19 Apr

Acid-Blockers Overkill

Acid-Reflux

The current treatment protocol for chronic acid-reflux is a crime. To understand why, you will have to first understand how this disease works.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

Digestion 101

digestive-tractThe food you swallow travels through a vertical tube called esophagus. Esophagus takes the food into your stomach, where the stomach adds some acid and grinds the food. The acid helps to break down the food and extract nutrients.

After sufficient churning and grinding, the stomach pushes the food into small intestine. As the food travels down the small intestine, more digestion happens. After the food travels some distance in the small intestine, it is mixed with bile which comes from liver (and gall bladder). Bile emulsifies the fat we eat, like soap emulsifies oil, and helps us digest it. Since the bile is alkaline, it neutralizes the acid from the stomach.

In the small intestine, the food is also mixed with various digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas and nutrition extraction happens. After the small intestine is finished digesting the food, the food is moved into our large intestine.

Up until recently, we used to believe that large intestine is largely a waste-bin, holding the digested food till it is excreted. Now we know better. Bacteria living in the large intestine breaks down and eats up our left overs like the fiber that we eat. After the bacteria has done their job, even more energy energy is released (about 30% more) for us to extract from the food.

After the energy extraction, the remaining stuff, with whole lots of stomach bacteria, are stored to be excreted out of the body.

Diaphragm 101

Between our chest and the abdomen, there is a horizontal plane of muscle called the diaphragm. Lungs, heart and esophagus (food pipe) sit above the diaphragm. Stomach, intestines, gall bladder, liver, spleen, pancreas, kidney, urinary tract, etc., sit below the diaphragm.

Diaphragm makes our breathing possible. When we we breath in, the diaphragm moves downward, increasing the volume of our chest cavity. This increases the volume of the lungs, creating a negative pressure inside. Air flows into the lungs to fill it up, creating our in-breathing. When we breath out, the diaphragm moves up, squeezing the lungs and pushing the air out.

Acid Reflux 101

We just saw that the esophagus passes through the diaphragm to reach the stomach. Some of the diaphragm muscle fibers wrap around the esophagus and act like a pinch cock. When you swallow food, the pinch cock opens and allows the food to go down in to the stomach. During other times, it remains closed so that the acidic contents of the stomach don’t escape into the esophagus.

LES-valveThis pinch cock is called the Lower Esophageal Sphincter valve (or LES valve). When it doesn’t work well, acidic content of the stomach flows back into the esophagus. We call this an acid reflux.

Since the esophagus doesn’t have the protective inner lining like stomach, if the acidic stomach contents flow back into the esophagus, the inner surface of the esophagus gets hurt. If the hurt continues for a long time, we are talking years, it might turn into esophageal cancer.

Esophageal cancer is the fastest growing cancer in many parts of the world, including India.

So, there is a sort of compulsion to reduce the damages of long standing acid reflux.

Acid Reflux 201

At times, there is surplus of pressure in/on the stomach which pries open even a normal-strength LES valve and pushes the food back into the esophagus. This is another mechanism through which you might end up getting an acid reflux disease.

Here is the list of all the things that can make the contents of the stomach to flow back into the esophagus:

  1. Weakness in the diaphragmatic muscle fibers make it difficult to keep the LES valve shut
  2. There is a hole in the diaphragm (a hiatus hernia), which makes the LES valve weak
  3. There is too much of food or/and water in the stomach that some of it escapes back into the esophagus
  4. A faulty digestive system and it produces too much of gas and the pressure from the gas pushes open the LES valve
  5. Too much of fat in the stomach (called the visceral fat) leaves too little space for the stomach, squeezing its contents out
  6. Tight clothes like corset put a squeeze on the stomach
  7. Certain food, like fat and caffeine, dilate the LES valve, making it easy for the acidic contents of the stomach to flow back into the esophagus

Let’s see what we can do fix each possible causes of acid reflux.

  1. Weak diaphragmatic muscles: You can strengthen them with breathing exercises. Talk to an yoga teacher.
  2. Hole in the diaphragm (hiatus hernia): Get a surgeon to fix it
  3. Full stomach: Don’t lie down.
  4. Gas in digestive system: This may be caused by the drugs you are taking to reduce your acid reflux symptoms. More about it later.
  5. Too much visceral fat: Lose weight
  6. Tight clothes: Don’t
  7. Some foods dilate the LES valve: Avoid them

Other than these, all backward stretching yoga postures stretch the esophagus. It is believed that with the increased length of esophagus, the lateral pressure on the esophagus increases, shutting it more effectively.

Did you notice that none of the above fixes involve reducing the stomach acid?

Stomach Acid 101

Stomach acid is there for two good reasons:

  • Stomach acid breaks down the food in the stomach, helping us extract protein and other important nutrients. Without sufficient stomach acid, we tend to become malnutritioned.
  • Stomach acid kills most of the pathogens that invade us through the food we eat. Without sufficient stomach acid, we become more susceptible to infections.

Stomach acid is actually a good thing.

SIBO 101

Stomach acid keeps the bacterial content of the stomach acid in check. With weakened stomach acid, there is an over-growth of bacteria in the small intestine. We call this a Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, or SIBO.

Note: SIBO has many causes. Reduced stomach acid is just one of them.

SIBO has many nasty effects. They include:

  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Malnutrition
  • Weight loss
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Rashes
  • Acne
  • Eczema
  • Asthma
  • Depression

SIBO is also very difficult to treat with antibiotics, with very high rate of recurrence. When a recurrence happens, the symptoms are worse.

Let’s look into on only one ill effect of SIBO: Bloating. The bloating occurs because of improper digestion, particularly food fermentation in the small intestine. The gas generated in the process, which causes the bloating, also causes belching.

When the gas from the small intestine travels to the mouth (assuming that the olfactory senses don’t object to it), it opens up a valve positioned between the small intestine and the stomach (called the pyloric valve) and our friend, the LES valve.

Opening the LES valve, we already saw, causes acid reflux. So, when the stomach acid remains sufficiently low for a long time, we are talking months, SIBO to set in. Once SIBO comes to play, it contributes to acid reflux.

If you already have acid reflux, SIBO makes it worse.

Bile Reflux 101

When the contents of the small intestine open up the pyloric valve and travel into the stomach, some times they carries bile from the small intestine into the stomach.

Again, there are other reasons for a bile reflux. SIBO is just one of them.

When the bile, which is alkaline, enters the stomach, it neutralizes some of the stomach acid, making the problem worse.

Acid Reflux Protocol 101

Now that you have your fundamentals, let me take you to the meat of this post: If you have acid reflux and go to a doctor, what do they do? They give you acid-blockers! So that when the stomach contents flow back, your esophagus isn’t burnt the way it used to be. Let me paraphrase that:

Acid-blockers don’t stop the reflux. It simply stops the acid.

