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Neurohacking - Tutorials
Written by NHA   
Saturday, 17 September 2011 17:30
Article Index
Neurohacking Tutorial 6 - Association, Perception and Learning
The Learning Cycle & Perception
What Happens if Things Go Wrong
COMP & Natural Learning
NHA Guide to Methods & Technology
The Most Important Bits to Remember
Hacks & Exercices
Notes, References & Answers
All Pages



Neurohacking Tutorial 6

Association, Perception and Learning

(Updated: Sep 2011)


In this tutorial we look at how what we have learned so far forms a basis for all our 'higher' skills, such as learning and memory. We’ll show you how perception happens, how natural learning is a process of stretching and relaxing your mind, and what hacks and exercises can improve your learning speed, perception and attention.  



Follow the Right Habit


Association and perception

Association is both a verb and a noun. Things can have an association as a type of connection, like water has an association with hydrogen and oxygen, and food has an association with nutrition.

But association is also something you do. You associate a certain place with what goes on there in your own experience, or a certain person with the types of behavior you would normally expect them to exhibit.

Most of our associations emerge from experience, but there is strong evidence that our 'starter pack' of core EVs is hard wired; this makes good sense in relation to evolutionary adaptation and is already known to be a fact in almost all species of animal life. For tiny humans, a smiling human face is associated with safety, and a warm nipple is associated with nourishment. Nourishment and safety are in turn associated with happiness, because they produce the neurochemicals that make us feel that way, and that in turn is associated with our responses; relaxing, smiling and sucking and making happy noises.

But there are not many hard wired concepts for humans; in fact almost all the associated concepts we ever make develop from just a handful of basics.

The basics are a bundle of core concepts related to neurotransmission and animal behaviors, because all creatures great and small living on this planet are subject to the same laws, and real laws like those of biochemistry and physics cannot be broken. You and I and any old ameba have the same life challenges to face -keep yourself in good condition, find nourishment, avoid wasting energy, avoid harm, grow and develop, learn, interact, and pass it on.

All life has these same needs, all creatures have evolved similar behaviors to deal with life's challenges, and we looked at some of these in tutorial 5. Everything humans do relates in some way to these basic biological behaviors because they are what intelligent biological life is all about, everywhere.


We also noted in past tutorials that the brain uses coincidence for association. Events that occur at the same time as each other are assumed to be connected and so are associated in memory, and this is how we form some associations that are not hard wired. But coincidence alone is not enough for paying attention or forming a long term memory unless other factors are present, and the main one is that our input has some degree of familiarity to already-known concepts. Since we begin with such a small number of original hard wired concepts, learning enough to make more may seem like a slow laborious database-filling sort of task, but the mind has some great cheats for categorizing input and making new associations really fast. It assigns meaning to things and events based on the similarity of only half a dozen abstracted propeties that indicate what core concepts (and so animal behaviors) they relate to.

There’s more to perception than meets the eye

You may have noticed that many hacks begin with deliberate observation of our own behavior or what our mind is currently doing –at a point where we would not normally consciously observe that. High quality perception requires a fair amount of self-awareness and reflection as well as outward attention.


Visual processing, of course, is only one part of awareness. To learn, we need motivation (we have to be interested enough in what we see to pay attention to it), and we need imagination (we have to interpret what we see accurately) even before we need memory.


You’ve probably seen optical illusions like this:





...So you’re aware that visual perception can be fooled into recognising movement where there isn’t any, but illusion is just the concrete sensory input end of perceiving. Perception can also be fooled at the abstract concept-forming end; and this is delusion. We can then perceive or assign meaning and importance to events where there isn’t any, or we can perceive the wrong meaning, resulting in misunderstanding.


Perceiving meaning when there isn’t any is seen at its extreme in paranoia and in superstition, and attempts to make it happen on purpose (ie, to delude people) can be seen in advertising and social media. In paranoia the afflicted person perceives something sinister and suspicious going on that nobody else seems able to perceive, but this is seen as their lack, since we would rather trust our own perception than believe that we are dysfunctional, in many cases.


Equally dangerous is perceiving that nothing is going on and there's no big deal, when in fact something is –this is seen in people who cannot recognise facial expressions as having any meaning, and people who drink and drive or live on the sides of active volcanoes because “It’ll never happen to me”.

We can of course also be deliberately or accidentally deceived. Optical illusions like the one above make it clear that our senses are deliberately being hacked for fun, because it’s amusing and its interesting. But we can be hacked deceitfully by things like subliminals in advertising and they can also be hacked completely by accident, because biology designs us to tend to believe what we are told by those we respect. This is the usual way that things get confused.

If we are (even unknowingly) told lies, we grow up believing lies, and hacking the path to truth can be a long and tedious problem.


So it’s important to know that you believe whatever you believe and perceive the truth you do because it is either provable or it makes sense to you; not because anyone else told you it was true. Most people are not deliberate liars; they are just misinformed and consequently spread the problem, repeating what they read in the papers or saw on TV or heard from someone else.


The point we are making here is that you’ve probably been told the usual lies about learning, and because of that there may be some things you need to unlearn.

You’ve probably come to think of learning as associated with studying, hard work, exams, tests; repetitive, sometimes dull, and time-consuming activities with a certificate at the end; a process whose goal is to get you a job for more money so you can pay off your education debts.


...Funny how you never felt that way about learning to talk or walk. You just got on with playing at making noises and crawling around and suddenly, it just sort of happened...

The first thing you should learn about learning, is that it involves several different kinds of behavior that we employ in a certain order in order to learn quickly, naturally and well. The second thing you should know is that none of these kinds of behavior involve “studying hard”. From now on for you, learning = play.


For You and Against You: intent versus intention

The ability to learn something new quickly and well is such an important part of developing intelligence that it is surprising how few people know how to do it. As adults we spend months learning what we should be able to pick up in weeks, mainly because the way that we are taught how to learn (in school, and so on) does not work with the way our biology is programmed to learn, and incongruity results. Every time we turn away from biology’s intended way of doing things, it slows us down.


For You

What is on your side in learning effectively is your own biological intent, called by Carl Rogers the actualizing tendency. It could be defined as “the built-in motivation present in every life-form to develop its potential to the fullest extent possible and become as adaptable as possible”.

We are born to learn. We are litle scientists each and every one, fascinated by the world we find ourselves in, filled with magic and excitement. Reality IS magical and exciting, without needing any woo woo fantasy fluff, and all healthy children know this. They can't leave it alone -all they want to do is play- and quite rightly, for that is the fastest way to learn.

Intent can be defined as by Rogers: “the built-in motivation present in every life-form to develop its potentials to the fullest extent possible and become as adaptable as possible”: the desire for entelechy.

Intent is this desire in action (interaction)

In the same way, instinct is biological drives 'in action' (the drive tells you to do something, the instinct is the program for how to do it).

Nobody has to teach you how to walk or talk or make love the first time, but you have to WANT to. The drive comes before the instinct and prompts the instinctive behavior.

In the same way, the intent comes before the interaction and prompts the interactive behavior.

It may be clearer to understand if you use the terms "intently" and "intentionally".
You can see the difference between, for example, between "falling in love intently" and "falling in love intentionally"? Or studying something intently regardless of whether you are studying it intentionally or not (it may be something that just caught your notice, so it is not intentional).

Biology's intent is to admire fine breasts. Society's intention is that we should think this rude and be embarrassed.

Intent can also be used in the descriptive way, (e.g., "Intent on performing the task, they didn't notice distractions".) In this sense intent means focused, determined, absorbed, compelled, concentrated, and this is the sort of concept we need.


Against You

Being driven by the intentions of others and directed or coerced into 'learning' anything for any reason will cause incongruity. We learned about this in tutorials 4 and 5. When we are coerced, it is the anxious intentions of others that are dictating our behavior, and it is no surprise that learning under these conditions is arduous and recall of what you have learned often temporary at best.


Let’s now take a look at how your brain learns new information...






The Learning Cycle – Working with Biology to Make Learning Easy


First, Grab the Basics

First of all, learning depends on our initial response to the input, and this depends on networks 1, 2 and 3. This kind of thinking is largely unconscious, it only gives us the basics but it is very, very fast. It has to be fast because it evolved for human survival; people needed to recognise and avoid predators much faster than they could do using frontal cognitive processes associated with deliberate decision-making.

This kind of thinking takes place literally in the blink of an eye. Your mind takes less than a second to jump to a series of conclusions whenever you have an experience with anything new in it -meet someone for the first time, start to learn something, see a movie you haven’t seen, or run away from a sabre-toothed tiger.


Suppose, for example, in a foreign country on holiday, an unknown insect lands on you. It doesn’t immediately ‘enter’ your consciousness as a fully fleshed out entity. The brain processes the encounter in modules — one for color, one for size and yet another for its location and even for resonance [association] with previous encounters with such insects. We synchronise these sensory bits into a seamless single impression of this insect as either probably or probably not dangerous, which gives it a ‘weighting’ in memory [dangerous things are important to remember]. If it registers as a new kind of moth, we probably won’t squash it. If it registers as a new kind of spider, we might, just to be on the safe side if we know that some foreign spiders are poisonous.

