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Heuristics for Solving Mental Challenges

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Table of Contents


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Preface

The purpose of this article is to write down for myself and to share with others some brain-executable algorithms that I have either self discovered, heard/learned from others or just want to emphasize or to portray from some perspective that I, for whatever reason, find noteworthy. The list of algorithms here is not exhaustive, but it does cover or references the key heuristics that I try to use in my daily life, suspect to be useful or just find noteworthy according to some other criteria.


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Third Party Collections

The "Brain Rules" by the John Medina.
That book is really useful as a whole, but a summary of claims that reside on 173 is that a person is stressed due to X only if the following three conditions are met simultaneously:


How to Solve It (1945), by the Pólya György.


Psychology Related Heuristics

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Heuristic Psychological_1: How to get Started with Mental work

To shift one's attention, focus, to task Z, one has to create an environment, where it's easy to perform task Z. After the environment has been created, attention will shift to task Z by itself.

For example, in case of studying or developing software, the environment is created by opening/starting the task related software applications, looking up the related books and opening them from the relevant page, etc.

Looking up books, starting applications, loading/opening files, projects, is a dumb task, which can be mentally facilitated by listening to some music. It's like with many dumb, physical, tasks: listening to music mentally helps to perform the tasks.

After the environment has been created, one can just continue listening to the music while just staring at the texts or applications and may be reading a little. After a little while attention starts to shift and the music that one enjoyed, might start to be disturbing or one might just willingly stop listening to it. At that moment one should switch the headphones to earmuffs or, depending on the type of headphones, switch off the music so that the headphones take the role of earmuffs.

According to the John Medina, his "Brain Rules" book, all audio gets processed all the time. Illustration: most people would probably become curious, if they heard someone screaming for help, but if people pause their current task to find out, what the screaming is about, then that means that they processed the screaming audio regardless of the fact that their main attention was at something else. Minimization of audio signals leaves more brain processing power/attention to the tasks at hand.


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Heuristic Psychological_2: How to Utilize Different areas of one's Brain

In case of questions that one really does not know how to answer, it sometimes helps, if the question is written down as if it were to be asked from someone else.
The idea is the same as with maps, electrical schematics and math formulae: dumping some of the data from head to some other medium, brain is partly freed from the task of recalling it and more processing power/attention is left for data manipulation.

A story from real life: During casual conversation I asked some questions from one of my colleagues, but during our conversation I repeatedly came up with the answers myself. After a while my colleague wondered/joked that why do I ask the questions at first place, if I'm capable of answering them myself.

The story originates from an era that is years back from year 2012, but unfortunately, or should I say, better late then never, the heuristic got formulated by one of my group mates from Tallinn University of Technology on 28. of December 2012, when I was studying for exams and asked for his advice on some math related matters. As the math part was a bit difficult to explain over the text based chat room, where we were conversing, he left the question un-answered, but the same, aforementioned, self-answering phenomena occurred and to my amazement I was able to answer to that question myself. The problem at hand was that I could not figure out one proof in a book, but I was quite surprised that I as generally quite bad at math stuff, was able to come up with an alternative proof to a theorem that I needed to understand to study other parts of the subject matter. One of the interesting things about that situation was that I did not even formulate myself a task to find an alternative proof, nor did I ask my friends to come up with an alternative proof. The proof just came to my mind after I dumped the questions to the chat room.


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Heuristic Psychological_3: How to Handle Tasks, Where the Success Estimates are grim


The first question to ask is, is the completion of those tasks necessary at all?
What alternative solutions are adequate for replacing the results that are obtained by the completion of those tasks?

If the completion of those tasks still appears to be necessary, then no matter how grim the outlook of success is, the longer the postponement of working on those tasks, the slighter the probability of completing them on time or getting even the minimum benefit of their completion.

As of 2012 a typical case that illustrates a situation, where this heuristic is useful, is where I have a thought that I'm too late with activity X. For example, I had a plan to go jogging in the morning during a time window, when streets are empty of cars, other people are not racing their cars to work, etc., but I felt too tired to go jogging at that instance and miss the preferred time window. According to this heuristic, I just go jogging even, if I have missed the deadline.
This heuristic is also applicable to more serious matters, like work that has deadlines, etc. The sooner the work gets done, even, if it misses the deadline, the better.

As of December 2012 I have a hypothesis that the main reason, why people find computer games addicting is that the computer games provide people with a feeling that they get things done, achieve something, complete the tasks, whereas in real life truly rewarding tasks are much more exhaustive and inspire the attitude: "I can do well in computer games, but I'm not good at life".