Acid blockers, when taken for a long period of time, give you malnutrition, start SIBO and make the acid reflux symptoms worse. Acid blockers turn evil when the treatment runs into months and years.

Pepsin 101

Here is something that no one probably told you about:

If you have acid reflux, the real damage to the esophagus is done by the pepsin that comes from the stomach!

Pepsin is a molecule that is used by the stomach to digest the protein we eat. But pepsin becomes active only in the presence of acid. When you have a reflux, along with the rest of the food contents and acid, even pepsin rises into the esophagus. When the reflux subsides, some of the pepsin hangs around on the walls of the stomach and lies dormant.

Since you now already have pepsin on the esophageal walls, if you happen to eat acidic food or drink acidic drinks, the acid in your food wakes up the pepsin and it starts to digesting your esophagus. Acid reflux is more about pepsin eating into your esophagus and less about the acid burn.

Let me repeat it:

Acid reflux is more about pepsin eating into your esophagus and less about the acid burn.

To reduce the reactivation of pepsin, you have to be careful not to eat or drink acidic foot.

pH 101

When it comes eating less acidic food, how much is too much?

The acidity of substance is measured on a pH scale. pH “0” is very acidic (battery acid). pH 14 is very alkaline (drain cleaner). Lastly, pH is a log scale. “pH 0” is…

  • 10 times more acidic than pH 1
  • 100 times more acidic than pH 2
  • 1,000 times more acidic than pH 3
  • 10,000 times more acidic than pH 4
  • 100,000 times more acidic than pH 5
  • 1,000,000 times more acidic than pH 6

Now that you understand the pH scale, here is something you are never going to forget:

  • Water is pH 7.0 (neutral)
  • Milk is about pH 6.8 (coconut and soy milk are round about similar value), almost as good as water
  • Coffee is about 5.5, a share more acidic than water
  • Coke and Pepsi are pH 2.5
  • The stomach acid is pH 2

Coke and Pepsi are almost as acidic as the stomach acid. So are many packaged drinks that we use every day.

If you drink acidic drinks or eat acidic food after you have had a reflux, the residual pepsin lingering in your esophagus will get reactivated and start gnawing into the esophageal tissue.

High pH Diet 101

If you are suffering from acid reflux, high the pH of the food you eat lesser you activate the pepsin clinging on to your esophagus.

If you have acid reflux, start eating food that has higher pH value than 5. Do this for two weeks and then stick to pH 4+ food for rest of you life.

With this, about 1/3rd of the people with acid reflux can wean themselves off acid-blocking medication. What more, to keep the pH as high as possible, you will end up eating large quantities of high fiber vegetables, which are excellent for your gut microbiome. So, when you are on high pH diet, you can effectively rule out SIBO.

About 1/3rd of the people with acid reflux can manage with high pH diet and medical intervention. However, the rest 1/3rd typically need surgical correction of their LES valve.

Plug: Food Clinic   has been advising patients on high pH Indian cuisine for controlling their acid reflux.

Criminology 101

I started this post with the sensational claim that current standard protocol for “treating” acid reflux disease is a crime. Now that you have the complete picture, are in a better position to understand why:

  • About 1/3rd  of acid reflux patients can manage their disease with high pH diet. But with the exception of just one organization (Food Clinic) in this country, no one else is even talking about it.
  • About 1/3rd  of acid reflux patients cannot be cured without a surgery. But most of the chronic acid reflux patients don’t even know that there is permanent fix for their problem in the form of a quick surgery.
  • Many patients are not educated about the damage they are doing to themselves by taking acid blocking drugs on the long run.
  • Very few acid reflux patients  have even heard of SIBO, that it has probably been started by their acid blocking drug, that it is going to be difficult to get rid of it using conventional treatment (i.e. antibiotics) and that it is making their acid reflux worse.

Whoever perpetuates this broken system, in my humble opinion, is committing a crime.

Dysbiosis 101

We already saw that prolonged usage of acid blocking drugs damages the gut bacteria balance, resulting in Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. Often, these patients are put on antibiotics to get rid of their SIBO. If these things mess up the microbiome so the person starts have symptoms of autoimmune diseases like IBS, allergies, etc., they are also put on steroids to lower the immune response.

This is a deadly cocktail designed for disastrous dysbiosis.

Unless someone wakes up to this and starts to work on re-balancing the gut microbiome, this patient will never become healthy again. Ever.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

 

18 Apr

Antibiotic Overkill

Medicinal Overkill

If you haven’t learned about the antibiotic-over-medication disaster we are in the middle of, it is about time you did.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

Somewhere from the 1950s, incidents of several autoimmune diseases in the US started growing steadily. That is also when an uptick in obesity and autism was first observed. After much of research, the most probable suspect seem to be this:

In 1944, the world started using antibiotics.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics are drugs that are used to kill disease causing bacteria. Often, they end up killing the friendly bacteria that live in us too.

Before antibiotics came alone, the micro-organisms, including bacteria, were felling populations like fleas. Here is some statistics that will freeze your blood:

  • 30% of the population killed by Antonine Plauge (AD 165-180)
  • 40% of the population killed by Plague of Justinian (AD 541-542)
  • 60% of the population killed by Black Death (AD 1346-1350)
  • 80% of the population killed by Cocoliztli (AD 1545-1548)
  • 50% of the population killed by Cololiztli (AD 1576)
  • 90% of the population killed byUnknown disease outbreak (AD 1616-1619)
  • 75 million people killed by worldwide flu epidemic (AD 1918)

Note: See this Wikipedia page for more details

Compare that with the worldwide flue outbreak in 2009, which was worst we have had in the 21st century so far. It killed 14,286 people, according to Wikipedia (or 18,500 people according to this CNN page). Media, and us, couldn’t stop talking about it when it happened.

Antibiotics was a blessing to the entire human race. Without antibiotics we would have lost many more Srinivasa Ramanujans to the lowly bacteria  (we watched helplessly as Ramanujan’s body and brain was being eaten away by tuberculosis bacteria). And the humankind would have never made the kind of progress that we made in the last 75 years.

Antibiotic Overkill

But there is a dark side to antibiotics that we are beginning to understand only now: Prolonged exposure to antibiotics, or even relatively brief exposure during the childhood, permanently damages the diversity of the bacteria living in our gut.

When we lose diversity of the gut bacteria, chances are that the population of pathogenic bacteria increases.

Whenever the body senses the presence of harmful bacteria in the gut, the gut walls open, rush water into the intestine and flush its content out. We call this diarrhea. Diarrhea is the body’s attempt to flush out the toxic contents of the intestine.

When the toxins or harmful bacteria in the gut are present in large quantities, full blown diarrhea occurs. When these insults are present in smaller quantities, the gut opens up just a tiny bit. Through these slivers, the harmful content of the intestine (pathogens, toxic chemicals, food particles) escape into the bloodstream. Our immune system picks up on the intruders in the bloodstream and starts attacking them.

