Sunday, December 19, 2010

Programmable wristwatch for self-experimentation

If I wanted to lose or gain weight, that would be easy to measure.  I would just weigh myself every day.  But what if I want to gain energy, say?  Or lose anxiety?  That is not so easy to measure.  And if you can't measure it, you can't really apply much science to it, and as that's kind of my goal, I'd like to measure these things.

Ideally, I'd be able to make a mental note, just say "I feel about 70% energetic now", whenever I think of it, or at fixed intervals, and then call up all the data later and do some statistics on it.  ("experience sampling", they call it.)  But we can't do that mentally because we forget things; the best we can do (that I know of; do any of you readers know anything better?) is cell phone apps.  And that takes about 10-15 seconds of overhead, it's kind of annoying, and I can't always do it easily (say, if I'm in a meeting).  Pencil and paper is even worse.

The best feasible thing I can think of is a watch.  We're used to watches, they're pretty unobtrusive, and if it has 5 buttons, you could theoretically input how you feel on a 1-5 scale in under a second.  That's my goal; I feel like a lot of other research will become possible once I can do that.

To that end, I ordered an eZ430-Chronos watch from Texas Instruments.  Now, I'd like to go play with it, but -- Windows and Linux only!  (at home I only have a Mac.)  D'oh.  You'd think I would have checked this first.  Another reason I'd like to go back to Linux.  Well, I'll keep you posted if I make anything cool.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Emotions and Attention: two different things

A lot of things I want to study- mindfulness, attention, left prefrontal cortex activation, being-one-with-the-universe, enlightenment, happiness- are all kinda the same thing.  If you're very mindful, if you're skillful at directing your attention, if your left prefrontal cortex is operating at full capacity, you'll be enlightened/happy.  More or less.

So I feel like whenever I have to answer the question "what do you want to study?" I want to say "you know, everything good in the universe."

I kind of like emotions too.  And I think those are pretty different.  Having good command of your emotions seems like one part of being a happy superman, but only one part.  It's popular nowadays, and for good reason: we've been neglecting it for a while.  (sort of like spatial intelligence, and physical intelligence, and pretty much all the intelligences besides "the mathy one" and maybe "the writing one.")

But I think, given a choice, I'm more interested in The Big Kahuna.  Mindfulness.  Enlightenment.  Whatever it is that Siddharta Gautama had and I do not yet.  It will be interesting to see if this is as rich a research field as emotions.

Interesting unrelated note about emotions: so I was in the Slice Cafe at Google HQ in California (the best place to get breakfast after 9:30AM, and one of the best places on campus, although now that Nourish is open I'm not so sure; seriously, Googlers, go to Nourish if you're in MTV, it's awesome) and Jens Lekman's "Pocketful of Money" (of all songs!) came on, and I got overcome by nostalgia and sadness and also depth and the sense that my life is a really grand movie adventure, and I realized I had this mixed up ball of emotions that really wanted to get out!  I mean, I just wanted to find someone else listening to this song and be like "aaah it's the saddest" and for him/her to be like "I know!", okay I sound like I'm 14 years old, shut up.

The point is, why do we have this compulsion to share emotions?  Particularly the more extreme they are.  It's as if the emotion has a life of its own, like it's a bucket of water, and you want to dump it on other people; but it's not enough to just dump it on them, you want them to soak it in like towels, not just let it run off.  Curious!