Degrading mental performance

My brain has two modes: dormant every-day-life mode, and another mode that I can only describe as 'fired-up' mode. When in fired-up mode I can instantly recall the tiniest detail of a conversation I had months ago, I'll remember the most obscure details of whatever bit of source code I have ever worked on in the past and I can recall exactly how I felt at any key moment in my past life. Triggering the fired-up mode usually happens at work when I have to talk in real-time about a bit of code, forcing me to recall stuff on-the-fly, or when I turn the music up just that little bit louder when starting on a challenging new task. In fired-up mode I remember the edge cases, I don't make off-by-one errors and my code just works. In dormant mode I produce bugs.

In every day life I am having more and more trouble getting myself into fired-up mode. In dormant mode I cannot remember people's faces or events, even if they were in the recent past. In dormant mode I always forget my glass at the kitchen counter right after pouring a drink into it. In dormant mode I piss off my girlfriend by not recalling something that, by all rights, I really should have remembered. It's also very troubling to concentrate on tasks that I have to focus on without doing anything else, such as writing blogposts or organizing my last trip's photos.

This has been getting worse. My brain is letting me down more and more. Sometimes, when I have trouble concentrating, I do a zen mind reset and after a couple of minutes I get on with the task at hand. I've had these moments before in the past, but they're getting worse, and recovery time is getting longer. And to be honest, extrapolating my current situation towards the future scares the shit out of me. I can see myself in twenty years always being stuck in dormant mode, not able to recall the things that make me who I am.

So I've been looking for ways that I can 'fix' myself. Something that was sort-of-trending on Hacker news lately is tdcs. Basically you zap your brain with a low-voltage electric current and it helps you remember things better (amongst many other beneficial side effects). Research is still in early stages but given the simplicity of the technique and components used, intelligent people are trying it at home. I debated calling these people 'smart people' in this post, but considering that research on this topic is relatively new and the technique is far from being officially approved for home use, I daresay that we cannot use the word 'smart' just yet.

Another technique to improve brain performance is apparently well known amongst university students: medication. The ADD/ADHD drugs are of particular interest to academics because it helps you stay focused on a task for extended periods of time without getting sleepy or distracted. The most famous of these drugs is one I forgot the name of (thank you, brain...) but one of its major drawbacks is that it limits your ability to think creatively and the 'hangover' time after it wears off is not very pleasant. There's also modafinil, which apparently has a similar effect as caffeine but without the nervousness that accompanies it. It's currently being used on people with sleeping disorders and is unfortunately prescription-only. And of course there's lots of ways to expand your mind in a creative way, but then you quickly run into legality issues.

I haven't tried any of the methods mentioned in this blogpost, but I'm eager to try. If I do, I'll be sure to report it here. Until then, those who know me will just have to put up with me when my mind is in dormant mode and try to give me some mental jolts to kick me out of it.

(This blogpost was typed right after I came out of the shower. That always gets my creative juices flowing..)


Posted in Thoughts