Posts Tagged ‘Mind’

From the Editor’s Perch

August 9, 2013
Naked Editor Floating in Isolation Tank

Naked Editor Floating in Isolation Tank

Your Editor Becomes a ‘Psychonaut’

Both my son and wife, and a couple friends thought this was nuts, but there’s a couple things I’ve wanted to try out.  One is wearing a Ghillie suit.

Ghillie suit.  Isn't it cool!

Ghillie suit. Isn’t it cool!

The other is trying an isolation tank.  So when the wife and son left for Ohio this week, I got my chance to visit the float/sensory deprivation chamber experience outlet in the Greenlake area.    Their website says, “overcome: stress” “conquer: fear” “achieve: theta state”.  I wasn’t looking to accomplish any of these.  But, hey!  They all seem like good things.

What concerned me most going into this was first, whether I could get back out.  I wanted to be sure this ‘isolation tank’ had an internal latch.  My second worry was whether I’d be slipping into some greasy slurry formerly inhabited by lots of other sweaty, hairy, poorly bathed isolationists.  My third worry was if I’d have to do this naked?  A fourth worry was that if I fell asleep, would I drown?

Well, “Float Seattle”, is a new, modern, well designed facility.  The tanks are flushed after each use and the Epsom salt plus Bromine in water solution is filtered and then reused.  The door has no latch.  And everyone gets a private, fairly spacious room with a shower.  The ‘tank’ was tall enough to stand up in and had a blue interior light which could be turned on and off.  They give you earplugs to dampen any conducted sound and also to keep the solution out.  And a slightly synthetic Jamaican/African bongo/percussion beat, which comes and goes and starts softly, reminds you when your time is up.  Yeah, and you immerse naked.

Judging from the half dozen, or more, customers which I saw, Float Seattle attracts fairly attractive, younger to middle aged introverted sorts who ‘dwell in their body’ more than others.  Not the extroverted competitive types nor the hairy wilderness trekkers, but more the urban yoga types who watch their diets and  weight and are proud of their posture and flexibility.  I stuck out a bit as I was much taller, much older, had a paunch, and am about as flexible as a rusted gate – though I am introverted.

I’d imagined the tank solution coming up to my knees, but in fact it was only around 10 inches deep.  The temperature is controlled so that you neither sweat nor chill while immersed, which for my temperament makes it a little warm for inducing sleep.  The most interesting part of my time in the tank was the experience of buoyancy.   The solution makes you so buoyant that you needn’t a headrest; your head floats naturally and comfortably.  And you needn’t fight to stay afloat.  The feeling is of lying on a soft slippery neoprene surface (or ‘hand’) which ‘lifts’, exerting the same pressure everywhere.  We all know the ‘feel’ of water when we are being the active force.  But when the water holds us up – ‘pushes back’ – the feel is quite different, very slick, very alien.  It feels like 100 percent humidity with the body fluids pushing in instead of leaking out.  It was a very odd feeling, but enjoyable.  And my one regret is that I didn’t spend more time trying different postures and playing in the solution.

Instead I rested entirely motionless.  I wanted to find out if an absolute lack of sensory information would tend me towards psychosis or even nudge me a couple psychocentimeters towards an internal chaos.  Nope.  Instead, the only mental sensation I had which I seemed pretty sure of was boredom.  My thoughts did not race.  Repressed emotions and past memories did not overwhelm me.  In fact, I found it very tedious to think at all.  If I had indeed achieved a theta state and was truly ‘inhabiting’ my body, then mentally it felt a lot like waiting in my car.

And here I can’t say if my reaction is normal, or if my particular nature is so off the charts as to completely invalidate the experience.  But frankly, being in my body is not something I particularly relish.  And probably many others do.  I generally think of my body as I think of my car.  I want my body to take me where I want to go, be reliable, be low maintenance, and not embarrass me in front of others.  But I enjoy ‘being in my body’ about as much as I would enjoy sitting in my car.  This isn’t a cry for help, or to say I would rather like someone to help me “shuffle off this mortal coil”.  But what I really enjoy doing is to ‘think’.

My big take away from this experience was a little insight into how my mind works.  In the tank, rather than having a mind brimming with competing ideas, I had just the opposite: no ideas.  No thought at all came to me, though some interior consciousness was there monitoring the whole situation.  But to think took a lot of effort and I had to figure out how to do it, as if I had been cast adrift on some deserted island.  Finally I lowered a memory  bucket in an effort to find something to think about.  Nothing came of that.  So I mentally clicked down a list of my relations and brought up one of them to consider.  But that’s all I got: an image of them which went no further.  Nothing I dredged up had any life to it.  Nothing further was generated.  No further thought came of it.  And pulling the information up was an effort.