When these minor insults are caused by what we eat on a regular basis, or how we live, or what kind of bacteria we harbor in our stomach, the insults never end. With the intruders being present all the time, the immune system gets into overdrive.

When the overactive immune system attacks our own body tissue, we call it an autoimmune disease. Depending upon where or how the immune system attacks our body, the symptoms vary from asthma to allergy to irritable bowl syndrome to whole lots of other things.

Many of these autoimmune diseases reverse when the gut microbiome is re-balanced.

Unfortunately, in some cases like with Type-1 diabetes or autism, autoimmune disease causes irreversible damage.

What Should You Do

Here are some things you can/must do to protect yourselves from antibiotic overkill:

  • Take antibiotics only when your life depends on it.
  • This is more for kids:
    • Their microbiome is under developed. So, they are more susciptible for damage.
    • If you damage the microbiome of infants and toddlers, there is not much you can do to restore it
    • Damaged microbiome in infants and toddlers can result in irreversible disaster situations like Type-1 diabetes or autism.
  • If you must take antibiotics
    • Ensure that you combine it with a “good” probiotics. Stagger the probiotics and antibiotic. Otherwise, the antibiotic will kill all the good bacteria in the probiotics.
    • Ask your doctor to prescribe you narrow-spectrum antibiotic that acts on your particular villain, rather than the broad spectrum antibiotic that nukes every bacteria at sight.
  • At the earliest you can, start eating a diet that is friendly to the beneficial microbiome. If the damage to your gut flora is extensive, I suggest you take help from someone like Food Clinic to tweak your diet right.
  • Understand that some diseases for which doctors prescribe antibiotics are made worse by, well, taking antibiotics! Examples are
    • Clostrodium Difficile infection
    • Presistant Acne
  • Be dirty, but in a healthy way (whatever that is)

What Else Should You be Watchful Of

Antibiotic usage becomes particularly destructive on your gut bacteria if you are already doing something that makes your microbiome fragile and vulnerable. Some of them are:

  • You have been on acid blocking drugs for a long time
  • You have been on some steroid medication for a long time
  • You have not been feeding the good bacteria in your stomach
  • You were being too much of a hygiene Nazi

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

 

13 Apr

Microbiome: Antibiotic for the 21st Century Diseases

Gut-Microbes

If you haven’t heard the word “microbiome”, this post is going to be the most important thing you read in a long time.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

I am working on creating an enterprise (Food Clinic) that will specialize on reversing/managing chronic diseases using food as the 1st medicine. Of all the knowledge we are going to use in our practice, the most fascinating and the strangest thing is the knowledge of the friendly micro-organisms that live within, and on, us. These little guys are collectively called our microbiome.

First, the fascinating bits:

  • The number of micro-organism cells we food and shelter is 10 times more than our own cells.
  • These microbes take active part in running our bodies. They even train our immune system and switch on and off our genes.
  • After our stomach and small intestine extract energy and nutrition from the food we eat, the microbes digest the leftovers in the large intestine, producing even more energy and nutrients for us.
  • The large intestine is not just a waste-bin like we were told in our schools.

What’s in it for you?

  • If you eat the food that is eaten by the good microbes in your gut, all good things happen to you. When you avoid feeding the good microbes, they die out and the gut gets crowded by the bad microbes. Then the hell breaks loose.
  • More precisely, the gut lining breaks loose and lets undesirable things from inside of the gut (e.g. toxic chemicals, food fragments, pathogens) to escape into the blood stream.
  • When that happens,
    • The toxins in the blood cause inflammation all over the body
    • The immune system over-reacts to the inflammation
  • When the immune system overacts, you get auto-immune diseases like
    • Allergies
    • Arthritis
    • Asthma
    • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
    • Eczema and psoriasis
    • Lupus
    • Irritable Bowl Syndrome
    • Crohn’s Disease
    • Insulin Resistance
    • Multiple Sclerosis
    • Obesity
    • And more
  • Till date, there are no reliable cures for any of these diseases.
  • But now, it is beginning to look like all these autoimmune diseases can be reversed by re-balancing the gut microbiome!
  • How come? If you remember, there is mounting evidence that most auto-immune diseases start with imbalance in the microbiome.
  • There are exceptions. Certain type of autoimmune diseases damage the body irreversibly. They don’t get better by re-balaning gut microbiome. Examples are Type-1 diabetes and autism.

How do you re-balance the microbiome?

There are five simple things you can do:

  1. Eat right: Eat stuff that the your good bacteria likes (fiber, sulfur, fermented food, etc.). These are also called prebiotics. Also, avoid sugar, simple carbohydrates, red meat and high fat diet (personally, I am not convinced about avoiding high-fat).
  2. Probiotics: Only if it is industrial strength and only if you take it for several months or years. Which, to the best of my knowledge, are not available in India.
  3. Medicines on the negative list: Unless your life depends on it, avoid antibiotics, long exposure to acid reducing medication, steroidal medication and toxin filled cosmetics. When you use these medication on kids, the effect is even more pronounced.
  4. Stay dirty: Be less clean. Play in the dirt. Don’t use anti-bacterial wipes. Bath less often (ahem). Don’t use mouth wash (ahem, ahem). Don’t use alcohol based perfumes (ahemn)
  5. Fecal Material Transplant (FMT): This is a stylish way of saying that the excretion of a healthy human being is pushed into the rectum of someone with poor gut microbiome. The material is held within the abdomen of the patient for an hour or so, and then pushed out. The process transfers microbiome of the healthy individuals to the unhealthy one.

Does it work?

Yes! BIG YES!!

Anecdotes from clinics around the world have it that patients with multiple sclerosis and chronic fatigue syndrome are getting better, even  going into complete remission, after a few sessions of FMT!

There is research evidence, though with a small sample size, that FMT from lean individuals to individuals with insulin resistance makes the later become insulin sensitive! Let me translate it for you:

  • FMT can reverse diabetes
  • Diabetes is probably a disease of the gut

Reversing insulin resistance is a big deal because IR often leads to heart disease and several cancers.

For other diseases like C. Diff. (Clostridium Defficile) bacterial infection, IBD, Crohn’s, etc., balancing the gut flora, with or without FMT, is the only known possibility of a cure. 85% of C. Diff. infection gets cured within hours after an FMT. 95% cases are cured after just to FMT sessions. Other autoimmune disseases don’t have such fantastic success rate. But still, they are impressive.

Autoimmune epidemic

Incidence of every one of the autoimmune diseases I listed above started to climb around 1950. One number that has been etched in my mind is this: During 1940’s, 1 out of 10,000 American kids was diagnosed to be autistic (we are beginning to suspect that autism is an autoimmune disease). In 2010, the number was 1:68.

Many autoimmune diseases started skyrocketing starting 1950s to 1980s.

Several things happened around in the period between 1950 to 1980. They include introduction of certain pesticides to beginning of the usage of high fructose corn syrup.

One thing that seem to play a role in all  autoimmune diseases is this:  Antibiotics were introduced in 1944 and their usage exploded from the 50’s. This also includes usage of antibiotics on farm animals. Farmers discovered that when low dose antibiotic was administered to animals every day, they gained significantly more weight. With that, antibiotics were everywhere.

When humans use antibiotics for a long period of time, or if they are exposed to antibiotic while they were still infants/toddlers, their microbiome gets substantially damaged. If they are also on some other medication that can disturb the microbiome (e.g. acid blockers, steroidal medications), things get worse. If this person is a  picky eater who hates their veggies, or lives in a super-sterile environment that is an antithesis to microbiome diversity, God save them!

Looking in the wrong places

Whatever I’ve told you till now is summarized in the pyramid below:

 

Many of your chronic diseases start with bad microbiome (the technical term for this is “dysbiosis”). Unfortunately, instead of paying attention to the bottom of the pyramid and working on the root cause, we are busy treating the bio-markers (for example, cholesterol and blood sugar numbers). In medical field, it is called “treating the numbers”.

No wonder we have no medication to permanently fix any of the chronic/life-style diseases!

Take Home

When germ theory was understood, it demystified all the infectious diseases. Germ theory eventually brought us antibiotics, which put an end to infectious diseases. Till then, infectious diseases were periodically wiping out a substantial chunk of of human populations.

Take Home 1: Autoimmune diseases, lifestyle diseases and many mental disorders that plague us today are loosely called the 21st century diseases. We are beginning to understand that many of them are just one disease: Dysbiosis. With more understanding, treating the 21st century diseases is going to become surprisingly simple and elegant.

Take Home 2: Enriching your gut microbiome is a simple, but life-time, endeavor. If you put a little efforts to understand it, you can start enriching your microbiome today!

Some interesting books on microbiome

  • 10% Human (this is an intense book; but it’ll give you a nice foundation)
  • The Microbiome Solution (for the practical person, with oodles of how-to instructions)
  • Eat Dirt (five types of leaky gut and treatment for each one of them)
  • Brain Maker (effect of gut microbiome on the brain)

Localizing all this knowledge

These books constantly tell you to eat local. There are three reason for this:

  1. Local food is fresh. Processed food is nutrition depleted, sterile and destroys gut microbiome diversity. Though we don’t eat much of processed food in India, if we can eat food within few hours of farming, it brings us additional nutrition.
  2. Locally grown food, provided you live close to a place where your ancestors  evolved, must have evolved along with you. So, it must be more friendly to your guts.
  3. For a similar reason, local microbes are thought to be better than microbes that are shipped from far away land.

So, if you want to tend to the balance of your microbiome, localizing the best practices of the West is extremely important. This includes charting one’s gut microbiome. At Food Clinic, we have started to nibble at this problem from the edges. Send us a mail if you want to be posted about the exciting developments that are going to come.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

 

09 Apr

The Neuroscience Pyramid

Deconstructing Neuroscience

For a few years ago, I read nothing but books on brain science. I have an unique brain that works nothing like normal brains. The key to getting control of my life depended on my understanding my own brain. With time, I graduated to reading neuroscience books written for medical professionals. From there, reading medical books on other organs was just a hop.

When I got an opportunity to work on healthcare a couple of years ago, I took it up with great gusto. It as an opportunity to bring to practice several elegant solutions that I know are available, but for some mysterious reason, hardly anyone practices. But it is easy to underestimate the inertia of medical industry.

Things got a interesting a couple of months ago: I co-founded an organization called Chennai Neuroscience Foundation, which works exclusively on neuroscience. Though I would loved to have started with biohacking and cognitive enhancement, the business compulsions have it that we start from the exact opposite end.

 

Neuroscience Pyramid

When building the business model for CNS, I realized that the entire neuroscience industry falls into a four layered pyramid

 

4-layers-of-neuroscience-pyramid

Bottom-most Layer: Neurosurgeons and Neurologists work on anything that goes wrong with the tissue of the central nervous system and its blood supply.

Second Layer from Bottom: Cells of the central nervous system communicate by exchanging electrical signals and chemicals. When the brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) go out of balance, behavior issues like ADHD, OCD, Schizophrenia, Depression, etc., come popping up. A psychiatrist works on the brain chemicals. They try to balance the neurotransmitters as a means of curing us of mental diseases.

Though the electrical signal exchange is crucial for the function of the brain, we don’t understand it well. No medical specialty works on brain electrics. You might just find few doctors and non-doctors dabbling with brain electrics. The days of neuro-electric field is firmly in the future.

Second Layer from Top: Host of other professionals like psychologists, trainers, teachers, coaches, etc., work on the information content of the central nervous system. The information content include memory, fears, addiction, behavior, habit forming, creativity, logical reasoning, muscle memory, etc. Despite 100 years of psychoanalysis, there is much garbage to be thrown out. Novel techniques (like NLP and psychotropics aided psychoanalysis) are taking the pants off from archaic work horses like CBT. This layer of neuroscience is in for a major reboot.

Top-most Layer: The top layer of neuroscience pyramid, the wellness space, is where the charlatans and pseudoscientists roam. This is the least understood part of neuroscience, though it is going to create super-humans out us. Today, there is enough evidence based science out there to make some feeble attempts at neuro-protection and cognitive enhancement. Though it is not much, anything is better than nothing that we had  until now.

 

Education and Training

The deeper you go down the layers of the pyramid, the more education and training the professionals need.

  • A Neurosurgeon, for example, needs 20 to 25 years of formal education, if not more. After this, they undergo 5 to 10 years of in-field training before they reach a decent level of proficiency.
  • A Neurologist, the doctors who work on tissues using pharmacology, goes through similar amount of formal training. Bu their in-field training is shorter.
  • The formal training required for a psychiatrist is very similar to the training required by a Neurologist. However, their in-field training is even less demanding.
  • A psychologist goes through shorter formal education, with a less demanding curriculum.
  • Trainers, Coaches and the like are often made up of people who jump into the field as an after thought. I am yet to come across a kid who dreams of becoming a trainer or a coach when they grew up.
  • All that a neuro-wellness professional needs is a self-certification. As of today, the neuro-wellness field is full of amatuers and snake oil salesmen.

 

Sickness vs Wellness

As you go deeper down the neuroscience pyramid, the sicker the patients must be. And their sickness is more tangible.

Whereas, the customers on the wellness layer shouldn’t even be called a patient. They are already in their pink of health and they are looking for making themselves healthier.

 

Potential of Each Layer

All the life threatening conditions are addressed by the professional operating at the bottom most layer of the neuroscience pyramid.

The challenge faced by professionals operating higher up the neuroscience pyramid is with recovering the potential lost to mental health issues.

