Accustomed to this world

“Everyone has grown accustomed to this world” says Asuna in Sword Art Online. Ain’t that the truth.

The closer we come to the end of our life in this world, the more accustomed we are to it.

Philosophy and religion occur in the strangest places. This season unveils the anime Sword Art Online, a story with a rather dark beginning. In 2022, ten thousand people have signed up for the new online role playing game “Sword Art Online”, which is the first that uses a brain scanning helmet to fully control the in-game character by using the same type of signals used to control one’s real body. Unfortunately for them, the creator of the game is a madman who has coded the game interface to electrocute them in real life if they die in the game. Also, you can’t log out.

The story is moderately interesting, but the premise struck me as being a kind of metaphor for materialism. It is this way with most people, after all: We think, at some level at least, that if we die in this world, everything ends. Although various religions claim this is not the case, we habitually act on the assumption that death is the end of all things

However, Sword Art Online is not entirely without hope. There is a giant tower of supposedly 100 levels, each progressively harder than the one below it. If the inhabitants of the game manage to clear them all, they will supposedly be free. Unfortunately, nobody knows for sure whether this is the case until it is done, just like nobody knows for sure whether they will really die in real life if they die in the game. They only have the word of the game creator for it. And so, people are hesitant to risk their hide to help clear the higher levels. After all, they have a life of sorts in the virtual world. After a while, they have gotten used to it, and have carved out their niche in this world.


In my Master of Magic fiction story resumed from 2008, the main character is a 18 year old boy from our world (or one indistinguishable from ours). He is drowning after driving into the sea, when his soul is pulled into a body in the magical world of Arcanus during an attempted resurrection of a young boy there. Probably. Or he may be in a coma in the hospital and imagining it all. He is somewhat undecided at first. But after seeing magic used first hand, he realizes that it is similar to programming, something he is very skilled at. It may take a lot of time and unreasonable effort, but he has decided to learn magic until he can figure out how it works, the very nature of the world he is trapped in. He intends to bypass the operating system of the world, writing his code directly into its registers, to slip through the laws that holds him in this world and ascend to the real world.


I think it is a very fascinating concept. But in my own life, I am not actually making this great effort to clear the enemies in my own nature, or to understand the laws of the mind that keep me trapped. It is more like a hobby, really. It would be nice to think that some outward event, some circumstance, would convince me if it is really possible to survive death. But I don’t think such a circumstance would actually make the big difference I imagine. After all, it was Jesus Christ who once said: “If they don’t believe Moses and the prophets, they won’t believe if someone rises from the dead.” History kind of proves him right on that, doesn’t it?

It is a disturbing observation that the closer we come to the end of our life in this temporary world, the more accustomed we have become to it. And in the end, we only have stories from long ago that there is a way out, that the end of this life may not necessarily be the end of everything. Everything pales in comparison to that – in theory. In practice, even the smallest coin at arm’s length will completely block the sun.

Life and death and Go

 “I can learn how to control my emotions!?” Judging from your expression of shock and disbelief, I’d say you still have a way to go! But yeah, it is considered one of the virtues of Go, the ancient Oriental board game.

Should I study the life and death of stones or humans? Both?

No, not yet my death or even anyone in my family, although I am sure we are not immortal yet. Rather, I have finished re-watching the inspirational anime Hikaru no Go, about a young boy and an old ghost stirring up the world of Go (or igo, as it is commonly called in Japan), the ancient board game which holds an even greater reputation than chess in Japan, Korea and China. It is seen as not only a game, but a cultural activity, and fitting for people who have retired and want to spend their last year in a dignified way.

This, dear reader, is my problem with it. I don’t want to spend my last days or years on Earth playing a game; I want to spend them preparing for the hereafter: Studying esoteric books, reflecting on myself, meditating, praying and conveying my accumulated wisdom to the public domain in my journal.

That is what I tell myself. But actually observing myself, I see that I easily spend an hour or two a day playing computer games, more during the weekend. Add another hour watching family-friendly anime, and I have enough time to become a decent amateur at Go/igo. I may no longer be in the uppermost percentile of IQ, but it is not because I have fallen and hit my head; rather, the younger generation has closed in on me, being noticeably smarter than the kids I went to school with. Perhaps it is because they have grown up in front of the computer, while my classmates spent their free time outdoors chasing a ball. If we had  played Go instead, we geezers would still rule the roost… ^_^

So it is not that my brain can’t learn anything new. Rather, I have this mental block, similar to Hikaru in most of the episodes from 60 to 70, thinking that if he played Go ever again and liked it, something terrible would happen: The spirit that had accompanied him day and night for the last years would disappear forever. That is a pretty dramatic threat, I can assure you, because I cannot imagine what I would do if the Spirit were to suddenly disappear and not come back. I would be in Hell. So the question is rather whether I, like Hikaru, have misunderstood the spiritual value of Go.

