The Short Story
The Long Story
“Ordinarily He Was Insane, but He Had Lucid Moments When He Was Merely Stupid.”
We all have exams to pass, processes to learn, concepts to understand. Learning capacity is probably one of the most significant predictors of human quality of life throughout our lifespans. Warren Buffet used to say, “The more you learn, the more you earn.” It goes to show how he believes in the direct translation of learning capacity into currency. Also, learning doesn’t stop after school, contrary to some popular opinions. Learning is a continual process and has not necessarily to do with passing exams.
To give you my perspective, skills are the closest thing we humans have to superpowers. To acquire a great many skills is akin to building your own Jason Bourne. There’s a game-like quality to life.
One of humans’ signature characteristics is the ability to outrun any mammal under the sun—not run faster but longer. Humans have a one of a kind cooling that enables us to run after prey until they collapse or overheat. It’s known as persistence hunting and used to be one practical hunting strategy among early humans.
Another one of human’s evolutionary aces that enabled us to exert total dominion over the planet is our brain’s limitless neuroplasticity. As a refresher, neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to rewire itself and thus to adapt to the environment and learn. Neuroplasticity, as you know, is higher the younger you are. We seem to be hardwired to learn useful things while growing up, reproduce, and make room—without wanting to sound too brutal. At some level, our lives are not about us. Much more, they are about our offspring and its offspring in an endless genetic arms race.
There are, however, ways to maintain high neuroplasticity throughout your life. In my Wrap-Up from July 2020 (subscriber exclusive emails, subscribe here if the spirit moves you), I explained that brushing your teeth with the other hand will dramatically increase neural density in the opposite brain area. Hear me out, first. I realize this might just sound like voodoo witchcraft. It’s more straightforward than it seems. Your brain’s primary function is not to solve differential equations or compose poetry. Those are excellent features, but not the firmware. The main objective of your brain is to keep itself alive. In a world where you could be eaten, that translates into a fair amount of neural real estate being occupied with motion. Let’s-get-out-of-here-before-we-get-eaten is an excellent rule to live by.
On the example of brushing your teeth with the other hand, when you do it for the first time, you will feel remarkably uncomfortable. There aren’t enough neuromuscular connections linked with your other hand to make movement smooth and precise. That’s where the unpleasantness comes from. Your brain doesn’t want to make new connections. Much like the rest of the body, it obeys to principles of abundant laziness—the law of the least effort. You must leave it no choice. Training the brain to make new connections (neuroplasticity) or increase neural density (neurogenesis) is conceptually like increasing muscle mass: your body doesn’t want to. Muscle is biologically expensive to create and maintain—neural tissue is even more expensive—so there needs to be a good reason to. In physiology, that reason is called a stress factor. Lift heavy stuff, and your body will adapt. Do new things with your brain, and it will adapt too—simple concepts. There’s no pleasant learning. There’s no pleasant improvement. The only solace I can give you is that the more often you get uncomfortable, the more comfortable you are at being uncomfortable. Embrace the struggle.
Now that we covered the underlying grounds of learning and its necessary unpleasantness, here are two ground-breaking ways to dramatically increase your brain’s learning capacity and help you toward knowledge domination.
The Magic Pill
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
―George Bernard Shaw
The pill is not that magic. It’s simple biochemistry. It consists of taking a supplement containing an effective dose of alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine (alpha GPC) such as Maximum Mind. Alpha GPC is considered a cognitive enhancer. Cognitive enhancers (or nootropics or smart drugs) are niche prescription or off-the-counter medicines or supplements that enhance cognition; e.g., memory, learning, alertness, etc. They are very well known in the world of athletes, entrepreneurs, surgeons, astronauts, businesspeople, or overwhelmed students. They are less known among the general population. Cognitive enhancer come in a vast array of shapes and forms. Some are dangerous, have quite arguable effectiveness, and require expert handling like methylphenidate, sold under the brand name Ritalin. Some are quite harmless and powerfully effective; e.g., caffeine. I would argue that caffeine has somewhat of a strong addictive potential. However, being deeply addicted to caffeine doesn’t have life-wrecking characteristics. It might surprise you that I call caffeine a cognitive enhancer. To be fair, the cognitive effect of caffeine is quite well documented in the literature . Further, everything that you ingest that is not a whole food and has an effect is a drug. There are no two ways about it.
For what cognitive enhancers with a fantastic effectiveness-to-safety ratio go (also see Marco’s Grounds Dosing Philosophy), alpha-GPC has to be close to the top of the list—in good company with other natural compounds like bacosides, huperzine A, etc. It’s a naturally occurring compound that doesn’t touch any dopamine receptors—unlike caffeine. Hence, there’s no possibility of addiction. It’s extremely well researched, safe and beautifully effective at increasing brain energy and memory.
It might come at a surprise that something that increases brain output also increases physical strength and endurance. We rarely mention the positive things Maximum Mind does to the body. It’s a simple concept, really: a highly effective brain is a healthy brain. A strong brain is a healthy brain as much as a strong muscle is a healthy muscle. Have a look at Dr. Sekulic recently published Ketones as Nootropics for her views on ketones and their incredible effect on both mind and body, for instance.
For its capacity to increase acetylcholine, alpha GPC is one of the two ways to learn faster.
Read more about alpha GPC on the Marco’s Grounds Deep Dive or dig deeper into the benefits of alpha GPC here.
“Go to bed smarter than when you wake up.”
As such L-tyrosine coupled with cold exposure are one of the ways to increase learning capacity through the release of norepinephrine.
- Jarvis, M. J. (1993). Does caffeine intake enhance absolute levels of cognitive performance?. Psychopharmacology, 110(1-2), 45-52.
- Parker, A. G., Byars, A., Purpura, M., & Jäger, R. (2015). The effects of alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, caffeine, or placebo on markers of mood, cognitive function, power, speed, and agility. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(S1), P41.
- Tully, K., & Bolshakov, V. Y. (2010). Emotional enhancement of memory: how norepinephrine enables synaptic plasticity. Molecular brain, 3(1), 15.
- Nagatsu, T., Levitt, M., & Udenfriend, S. (1964). Tyrosine hydroxylase the initial step in norepinephrine biosynthesis. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 239(9), 2910-2917.
- Lasse Pakanen, Tiina Pääkkönen, Tiina M Ikäheimo, Hannu Rintamäki, Juhani Leppäluoto, Helena Kaija, Marja-Leena Kortelainen, Arja Rautio, Katja Porvari. (2016) Urinary thrombomodulin and catecholamine levels are interrelated in healthy volunteers immersed in cold and warm water. Temperature 3:1, pages 161-166.
- Young, J. B., Saville, E., Rothwell, N. J., Stock, M. J., & Landsberg, L. (1982). Effect of diet and cold exposure on norepinephrine turnover in brown adipose tissue. The Journal of clinical investigation, 69(5), 1061-1071.