I Tried to Spend $100 and Failed

I was recently asked: “If you could put together a $100 gift package as a cognitive enhancement starter kit for someone totally new to the subject — what would you put in it?”

This was a pre-interview question given to me prior to a guest interview I was doing (yes, I occasionally get on the other side of the mic). I noodled on it quite a bit.

When the interview-day came and the question was asked, I started to answer. And I realized something fast…

I’d been thrown the question as a softball — an open invitation to name-drop our Axon Labs supplement stacks, Nexus and Mitogen. (And heck, I will name-drop them here — you should try ‘em! — but that’s incidental to my story.)

Instead, the things I’d put on my starter kit list were all dirt-cheap, and intended to stretch the theoretical $100 to the hilt. $100, it turns out, can go a very long way.

Most of what made my list was free, or so close to free that I had a hard time even attaching a dollar value to it.

An example: High on my list was a sleep mask, one of those doohickeys like the Lone Ranger wears, minus the eye-holes. How much does that cost? I own two, and I don’t know. I swiped both of mine on trans-oceanic flights and just stuck ’em in my backpack for later use. (Nowadays when I nap in public places, I’m a drooling billboard for Air Emirates and China South Airlines.)

But most of what filled out my list wasn’t even cheap, reusable objects like sleep masks; instead it was information — something that has the highest ratio of value-to-cost that I know of.

And not even general information, but a specific kind of information: Inspiration.

I’m not talking about Stuart Smalley “I’m good enough, you’re good enough stuff.” My working definition of inspiration is as follows:

Inspiration is information that prompts action that will yield still more information.

It opens an expanding cycle of knowledge-acquisition. You might be inspired to read, or listen, or directly learn more about a subject… Or you might be inspired to do bumps-n-bruises, real-world physical pursuit of some objective. No matter — such pursuits almost always lead to learning. So that’s my catch-all definition.

So what sort of inspiration did I try to wedge into my bargain-basement gift bag of brain upgrades?

Here are three items that made the cut, in three different media (none of them podcasts!):

*VIDEO: The Flynn Effect* There’s compelling evidence that our already-smart species is getting smarter. Kind of hard to believe, right? Memes and movies like Idiocracy tell us otherwise… But who are you going to believe — an Internet meme, or 85 years of science and statistical analysis? Check out this TED Talk.

*ARTICLE: When Brain Damage Unlocks the Genius Within* This phenomenon is fascinating to me. Whack your head, get a superpower. I’m not recommending that you intentionally whack your head. But this phenomenon — trauma-induced savantism — seems to be the closest thing reality has to offer to that radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker and turned him into Spiderman. Read this and boggle your mind.

*BOOK: The Doors of Perception* 20th century novelist Aldous Huxley is best known for his dystopian novel Brave New World, but another of his books — a nonfiction work unlikely to have been assigned by your eleventh-grade English teacher — is a first-person exploration of the author’s experience taking mescaline, a powerful psychedelic. (The book was authored in the antediluvian 1950s, a time before the Drug War when such chemicals lacked the stigma of criminality, punishment, or anti-authoritarianism.)

I enthusiastically recommend any and all of the above.

Of course, if you’re reading this, you may not need any prompting to be excited about the great possibilities that come with owning a brain. I may have “had you at hello.”

But for the people for whom I was writing the list — brain-owners but not yet brain-enthusiasts — I wanted to ladle on an extra helping of inspiration.

$100 won’t get you to the top of Mount Everest. But it may be able to get you to start thinking: What would it take to attempt the climb? And if others have climbed it, why not me?

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This article was written by Jesse Lawler and originally appeared as part of the Smart Drug Smarts Brain Breakfast newsletter on December 21, 2015.