In a way, I think Go would be preferably to Master of Magic. Go is after all a two-player game, so I would please someone else in addition to myself. (Of course, we don’t want to stretch that particular phrasing too far…) But basically, it is less selfish than many – most? – of my free time activities. On the other hand, having a more reputable hobby would make it easier to justify as good and right, rather than accept it as a sign of human frailty which I am slowly working to eradicate. I worry that it may become a part of my soul. They don’t play Go in Heaven, do they?

So I’m kind of compromising. I am reading “how to play Go” pages on the Internet, and watching low-level games on the International Go Server. But I am not playing there. Yet. Instead I am solving Go problems of life and death. This is an actual phrase in the culture of Go: It is essentially a war game, only simplified to the purest essence (far more so than chess), so groups of stones are said to have life if they have escape routes (liberties) or are connected with other stones of the same side which have such. Otherwise, the stones are said to have “died”. Studying life and death of stones is an essential activity for the beginner. But it is hard for me to do without thinking of life and death in Real Life.

Chunks of memory

Your personality doesn’t matter. This is a skill you can learn.

Extreme feats of memory are possible when we remember large quantities of information as one unit, because we have spent so much time with it. We all do this.

I know I have written about this before, already back in the original Chaos Node, where I read about it in an issue of Scientific American. Recently I read about the same thing in the book Talent is overrated. For instance, chess grandmasters could glance at a chess board and later reconstruct it exactly, something no normal person could do. From another ancient board game, Go (or Igo), I know that high-level players not only remember every move of a match, but can often guess how a match has progressed even if they arrive late into it, possibly even at the end. For someone unfamiliar with the game, this seems like magic. And yet we all do the same thing.

Neurotypical humans store incredible amounts of information about the people around them. Not only can they recognize a friend at a glance after several years, they can also keep track of the relationships between everyone in a village: Who are second cousins with who, who are friends, who are enemies, who are in love with who and who were in love with their current enemies years ago. Nobody finds this remarkable in the least, but it is really amazing.

Likewise we are very good at categorizing things. Or dogegorizing, I guees: Even children can usually tell cats and dogs apart, although small children have trouble with really small dogs which may be labeled cats. Even though there are so many different dogs and breeds of dogs, people have this internal concept “dog” which kind sums up the essential elements of doghood and which they remember as a unit, even after many years.

In the same way, if you grew up with your mother, when you think “my mother” you actually remember thousands of things, from how she looked at various ages to details of her behavior and relationships. You don’t consciously think of all these details every time you see her name, but if someone were to say something untrue about her, you would recognize it immediately.

In other words, all of us have the ability to remember very complex things as 1 unit.

Our short term memory is very limited, usually we are able to remember around 7 units of information at the same time. The actual number may vary from 5 to 9 and can be increased with rigorous training. It is the number of digits you can remember while walking from one room to another without repeating them in your mind. But if those digits are familiar, the number suddenly increases dramatically. For instance, to me the 6 digits 271258 count as 1 unit of information: It is my date of birth in the format used in this part of the world, ddmmyy. So I would be able to remember 6 more digits while leaving the room. Yes, strange as this may seem, I have an average short-term memory. I have tested this.


The computer language Forth caught my attention toward the end of high school. It was little more than a rumor back then, some new-fangled invention from the States. Personal computers were something hobbyists built themselves, and pitifully weak. A corporate mainframe at that time was perhaps a match for a smartphone today. OK, perhaps a little more. Let’s say a smartphone next year. But only a few years later, I had my own personal computer, weak though it was, and was programming in Forth.

This particular computer language had a peculiar structure. The basic language was very simple, consisting of a stack for data and a set of basic “words” that were coded in machine language, either directly or with an assembler. These were very simple commands which would be defined differently from computer to computer because of the hardware, but which (ideally) had the same names and function on all computers. But this was not what fascinated me. Rather, you could define new words by combining the old ones. The new words could be used in the same way to combine into more words. By keeping the definitions short and simple, the risk of errors was greatly diminished, and it was easy to test the new words right away. Yet there was no obvious limit to what you could do. There was very little overhead in having many levels of definitions.

