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How would I re-write tobacco warning messages

The sole purpose of texts and warnings on cigarette packages is to reduce the number people who buy cigarettes, or in other words the number of smokers. We all know these warnings: “Smoking kills”, “smoking causes cancer”, “smoking can damage your fetus” and I recently even saw “smoking increases the risk of becoming blind”. What is wrong with all these warnings? I am surprised if they work at all! Have people ever lit up a cigarette and thought “I believe this will make Read more

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Solving (my) Sleeping Problems

(picture: CC BY-SA 2.0)

Disclaimer: In this post I am not indending to solve most of the sleeping problems, nor am I qualified to do so. I merely describe what worked for me to solve some of my, very particular, problem.

I have never had sleeping problems in the classical sense:  I fall asleep when I lie down in the bed and I don’t wake up until I have slept enough. But for a long time I couldn’t make myself wake up when I wanted:

  • I would almost never wake up earlier than an hour after I had decided to wake up,
  • If I had to be somewhere in the morning I would never wake up before it is too late: I would come late and never have time for breakfast, let alone do anything else that I would plan.
  • I couldn’t predict when I am going to wake up even if I didn’t have to wake up at any particular time.

Needless to say this greatly reduced my productivity and control over my timeRead more

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Not enough time? Use these 9 tips today to generate hours of extra time.

What would you do, if you had 20 to 30 extra hours a week? What would you do if you could save an extra 30 hours this week? Time is often like money. We wish to have a lot of it, but once we do, we don’t know what to do with it, get bored and […]

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On the Freedom to Do What We (Truly) Want [Guest-post]

A guest post by Dom from Mindcoolness

When I studied cognitive science in Vienna I met Dom. A bodybuilder, power lifter, fighter, philosopher, a blogger and now a cognitive scientist (a cool combination, huh?) he has been an inspiration for me ever since. I am truly happy we became friends. In his blog and podcast at www.mindcoolness.com he explores discipline and will power. Ever had troubles keeping a routine? Losing weight? Can’t control impulsive behaviour? Or don’t know what you truly want? Then Dom’s blog is definitely worth checking out. I also sincerely recommend reading his book Will Power Condenced which I had the honour to proof read before publishing. If you like his stuff, also follow him on twitter (@mindcoolnessTHIS is a guest post by Dom. I asked him to explain the paradox: Why does freedom sometimes involve doing things we do not want to do? Read more

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The Power of Isolation

Last week I was sick. I had stomach pain so that I couldn’t eat or move much, but I was not prevented from thinking or writing. This meant that I isolated myself for several days from my day-to-day work: seminars, lectures and research-related meetings and was able to concentrate on a handful of thought-requiring projects. I believe this is how Stephen Hawking feels at the best of his times. What happened is that one of the projects that I have long considered to be one of my main ones progressed more than for a long time. It is paradoxical, because I have engaged in the project once in a while, even engaging other people with it. But it required a thorough thinking session on my side in order to get momentum. That’s not surprising given that I am a mathematician and this project is partly a mathematical one (partly cognitive science), but I believe that most big projects require a period of isolation. When you isolate yourself in order to work on a particular project, you go deep into the state of mind in which you think only about it. You get into a state of flow which is ‘flowing’ within the context of that project. If you do it once, say for a week, then it will be easier later to get back to the same state whenever you want and you will be able to focus even for short periods of time on the same thing.  In the modern world, taking such breaks is a dozen times more important, because we live in the state of an informational overflow. Another benefit is that you are not allowed to do anything else. Professor Wolf Singer told me, that he has Read more

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How to Tackle the Difficulty to Start

The difficulty to start may be one of the biggest setbacks in achieving almost anything in life. You sit down to write the first chapter of your book. You are bothered by some items on your desk, so you clean that first. Then you put some music on. No, but you can’t concentrate with this music, so you change the music. You adjust the brightness of your screen and then you check social media just in case. Then you think that maybe you should do something else instead, because writing a book may not pay off. You decide to stick to your plan, however, and write, but then you check how much time has passed and realise that you are actually thirsty….

