“Willpower” is chemical energy available to the white matter network

When I was studying math heavily (April to July or thereabouts) I remarked to Donovan Greene during one of our talks that I wasn’t having as many ideas as usual. On a typical workday I’ll have about six important ideas- maybe eight microzens total per day– but while I was studying heavily I was down to about two microzens per day and sometimes no big ideas at all. From this we concluded that it was due merely to exhausting my “mental energy”. Well, what does that even mean? For visualization purposes:

The gray stuff lining the outside is gray matter, and the white stuff which comprises the inside is white matter. The gray matter converts perceptions into information with some kinda magic, and passes this data to the big computer underneath. When you look at the white matter, you should be thinking about breadboards with lots of little wires made of myelinated axons (which perform computations), with these wires immersed in a soup of glial cells (which perform maintenance).

This giant network of self-programming wires requires a ton of electricity, as in 12-15 watts or so. You know when a cartoon guy has that lightbulb appear over his head and he shouts “Eureka!” That’s appropriate, because during that all-red brain state the electrical activity in his head is spiking, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it we were talking more than 50W. Still pretty good for a supercomputer. But if this effort were sustained (thank God it usually isn’t), it would be sufficient to move one of those stationary bicycles. No wonder all of those forced child prodigies get brain hemorrhages.

Gray matter doesn’t appear to have such heavy energy requirements, and it seems to be generally true that people and animals who operate purely on System 1 instincts do not require much sleep. Another important factor is high-quality protein and animal fat- to wit, meat. I have noticed these effects personally, and it simply makes sense: animal meat is fuel for the brain. Carbohydrates and sugars can only help somewhat, but they primarily provide fuel for the body. A diet consisting primarily of potatoes or rice, for instance, will produce a person who is walking around with a constant case of brainfog, operating purely on previously acquired instincts (which is fine if you’re an agricultural type).

I remember when I was trying out the milk+eggs+potatoes diet, which requires eating half a dozen potatoes per day (which I never actually managed- glycemic index matters, apparently), I was simply unable to think. “I” was not around much at all, and the subjective experience was of floating around on clouds and every now and then reappearing in my body to find that my hands had been doing my job just fine without me, like a philosophical zombie.

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About Aeoli Pera

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9 Responses to “Willpower” is chemical energy available to the white matter network

  1. Edenist whackjob says:

    “Another important factor is high-quality protein and animal fat- to wit, meat. I have noticed these effects personally, and it simply makes sense: animal meat is fuel for the brain. ”

    That would fit with the whole “hominids got bigger brains when they learned to cook meat” thing.

    ” I was simply unable to think. ā€œIā€ was not around much at all, and the subjective experience was of floating around on clouds and every now and then reappearing in my body to find that my hands had been doing my job just fine without me, like a philosophical zombie.”

    Sounds like DP/DR.

  2. Edenist whackjob says:

    Aeoli: do you have much of a sex drive? Is acquiring sex a big thing for you? Reason I ask, is that I spend a LOT of cycles on that goal (or the same thing but in a neurotic form, like gaining career status). Recently, I have been having more success, and I find my brain is much more interested in “pure” subjects like science and math. But I suspect I am not pure TT either.

  3. Edenist whackjob says:

    For me, as I’ve stated before, marijuana increased my micro-zen rate a lot. I wonder how it does that. Any theories? It doesn’t feel like I’m using System 2 at all when I’m tripping, it’s more that I’m picking up these subtle things, thoughts that “elusively obvious”. Things I kind of already knew, but now they click for me. And sometimes, completely new things (but those have a tendency to be wrong also).

  4. Edenist whackjob says:

    Also, why are you called “Aeoli Pera”? Never understood the reference :)

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