The reason this appealed to me is that I am a verbal person. I think in a very similar way to this computer language, building new concept from existing concept. As long as I keep it simple, I can trust the knowledge I build from basic, and I can test it.


When you spend a lot of time doing something, whether it is programming or chess or surgery, you acquire what is called “domain knowledge” within that area. And when this knowledge becomes a part of you, something as natural to you as cats and dogs and family and friends, you begin to be able to think of it in chunks. The chess player can remember every piece on the board because not only the pieces are familiar to him, but the possible configurations too. He has seen them many times: When this particular group of pieces appear on this part of the board, it means certain risks and opportunities that are very real to him. He has no need to memorize this particular picture: He has seen it before, repeatedly, and it has meaning to him.

When I learned to read, I had to learn the alphabet like people did for generations before me. I hear that this is no longer considered very important, people start looking at words as pictures right away. But words still consists of letters, and sentences consist of words, paragraphs of sentences and so on. When you remember a poem or a particularly moving passage from a book, you don’t try to recall each individual letter in turn. Like the programming language, the “primitives” – the basic components – soon become buried in higher-level structures. Reading and writing are themselves everyday examples of structured knowledge. And as with the programming language, there is no obvious upper limit. Scholars will hold entire books conceptually in their mind – not word by word probably, but still in a very real sense whole books – and compare them to arrive at a higher meaning from the way the books agree or disagree. If we were wiser and lived longer lives, who knows what we could achieve?

Humans, it seems to me, are not proportionate to the savanna or the shores from which the “naked ape” emerged, but rather proportionate to the infinite. As better men than I have noticed, the most incomprehensible thing about the universe may be that it is so comprehensible. At least now we know a little bit more about ourselves as well.

Deliberately reading a book

Of this, I approve. One should show respect for the gate that leads to the hidden truths! If high school kids had to perform a reverent invocation to be allowed through the school gates, they might learn more. Well, better late than never!

Still reading Talent is overrated by Geoff Colvin. It is not hard to read, at least for me. Obviously this varies, and I want to talk about this first.

Mortimer Adler writes in his (no longer so famous) book How to Read a Book that you won’t learn much from a book that is easy to read. That means you already know most of what the author knows, and already think the same way the author does. But if the book is hard to read, there may be two reasons for this: Either the author writes badly, or he is so far above you in knowledge or understanding that you have to struggle to get up to his level.

This, ironically, equates with what Colvin writes about one aspect of “deliberate practice”: It must be in the “learning zone” between the comfort zone and the panic zone. If you stay down in the comfort zone where you already know how to do things, you may have a good time, but you don’t grow. If you go too far above your current skill level, you enter the panic zone where you don’t even know where to begin. You must stay between these to make progress.

Back to Mortimer Adler, who I hope will become more relevant now that Kindle and its competitors have caused a great renaissance of the book. If an author writes badly and you are already on his level, you should be able to see through the bad writing and judge his skill, at which point you may just as well give up on the book (unless you are tasked to review it, I suppose).

But if you are below the author’s level (in that particular field), you have to read the book systematically to extract not only the factual information but the way of thinking which separates the teacher from the student – the book is the teacher, in this case. Most of Adler’s book consists of detailed descriptions of how to go about this. It is systematic, it is a lot of work, and it is not particularly fun. Yes, that means it is a “deliberate practice” as defined by Colvin and (more importantly) the scientists he popularizes, notably Anders Ericsson. In this case, a deliberate practice of thinking.

If you are above the author’s level, you should be able to understand it handily even if the writing is less than perfect. Of course, horrible writing can make even the simplest thought obscure, as Esaias Tegner famously remarks: “The obscurely spoken is the obscurely thought” (“Det dunkelt sagda är det dunktelt tänkta”). However, as mentioned above, the converse is also true: Something may sound obscure to you because your thinking is obscure. So if you are an expert, people need to be really obscure for you not to understand them.

Since I am not an expert in the science of skill development, I think we can safely say that Geoff Colvin writes quite clearly. Since I don’t have a problem following the text when written clearly, he writes at a level close to my current understanding. (He probably has to “dumb down” to do so, of course.) So if you can read me, you should easily be able to read Colvin.