But the highest layers of neuroscience pyramid have the capacity to release immense human potential like we have never seen. At least, that is what we technology-optimists believe.

Today, economic activities in neuroscience industry are limited to the lower layers.

In the future, the neuro-wellness industry will grow to be worth several billions of dollars. By then, all the most exciting things on earth will happen in neuro-wellness industry. I am hoping that the business I’ve started in neuroscience industry, CNS Foundation, will eventually take me there.

A guy can hope, can’t he!

13 Jun

Darwin’s Triplets

Identical Triplets

All posts in "Life in a Color Wheel" series

In the earlier post titled Evolution 101, we saw how evolution works in the wild. It discussed about how a particular biological trait is selected in a population. Darwin called this “Natural Selection“. Eventually it turned out that Natural Selection is an umbrella term for three different types of selection forces:

  • Self Selection
  • Sexual Selection
  • Group Selection

The interplay of these forces makes us who we are. Like the inter-play of three primary colors make all the hues that we can see in the nature. It is as of we live a life in a color wheel.

Self Selection

Me-Selection

Some genetic traits help an animal to live longer. These are called “Self Selection” traits. Self Selection traits may not care about finding a mate, making babies or altruism. Have you heard of rats eating their pup when they are hungry? It is the rat’s self-selection trait in action.

Sexual Selection

Sexual-Selection

Some biological traits help an animal to secure better quality/quantity mates. These are called Sexual Selection traits. These traits may or may not care if an animal lives longer or if its community flourishes.

A good example of Sexual Selection trait is peacock’s tail feathers. Luxurious tail feathers in a peacock advertises that the animal is physically/genetically fit. Tail feathers don’t increase the survival of the peacock. If anything, the long tail only makes it difficult for the peacock to catch its prey or run/fly away from the predators. Tail feathers are also metabolically expensive to maintain. A lesser peacock can’t fake a nice, long and iridescent tail. So, peacock’s tail feather is what we call a honest signal.

If the peahen selects a mate  for its luxurious tail feather, the peahen can be sure that it selected a genetically superior male. The genetic trait in a peacock to grow a beautiful tail feather is a sexual selection trait. The genetic trait in a peahen to find such a tail feather beautiful is also a sexual selection trait. These traits do not help the animal to catch a prey or save the life of an amigo. Their only purpose is to help the animal to make more healthy babies.

Study of Sexual Selection forces is full of politically unacceptable conclusions. This area is not as well studied as it must be. Even the researchers who study Sexual Selection publish their findings with caution. Even very little published insights are not adequately communicated to the public.

Group Selection

Group-Selection

Group Selection traits are hotly disputed by some scientists. But we will never understand who we really are without understanding the effect of Group Selection traits. They help the community (in which an animal lives) to flourish and sustain. They may not care about how long an animal lives or how many babies it has.

Our willingness to go to war for our country is a good example of a group selection trait. When someone goes to war, they risk their life. They are working against self-selection interest. Someone who goes to war and dies can’t have any more children. They also risk the future of the children they already have. There by, they work against the sexual selection interests as well.

Consider two prehistoric societies, Y and N. Society-Y was made up of ‘brave’ people, who were ever ready to go to war on behalf of their society/country. Whereas members of Society-N were ‘cowards’, who were quite unwilling to risk their life by going to a war. When Society-Y went to war with Society-N, Y probably decimated N. With time, genetic traits of Society-N was wiped off from the planet of earth. The ones left behind, Society-Y, are all willing to die for their society.

Group Selection makes an individual to subjugate its own self-interest to the interest of the group. When the interest of an individual clashes with the interest of the group, the group often doesn’t hesitate to get ride of the individual! When we think about group selection, we must remember one thing:

A part of 'the group that we live in' lives inside each one of us.

At one level, each one of us is the group. We act in a way that subjugates the interest of other people to the common good of the group. We willingly sacrifice some of our own self interest in the alter of the common good. How much of self interest we sacrifice, or how much of similar sacrifice we demand from others, changes based on the situation we are in. Our sense of group identity and altruism are elastic.

Feeling the Selection Forces

In an individual, selection forces express themselves as emotions/feelings.

  • Self Selection may express itself as hunger, fear, cold, warmth, satiety, anger, etc.
  • Sexual Selection may express itself as pride, libido, competitiveness, creativity, etc.
  • But the way we feel the Group Selection is interesting. The sense of oneness we feel when you stand in front of God is how the Group Selection feels. When we feel the forces of Group Selection, we have a strong urge to merge and lose the sense of one’s self into the identify of the group.

Emotions of Group Selection are just as seductive, if not more, as the emotions of Me Selection or Sexual Selection. Though, we don’t readily recognize it. The interplay of the three selection forces determines who we are and how our societies are made.

Some of our traits are fostered by two or three different selection forces. For example, having a broad shoulder and good shoulder muscles in a man helps him to be a good hunter (Self Selection). It also helps him to find more/better mates (Sexual Selection). Being a good hunter, while it caters to Self Selection forces, sharing the spoils with the group also caters to the Group Selection forces.

When a particular trait is exclusive to a single selection force, expression of that trait might be opposed by other forces. For example, human equivalent of peacock’s tail feather (sexual selection) is often considered as vanity and looked down upon by the society (group selection).

Our natural desires and urges are endless and shifting inter-play of the three selection forces that played a part in molding us. At any given point in time, your natural feelings are just a pixel on the color wheel. At times, you play near the edges. At times, you play right at the center.

Life becomes gets uncomplicated when you understand the color wheel of selection forces and then design your life around that understanding. Life in a color wheel might be the simplest answer to so many of your life’s dilemmas. In the future posts, let’s take a closer look at the inter-play of these hues.

I promise you, it will be nothing less than liberating.

All posts in "Life in a Color Wheel" series
11 Jun

Evolution 101

Evidence-of-Evolution

All posts in "Life in a Color Wheel" series

We can’t understand human nature without understanding the forces of evolution that made us who we are. We are the happiest if we design our lives/societies around the human nature, like a well fitting glove is designed around a hand. Failed philosophies like Marxism and Objectivism are results of failing to design our societies around what evolution has made us to be.

In a series of future posts, we will dissect the impact that evolution has on our nature. In this post, let us make sure that we have a clear understanding of how evolution works.

Mutations-happen

Let’s start with an animal called ‘Grey Circle’. Due to genetic mutation, the some of the babies of Grey Circle are slightly different from the original. Of the three babies, the baby named ‘White Circle’ has mutation gives it a survival/propagation disadvantage (e.g. being born without limbs). The genes of the baby named ‘Black Circle’ were mutated in such a way that it has some special advantages over others (e.g. ability to run faster). And the baby Grey Circle has no advantage or disadvantage over its parent.

Second-Generation-After-Mutation

Over the subsequent generations, White Circle doesn’t get to make babies because it dies early. Whereas the Black Circles ends up having more babies as they are very good at out running their predator.

