Hacking the Human Mind

“The intelligent want self-control, children want candy.”
– Rumi

Last week I gave a talk about the progress I’ve made on my meditation platform. In it, I went into a little more depth about the whys behind meditation, stressing how distracted we’ve become as a technological society, and how we’re going to need better tools to build and manage our focus as the world becomes more and more distracting.

The slides from the talk are above, and a link to the video is at the end of this post.

But I’ll also got into a little bit of an overview for those of you not willing to make the 20 minute video commitment.

The World Has Become Dangerously Distracting

* 12% of all boys between 3-17 years now diagnosed with ADHD
* 20% of smartphone users check phone every 10 minutes
* Multitasking has been shown to lower IQ by 10 points
* The average american teen now sends an average of 3,417 text messages per month.

In the past 40 years, we’ve gone from Pong to Battlefield 3. If you’re a 12 year old boy, you’ve now got to decide between homework and playing in live battlefield with up to 64 other players, using tanks and helicopters and sniper rifles and C4 and more. The rush and excitement of video games, versus the slow dull grind of homework.

Psychologists are now designing games for addictiveness. And they’re incorporating very powerful psychological tools to keep kids reeled in. From skinner boxes to variable ratio reinforcement to social pressure, kids are facing a very real and strong draw to the game realities over our shared physical realities.

It’s not the kid’s fault their heads are stuck in phones and games. They’ve both been designed to be incredibly addictive to our brains.

What’s the cost of this distractedness?

Willpower and Focus

Willpower has been shown to be a finite resource which is depleted by decision making.

Nearly every piece of our technological realities drains focus and willpower.

With the Loss of Willpower We’re Losing the Ability to Control and Direct Ourselves.

The Solution: Using Technology to Manage Our Minds More Effectively in the Face of New Threats

Brand New Research on Meditation

* Increases Attention Span
* Sharpens Focus
* Improves Memory
* Dulls the Perception of Pain
* Slows Age Related Thinning of the Prefrontal Cortex
* Helps Build Willpower

So why aren’t we all meditating?

Chicken or the Egg Problem: Don’t have enough willpower to start building our willpower.

If we were to make meditation seductive to our distracted minds, what would it look like?

Building the Platform to Measure Mediation

First prototype measured Galvanic Skin Response, Skin Temperature, and Heart Rate. Read physiology using off the shelf components, and an Arduino. Tracked all inputs using Clojure, and graphed all data using the incanter library.

It provided audio feedback (via Overtone) when a deeper meditative state was reached, and recorded all data so meditation could be tracked over time.

Initial Prototype Drawbacks:

* Must be attached to computer
* Wires get tangled
* Setting up computer is too distracting
* Not easy enough

Meditation on the iPhone

Using new Bluetooth LE heart rate monitors, we can now track heart rate with medical quality data. Combined with an app I’ve written using algorithms developed with the data from my first prototype, I now have a low-friction environment to measure meditation.

Unfortunately, Bluetooth LE is only supported by the iPhone 4S and 5, the New iPad, the iPad mini, and the new iPod Touch.

But we now have a portable psychology lab capable of providing audio and visual feedback to direct changes in our physiology caused by meditation.

Look for the meditation app in the App Store by the end of December

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