Adler is another matter entirely. He’s so high, high above me. Despite the clarity of his writing, I need to work deliberately to absorb his book. Perhaps I should give it another go, now that I have seen the same thing from a different angle.

GURPS skills and real life

“Right now, he is he only thing on my mind.” No, he is (probably) not gay, he is talking about his rival in the ancient board game of Go. But some of us find it impossible to only have one thing on our mind… we are a natural born flutterby.

Still winding my way through the friendly, readable and inspirational book Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. Another thought that struck me was comparing it to GURPS – Steve Jackson’s Generic Universal Role Playing System, originally developed for pen & paper roleplaying games.

In GURPS, a high intelligence will give you a flying start on all mental skills. Then again, it costs a lot of character creation points to get that genius IQ in the first place. You still have to put half a point into any skill you want to learn. This corresponds to learning the rules of chess, for instance. Basically you need a passing familiarity with something, and from there on you can wing it, if you are smart. You won’t be really good at it, but you have a decent chance of success as long as the odds are not stacked against you.

This approach naturally lends itself to a “jack of all trades, master of none”. If you have a character point to invest, you could use it to get somewhat better at a skill you are already winging. Or you could pick up two new. It is hard to stop such a person from winging like a butterfly (or flutterby, as I like to call them) from one skill to the next.

In contrast, someone of average intelligence (or barely even that) will face a completely different choice when he has a point to spend. If he wastes it on picking up new skills, he will still not be competent enough to use them except on a good day with the wind and the sun at his back. Better to invest it in a skill he already knows. Even when he has invested enough in one skill that he is unlikely to fail except the most challenging tasks, the alternative value of spending points on something else is so low, he may just as well go on to become a master even if he only needs it once in a blue moon.

I think this is a pretty realistic portrayal, given that I used to have a high IQ myself when I was young. (It has probably declined somewhat since then.) I did exactly this same thing, fluttered by one skill after another. I picked up some German, a little French, bits and pieces of Esperanto, Icelandic and Finnish. But I never really learned enough to have a meaningful conversation in any foreign language except English, which was my third language.  It was the same with games, musical instruments, cooking, Earth sciences etc. I can bluff my way through a lot of things, but anyone who has studied a skill seriously would see right through me.

I think this is a major reason why talent plays so little role in mastery. Talent rarely is that specific. Rather, you are probably talented in several things if you are in one, and when you are as better than the other newbies, you think you are going to excel without effort, and so you start spreading yourself. By the time you realize that is not how it works, the desperately diligent are far ahead of you, even though they started behind you. Because they are single-minded in their effort.

Well, that is how I see it today. But at this stage of my life, I am not really interested in excellence in anything less than life itself. Not that I am doing too well with that either. But even if I have 30 years left before I start to unravel – and that is if I can dodge cancer and random accidents – I cannot really think of anything worth pursuing singlemindedly except the betterment of the soul. And I don’t think IQ helps much in that regard.

Talent is misunderstood

The secret to Hikaru’s success is that he learns something regardless of whether he wins or loses. If he loses a game, the important thing to him is that he got stronger – that he learned something he can use in the future. Is this talent?

I’ve bought the Kindle version of the book Talent is overrated by Geoff Colvin. It is liked and quoted by Farnam Street, the wisdom-seeking blog, which is a pretty good recommendation. Even Bjørn Stærk has been known to retweet Farnam Street occasionally.

I have only read 19% yet, but it strikes me how similar the impact is to the Japanese manga and animeHikaru no Go, which I have been rewatching lately. (It is no coincidence: One of the Farnam Street quotes got me to start watching it once more.) The book of course is more scholarly than the fiction, although the book is also very accessible at least for us who are used to reading non-fiction.

As the name of the book signals, the author believes that talent either does not exist or is unimportant. The great masters throughout history became great because they started early, were schooled by experts and continued practicing for a long time. For instance, Mozart’s father was a composer and teacher who trained his son from early childhood. Even so, the early works are unremarkable. It was only as a young adult that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart came into his amazing abilities. And even after that, people did not realize how amazing these were until later – in other words, his semi-divine status is a later addition. In his own time, he was just one of the greats.

