Two Questions Every Genius Always Asks

First of all, there are no geniuses. There are only people who seek out better ways to do things and apply what they know, and then there are the rest of the humans.

With that said, I’ve noticed that every ‘genius’ I’ve come across are armed with two stupidly simply questions:

1. How is this like something I already know?

Past experiences are the ultimate asset when trying to learn something new. It’s how polyglots generally struggle with their first couple languages and then landslide right into learning 20 like this kid did in just four years. Arguably for other reasons as well, It’s also why entrepreneurs like Richard Branson or Tony Robbins repeat the saying “making the first million is the hardest.”

I personally struggled grasping compute science concepts like queues and polymorphism until I began relating them to “the Real World”.

Queues are fancy “British” for lines, like the one at the grocery store when there is a trainee doing an item check on produce for the first time. It’s horrible, more people are entering the line than there are leaving it, and we all have to endure my biggest pet peeve… waiting.

Polymorphism is a fancy term for using the same word for many actions. I gave it a lot of thought beforehand and ended up totally nailing it in an interview.

Prompt: ” Can you please describe what Polymorphism is?”

Answer: “Let’s just look at the word ‘open’. If I ‘open’, that door I will turn the knob and pull. If asked to ‘open’ my mind, I’ll read literature and books. To ‘open’ a woman’s heart, I’ll recite poetry and tell her I love her.”

The interviewer was very impressed. We talked for over an hour after that.

Leveraging past experiences is what allows rapid learning and solidifies long term recall. Also helps you kick butt in interviews.

2. What’s different?

When facing similarities, finding differences is what sets geniuses apart from the common folk. It’s what allows them to quickly pivot into getting the results they want.

Whenever a colleague, rival, or model is getting different results from me, I always make sure to prompt my mind with questions like:

  • What am I doing differently?
  • What’s different here?
  • What more (or less) can I do to get the same result?

Priming the mind to discover differences is not only key to getting the result you want, keeps you engaged in for longer periods of time. It’s how Mortimer Adler recommends you take books apart to fully digest their material.

I find that when I hit a dead end, asking myself these questions brings back a second wind. I’m able to bring back a sense of newness, freshness, and adventure into daily routines. It’s what the rejuvenates my mind and transforms the mundane back into a mini adventures through a child’s eyes.

Failing to do so often leads to painful and/or hilarious situations.

4 Tips on Overriding Your Hippocampus

There is a part of your brain, the hippocampus, that plays as a gatekeeper keeping short term memories from entering your long term memory. It also does other things, but for now it’s just a gatekeeper.

I find illustrations of the hippocampus not very helpful (A.K.A. BORING) and instead imagine a hippo in Roman gladiator battle gear slaying an endless oncoming barrage of useless memories. He’s a champion in my mental Colosseum and his name is Hippopotamus Campus.

If you can imagine Hippopotamus Campus, then good. The following will be helpful. If your mind rejects Hippopotamus Campus, then good. Your hippocampus is working and Hippopotamus Campus is winning.

Whether you’re into my mental imagination or not is irrelevant. With the right tools and technique, you can make your mind into a beastly trap that dwarfs even the legendary poke’mon master ball.

Tips and Tricks

Storing things into long term memory is easy. And as I mentioned in my long term memory article, it’s safe to assume you’re not going to run out of mental disk space anytime soon. So don’t hold back, and go all out:

1. Be interested

Being interested arms the information in your short term memory with a sense of importance. Memories such as near death experiences, or romantic first kisses have a tendency to stick in your head.

If you don’t care, your chances of remembering are as bad as remembering where the attendant crew was pointing to while wearing a silly yellow rubber duck floating device.  (Virgin America got it down right with their music video.)

2. Use your senses

The more vivid you can make something appear in your imagination, the more likely it’s going to pass through the gatekeeper.

Leveraging the strength of visual and spacial parts of your brain are key if you want it to stick. Try to make the best mental movie you can of what you’re trying to remember. With enough cues, you should be able to reproduce the movie back into it’s original form.

3. Ask a genius question

Use one of the two questions every genius always asks. “How is this like something I already know?” Not only does it allow you to rapidly understand something new by finding likeness, but also it attaches a new memory to an already existing one en-strengthening both of them.

4. Person Action Object

The Person Action Object technique are used by Memory Champions in the Memory Olympics (yes, it’s real. No, they’re not all geeks. Some of the are body builders and mountain climbers.).

