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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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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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The Easiest Way to Increase Your Reading Speed

What gets measured gets managed. Tim Ferriss tells in his book 4-hour-body about a guy who lost a significant part of weight by only measuring his weight. If there is a single thing in which our brains are notoriously outstanding, it is optimisation. Namely finding ways to increase (or decrease) a given parameter. Instead of trying to consciously make lists of things that may or may not help you read faster (posture?, light?, elimination of distractions?, Googling unknown words – yes or no?, door – closed or open?, tea?, how do I put my PDF-reader into full-screen mode?…)…. instead just measure the parameter you want to optimise: time. When I need to read an article fast, I take time with a stopwatch how much time it takes to read each page. The more I do it, the faster and more focused I read. I use my phone’s 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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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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