We don’t have to ‘direct’ this kind of thinking; we just have to let it happen. Trying to figure out the details of something too soon gets in the way of our initial assessment.(and bear in mind –this is where we become vulnerable to misinterpretation). Whenever you approach anything new, you should allow your mind to get a grasp of the basics. When it gets bored with its initial assessment and has grabbed enough bits of the basics to be going on with, your mind will move on:


Second, Fill in the Details

Applying the knowledge that “some foreign spiders are poisonous” requires a different kind of thinking; the second kind required for learning. Concentration on the object of enquiry due to its weighting of ‘importance’ causes signals from ‘teams’ or whole populations of neurons that co-operate efficiently to gain sufficient strength to make it to the surface of your active consciousness. (Everything else remains in the unconscious depths of associative perception).

Scientists now know such neuronal net layers or bandings are crucial steps in the process of perception through the different networks that brings order to the inherently chaotic input we receive. The result of this is shown in the curious effect called binocular or perceptual rivalry.




Perceptual Rivalry

Ambiguous figures demonstrate that a single image can result in a percept being compared against more than one concept; for example the famous 'duck or rabbit' illusion or the Rubin Vase which can be interpreted either as a vase or as two faces.



The sudden input of different images hacks the brain’s innate association/synchronisation mechanism. On its part, the brain opts out of this sensory dilemma by favouring the input from one eye and suppressing that from the other for a second or so. So you only manage to see a single image at first even though you are shown two! (You do ‘see’ the other, temporarily ‘censored’ image but after a slight lapse that is usually noticeable.)

What is more intriguing –and useful- is that there is a similar ‘filtering’ or modulation of neuronal banding caused by our natural intent controlling attention. (This is especially evident in research done with acoustic stimuli: that is how in a noisy party you manage to hang on to your partner’s words despite the distracting din of background noise.) 

Concentration and paying attention change our neurochemistry and the attention of our senses in a way that makes it easier to learn, and we slip into the second kind of thinking –conscious, creative and intellectual- using more of the frontal lobe networks as well as those already engaged. This kind of thinking seeks out and fills in the details about the object of our enquiry and enables us to begin to interact with or understand it. We start to search for ‘missing bits’ to make our picture more complete. (This is where we become particularly vulnerable to misinformation).


Third, Copycat Mode.

Third, we need to use our ability to mimic and copy things (another well known animal behavior). This needs the third kind of thinking, imagination and creativity, that utilises the mirror neuron system. This kind of thinking goes on partly consciously and partly unconsciously. Consciously one is paying a particular kind of attention to the object of enquiry –the kind of attention that includes imagining oneself interacting as a participator rather than just an observer. It is, for example, the difference between watching someone performing a task and watching it while imagining that we are doing it ourselves. The latter kind of watching is this third kind of thinking when we are awake [and it’s where we become vulnerable to following bad examples]. When we are asleep, this kind of thinking becomes the jumbled content of our dreams, as we unconsciously associate new ideas and look for patterns. This is an important part of making memories long-term.


Fourth, Practice & Variation

Finally, we need to play with information in a different way –in context as a strategy. This is the fourth kind of thinking, and it uses all the brain’s networks [or it should]. It involves putting ideas into action and skills into context. It is the moment when we have just learned how to ride a bicycle and now we want to learn things like how to do hand signals without losing balance, and later how to do cool tricks. It’s the moment when we can play most of the notes in the song but not quite fast enough or with exactly the right rhythm. Self assessment and direct biofeedback between brain and musculature fine tune the performance as imagination compares the attempts, merges and repeats the more successful algorithms. The behavioral program evolves; it emerges from trial and error self-evolving subroutines, and all we have to do is play.

Variation uses imagination too –we think of new and different ways to play with our newfound skills and knowledge. Practice and variation hone our skills and we improve still further with time and experience until our responses become automatic.


How Perception Happens

Input data is binary, but imagination (essential for perception) likes working with graphics. It has to imagine accurately and assemble a constant picture of 'what's going on out there' for us every second of our waking time, after all. Hard wired concepts are stored in graphic format, and if new input is to be compared against the known, it must end up in a form that renders it comparable.

The very nature of cells makes them a digital to analog converter (DAC). They turn binary input into a continually varying physical signal (physical pressure and/or cell voltage). This can be graphed, and is mapped by the mind onto a 2D and then 3D 'inner model' as sets of coordinates that associate with one or more of the locations of the main hard wired concepts in eidetic memory. Information from all senses plus memory data is usually sufficient for an instant classification that happens so fast it can get us right up a tree before we even know what's chasing us consciously.

If associations in the inner model are wrong (incongruous), the output will be less than optimal and our perception will be faulty. The eidetic cores are hard wired to be aligned with the scientific laws of the real world, and the experientially-programmed rest of the model must match up, or incongruity will result and wiring will be incompatible and things will go wrong and we will get confused.


The initial stages of perceptual input sensory processing are well documented and can be confirmed with EEG and fMRI studies and cellular biology. [1]

Our input (the proximal stimulus) and it consists of simple patterns of on/off signals transmitted for processing. All proximal stimuli are in sensorimotor format; mechanical signals (mechanical micromovements of proteins), processed as individual events.

Multiple nanosensors on individual cells also transform detected signals (the 'distal stimulus') into electrochemical activity automatically—this is called transduction.

Population voting and coincidence detection associate parallel input events together and present 'whole patterns' for each microsecond of processing time. The resulting patterns of data are compared against previously experienced patterns and associated with those they most closely resemble, forming a recreation of the distal stimuli in an inner model; this recreation/representation is called the percept [2] and this is the preface to perception of input.

A percept is a packet of information forming one 'bit' or unit of input. All percepts are in spatio-temporal format (viewed, represented and stored as patterns of events within a context of spacetime.)

Percepts are compared against preexisting patterns on an inner model of associated concepts. A concept is a unit of meaning; an abstracted feature or characteristic that binds individual things by association into sets. “Red” is a concept.

Our hard wired concepts are core concepts. A core concept is a basic feature of all reality such as energy, time, space or matter. In the inner model, all concepts are in graphic format (viewed, represented and stored as imagery.) The images are graphic representations of the concepts.

The system experiences proximal stimuli as 'events' and percepts as having an 'address' -they are all 'events @ locations'. All input is represented in the model as associated with certain locations and those locations remain constant in relation to one another on the inner model. Everything that exists or occurs can then be associated with coordinates related to these locations, and any new input can be compared with previous experience and allocated to whatever location it seems to associate with most.

Once we have identified the 'location' of something on the mind's inner model, we can understand it by association with stuff that we know already.

Simple overall rules like 'add more of the same @ location x' or 'if locations x and y are active at the same time, link them together' lie behind plasticity; development is promoted by input signals (use) and constrained by density (availability of materials/ finite volume of space available) and power (energy availability/time in which signals can be processed.)

The locations most regularly active quickly become become permanently established with multiple connections in the 'network hubs'. These will be main communication nexuses where inputs converge, processing can take place and comparisons for association can be made.

Experiential input should confirm, not conflict with, eidetic core concepts, giving our inner model the ability to portray reality accurately, and imagination the correct data to reproduce a model of whatever's detected and start 'making sense of the world'.

We took for an example learning to speak a particular language. Although we are programmed to learn any language or several, as associations build up from experience a specific language will be recognized, and finally the words will be understood as associated with meanings both from experience and from the inner model. Once we've developed association nets to that level, appropriate interactive responses are always ready and waiting.

We'll learn more about this when you move on to intermediate NH (next tutorial). For now we just need to remember that the mind associates everything with animal behaviors and they in turn associate with core concepts that are hard wired. Animal behaviors are flexible and adaptable, core concepts are not.

The minds goal is the pursuit of entelechy (Rogers' “actualization tendency”, the organism thriving) and its required output is a series of interactions that will lead to the best possible outcome. To provide these, the mind must predict the best behaviors for every interaction and constantly improve its repertoire; it's own ability to interact, by learning. It is no surprise then that all intelligent creatures are both keen to learn and tempted by the unknown.

Prediction relies on a mixture of imagination, memory and current perception. Our mind brings together the lessons of the past and probabilities of the future with the here and now, all the time. That's exactly how you know what the end of this sentence is likely t.........


Following the pattern that biology works with is the way you learned to walk and talk, and it’s the fast, easy way to learn. If you didn’t understand all the sciency bits don’t worry, -just follow the white rabbit.


The Process of Perception


The development of intelligence goes through clear stages, and so does the process of learning anything. If we work with the natural process instead of against it, results are much faster.

Learning depends on dynamic changes in brain chemicals to achieve each stage. Remember how different networks use different transmitters? They’re doing different kinds of thinking based on animal behaviors that rely on those chemicals. And the long and the short of it is, if your brain releases the right chemicals in the right order, you learn faster and you remember better.

You can get this to happen on purpose by following a simple formula we will explain shortly.


The brain associates anything your intent follows with 'important stuff', so you have an automatic advantage in natural learning because it then does everything for you, even while you're sleeping!


Summary example of the process of perception:

Someone says 'hello world'. This is the distal stimulus.

The sound and light waves impacting on system sensors are the proximal stimulus.

The brain's reproduction of this input pattern accurately as speaking sounds is the percept.

“Language” is a hard wired concept, compared against which the percept is given meaning.






How Perception Happens -do you get it?

