Today I got to Interview Yoni Donner from Quantified Mind. I hope you enjoy it!
Ari: Hi and welcome to the podcast. Today we’re talking with Yoni Donner of quantified mind. Hi, Yoni.
Yoni: Hi, Ari, thanks for having me.
Ari: Absolutely. So, start off by just telling everybody what quantified mind is.
Yoni: Quantified mind is the first ever cognitive testing platform that was designed specifically for the goal of repeatedly assessing the same person at multiple time points. Unlike standard cognitive testing which is concerned with measuring the person once and comparing them against a population. We are interested in how a person varies by conditions and a different time. The whole goal here is to have a set of tests that can be applied many, many, many times and are efficient and scalable and can give you an indirect picture of how different things you do affect your cognitive performance.
Ari: Right there I see a difference. My question was how does it compare to things like lumosity or the others which have no platforms but they don’t really tell you how things you are doing affect those numbers. Is that really your differentiating factor?
Yoni: Compared to like lumosity then yeah the difference is that they focus on training and that quantified mind is really focused on assessment. Although it happens that, if you're trying to test your strength, you’ll probably try to lift some heavy weights and by the same process you will get stronger. It’s the same way you could try to assess your cognitive ability gets better with quantified mind. This is not dissimilar to what lumosity are doing but in terms of branding expensive goals, they're trying to focus on things like communication and making things fun and visible and attractive and engaging so that people will treat those as games and come back and do more “training”. Whereas quantified mind is more dare I say scientific and focus on efficient rigorous assessment. You try to get the most information that you can so you can actually learn something about yourself rather than just have a good time. Having said that, I have a lot of respect for lumosity; I really like those guys and they have a great website and I'm actually working with them with some data analysis assessment. We actually fit very nicely as complimentary sides of the same kind.
Ari: What kind of things will somebody be able to find out from them using quantified mind?
Yoni: It turns out that every person has their own questions and the things that bother them. I guess some of the common things are the simple day to day choices that we make in life. That is getting more or less sleep, eating your carbohydrates high fat diet or not eating at all, exercising doing cardio versus weight, drinking coffee versus not drinking coffee, is a little bit of alcohol last night really hurting my whole day to day? All kinds of things that a lot of people occasionally ask and it’s very hard to answer. Our ability to introspect it is just not very good and the subject is very biased now we can put numbers to all of these things. But also I've seen a lot of people use it for less daily less standard intervention such as going into polyphasic sleeping cycles and trying to see how much of a cognitive price we pay for the actual time games and trying all types of weird drugs or other supplements that are family unusual. It’s really a whole range out there. But I say for most people these are the same topics that are given in newspapers [4:16] improves brain function or something like this.
Ari: So, now when we’re talking about cognitive performance, what are we talking about? Memory? Tasks? What are really talking about when you talk about cognitive performance?
Yoni: Right. The goal would be what you define as all of it but of course realistically that cannot be achieved. What I am trying to achieve is to build on a whole set of tests and develop an [4:49] and have anxiety and shown to mean something in real life. That’s the first; some things that can be measured and the other criteria which can be what actually matters. The things that are obviously important to something and then validated as such and things which can be measured efficiently and completely repeatedly. For example, one thing that I would very much like to measure but have not been able to devise a completely repeatable and automatic test for this creativity. Some of the other things that I can measure very well as such basic processing feed and sensory processing and visual, auditory and so on, working on restarting the memory, learning executive functions which you could content switching of inhibition and attention; even a little bit of motor functions. We try to capture everything which matters and can be reasonably captured. It ends up being, depending how you count and how you separate them with something like 6 to 8 different cognitive domains covered by something like 30 tests overall.
Ari: Okay. Now when you're looking at these results and I'm assuming you're previewing a good amount of data. Have you discovered anything that you found surprising? Have you found the optimal amount of sleep on average or a supplement that works really well or anything like that?
Yoni: Yeah, definitely a lot of results. Most of them are not surprising but it’s also nice to see that we can validate expected results. For example, medication is one thing that we expect to work but it was really encouraging to see a significant effect with a fairly small sample size. There have also been surprises and you see those mostly 10 to 1 experiments that are just done by dedicated individuals. Then also know how much it is an individual effect versus something generalizable. I've seen a lot of peoples surprised with respect to their optimal time of day for doing things; their memories first thing in the morning they discovered that their performance is best in the morning it’s just the perception that is fairly clouded. I always thought that fasting is associated with clarity of mind and better performance. I discovered that the numbers actually tell a different story. Yeah, I guess there have been stories that have bothered which has been somehow acclaims some reputation in the quantified self-community as a cognitive enhancer. But all the evidence we've seen so far is actually anything. It is neutral for some people and negative for some. There are all kinds of results on supplements, I don’t think I can mention those without getting information from people that did those experiments.
