Monday, September 28, 2015

Deactivating the Conscious Self-Monitoring Matrix

Hey, there.  It’s been a while.  Missed me?  
It feels a little stupid starting like that, but I am going to keep it because it’s the very thing I’ve been struggling with over the past few days.  Or weeks.  Or maybe the better part of my life.  
I am afraid.  I can’t put it more simply than that.  Fear is the biggest obstacle I face to getting what I want out of life.  It came into focus for me while listening to the radio, on the way to meeting some people from a previous part of my life I hadn’t been in touch with for some time.  
It was the TED Radio Hour.  That was the show I was listening to while driving.  They were doing a show about creativity.  Where does it come from?  How does it work?  Can it be encouraged and nurtured?  I listened closely.  It’s the time of program I enjoy.  
One segment focused on the work of a man named Charles Lamb.  He took creative people, specifically improvisational jazz musicians, and put them in a modified MRI machine which included a piano keyboard.  While having the musicians jam, he took scans of their brains.  He was looking to spot the portions of our brains that “light up” when we’re doing something creative.  
And Mr. Lamb did pinpoint several spots in the brains of these musicians when they were jamming with each other.  But what he found more fascinating were the portions of the brain where activity decreased.  Where, in fact, the brain went dark due to activity being suppressed.  It was in the prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain where “conscious self-monitoring” takes place.  It is the part of us that is more “us” than else where.  Where self-reflection and introspection takes place.  
It’s also where we tell ourselves to stop doing something because...  Well, sometimes just because.  
Creativity, per the hypothesis Mr. Lamb came up with, isn’t just about the sparkling activity that lights up the other parts of the brain, where new, innovative connections are being made.  It is also about suppressing the part of our brains that tell us, “Don’t do that.  It’ll never work.  I’ve not heard of anything like this before.  I don’t know if I can do this.”  
In writing, this voice is often referred to as the “inner critic.”  It’s recognized that one of the steps a writer needs to take, at least during the important step of getting started with a project, is to silence this voice telling you not to do what you’re trying to do.  
I’ve been struggling with this inner critic recently.  It is the reason I’ve not posted anything on my blog for the past few weeks.  
I’ve thought about expanding the outlook of my blog.  Writing about things I don’t normally write about.  Politics.  Social issues.  Things that could be considered more controversial.  
One topic I wrote about in my blog’s word palette, a document I open to basically jam on a topic, writing out openings, my thoughts and feelings, etc., was that of Kim Davis.  She is the county clerk in Kentucky that refused to give marriage licenses to anyone after the Supreme Court ruled that laws banning same sex marriages were unconstitutional.  She was sent to jail by the judge that ordered her to proceed with issuing licenses.  She’s been released.  Her office is issuing the licenses now that she’s been let out, even though she herself sits in her office with the door closed and the shutters drawn when they do so.  
I’m fascinated by the story and stories like it because it touches on what I see as an increasingly important trend in my country.  Not same sex marriage or even gay rights, per se.  But the shift of the majority in the United States from what it was while I was growing up to something else.  
The problem was that I could never finish a single, fifteen hundred word entry that I was comfortable with publishing.  I kept checking each of the facts I was quoting.  A good practice to be sure.   Then I’d question the take I was planning on presenting, and research that to see if I was on firm ground.  I began to wonder what was it about my point of view that anyone might want to hear, how I could make it more unique, how I could find my voice in this to make a more viable contribution to the debate.  I would counter that argument with one about how I wondered how many people even read my blog in the first place.  What difference did it really make?  Once I got to that point, there really didn’t seem to be much reason to finishing the blog entry and posting it.  If only a handful of people were even going to notice it was there...
Etc.  Etc.  Etc.  The conscious self-monitoring portion of my brain was lit up like a Christmas tree outside the largest shopping mall in American on Black Friday.  I couldn’t get anything done.  I had too many reasons not to.  
I knew what I was putting myself through as I was doing it.  I thought I only had to figure out a way through it.  It was only a matter of finding a good opening, something that I could focus on long enough to push myself past the babbling of self-criticism in my head to get a good head of steam going and get the words out.  Or a good ending.  Write the end of the piece first and keep my attention trained on it, writing out as much as I needed, like a missile weaving and dodging the anti-missile flak being sent up against it, until I hit my target.  
But it is more than a lack of focus or not having enough confidence to approach a topic.  It’s a long-standing problem.  And it’s one that I think won’t go away.  One of the notable quotes I heard in the TED Radio Hour episode I listened to was (something like) this: “Creative people don’t practice (whatever art they work at) in order to keep from making mistakes.  They practice so that they don’t mind making mistakes when they do.”  
And that’s the crux of my problem.  I always mind making mistakes.  I guess the collection of cells in my prefrontal cortex that handle conscious self-monitoring are just bigger, stronger and more robust than most people’s.  They are on the job, ready, willing and able to keep me from doing something “WRONG” and are there to record every moment when I do.  
Good for them.  
I once came up with an idea for a futuristic device that I wanted to write about.  I called it a Personality Assistant.  I was inspired by stories about people with epilepsy having their tremors cured by having implants put into the brain that gave the portion of the brain out of control a little shock.  I began to wonder if you could expand on this to help people with more basic problems and fears.  Someone who was afraid of heights, for instance, could have an implant programmed to stimulate the courage centers of the brain whenever he looked out the window of his high-rise office building.  Someone afraid of asking women out, due to a fear of rejection, could have his implant stimulate those portions of the brain related to social interaction.  Things like that.  
I’m going to be modifying my Personality Assistant.  The modification will make it simpler and more elegant I think.  It’ll have just one function.  To turn off the conscious self-monitoring matrix when I want it to.  
I hope I can write a really good story about it.  One so good that it inspires some scientist somewhere to build one, just so I can buy it.  


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