Identify the distal stimulus, proximal stimulus, percepts and concepts in the following scenarios:

A person is looking at a flower. The flower itself is the ---------------------- When light reflected from the flower enters the person's eye and stimulates their retina, that stimulation is the -------------------------. The image of the flower reconstructed by the brain of the person is the ---------------------. Similar images already stored in the brain are ----------------------.


A bird is singing. “Birds Singing” is a --------------------- already in memory. The singing of the bird is the -----------------------------. The sound stimulating your auditory receptors is the -------------------------------, and the brain's interpretation of this as the singing of a bird is the -------------------------------.

Someone passes you a new food to try at a party. The new food is the ------------------------. The registration of the taste and texture of the food on your tastebuds is the -------------------------. Your recognition of it as 'tastes like chicken' is a -------------------------. “Chicken Taste” is a -------------- from your memory.


You meet the Crab People from a distant world. The crab people are the --------------------------. The light waves reflected from the crab people hitting your retina and the odor molecules from the crab people signaling your nasal receptors are the ---------------------------------. Your observations, “Smells like crab, looks like people” are ---------------------------. “Crabs” and “People” are -------------------.

(answers at end of tutorial)





What Happens if Things Go Wrong?


What's the biggest obstacle to learning? I’ll give you three guesses... anxiety. In this case, largely other people’s!

The success of learning depends on our being given a content suitable to our intent, and on not being distracted from that.

A proper content is one appropriate to our individual and particular stage of development and relevant to the task or skill that we need to learn. The ability to learn fast and well is wrecked when our intent is met instead with the intentions of an anxiety-driven society. Learning slows right down when we are forced into mismatched relating of intent and content. When the chemistry doesn’t happen in the right order, memory and concentration are poor, we lose interest and are distracted easily.

We make a clear distinction here between intent, which comes from the bottom up, and intentions, which are contrived events imposed or controlled from the top down. So for a start, you cannot make the natural learning process adhere to an academic timetable. Trying to do so slows learning down. Schooling produces a series of bad habits of thought that need to be replaced by good habits or you will always have to do it the hard slow way.

If you practise learning the easy way, the learning process takes place automatically, as you just play with things [explore them] and quite a lot of the learning process happens during sleep.

Humans were programmed by biology to learn by playing, which is why healthy children are so awfully keen on doing it. Most grown ups have forgotten how to play, and the closest that they ever get to it is reading fiction. Consequently they can only learn things the slow way –fed in from the top-down (school fashion). And it’s slower by orders of magnitude.

...A guitarist who’s used to ‘playing along’ with stuff can get the basics of a song s/he’s never heard before within about two minutes and be filling in the details and copying the others reasonably well in ten without even knowing what the chords are called or how to spell ‘theory’.

A musician working from the top down has to learn the whole of musical theory in order to be able to understand and interpret the sheet music, and will still be unable to improvise a solo or make anything creative up on the spot. There will be practice, but no variation.

If you do it the right way round, you will learn music theory as you are going along because the problems that you need to solve will demand an ever-greater expansion of knowledge. You will have become interested in it, it is associated with something that you already know well, and it will therefore be much easier and faster to learn.

This is the most important difference -if you learn things n the right order, you can get both ends (the ability to improvise and the ability to read sheet music). But if you do it the hard way you may well not ever be able to learn improvisation, no matter how accurate your score-reading becomes.

Learning things the hard way is a bit like trying to get your nutrition by shoving food up your ass...it works, eventually, sort of, but it’s a long, painstaking [and possibly painful] process.

Shoving information into our brains the wrong way round becomes a habit because that’s the way humans are currently taught in schools despite the fact that people obviously learned to walk and talk without being given any lectures on locomotion or grammar. Top-down knowledge is meant to augment the natural kind; it is there for exploring the subject in as much abstract detail as you like later on; not for grasping the concrete basics, amd by the time you've finished this tutorial you should know exactly why.

Remember that we learn by associating new things with things we know already, when the new subject is seen as being relevant to and in context with our previous knowledge. And we don’t associate unconsciously in words or musical notes on a stave at all; we do it in pictures and experiences.

Remember also that we don't respond well to coercion. People with attention deficit disorder (ADHD) often have problems with inattention and reduced motivation, and a new research study suggests why.[6] Relative to control subjects, people with ADHD had lower levels of dopamine receptors and transporters in two key regions of the brain directly involved in processing desire and motivation.

In addition, the measurements of dopamine markers correlated with measures of behavior and clinical observations of ADHD symptoms, such as reduced levels of attention as measured by standard psychological tests.

This is a classic result of coercion-based learning. From the brain's pov, ADHD may well mean 'Aversion to Doing the Horribly Dull', because for a maturing brain until around age seven, where there is no sensorimotor movement, there can be no attention and no real learning. The result of restrained physical activity right when the brain really needs activity is, well, hyperactivity. The result of not being given the right input for attention is the inability to pay attention. If you suppress intent it will usually come back and kick you up the ass.






Carl Rogers on Natural Learning


Carl Rogers saw himself as a facilitator of interaction; one who could create a matrix; a nurturing environment for engagement. Obviously we can nurture intelligence by answering questions and revealing truths as information, and this is good input, but more important is the attitude of the facilitator. Rogers pointed out that there were 'ways of being' with others that foster exploration and encounter - and these interactions are more significant than the information involved.

Most people underestimate the contribution of nurture to intelligence and learning. There is a certainly a role for information transmission, not ‘from’ teachers but ‘through’ nurturers, and Rogers’ emphasis on facilitation and non-directiveness is intimately linked with the practical effect of using the core conditions (empathy, genuineness and unconditional respect) in communication.

You will have noticed from the newbies section of this site that we use Roger's Core Conditions when interacting in the forum. The best way to learn anything is to play with it, so if you haven't posted in the forums yet, now could be a good time  :  )

The article "Interaction & core conditions" in the basics section of the library will give you all the basics about core conditions, and we'll explore them in greater depth later on.

Rogers distinguished two types of learning: cognitive only (meaningless) and experiential (significant). The former corresponds to academic work such as learning vocabulary or multiplication tables parrot-fashion without any context and the latter refers to applied knowledge such as learning about vocabulary in order to write a story or math in order to work something out. The key to the distinction is that experiential learning addresses the needs and desires of the learner.

Rogers lists these qualities of experiential learning: personal involvement, self-initiated, evaluated by learner, and pervasive effects on learner. We cannot teach another person directly; we can only facilitate their learning. He also noted that the structure and organization of the mind appears to become more rigid under threat; and to relax its boundaries when completely free from threat.

According to Rogers, learning is best facilitated when: (1) the student initiates the learning process and has control over its nature and direction, (2) the subject matter is primarily based upon direct practical, social, personal or research needs, questions or problems, and (3) self-evaluation is the principal method of assessing progress or success. [4]

Emergence, entelechy and easy learning always proceed from the concrete to the abstract, from the known to the unknown and back again; bottom-up. The thing that prompts the process –your own intent from the bottom up or someone else's anxious intentions from the top down- will shape the eventual outcome of your learning as well as the difficulty or ease of the process. Your intent is what is working for you in any learning situation. If your intent is to learn something, then what comes out will be the ability to do it. You don’t need to be aware of what’s going on unconsciously; all you have to do is follow your intent.

In order to work with biology, we have to understand how learning works and recognise the cycle of learning in ourselves. The intent of this tutorial is to uncover that biological system in your brain and to verify and realign its function. We introduced you to the stress/relax response in the last tutorial, so now we’re going to have a look at just what goes on when that takes place.





Association exercise

Visit a graphics site such as google images and choose one image to represent each of these terms:






Try to choose amusimg or memorable pictures, and put them in your NH diary.

As you read through the sections about learning below, see if you can associate each of your pictures with a stage of the natural learning process. We've included our own chosen pictures in the text.



(An easy model for remembering the cycle of stress/relaxation in learning)


You’ll remember how learning is all about stretching then relaxing the mind. The learning cycle is a pattern that enables us to move into an unknown, unpredictable area [stress], interact with it, and understand, assimilate or digest it into our known, predictable body of knowledge [relaxation].

Each successful learning cycle increases the scope of the known; the relaxed state. Each adaptation we make in learning also increases our ability to explore more unknown things that will present us with more stress and unpredictability, because we have a broader base of knowledge to stand on from which to make further adaptations.

The learning cycle works with our biology to develop our mental skills in the right order. If we ignore the way the brain works, we can still have intent, but it’s very hard to manifest it beyond wishful thinking.

The stress/relax cycle breaks down into four stages that we have a simple formula for remembering; “COMP”.

COMP stands for “Concentration, Observation, Modeling, Practice & variation.” This next section explains what the brain is doing during these stages.



Our intent right now is to understand this information. In order to do so, we have to pay attention. The ability to concentrate allows us to pay attention to information so that it gets rated as 'important' by the brain and so stays in our memory long enough to be useful.

Concentrating involves a state of maintaining attention over time, and avoiding distraction. Poor

concentration means that the information does not get taken in, and memories then have no chance of getting into long term storage. It’s very often the case that memory loss, or apparently ‘poor memory’ is simply a failure to pay enough attention in the first place! That is obvious really, but you must not underestimate its importance. It is easy to sharpen your memory when you realise this first fact: paying attention in a particular way is crucial to memory processing.