Ari: Okay. Fair enough; fair enough. Well can you tell me this though. Was there any significant difference between possible neutropic drugs versus supplements? Where there supplements that were actually more effective drugs or vice versa?
Yoni: That’s an interesting question. I would say no we've only seen mild effects for both drugs and supplements. I guess the diversion is not always very clear because most neutropics are really just supplements, right? From the experiments with stronger substances, I only received several reports but they were interesting but I can’t actually share those. One of the stronger results I've seen is actually on the same as drinking coffee by the [9:27] affect that you're familiar with.
Yoni: So yeah we did a big experiment that had about 300 people expressing initial interest and 50 actually signed up. It’s a smaller number that actually completed the study but it was a very demanding study and a pretty demanding protocol. We compared both butter and upgraded coffee versus a control coffee which was Starbucks and the results were just extremely strong. We’re going to go public with this in just a matter of days. I can’t tell you correlatively what we found, we received a very specific detailed report about the findings of the study pretty soon. Basically when they had some time to go over the report I sent him but essentially we found very significant effect for the coffee type and a complete lack of effect for butter. This was kind of interesting because now…. Sorry?
Ari: I was just going to say it was interesting because I drink [10:45] coffee and I never drank it with the goal of getting like an energy boost and I never feel an energy boost but I definitely feel sharper and more clarity when I drink it versus that I don’t.
Yoni: Great. I guess in your case you're quite perceptive or maybe the effect is pretty big so you wouldn’t actually need the numbers to tell you that but at least now we do have numbers that seem to back your subjective experience
Ari: Go ahead I'm sorry.
Yoni: To me the value it lies in the domains where you don’t really know and really do need the numbers and maybe your intuition is reversed to reality because of varies vices. Actually a lot of examples of those things. You can’t just read it out. Coffee is probably one of the things that…. Coffee compared to no coffee is certainly very strong intervention. Most people can say, I know, life is worth living when I drink coffee. You don’t need to take a bunch of tests to tell you that coffee does something but when you're talking about comparing different kinds of coffee, I think most people are not so sure and definitely when you're talking about finer grain intervention. Like 8 hours of sleep versus 7; who knows really?
Ari: The one that’s really intriguing to me is the time of day study you have on your site. One of the things I'm always talking about with my clients and in my seminars is about learning the best timing for you to do certain activities. People know that they are a morning person or a night person but I try to explain it goes way beyond that. I've learned through just being observant about myself that I don’t particularly don’t like making phone calls before noon; I just don’t feel like I'm myself. I like to work out in the afternoon. I like to deal with creative problems late at night. I know that the timing of things can really affect how well you'd do, the more even if you will do them at all and I’ll just get distracted and do something else. How do you do the time of day testing actually? Obviously you take lots of samples I presume?
Yoni: Yeah. My goal with this one was to go with something which has no intervention really so it would be the central repository for collecting unstructured data without any additional stress from the participant side. Therefore this is the experiment with the highest amount of variation between sessions. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this but every time you do get a different set of tests and this is actually meant to give me better data to learn about the different correlations between tests. No one is ever going to do them in a single session so I had to mix them up somewhere in a way which would enable me to compute all the correlations between them. I chose this particular experiment to do this. This one is really interesting because essentially I get data on all the tests from all the users from various times of day including that information as far as feeling energy levels and sleep and so on. It’s definitely the experiment with the largest number of data finds and it’s really, really interesting because of those unique properties. So far it’s been useful in multiple ways developing interesting analysis [14:51] and in validating the intratest correlating which duly corresponds to what they should buy so they can [14:59]. It’s maybe not something that would interest a lot of users but it’s definitely interesting to researchers who are interested in using the site and definitely interesting to me as the researcher who’s building this validated things that make sense. [15:14] Things are working properly. But also I tell you it’s easy to learn something about yourself from this one which is why looking at the data. It doesn’t take this many data points and the results are usually quite striking. I've seen a lot of surprises there too. I've said this before people just, I guess, self-perception seems to be uncorrelated with actual performance when it comes to time of day. I completely agree with you, this is a huge thing. This is actually one of the strongest variations that we have. Anyone will testify if you try to force them to do something really demanding when you just woke them up or the weakest point of the day.
Ari: Yeah it’s interesting because that’s like one of the tenants of the military is wake up and start doing drills immediately; you have to be ready to go at any given time so training for that or knowing what your baseline for that should lead to some outcome.
