The backbone of my Learning to Think is Harry Kahne’s “Multiple Mentality” course. Kahne was a vaudeville performer, you can see one of his performances here. Life before the Internet came along, huh? Speaking of pre-4chanic life, Kahne was also listed in Jay’s Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women. A historical footnote, next to that horse that counted by tapping its foot.
This is not, of course, where most of the Google searches lead to. Most of the Google searches lead here, to rexresearch’s on-hand copy of Kahne’s 1925 Strand Magazine interview and Multiple Mentality Course. Over the course of twelve exercises, each lasting about a week, Kahne will take you from three-pound mental weakling to a state where “YOU CAN MAKE YOUR MIND DO ANYTHING YOU WANT IT TO DO!” Throughout the course, Kahne (and his annotator, Mel Saunders) tell you that the simplest problems will become child’s play, unseen opportunities will be clear as day, and your mind will be restored to a youthful vigour and pep.
I’m not completely sold on all that, but I started the exercises back in 2007, in the halcyon days of Yangshuo, China. I would sit at the café, sipping my milkshake and dutifully putting in my hour a day. Often, friends would come by, or new acquaintances, and offer to play Chinese chess with me. I did much, much better at chess after an hour of Kahne’s exercises than before, and much better at the end of the month than at the beginning. In addition, I felt …something going on in my head. The best way to put it is it felt like my brain separated into two parallel parts and followed separate, but synchronized, tracks.
Other than that experience, I once found, many years ago, a commenter on a message board mentioning that he’d done Kahne’s exercises. The thread, alas, now seems to be lost in the depths of the Internet, but I still have the email correspondence. He wrote:
I like the course very much. I didn’t find the course difficult mainly because it builds on it’s self. Starts semi-easy and then gets progressively harder. I did have the stiffness he refers to, probably because of using parts of the brain that I haven’t used since school. What I have noticed is that I can think much faster than before I started. I can come up with answers to problems easier and faster. I am at VII right now because of work and going back to college. There is other things I have been doing along the same lines that I think have also affected the results I have gotten.
Let me know how you do.
Vlad Dolezol, over at vladdolezal.com, tried a modified course of Kahne’s exercises for the month of September, 2010. He played fast and loose with Kahne’s recommendations to maintain interest, and reported a lot of interesting effects (he could recite poetry while writing something else, but not write down poetry while saying anything). Vlad’s ‘wiped-out’ feeling is pretty close to the ‘stiffness’ that Kahne and my correspondent described (1).
Of course, all three of these are subjective experiences, anecdotes, hardly the stuff empiricism is made of. So, in addition to the course itself, I’m going to include regular tests, at the beginning, at the four- and eight-week marks, and after the course is completed. This test is going to be a fairly straightforward one: I’ll choose two sums and multiply them, while singing a song of your choice. The video evidence will be made available, yes.
If you’re playing the Home Game, put up the videos of your tests, too! An internets is yours for each video, and an illustrated Highjack for doing all four!
So, that’s about all the information I’ve been able to gather about Harry Kahne and his mentality course. As to the course itself, it’s no great trouble. An hour a day, once a day, for three months, spent doodling the alphabet or simple words in a notebook. The first part of the course is playing around with the alphabet in new ways, to limber up your head. The second part turns around and inside out short (three- and four-letter words), sometimes while spelling entirely different words aloud. From there, it progresses to other basic tasks done simultaneously and emphasizing seeing everything you’re working with inside out and backwards at the same time as forwards.
Kahne called his course multiple mentality, most overcaffeinated observers today call it multitasking (which, as Vlad points out, is paying limited attention to multiple things), but I think a more appropriate term could be borrowed from literature: simulflow.
A full PDF of Kahne’s program is available here.
1 – I didn’t feel it because, at the time, I was living in Paradise!