Sunday, June 19, 2022

Hyperviscosity and Bathtub Philosophy [complex neural dynamics, really]

This was originally published 11.30.12, but I'm bumping it to the top of the queue because I'm thinking about the general idea of the fluid mind. Here's a working paper, From Associative Nets to the Fluid Mind,
A couple of mornings ago I had a good idea while lounging in the tub. A good idea, but not a great or surprising idea. Good’s enough.

As I explained a year or so ago, I do a lot of thinking while lounging in the tub in the morning—or, for that matter, at other times of the day, on occasion. So this was not at all unusual. Still, I thought I’d post a brief note to the blog, you know, just to note the cognitive utility of hanging out in the tub. ‘Cause tending to one’s mind is important, but a rather obscure and tricky business.

Alas, I forgot to do so. And I forget just now which good idea I had that day, though I have a sense that I did act on it. Anyhow, it happened again today. So I made a point of writing a note this time.

Today’s insight is simple, that I could, and perhaps even should and will, talk about manga and anime at the end of my next, and I hope penultimate post, on pluralism. Working title for the post: Facing up to Relativism: Pluralist Axiology.

A mouthful, that: “axiology.” It’s basically a cover term for ethics and aesthetics. What’s a pluralist got to say about the fact that different peoples have different Life Ways?

Negotiation, that’s what. Latour talks about it in “Exploring Common Worlds” in Politics of Nature. While I had no specific itinerary in mind when I set out on this venture into OOO-land, I certainly didn’t expect to find myself with an occasion to talk about cartoons. But now...

* * * * *

Enough. This is about the bathtub, not about a post I’m going to write sometime in the next several days (I hope).
What is it about bathtub lounging that’s so congenial to meandering thought, to reverie? And why’s such thought useful?

It’s certainly not about working out details, about dotting i’s and crossing t’s. That requires sustained attention. Bathtub thinking seems to allow things to float to the surface and there wander around and mingle together.

I like to think of the mind as fluid, and has having many different viscosities at once. Call it hyperviscosity. Some things move very slowly, like chilled molasses, only slower. Other things move rapidly, like gas in a flame. But, in the mind, these things are all going on at once and consciousness, well, it attends sometimes to the fast things, sometimes to the slow things, and sometimes to the glacial things.

It’s not just that, in the tub, you really don’t have anything else to do; it’s not just the open time. It’s also the warm water. That’s important. It doesn’t have any effect on the brain’s temperature, of course, as that’s regulated to be body temperature, but the relaxation does have an effect on the overall state of the mind.

Tub thinking seems to affect the dynamics of hyperviscosity. The different viscosities tend to segment into different layers. Tub thinking gets the layers to interact with one another.

I’m thinking that some very slow things move just a bit faster and creep up a layer or three. Some of the fastest things dissipate and get out of the way. Other slow down, even way down, and sing. Thus there’s a gentle turnover in the depths and surfaces of the mind.

Hyperviscosity, of course, is just a metaphor.

Just a metaphor.

Nothing to it.


  1. walking (longer distances) does something similar to me, mingling the streams... hyperviscosity is a very nice metaphor ;)

  2. And, yes, I've used walking for that purpose as well. Though not on such a regular basis. I'd expect any serious thinker has some such routine.