Frankly, I’ve had a much better experience lying on my back on the bed while waiting to fall asleep with the bedroom fan blowing over me.  Thoughts of the day come and go.  An idea flares up.  A great elaboration of this idea begins, and then is put aside by another entering notion.  And I fall off to sleep.

I had always thought of the mind as a very generative thing, in a Jungian way, with all sorts of metaphors and symbols and narratives and stories struggling to reach the surface to become expressed as things and light – as if the world were a re-creation of our minds.  But as it appears, the mind is more aptly described as a little silent, smoothly running machine which produces no thoughts at all – until it is fed.  It seems that the mind is more like a little machine which works on the information of the world which we bring to it, churning out the emotions, thoughts and expressions we’re perhaps too apt to believe we generated ourselves.

So perhaps this old adage of ‘finding oneself’ needs to be replaced by a newer adage of ‘using oneself’.

I’d always thought the expression “it makes you think” quite presumptive – as if to say that I’d had no thoughts at all until someone’s particular point of view was pressed on me.  But now, I wonder.  If we want to know what we think, or to become productive and successful at what we do, or to even find out what we do – isn’t it best to feed ourselves experiences rather than to take it on faith that some answer to our questions will miraculously appear to us from within a sealed room?  I mean, I just tried this – if only for an hour.

Photo of Ghillie suit from Google Images

From the Editor’s Perch

May 20, 2013
Am I not speaking English?

Am I not speaking English?

Why You May Not Be Understood

“…actors learn sooner than most of us that in the genre known as real life, you have to present yourself, or play the part, if you want to be understood.”

  – David Thompson, the New Republic

Have you ever had someone say, “I can’t understand you.” and thought indignantly, ‘Well, if I were paying as little attention to what I am saying as you are – I would probably have trouble understanding whatever it is I am saying, myself!’

There is much more to be understood than being clear.  And there is much more to being interesting than being insightful.  And I can’t think of when I have been more struck by an observation, that by the one above, made recently by a movie critic, quite in passing.

The ramifications of the quote above are boggling, really, if you are anything like me, and have struggled with this difficulty your entire life.  What it seems to be saying, besides being like a trail marker pointing in innumerable fascinating directions, is that in order for people to understand you, you must have a personae or be in some manner group-identifiable.  That is, it’s not that you might be difficult to understand, in as much as you are difficult to ‘locate’.  In other words, there is much more to be understood than being clear.  And there is much more to being interesting than being insightful.  (Yes!  This is worth repeating.) To be understood, you must be locate-able in a meshwork of other understandings the object of your conversation possesses.

We all have experienced the all too common human habit to pigeonhole, which I suppose would be the corollary to the above observation.  We often hesitate to fully speak our minds, utter certain words, or even speak a small portion of our minds out of fear of being ‘pigeonholed’.  That is, being tossed into a group with whom we feel little in common or share little sympathy, merely because we both have made the same gaffe.  Forever after we fear (probably correctly) that, whoever it is has heard the gaffe will lump us either with this or that group, no matter.

Probably nowhere is the truth of the above critic’s observation more apparent than when trying to explain something to a teenager.  If you are a person of great estimation to the teenager, or are an important figure in a group of some estimation to a teenager, then whatever you say has a good chance of being warmly embraced as the God’s Truth whether it is absolute gibberish, or came spinning hot off old Beelzebub’s tongue.  However, if you are either a person or grouped with persons who the teenage has very little interest in being associated with (e.g. parents) then you will be hard pressed to convince them even that 1 plus 1 equals 2.  Let alone that speeding causes accidents; or that studying is a good way to prepare for exams, or that if they don’t get too bed on time at night, then in the morning they’ll be tired.

I imagine that the human mind, must deal with rather complex notions in much the same manner my computer handles my digitalized photos.  Each photo carries within its bit-package metadata, which explain just what it is and where it is located.  Without the metadata, my computer cannot ‘find’ my photograph.  And if my computer cannot locate my photograph, then it cannot realize my photograph.  This must be something like how the human mind works.  A person cannot realize your thought, until they can locate it.

So what happens to thoughts that are neither group attachable, or come without personae to their metadata?  Do they drift about until the common wisdom catches up with them?  I would guess this is very much the case.  As an example I would suggest the case of Einstein’s friend, the Mathematician Kurt Godel, who is considered “with Aristotle and Frege as one of the most significant logicians in human history.” – Wikipedia

Godel described himself as “anti-charismatic”.    Though quite accomplished, he was a figure of little influence among the early circle of thinkers he frequented in old Vienna.  Though he voiced much of what would later make him famous, little note was taken of it at the time – even among the very people vitally concerned and asking the very questions (over and over) he was softly voicing the answers to.

Photo pulled from Google Images

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