Is the thinking mind a Mirror or a Whiteboard?

I do enjoy pondering on the attributes of the thinking mind. What is the thinking mind? What’s the purpose of the thinking mind? What is the nature of thought? If we wanted to understand the biological content that makes thoughts possible, where should one look for it? Questions go on endlessly.

One fundamental question I toyed with in today’s meditation is does the thinking mind closer to a mirror or a whiteboard?

If one goes by a fundamental that the thinking mind is not separate from the larger body of consciousness, then the thinking mind is better explained as a smaller reflection of the larger set of events. Of course, you can decide to override what you’re thinking, but that’s still an in and out process.

Another fundamental that the ‘thinking mind as a mirror’ is based on is that of consciousness. Consciousness isn’t directly experienced in its entirety. At least that’s how I see it today. It’s the larger idea that drives every little thing we think of as ‘out of direct control’. There are so many instances of physiological functions. If I threw a ball at your face, you’ll blink and dodge even before you ‘know’ that the ball is headed at you.

Consciousness is not simply limited to instinct. What about digestion? Nail growth? Muscle growth? Or solving a problem in deep thought? It all seems to happen without me determining whether it should stop or start.

Depending on what philosophy you read, consciousness can also be explained as the fabric that binds everything, not limited by your bodily limits.

At the tip of this very large idea is what we directly experience and finally what we directly control. So I like to explain thought in this way – when you can feel a spontaneous thought cross your mind, that’s experiencing a reflection of the many, many events simply blended together.

Neuroscience-led Ventures

A friend with a PhD in statistical modeling of brain signals recently shared his view that solving the Brain is a final frontier. Neuroscience and related areas continue to attract the best of breed from engineering, sciences and of course philosophy.

Entrepreneurship and technology are not exempt either. To give you an idea of the scale of the problem at hand, we’re still understanding the biological content of thought, we’re still trying to understand what makes someone effective on a job, or an effective speaker of a language and there are many mental illnesses that need attention.

Here’s a quick roundup of ventures I believe are led by developments in Neuroscience. – Games that help you stay sharp.

Pymetrics – Games to help you find your career fit.

Muse by Interaxon – An EEG headset that makes it easy to interpret your state of mind.

Elevate – Another Brain training app that’s also been selected by Apple as the App of the year of 2014.

MagicLeap – Immersive 3D that leverages how the Brain coordinates visual and sensory signals to construct environments.

I imagine that even after we’ve cracked our brains we’re still going to be susceptible to Magic.

Watching the Mind

I now have my hands on a working Muse EEG headset. EEG headsets are a reimagining of existing technology that’s been available for the last several decades. Interaxon’s Muse is one such headset.

With the Muse comes an opportunity to talk about the mind in meditation with objectivity that only data can bring.

I’ve meditated for over a hundred sessions of at least twenty minutes or more. I know that with practice comes change. I can feel that change. To help explain that change, I need a consistent method, vocabulary and reliable metrics. I believe advice ought to always be backed by a relevant model, that in turn is backed by data.

This morning I calibrated sessions for my better half and for myself. We both took turns trying out a session each. She’s never meditated before and comparing results gave us perspective. Although this isn’t the ideal scientific method, it did help get me thinking. Why stop there? I intend to broaden the circle and get you to participate.

In a nutshell, the Muse does the work of creating one such model of what your brain activity looks like when playing a simple game based on a bio-feedback loop.

The objective of the game is to go from active, to neutral, to calm and to keep a clear mind through distractions. To play, sit down in a quiet area where you won’t be disturbed. Bluetooth-couple the EEG headset with a smartphone and plug in a pair of earphones. The Muse smartphone app then takes over. Over the earphones you’ll hear different sounds that includes water splashing, wind blowing and birds taking off. As you’re presented with these sounds you bring your mind back to your breath.

To help guide you on how you’re performing, an audio feedback loop of wind blowing reflects the activity read. The more consistent the brain activity observed, the calmer the wind. As you play the app interprets and presents data from the headset as activity in three bands Active, Neutral and Calm.

Here’s one set of readings from an early morning attempt at playing the game.