Motivation and mental arousal are key factors affecting attention. We must be interested in what we are trying to learn, driven by natural intent, and not find it distasteful in any way. And we must avoid distractions.

Old theories of motivation hold that satisfaction reduces subsequent motivational drive. But more recent experiments and later MRI images indicate otherwise. When we desire something and get it, the subsequent feeling of satisfaction reinforces and increases the strength of that desire when it returns. Conversely, chronically unsatisfied desires may diminish the intensity of motivation.

Addiction therefore becomes a useful factor in learning. (Remember how we told you most things could be used beneficially?) In addiction, getting leads to more desire to get. One example is alcohol: Most people can live without it before they discover it, and getting pleasure from it does increase the desire for more. We are born addicted to learning, but society ‘cures’ that quite early on by making sure that it is neither interesting nor pleasant.

When it is, we come back for more. In one experiment, participants were asked to work a crossword puzzle or play a hand-held video game, and in another, participants were asked to take 15-minute naps on four out of eight days. In a third experiment, participants were asked to read the top news stories on a popular Web site for two weeks. The follow-ups to these experiments showed that people choosing to engage in an activity led them to desire to perform the activity more over time.

Many things can distract you when you are trying to learn, including your body. You may be too hot or too cold right now, hungry, tired, needing the bathroom, a cigarette or a cup of coffee. Your thoughts can distract you too –you may be wondering whether your friend is going to be okay or why some person said something strange about you last week or whether you will pass your exams this summer or what somebody else thinks of you. All of these things distract you and slow down learning, and if you’re distracted while you’re reading this you’re not even going to get the first point.

The first point is that we have to operate fully in the here and now with our attention focused on what we are doing; not on whatever might happen in the future, might be going on somewhere else, or has happened in the past. Only then can we have true concentration without distractions, and that’s the first thing we need to grasp the basics.


What’s biology doing, when we get this right?


Remember, the mind associates everything with animal behaviors, and as far as the unconscious mind is concerned, it begins new things by gathering together all it knows and then stepping out from the already-known into the unknown. It sums up the basics, decides the benefits outweigh any harmful factors, and gathers information.



 –Concentration on our subject in an attentive manner fires the brain’s “stress” response (see last tutorial) sending dopamine and other chemicals like noradrenaline around our brain to increase our attention and interest in what we are doing. Desire increases.

This is one of the areas where distraction by anxiety can be particularly troublesome because anxiety in itself is a distraction that makes it very, very hard for us to learn anything new. We can’t explore the unknown effectively, because unconsciously we’re too afraid to try anything different, too afraid to make a mistake, too worried what other people might think if they are watching and too worried about things that might or did happen to pay any real attention to what is going on in the present.

To get an idea of how all-pervasive anxiety can be, imagine trying to concentrate on something new in school one morning after a bully has told you they are going to beat you up at lunchtime. –How can you think of anything else but the coming threat? You cannot concentrate on anything except for the thing causing the anxiety, and the more that you imagine it, the worse it gets. It is obvious in this example just how powerful anxiety can be, but that is because this is a physical example. Far less obvious is unconscious anxiety, which is how many little things can stress us out over time or we can feel anxious without really knowing a logical cause. This is why it's important to reduce your anxiety hormone levels by whatever methods you can, even if you don’t feel consciously anxious.



Prompted by the increase of dopamine, this is the state of mind where desire replaces interest and we seek what we want to find or achieve with natural motivation. The mind has been gathering information but now it goes hunting (and the states of mind induced by serotonin and dopamine are associated with the animal behaviors of gathering and hunting.) This is stretching the mind -moving it out of its comfortable 'known' areas into something a bit new.

As desire increases, our perception improves and we notice more details and we start to take closer notice of what is going on. This is where we start to (still partly unconsciously) look for connections, between the new thing that we are exploring and experiences that we have had before. We compare for example what we are reading now to stuff that we know already and to our own ideas, we make associations, and slowly we start to see where these new ideas fit into our scheme of “how things work” and why and how the new thing is relevant.

From time to time during this phase our brain moves bits of information around in memory, to help us to associate more effectively. When this happens, the natural thing for us to do is to stare, often apparently blankly at the wall and this is sometimes known as ‘daydreaming’ [daydreaming is not the same as ‘fantasising’ about winning the lottery, or going out with your favorite celebrity, for example –this is wishful thinking; not daydreaming. Nor does it count if you’re staring blankly at the wall because you’re too stoned.]

Daydreaming [and consequently staring] is a vitally important part of learning which, if allowed to proceed without interruption, will speed up the learning process a lot. We should not interrupt people who are doing it, because we are interfering with their learning speed if we do. Our brainwave patterns change when we are staring; we are unconsciously accessing relevant information to “fill in the details” of what we know about the new information. To sustain your attention consistently enough to process information into long term memory [that is, to encode it], you need to keep a good balance between observation [taking in input] and assimilating it so regular breaks, especially if spent staring, are beneficial.

You cannot easily initiate ‘staring’ on purpose –the brain knows when it needs to be done naturally, and you should work with that. If you find yourself losing concentration, getting confused or bored, stop and take a break, or do something totally different. The subject will return to your conscious awareness when the unconscious networks of the brain have ‘caught up’.

What’s biology doing?



As you learn more of the details, your brain creates an increasingly complex net of associations, integrating the new information with what you know already. When you’re staring, your brain is doing on the spot “Defragmenting”, moving important bits of what you have learned into your long term memory and connecting the pathways for access to it. And at that point we begin:



In modeling we are not merely an observer; we begin to interact with the subject of our inquiry (the observer becomes a participator, because of the nature of learning). This is the part of learning that requires skill in accurate imagination, because in order to learn anything well we jump forwards in time in our imagination. This is what biology is designed to do. You have to imagine what it would be like to be the master, as if your intent had already come to pass, and you have to behave as though it has happened or is happening.

Modeling is called modeling because during this phase we copy a model. It may be a mental model of how it feels to be adept at the new task, or it may be a physical example of someone who is already adept at a skill we require to learn; either on a screen or in real life. In youth it is often our parents and friends that we learn skills from this way. Some people choose a spiritual model when following a spiritual path, but a model is not a coach so much as an example of how to do it right, whatever it is. If you are learning a creative skill, make sure your role model genuinely has the ability to manifest their intent through their medium, and stick to them like glue.

It’s not essential to have a physical model for all learning, but it can be a big asset if you do.

The talent for high fidelity copying is among the greatest of human assets. Because of it, humans are uniquely adapted to both receive and pass on information and skills. This natural way of learning is at the root of all human culture.

What’s biology doing? –Firing up special kinds of brain cell called “mirror neurons”, that help us to ‘reflect’ upon the new ideas and start to use our imagination. If the skill being learned is a sport, for example, we would start to imagine ourselves performing it. If we are reading an emotional story, we would begin to empathise with the characters and “get into it” as we imagine how they might have felt. If we are learning scientific information, we may imagine how the new information applies to areas of our lives and the lives of others.

In modeling behavior animals produce oxytocin, the 'befriend & bond' hormone. This state of mind appears to enable us to more easily adapt ourselves to mimic aspects of our context to better fit in with its requirements, and is related to both symbiosis and camouflage.



We are able to learn from imitation; not just skills but states of mind. Imitation –copying both the method and the outcome of a task- is not the same as emulation. Emulation focuses on the results of a task and then tries to achieve it by figuring it out. At first, this would seem a more optimal way to go about things, so why does biology favor imitation?


Because humans have massive cultural complexity, young ones need to be able to learn quickly how to do many, many things, modifying techniques later on if need be during practice & variation. Imitation is quicker than explanation because it provides an already-working solution to the problem, with time for explanation along the way. We are evolved to seek examples from the already-adept, and copy them. Genuine teaching is the art of being adept at demonstrating a skill whilst explaining it until the observers have “got it”. What we are ‘learning’ during explanations is how to think in the same way as the teacher; not the facts themselves. Only by thinking like the teacher can we easily remember those facts, because our mind is redesigned to accommodate them by our biology copying theirs. We must learn to perceive as they perceive; copy their perception, then we will know the subject as well as they.

Demonstration and directed examples would have been necessary for our distant ancestors to learn from each other long before speech emerged, using mime and hands-on demonstration to show how tools were made or techniques used. And this is still one of the basics of our learning today.


P&V –Practice & variation

You behave as though you had “got it” and practice the behavior, your brain watches where you go wrong, and does it again more accurately. You have to do what a child would do –you have to play. The moment you get the hang of behaving exactly as you would if your intent had become reality, it starts to become actual reality.

A good example is how we learn to walk. We don’t wait until we feel confident enough about walking to give it a try, we just behave as though we can do it and set off –and fall over. But all we have to do in order to correct that error is acknowledge it, forget it, get right up again and practice –letting our brain do all the complicated computation to correct our mistakes as we just get on with it. Our brain figures out what it takes to fire the right neurons to make our body move in a coordinated, balanced way simply by using feedback –which is why that feedback needs to be given.

The most important thing about learning to walk though is, again, not being distracted. If, every time we fell over, we focused our attention on the object that had tripped us, we’d never learn to walk. Being distracted by errors is a classic bad habit that most people have learned [again because of schooling] and it can be particularly distracting if you were brought up to believe that error is bad.

