Hidden Brain and Parallel Genius

I’m not saying I’m a genius or anything.

But I am saying that parallel genius is a thing that exists.

One of my favorite things in college was when I would be taking some random combination of classes to fulfill the diverse requirements of the degree program and I would find that each of them was tied together by some theoretical or philosophical thread. And the whole semester would feel unified. Honestly, this happened more often than it didn’t. And I loved it. It makes the world less confusing when there are patterns to be drawn and connections to be made. It makes everything feel important. Because it is all connected. Even the shitty shit.

Like I’d have a biology class, and a psychology class, and a philosophy class, and a writing class, and a literature class. For example.

And in biology we’d talk about survival of the fittest, and then in psychology we’d talk about adaptive behaviors, and in philosophy we’d talk about logical fallacies that help us to maintain our belief in our correctness, which makes us feel better about ourselves, which makes us wrong but happier and less likely to tend toward fatalism, and then in writing the week’s assignment would be to talk about a time we thought we were the winner of an argument only to find out that we were the loser and in lit class we’d be reading Kafka.

It seemed sometimes that the units in vastly different subjects just sort of lined up like beads on a string. Every bead was a different shade of the same color. A different variation on the same shape. Basically the same size, but with a little smaller or larger hole in the center.

I love connections. The ability to see connections in seemingly random data is a major criterion for both genius and madness, actually. It’s all in whether or not you can make salient arguments as to the legitimacy of the connections you’re seeing. I’ve always been a connections person. I’m not always on target.

Often – especially socially – I find connections that aren’t there. Mainly, it’s due to misinterpretation of behavior, or paying more attention to a person’s words than their actions. Often, that’s because I want to believe what they’re saying and not what I’m seeing them do.

I’m off track. The point is that yesterday I wrote a whole big post about the importance of story to humanity. The importance of creating a narrative to go along with experience and the amazing ability we have to learn from experience and to adapt our future behavior to new experiences based on what happened before, and how we responded.

And then last night Shankar showed up with this episode of Hidden Brain that’s basically my macrocosmic argument narrowed down into a microcosmic version of the same message.

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/612458913/613127761

I fucking love when this happens.

It’s validating. Because as I was rereading through yesterday’s post the inner critic got all loud and obnoxious and started suggesting that I was the world’s biggest narcissist for thinking I had any right to compose some know-it-all bullshit about storytelling that read like a craft manual. Who did I think I was? Some sort of expert or something? Someone who knew the first thing about the craft of story?

Well bam, inner critic. Check ‘dis shit out right here.

Turns out I do know some shit about some shit.

Shankar just told me he believes me.

I can do all things through Shankar, who strengtheneth me, bitches.

I love it.

And I love the idea of shaping one’s own personal narrative.

In one therapy session I was told the difference between perseveration and rumination. I’d always thought of perseveration as having to do with action or behavior. The compulsive behaviors to rumination’s obsessive thoughts.

But my therapist explained that like the cow and its cud, rumination eventually gets somewhere. It may not be somewhere pretty, but it is a process that includes forward movement. Perseveration is just sitting around and chewing a rubber balloon. Nothing’s ever going to happen and eventually you’re either going to get sick or tired or both.

Chewing balloons is stupid.

I keep going back and back to the day Mike got arrested and I struggle to know how far back to go in my mind, to revise that history. I’m stuck at a lot of points in my life where bad shit happened, and the only thing I don’t like about this episode is that it does a great job of explaining the pros and cons of counterfactual thoughts and “what if” fantasies. But if offers no clarity to me about what counterfactual thoughts of my own might be helpful and which might be harmful.

I struggle with trust because of my marriage. Is my counterfactual thinking regarding that situation simply perpetuating anxiety over something I can’t change? Is it making me a better judge of character, going forward, hopefully ensuring that I won’t find myself tied to someone with really scary personality traits in the future? Or is it making me so overcautious that I’m missing out on lots of great opportunities because I’m too busy evaluating everyone and every relationship against him and that hellhole of a marriage?

I don’t know. I truly don’t know. But I feel better knowing that there’s an actual theory to go along with this. I like feeling some firm ground beneath me in the form of someone with credentials who can say “this is a thing that brains do, and yours is doing it more or less like everyone else’s.”

