gallery 25 Ways to Get Smarter in 2010
From a brilliant lecture series to a must-have Google Alert to an applied-physics videogame, The Daily Beast interviewed the world’s smartest minds to find new breakthroughs and products aimed at boosting intelligence. Reported by Constantino Diaz-Duran and Gabe Oppenheim.
If you've resolved to spend smarter in 2010, Aaron P. Dworkin, founder and president of
The Sphinx Organization, suggests signing up with Mint.com. Mint is a free online money-management system that allows you to track your spending by pulling together your bank, credit union, and credit card data, and providing up-to-date information about your financial life. “It has certainly made me smarter about my own finances,” says Dworkin. “When you realize where all of your money is going, it tends to motivate spending behavior changes which could be the smartest thing any of us does next year.” Smarter About Art
Stop and Sketch
Author and illustrator
David Macaulay thinks anyone who wishes to get smarter in 2010 needs to go out and buy a pad and pencil. “Taking just a few minutes to really look at something forces you to ask questions,” says Macaulay. “Asking questions not only makes you smarter, it makes you more curious about the next thing you see which you might otherwise not even have noticed.” He adds that it’s
cheap—a pocket size sketchbook you will set you back only about $10—and “no eraser is required because you can't make a mistake.” Smarter Listening
Spotify.com According to Bright Sheng, professor of music at the University of Michigan, “Attentively listening to classical music, such as Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler, would definitely make you smarter.” You might also want to learn how to play their work,
says Nina Kraus, a neuroscience researcher at Northwestern University: “Experience with music appears to help with many other things in life, potentially transferring to activities like reading or picking up nuances in tones of voices.” And if you just want to kick back and enjoy the classical masterpieces, The Daily Beast’s
Mark McKinnon says to keep an eye out for
Spotify, which allows you to access almost any song in the universe easily and free. It will be available in the U.S. in 2010. Smarter Periodical
The Times Literary Supplement
Sure, it’s been around for over a hundred years, but week after week the TLS turns out some of the smartest, sharpest, and most thought-provoking essays on the planet. In a single issue you can read about the Cambrian explosion, Nabokov’s contested legacy, Roman art thieves, and what makes good music. Even better, it arrives the old-fashioned way: in the mail. So sit down, open a bottle of wine, and update your liberal arts education.
Richard Michael Pruitt / Newscom Smarter Board Game
The Settlers of Catan
“Settlers,” as its devotees call it, is an intelligence-building German board game developing a zealous cult following among everyone from criminal prosecutors to software programmers. The game requires ruthless negotiating skills, deception, a razor-sharp memory, and a knack for rapid numerical calculations and resource allocation. According to Silicon Valley entrepreneur Auren Hoffman, CEO of the data search company
RapLeaf, “Financial people are good at understanding the numbers, the technical people are really good at understanding how different resources can come together to build something, and then the lawyers are really good at negotiating. So you start to exercise different skills, some of which you may already have, and some of which might be new to you.” Smarter Global Awareness
Intelligence Squared Debates
Founded in Britain and reproduced in the U.S., Australia, Hong Kong, and Eastern Europe, this forum brings together the world’s brightest minds in politics and journalism. Broadcast globally through the BBC, the debates reach an estimated 70 million people, and attract speakers like Christopher Hitchens, Salman Rushdie, and Karl Rove, who took part in the discussion titled "George W. Bush is the worst American president for the past 50 years."
Smarter Literary Range
Summering with the Classics
If you want to be book-smarter in 2010, visit one of academia’s best kept secrets, the Santa Fe campus of St. John’s College. Renowned for its Great Books program, the school opens its doors every summer to people of all ages and professional backgrounds who come for lively, in-depth conversations about the books, works of art, and classic musical pieces. No previous knowledge of the author or subject is needed, and when you’re done with your intellectual refueling, you can go for a hike along the foothills of the pristine southern Rockies.
Mario Tama / Getty Images Smarter Language Skills
Yale University professor Anders Winroth
says that “to interact with foreigners in their language immensely enriches our lives.” So if you want to learn Chinese and nail the dialect just right, hire a private tutor in China to teach you his native language via Skype. Or do a half-hour Skype session of Romanian with a guy in Bucharest while on your lunch break at work. U.K.-based Web site VerbalPlanet.com matches you up with tutors in their home countries; the tutor sets their price, and you can shop around for someone who works well for you. Verbalplanet just brokers the deal—sort of like eBay, but for language learning. Mario Tama / Getty Images Smarter Commuting
The Teaching Company
For commuters looking to supplement their talk-radio intake, check out The Teaching Company’s DVD and CD series. The Teaching Company engages professors from the country’s best universities to record lectures on a wide variety of topics, from religious mysticism to nutrition. They have produced over 200 courses—more than 2,000 hours of material in literature, philosophy, history, fine arts, the sciences, economics, and religion.
Smarter Social Activism
The Feast Conference
The annual Feast Conference gathers “the world's leading creative entrepreneurs, revolutionaries, radicals, doers, and thinkers” to speak on the topic of social innovation. "A very important part of getting smarter is learning about your own abilities and the fact that you can absolutely do what you want to do,” says 2009 host Cindy Gallop. Which has been demonstrated by past speakers, such as recent college graduate Brian Bordainick, who launched a project called the
9th Ward Field of Dreams, a state-of-the-art football field and track in New Orleans, the first public space of its kind in the city.
