Think of this book as a martial arts course for your mind. You might call it the mental arts. Just as the martial arts will teach you to fight without weapons, the mental arts will teach you to think without computers, calculate without calculators, and remember without reading and writing. Of course, some martial arts courses teach you to fight with nunchaku or throwing blades; this book contains a few hacks that will teach you to use notebooks and Perl scripts as tools to become a better thinker.

In many respects, Mind Performance Hacks is a sequel to Mind Hacks by Tom Stafford and Matt Webb, but written with the intention of providing practical hacks you can use, rather than "probes into the operation of the brain" that are more theoretical and fun. (Not that the hacks in this book aren't fun!) Here again, the martial arts analogy comes in handy. Mind Hacks (also published by O'Reilly) was more a book of beautiful and interesting things you can do with your brain, akin to the branches of the martial arts that are more like dance than combat. Mind Performance Hacks is full of highly practical mental techniques, more analogous to the martial arts meant for self-defense. Of course, this book does contain a few tricks you can flaunt, such as counting to a million on your fingers [Hack #40]—the mental equivalent of breaking a stack of bricks with your hands.

In my effort to become a better thinker, besides the raw impulse to become smarter, I think Frank Herbert's idea of the mentat has inspired me most. In Herbert's science fiction novel Dune, set thousands of years in the future, computers have been outlawed and a human profession has evolved to take their place. Mentats are, in effect, human computers, having trained for years to improve their memory, and their mathematical, logical, and strategic abilities, to superhuman levels—in short, to become masters of the mental arts.

In 2004, I started the Mentat Wiki ( as a central repository of information about the mental arts that anyone who happened upon could contribute to. As I had hoped, it attracted a group of contributors interested in mnemonic techniques, mental math, and so on, and since then, the wiki has grown steadily. I've learned a lot from the Mentat Wiki, and a number of the mind performance hacks in this book started as web pages there.

I hope you will find at least one hack from this book that you use every day for the rest of your life. If that seems unlikely to you, let me assure you that I use several hacks from this book daily, and I know other people who do, too. Have we attained the superhuman capabilities of Frank Herbert's fictional mentats? No, but we are more capable than we would be otherwise.

It's also a dream of mine that the mental arts will be taught commonly in public schools, as the ars memorativa was once taught in classical times. Failing that, it would at least be nice if this knowledge were available in little storefront schools emblazoned with the words "Eight Mental Arts Taught As One!"

Why Mind Performance Hacks?

The term hacker has a bad reputation in the press. They use it to refer to someone who breaks into systems or wreaks havoc with computers as their weapon. Among people who write code, though, the term hack refers to a "quick-and-dirty" solution to a problem, or a clever way to get something done. And the term hacker is taken very much as a compliment, referring to someone as being creative, having the technical chops to get things done. The Hacks series is an attempt to reclaim the word, document the good ways people are hacking, and pass the hacker ethic of creative participation on to the uninitiated. Seeing how others approach systems and problems is often the quickest way to learn about a new technology.

Mind performance hacks are a technology as new as the newest smart drugs and as old as language. In the broadest sense, every time you learn something, you're hacking your brain. This book is designed to help you learn to hack your brain intentionally, safely, and productively.

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