#034 | March 5th, 2020

Maker Mind

The mindful productivity newsletter

What is it like to be a bat?

Hello friends!

Yesterday was a special day—we had the very first Maker Mind meetup in London at my place, which was incidentally a bit of a housewarming party since I just moved in. Someone flew from Seattle just to be there—thanks, Alex!

We talked about metacognition, memories, making the most of books and why they sometime do a bad job when it comes to learning, and more. I predict several of my future articles will be based on these conversations. If you missed this one, stay tuned for the next ones, which won't all be in London.

This week, I attended two special lectures. One about the evolution of consciousness by Dr Derek Tracy, and one (which felt like a Hollywood production) titled Mind, Matter & Meaning by physicist Brian Green. I took notes for both but only had time to clean up the ones from Dr Tracy, which you will find below—it's fascinating stuff.

A topic which was particularly interesting in these lectures is the concept of "degrees of consciousness"—how do we measure how much more aware we are compared to other animals? Is there any reason to believe we are the smartest beings in the universe?

Finally, I just launched a new series of interviews where I ask highly creative people how they manage to do great things while taking care of their mental health. The first guest is Buster Benson, creator of the Cognitive Biases Codex, founder of 750 Words (don't miss the offer below!), and author of Why are we yelling? I had so much fun conducting this interview, I hope you'll enjoy the read.

P.S. Another topic that came up is how many of us don't enjoy book clubs—too restrictive/prescriptive. Instead of a virtual book club, I'm thinking of creating a virtual mental gym, similar to a regular gym but for your mind. Imagine a monthly theme, a collection of articles we can read and discuss, and reporting back on our IRL experiments. Please reply back if that's something you'd be interested in joining!

500,000 people use this tool to build a new habit: Writing. Every. Day. All online and private, it's been around for ten years, and offers stats to learn about how often you get distracted, and how fast you write. As a Maker Mind subscriber, you can enjoy 3 free months of 750 Words! Start building a writing habit »

Brain food

A round-up of my neuroscience-based articles about creativity and productivity.

001 // Beyond human consciousness

“What is it like to be a bat?” famously asked Thomas Nagel in 1974 in The Philosophical Review. It may sound like a silly question, but it has profound implications. We quite literally make sense of the world through our touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. Our sense of space in particular is governed in a way that is very different from a bat. Bats use echolocation, a phenomenon we understand very well in theory, but can’t really imagine. What is it like indeed? By asking this question, Nagel asks forces us to make the distinction between subjective and objective concepts, between the outside world and our inside world, between our perception and reality. Asking what it’s like to be a bat is wondering about the nature of consciousness.

It is one of my long-term ambitions to write a much longer essay about what scientists call “the hard problem of consciousness” but for now I would like to explore a tangential concept, which I discovered through Dr Derek Tracy, a senior lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience of King’s College London.

Read more

002 // Embracing the discomfort of self-reflection

"Discomfort is key to our growth when it comes to writing. Reframe discomfort as play-testing a new writerly persona, and go overboard with it. Don’t think of it as a habit you’re trying to start—we often think of habits as things we do automatically without thinking. Writing is the opposite of that: it’s the repeated re-entry into the discomfort of self-reflection, self-doubt, and self-transformation. It’ll never feel like a thing you can do without thinking, or automatically. But it might eventually feel like a home that you can return to and find yourself in, listen to yourself in, and slowly learn to accept yourself within in new ways as you change day-to-day, year-to-year, decade-to-decade. 

Also, even though writing is a pretty solitary pursuit, joining a community of other people on solitary pursuits can help get through the inevitable low motivation and low ability spots without giving up. Find others who are similarly stuck and support each other."

Read more

003 // The evolution of consciousness

These are raw notes from a lecture Dr Derek Tracy gave at UCL on March 2nd 2020. Dr Derek Tracy is a psychiatrist and clinical director at Oxleas NHS and Bexley Care, as well as a senior lecturer in the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London, and at UCL’s division of psychiatry. The notes do not fully capture neither the content nor the amazing storytelling of the lecture itself, but covers some of the key points. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a lecture by Dr Derek Tracy, don’t miss it.

"The prefrontal cortex is the most exquisite part of what makes you human. It’s the part that makes you, you. Everything ancient—brain stem, hypothalamus, limbic system—the prefrontal cortex can overcome. It’s the executive you. Not all mammals are created equal e.g. a dog has a roaring limbic system, and a very thin prefrontal cortex.

Here is an experiment to try with someone (who trusts you and will forgive you) if you want to see the limbic system in action. If you slap someone in the face, you will immediately see their limbic system flare up. Anger, disappointment, etc. Just tell them: 'I invoke your prefrontal cortex!'

Side note: the phrase 'calm down' is entirely antagonistic. It has never calmed anyone down."

Read more

Brain candy

Didn't get enough? Even more goodness from around the web.
The Maze — a painting produced by Canadian artist William Kurelek while a patient at Maudsley Hospital in London. Kurelek was suffering from psychosis...
6th order of mentalisation?

Until next week... Take care!

Founder, Ness Labs.

P.S. If you liked this, please forward it to a friend! It would mean a lot to me. Were you forwarded this email? You can subscribe to the newsletter or explore the past editions.
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