Mental States

Oct 15, 2017 · 790 words · 4 minutes read ihaac leadership psychology

I’ve been thinking a lot about my goal of consequence that a wrote about two weeks ago:

“To use technology to increase humanity’s collective altruism and cognition over the next ten years.”

My current objective is to explore different avenues, and gain a high level of understanding about the topics and groups of people working on related ideas.

Tech and Psych

One of these avenues that I’ve been exploring recently has to do with the fusion of technology and psychology. Psychology has been a side-interest of mine for a while now. Like many others, I view the human brain as a kind of biological computer and so my interest in computers and software is easily transferred away from the silicon chips, and towards the neurons and the brain, and the actions and emotions that come from them.

Linking psychology back to my goal, it seems possible that psychology and technology can work together make us smarter, work faster, make less mistakes and improve our overall cognition. Further still there seems that there must be a way to improve our altruism as well, by making us more open and aware of the needs of those around us.

People are already starting to do this. Mikey Siegel, a robotics engineer turned conscious hacker, was working on an interesting project called HeartSync which involved a group of people synchronizing their heartbeat. The group would sit in a circle and put their hands on a series of sensors that measure pulse and heart rhythm. Then each person can see everyone’s heartbeat as a wave and hear it as a sound on the screen. This guides the group into a state of rhythmic heartbeat connection through a physiological and biofeedback approach, leading to a strong group connection.

Mental States

Although HeartSync isn’t quite the area I want to focus on, it does touch on a related topic that is closer to the right path: mental state. What this project seems to do, at a high level, is synchronize and calm the collective mental state of the group.

The feedback that the devices provide are an insight into what you and everyone else is experiencing. This allows you to understand your own mental state and align it with the rest of the group.

Thinking about mental states a bit more I realised how much people try to control their mental states. Working as a Software Engineer, most of my colleagues use caffeine to sharpen up in the morning and stay sharp during the day. In Australia alone 46% of the population drink coffee. And that obviously doesn’t include all the soft drink and Red Bull drinkers who get their caffeine hit that way.

But what about when you’re away from work and you don’t need to be super focused. Well, 78% of Australians consume alcohol at least once a month. While there are many reasons people drink alcohol, ultimately the majority who do want the altered mental state in some form or another. Most people I know don’t go to the bar and ask for alcohol free beer.

So it’s clear that everyday we try and control our mental state, with coffee, alcohol, and other substances too. Now think about using technology to accomplish this task. And instead of drinking coffee to wake up, you use technology to become more focused, more mentally clear, and give yourself the ability to work harder and smarter.

This can be applied outside of work too. It’s easy to imagine using technology to help you relax and stop thinking about the day’s work. A lot of us do this already. But what about using tech to increase your confidence and charisma before going to a party. Or using tech to increase your awareness and make you more empathetic when helping others. Or helping you to handle a stressful situation or deal with anxiety. As cliché as it sounds, the possibilities seem to go on and on.

The vision I see on this path is to integrate technology seamlessly with everyday life to provide control of your mental state. Then you can have complete control over enhancing cognitive functions, awareness, and feelings of connectedness.

Wrapping Up

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be doing some more research and thinking around this vision. Mainly I want to look more into how to improve cognition and altruism with sensory stimulation: visuals and sounds, and methods of achieving flow.

Taking a step back for a second, writing this post has been a reminder as to how big and fearful this task is. But it also makes me really excited. I can’t wait to see where my goal will take me from here.