Error is merely a less accurate variation, and by getting feedback on the degree of variation the brain can tighten up its coordination skills both physically and mentally to improve performance. Without feedback from error we cannot learn to do anything well. A famous musician said, “If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not really trying”. Thomas Edison, after more than 2000 attempts, invented a working light bulb. He said, “I learned 2000 ways how not to make a light bulb, and that taught me how to make a light bulb”. Mistakes are, because of the necessity for feedback, the only way we can learn to do things optimally. If you allow your brain to do so, it will learn from your mistakes just as effectively as it did when you were learning to walk.

Every time you engage in an act of creative play, your brain releases chemicals on the assumption that what you are doing is real. The unconscious brain doesn’t know that you are learning to drive –it only knows that you are driving –you are behaving like a person who can drive, in that you are getting into a car and pressing pedals and turning the wheel and things. The brain itself has no concern where its input is coming from; it just does its job and gets on with making the required chemical changes in response to your actual behavior and awareness; not the theory behind driving skills. In effect, you are playing at driving, in a safe space where someone experienced has dual controls. And that’s how you teach your brain to drive.

What’s biology doing? –

Procedural practice is associated with the animal behaviors of construction, synchronization and synthesis, and in these behaviors animals produce acetylcholine, the 'create and cooperate' hormone. This state of mind appears to enable us to focus on close details, bring order out of chaos and more easily adapt our context to better fit in with our own requirements, and is also related to animal home building, aesthetics and communication.

Engaging in creative play on a regular basis creates a concentration of chemicals that trigger changes in your genome –a change in the expression of your genetic code. Different genes are turned on that produce new proteins for new brain growth; new connections between cells. Remember that the brain doesn’t grow larger outwards as you become more adept –it grows in density –in the number of connections between brain cells. As it builds these connections, you “get it”. You begin to truly understand whatever you are learning and it starts to become ‘known’ to you, and eventually automatic.




Practice literally changes your mind –you become more adept and these changes in intelligence will remain, as long as you use the skills that they bring. By varying the circumstances of practice we come to understand what we are learning ever more fully.


Whenever we reach this point in the learning cycle, your brain releases serotonin. This initiates the relaxation response. Other chemicals are triggered including the brains own natural opioids, and it feels very very nice.

The neural pathways through which we learn about the world tap into the same pleasure network in the brain as are activated by drugs like heroin. It’s nature’s way of saying, “well done you!” Opioids are released at the “I get it!” part of comprehension and until we have achieved that, we’ll remain enthusiastic about learning the same thing. It is this part of the system that gives us the intent to seek new information.


Going through the learning cycle in the right order increases the high. How? The further information travels through the processing networks, the more receptors there are for these chemicals; that is to say, they occur in increasing numbers as you move through the networks. Because of this, information that triggers the most associations and conveys the most meaning to a person causes the greatest relaxation response.


Does the effect wear off? Yes. As skills become automatic they use different parts of the networks with not so many receptors. Repetition [P&V] encourages this shift, freeing up the pathways for new learning.







The Importance of Association


One of the brains best 'cheats' for associating concepts very fast is using analogy between concrete objects/events and abstract constructs/procedures to categorize. In the world of abstraction, every concrete thing has an analogical form, and everything links back to animal behaviors. The mind only needs one concept for 'gathering' or 'hunting'; it doesn't care of we're hunting for dinner or hunting for information or a girlfriend or the solution to a math problem; it needs the same skills -careful observation to discover the good stuff, and caution to avoid harmful, misleading or irrelevant stuff. Everything is broken down to these basics.


It also associates physical sensorimotor movements with abstract concepts and this is where it is wide open to beneficial hacking.


Let's say we would like a skill such as the ability to focus really well and achieve high accuracy in problem-detection (maybe you're fixing bugs in a computer program, or trying to do complicated math, for example). Despite the fact that what you need are abstract skills, if you go practise some sensorimotor activity that employs them as concrete skills (for example, target shooting, archery or sniping), you'll find thet -Hey Presto!- your analogous mental skills sharpen up in exactly the same way!


This happens because the brain uses the same networks for both abstract and concrete skills, and if you build up a network with any skill, the associated mental skills will improve at the same time -they can't do anything else!


This is why juggling improves your multitasking skills, high wire walking improves your emotional balance AND your ability to balance accounts, and organizing your online files increases your ability to mentally categorize and organize your life. The same animal behaviors and the same brain networks and the same neurotransmitters are involved.


Every skill needs the full cycle of learning if you are to become proficient, but each skill will relate to one or two animal behaviors and if you know what they are you can design your own hacks and exercises -all you have to do is build up the networkl associated with the relevant behavior, and that will improve all the mental abilities that use the same network.


Music builds up N4 because the N4-related animal behaviors behaviors are synchronization, cooperation, aesthetics and building constructs. Intelligence doesn't care if its building a nest, playing in an orchestra or writing a symphony, the same network and the same basic behavior applies -you are putting things together to make a complex whole that displays emergent properties that are more than the sum of its parts- and that's why building a computer will improve musical composing skills AND vice versa.


This should open up a whole new world of hacking for you and from hereon in you can consider yourself in 'intermediate' level NH. The faster you understand these basic habits of the brain, the faster you will progress and the more adept you will become at really using your own intelligence with the dynamic power of interaction. Here you are interacting with the brain itself to enable it to adapt to better understand more diverse contexts; you are evolving the brain.


The potential for expanding our learning ability from concrete to abstract skills is hard wired into brain networks as a result of evolution, just as is the potential for language and emotion. However, and this is something you are going to have to get used to, none of these potentials will be realised unless the required input is given to cause the gene transcription that enables them to function. In simple terms, it’s more than “use it in the right way or lose it”, it is a matter of using sensorimotor abilities in the right way or abstract abilities will never develop in the first place.


One single example: in order for our sense of distance to develop, when we're small we need plenty of practice looking at distant objects. Most of us who were incarcerated in schools didn't get enough, and that's why we're a generation of spectacle-wearing adults (and tribal people still don't understand when we can't see a bird in a tree several miles away). But other associated skills are lost too, two other results of this lack of input are inaccuracy in vertical distance judgment and (especially if balance is poor too) the accompanying phobia about heights. In abstract terms, that leaves us with sparse networks for assessing the long term prospects of things and in practical terms it makes us poor at planning and less socially adept.

All initial lack of input leads to sparsity of networks available not just for concrete material abilities but also for mental skills because they use the very same networks, just like all the many different applications on your computer can use exactly the same wiring. The details are different, the basics remain the same.

The brain doesn't care what purpose skills are being used for; working out how to get across this river or working out the physics and math for how to get to Mars. It can use the same program to move the body about that it uses to analyse, move about and associate abstract concepts.


Maybe now you are beginning to see why the earliest nets are the most important! If we cannot learn to walk well and balance our bodies, the brain has no associated concept of 'balance' in any other sense either. We will fail to understand the meanings of 'emotional balance' or 'balancing benefit and risk' or 'balancing the books' (and in effect, making decisions). If you have difficulty making decisions, get out there and do some balancing exercises -learn Tai Chi. As your brain learns how to balance the body well, it also begins to understand the abstract associated concepts such as emotional balance or 'weighing' the pros and cons. Without an understanding of the root concept, all other associated concepts cannot be made.


We need this flexibility in our brains; the ability to relate everything to sensorimotor basics, because we don’t all learn the same language, use the same tools, do the same tasks or live in the same environment. But the important thing to realize is this: the networks need to be used in the intended way in order to develop fully. If no example of human language is given at all, our ability to speak will never emerge, and if no example of balance is ever learned, our ability to relate abstract skills to the balance concept will be as clumsy and as full of accidents as our attempts to walk.


! Snapback warning: 

If you are not used to it, being driven by intent can feel like being possessed by a genius. The genius is speaking and interacting using your body, but you have no conscious thoughts about what you're saying or doing.

Anxiety may try to convince you that this 'intruder' is turning "your personality" off and taking control. It takes another step of understanding to realize that we are that genius and what we are 'turning off' is the anxiety-based synthetic personality that we previously thought of as 'ourselves'  :  )  Intelligence is not coming from the outside taking over the mind; we are intelligence and we are reclaiming it.

In a literal sense it is autonomy (but we don't recognize than until we know it's US trying to take over ourselves!) The difficulty is compounded because the thing we start off thinking of as 'ourselves', in fact usually isn't.

This begins to explain the true nature of habits of thought and how difficult bad habits can be to address. After being practised for a while, any habit of thought or behavior becomes automatic; hence habits are much more easily changed by overwriting them with better habits rather than by trying to wipe them altogether.

The same is true of learning. Don't worry if you accidentally approach a new learning experience from the 'old' pov. Just ignore the error and start again approaching it from the perspective of play. Doing this will automatically replace the habit. So don't get all caught up in anxiety about why you made an error -remember that errors are both our feedback for fine tuning and a good sign that the brain is eager to learn. Using errors as useful data is another good habit you can cultivate if every time you make one you remind youself that the brain cannot learn without feedback.[5]

We’ll explore this more in depth later; what is important now is that you understand that everybody’s learning ability can be strongly affected by various things, including what networks they are using and for what purposes. If you can understand that, you have already won half the battle. Changing the habits of wrong use is one of the hardest parts of neurohacking, but one of the most rewarding.




