Sharpening the Axe

As humbling as I find mental calculation to be I often wonder whether the struggle improves my general clarity of thought. I am not sure whether this is emotional, becoming adapted to the frustration of thinking at your limit or if it is an intellectual skill, learning to think clearly. Testing for these kind of things hasn’t been shown to have significant carry over but it seems to me that daily thinking practice does sharpen the axe.

I was just playing with exponents to 10 of single digits and solving them mentally with different obvious strategies in my head. Occasionally hitting points where I overwhelmed short term memory or my rational circuits.

I know I can grease the groove,. Improve the circuits through regular use, employ better strategies, and improve my familiarity with the content.

I think though, that there is an additional element. Becoming accustomed to mental failure/ambiguity and learning to work through it effectively/efficiently.

I wish I had more natural talent and youth. It would be very nice to have fast, broad success instead of small, cumulative improvement. That said, the process itself seems to have qualitative benefits. Sample size of one.


It definitely can improve your clarity of thought. Brain training can lower the risk of dementia which can affect everything, so something that lowers the risk of getting dementia could affect more than one thing too.


I do not believe there is anything that shows that brain training lowers the risk of dementia.

I believe you are confusing Risk Factor (correlation) with causation in this case.

I think there is a qualitative relationship, personal opinion, but cannot find any science on this other the science that disproves the relationship between training and intelligence.

I found this study about education. There appears to be a link somehow. In the end they say this

“The finding that low education is associated with an increased incidence of dementia (Stern et al. , 1994; Cobb et al. , 1995; Ott et al. , 1995) therefore appears to be due not to an increased burden of neuropathology, but rather to an increased vulnerability to cognitive deterioration”.

Don’t know if this helps but here ya go.

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There currently isn’t any whole science that disproves the relationship between training and intelligence.
There currently isn’t any whole science that proves the relationship between training and intelligence.

There is however a qualitative relationship and a mix of personal opinions and correlations both ways.

All you can really do is test and tweak it for yourself and make your own judgment based on your results.


Lumosity were fined $2M for making such a claim. In the following link, the FTC say that Lumosity “simply did not have the science to back up its ads.”:
On the other hand, the link also says: “… the new finding doesn’t prove that none of these brain training programs work, it does provide an alternative explanation for effects observed”, which is also what @Nagime said.


Most of the article is devoted to the effects of “education”, But hidden away is the following sentence:

A recent article has suggested that computerized ‘brain training’ in adulthood (18−60 years) confers no benefits to general cognitive function (Owen et al. , 2010).

The link in parentheses (Owen et al…) points to yet another (rather elderly) test that claims to prove that Lumosity-type tests don’t work:


Luminosity tried very hard to stand behind their claim which was essentially that n-back training improved general working memory but all the research points to n-back training having improved n-back training only. Their other claims were hopelessly vague.

There is surprisingly little valid research on adults on the effect of mental training. We like to think we have the ability to learn. We know that an adult’s ability to learn is less than a youth’s but it has been shown that adults are capable of learning. They just don’t want to.

What we don’t have clear evidence for is that mental activity in reasoning, abstraction, logic etc increases an adult’s general ability to think. It is my personal position that it does in a qualitative fashion (less internal stress, more confidence, less prone to frustration) and/but every time I read a study it tends to point to the training effect rather than any meaningful general change in the brains ability to wire itself efficiently. Again, in my personal experiment, I find that any of the mental skills that I have practiced do not stick and I must relearn them if not applied consistently AND that it takes me as much effort to relearn as it did to initially learn.

What is a shame is that there are no longer-term studies. Training individuals over 1,3,5,10 years and measuring abilities using good scientific method. I know you have to race what you brung but I like to hope we could wring a few more horsepower out of it with some power adders and consistent application of force over time.

Problem with this is science says no. :frowning: