Zapping the brain into "expert" mode

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46 Responses to “Zapping the brain into "expert" mode”

  1. Adam Goetz says:

    this is really interesting and i’d like to compare the flow via electric current  vs 1 beer and see which has the stronger and broader effect. 

  2. Might be the reason some creative types like marijuana. It can dial down the anxiety thoughts and help just get shit done. Though, I’m not sure pot would improve speed skills on a video game :)

    • Mujokan says:

       I posted on this point right after you I think. Actually it can help you get into the flow. You can’t even say why you are reacting better. You just see things bit more clearly, and you don’t second guess yourself, somehow.

      But it doesn’t always help me get things done. I feel less anxious, and I see new connections. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to creation. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s an interesting topic to me though.

      • Kimmo says:

        Definitely can reduce anxiety,  but I find it totally kills my short-term planning ability.

        Depending on what I’m doing, I can spend up to 75% of my time spacing out on digressing trains of thought and trying to remember what the hell I’m doing.

        • Cowicide says:

          I can spend up to 75% of my time spacing out on digressing trains of thought and trying to remember what the hell I’m doing.

          Sounds like you could try different strains for better results. Different kinds of bud have very different effects upon a person.

          Unlike alcohol, which in all forms “dumbs you down” and makes you beat your wife, there’s strains of marijuana that don’t necessarily “cripple” a person and put them into couch-lock… or have one walking in circles looking for a pen.

          You might want to try some top-shelf sativas instead of indica, or some hybrids.  Every person is different and it might take some experimentation to find which strain best suits your specific physiological makeup.

          For example, I have a variation of one of these “mutant” powers described in this following article:

          http://www.cracked.com/article_19661_6-real-people-with-mind-blowing-mutant-superpowers.html

          And certain strains of daemon-weed affect my chemistry very differently than others in certain cases.  Some strains play off of my “superpowers” (haha), but with other strains I might as well just hit up some Jack Daniels because it dumbs me down into a football-fan-stupor.

          Here’s one source that reviews “effects” of strains to some degree:

          http://strainreview.com/

          But your mileage may vary depending on how you’re wired.

    • Diogenes says:

      Bill Lee and Bernie Carbo!

      • irksome says:

        Doc Ellis, who pitched a no-hitter on acid and said something about how all he could see was the ball and the catcher’s mitt. 

        Put one in the other; what could be so simple?

    • Jim Saul says:

      There is already some peer reviewed research supporting your point, along lines even more closely matching the transcranial electrostimulation study above:

      A study just published online in Psychiatry Research suggests that this effect may be due to the drug causing ‘fast and loose’ patterns of spreading activity in memory, something known as ‘hyper-priming’.
      Priming is a well studied effect in psychology where encountering one concept makes related concepts more easily accessible. For example, classic experiments show that if you see the word ‘bird’ you will react more quickly to words like ‘wing’ and ‘fly’ than words like ‘apple’ and ‘can’ because the former words are more closely related in meaning than the latter.
      [...]
      Volunteers who were under the influence of cannabis showed a definite ‘hyper-priming’ tendency where distant concepts were reacted to more quickly. Interestingly, they also showed some of this tendency when straight and sober.

      http://mindhacks.com/2010/03/09/how-cannabis-makes-thoughts-tumble/

    • Lloyd says:

      As a pot smoker and a player of first person shooter games, I can easily say that I become much more focused and accurate (therefore better) at gaming after smoking. 9 times out of 10 this holds true. I’ve experimented with myself quite a bit to figure this out. Also, as soon as a drop of alcohol touches my tongue (liver) my gaming abilities and concentration goes right out the window.

      Same goes for some of my tasks at work that don’t rely on troubleshooting skills.

  3. Mujokan says:

    If your brain isn’t just naturally inclined toward the flow, though, there is the option of zapping it into line. This is called smoking weed then playing Burnout.

  4. Eli D says:

    Maggie – Sounds like one beer hits your Ballmer Peak http://xkcd.com/323/

  5. Jim Saul says:

    This wouldn’t be the case with billiards, but with darts, in addition to the effects of the alcohol, I suspect the counterweight of the beer in my off hand helps my throw. If I’m throwing poorly, it must mean that the beer is too light and I am in need of another.

    This chart neatly summarizes the sweet spot of skill/challenge for naturally achieved flow states in areas of expertise:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Challenge_vs_skill.svg

  6. atomly says:

    Very much like your billiards observation, I find a drink or two helps me infinitely when trying to speak a new foreign language.  When I first moved to Berlin, I knew no German but I immersed myself in the language and eventually got a pretty good grasp of it.  When out, though, I would have trouble in actual conversations… very often I knew the grammar and the vocabulary, but I doubted and second-guessed myself and end up stuttering my way through– or worse, just falling back to English– but if I had a few drinks, I relaxed, gained some self-confidence and suddenly was able to at least make a decent effort at it.

    Eventually I got to the point where I was competent enough to not need to relax, but it was an invaluable tool to get myself over that initial hump.  The ol’ social lubricant.

    • Jim Saul says:

      Along the lines of flow states and language learning, I had a lot of difficulty picking up even the basics of german in high school.

      The only exception was during very long sets at swim practice. It was an otherworldly experience in itself, often very early in the morning before school, seemingly endless laps in that cool blue world flowing along the black line on the bottom of the pool… I’d slip into an almost hypnogogic state and it was only then that I’d find my mind drifting into talking to myself in german, almost disassociated as if I was overhearing it, but with a clarity I was unable to approach above the surface.

      • Stab Jackson says:

        you are an active or kinesthetic learner, requiring physical movement to learn well and enter that healthy trance state.

        • Jim Saul says:

          Interesting possibility. I had thought of it as specific to that activity, but I also spend a lot of free time tinkering around with woodworking and photography while listening to highly technical lectures through the web, so you may well be right.

    • Diogenes says:

      I can speak many languages when I’m drinking.  Most of them must be dead languages though, because I’m the only who understands them.

  7. Ian Macdonald says:

    How long until Verner Vinge’s Deepness in the Sky?

  8. Guest says:

    “one beer is often just enough to allow me to stop over-thinking and just play the game …”

    Are you among…. The Inebriati.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Zj50DmBFp0

  9. LaPortaMA says:

    So many quote Han’s Selye’s description of Stress — referring to dis-stress  – and forget that he also described EU-Stress. Covey quotes it, too. 
    Patanjali the Grammarian called it Samadhi 2,600 years ago. (Pratyahara -> Dharana -> Dyana -> Samadhi.)   But that, my friends, you have to learn to work at — it’s calle discipline. 

    The process described in the article sure sounds like ECT. 

    Would anyone care to guess the side-effects or anticipate the imponderables? 

  10. Aaron Klayer says:

    Maggie, 

    You refer to being a little better at pool or darts after one or two beers. This is not because you are more relaxed and are no longer over-thinking the situation. This is because of an effect called state-dependent learning. 

    Simply put, you’ve learned the skills of pool and darts while in a state of mild alcoholic sedation. In order to recall upon your learned skills, your brain relies on the context in which the skills were acquired. Like after 1 or 2 beers. And since pool tables and dart boards are most frequently found in pubs, people are most likely to develop their skills in this state. This is why people always say that they are better at pool after one or two beers.

    • SquidgyB says:

      I’d say it’s probably a combination of the two – my (perceived) experience comes from video games, musical instruments, radio controlled *ahem* toys (helicopters in particular require very strong hand eye co-ordination skills), sex…

      A little bit of alcohol always seems to help – to “loosen up” the nerves and seems to make things happen a bit more intuitively. It’s easy to miss the Balmer curve and shoot straight into drunkenness, and in the case of some of the toys I play with that can be fun/dangerous.

      • Aaron Klayer says:

        Well I guess the way to determine this is to think of a skilled activity that is easy to measure that you’ve learned only while NOT imbibing. (There almost needs to be a double blind study to weed out the bias.) Then have a couple of beers and see if your skills improve.

        It may also be prudent to compare alcohol to a beta blocker that performers use to calm their nerves.

    • sincarne says:

      I don’t know that that is necessarily true. I play first-person shooters, generally at home and sober. When I would play socially at work after hours, and we’d have a beer, I’d go from terrible at death match to passable. This is a distinctly different state from the one in which I normally play, and in which I learned to play the genre.

    • ultranaut says:

       I learned to play pool sober and I play better after  a drink or three.

    • irksome says:

      Curious how this has turned an article about locking into the flow into a discussion on performance relative to levels of inebriation.

      Back in the days of real photography, I’d lock into shooting, developing and printing using the Zone System to the point where everything was intuitive and I could do no wrong. Every sheet of film was exactly what I’d wanted and the prints just flew out. Getting drunk or stoned was actually a barrier to that flow.

  11. thatsnotmyname says:

     It’s not “Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours”.  Anders Ericsson http://www.psy.fsu.edu/faculty/ericsson.dp.html put forth that idea and a lot of the evidence that supports it it.
    State dependent learning is one possibility for the one-beer effect.  Another is that the beer helps quiet what might be a kind of verbal overshadowing effect (thinking or talking about how to perform disrupts that performance in skilled performers).

  12. Jamie Kelly says:

    I’ve had the same experience with guitar playing: one or two drinks made me smoother, less self-conscious and able to follow others better than being sober. But there is a  SUPER thin margin

  13. digi_owl says:

    Reading this resulted in a drawing from the 1800-1900 flash before my eyes. I think it was os school children with metal caps on their head, with the idea that one could electrically transfer knowledge directly into their brains.