It calms me.

So anyhow. That’s my Tuesday.

How you doin’?

 

8 thoughts on “Hidden Brain and Parallel Genius

    1. I’ve never heard of it. Until today. Hey crow Steve Almond? I met him at a writing conference and he is so so cool. So that is a totally totally going on my roster thank you so much for hipping me to it! I hope you like that episode of Hidden Brain it’s one of my favorites. It’s pretty rare for me to find a podcast that I consistently love but Hidden Brain is by far one of the best and I have a feeling that Dear Sugars is going to be up there too.

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  1. You met Steve Almond? Well how’s that for a coincidence?! Smiling and shaking my head at this nice little “small world” moment. I came across Dear Sugars maybe six months ago or so… Think I had looked up Cheryl Strayed to find out what she’s up to (read “Wild” several years ago, was/still am fascinated by what she did, but hadn’t really followed her after reading the book). I wasn’t familiar with Steve Almond prior to finding Dear Sugars but I’m thinking he should be on my to-read list. If you have any suggestions, by all means. I have so many questions about the writing conference! Hope you enjoy the podcast. (The intro song is delightful too – lovely voice. :))

    I literally have only been listening to two podcasts and Hidden Brain is the other one. (Again, if you have any suggestions.) Listened to the episode today (jesus murphy, can you imagine) – totally get what you mean by the calming effect of knowing that “this is a thing that brains do.” That’s one of the reasons why I like Dear Sugars so much. It’s not science-based, but it’s people sharing their personal narratives and trying to make sense of/get a different perspective of themselves, their lives, and their relationships.

    Sorry/not sorry for the mammoth comment. 🙂

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    1. First of all, there will be no apologies for large comments on my blog, miss. Haha.

      Second, yes, I met him at the last Chautauqua Writer’s Festival I ever went to. I think it was two or three years ago. He was very funny and very very nice to talk to. Unfortunately I was going through the worst part of my life, it was pretty soon after my husband was arrested and I just was not in the right head space to behave like a human being. I was disconnected and out of it. Not sleeping much. It was not good. I was studying with Lisa Purpura that year and it also went badly. I regret it. I shouldn’t have tried to go that year. I just wasn’t up to it, no matter how badly I wanted to be.

      I have not read or watched “Wild” yet, and I don’t really understand why. I need to. I really, really need to. I know I would love it, and her.

      As to podcasts, I have never, ever been a podcast person but I’ve been stuck on Hidden Brain since my psychiatrist hipped me to it. Like, I truly do think I might be a little in love with Shankar. I just get so happy every time I hear his voice now. It has nothing to do with him, I’m sure. It’s just straight Pavlov. I hear his voice and the dopamine sector of my brain lights up like Las Vegas because I know he’s going to tweak my brain with a great story and great science to go with it and my nerd center gets all activated.

      It’s bad. Very bad.

      I’m excited, though, to start Dear Sugars. I am in love with anything that has to do with the importance and the power of narrative and storytelling. I think that not nearly enough people understand what it is about the media that they consume daily, obsessively, that makes them love it so much. I don’t think nearly enough people understand that story makes them who they are, and that it’s not something that some lofty mythical figure like an “author” proper has sole control over. Storytelling is a learned skill and it’s powerful. It’s so powerful. Masses of people can be moved by a well-written story, whether it’s true or fictional.

      Ugh. Okay, I promise not to get started.

      Not on this tired foray again, anyhow. I’m going to get started on Dear Sugars if I get started on anything.

      Thanks for the recommendation.

      Great minds think alike, so I’m certain I’ll adore it. =)

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      1. Ah, so much I wanna get into! Will have to come back to this when it’s not going on midnight and I don’t have to be up early (who signs into WP right before going to bed?). Thanks for taking the time to respond in such depth. Not everyone would do that!

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      2. So (just gonna pick this up like it hasn’t been a month) what was the Writers’ Festival like? Perhaps you’ll find yourself at another one when the timing is better. You’ve got serious writing chops, in my humble opinion.