There are various such anecdotes and scientific studies quoted, all of them implying that being “gifted” (intelligent, in general or in some specific category) only matters in the beginning. After years of practice, only the practice matters. Those who did the right type of practice and lots of it, they are the ones who become grand masters. Those who practiced less or stayed in their comfort zone during practice, they become the also-ran.

This may be so. But I don’t think we should underestimate talent either. I think so based on my own experience, but also an interesting detail that I picked up elsewhere. It turns out that a disproportionate number of athletes are born in January. Now you may think this is proof of astrology, but even astrology does not claim this. Besides, the number of successful athletes continue to drop over the months, to a minimum in December. The explanation is of course that kids start school depending on the year they were born. And they do so at a young age, where months of lifetime still count. So the ones born in January are nearly a year older than those born in December. Naturally they are better at sports. They are bigger, stronger and have better control of their bodies. If there is a competition, they win, and if not, they still get more praise and encouragement. This causes them tolikesports, and do more of it, and over the course of growing up this makes them athletes.

This is my model of how talent works. Talent is when you can practice something so intensely that you make progress, and like it. I know I did with programming. I rarely left my “comfort zone” in the sense that I always did it for fun. Sure it took some thinking, but I enjoyed it. My intelligence and particular talent for programming was the equivalent of being born on January 1st for an athlete. Because it came easier to me, I did more of it; and the more I did, the easier it became. I did not even need to be praised, the feeling of accomplishment, the feeling of succeeding was enough for me. And so it became possible for me to create the debt collection software that my best friend’s father made a living from selling for some years, and which helped Norwegian companies save millions.

Of course, the mysterious entities that projected solutions to programming problems into my brain telepathically also deserve credit. But I am told that such muses are common in many arts. You may call them a form of talent too, I suppose?

Back to the anime Hikaru no Go. The secondary character Touya Akira is the son of one of Japan’s best Go players (a board game played with white and black stones) and the son (an only child, it seems) is trained from he is little more than a toddler. This is exactly the recipe for creating super “talented” people according to Geoff Colvin’s book. The main character Shindou Hikaru has a more peculiar origin, as the ghost of an ancient Go player attaches itself to him toward the end of junior high school. His original success is as a medium for the ghost, which causes Touya to blink him out as his rival. This becomes Shindou’s motivation for practicing day and night once it is him and not the ghost that plays. He learns first from spending every day of the summer vacation watching the game, and later from playing every day. He plays against ever harder opponent, getting out of his comfort zone, exactly as recommended by the book. And he gets timely feedback, another crucial factor. From the book, it is not hard to guess that these two boys are going to go far.

So, the anime is a great way to learn what talent really is. But if you want to go outside your comfort zone, by all means buy Colvin’s book. ^_^

The power of the Internet

Rising in strength every year, thanks to the Internet. Well, it could happen.

As mentioned recently, I am watching the anime Hikaru no Go again. It is quite inspirational. My favorite is episode 15, where Hikaru learns about the International Go Server. (The real IGS is almost exactly the same as portrayed in the anime, although given the age of the anime, not to mention the manga it was based on, I am not sure which is the original – the real one or the one in the anime.)

Halfway through the episode, we get a rare glimpse of an American in America, talking to his mother on the phone. He explains that yes, the Asians are leading, but America is getting stronger because of the power of the Internet. (This was no doubt scripted at a time when Internet was more common in the US than in Japan – it is almost certainly the other way around now, with the class division in the US being far greater. I doubt there are people in Japan who don’t have Internet at home unless they have made a decision to live without it. Or even on their phones, for that matter.)

The IGS is indeed an amazing service, allowing people from all over the world to play against each other. Whether you are a beginner or a pro, you should be able to find someone around your own level. As mentioned in my previous post, I can now connect on my Android tablet. I don’t actually play though, because I suck so dramatically at this game that I might well lose to a dog. Every dog has its day, after all. Also, for some reason the Android client does not recognize my account, so I can only log on as guest. Still, I can watch all kinds of matches, at any time of they day or night. I have even seen professional players there sometimes.


The Internet may have made Go players stronger, but what about the rest of us? The Internet has been called a “wonder of the world”, but that is too weak, I think. The Great Library of Alexandria was one of the ancient wonders of the world. Knowledge from several different civilizations were brought together, from all over the Middle East and even from Greece, for scholars to study. But compare it to today, when even a child can access the wisdom of not only every civilization now existing in the world, but many ancient ones as well. Knowledge far beyond what anyone could absorb in a lifetime. We might as well try to drink the Niagara Falls.

