This is the static version of my first Mentat Month report for May 1-3, 2008. The current wikified version is here, and may be updated.

To introduce Mentat Month briefly: it's a for-fun monthlong intensive exploration of mind hacks with a curriculum based on the materials on the Mentat Wiki. We're going to go meta and see how much we can tinker with and accelerate our own learning processes. You can play as well - just click on the link and view the "Process" instructions (which include a process for improving the process, in true meta style).

I read the book Mind Hacks cover-to-cover to get ideas for things to fill my "toolbox" and decided that my first action would be to cut the cruft in what I say and write - a few things in particular are listed below.

  • No ums or ahs. No usages of the word "like" other than in the context of indicating enjoyment of something.
  • No conventional swear words. Cursing like a sailor is allowed iff it is done inventively. For instance, Shakespearean curses are kosher, as are sci-fi curses, mathematical insults, or colorful words from foreign languages. As soon as a curse becomes a habit, it must be discarded.
  • No using phrases like "I think", "I guess", "I don't know", and so on as trailing sentence clauses to downplay statements actually believed to be fact. Instead, come out clean and actually state them upfront as things believed to be fact. In other words, if these clauses are spoken, they've got to be firmly said at the start of the sentence.
  • No saying statements as questions? (This only applies to spoken language and is a common female speech trait).
  • Find alternative ways of intensifying descriptions that do not involve the use of the words "really" or "very." For instance, instead of saying "very good," say "excellent." Instead of saying "really expensive," say "astronomically costly."
  • Avoid using the words "but" and "however" (and other synonyms not listed here) if at all possible. Try to use "and" in the sentence instead; it's remarkable how this will flip the meaning of a phrase. This was inspired by the "Yes, And" rule in improvisational comedy.
  • Minimize the usage of the first person personal pronouns ("I/me") - this not so much as a "cutting the cruft" exercise as it is an experiment in how well English takes to this type of usage, since many other languages imply/omit the pronoun when speaking of oneself.
  • (This probably only applies to me, so I can't think of a way to state this without using personal pronouns.) Speak in a natural voice range. I have the habit of trying to pitch my voice to blend in with the voices of others speaking; since I hang out mostly with males on account of my profession (engineer), it means that I strain my vocal cords by speaking below what I think is my natural range.

Results: I had to do push-ups (my self-imposed penalty) quite a few times, and am still doing them on a fairly regular basis, mostly due to "ums." The most dramatic effect has been due to the moratorium on "but" and "however." I have slacked in terms of preventing "me" and "I" from coming out; it feels like it directly clashes with the English language, so I'm dropping that requirement for the next week, but will continue with the rest of the hack for at least the remainder of the month.