Yoni: One of the interesting studies that I've seen in epidemia is standard traditional methods or the very classic way America study where they took the navy or marines doing death week. Not Americans; they’ve given an amount of number which one it is. But it’s this horrible week where they don’t sleep and they do a shit ton of physically demanding feats. Then they gave them 100mg or 200mg or 300mg of coffee. You could see tremendous boost in performance. When you actually get to the point where you need to give people 300mg of coffee and you still see improvement; these are people in poor shape.
Ari: All in the name of science I guess. When someone goes to the website, there's all these standard ones that you talk about like coffee, sleep, and time of day but can people create their own experiment? Like if someone wanted to see the effect of how much TV they watch in a day?
Yoni: There are options for generating your own experiment. You can use a variety. You can create your own variables and design your own protocols and the way you want to do the experiment. Furthermore, I also work together with people who are interested in doing experiments on themselves and more people. Doing group experiments; anyone who is interested in doing that just needs to contact me and I will help them create some landing page you can direct the users to and I can let them get access to the people who take their own experiments and will help them do the analysis. I've been doing this with several users; so far it’s been a blast for me, it’s been really great to see the people are interested in asking you questions and trying to generate discoveries using the tool that I built. It’s always better to work with them. Everyone is so positive and happy to design clever experimental designs and to go and find something new. This has been one of my goals with this site. I don’t want to stop with those structured experiments. Those actually were added at the later stage just to make it so that people who don’t have a specific question will still find something to do and find the site useful. The original goal is definitely to enable discoveries. If there was some feature that was missing and someone has some very cool question they want answered and they need this feature, I usually am more than happy to implement things for people up to reasonable limits and who work with them. We’ll all be able to answer lots of questions and make really interesting discoveries.
Ari: That’s a really wonderful resource that people should have at their disposal. I'm glad that you're open to doing that. The last question that I always like to ask on the podcast is what are the top three things that make you more productive. They can be anything from diet to meditation to software program. What are the top three things that make you as effective as you want to be?
Yoni: First I want to say that is a great question and you picked a very fun one to talk about. I’d say that the number one for me is very separated and far and above and beyond anything else. It is actually to optimize at the right resolution. Basically, think very careful about the things that you are doing in your life. Before you start tweaking your minutes or saving ten minutes a day by brushing your teeth more efficiently or something like this or going to those optimizations. Even before you go and gain even an hour more of focus a day by doing some hack. I think it’s more important to make sure that you are sending those hours that you are working on the right things. It’s so easy to go wrong there and to be super-efficient at doing something which a year later turns out to have been useless. Who cares if you’ve done it efficiently or not? I wrote a long blog post about this at some point, if anyone’s interested my blog is called [21:12]. But the number one thing is first optimizing the year level. What are the most important things to spend time on and then start tweaking the way you do things so that you spend your time effectively on those things. But remember to keep the priorities right. That may be the second thing would be to take good care of yourself. I think it’s very tempting to try things like polyphasic sleep which may or may not work but it seems worth it to me individually or just sleep or keep socializing puts more stress in your life in favor of getting more done. I'm the last person who will deny that spending more time on work usually results in getting more work done. But I think burnout is real and that often it’s very hard to appreciate beforehand how important work is. But it’s always important to take care of yourself. I think maybe maintaining a low stress life and making sure your health doesn’t suffer from things you're doing either recurring things amongst people who regret how they behaved in their start of days. Having seen this again and again, I've sort of experienced this myself multiple times, I think this is really important is to stay productive. Make sure you keep the machinery working in good shape because you're the most important thing. And maybe going down to one further level beyond that. Let’s say that if we’re going to talk about a specific hack something that you actually do to become more productive in day to day life, there is no question for me that the most awesome hack in life is exercise, physical exercise; it’s magic. It makes your moods better. It makes you happy and improves your sleep. It’s hard to imaging something else that has so many benefits wrapped up in a single activity. It’s amazing how even knowing all of these things and speaking like a total exercise week, I've still kind of not really want to go exercise every time; I have to convince myself but it’s awesome. Every single time I do it, I feel awesome afterwards and it always seems like it was worth it. Keep doing exercise. I guess that would be my three
Ari: Those are really good and diverse things to make you want to practice so thank you for sharing those. That’s sort of the end of the podcast. Can you tell everybody the URL for quantified mind?
Yoni: Yeah, it’s quantified-mind.com. Don’t forget the dash. Don’t hesitate to send me any thoughts, ideas, and suggestions. I'm very likely to not implement every single thing that people suggest but I'm also am really happy to hear what it is that people think and what it is that people find useful or not. I'm always happy to explain my choices and try to help whenever I can; try to make it useful. If it’s not useful, tell me why.
Ari: Wonderful. Yoni thank you so much and I really encourage everybody to check out quantified minds when they get a chance.