Advantageous-Mutation-Over-Generations

With every passing generation, there are more Black Circles in the population.

Inter-Breeding-of-Mutants

Of course, Grey Circles and Black Circles may end up inter-breeding. But for the sake of simplicity, let’s ignore the effect of inter-breeding now.

Domination-by-a-Mutant

Eventually, the Black Circles dominate the entire population as they successfully out-compete the Grey Circles. Thus, a new population is born with a new trait.

In another isolated part of the world, where the Grey Circles haven’t mutated into Black Circles, the Grey Circle population continues to thrive.

Mutations-keep-popping-up

Mutation is a messy business. It is never just Black or Grey. Mutations keep happening all the time, in million different forms. Some of the mutations/traits end up dominating the entire population (e.g. intelligence in humans) . Some of the mutations/traits persist in the population, but they never fully dominates the population (e.g. skin color, super-intelligence, schizophrenia). Some mutations/traits get wiped off from the population immediately (e.g. anencephaly) or eventually.

Evolution carries forward that traits that eventually dominate the population. Period. Evolution doesn’t care for good, bad, virtuous, evil, etc. When we hear the phrase “survival of the fittest”, we tend to confuse it with “survival of the superior”. Evolution is blind to anything other than population explosion.

In the next post, we’ll look into three sub-types of evolutionary forces.

All posts in "Life in a Color Wheel" series
28 May

Sam Harris on Lying

Sam-Harris

Sam Harris is one of the sharpest thinkers I had come across. Here are some excerpts from one of his thinnest books, Lying. Though the book is not as well thought out as some of his other works, I culled out these gems from the book. I put a Heart next to the ones that hit a chord somewhere. Though, you might want to put your heat next to something else:

  • We often behave in ways that are guaranteed to make us unhappy. Many of us spend our lives marching with open eyes toward remorse, regret , guilt, and disappointment. And nowhere do our injuries seem more casually self-inflicted, or the suffering we create more disproportionate to the needs of the moment, than in the lies we tell to other human beings. Lying is the royal road to chaos. Heart
  • Endless forms of suffering and embarrassment could be easily avoided by simply telling the truth.
  • The boundary between lying and deception is often vague. It is even possible to deceive with the truth.
  • People lie so that others will form beliefs that are not true. The more consequential the beliefs— that is, the more a person’s well-being demands a correct understanding of the world or of other people’s opinions— the more consequential the lie.
  • To lie is to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication. Heart
  • To speak truthfully is to accurately represent one’s beliefs.
  • If one is not sure whether or not something is true, representing one’s degree of uncertainty is a form of honesty.
  • The intent to communicate honestly is the measure of truthfulness. Heart
  • Even liars rate their deceptive interactions as less pleasant than truthful ones.
  • Deception and suspicion are two sides of the same coin. Research suggests that all forms of lying— including white lies meant to spare the feelings of others— are associated with less satisfying relationships.
  • Honest people are a refuge. Heart
  • You know [the honest people] will tell you when they think you have failed— and for this reason their praise cannot be mistaken for mere flattery.
  • Honesty is a gift we can give to others. Heart
  • [If we are honest,] we can simply be ourselves in every moment.
  • In committing to being honest with everyone, we commit to avoiding a wide range of long-term problems, but at the cost of occasional short-term discomfort.
  • To [be honest] is also to hold a mirror up to one’s life—because a commitment to telling the truth requires that one pay attention to what the truth is in every moment. Heart
  • Honesty can force any dysfunction in your life to the surface.
  • Lying is the lifeblood of addiction.
  • Ethical transgressions are generally divided into two categories: the bad things we do (acts of commission) and the good things we fail to do (acts of omission).
  • Sincerity, authenticity, integrity, mutual understanding— these and other sources of moral wealth are destroyed the moment we deliberately misrepresent our beliefs, whether or not our lies are ever discovered.
  • Responding honestly to the subtext would not be lying.
  • Unless one commits to telling the truth in situations like this , however, one finds that the edges creep inward, and exceptions to the principle of honesty begin to multiply.
  • False encouragement is a kind of theft: It steals time, energy, and motivation that a person could put toward some other purpose.
  • [Lucy] lied so effortlessly and persuasively that Jessica was left wondering if she had ever been deceived by Lucy in the past.
  • Failures of personal integrity, once revealed, are rarely forgotten.
  • A commitment to honesty does not necessarily require that we disclose facts about ourselves that we would prefer to keep private .
  • Psychopaths can assume the burden of mental accounting [of lying] without any obvious distress.
  • Lies beget other lies.
  • When you tell the truth, you have nothing to keep track of.
  • Tell enough lies, and the effort needed to keep your audience in the dark eventually becomes unsustainable. While you might be spared a direct accusation of dishonesty, many people will conclude, for reasons they might be unable to pinpoint, that they cannot trust you. You will begin to seem like someone who is always dancing around the facts.
  • No one ever quite confronts [the liars], but everyone begins to treat them like creatures of fiction. Such people are often quietly shunned, for reasons they probably never understand.
  • Liars trust those they deceive less than they otherwise might— and the more damaging their lies, the less they trust, or even like, their victims.
  • To lie is to recoil from relationship. Heart
  • Lies are the social equivalent of toxic waste

Sam Harris makes me realize that my biggest personal achievement is that I have trained myself to lie very little, if at all.

I ‘think’ that I never lie on things that are consequential (though I do succumb to the temptations of occasional white lies). I make it a point to indicate the probability of my uncertainty when it matters. I never pretend that an intentional act of omission with the intent to deceive doesn’t amount to lying. Neither do I intentionally mislead someone when a truthful communication is warranted!

Note: Of course, I don't confuse protecting my privacy with lying.

Stopping the habit of lying some twenty years ago was a great character builder. Being married to someone whose take on honesty is very similar to my own has been the single biggest blessing in my relationship. If there is one trait that I would love for my son to pick up from me, it would be my soft corner for honesty. Luckily, I see no reason why that won’t happen.

26 May

Dragons of Idea Age

Dragaons of Idea Age

In the last five posts, I argued that we have just entered the idea age, another renaissance, and what can we do to prepare for it. This post is about the unique risks that idea age is bringing to your business/career.

Exponential Growth

Exponential growth is a double edged cutting sword. If you not on an exponential growth, or if you are on a slower exponential curve, someone else will set up so much of lead over you in a short time that you might as well go home and hand your boots!

Different-exponential-curves

The graph above shows two exponential curves, one growing at just twice the rate of another. But the difference is startling even after a short growth run. WhatsApp, which is a company designed for the exponential era, has half the market capitalization as Tata Enterprise. WhatsApp employs just 55 people and is 5 years old. Whereas, Tata enterprise employs a small country and it is more than a 100 years old.

Because a competitor growing at faster exponential rate can set a very large lead over others, the slower growing company will soon be marginalized and fail to be of any significance to anyone.