It uses the power of chunking by taking a person, and object, and an action and combining them into one memory.

Elon Musk eating a Spaceship.
Steve Jobs stomping on the apple watch

These things tend to stick in our heads. The more bizarre, the better.
Applying this technique can allows champions to to remember anything from a shuffled deck of card in a couple of minutes (the world record is under 21.90 seconds), to an auditorium of hundreds of audiences names and faces.

Needless to say, these tools can all be applied in everyday life and make you seem like you’re on Nootropics

Short Term Memory

We are constantly being bombarded by an plethora of ephemeral sensations from moment to moment. By deciphering these overwhelming hints we’re able to make sense of our ‘real world’.

Having to store every minuscule detail of our lives being shoved through all our senses (current temperature, pain [or lack of], colors, smells, orientation, speed of movement,  pressure of air against my skin, and much much more) would not end well.

Fortunately, we can only store a limited amount of information in our short term memory and we have a gatekeeper, the hippocampus (in Ali’s World, he is a Roman gladiator named Hippopotamus Campus), [to attempt] to keep nonsense information passing through into our long term memory.

Here’s how things work:

Rules of the Short Term Memory Game

  • Short term memories don’t last forever

Your short term memories are rapidly decaying. You’re already forgotten 99% of the previous moment you were in. You’ve probably forgotten most of what I’ve said since you started reading this post.

The truth is, your short term memories are going to last anywhere from a couple of seconds to up to a minute (if you train really, really hard).

Basically you’ve got 10-15 seconds to find a way to store information you want before Roman gladiator Hippopotamus Campus slays your thoughts and throws them into the eternal abyss.

  • Short term memories can be preserved

Two ways you can keep your short term memories around longer than a couple of seconds are rehearsing and chunking.

Rehearsing: Just think about it. Literally. Rehearsing new information for the first time gives that memory another 10-20 seconds to linger around. When someone tells you their name, at least repeat it mentally. Psychologists are finding that what you vocalize, or even sub-vocalize, reinforces memories and keeps them around much longer.

Chunking: We do this one all the time. For illustration,  let’s make up a phone number. Let’s try 800-PIE-SURF or 800-743-7873. By combining a string of numbers into 3 chunks, we end up only use up 3/7 of our short term memory slots while being able to recall all 10 digits (beyond our normal short term memory capacity). Maintaining three chunks for a period of time is much easier than seven, let the whole ten string of ten digits.

You can either remember 800, 743, 7873 and prolong your memory for a few mere seconds. Or, if you’d like the memory to defeat Roman gladiator Hippopotamus Campus and land into your long term memory, you could create a visual episode in your mind. Try imagining a delicious slice of pie surfing on a giant phone with an 800 number, “800-PIE-SURF”.

  • Mental capacity of 7 plus or minus 2

George Miller, one of the founders of cognitive psychology, found that humans can remember 5-9 pieces of information at any given moment. I find Miller’s Law of reflecting all over our world. Our world filled with evidence that on average, we can only remember 7 pieces of information at once.

That must be why texas hold ’em requires 5 card poker hands to be made out of 7 available cards. Or in scrabble, we use up to 7 tiles to make words with.

Seven colors of the rainbow, (arguably) seven continents and seven seas. I suppose if there was an eight, it was either forgotten or chunked so that we could easily remember seven things again. It’s not that seven is magical in any way, rather a mere sign of the limit of our teeny mammalian brains to process and understand things before we quickly forget them.

Long Term Memory

Capacity of Long Term Memory

Scientists say that our brain can hold up to 100 billion neurons. If we compare the human brain to a computer, scientists speculate the storage limitation is between 1 terabyte to 2.5 petabytes.

KB 1,000 bytes
MB 1,000,000 bytes
GB 1,000,000,000 bytes
TB 1,000,000,000,000 bytes
PB 1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes

But those are just numbers. What do they even mean?

One petabyte can store roughly, 13 years of HDTV content. Or as gizmodo says, 58,292 movies. In 2013, Google’s entire satellite mapping and 3-d viewing is 20 petabytes. The truth is, no one really knows the exact limits of a healthy fully developed human brain, and that scientists will agree that we won’t be running out of memory in one lifetime.

