Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I feel scientific, oh so scientific

So I lied. Reposted from the Lab Lit forum:


I don't know that arts and science are that far apart in individual minds. It could well be that many artists would turn into scientists, and maybe vice-versa, if certain things were suppressed. I had a back injury some years ago and ended up on a subclinical tricyclic dose as a pain modality, and it wrecked my writing. The emotional perceptions weren't as acute, my language was duller & slower. So I stopped trying to write and instead did chem and system admin. All that systematizing stuff was suddenly much more interesting than it had been before. Granted, I wasn't very good at either of them, still too jumpy & qualitative (and I've forgotten most of it now). But I wonder now what would've happen if we'd upped the dose.

Not that I'm willing to experiment, now that I'm off the stuff.


That's rather freaky! But I suppose no more freaky than Oliver Sachs-eque tales of people receiving head injuries and then suddenly believing in God - or losing their faith. You really felt more scientific on drugs? I guess lithium can cause bipolar people to lose their creative spark too.


I never really thought of it that way (I feel scientific, oh so scientific...) but I certainly felt calmer, more interested in how things went together step-by-step, less distracted by the force & intensity of how things feel. For me, that intensity is tied to verbal acuity, so the usual speed & sharpness in naming things also went away. It's also tied to the ability to make swift connections between various experiences, emotional states, views of moments. I just felt slow & rather dull in those respects, on the drugs. I was also aware that the people doing real science had a swiftness with nonhuman abstractions that I don't have at all.

Mind, I was only doing undergrad science at best, so although it did get exciting and possibly even creative for me at a few points, I'm not sure I know what "feeling scientific" is. It might be more accurate to say that I was calm enough to sit still for it, unmolested enough by emotional experience, and bright enough not to be terrible at chemistry at an undergrad level. I might have made a decent mid-level career of it if those had been my normal settings, probably tied to administration or policy.

A few years ago I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and thought the groovy/systems distinction was a useful one. I was almost permanently bewildered as a kid, could not figure out how anything went start to finish or what one bit of a process had to do with another. Frequently failed to notice processes existed, even when I was in the middle of them. I just didn't think of things in terms of how they were put together. Was much too busy with the experience of little chunks. "Red. Smooth. That fabric is criminal and making me ill, how can that woman not notice? I can see the fibers in the paper, the blue line is unexpectedly hopeful." I don't think I started thinking of things in terms of systems, or of the existence of systems, until I was in my 20s. And I'm still fairly oblivious.


I just remembered the title credit sequence for The Sopranos -- it's really true to my experience. We used to drive Pennsylvania-NYC once or twice a month when I was a kid, and I don't know how many hundreds of times we made the trip, but I left for college with absolutely no idea how to get from PA to NYC. No concept of a highway system; the on- and off-ramps were mysterious to me. You're on one road, then you're on another, that's all. All I noticed along the way was the way the highway looked, the light reflected in house windows, tired siding, the giant menacing smoothness of tanks in the tank farms, store signs, cut rock along the highway, etc. The Sopranos sequence is exactly right.

The Prof:

The Sopranos sequence is indeed a work of high art. I have the episodes on DVD and I never fast-forward through it.

I think what you are describing is very accurate as far as science thinking - and so nice to have such a right-brained description of it as well. Drugs...well, if autism is a perturbation of the mind then why not a pharmacological equivalent?

Read more of this thread at Lab Lit.


Brad Hoge said...

Have you all seen Radioactive Banana? It's a blog by a women who left physics to become an artist, and she has some really good insights common to yours.

Brad Hoge said...

Oops, I left out the link. You can find Radioactive Banana here!

Amy Charles said...

whoa, very cool! I have a freaky math thing too to post when I don't have a migraine. Meantime, though, do you know any women who have geometry dreams? Seems to be standard frightening stuff for a lot of men I know, but I don't know any women who have them.