Agility over Accuracy

Early-exponential-start

Because exponential curves grow quite quickly, a delayed start is worse than slow start! In the exponential era, agility in terms of quick start and quick execution is more important than getting things right. Time and again, companies and countries have proven that being faster (Thailand) is better than being right (India). Among the exponential companies, everyone is expected to be reasonably accuracy. But that is just the entry ticket. The real differentiation is the speed at which they execute their business.

Software is Eating the World

marc-andreesen-software-is-eating-the-world

Marc Andreeson (of Netscape fame) famously told that ‘software is eating the world’. Everything is getting digitized. Healthcare is the next industry that is dangerously close to getting disrupted by digitization.

Giants like IBM, Google, Qualcom, Apple, etc. are working on solutions that will record better health data, analyze it better, do better diagnosis, do cheaper diagnosis, etc. They are all in the verge of producing a working commercial solution over the next few years. When they are rolled out, the current healthcare model will be stood on its head.

Other disruptions that are already under way are Uber and Airbnb. Uber is disrupting taxi services all over the world. They own no taxi cabs (only thing they own is an app), but there are talks in the rumor mill that Uber is going to be the next $ 100b company. By the way, when self-driven cars become common place over the next few years, services like Uber will kill automobile manufacturers too.

Airbnb is disrupting hotel services all over the world and it is already valued around $10b. Airbnb too doesn’t own a single hotel room. Only thing they own is an app!

If software companies can disrupt taxi services ‘and’ automobile manufacturers, what do you think they will do to your business! It is a question that is worth pondering over hard and fast.

Network Externality

Network-externality

Imagine you invented fax machine. Just after you made the first fax machine, when there is only one fax machine in the whole world, the utility of the machine would have been zero. After all, who would you have sent a fax to!

But then, when you made the second fax machine and put it in someone else’s office, your own machine will become valuable. Thus, with the addition of every fax machine in the world, the value of your own machine goes up. Not only that, when a new fax machine is added to the network, the utility of everyone’s fax machine goes up too!

The value of fax machines around the world keep going up when more people start using it. Eventually, the utility of fax machine becomes so high that no one can afford not to have a fax machine. In other words, the network effect becomes so strong that it traps you inside it. The cost of breaking away from the network is too high that the network becomes self-perpetuating.

That is network effect or network-externality.

Software companies are much more dangerous when it comes to exploiting network externalities. Because the cost of servicing an incremental user is next to nothing, software companies can quickly grow the network of their users. That’s why in software, the leaders like Windows and Oracle have always had upward of 90% market share!

What we must take note is that all software-enabled services, like FaceBook, Google Maps, Airbnb, Uber, etc. are also enjoying the advantage brought to them by network externality.

So, if and when your business is going to be digitized, you can be sure that it will be yanked so fast and so definitely that you will have no option but to walk away. What is really bad about it is that the software company that is going to eat your meal doesn’t even have to have an office in your country!

What now?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • If Google (or Airbnb or Uber) wanted to get into your business today, how will they do it?
  • Can I do what they would have done?
  • Do I have the capability in me to manage an exponentially growing business?
  • If my answer to one or both the questions above, what can I do to acquire the missing capability? Or, what would be my Plan-B when someone starts digitizing my business?
Click Idea Age for all posts related to this project
24 May

Idea Age is here. How can you get yourself ready?

Idea Age It is not a secret that we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation. This 5 post series argues that in response, we are inventing a new idea age.

  • Exponential Threats talks about the seriousness and inevitability of growing threats humanity is facing.
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. We will also need unprecedented level of human ingenuity.
  • In Origin of Ideas, we see where human ingenuity comes from.
  • In Age of Creativity, we see that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In this last post, we address how you can prepare for the idea age

 It’s all about Networks

To understand creativity, we need to understand networks. Network

  • Creativity is the process of combining two or more existing ideas (shown as a ‘node’ in the image above) in a new and useful way.
  • Every idea is a network of two or more ideas. So, each node is a network in itself.

We can use the image above to represent a single brain by taking each “node” as an idea (or knowledge or information) inside that brain. Or we can use the same image to represent creativity at the level of a society. Then each node is taken to represent an individual brain. A network becomes ‘stronger’ when the number of nodes or the interconnection between the nodes increase. Now, let’s see how we can prepare ourselves for the idea age.

Idea Age is also Exponential Era

We live in an exponential era where changes happen in ever increasing pace. One bad thing about the exponential era is that the difference between the winners and the ‘also-ran’ is huge. Exponential Era We are presently in an important point in history. People who ride the exponential tide now will have a very different future from the people who remain in the 20th century. Of course, we are not arguing that the life in the bleeding edge of exponential era must necessarily be better than the slow and steady pace of the past. But some like it hot. And fast. Here are few simple things you can do to hitch your super-exciting exponential ride.

Get out of Paucity Mentality

Openness will be a substantially important hallmark of the idea age. People who operate with paucity mind-set are usually too afraid to open up. In the Idea Age, operating in isolation are too slow. Also, team consisting of different skill sets is usually much more effective than a genius operating in isolation. The difference will be more striking with passage of time.

What are the things that you are too afraid to share? What is the worst thing that will happen if you start sharing them? How do you know you are right about it? Don't forget to apply this question to your personal life too!

Become an Idea Altruist

In Idea Age, everyone has an idea that they don’t have enough time to implement. So, you are less likely to have your idea stolen today. Start sharing your ideas. You can start by sharing ideas that are not critical to your livelihood. And then move on to sharing life-or-death secrets. When you start sharing ideas, you become visible to others with similar interest. They might incorporate your ideas in their scheme of things, or lend their ideas for you to use, there by making both of you better off.

List three ideas that you think others will benefit from. And how can you share them with others? Blog, FaceBook, talks, forums, interest groups, white papers, stories...?

Education and Experience

Education is a journey. Not a destiny. Never stop educating yourself. We have cart load of online educations resources available these days. Some of them are listed below:

Most online education resources are free. There are interest groups, discussion forums, group efforts… In Idea Age, education is a life long process. Every time you learn something new, you increase the number of idea-nodes inside your brain.

If self-education is not your cup of tea, try by learning something that you love. It does't have to have practical value.

Once in a while, learn something that is completely unrelated and irrelevant to you. In an area where you already have proven expertise, any new learning will bring only incremental advantage. When you deal with a completely unrelated subject, anything you learn will increase your knowledge graph by a huge margin.

Of course, we shouldn't forget that 'doing' is a form of learning too! So, go and do something that you haven't done before.

More importantly, block time out for solitude. Most people require some quite time once in a while to digest and assimilate what they have learnt.

