1 A 3 O R N


Created: 2020-06-01
Wordcount: 1.4k


This page is to ensure that I record attempts to improve intelligence.

Generally speaking, I expect most interventions on this page to fail because of the Algernon Argument.

The quick summary of this argument is that if there were a quick, easy, side-effect free way to improve intelligence, evolution would already have granted it to us, because intelligence is useful. Therefore, any ways to improve your intelligence must either (1) be slow and difficult, in order to remain beyond the reach of evolution's selection, or (2) have significant negative side effects, in order to remain unselected by evolution.

Even so, on the margin, there are things that might work, generally by increasing some quality along an vector not quite-oblique to intelligence. For instance, creatine might increase energy, which lets you think more clearly; Dual-N-Back might increase working memory, or perhaps just motivation to focus, which might let you think more clearly; L-Theanine might decrease anxiety, which might let you think more clearly. In general, I want to be always like I am at least ocassionally -- awake, recollected, focused, interested. That's my goal end-state.

Another way to look at it is that if you're thrilled about techniques of rationality, you'll also be thrilled about nootropics. It's the kind of objective correlate to the subjective skill that you want to cultivate.

It's also quite worth noticing that excessive interest in either is probably a sign of being a crank. Ultimately, intelligence is acquired, refined, and tested in solving hard problems in the real world. Trying to gain it entirely in itself is a little weak.

Pharmacological Interventions

Acetyle L Carnitine (ALCAR)

Acetyl L Carinitine is an acetylated amino acid. It is naturally produced by the body. It might assist intelligence directly or obliquely:

  1. It might decrease reaction time and increase cognitive function in old people. Effects of acetyl-L-carnitine on reaction times in patients with cerebrovascular insufficiency. Effects of L-acetylcarnitine on mental deterioration in the aged: initial results.

Personal: I intend to at some time experiment on myself with this, although overall evidence that this improves cognition in currently-healthy individuals seems quite poor.

Bacopa Monieri

Bacopa is used in traditional Ayurveda medicine for improving memory and, well, many other things.




Personal: L-Theanine is commonly used to promote relaxation and focus in combination with caffeine; it supposedly decreases the jitters that accompany coffee. I do not drink coffee, but I did start giving it to my girlfriend, who does drink coffee regularly. Both she and I immediately seemed to percieve a decrease in her anxiety during the day.

Lion's Mane

There is some evidence that Lion's Mane assists intelligence under some circumstances:

  1. It might promote neuron growth in vitro. Neurotrophic Properties of the Lion's Mane Medicinal Mushroom, Hericium Erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) From Malaysia. Lion's Mane, Hericium Erinaceus and Tiger Milk, Lignosus Rhinocerotis (Higher Basidiomycetes) Medicinal Mushrooms Stimulate Neurite Outgrowth in Dissociated Cells of Brain, Spinal Cord, and Retina: An In Vitro Study

  2. It might helps prevent mental problems in (deliberately injured or old) mice. Effects of Hericium Erinaceus on Amyloid β(25-35) Peptide-Induced Learning and Memory Deficits in Mice. Neuroprotective Effect of Repeated Treatment with Hericium erinaceum in Mice Subjected to Middle Cerebral Artery Occlusion. Hericium erinaceus Improves Recognition Memory and Induces Hippocampal and Cerebellar Neurogenesis in Frail Mice during Aging

  3. Most interestingly, it may helps already healthy become more curious. Dietary Supplementation of Hericium erinaceus Increases Mossy Fiber-CA3 Hippocampal Neurotransmission and Recognition Memory in Wild-Type Mice. Note this used a water / ethanol extraction from the fruiting bodies.

  4. Helps humans with mild cognitive impairment or depression. Improving Effects of the Mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium Erinaceus) on Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Note 3g total powdered Hericium Erinaceus per day. Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake. Note 2g total powdered Hericium Erinaceaus intake in this study per day.

Note that Lion's Mane is also called Yamabushitake or Satyr's Beard. I think Yamabushitake is the superior name, really.

Personal: I tried taking 500mg of Lion's Mane daily; after a few days I switched to 1g daily, because this is apparently a more common dose for nootropic purposes. It looks like different chemicals make their way into the supplement, depending on how the mushroom is processed; I used the Lion's Mane from Nootropics Depot.

After approximately a week, I did feel more alert and reflective during the day; I might have felt a little bit like I sometimes feel after meditating, although that also might have been placebo. However, I was also having extremely vivid dreams; I was spending a lot of the night in REM sleep, and sometimes felt tired during the day. This is apparently a common side effect, judging from reddit comments.

I suspended use because of this side effect. I think a follow-up attempt is definitely worthwhile, because Lion's Mane is definitely doing something.

I followed up by, again, taking Lion's Mane, 1g per day. After a few days, I had two days in a row of exceptionally good scores on my reaction-time test. Once more though, I began to sleep very poorly. So I have once more suspended the attempt. Any future attempts, I think, will have to involve alternative sources for the LM; different extractions of LM are supposed to have different chemical in them, and some might be better than others. In any event, I'll perform no more experiments with Nootropics Depot Lion's Mane.

Turmeric / Curcumin


Technical / Praxis-Based Interventions


On ██ ███████ ██ █████ I tried starting Dual-N-Back every morning. I'm doing 7 sessions, starting on D2B, advancing on 80% accurate, retreating on less than 50% accurate. I started using the online Dual-N-Backhere but found it was more convenient to use the standard python one on Github.

After having done three months██ ████████████ , I'm now able to advance to D5B on most days. It took about a week to advance to D4B regularly, and about two months to advance to D5B regularly. Honestly the prospects of getting to D6B on any kind of regular basis are rather slim, but I figure I need to try for another month. I find it a relaxing / invigorating way to start the day, and I'm interested in whether my scores get better on it when I'm taking various nootropics, but so far I haven't seen much other effect.

Update: I've now been doing this for at least another three months. I recently switched to starting at D2B every other day, and just continuing where I left off on the other days. This seems like slightly better practice. On maybe 10-20% of days I get to D6B. I continue to not notice imporvements.

Reaction Time

According to the Jensen, general intelligence or G is correlated with reaction time. (He argues, of course, that this means that G is not simply a measure of acquired skills that help one do well on tests supposed to be testing intelligence, but a measure of actual intelligence.) My interest in this is that, although it's quite a pain to actually test whether I'm getting more intelligent, it's quite easy to test my reaction time.

I started measuring choiceless reaction time daily. I measured choiceless reaction time -- i.e., not looking at how quickly I could distinguish between two pieces of information, but simply measuring how long I took to click after a stimuli changed -- because it was easy to measure, although perhaps not as correlated with IQ. My scores are decidely normal, with maybe 95% of them falling within the range of 210 to 310 ms. In the 20 or 25 trials per day with which I experiment per day, so far, the median falls between 230 and 280 milliseconds.

The plan for the future is to see (1) if my reaction time increases gradually over time, due to increased practice and (2) to see if any drugs help increase reaction time. I expect that (1) will probably not occur, at least past a few milliseconds, but I do expect (2) some drugs or practices to increase mean / median reaction time by a little.

Update: After changing peripherals, probably 90% of my choiceless reaction time now falls between 200 and 300 milliseconds. I've also experimented with the effects of psilocybin on reaction time, with interesting results.