NHA Guide to Methods & Technology


Mind maps

Many of us lead very busy lives, with far too much to do. It is hardly surprising that, with so much going on, we can be poor at concentrating on single things. The ability to identify and focus on important ideas, details, methods, techniques, names and so on is however critical to the effective recall of information. Biology has evolved an association system that helps us pay attention [or not] to things. There are different kinds of attention skills that help your short term working memory to process information into long term, and there’s a very useful tool for helping us during the cycle of learning. It’s called Mind Mapping, and if you do it already you can skip this bit.


Mind Mapping is an important NH association technique that improves learning speed and supports and enhances creative problem solving. By using Mind Maps, you can quickly identify and understand the structure of a subject and the way that pieces of information fit together, as well as recording the raw facts contained in normal notes. More than this, Mind Maps provide a structure which encourages creative problem solving, and they hold information in a format that your mind will find easy to remember and quick to review.


Popularized by Tony Buzan, Mind Maps abandon the list format of conventional note taking. They do this in favor of a semi-graphic structure. The brain works by association; not separated, disconnected lines A good Mind Map shows the 'shape' of the subject, the relative importance of individual points, and the way in which ideas associate or relate to one another. Mind Maps are more compact than conventional notes, often taking up only one side of A4 paper. Their spatial qualities help you to make associations and remember more easily. If you find out more information after you have drawn the main Mind Map, you can also easily integrate it with little disruption.


Drawing Basic Mind Maps

We have given an example of one student’s first mind map of “Neurohacking” below; followed by the instructions:


the instructions:

1. The basics. -Write the title or theme of the subject you're exploring in the center of the page, and draw a border around it. Most students find it useful to turn their page on the side and do mind maps in "landscape" style. With the main idea or topic in the middle of the page this gives the maximum space for other ideas to radiate out from the centre.

2. The details. Your initial words and images will stimulate associations; write them in. As you come across major subdivisions or subheadings of the topic (or important facts that relate to the subject) draw lines out from this circle. Attach whatever words or images are triggered. Allow the 'random movement of your thought; you do not have to ‘finish’ one branch before moving on. Connected lines create relationships and a structure. They also demonstrate the level of importance, as from a branch to a twig. Allow your thoughts to come freely, meaning you ‘jump about’ the Mind Map as the links and associations occur to you. Don’t worry that you’ve got ‘too much’ on the page. There will be plenty of time for modifying the information later on but at this stage it is important to get every possibility into the mind map.

3. Modeling. The idea of mind mapping is to think creatively and in a non-linear manner. A good mind map is just that –a mapped copy of the real associations (and the real networks!) inside your mind. As you empathise with the subject and uncover more information (further subheadings, or individual facts) belonging to the subheadings above, draw these as lines linked to the subheading lines.

4. Practice & variation. Once you understand how to make notes in the Mind Map format, you can develop your own conventions to take them further. The following suggestions may help to increase their effectiveness:

*As you come across new information, link it in to the Mind Map appropriately. Some of the most useful mind maps are those which are added to over a period of time. After the initial drawing of the mind map you may wish to highlight things, add information or add questions. If you run out of space, other pages can be adhered to the edges to give an ever-expanding map.

A complete Mind Map may have main topic lines radiating in all directions from the center. Sub-topics and facts will branch off these, like branches and twigs from the trunk of a tree. You do not need to worry about the structure produced, as this will emerge of its own accord.

*Add a little humor, exaggeration or absurdity wherever you can Your brain will delight in getting the maximum use and enjoyment from this process and will therefore learn faster, recall more effectively and think more clearly. Cartoons work very well.

* Use single words or simple phrases for information: Most words in normal writing are padding, as they ensure that facts are conveyed in the correct context, and in a format that is pleasant to read. In your Mind Maps, single strong words and meaningful phrases can convey the same meaning more potently. Excess words just clutter the map.

* Print words: Joined up or indistinct writing can be more difficult to read.

* Use color to separate different ideas, starting at the violet end of the spectrum in the centre and following the rainbow format. This will help you to separate ideas into layers where necessary. It also helps you to visualize the Mind Map for recall. Color also helps to memorise the organization of the subject. Sometimes enclose branches of a Mind Map with outlines in color. Hug the shape tightly and use different colours and styles. The outlines will create unique shapes that will aid your memory; these provide immediate visual linking, can encourage follow-up and remind you of action you need to take and can also show connections between branches by using the same color outline.

* Use symbols and images: Where a symbol or picture means something to you, use it. Pictures help you to remember information more effectively than just words.

* Using cross-linkages: Information in one part of the Mind Map may relate to another part. Here you can draw in lines to show the cross-linkages. This helps you to see how one part of the subject affects another.

* Circular maps: Mind maps usually proceed from the centre outwards, but some concepts can better be described in a circle; a very simple example is the life cycle of the butterfly, but whole ecology nets can be structured in interlocking circles. Try these ideas after you’ve done a few basic maps.


Mind Maps are also useful for:

* Summarizing information;

* Consolidating information from different research sources;

* Thinking through complex problems; and

* Presenting information in a format that shows the overall structure of your subject


They are very quick to review as you can often refresh information in your mind just by glancing at one. And in the same way, they can be effective mnemonics: Remembering the shape and structure of a Mind Map can give you the cues you need to remember the information within it. As such, they engage much more of your brain in the process of assimilating and connecting facts, compared with conventional notes.

For this reason, mind maps work best when they are done by hand, because the physical movements you make in order to draw one will remind you of the original information if you trace them. If you have difficulty with handwork though, mind mapping can be done on computer.

Mind Mapping is just one tool of this nature for enhancing memory, creativity and problem solving techniques, but it is the most effective one that we have found. Mind mapping is sometimes called ‘concept mapping’ because somebody along the line got dumb about copyright; they are exactly the same technique.


Practical Assignment 1

Make a mind map of your favorite movie in your NH diary. Here’s one student's map of “Lord of the Rings”:




Introducing EMDR


Q: What is EMDR?

A: EMDR is a drug-free way of processing painful or frightening memories and wiping their anxiety-causing triggers.

In 1987, psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro was walking through the park and thinking about something that was troubling her. She accidentally noticed that her eyes were darting back and forth. When she returned to her thoughts she noticed that they weren't as disturbing. This intrigued her and she tested it out on herself by thinking of something disturbing, then thinking of it again while purposely moving her eyes back and forth. The results were the same. Dr. Shapiro began testing this scientifically, first with war veterans suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Some of these men had been in traditional therapy for 15 to 20 years and yet they continued to have nightmares and flashbacks that felt as if they were reliving the horrors of war. PTSD had completely incapacitated some of these men, but when they received EMDR treatment, many found that years of PTSD symptoms disappeared within a few sessions. These results were repeated when EMDR was tested with rape victims and victims of other types of trauma.

Shapiro found that not only does EMDR desensitize painful memories but people spontaneously began to view themselves and the event in a healthier and more positive way. So, "I'm worthless" became, "I'm a good and lovable person and deserving of love and respect".


How EMDR Might Work

We know from memory and brain research that painful or traumatic experiences are stored with a different “weighting” than pleasant or neutral ones. Normally, if we're troubled by something, we go through the learning process; think about it, talk about it, perhaps dream about it and eventually we are able to come to some sort of adaptive resolution [We find a way to come to terms with it in a healthy way, enabling us to solve the problem.] Things can happen that interrupt this process if we experience a trauma or very painful event. Instead of downgrading their emotional “weighting” in memory over time, traumatic events can get stuck with their original weighting so that each recall remains in its original form, complete with the same thoughts, feelings, bodily sensation, smells and sounds. It's as though network 3 is for a short time sealed off from the rest of the brain. That's why it's not uncommon for a person who's had years of traditional talk therapy to find that they still hurt and haven't changed as much as they had hoped. This is because the dysfunctionally stored material still has not been properly processed.

What researchers think is that EMDR in some way is able to nudge that material so that N3 neurologically reconnects with the healthy brain while accessing it and the memories are reprocessed and integrated at an accelerated speed. The most popular theory is that when the eyes move back and forth it creates brain activity similar to that which occurs during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. It's during this REM phase (when we dream) that we resolve conflicts, defragment information and consolidate learning and memory. More simply put, information processing takes place. By creating similar brain activity, while thinking about the painful event, it appears that EMDR is able to help the brain finally process the stuck material, giving correct weightings and enabling the person to arrive at adaptive resolution. The painful event or trauma is still an unfortunate memory but is no longer produces the emotional pain that it did before.

EMDR is helpful in treating many other problems besides PTSD, including anxiety, apathy, depression, abuse issues, work related problems, paranoia and low self-esteem. Furthermore, some EMDR therapists have found that EMDR can enhance the performance of athletes, performing artists and writers, so it’s useful for IA too.

It is important to understand that EMDR is not merely a technique using random eye movements, but a complex, integrative method that utilizes a very precise protocol. We’ve included an EMDR session in the hacks below.


Practical Assignment 2:

Start the habit of looking for new information and constantly educating yourself.

A lot of factors in our lifestyles that we may not be aware of can work against biology. Scientific information takes a long time to filter through to the public, so you must make it your business to find out stuff for yourself and keep yourself up to date.