        How you feel when you hear Shankar’s voice? That’s how I used to feel listening to Stuart McLean’s CBC radio program The Vinyl Cafe. Not science-related, just storytelling (again with the storytelling). Well, not JUST storytelling, but you know what I mean. Hearing his voice would automatically shift me into a more relaxed state. He had such a knack for weaving together the mundane and the precious elements of life with humour.

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      3. Hahaha! Oh my gosh, I meant to reply before and it slipped my mind. The writerás festival was amazing. And thank you for the compliment! Iám otherwise unemployable, so Iám fortunate to have developed a talent for writing and to have found a paying niche in the world with that skill. I went to the festival for three years. It was a juried scholarship, so everyone who was interested would submit an original piece of writing and the Clarion University English Department faculty would select three. The third year they actually selected three others but they have me a half-scholarship so that I could attend, but commute. I was very fortunate to have gone. I worked with Dan Chaon one year, Amy Bender, and then Lia Purpura the third year. Iám still embarrassed about how that third year went. But I can only say that it was the most hellish year of my life. Thatás my only explanation…I just wasnát myself.

        If youáve never been to Chautauqua Institution (or heard of it, more like…Iád be surprised if youáve been there) you can visit the website: http://chq.org/schools. The Writerás Festival (http://chq.org/season/literary-arts/writers-festival) has been going on for a long, long time. Itás just this amazing place with this amazing atmosphere. I really canát begin to describe it you just have to see (or better, experience) it for yourself.

        The professor who originally encouraged me to apply for the scholarship that first year was one of the original co-founders. Itás since changed hands, but Iám sure it will continue to be successful. The best thing about it – and they actually have an option to pay to attend everything except breakout workshops, which were kind of the whole reason to be there for me as a student but wouldnát be as necessary now – is just the community. It was there that I started to feel, for the first time, like writing might not just be a hobby.

        It would be a long time before I recognized that it might actually be a viable career for me personally, but I would never have left the Psychology department had it not been for that festival because I would have assumed that writing was just something we do for fun. To see so many people actively and seriously not just pursuing but succeeding and supporting themselves with nothing more than words was truly inspiring. It changed my life, for the better by far, because I was never meant to practice Psychology. Write about it, for sure. It absolutely has been one of the things that have made my writing as strong as it is, that amount of time spent studying it academically. But it was not the career for me and Iám thankful every day for Dr. Terman not just offering me opportunities but actively steering me. It would have been easy for him to just treat me as any other student and his job like any other job. But he recognized a real writer in me and Iám thankful every single day that he made the effort to cultivate me.

        Socially, too, finding a community – a tribe of people who thought and felt and loved as I did – was incredibly meaningful. I never quite felt understood or that I fit in until I started hanging out with people Iád met in writing classes and at the festival.

        I love it when someone gets what I say about storytelling and the power it has to change our minds and our actions. Iám pretty emotionally neutral on a lot of things but when it comes to storytelling and writing I just get really jacked up and a lot of people donát quite get it! Iám always excited when someone does.

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      4. No worries! I was referring to the fact that MY circling back to this came a month later than I had intended!

        Sounds like an incredible experience. Literally life-changing for you. Isn’t that just like life to deliver the unexpected when we’re willing and able to take a risk. I wondered about your knowledge of psychology (it’s clear that you know your stuff), and now it all makes sense. It’s wonderful that you had a mentor who steered you toward fulfilling your potential. That’s a beautiful thing!

        I took a writing workshop course in my last year of university. It was terrifying and exciting and one of the most impactful classes I had during my time there. I emailed the instructor at the end of the course to express how much I enjoyed it and how much I got out of it. He replied that he suspected I have the writing bug and encouraged me to keep working at it. I haven’t yet found my rhythm with writing, but I’ve held on to that nugget of encouragement.

        A lot of what you mention (finding a community of like-minded people and being inspired by their paths) is how I felt in my college program, Music Industry Arts. I’m not currently involved in music the way I would like to be, mind you, but for two years I was immersed in it and surrounded by people who share the same passion. It was an incredible experience – and one that could have been even better if I had been willing to open up and take risks. Nonetheless, my point is that I understand what you mean about finding a community and about getting really jacked up about storytelling. For me, music and writing light that fire and share that power to change our perspectives.

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