Tuesday, October 30, 2012



One of the insights of happiness research and particularly
Csikszentmihalyi’s revolutionary ideas in his books “Flow” and “The
Evolving Self” is the brain’s need of direction. Left to its own
devices the available mental energy pushes along habitual paths. With
some kind of purpose, even a small one, it can be organized and used
in a self-vitalizing way.

I find myself thinking about this in relation to ideas about
depression and inspiration. Thinking of the mind as an open system
with an organization that keeps adding new knowledge and experience
until eventually the organizing system can’t hold it anymore. The
system breaks down and there’s disorder until it reorganizes into a
system sufficiently complex to hold the new weight of information.
Insight and inspiration often accompany the new order that offers a
new outlook on previously unconnected information and understanding of
previous experience that wasn’t clear before. But the time of disorder
is dangerous, confusing and dark. We may doubt the things we cared
about before and not understand where the excitement came from. I read
somewhere that the purpose of depression in animals was to keep them
close to home in times of weakness. This fits our situation too.

It might help the negative phases to think that a reorganization is
taking place that our inertia and lack of focus have a positive
purpose in allowing these mental transformations to take place. Rather
than think about the mood itself, find direction in small things,
keeping the focus off the misery and biding time with small goals like
cleaning, walking, catching up with friends until the new
understanding dawns. Too often the temporary loss of purpose can be
alarming and focusing on the doubts and uncertainties produces more
doubts and uncertainties. Relinquishing focus altogether regarding
where we’re headed allows a diffuse attention conducive to the
emergence of new patterns. It’s the same dynamic seen with research of
all kinds. An existing theory will hold until new discoveries call it
into question and new theories must be developed to accommodate the
new information. I’ve found that the low periods are easier to bear
seeing them as part of necessary rewiring. It’s a natural consequence
of having an appetite for new information, particularly when it calls
some long standing assumption into question. Temporary loss of
direction may be unpleasant but the resulting increase in wisdom as
the scope of perception increases completes a cycle of growth. A
broader view opens new choices for the next direction.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Creative Mapping

What you know is your territory. If I mention David Foster Wallace,
you’ll know right away whether you recognize the name or not.
Metaknowledge refers to our overall awareness of what we know, that
keeps us from searching for an answer we won’t find. We know what
we’ve seen and where it happened. Circuits are like paths through an
overgrown field. We have an inner representation of the paths and
landmarks in our territory. The ones more traveled are the clearer
paths, so we get to the information we’ve been over a few times faster
than something we’ve only heard once or twice. We know what’s part of
our territory without having to think about it. William Faulkner put
it poetically in his book, “Light in August” writing, “Memory believes
before knowing remembers.” We feel the connection before we can
actually bring it to conscious awareness. And it applies to attitudes
that reflect the underlying point of view. If I say something someone
feels to be true, then it’s something they’ve observed within their
domain, something they already know but haven’t necessarily noticed
specifically and articulated. What I try to do here is point to
something that’s been there all along in a way that can be grasped and

Your acquired knowledge is a map of where you’ve been, what you’ve
experienced and what you’ve learned. It controls what you trust, what
feels right and what you feel to be true. It guides what you expect
from where. Since mapping is one of the basic organizational
structures ordering the relationships of facts and ideas with memories
and strivings, we might find more uses for this valuable perceptual
tool as a technique to understand all kinds of things. It is based on
correspondence of form and structure that begins with the hippocampus
as the brain’s hub of what we know.

Visually more than just boundaries and routes, territory is also
mapped by importance and lastingness. The word is growing in usage
because as information gets more complex, mapping it is more
practical, a guide to moving around the territory and comparing
significant features. The U of C Santa Cruz has an online “Atlas of
Global Inequalities”. Data must be "distilled into something
understandable," said Computer Science Professor Suresh Lodha,
describing the process as "visualization of information" in an article
on their site. http://www.ce.ucsc.edu/news/article/1893

A new book on maps points out that anything can be mapped. For
instance, you could map the universe of people you know (more than
saying hi). You are the sun. The planets closest to you will be the
people you see every day in your house and neighborhood. Designate a
person’s importance with the size of the planet, so your mother across
the country might be like Jupiter. Consider how easily you know how to
place things. After you map everyone, the artist in you might go on to
characterize the different planets in some way in terms of the health
of the relationship or the sense of the danger or safety of the
planet. Decide what information you want to understand better and
think of the variables that matter. Create a universe, or flow chart
or rhizomatic web. The visual representation of knowledge is much
better suited to the complexity and highly nuanced reality we live in.
This is an effective way to practice it.