Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How to use sex for better learning: an untested hypothesis

A man of many hats

I hesitate to begin writing this post because frankly I've yet to experiment with it but the ideas are buzzing through my head and I don't want to lose the information.

Today's post is about learning, meta-learning and how to do so by taking advantage of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

I was inspired by the second post in a series about your brain on porn over at the Art of Manliness. With all these articles about the brain on porn and No-Fap challenges I can imagine that people may read this blog and think I am some sort of moralist and/or religious type– this couldn't be further from the truth.

In fact me abstaining from masturbation and pornography is in part me trying to neurotically master my life and re-channel energy into more productive things. So you may be asking how does any of this relate to learning and meta-learning.

Well to summarize you use masturbation, sex with a partner or watching pornography as a way to reward yourself.

 I don't know why this wouldn't be able to work. Fighter's for example have used abstinence from sex as a potent motivator to work hard in the gym and practice using sex as the reward for a good performance.

Raging Bull
There is a scene from my all-time favorite boxing move "Raging Bull" where Robert DeNiro's character Jake LaMotta pouring ice water down his pants as he abstains from sex with his wife. So if boxers and other types of fighters can use sex as a motivator for training in performance why not use sex namely masturbation and possibly porn as a motivator for learning a new skill.

Here is how this idea came about to me today.

From Men and Porn: Why The Pull Is So Strong:

So dopamine is what drives you to want to look at porn. And thanks to the internet, you have access to an unlimited variety of sexual “experiences” that when viewed, send out squirt after squirt of dopamine in your brain, which drives you to search for more and more porn.

At the same time, without you even knowing it, those dopamine squirts are also strengthening neural connections that are responsible for the behavior that keeps those neurotransmitter hits coming.
Porn is literally rewiring your brain.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “neurons that fire together, wire together.” It aptly describes the way we learn things. Everything you know – how to walk, how to throw a football, who won the World Series in 1989 — is made up of connected neurons firing in sync with one another. The stronger the connection, the less you have to think about doing or remembering the thing you’re trying to recall. You don’t have to think about walking, for instance, because the neurons involved in walking have a strong connection that began being formed as toddler. However, trying to remember information for a history test that you just crammed for the previous night might be more difficult because the neurons involved in that memory haven’t fired enough together to create a strong connection.

Neurons firing and wiring together is also how our habits are formed. When you receive a shot of dopamine after receiving some reward, be it food or sex or novelty, your brain is strengthening the neurons that fired and wired together to achieve the reward so that you will repeat the process and can get it again in the future. This rewiring involves connecting the cues and behavior that led to a respective reward.

This cue-behavior-reward connection is what author Charles Duhigg calls “The Habit Loop,” and understanding it can go a long way in helping you understand your porn habit (and break it).
Once the cue triggers the dopamine production that ramps up your motivation to view porn, a behavioral routine is automatically set in motion. A routine is a behavior or set of behaviors that get you to the reward of orgasm. So let’s say your cue to look for porn is when you’re at your computer late at night after everyone has gone to bed. Once that happens, without even really thinking about it, you open up your web browser (in incognito mode, of course) and go right to PornHub to commence a session of porn browsing and masturbating. The cue-behavior/routine-reward circuit is complete. Your brain releases a huge squirt of dopamine right around orgasm, reinforcing the neural connections associated with the cue, routine, and reward so that next time you have the same cue (at your computer late at night), you’ll get that itch to start your routine to get more porn. Repeat this circuit over a period of a few days or weeks, and you’ve got yourself a strong neural connection that leads to you checking out porn without even really thinking about it. That’s how porn can become a strong habit or even an addiction (we’ll talk more about the habit vs. addiction distinction in the next post).
So with this basic understanding of dopamine and how our brains learn the gears started turning in my brain. What are things that I've always wanted to learn or get better at but just wasn't motivated enough to actually do.

  • Improve lucid dreaming practice
  • Learn a language
  • Learn to speed read
  • Meditate more often 
  • Write 1,000 words a day for creative writing
  • Become better at mental math
This is just a small list of things that I either pursue in the short term, want to do or am unmotivated to put into action.

Hal Jordan, The Green Lantern #willpower

People think I have  amazing willpower when they meet me because I eat right and exercise. Yes, I do, do those things but they practically sap me of all my willpower. I don't always want to exercise and sometimes it'd be easier to buy a Wendy's chicken sandwich than to eat a healthy meal of meat, potatoes and a kale salad.

However, the more you do something the easier it becomes but it is sometimes getting over that hurdle of actually making it a habit that is the most difficult.The solution in my mind is to use masturbation and possibly pornography as an award.

My solutions (yet to be tested mind you) is to make the things you find the least pleasurable and the hardest to do a rewarding experience.

Only allow yourself to masturbate or to look at pornography after you've done something you want to get better at. If you are a college student this could mean that if you are studying for an exam you only allow yourself to receive the sexual masturbatory pleasure that comes with a good stroke session after you've studied your notes or read your text book for an hour.

My mindset behind this is that you will soon make something that seems mundane into something you generally look forward too since you know that it is followed by pleasure.

Obviously, you will have to figure out the best way to utilize this reward strategy in whatever you are trying to accomplish because each thing has its own unique set of challenges.

some people enjoying each others company

First and foremost though I think a reset is needed though before you start implementing. I did and am doing the No-Fap challenge because it gives me more energy to do thing and an attentiveness and attraction to my partner that is unparalleled when I am regularly filling my time with pornography and getting my rocks off.

You have to give this up for a period so that you get in a regular habit of filling up your lulls and unused time in your day with something other than pornography. Also, the idea for this is to rewire your reward circuits.
To understand 80-20 immediately add all his books to your Amazon cart and buy

I'm obvious not a neuroscientist or  have studied neuro-plasticity that much but I feel like this could be an effective strategy when combined with other 30-day challenges and/or if you use some sort of meta-learning practice using the Pareto-principle (80- 20 rule) as a guide.

As a male I feel like this could be an incredibly re-warding strategy however I do not understand the female brain, hormones or even their crotch quite as well (despite me trying constantly educate myself on the topic) so I can't speculate how effective this would be for them.

However, you decide to reset is up to you. I simply abstain from pornography and masturbation for a period of time and for some this could be one-month or something more extreme like three. However, a more in depth reboot may be necessary and there are some good FAQs on this over at Your Brain on Porn which may advocate avoiding social media, craigslist and underwear ads for some very extreme addiction cases.

For me I don't think that is entirely necessary and I think it would be extremely difficult in the modern western world to avoid such things. I find simply abstaining from pornography in all its forms as well as masturbating that my hormones go wild as it is and I start to experience some benefits also with a manic periods in my brain chemistry which I've described in my first post on No-Fapping.

The craziness that was in my brain if you were to believe Your Brain on Porn's Gary Wilson is a withdrawal like symptom. This may partially be true but men are wired for sex and it is also a great stress reducer so I am not 100 % convinced that abstaining from sexual imagery is a bad thing (although I don't know all the research).

Once again to re-iterate this is still just a hypothesis and completely untested however after I finish an introductory phase of No-Fapping I'll try to apply this logic/ schema to another experiment that may or may not be another 30-day type challenge but of a different sort.

If all goes well then I will blog about this and maybe even set up a separate web space to cover how to use this possible learning strategy and highlight additional experiments.

If you read this blog at all please give me a comment so that I know you are out there.

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