Even if you are not able to spend a penny beyond whatever the Internet access costs you (and I believe many public libraries let you use it for free), you could download hundreds of thousands of free books (although most of them are free because they are old so the copyright has expired). Actually I am pretty sure it is millions, but seriously, do you expect to have read 10 000 books by the time you exit this life? Well, it happens. I think I know a couple people like that, but then I know some pretty weird people. Now say 100 000 books. Let us estimate a literate lifespan of 80 years, how much would you need to read to get through 100 000 books? 1250 books per year. If we generously allow for a day off every four years, that’s 1250 / 365, or 3.4, almost three and a half books a day for 80 years. And there are several times that in just free books on the Internet.

Of course, the free books are probably not the ones you most want to read, although it happens. And some of them may be in foreign languages. Oh yes, you can learn foreign languages too. Some of them at least for free, and at a level decent enough to start conversing with native speakers – also on the Net, also for free. Failing that, there are various programs for translation, although they really struggle with languages that are far apart, like Chinese and English.

If you would rather increase your knowledge by listening, several universities have started posting lectures on the Internet. There are also many YouTube clips of a scientific nature, although I admit finding them can be a bit of a “needle in the haystack” experience. And there is TED, where popularizers of science throw out revolutionary new ideas for the world to consider.

I have sometimes thought that if a smaller country with its own language(s), such as my native Norway, really wanted to grow to amazing power, it would make its higher education available on the Net in the national language. Books, lectures, the whole thing, allowing any citizen fluid in the language to educate themselves further and further and further. These days, the most important capital of any nation is the minds of its people, after all. I imagine streets thronged with polymaths, cafés frequented by towering intellects, parks where erudite sages take their walks. And then I come across the comment section of any except the most esoteric web sites. Oh well, it was a beautiful dream while it lasted! ^_^;

And with that, off to watch another episode of anime, brought to me by the amazing power of the Internet!

Brainwave entrainment and sleep, again

Open your mind and let the New Age of Technology in! Messing around with your brain waves may sound scary, but that’s what they thought about flying too. And before that, running faster than horses. If God wanted us to go beyond our limitations, He would have given us the ability to create!

An online friend complained about insomnia again, so I hurried to recommend delta brainwave entrainment. This little masterpiece of modern science can replace up to 2 hours of sleep with half an hour of entrainment. Beyond that, you run into rapidly diminishing returns – it is not possible to replace sleep entirely, not even if you use several different frequencies of brainwave entrainment. Still, it is pretty impressive.

Unfortunately, it turns out my friend had experimented with brainwave entrainment in the past, on my recommendation, but experienced side effects that were worse than her lack of sleep. Even 10 minutes of delta entrainment caused blurred vision, sometimes migraine, and once she even experienced a seizure afterwards (although it is unclear whether this actually came from the entrainment). Unsurprisingly, she then gave up on the project, despite observing the almost magical effects of the technology.

It is more the rule than the exception that you will experience something when you first start using brainwave entrainment, especially if you start with delta, which is the slowest brainwave frequencies and only dominates naturally during our deepest sleep. So yeah, expect the unexpected. But for most people, the side effects are pleasant or just plain weird. Pain or neurological distortions like blurred vision or temporary loss of short-term memory are rare and typically symptoms of excessive use. The only permanent damage I have heard of is one user who got tinnitus, ringing in the ears. Given the thousands of users of brainwave entrainment, it is as likely as not that the fellow would have developed the problem during the same time period regardless. But who knows. Still, the odds are pretty good that you will benefit, and it is very unlikely that you will malefit, as it were.

Still, I recommend the LifeFlow approach of starting with a more accessible frequency. The LifeFlow program starts at 10 Hz, which is similar to a beginner’s meditation, or the relaxed feeling of lounging in a Stressless chair. It is recommended to use this for 40 minutes a day for two months before moving on to 9 Hz, a slightly deeper form of alpha wave, similar to what you experience the last few minutes before falling asleep. It continues this way down to 1 Hz, which is solid delta and comparable to deep sleep. During a night of sleep, you are unlikely to have delta after the first two sleep cycles unless you are a child. A sleep cycle is 90 minutes, and consists of several phases, so few adults and virtually no elderly get as much as 30 minutes of it naturally. Children do, however, and I don’t think delta entrainment is useful for them. They should get the opportunity to sleep naturally.

