Friday, May 18, 2012

Two theories about the brain

Learn Is Discrete, Not Continuous -- I figured this out when I went through my "divorce," at age 25. (We weren't actually married, but we'd lived together for so long it felt like one.) It felt like I'd learned a lot over the previous six years but few of those changes could actually take place until my life was thrown into upheaval, like they were just queued up and waiting, and then I suddenly got six years smarter all at once. I think familiar context, being in your comfort zone, makes it easy not to change. Learning happens when you get thrown out of your routines and are forced to question assumptions. This is on my mind because I just read a revision of a short story that John started a couple of years ago, and the quality of the prose is palpably richer; I think moving across the country allowed him to level up, as it were. 

Talking Makes Us More Emotional -- There's something about speech itself that allows us, or forces us, to appreciate circumstances on an emotional versus an intellectual level. There have been many times that I've known something is "sad," objectively, but felt no emotional connection to it until I tried to talk about it, and then started crying. I remember this happening once in college; I had heard that a childhood friend, someone I wasn't close to anymore, had been in a car accident and her arm was severed off. When I first heard, I was just like, "Wow, how awful." But when I told my mom about it, I got suddenly choked up; I was surprised to learn how much I cared. Talking triggers something. My friend Kevin agrees -- when his wife Katie had her pelvis crushed by a wall a couple of years ago, he maintained composure until he had to start calling family members to tell them she was in the hospital. Leaving that first message is when he finally lost it.

10 comments:

  1. A quick thought about 2: perhaps it is that talking about something, or writing about something, forces us to really register it in a way that abstract thought doesn't. I have also found, e.g., that talking about purely physics-y stuff almost inevitably makes you understand it better and reveals the points of ignorance. My mind, at least, is v. willing to fudge complexity and skim over unpleasantness until some sort of verbal discipline forces it into honesty.

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    1. Yes, that makes sense. Lately I've had some scary realizations about a lot of basic information that I haven't thought about in so long, I'm not sure I actually "know" it anymore. Like really basic science or the structure of the government, for example -- if someone asked me to explain it I'm not sure I could. Even if I could speak intelligently about much higher-level stuff.

      I also find that just by typing a poem out I understand it much better, which is part of why I put poems I like up on the blog. Typing them up makes me more cognizant of every choice in the poem, every word and comma and line break and so on.

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  2. I'm not sure if talking makes * everyone * more emotional -- sometimes I think it can help calm and clarify. It can depend on the circumstances.

    But what you're saying here still makes sense to me, generally. I relate it a little bit to what can happen psychotherapy and various addition recovery efforts -- that saying a thing out loud helps focus it and reduce the unarticulated power it has over a person.

    I also think of one of the common patterns or motifs in many mythological stories, where the "hero" figure speaks the name of the monster or demon, and that takes the monster's power away. Or the story of the little girl who points and says the obvious (the elephant in the room), that the emperor has no clothes.

    With typing poems, I find the same thing you talk about here -- for me, I think it's because the physical act of typing slows down my ear and eye and I hear and see the poem in more detail than I might if I'm just reading it. I write my poems by hand, on paper. And until a few years ago I typed them on a portable manual typewriter, which had an even more noticeable slowing-down effect.

    (You have to type more slowly on a typewriter than on a computer, because on a typewriter if you go too fast the keys jam. It's why the letters on a keyboard are in such a random arrangement -- when early typewriters were made with the letters in a more sensible order on the keyboard, typists typed so fast that the keys kept jamming. So the letters were scrambled around on purpose, to slow people down when they typed.)

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  3. "Lately I've had some scary realizations about a lot of basic information that I haven't thought about in so long . . . "

    Yes. I was a physics major and an econ major and an intern for my biology teacher in HS and I think I know all about Lactrodectus Mactans still, but I don't if I try to explain them. It's spooky how self-deluded we maintain ourselves.

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  4. There have been some really interesting psychological studies about anger. If I remember there was some experiment in which the researchers were testing the theory that if people talked about their anger or "expressed" it that it would go away but this doesn't seem to be the case. In fact expressing anger makes people more angry. Seems somewhat related or relevant to what you are saying here.

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    1. That's really interesting because in my relationships I have often gotten a lot of shit for clamming up and not talking -- but I usually feel that when I talk about my feelings, it comes out wrong and things blow up and it's just much worse than silently brooding for a while.

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  5. I tend to get hysterical rather than silently brood--either way, my experience in relationships has been that going for the walk is usually the best answer :)

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  6. Sandra, I remember reading about those studies. There's this idea that "repression" is terrible; we shouldn't try to push down bad experiences. We should hold them up, examine them from all angles, and in doing so, we will understand what happened or at least express our feelings and eventually come to some peace. In actuality, it just makes us really really sad and pissed off a second time. That's definitely been my experience. When I was younger, I wanted to talk about painful things, explain every detail, and hopefully get to the bottom of what happened. (I never did--surprising?) Now if something terrible happens, I refuse to talk about it at any length. Why give Shitty Experience #1874 more air time? If I start to think about it, I flick it away and pretend it happened to somebody else. Is that repression? If so, repression gets a really bad rap.

    Elisa, that's a really interesting observation. My daughter who has autism gets therapy and there are times when the therapists will put the therapy on hold for a couple of months, so her brain can actually process all she's learned in the context of therapy and generalize that information. I used to not believe in this idea of "leveling up," as you say, and found it really frustrating. Eventually, I got too busy to be frustrated and was really glad not to have to take her to therapy for a couple of months, whatever the reason.

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    1. It can actually happen with exercise too. Some people obsess about training or lifting weights every day or whatever but often you don't get stronger until you take a week or two off once in a while.

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