a day, so there is room for a lot of things to listen to.

Beware, your career could be on the line

If nothing else, listening to science shows will give you a feel for how fast technology is evolving. Even if most, if not all, guests on these pod casts still say The Singularity is a pipe dream, the shows demonstrate the accelerating pace with which innovations will change almost every aspect of the human experience.

One of the first things that will change is Education and Career planning (more in a coming post… soon, so be sure to subscribe to my newsletter to get that one in a timely fashion. You’ll get my free e-book as well).

The backgrounds of the guests on these pod casts also clearly show the value of having a wide range of experiences and skills, not to mention doing truly meaningful and long-term things rather than mindlessly just trying to outdo your neighbor.

If nothing else, quite a few of these accomplished scientists exhibit weirdly random career paths.


  • Subscribe to the TED Radio Hour pod cast (and others)
  • Move while you listen to the show
  • Remember to pay close attention
  • Actively try to remember the interesting findings by repeating them silently to yourself
  • Your career is on the line

I’m really looking forward to this movie, “Ex Machina”, about AIex machina

The AI in the picture is a friend of a friend of mine

BTW, did I mention I’m involved in the inception of a European wide venture capital fund for robotics? Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath. Robotics is still so far away from mind-blowing that it hurts, as I have written about before (here on Linked In).