  14. thaum says:

    Insert obligatory Ballmer Peak reference here?

  15. Jordan Pez says:

    It’s the age old study of reflex.  The ability to act without thinking is why people train over and over so that their brains will be so used to an action that they will not have to consciously think about it, and since conscious thought is pretty slow, by avoiding it they will be able to do “it” faster.

    The flipside is that no (or minimal) thinking occurs during this time.  The brain can do no calculations and discover no large-step better ways to accomplish the task (which is where the consciuos brain excels).  It will just blindly do something over and over, making small imperceptible tweaks.

    Think of the evolution of nature (slow steady process of small changes per adaptation) vs human evolution (large leaps per thought, but with little mastery and incomplete understanding at each step).

    This is why the industrial revolution sent the human race so far forward, but did such damage to the earth.  We were unable to foresee the long term consequences of our actions because we had no experience with it.  Now that we have seen the results we are attempting to adapt our methods.

  16. slowtiger says:

    Creating under the influence is a long-time discussed but, to my knowledge, not really properly researched topic. Many authors, including Joyce, claimed to be able to get better access too “the place where words are stored”  when slightly drunk.

    I can only testify that 1 beer (or equivalent) indeed helps me to animate or draw looslier and mostly better. Since I lived strictly straight edge for my first 30 yrs of life, it’s not the alcoholic context while learning. Also I experience flow quite regularly in nearly everything I do.

  17. robdobbs says:

    There’s a book called Drawing on the Right side of the Brain, in it the author describes a technique for quieting that critical part of the brain – that little voice inside that says; “That doesn’t look like a nose.” etc. – that stops most people from thinking they can draw. Basically you can bore the left side of the brain into not speaking up, which allows one to slip into a state where you stop worrying about the quality of this or that, and just go with it. 

    Seems to me the difference between beer and herb is that while they may work, they wear off  (or not) and are not a natural state. The ideal would always be to get to that state without outside helpers or crutches. Meditation.

  18. robdobbs says:

    There’s a book called Drawing on the Right side of the Brain, in it the author describes a technique for quieting that critical part of the brain – that little voice inside that says; “That doesn’t look like a nose.” etc. – that stops most people from thinking they can draw. Basically you can bore the left side of the brain into not speaking up, which allows one to slip into a state where you stop worrying about the quality of this or that, and just go with it. 

    Seems to me the difference between beer and herb is that while they may work, they wear off  (or not) and are not a natural state. The ideal would always be to get to that state without outside helpers or crutches. Meditation.

  19. Stab Jackson says:

    alcohol is a vaso-dialator, it increase blood flow to the brain, blood carries oxygen or “chi” in chinese medical terms. increased circulation FEELS GOOD like a “runner’s high”.

  20. Roy Trumbull says:

    Brain speed in a conventional sense is really slow. Like a 110 baud teletype. Where it shines is in pattern matching and pattern recognition. There it’s lightning fast. That’s also where it can be fooled by optical illusions etc.. It can anticipate the next stimulus and produce an output in advance of it. It will take a train of slightly irregular beats and sense them as regular. It’s capable of some amazing shortcuts. A trained musician who’s well practiced doesn’t think about the next note. The pattern has become ingrained and automatic. To watch a pianist such as Horowitz play is little short of amazing.

  21. TheMudshark says:

    “I know Kung Fu.”

  22. Promethean Sky says:

    What I’m wondering is if/when this tech is coming to market. Hell, I’ll build one myself! Just tell my where to stick the electrodes and how big a hole I need to drill in my skull.

  23. KanedaJones says:

    What?  No two tents joke?

  24. Steve Holmes says:

    I subscribe to the two beer theory with guitar playing.  I’ve learned almost all my guitar playing fully sober, the basics and specific songs/riffs/solos.  I’ve found that in a band situation I do improve with one or two beers, I attribute it to being relaxed and less concerned with mistakes.  Past the two beers though it is a downward spiral.

  25. Can I get my brain zapped before I go to the BCA national pool tourney in Vegas this May?

  26. Really, who do I talk to about this? :)

  27. DewiMorgan says:

    Back when Doom just came out, I found that a few drinks made me considerably better at Doom. Too many made my frags drop, but I got my best frag rates when “lightly buzzed”. Seems to be a common theme.

    However, this was in university, so I was often playing with others in the same state: I found that the better they were when sober, the larger my increase in relative frags against them when buzzed. This could be context-sensitive learning I guess, but to me it seemed more like they were playing at their best possible game *anyway*, so got no real advantage from the alcohol: their play-styles didn’t change, while mine became more fluid and “snappy”: closer to theirs.

    Sadly, by trade I’m a programmer, not a gamer, and alcohol doesn’t help any with coding.

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