As I mentioned, the value of delta entrainment in connection with sleep is that it provides a type of brainwave that we need but which we don’t get much of as we grow older. Sleep consists of four phases, but two of them are particularly important. Deep sleep with delta waves is one of them. The other is REM sleep, or intense lifelike dreaming. Delta occurs naturally only at the beginning of the night, while REM increases gradually with each cycle through the night. Again, children have more of both, elderly less. In fact, elderly often go nights without delta at all, but also have less REM. Their dreams are often so prosaic that they wake up thinking they have not slept at all, despite snoring loudly!  When humans – and even animals – are kept awake for a long time, they catch up by having more delta and REM sleep the first night they are allowed to sleep again. This is a pretty good hint that these sleep phases are particularly important.

We don’t know any way to induce REM electronically. Sex will do it in rabbits, or so I have read. But delta waves we can create with precise sound patterns. All you need to do is close your eyes. You don’t even have to think about England. As long as you refrain from intense, primal emotions – fear, anger, lust or disgust – the entrainment will work its magic. You can even worry a little, if you feel the urge, just don’t panic.

But to reduce the risk of creepy side effects, I recommend starting with lighter frequencies (alpha or at least theta) and perhaps even shorter time spans in the beginning. Notice that most side effects are actually either pleasant or just psychedelic, but they are still distracting. The less you think about the experience, the better really. Just close your eyes, relax and let the sound wash over you.

I have an MP3 player with delta tracks beside me on my bed. That way, if I go to bed early enough to not fall asleep instantly, I can spend the time relaxing with delta waves. It is pretty nifty. I am a lot more awake at work than I used to be – I used to need to nap twice or thrice during most workdays, although my naps were brief – and I can now work full days instead of 90%. I still have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome and perhaps I will for the rest of my life, but at least now I can do something to reduce the impact on my life.

I should admit that I am not sure it all comes from the brainwave entrainment, I made other changes in my life too. I learned laws of the mind from Happy Science and started to read esoteric books of timeless wisdom by Christian and near-Christian philosophers during the same time frame. It may even be a combination of several of these. Perhaps the passing of a couple years count as well, midlife changes and all that. But from a scientific point of view, when it comes to the effect on daytime sleepiness, brainwave entrainment is the main suspect.

A bit more enthusiastic than me, this fellow LifeFlow user escaped psychiatric hell by the power of brainwave entrainment. There are a number of such stories among the LifeFlow regulars.  His review is here at MeditationStars.


How much exercise?

If you ask: “How much exercise is enough?”, the answer is “Enough for what?” – If you simply want to not die horribly from lack of exercise, you should be fine doing light exercise like walking from a quarter to half an hour each day, or at least most days. If you want to participate in the Olympics, on the other hand, you should probably quit your job to concentrate on your exercise, as it would take more than a full workday.

Okay then, what if my goal is to live as long as possible? In that case, you should exercise as much as possible but not as hard as possible. From approximately half an hour a day and upwards to at least 3 to 5 hours a day, each hour spent on exercise is an hour of lifetime gained. So if you hate exercise, you have to ask yourself “how much do I really fear death”? Because you are basically trading an hour for an hour. That’s for moderate exercise. If you exercise hard for hours each day, you are actually shortening your lifespan. It is better to exercise hard for short time every other day if you just want to stay alive and stay in shape, and spent the rest of your exercise time doing light to moderate exercise.

Let us be honest here. If you don’t have sports as a career, you are not going to spend hours each day exercising. Simply doesn’t happen. And there are probably no other jobs left in the English-speaking world which count as “exercise” either. But if you manage to exercise hard enough that you can just barely keep a conversation or recite a poem, for half an hour (or a quarter twice a day), you will have drastically reduced your risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes II, several cancers and even depression. Ignore this, and health issues are likely to hunt you down. Go above and beyond it, and you should make sure to do something you like or that is genuinely useful, as you are likely trading an hour for an hour. (On average. Of course, you may collide with a truck tomorrow, but on the other hand, you may narrowly avoid a cancer that would have lopped 30 years off your life, and you won’t even know it. Averages are for crowds, but you are part of that crowd, like it or not.)