17th Jan '15 0942 graph

17th Jan '15 0942 pie

Here’s performance from a second session that followed a very intense brainstorming session on a project that I’m working on. As expected, the first half of the session was windy and required an effort to calm down.

19th Jan '15 1050 graph

19th Jan '15 1050 pie

To have a look at what your mind looks like, get in touch and we’ll meet up in Pune for a short 12 / 20 minute session.

Why Decision Making is Still Hard

The good news is the world’s just gotten smaller thanks to the information age. The bad news is that we’re still using second-best crutches to make decisions.

As an entrepreneur, I’m faced opportunities to make a terrible decision if I simply go with the fact that they’re available to me now. This applies to fundraising, who to partner with, who to hire, what technology to go with and more.

The underlying phenomena is easily explained when you look at how timing can sabotage the best laid processes. Let’s say you’ve just started putting together your business plan and haven’t yet gotten around to hiring just yet. Someone writes to you on having visited your website. Her credentials are definitely above average. Do you decide to hire her or not?

If not, you’re losing out on someone with intent to join you. If yes, you’re losing out on the other several hundred better potential hires.

What will you do?

The disciplined approach to avoid this bias is to be decisive about your position. For instance, ycombinator advises founders to think as follows “Either you’re fundraising, or you’re not”, “Either you’re hiring or you’re not.” and more. Most entrepreneurs won’t make this error if each step they take is thought out in terms of definitely timelines allowing them to reiterate if the previous round was inefficient.

Wish you dear reader a brilliant new year 2015!


A lot has been written and said about why Brain Games, or Brain Training works [1] and doesn’t work. If you listen to what Jane McGonigal [2] has to say, she says that games are a panacea for many of our ills, including productivity [3]. Where does the truth lie? I would think claiming to be a panacea is a skeptical one at best. I would really like to investigate more before I make up my mind.

Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that by performing a set of actions repeatedly with a game on a device, you have a close to random chance of enhancing your mental abilities.

Immersion is an intriguing quality of the mind. It is the capability of every mind to make a scenario realistic by filling in the blanks, to allow itself to wholeheartedly engage with a scenario that isn’t real.

We’ve been playing fun games with our three-year old boy. One of these games involves running a pizzeria where my son is a pizzeria owner and he’s responsible for everything from taking orders, baking the pizza to specifications and finally delivering it to observe the delight on the customer’s face. It gives my son the opportunity to practice recalling the toppings we chose and who ordered what. The game is greatly inspired by Papa’s Pizzeria [4] and the only change we’ve made is to play it in real life using building blocks for toppings and hardboard books for pizzas. Moreover, we’ve been playing it together with him; my wife, his nanny, grandparents and me. It gives us all an opportunity to interact with each other and him.

Through immersion we get an opportunity to directly engage processes that govern our response to specific scenarios. It seems reasonable to think of it in this way. Then games are simply an inert medium or a psychological mirror. Similar to games, is the framework for the pizzeria.

Immersion is pretty valuable, it encourages visualization of a future that doesn’t necessarily exist just yet; it’s the reason why Mathematicians can claim that Math is the closest we can come to the language of the Gods; it allows the writer to communicate scenarios to his readers in words; it’s the key to a meditation session; it allows this blogger to think someone will read what he has to write :-).

Immersion also allows for some strange things to happen.

Using VR, experiments have shown that pain can be communicated without directly hurting the observer [5]. The opposite is also possible, phantom limb pain in amputees can be reduced and altogether eliminated through the use of a simple mirror [6]. This shifts the very idea of what we’re intending to treat.

What else can immersion solve?

Care to hazard claim as audacious as everything? I wouldn’t do so simply on the back of the idea that we don’t understand immersion completely. But it is certainly applicable to every problem, and valuable to try where there isn’t any other effective medicine.

“The Mind Makes it Real”

Neo, Morpheus Training

[1] Brain Training 101,
[2] Jane McGonigal, author “Reality is Broken”.
[3] Jane McGonigal on Productivity, School of Life.
[4] Papa’s Pizzeria To Go! Itunes.
[5] The Magic of the Unconscious Mind.
[6] VS. Ramachandran’s Mirror Box.