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Heuristic Psychological_4: How to Avoid Wasting Brain Computing Power


According to the John Medina "Brain Rules" book, brain works 24/7 and it works on all stimulus, data, that it receives. According to the cognitive model, real world data triggers subconscious thoughts, also called as "automatic thoughts", which is an effort of the brain to analyze the data. The automatic thoughts may lead to a correct calculation result, but due to various factors, including an inability to distinguish the current situation from prior life experience, there might be a misinterpretation of the data, which is one mechanism for phobias.

Communication with other people is extremely compute-intensive. As the computations can not be averted, the way to reserve the brain computing resources for academic activity, work, etc. is to avoid communicating with other people. To keep computing resources free during day-time, communication with other people, including the reading of news, e-mails, "social media", etc. should only take place prior to going to sleep.

The analyses of human relations and communications is so compute intensive that according to the John Medina "Brain Rules" book, the best way, statistically, to predict academic success of a child is to look, whether his/her parents get along well or does the child has to spend a lot of its brain computing resources, subconsciously, in the form of automatic thoughts, on the analysis of its parents' conflicts/relations.

In the case of adults, in stead of the analysis of parents' conflicts, the brain computing resources might be wasted on the analysis of other types of conflicts. For example, work, neighbours, politics.

Essentially, the way to avoid wasting brain computing resources is to control, choose, the stimulus, the data, that the brain receives.

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Heuristic Psychological_5: How to Overcome a Writer's Block


The creation of new ideas, regardless of occupation (mathematics, literary-arts, computer science, etc.), is an activity, where previously known ideas are modified and mixed and recombined. If all existing idea-components have been used up, then a solution is to acquire some idea-components that one does not yet have. The "new" idea-components can be acquired by learning something from other people or by having some experiences of one's own. Ideas from other people can be acquired by talking with them. Experiences can be had by going somewhere, doing something.

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Heuristic Psychological_6: Psychological Strategy for Achieving Things


In stead of being result-oriented, one should be activity-oriented. The thing to thrive for is: have I done everything that I can as best as I can TODAY for achieving my goals, preferred results, REGARDLESS OF SUCCESS OR FAILURE. Failure is not an excuse to feel bad, success is not an excuse to cut slack. Failure/success is an indicator that helps to choose a strategy, helps to find out, what works and what doesn't.

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Strategy Related Heuristics

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Heuristic Strategy_1

Given a limited time period and a set of tasks, for example, as it is the case with physics olympiads, more of those tasks get completed if one rearranges, sorts, the task according to personal time consumption estimates and works on the tasks by starting from the task that one self estimates to take the least amount of time.

That's a heuristic that I found out the hard way. During high-school I intentionally and systematically experimented with different strategies at physics olympiads, but unfortunately I arrived to that conclusion at the end of my high-school years. This heuristic is also applicable to daily activities, where the limited time period is one day and the list of tasks is the to-do list.


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Tactics Related Heuristics

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Heuristic Tactics_1

Sometimes reclassification helps.
For example, in stead of classifying people in school to be teachers and pupils, the people might be classified as being males and females or runners and weight-lifters or vegetarians and omnivores, etc.

There is also a game that is based on this heuristic. The game is that given a handful of pencils, divide the set of pencils to 2 groups by as many different criteria as one can find.

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Heuristic Tactics_2

Try to find out, how an instance of X interacts with another instance of its own kind.

One electrically charged body tends to interact with another electrically charged body. One magnet tends to interact with another magnet differently than with a non-magnetized iron body. One planet tends to interact with another planet due to gravity. If a sheet of light polarizing glass is placed in front of another, then, depending on their positions relative to each other, a considerable amount of light might not be able to pass through the set of glass sheets. If a photon excites an atom and another photon hits the atom before the atom has discharged the energy that it received with the hit of the first photon, then the previous photon gets discharged to the same direction, where the second photon was flying prior to its impact with the atom. A medieval king tends to interact with another medieval king differently than a medieval king interacts with a common medieval citizen. Two chefs in a same kitchen tend to ...

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Heuristic Tactics_3

Bit-wise development. Mark wildly the places, where more than one choice can be made, and "explore the tree". In this case it might be beneficial to avoid executing the classical task, where there is a list of something like horse, lamb, bison, dolphin and You have to cross out the dolphin, because ....

A cow (cat, dog, snake, fish) has (has not) a fur (feathers, skin, shell, happy day) and it likes (does not like, notices, chases, forgets) mice (people, parrots, trees). Etc....

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Heuristic Tactics_4

If problem X has been proved to be, or happens to be, unsolvable, then one should change the parent problem of problem X, problem Y, to a new version that can be solved without solving the problem X.