How to sleep

Since apparently none of my friends know how to sleep, and sleep happens to be my favorite thing in the whole wide world, here are some non-scientific guidelines.

– Make your room as dark as possible and block out as much noise as you can. You may think that it’s not bothering you but it reduces quality of sleep (you will sleep lighter and you may be waking up a bunch of times during the night without you realizing it)

– 8.5 to 9 hours seems to be the peak efficiency amount. If you sleep more you will be sluggish the next day. If you sleep less you will be stupider (from my experience and from anecdotal evidence of watching other people try to solve complex problems on less sleep, if your work is very repetitive then you’ll be fine with closer to 7 hours).

– Catching up on sleep works, it tends to be a little better than 1:1 efficiency (i.e. if you sleep 3 hours less the day before, you will feel fine after catching up on a little more than half that; of course that doesn’t change the fact that you felt like shit the whole previous day)

– You need to tell your mind to shut off. Ideally you clear your mind of everything — no thoughts whatsoever, just focus on your breathing and how your body feels. If you can’t do that, then try to turn off the verbal area of your brain and think only in images. Play back events that happened during the day or just try to imagine different places and things, but don’t use words and don’t replay conversations.

– Coffee takes like 8 hours to get out of your system, do the math

– One or two drinks is fine, if you go any more than that your sleep onset latency will fall but quality and duration will also and it’s not worth it

– Marijuana is good in all ways


Two kinds of smart

Meditating on knowledge, I think it’s fair to say that there are two ways to ‘know’ something. It can either be reasoned/figured out in real time, or it can be looked up from previous experience (Cached Thoughts). The vast majority of our life experiences are repeats of previous ones (sometimes with slight modification) and our understanding of and responses to these experiences is usually recalled from memory without any thought.

True intelligence, however, is not the recall but the ability to create knowledge where it does not exist yet within your mind. It is reasoning, logic, etc. This takes longer to do than a simple cache lookup, so it may be fair to say that if someone is quick to come up with a response to a difficult problem or situation they are not necessarily smart but merely experienced.

One can improve their intelligence with practice; by trying to manipulate objects, situations and problems in their mind, to test and try new assumptions and view the situation from those alternative realities/perspectives. Being aware of logical fallacies and biases can save you time by avoiding most branches of thought when analyzing a problem.

Finally, as underscored in the post linked to in the first paragraph, be wary of cached thoughts. They are many times planted without much analysis and can effect your thought process in ways that are hard to spot. It is helpful to frequently reconsider cached thoughts that you rely on heavily, no matter how popular they appear with other thinkers or how effective they may be at predicting the specific phenomena you have been leveraging them for (it may not generalize!); false confidence is the enemy of a true thinker.

The Self-modifying light bulb

In response to Falkenstein’s Parable of a Light Bulb, I would just say that throughout our lives we have quite a bit of influence over how our neural connections are weighted. In other words, we have significant control over not only what we are good at throughout our lives but even more so what we enjoy (or trick ourselves into thinking so, no difference). For most people it takes practice to consciously take control, but that’s a separate matter.

I always wondered how much of the enjoyment from doing something (work, hobbies, etc — lighting up the room in the case of the lightbulb) can be explained by the selfish desire to have an impact on other people’s lives. There comes a certain pleasure from mastering a task or skill, no matter how simple and irrelevant. This certainly contributes to one’s enjoyment of life.