Monday, December 30, 2013


I've never considered myself particularly smart. I have a head full of largely useless information (what's a reluctant flyer? Know about the divine proportion? Who is Исаак Озимов?) but I've never had the conventional shrewdness that knows how to make money, produce worthwhile investments that work, or purchase properties that accrue in value. In fact, as I've stated in earlier blogs, my motto is "Buy high, sell low." I'm often good at starting projects but find it difficult to finish them; my initiatives have a pretty high burn-out rate. I have never mastered the piano, learned to ride a unicycle, climbed a real mountain or learned to speak Esperanto.

My ambitions have been relatively limited: I’ve always wanted to write. Then I wanted to get read, and achieve a small measure of fame. Now, I’d like to not worry overly about money, or health, both of which in my case are shaky.  So basically, I don't think I'm dumb, far from it. I’ve come to accept (and happily so) that what I have is an often unfocused curiosity, perhaps an inquisitiveness that is simply focused on the wrong thing. I write about stuff few people want to read about and have been told more than once that I don’t see the forest for the trees.

What I find interesting seldom is, to most people. Have you ever considered, for example, the speed at which we process remembered information and segue from one thought to another? This has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. For what it's worth, according to Johns Hopkins University, the speed of one thought broaching another is around 300 milliseconds, which is how long it took a volunteer to begin to understand a pictured object. Add to that another 250 to 450 milliseconds to fully comprehend what it was. Total speed of thought: between 550 and 750 milliseconds.

More interesting, even, is how our minds (or at least mine) begin by pondering the recipe for Grandma's pineapple upside down cake and, in mere flashes of time, go through a series of steps and thoughts without our volition to end up contemplating Stalin’s politics, and whether the Beatles' Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds lyrics were drafted when John was stoned or indeed did have something to do with Julian Lennon's favorite schoolmate.

How do we do this, and why? What possible reason can be found for this aimless leapfrogging of notions, one after the either, with no apparent rhyme or logic? Practitioners of kundalini yoga would tell you that thoughts freed of intellect represent the first step towards a liberation of the being. Buddhists might echo this in their own way with the concept of ‘mindfulness’ which, if I understand it correctly (no guarantees there) is a very brief state of awareness that exists just before conceptualization. In other words, we enter this state before we focus our mind on an issue or thing, before we objectify it and segregate it from the rest of existence.

This, I think, is good. It does not necessarily lead to productive inspirations, useful notions or wisdom of any type. In fact, it may do the exact opposite by creating a small, formless universe where our brain gets a chance to rest, to have fun, to flex its neuronal muscles. Or perhaps it's just a sign that I am suffering from a pleasant form of Attention Deficit Disorder.

There's a story told, possibly apocryphal, of Albert Einstein and a lesser known physicist talking at a cocktail party. In the middle of their conversation, the physicist whips out a small notebook and scribbles a few words, then turns to the already famous scientists and says, "You really should carry a notebook as I do, Professor. I use it to note down good ideas I may have during the day." Einstein looks at his colleague sadly, shakes his head. "It wouldn't work for me," he replies,  “in my entire life I've only had one or two good ideas."

So that's it. I'm like Einstein.



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