We have to a right to know about anything that can benefit or harm our health and wellbeing, but information cannot help us if we don’t both seek it and pay attention to it.

Society is not designed with our biology or our health as a priority; it is designed with financial success as a priority. -If everyone was happy and healthy and contented and fulfilled, where would all the cash crops and drug companies go?

Any factor of our modern lifestyles that causes anxiety is working against biology, because anxiety produces the chemical response that blocks bonding, interaction and learning. You now know that pollution, chemicals in food, sleep deprivation, the weather, electric light, nasty behavior viewed on television, music, your occupation, even the people you socialize with, can all affect the levels of anxiety hormones in your bloodstream and can slow you down and even damage your brain without you consciously noticing. So it’s up to you to remain aware of these factors and interact accordingly.

Science already knows what many of these factors are, but unless there is a profit incentive, or a serious and acute problem such as an epidemic, scientific discoveries are not broadcast on the news. New technology has to undergo years of trials before it can be used in hospitals, and news of dangers to your health is broadcast sometimes years after it has been discovered, especially if it is not in the interests of, for example, tobacco or sugar manufacturers.

We try to update these tutorials once a year, incorporating the latest information. But you should make it your business to research health information for yourself; and that’s why we assemble all the files in the library. Make a habit of being nosey and poking around exploring places for information, but always make sure you are hunting in a reputable area. Where there is no proof offered for assertions, turn away from those assertions.

Choose an area of your own main personal interest in NH. Hunt through the NH library files and see if you can find out anything you didn’t know. At the current rate of progress in scientific discovery, you might surprise yourself.




Towards Entelechy


Whenever something makes you panic, you probably haven’t perceived it clearly.

-To enter into an unpredictable situation and accept it openly is to flow with its energy, be augmented in your own energy, and relax its tensions and stresses accordingly.

To interact with a high-stress situation means to have the ability to accept the stress. Ability in this sense is the same as the ability to lift a heavy object or run up a flight of stairs. Stress-relaxation is an ability of mind/brain, and muscular-mindedness must be developed, just as body musculature must be developed. This takes discipline, and true discipline comes from within.

The successful intelligence knows, and is able to act on the knowledge, that the life principle of stress-relaxation is inviolate, just as the atom holds its fantastic stresses in a relaxed balance. The strong intelligence knows that stress must create its own relaxation when the natural mind-brain-body process of interaction is allowed to unfold, just as surely as the laws of physics and chemistry work.

A fully developed intelligence is one that knows, and can act accordingly, that no matter how stringent or apparently destructive some opposing force may seem to be, the stretch-relax principle must hold. By interacting with the force or event, its energy must augment our own and give us defense against any destructive elements within that situation. All we must do, is trust the power of intelligence and dare to believe in reality.




The Most Important Bits to Remember

For You

Your own biological intent, “the built-in motivation present in every life-form to develop its potential to the fullest extent possible and become as adaptable as possible”.

Against You

Being driven by the intentions of others and directed or coerced into 'learning' anything for any reason will cause incongruity.


About perception

Concepts are things that are already in our database, whether they were hard wired or have been acquired via experience. They are stored in graphic format.

Percepts are derived from incoming data and presented for comparison with database contents for interpretation and recognition.

Perception relies on the percept having enough similarity to known concepts to be categorized and given meaning by imagination.


Natural Learning process mnemonic:





Practice & variation


Natural learning is moving from the known into the unknown and safely back again; a process of stretch-relaxation. Whenever we initiate this process we are in 'growth mode', in the green zone, and going in the right direction.


Concrete to abstract

The brain uses the same networks for both abstract and concrete skills, and if you build up a network with any skill, the associated mental skills will improve at the same time -they can't do anything else!


Habit and learning

Unless we continue to learn new things, which challenges our brains to create new pathways, they literally begin to atrophy, which may result in dementia, Alzheimer's and other brain diseases. Continuously stretching ourselves mentally can even help us lose weight, according to one study. Researchers who asked folks to do something different every day — listen to a new radio station, for instance — found that their cortisol levels decreased and they lost and kept off excess weight without doing any physical exercise.

Some of the following hacks are designed to make you more aware of how perception works. The exercises below them are to improve network function.



If you got a low ‘Whole brain percentage’ score and/or a high ‘N’ score for networks 1&2, you need to do the exercises that you will find at the end of this tutorial. If you got a high ‘O’ score for networks 1&2, you need to do the hacks that come next in this tutorial.







HACKS -for networks 1&2


Hacking perception 1:

Count the letter 'F's in the following sentence:


"Finished files are the result of years of scientific study combined with the experience of years."


Now scroll down to footnote [3].


Hacking perception 2: -Having fun with your senses- Throwing the speed of parallel processing.

We'd like you to get used to how weird perception is, as this will prepare you for understanding more complex concepts such as memory and imagination.

Make yourself a pendulum [anything reasonably heavy on a piece of string]. Hang it up in front of yourself [or get a friend to hold it] and set it swinging from left to right. Sit comfortably and watch it for a few seconds, then hold some dark-colored plastic or glass over one eye [using an old pair of shades with one side poked out works brilliantly for this]. Keep both eyes open and keep watching the pendulum.

If you get it right, you'll notice that the pendulum suddenly looks like it's moving back and forward as well as left to right...it appears to move in an ellipse.

Keep the eye shaded and now swing the pendulum towards and away from you.

You should notice an odd effect of acceleration and deceleration as it swings. Slip the shade up and down and watch the effect appear and disappear.

Perception has glitches in it, and you should start becoming more aware of that fact because you can exploit them.

What's going on here is that the shading slows down the processing of the image in one eye; lower brightness fires fewer neurons and the signal moves at a slower rate. Your brain is trying to process both streams of input in parallel, and interprets changes in brightness as speed differences instead of shading, because it isn't used to that. In effect, the image is reaching one retina at a delay compared with the other one. Because the brain knows the object is moving, the position of the incoming image is different, and the brain uses the difference in image perception input between the two eyes to compute depth and motion, and gets it wrong. You can't get a sense of one without a sense of the other.

What this experiment shows you is that from moment to moment, your brain is constructing a simulation of reality from input. It can be tricked into getting it wrong if the input is wrong. Remember that when we start to look more deeply at ‘wrong use’.


Hacking perception 3: -Having fun with your senses- Create your own UFO.

You need a darkened room and one point of light, say about as bright as a standby LED. Sit quietly opposite the light and stare at it and relax.

After a couple of minutes the light will appear to 'take off' and fly around.

This apparent motion is due to drift in your eyes. Your brain can't compensate for it in the dark, because it has no frame of reference. You literally can't tell whether the light is still or in motion.

This is called the autokinetic effect, and it's the secret behind how 'rotating' optical illusions work. It’s also a good example of how your perception can be tricked into externalising an internal effect on input. You think the movement is going on ‘out there’, when in fact it’s your own physiology that’s affecting your input. Remember this when we look at ‘wrong use’, too.

Remember this hack when we start exploring imagination (next tutorial).


Hacking unconscious perception: EMDR

Before you do this hack:

*Prior to using EMDR, your ability to achieve the relaxation response should be assessed and, if needed, worked on with biofeedback.

*You should do a self-assessment to define problems, goals and potential target memories.

*You should read through the entire EMDR procedure and decide whether you feel confident to proceed.

*If you are working with a friend to help you do EMDR, it must be someone you trust.

*If you are doing EMDR on drugs as part of a memory wipe you may lose more than just the target data.

You will need:

A bilateral stimulus. This can be provided by someone else, for example a friend tapping your alternate hands or waving hands in front of alternate eyes, it can be technological, such as flashing lights on alternate sides or musical tones on alternate sides [you can wear headphones].

You should decide which type of stimulus feels most comfortable for you before you begin; touch, visual or aural.

You will also need your diary for notes, unless you choose to record them by other means.



1. Target issue or memory and associations:

Assessment begins the core of the EMDR process. You have to decide what the target incident will be, and choose what picture represents the worst part of the experience. You then make a list of associated words that go with the picture (or experience) that express a negative belief (called a negative cognition) about yourself in the present time, becoming aware of any related body feelings.


2. Target replacement issue:

Next, you must decide what you would like to believe about yourself in place of the negative thought. (This is called a positive cognition).


3. Desensitization

The desensitization process begins with you holding in focus the picture, the negative self-perception and any body sensation associated with a disturbing event. You should begin the bilateral stimulus as soon as you begin to concentrate on these and try to continue concentrating on them while paying attention to the stimulus.

These times of bilateral attention may last from less than a half minute to several minutes, depending on your response. Do not go on for more than four minutes. Then stop the bilateral stimulus, clear your mind and allow whatever comes into awareness. Write or dictate a short description of what thoughts or feelings come up in your mind, then do another set of eye movements (or other method of bilateral stimulation) once again focusing on the target issues. Over many sets of bilateral stimulation, your notes will show the processing of whatever comes to mind. Stop whenever you get bored or feel too anxious, or if the thoughts and feelings remain the same for two or three sessions.


4. Installation of Positive Cognition

When the processing of the disturbing memory is complete, as measured by the amount of residual disturbing effects of the memory, the positive thought (positive cognition) is revisited and reassessed as the most realistic response to the memory of the original experience. Sets of bilateral attention are applied until the positive thought is experienced as being totally valid and the memory no longer disturbs you deeply but is perceived in context with the correct weighting.


