Mind Performance Hacks

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While I’ve been away, I’ve been reading Mind Performance Hacks by Ron Hale-Evans. (Full disclosure: There are a couple of Mind Hacks pieces in the book, so O’Reilly sent me a free copy.) What follows are some brief thoughts, so if you already know about the book then skip to the end of the post for the interesting bit.

MPH is O’Reilly’s second foray into the cognitive world, and focuses on strategies in high-level areas like memory, creativity and self-analysis. I especially enjoyed the the maths chapter, which includes topics like how to count to a million on your fingers (I’ve tried dactylonomy before) and how to estimate square roots in your head. The approach does mean that, for some of the hacks, there’s little room for the kind of explanation I usually look for, and I do admit to feeling sceptical when reading about a creativity technique from Edward de Bono or a mnemonic structure for figuring out your own emotional responses. Personally, I find some hacks like these are based on world-views that I find difficult to swallow whole–I don’t know whether independent assessments of the techniques exist, but if they do then I’d like to hear more about them. Happily, since the book is based on the Mentat Wiki (that’s the book’s support page), which is constantly growing, it’s quite likely that this kind of information will appear there in the future.

Our own Vaughan Bell and Tom Stafford have original hacks in MPH too, on sleep and nutrition. I’d forgotten they were making an appearance, for some reason, and it was a pleasant surprise to run across the familiar names and always-informative articles.

For me, the highlights were the ideas I’d run across but not chased down, and these had me reaching for my notebook. There’s discussion and much linking on artificial languages, constrained writing and board games, among much more. From this perspective, the entire book is a creativity machine. I can use it as a series of provocations, and that’s always good to have on the shelf. (And, as a last thought, I half-suspect that the fact the title abbreviates to MPH (for miles-per-hour) is not an accident. Hale-Evans comes across as an author with exactly this kind of intertwingled sense of humour.)

(Update: Ron points out, in the comments, that there are MPH sample hacks online (as PDFs). Do have a read.)

Free books!

As you’ll know, mindhacks.com isn’t an O’Reilly site. It was started to support the Mind Hacks book, that’s true, but since then it’s taken on a life of its own, thanks to our blog authors.

We do, however, have enough of a connection to wangle free copies of Mind Performance Hacks. More than that, we have enough free books to give away 2 copies a week for the next 4 weeks.

So: If you’d like a chance of a free copy of Mind Performance Hacks, send one email to freemph at mindhacks dot com. Next Sunday evening, UK time, I’ll choose 2 emails randomly and, if you’re a winner, I’ll be in touch to get your address. Please include your name in the email; if my email to you bounces I’ll choose a different one; cheaters will be excluded; organiser’s decision is final; void where prohibited; etc.

Next Monday, I’ll delete all the emails received so far and we’ll have another draw. Not bad eh?

Good luck!

(Update: I thought I’d better confirm that you don’t have to be in the UK to enter – anywhere in the world is fine – and I’m the only person who will see your email address (except if you win, obviously. All other emails will be deleted at the end of the draw).)

3 Comments

  1. Posted March 14, 2006 at 1:22 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the swell mention, Matt! It’s true: MPH is not as academically oriented as its predecessor MH, nor does it try to be. It focuses on providing practical techniques for improving mental performance, while MH is more oriented toward theoretical knowledge. That’s why we hoped the two books would work well together. Here’s a case to illustrate the difference. Scott Hagwood, the U.S. Grandmaster of Memory, was able to max out an electronic Simon game, memorising 31 long sequences of sound and colour by using the technique we describe in Hack #4. Is there good evidence it works? Yes, memory championships are pretty rigorous. Is the evidence scientifically established? Not really, but you don’t disqualify someone’s high-jump record in the Olympics because there was no control group, it wasn’t double-blind, and so on. You might say the athlete took MH-style knowledge about physiology and created MPH-style athletic training techniques. Further, there’s no parapsychology in Mind Performance Hacks; we’re not making “extraordinary claims” in the usual sense of that phrase, but describing enhancement of capacities people already have, such as mental math and making decisions. Also, some of the techniques in MPH are too new to have been tested; for example, when I developed the Hotel Dominic (Hacks #7 & 8), I commented on the wiki that I wished someone would test it experimentally. Someday… As for the emotional technique you mentioned (Hack #57?), it comes straight out of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, which is one of the only forms of “talk therapy” to be shown effective experimentally. But more of this on the wiki, where, yes, we will continue to document research on the hacks in the book. Thanks again. Ron H-E (P.S. to other readers: Hack #57 and others are available at http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/mindperfhks/)

  2. Posted March 14, 2006 at 1:43 am | Permalink

    Ron, thanks for adding this!
    Something I meant to say is that I don’t doubt the techniques work–for one thing, they’ve been filtered and revised by many people over the years or they wouldn’t have made it into your book. I guess the kind of explanation I’m after (and this is just me here; I think this is too personal an opinion to be taken as anything like a review or critique) is not tests to see whether the effect is present, but the kind that finds limits, expresses the results in terms of other models, etc. But I felt this for only for a minority of the hacks, and for most of these it isn’t possible yet (as you mention).
    I hope I didn’t say anything about parapsychology!
    Lastly, thanks for linking to the sample hacks. I’ll add that to the post. And I still want to know whether the MPH abbreviation is deliberate :)

  3. Posted March 14, 2006 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Matt!
    So it wasn’t evidence you were looking for so much as explanation and a general theoretical framework. Fair enough.
    As for the Mind Performance Hacks / miles-per-hour coincidence, it wasn’t deliberate, but it does amuse me, and I use it for (what else?) mnemonic purposes whenever I cite the book to someone.


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