If you are obese, half an hour of moderate exercise will still halve your risk. It is just that your risk was twice as high to begin with. -_- In these case it is recommended that you exercise more, but if you could exercise more, you would probably have done so already. Obese people are not universally praised and given special benefits in our society, to put it that way. Still, it is better to move about and live than to lie down and die. Probably. I can’t remember having ever been dead, so theoretically it could be awesome and I would never know. But what I do know is that life is short and death seems to be very long.

If you are only moderately overweight, with a BMI from 25 to 30, your life expectancy is actually no different from most of those with normal weight. Most people in this category are able to exercise and have the motivation to do so, within reason. The 30 minutes of exercise seems to be particularly useful in this category, reducing the health risks all the way down to the same level as those who are not overweight at all. Those who already have normal weight are less motivated to stay active, and this may be why they generally don’t live longer than the moderately overweight. Or their self-reported non-smoking may be somewhat exaggerated.

Death is not the only danger on the couch. There is also the danger that you may be sick a lot, grow old before the time, think less clearly, experience frequent or even chronic pain (especially of the back), suffer from depression, be shunned socially and be cut off from various aspects of romance. If you don’t have time for exercise, you may have to take time out for health problems. So before you skip your 30 minutes, think twice.

(From the “practice what you preach” department: For what it is worth, I usually do a combination of walking and jogging, staying within the “fat burning range” for about an hour a day, which is literally what the doctor ordered since I have pre-diabetes. In addition I spend about half an hour a day on foot as part of my commute. Even single and childless, I would balk at spending 3 hours of my free time each day exercising.  Perhaps I am going to regret that on my deathbed. Then again, there are a lot of things I will likely regret on my deathbed, if any. Including not spending more time writing this journal.) Now, get out there and dance if you still can!

From one Dragon to another

Hopefully this Dragon won’t come to a tearful end.

Isn’t that a coincidence. While I was still getting acquainted with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12, I got a notice that Comixology – the electronic comic store – was having a sale on the Wheel of Time comic books (based on the fantasy classic by Robert Jordan). And of course the first of these comics, based on the prologue from the Eye of the World, features the Dragon, Lews Therin Telamon. (The main character of the Wheel of Time books is known as “the Dragon reborn”, and I have used this phrase repeatedly as a pun to describe new versions of Dragon NaturallySpeaking… except this one. Well, up until now.)

I bought a number of the comics on sale. It seems like the kind of initiative that I would support, as long as it is cheap enough and I don’t have to actually carry the comics around with me every time I move. It made me remember the old days when I used to read the Wheel of Time books. This was back when I read a lot of fiction, especially fantasy but also some science fiction. To be honest, I seem to remember that I bought the first book because of its size: Lots of pages for the money. But I ended up very impressed by it. I still consider it one of the best fantasy books I have ever read, fully comparable to Tolkien. So I enjoyed now seeing it popularized for new readers.

This was the time when the Internet was coming to my native Norway. Common people still did not have Web access, but it was possible to get an email address. I got mine through a BBS called Manhattan. It was not actually located on Manhattan, but here in Norway. The BBS was run by a young man who I still occasionally meet online. Anyway, I got my email address and a subscription to a handful of USENET groups. One of these groups was dedicated to the books written by Robert Jordan. The regulars of that group where younger than me, smart and funny. I had reached the age where most of my classmates were thinking about money and diapers, so I felt more at home with these strangers who read the same books as I did. As it happens, many of us still keep in touch online on a regular basis, for some of us almost daily. Some of them also keep in touch offline, to the point of in some cases being married to each other now. I guess we were a tightly knit bunch…

So I might be a bit sentimental about the Wheel of Time series. But as I see it, the first book was quite a bit better than the rest, and it went gradually downhill from there. When I stopped reading (around book 9 I think) it seems painfully obvious to me that Jordan was stretching the series to “milk” his fans. He seemed more worried that he might outlive the series than the other way around. This also came to pass. Jordan died and Brandon Sanderson took 3 books to finish it. I think it was 3 books, I haven’t seen any of them. He is not one of my favorite authors, although I can see why he was asked to finish the series. I have read 3 of his books. Sanderson has great technique, but I find him sadly lacking in the sense of wonder that is the hallmark of great fantasy writing. Finishing someone else’s work seems a perfect job for him. Perhaps I will read the books one day, at least if human lifespan is greatly extended. As it is, I barely even make progress on the esoteric literature. Of course, reading Wheel of Time comics doesn’t exactly help…