Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Mind Over the Long Haul: My Posting Patterns

In October of 2015 I had a post at 3 Quarks Daily entitled, Have the Internets Rotted My Brain and Wrecked My Mind? I included the following figure:

WLB Blog entries

Each column represents on month’s worth of posts, starting with April 2010 and running through September 2015. Here’s what I said about it then:
It’s a very spiky pattern, with the dips happening in the winter months. Ever since I went away to college winter has been a down time for me. Am I afflicted with seasonal affective disorder? I don’t know.

Look at the recent end of that chart (to the right). There is a dip, but it’s not nearly so deep as in previous years, and the lowest three months aren’t in the winter, but in the spring and early summer. Wrong season. The pattern seems to be different.
I’ve now updated the graph to the end of last year:

WLB blog entires thru 2016

The cyclicity continues, though, if you look closely, the troughs don’t line up particularly well with winter for 2015 and 2016. The 2015 trough is in spring while the 2016 trough is roughly the first half of the year.

What’s going on? Of course, I don’t really know, other than the obvious changes in blogging productivity. I do think my mood follows my productivity, or vice versa, and that’s what’s interesting. David Hays once conjectured that melancholy (aka depression) is the price you pay for large-scale reorganization or the sort implied by creativity. “Reorganization” is a term of art from William Powers’s account of the mind. It is so deeply embedded in that theory that there is, alas, no easy gloss.

Start out by thinking of learning. When you learn, your mind is also reorganizing on a large scale. Now think of mourning as well. When you mourn the loss of someone close you have to reorganize your mind for life without them. You don’t actually learn anything, but you have to figure out how to function in those situations where you would have go to that person. It’s unlearning.

In order to be creative you must first unlearn on a large scale. That is accompanied by melancholy. That, on this view, accounts for those troughs in my intellectual output, which is mostly though not entirely through New Savanna. That creates some “slack” in the system. Once enough unlearning has taken place I can then think new thoughts and my productivity goes up. When the slack has been used up, it’s time for more unlearning.

Do I believe this? How could I? I just made it up. And it’s rather vague, too vague to support strong belief. Still, I’m attracted to the idea that something like this is going on over the long haul.

Addendum, 1.2.17: Are we dealing with reorganization on a scale where we could talk of neural plasticity?

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