5. Body awareness

Then concentrate once more on the target experience and mentally scan the entire body. If unpleasant sensations or lack of sensations are reported, short sets of bilateral stimulation should be applied until the sensations subside or a positive feeling is experienced.

End the session when you get bored or when you get positive results. It is generally wasteful to go on more than an hour at a time. After the session, initiate the relaxation response by whatever means you use.


6. Closure

You may continue to process the material for days or even weeks after a session, perhaps having new insights, vivid dreams, strong feelings, intrusive thoughts, or renewed recall of past experiences. These experiences may feel unfamiliar, confusing or even mildly disturbing to you, but they are considered to be a continuation of the reprocessing you have begun. These new sensations and experiences should be recorded in your notes too. If at any point you become concerned or surprisingly disturbed, you should stop the sessions.


7. Re-evaluation

You should do one session a week. At the beginning of each session, review the last week’s notes, considering any new sensations or experiences and adding any notes you want to before you proceed.

Generally, the process is also applied to past events, current triggers and anticipated future events related to the original target event.



Exercises -for building up or augmenting networks 1 & 2


Health, fitness & energy

Assessment with Biofeedback

You will need a watch or clock with the ability to display seconds and something about 8” [20cm] high that you can stand on safely. The bottom step of a flight of stairs or a solid footstool will do nicely.

Take your pulse and make a note of what it is. Stand with your feet together in front of the step and start the clock. For three minutes, step up and down at the rate of twice every five seconds [up-down-up-down is 'twice']. Stop if you begin to feel uncomfortable. When the three minutes are up, sit down and rest for exactly one minute, then take your pulse.

If your circulation’s working properly and you’re fit, your pulse should be almost back down to where it started. Here’s a guide to different results:

Final pulse rate:

Under 82 = very fit

82-92 = fit

93-107 =somewhat unfit

108 plus = very unfit

N.B. These scores do not apply accurately to anyone under 15 –please contact us if you need details for younger ages.

If your score was over 93, you need to practise biofeedback for the sake of your physical health as well as your brain, [but you should not begin a physical exercise program unless you are sure of what you’re doing –find out more about why you are unfit first and deal with any physical health problems].

You can get this sort of straightforward biofeedback information from your body once every few months to see how you improve.


Senses & perception

Meditation for fine-tuning control over attention

Everyday experience and psychology research both indicate that paying close attention to one thing can keep you from noticing something else. However, attention does not have a fixed capacity - it can be improved by directed mental training, such as meditation.

Seeing and mentally processing something takes time and effort. Because a person has a finite amount of brainpower, paying close attention to one thing may ordinarily mean the tradeoff of missing something that follows shortly thereafter. For example, when two visual signals are shown a half-second apart, people miss the second one much of the time. Your attention gets stuck on the first target, then you miss the second one. This effect is called "attentional blink," as when you blink your eyes, you are briefly unaware of visual signals. This limitation is not strictly physical, but is subject to mental control.

Meditation is a family of methods designed to facilitate regulation of emotion and attention. Research has found that three months of rigorous training in Vipassana meditation improved people's ability to detect a second target within the half-second time window. Because the subjects were not meditating during the test, their improvement suggests that prior training caused lasting changes in attentional ability. Their previous practice of meditation is influencing their performance on this task, and this shows that attention capabilities can be enhanced through practice.

If you don’t know how to meditate, start with the Relaxation response exercises.


Timing & rhythm


Biofeedback 2


Biofeedback means live interactive training using a display of your physiological responses. You may think you are relaxing, but are your body & brain actually relaxing? How do you know unless you wire yourself up?

The goal of this exercise is to get your heart rhythms and breathing in sync. When we inhale our heart rate increases, and when we exhale, our heart rate decreases. Having a wide range of heart rates within a single breath is an excellent indicator of overall health. Getting your breathing in sync with your heart rhythms is excellent for anxiety reduction and health training.

The fastest way to train for heart rate variability is to use uor stopwatch for timing and breathe at around one breath (in and out) every ten seconds (that's six breaths per minute). Counting your heartbeats or your pulse comes next: around five beats breathing in, five beats breathing out should be close to your timed breathing if you're reasonably healthy. You can check the heartbeat method against the stopwatch method for accuracy and fine tune your practice until you can breathe six times a minute without needing a stopwatch; just by counting your own heartbeats.

This is a good pattern to retain for training with tech or drugs. Your aim is to teach yourself the skill using your own body and brain as your main toolkit. That way, technology and chemistry become augmentations and enhancements rather than supports or prostheses.


Sensorimotor skills


Biofeedback 3


A cheap and easy device to use for BF is a digital thermometer [they cost about $20; Google for “stress thermometer”]. Your biofeedback task is to hold the sensor and relax so that you slightly decrease your finger or toe temperature. This is a mind-body exercise with trial and error learning. Learning how to bring blood flow to your extremities is a particular form of relaxation that can be mastered with training and practice.

The goal of this exercise is to learn to alter your temperature within five minutes. Remember the ambient air in a room is usually cooler where there are draughts at ground level and warmer higher up, so don't change the altitude of the thermometer during the exercise.



Relaxation response techniques


Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is a simple, but very effective, method of relaxation. It is a core component of everything from the "take ten deep breaths" approach to calming someone down, right through to yoga relaxation and Zen meditation. It works well in conjunction with other relaxation techniques such as Progressive Muscular Relaxation, relaxation imagery and meditation to reduce stress.

To use the technique, take a number of deep breaths and relax your body further with each breath. That's all there is to it!

Get into the habit of breathing through your nose and relaxing your jaw.


Progressive Muscular Relaxation [PMR]

Progressive Muscular Relaxation is useful for relaxing your body when your muscles are tense.

The idea behind PMR is that you tense up a group of muscles so that they are as tightly contracted as possible. Hold them in a state of extreme tension for a few seconds. Then, relax the muscles normally. Then, consciously relax the muscles even further so that you are as relaxed as possible.

By tensing your muscles first, you will find that you are able to relax your muscles more than would be the case if you tried to relax your muscles directly.

Experiment with PMR by forming a fist, and clenching your hand as tight as you can for a few seconds. Relax your hand to its previous tension, and then consciously relax it again so that it is as loose as possible. You should feel deep relaxation in your hand muscles.


Combination techniques: PMR and breathing

* Sit quietly and comfortably.

* Close your eyes.

* Start by relaxing the muscles of your feet and work up your body relaxing muscles.

* Focus your attention on your breathing.

* Breathe in deeply and then let your breath out. Count your breaths, and say the number of the breath as you let it out (this gives you something to do with your mind, helping you to avoid distraction).

Do this for ten or twenty minutes.

An even more potent alternative approach is to follow these steps, but to use relaxation imagery instead of counting breaths in step 5. If you like, you can prove to yourself that this works using biofeedback equipment.





Footnotes, Refs & Answers


[1] http://videolectures.net/google_lipton_wmmm/


[2] There is considerable confusion and much disagreement in both biopsychology and AI regarding the definitions of 'percept' and 'concept'. I hope I have defined my meanings clearly here; if not you can use any words you please to grasp the ideas, such as 'incoming packet' for percept and 'established packet' for concept. See:


PLEASE NOTE the author of this paper does not want it publicly cited.


[3] There are 6 'F's. If you haven't seen this before, you probably only counted four. Your perception skips the 'f's in 'of' because your brain processes short familiar words as single whole symbols instead of breaking them down into smaller segments [as it does with longer or unfamiliar words]. The two types of words are processed in different ways. 


[4] Rogers, C.R. & Freiberg, H.J. (1994). Freedom to Learn (3rd Ed). Columbus, OH: Merrill/Macmillan.

For more about Rogers and his work, see:



[5] For a great role model on how to deal optimally with your own mistakes, see “Iron Man” movies 1&2. Pay attention to Tony Stark. If we didn't blow ourselves up now and again, nothing would get invented.

[6] Volkow, Nora; & Wang, Gene-Jack. The study is published in the September 9, 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Source: DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory


Answers to 'How Perception Happens -do you get it?'

A person is looking at a flower. The flower itself is the distal stimulus. When light reflected from the flower enters the person's eye and stimulates their retina, that stimulation is the proximal stimulus. The image of the flower reconstructed by the brain of the person is the percept. Similar images already stored in the brain are concepts.

A bird is singing. “Birds Singing” is a concept already in memory. The singing of the bird is the distal stimulus. The sound stimulating your auditory receptors is the proximal stimulus, and the brain's interpretation of this as the singing of a bird is the percept.

Someone passes you a new food to try at a party. The new food is the distal stimulus. The registration of the taste and texture of the food on your tastebuds is the proximal stimulus. Your recognition of it as 'tastes like chicken' is a percept. “Chicken Taste” is a concept from your memory.

You meet the Crab People from a distant world. The crab people are the distal stimulus. The light waves reflected from the crab people hitting your retina and the odor molecules from the crab people signaling your nasal receptors are the proximal stimulus. Your observations, “Smells like crab, looks like people” are percepts. “Crabs” and “People” are concepts.




Last Updated on Monday, 29 May 2017 13:07