Tickets are now available for the 2010 conference, taking place on October 15 in Manhattan. Smarter Search Engine
A small group of MIT computer scientists has developed an algorithm called Hunch that works on a single premise: Groups of people make better decisions than individuals, even individual experts. Hunch is brilliant in its simplicity: It asks you narrower and narrower questions, and continues suggesting answers until it finds what you want. It then uses the your search to find even better answers for the next user. For instance, to the question, “What should I get my mom for her birthday?” Hunch might ask questions like, how much do you want to spend? How old is she? Is she conservative or liberal? Does she drink? In the six months since it was launched, users have already created over 5,500 decision topics and used it to purchase electronics, figure out what book to read, and plan entire vacations.
World of Goo
Videogames used to require just enough brain power to steer a convertible through a palm tree-lined racetrack. The technology has advanced, as proven by Nintendo Wii’s World of Goo, a highly addictive game in which you’ll exercise your knowledge of applied physics. Two reassurances: It’s not nearly as boring as it sounds (quite the contrary), and you probably know more about physics than you realize, as the game quickly reveals. Reviewer Jon Blyth
calls World of Goo “physics' latest, purest, and most brilliant gift,” adding that what makes the game so rewarding is “the sense of constant accomplishment and awe at the new things you're being allowed to do.” Smarter Mental Powers
Neurobics Brain Exercise
These brain exercises, pioneered by the deceased neurologist Lawrence Katz, involve performing typical activities in an atypical way. You’ve doubtless already heard about the neurological benefits of, say, brushing your teeth or surfing the Web with your non-dominant hand (a Case Western study showed those who did increased their willpower and focus). Doing things like this forces your brain to forge otherwise nonexistent connections. What’s new in all this is the supportive research. A
study released by German scientists in September showed definitively that people in dark rooms, when asked to locate a sound’s source, tended to point to their non-favored side, indicating once again how important handedness is in our brain’s workings. And an
October study demonstrated for the first time that the brain’s white matter can increase as it acquires novel experience and training. Smarter Afghanistan
In the Graveyard of Empires
The Patience Stone
The Looming Tower
Even as we increase troop levels in Afghanistan, the country remains an enigma to most, but there are three books that will prime you on the country's history, people, and what's happening there now. First, read Seth Jones'
for an up-to-date survey of the military and political problems facing Afghanistan from the perspective of an adviser to the U.S. Special Forces. Next, read Atiq Rahimi's spare, stunning account,
In the Graveyard of Empires of one woman's life under the Taliban, and get a sense of the complex social issues that define Afghan society. Then return to Lawrence Wright's award-winning and still vital
The Patience Stone for the story of what happened when America last got the country wrong. The Looming Tower Smarter Online Learning
Open Yale Courses
Two of the Internet’s best kept secrets offer free access to a pair of America’s premiere institutions of higher learning. The University of Chicago’s “Mind Online” series shows video of fascinating debates, discussions, and lectures with the school’s illustrious faculty and alumni. Recently, the series featured a talk with Bernard Sahlins, founder of the Second City comedy troupe on its 50th anniversary. And Yale’s portal allows you to “sit in” on the university’s introductory classes, like “Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics” and “Introduction to the Old Testament.”
Mario Tama / Getty Images Smarter Google Alert
The CEO and chairman of
JPMorgan Chase is required by law to fully disclose every material related to the one of the biggest banks in the world. According to Simon Johnson,
professor of entrepreneurship at MIT's Sloan School of Management, anyone who wishes to get smarter about what's happening with the economy should set a Google News alert on Dimon right away. “Don't let the deadpan delivery fool you,” says Johnson. “This guy knows more about banking, the world around you, and what will go wrong next, than almost anyone else.” Smarter Blog
You've probably never heard of Felix Salmon, says Simon Johnson, professor of entrepreneurship at MIT, but his is the smartest blog you're not reading. Salmon's posts on Reuters.com “take you inside the guts of the ‘beast’ of the Wall Street-Washington power corridor; unless you get in these weeds, you don't know what's going to hit you next.” Prior to blogging for Reuters, Salmon worked at Euromoney magazine, created the Economonitor blog for Roubini Global Economics, and wrote the Market Movers blog for Portfolio.com.
Smarter Body Clock
Get Up Earlier
A University of Montreal
study published in October makes a compelling case for getting up early. It found that light exposure regulates the brain’s response to all sorts of tasks, even non-visual ones. The intensity and type of light, and the duration of exposure can increase the effects, which can be seen through neuroimaging in the sub-cortical structures related to alertness (hypothalamus, brain stem, thalamus) and in cortical areas related to behavior. This relationship
accords with research published in July by University of Alabama scientists, who found an association between decreased exposure to sunlight and increased probability of cognitive impairment. Adam Larkey, ABC / AP Photo Smarter Cable News
Way Too Early With Willie Geist
The Daily Show to Rachel Maddow, some of today’s smartest TV commentary is delivered with flawless comic timing, and Willie Geist fits right into this category. The co-host of MSNBC’s
Morning Joe finally got his own show this year,
Way Too Early With Willie Geist—and indeed, it airs at a stomach-flipping 5:30 a.m. Hence, lots of the interviews—everyone from Donald Trump to Maureen Dowd to Rod Blagojevich—are call-ins (Geist says he can’t get anyone to show up at the studio at that hour). No matter: It’s 2010’s must-watch cable news show; TiVo it if you can’t drag yourself out of bed. Smarter DIY Web Sites
If you want to become smarter about do-it-yourself projects in 2010, Mashable’s
Pete Cashmore recommends you bookmark 5min.com and Instructables.com. They provide you with instructions on how to do anything, from making
homemade laundry detergent to
replacing your disc brakes. 5min does it through short instructional videos. In addition to its free membership, Instructables offers a paid "Pro" version that allows users to download PDFs of step-by-step instructions for their projects.