Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Brain That Changes Itself – Norman Doidge: Review

This book is one of the best introductions to the concept of brain plasticity possible.

There are a couple main concepts:
a) The brain and its constituent pieces, though genetically programmed to do certain things, are incredibly good at rewiring themselves to take over other functions from regions nearby that have been damaged for one reason or another.
b) Neurons that fire together, wire together. Each circuit has stimuli that can trigger it to fire. And if both circuits receive these stimuli at the same time and then fire at the same time, both circuits will eventually fire when just one of the original circuits receives its stimulus.
c) That every time a neural circuit fires, it is progressively (albeit slowly) easier for that circuitry to fire. That what happens when you learn something new. At first it’s hard. Then it gets progressively easier. It’s all just neural connections strengthening in the brain. But even cooler is that the opposite is true. If circuitry is NOT allowed to fire, it’s connections wither with time.

And these are the ways in which the brain can change. Or more importantly how YOU can force your brain to change. And that’s the more interesting piece of this whole thing. Over time, with consistency, you have the power to change the circuitry of your mind.

Sidenote: He gets into some explanations of weird-ass shit. Like the reason people have foot fetishes is because the foot is wired into everyone’s brain right beside the genitals, so sometimes there’s cross-over, haha.


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A Stroke of Insight – Jill Bolte Taylor: Review

Fantastic read. I recommend it to anyone who has ever enjoyed anything about which I’ve written here.

Basically, it’s a neuroscientist who describes what her own stroke was like. It turns off the part of her brain that deals with recalling the past and envisioning future events. This means that all she can do is experience the present. And she articulates it beautifully well. She asks you to imagine if, for a moment, you lost all your past baggage and ceased thinking about future possible events. How amazing and ‘releasing’ would that feel?



There are two paths you can take after reading this depending on your area of interest:
1. I recommend reading this book and then reading Practicing the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Jill’s book will show you how powerful being just in the ‘now’ is while Tolle’s book gets into the more nitty gritty of it from a philosophical point. However, his book Practicing the Power of Now is much shorter and digestible than the large The Power of Now.

2. She also talks about her recovery and the plastiticity of her brain which allows her to heal and regain functions. If you’re interested by this, you could also go down the brain plasticity path and read things like The Brain that Changes Itself. I’ll be reviewing that soon too. 

Full disclosure: read this book about 3 years ago.

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The Honest Truth About Dishonesty – Dan Ariely: Review

Great read. Not life changing but certainly some awesome tid bits. With all the counter-traditional intelligence emerging via behavioural economics, knowledge and understanding of this calibre has almost come to be expected. And of a guy like Dan, almost certainly expected.

Of all the finer points about how we cheat and in what situations the average person cheats most, there is an overarching theory that replaces the previous doctrine. Cheating was previously viewed as a cost-benefit analysis between the probability of getting caught and the reward at hand.
However, the case is made (using very compelling and smart experiments) that humans do not cheat in this manner at all but that the vast majority of us cheat as much as we can (no matter how unlikely it is that we will be caught)  so long as we can say to ourselves that we are honest people.

So, this means that the same person will cheat more under different sets of conditions. And these conditions don’t have much to do with probabilities around getting caught, but more-so around having ‘excuses’ for why one may or may not cheat and to what extent. Am I stealing? Or do I believe that person or that organization owes me something? Am I cheating for me? Or my friends? Or how about my less fortunate friends? It’s all a matter of what we see in the mirror at the end of the day.

I personally think it’s compelling work because it scratches the surface, at an interesting angle, of how humans never really know what’s going on in their subconscious which leads to blurriness as to the true nature of our decisions.

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Random theory, finance and their entrepreneurial implications

If you’ve ever read any books on random theory by itself or with respect to finance as Nassim Taleb so eloquently writes, skip the next paragraph.

The basic premise is that humans are amazing at picking out patterns in data sets. We are animals that gain via pattern recognition but we very often err on the side of thinking we’re identifying a pattern when it’s really just random. The financial side of this is often explained by a wonderful example of monkeys throwing darts at dart boards. If you take all the traders in NYC who have just had an awesome year, their previous year’s amazing results will not predict their next years earnings in any statistically significant fashion. It’s like you took a thousand monkeys and made them throw darts at a dart board; many of them, simply by random chance, will score MUCH better than others and even after a few years there might be a few monkeys who have, by random chance, scored well in all the years running. Welcome to the financial industry. With everyone taking all the available information so well into account, the returns have been whittled down to monkeys throwing darts.

If markets are liquid and all information is taken into account in the price of assets as traditional financial theory maintains, than the only way to consistently make money is by having an unfair informational advantage. Otherwise you’re just a monkey playing the roulette wheel. Well the same goes for entrepreneurial ventures. A business idea and its inherent risk shares many of the same characteristics as assets priced in the market place. You CAN’T know which will prevail and which won’t. If that information were obvious, someone would have capitalized on the asset or idea already (this is done by buying the asset until the price increases to more adequately reflects it’s true value or by starting the business if it’s an idea).

So what do you do about this as an entrepreneur. Well it means you need to have the most swings at the ball as possible. Though you do need to ACT like you believe your idea is 100% the next big thing to get buy-in and inspire your followers, you need to set up your finances and life in a very different manner. You need to set up your life so you can have the most chances to knock one out of the park. Not because you’re stupid and have bad ideas, but because if an idea was obviously perfectly good, someone would have tried it already. You can’t know a-priori if your idea will win. It’s inherently risky.

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