Life Span of Long Term Memory

Unfortunately, not all long term memories are created equal. A long term memory’s life span can range from a few days to decades. It all depends on how strong the memory was when it was created (how many hooks, cues, and other memories are attached to it), how many times it’s been traversed over (how many times it’s been revisited), and whether it’s been attached to newer memories. So whether or not you remember something ‘forever’, or until you die, is up to how you maintain your memories.

Leveraging Long Term Memory as a Tool

One of the two ‘super-tools‘ I’ve noticed the fastest learners of our time use is the question, “How is this something like I already know?”. It jogs their existing long term memory, making the new information easy to digest and store, and merges the two memories (new and old) together for quick access and better long term storage..

I highly recommend use it anytime you learn something new and leverage the power of existing long term memories.

Types of Long Term Memory

Long term memory can be broken down into Procedural Memory and Declarative Memory.

Procedural memory is remembering how to do things. Ride a bike, brush your teeth, drive a car, etc. Anytime you acquire a skill, it’s being stored in your long term procedural memory.

Declarative Memory, sometimes known as explicit memory,  is when you remember what something is. It can be either semantic or episodic.

  • Semantic memory is information stored about the world. Names of countries in the world, names of celebrities or people in your life, what your gender is, etc.
  • Episodic memory is remembering something that happened in the past. It is where all of our memories about our past experiences and life events are stored. Typically when you hear someone say, “remember the time when…” they are accessing their long-term episodic memory.

Typically, when someone gets amnesia, they’re declarative memory is damaged but their procedural memory remains more or less intact. For example, in retrograde amnesia, people are unable to recall the past, but their skills set is roughly unaffected.  Similarly, in anterograde amnesia, the person is no longer able to store declarative memories, but their procedural memory is once again roughly unaffected.

 

 

Mind Map Rules

Although the two look similar, mind mapping is not brainstorming.

Brainstorming is technique used to creatively generate ideas to solve a problem.

Mind maps leverage this approach but do so with more deliberately to aid studying, problem solving, decision making, project planning,  writing, and presentation preparation.

Mind Map Rules: 

  1. Start with a central idea.
  2. Branch line segments away from the central idea with one word/image per line
  3. USE CAPS
  4. Use colors to facilitate grouping of ideas.
  5. Find your own style
  6. Apply it

Bending the Rules

I’ve found that depending on your overall goal, all of the rules regarding mind maps are bendable.

  • Central Idea: Sometimes it’s hard to see the central idea at first, and I’ve had times where I derived a central idea in the middle of creating the map. Although usually my response is “whoops, I could have done this a lot better”, there have been times where I ended up learning that I was creating a mind map about how to two central functions were interacting and overlapping with each other.
  • Branching outwards: Branching: I’ve found that occasionally it’s easier and ‘funner’ to make one long sequence of segments to tell a story to my mind.
  • USE CAPS: This is one rule I don’t bend anymore. I think caps work best, knowing that all letters will appear only one way takes a lot of strain off the mind creating and remembering the maps and opens you up to more dimensions of thinking. (And I find caps easier/quicker to read than lowercase)
  • Using Colors!!!: I find black and white just as good and colors, so long as I actively use my imagination and grouping skills to separate concepts and ideas.
  • Find your own style: This is the rule that yells to me, “There are no rules! (Do what you want!).
  • Apply it! Next time you’re having a family intervention,  planning out your next hot date, or just trying to figure out the meaning of life, go ahead an apply mind maps. I would encourage you to go ahead and use it throughout the day at every opportunity to really train your mind to rapidly come up with solutions or break down a large problem non-linearly.

 

Becoming a Super Learner

Recently I’ve been taking a course on udemy.com called “Becoming a Super Learner”. Initially, I was reluctant to even look at the course. I kept ignoring the course for a long time, despite how many times it kept popping up in my face on that site. I finally ended up taking it based on the number of students enrolled and their feedback and their promise of me being able to process and retain large amounts of information.

Although I’m just over 30% finished with the course and have only gone over the basics/fundamentals, I’ve already noticed my reading comprehension and reading speed increase. Also, by following their exercises whenever possible, I’m able to remember large chunks of information and memories about the past are noticeably becoming more vivid lately.

I’m more active as a reader creating as visual mental markers as possible. Reading is a lot more engaging and fun, and I can’t wait to read more to build up my mental image vocabulary and inch closer to speed reading (at least 800 WPM) with full comprehension.