Does this sound familiar? In my case it sometimes gets even worse. I used to start feeling guilt about Read more

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Work as if there is no tomorrow

When I remember the projects which I got done relatively quickly and in which I succeeded “no matter what” one thing in common is that I constantly had the feeling that “I am almost there”. For example, it was December 2014 when I came up with the idea for the proof in my knot classification TAMSpaper. It felt as if the proof was complete in my head and the only thing I had to do was just to sit and write it down. So that’s what I did. I sat. And three months later it was done. Three months? Yes, three months. But every single day it felt like I am going to be done this evening. Read more

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Algebra Lectures and Motivation

This semester I am lecturing an introductory course to abstract algebra at the University of Helsinki where I work. For me this is an exercise in mathematics education and public speaking. This is the biggest audience I have ever had in a course: a little short of 200 students. In order to give an exciting first impression of the lectures and maximise future attendance I decided to give a somewhat flashy first lecture. I dressed up in a white suit a hat and a bright red scarf. I dedicated the first lecture to “intuition pumps” which were:

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Why Don’t I Eat For 3 Days?

Empty lunch (CC 3.0)

Empty lunch (CC 3.0)

I am in the middle of a three-day fast now. I haven’t eaten for more than 36 hours and there is a bit less than 36 hours to go. I am doing it together with a person whose identity will remain a mystery throughout this blog-post. The rules are: no calorie intake except for vitamin pills and exogenous ketones. So we can drink water and tea (without sugar). The main reason for me to start fasting is that I want to go on a ketogenic diet. Fasting is the easiest and fastest way to transition into nutritional ketosis.

  • Freedom from sugar addiction and a will power or a discipline challenge. These are what Dom highlights as the main benefits of the ketogenic diet. Same applies to fasting. Fasting requires even more discipline and will power than any diet, at least the first one or two days. To me quitting eating is comparable to quitting smoking which I experienced 16 months ago.

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A Bracelet Challenge


In this post Tim Ferriss writes about the thought-awareness bracelet. It is a bracelet which you wear on either hand and whenever you complain about something (constructive criticism doesn’t count), you have to switch the hand on which the bracelet is. An exveption is when you complain without swearing and immediately offer a potential solution to the problem. The aim is to go 21 consequetive days without switching. In this way you teach yourself an important habit of finding solutions instead of just cursing how shitty life is amd generally focus on the more positive aspects of life. I believe this raises your base level of happiness. It also makes you aware how much energy and time people waste on plain complaining.

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Is protecting your child’s feelings always a good idea?

On Sunday 13. November 2016 the three-year-old Misha Osipov played chess against one of the best chess players in the world, Anatoly Karpov in front of a wide audience. In fact, the game was transmitted on one of the biggest channels on Russian television and is now of course on YouTube and now ends up here too. Before you go on, however, please take 1 second to answer a poll:

Do you think that a chess grandmaster should hold back against a 3-year-old child and pretend to lose in order to protect the child’s feelings in such a situation?

 Read more to find out what Misha’s mother thinks about it (which is the same as what I think about it).
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Working in solitude, guiding students to find themselves, and thoughts on the modern academic world

Wolf Singer and I

Wolf Singer (right) and I


In Vienna I had the opportunity to quickly interview Professor Wolf Singer. He is a Senior Fellow at the Ernst Strüngmann Institute for Neuroscience in Frankfurt, Germany, that he has founded in cooperation with the Max Planck Society a couple of years ago. One of the most fascinating ideas around which the modern work of Wolf Singer and his colleagues focuses is that brain performs a form of liquid computing. Imagine a pool of water. If you drop a small stone in it, waves will propagate in every direction. All the particles of the water body start moving – but in a predictable way. Suppose you drop two stones at different points simultaneously. The wave pattern will become more complicated. Some waves will cancel each other out, some will amplify each other. These waves can be thought of performing some sort of coding of the “inputs” (the stones) that the system has received. We know from EEG data that the brain is constantly performing rapid wave-like fluctuations. The idea behind liquid computing in the brain is that these waves measured in EEG are akin to waves in a liquid container. The brain’s activity is fluctuating and the complex fluctuations are thought to represent the superposition of the priors, i.e. the a priory knowledge, needed for the interpretation of sensory signals. Once sensory data are received, some waves get amplified, others diminished and this corresponds to a kind of a collapse of the matching priors to the actual perception. Wolf Singer acknowledged that there is a certain similarity to quantum mechanics. He even said that nature, by evolving the cerebral cortex, perhaps figured out the closest possible way of imitating principles of quantum computing within a classical system.

Between his lectures in Vienna I had a quick opportunity to interview Wolf Singer about his working patterns and habits.

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How to Quit Being a Smoker

In this post I tell my story of how I quit smoking and give a 10-step instruction on how to do the same, and a 3-step instruction in the very end which summarises the important points.

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