Future favors the Networked

Idea Age is all about networking of ideas. Learning increases the number of idea-nodes inside your head. To increase the number of nodes outside your head, connect with other heads. Identify at least one person from each of the following category and connect with them:

  • People who have common interest
  • People who have no common interest
  • Idea altruists
  • Super-networkers
  • Life-long learners
  • Opinion makers

Have habits built into your life that provide ample networking opportunities. For example

  • Participate in networking events
  • Write/talk about your ideas
  • Participate in online forums
  • If needed, block out time every week (or every day) specifically for expanding your network

Of course, when you are expanding your network, you must take care to ensure that the quality of your network is maintained at all times. Or else, you can easily end up being inundated.

Network. Look for quality, similarity and variety.

Healthy Body and Brain

Of course, if you can’t maintain a healthy body and a physically fit brain, none of the above really matter. Here are some basic guidelines for maintaining healthy body and brain. These are rudimentary, but non-negotiable:

  • Maintain healthy weight
  • If you have cardiac or glycemic issues, eat low GL, zero oil, no dairy, vegan
  • Moderate alcohol, no smoking
  • Supplement with multivits, antioxidants, Omega 3, etc. Anti-ageing?
  • Exercise
  • Sleep prepares the brain for creativity

Here are three best kept secrets that will help you live much longer and have a healthier life:

  • You are the designer of your body – at least, from this point on
  • Your brain starts dying when you stop learning
  • Your body starts dying when you stop having sex – except when you go on calorie restriction, in which case you extend your lifespan, but shut down your sex drive

A New Chapter?

In all probabilities, Idea Age is mark of a new chapter in human history. By the time this renaissance is through, our lives would have become more different than any of us have dreamed of. When you prepare yourself to enter the Idea Age, I want you to keep one thought in your mind: You are very likely to live past 100. If that is true, how do you plan to spend the additional time?

This post has four prequels and they are listed below in their order
- Exponential Threats identifies the growing threats that are going to hit is so fast we won't have a choice but to change our present way of living
- In Exponential Technology, we argue that our technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. We will also need unprecedented level of human ingenuity.
- In Origin of Ideas, we ask where human ingenuity comes from.
- In Age of Creativity, we see that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
23 May

Age of Creativity

Age Of Creativity

This 5 post series addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • Exponential Threats identifies the growing threats we are presently facing
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In this post, Age of Creativity, we will see why we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we address how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

There are a bunch of reason for us to believe that we have entered a new age of creativity. Another renaissance. But in its scope, this one will be like no other. By the time it has run its course, humankind would have, I speculate, made a clean break with the past.

New Knowledge

Creativity is a process of combining existing ideas/knowledge in a new and useful way. The process of creativity can be thought of as forming new connections in a network of ideas. In a network, addition of a new node encourages sprouting new connections (image below).

Network with newNode

If we are considering idea generation at social level, then we can treat each human being as a node in our network. As we have seen in an earlier post, bigger human population creates more new nodes.

But if we ignore the physical containers of idea/knowledge/information, every new discovery or idea becomes another node in the fabric. When a new node is added to a network, it makes new pathways possible (image below).

New Node New Pathways

Birth of an node (idea) increases the number of existing connection (ideas), which in turn increase the possibilities of several more connections (ideas) germinating.

Note: If you have already noticed the fractal nature of ideas, you will find intuitively understand the recursive nature of the paragraph above.

Thus, the new ideas increase exponentially in quantity! Today, we are seeing important new ideas coming in every day, with each new idea begetting even more ideas. We are getting inundated with creative opportunities. Understand the idea-inundation is key to preparing for the age of creativity.

New ideas have another interesting effect. When we come across novelty, it increases the levels of a brain chemical called dopamine. Among other things, dopamine inside our brain increases the alertness and focus.

 

Note: Dopamine is also responsible for feel-good and libido. It also plays a major role in romance. Effect of dopamine is designed to wear off with repeated exposure. Translation: Less novelty, less dopamine.

Brains are built in such a way that we love to work with novel stuff. Novelty tickles our brain cells into working with them. With so many new things popping up all around us, we are all gradually becoming idea generating machines (the only way to work with a new information is to integrate it with the rest of our knowledge base, which is same as forming new connections to the novel idea).

New Tools

Vast majority of younger generation is familiar with tools for data analysis, visualization and (product) design. These tools are helping us to combine ideas much more easily, and with far less resources and time.

We also have massive interest-groups online, who come together to create, fine tune, implement and exploit new ideas. Idea generators get almost instantaneous quality feedback. Instantaneous feedback is the corner stone building expertise in any domain.

Global Size Melting Pot

Large Melting Pot

Today, we not only have more than 7 billion brains in the network, these brains are also inter-connected in a way that was unheard of even 25 years ago! While internet is the pipeline through which the connectivity happens, we have several internet-dependent devices that improve the quality and pay-off of the connections.

Social media is one such device that helps us extract more juice out of global connectivity. The world has now become a huge monkey-see-monkey-do society, with each of us learning from everyone else. Because we all show our best face in the social media, we are learning positive habits/attitude from each other in unprecedented speed. And by helping us to learn to express ourselves in small steps, social media is helping us all to become creative.

Other devices that help us make the world one huge melting pot are online communities, special interest groups (already discussed above), cheap access to markets, free online education, etc.

Attitude Shift

Honey Bees

We are not strangers to the win-win nature of idea sharing. However, we have had tremendous reservations in sharing ideas that brought power and money. But that has changed now.

Today, we have more opportunities than any one of us can handle alone. Besides, the speed of change is so rapid that there is not enough time for a single person to build sufficient expertise to exploit a domain. Consequently, we are beginning to more freely share all sorts of ideas. In a world where a product has a typical life cycle of 3 to 5 years, one lone individual trying to build an edifice out of a single idea over 20 years is often a recipe for disaster.

We are also going through another important attitude shift: We are rediscovering the pleasure of belonging to a community.

We are social animals. We seem to be biologically pre-disposed to deriving pleasure from sharing. We are taking the pleasure community to new levels by becoming pioneers of sharing. We already share things from cars to clothes to house. Sharing, or Collaboration Economy, is becoming the next big thing and a manna for the folks keen on sustainability.

Role of Current Economy

american-financial-crisis-comparison

With the global recession, the people in the West now have more time than they have money. The resource crunch is incentivising them to become more creative and democratizing the process of idea generation.

In the same time, masses of people in the developing countries across Asia and Africa are leaving poverty behind. These people now have some surplus time and money. They are beginning to explore things beyond basic survival. There is a good chance that this population, which has leapfrogged into knowledge world, will be more adapt in working with ideas than the earlier generations that came off the boat.

Threat to Survival

The last factor that democratizes the idea generation process is the pressure from the serious survival threats that our civilization is facing presently. Because of their exponential nature, the threats will hit us so fast that our existing creative infrastructure won’t be able to handle them. We will end up recruiting all creative faculties, every human brain that is ready to contribute.

In the next article in this series, we will see what we can do to prepare for the idea age.