Mind Maps for Super Human Learning

I recently came across a book called “Use Both Sides of Your Brain” by Tony Buzan and decided to give it a read. Like the title says, I was really able to take advantage of the strengths of both sides of my brain.

Both Sides Brain Book and Mind Map Book

Use Both Sides Brain Book and Mind Map Book

Both books are about making ‘mind maps’, in summary a visual web of ideas. The rules are pretty simple: one central idea in the center. They recommend a visual picture / drawing of a central idea and drawing protruding branches. It’s supposed to be one word per branch, but I prefer using one idea/thought per branch.

The idea is that linearly approaches are the least creative ones and that the mind works non-linearly. For example, you may be working on one topic when suddenly you have a flood of brilliant ideas that are unrelated to the current topic.

People are much better at remembering things they’ve seen before and places they’ve been in before and describing them fairly accurately in comparison to abstract ideas or a linear list (such as a grocery list or a list of words in alphabetical order). This tool leverages our spacial and visual memory and allows us to connect words visually in a way that makes most sense to the individual making the map.

I’ve been using these maps to learn large amounts of vocabulary and being able to review and retain them quickly and easily.

Learning Chinese
Learning Chinese

These maps assist not only with learning new concepts and vocabulary but also getting a clearer idea when making complicated life decisions that have many pros and cons to consider.

Git Overview
Learning Git Summary

Although it requires a few extra minutes of jotting down ideas into a visual map, it’s a really great tool if you want to unleash the power of your mind.

Needless to say, I’ve been relentless on applying the technique at every opportunity. I decided to take on learning multiple languages, plotting out what I want to do with my life, planning a curriculum for an online class, and rapidly understanding new technologies such as GIT Version Control.

Python Code – Guessing Game

The asset of creating.
I want to pass it on.
I want to pass it forward.
To create something from nothing.

Lately I’ve been trying to get my cousins to learn how to program. They’re in their late teens and deciding where they want to take their lives. Regardless of where they go and what field they end up studying, having the ability to create tools as you need them is an indispensable asset.

Games are really fun, and I think it’s a great place to start challenging oneself.

I’ve started with a number guessing game where the computer picks a number between 1 and 10 and the player has to guess what it is.

They haven’t learned functions yet, but they’re beginning to learn how to apply if-then logic and flow data in and out of loops.

You can find the code below.
Next on the agenda is “Rock, Paper, Scissors!”

Toodles,

#!/usr/bin/python
import random

guess = 0
count = 0
secret = random.randint(1,10)

while( guess != secret):
print ‘Select a number between 1 and 10: ‘
guess = raw_input()
count += 1

if (int(guess) == secret):
print ‘correct’
break;
else:

print ‘the correct answer is: ‘ + str(secret) + ‘\n you selected: ‘ + str(guess)
#        print ‘You (incorrectly) guessed ‘ + str(guess) + ‘ please try again’

print ‘only took you ‘ + str(count) + ‘ guesses’

 

Raspberry Pi 2 Model B and Ostriches

I recently came across a micro computer with a nifty name and decided to invest in it. I thought I was the coolest guy in town and started gloating about it. I even tried joking around with my dad.

“Hey, dad guess what I bought… a ‘Raspberry Pi’!!!”.
I snickered away, thinking he’d assume it’s a delicious pie.

He responded with “Oh that’s neat, I think I saw someone fly one and run face recognition software on it at a big data conference a few years ago.”

I felt like a total ostrich having my head in the ground for months. How could have I not come across something so amazing.

It’s called the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B and apparently has been out in the market for years. Everyone I turned to had seemed to not only have heard of it but also heard of awesome projects made with them.

I ended up buying it because I wanted to do some mad scientist projects using the voice recognition open source project called Jasper.

Currently, I’m using my Pi Right now I’m using it to sharped my networking skills and teach my cousins how to program. So far we’ve made a number guessing game on the python. I want them to learn how to make a rock paper scissors game and some more fun and simple games.

It’s really exciting making something from nothing. It’s quite powerful for something that runs near 50 bucks. Definitely a something to invest in if you want to try out some projects or gain a new skill.

Here’s some hardware specs on it:

  • 900MHz Quad Core CPU
  • 1GB Ram
  • 4 USB Ports
  • 40 GPIO Pins
  • HDMI Port
  • Ethernet Port
  • audio jack
  • Camera Interface
  • Display Interface
  • Micro SD card slot