Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Manics, writers, and bloggers

Back when I was a young mother in my early thirties, still looking to "find myself" careerwise, I hauled myself down to Boston to the Johnson O'Connor Foundation, which was housed in a beautiful old brownstone on Beacon Avenue. There they gave me a rigorous two-day series of aptitude tests. These tests were like nothing I'd ever taken before; some were so esoteric and
arcane I couldn't figure out what they were testing for.

I'd always been a good student, and I was used to acing tests. But when I was given the results of these, I was told my score profile was rather strange. They felt that this explained the fact that I'd been exploring a lot of different paths but hadn't caught on with any one thing yet. And the career I was most perfectly suited for, according to the folks at Johnson-O'Connor, was--of all things--designing opera houses. I didn't quite know what to do with that information.

Mine was considered a difficult profile because I had quite a number of competing interests and aptitudes above the 90th percentile, and also some extremely low ones below the tenth. I had very few scores in-between. In particular, I scored in the 99th percentile on something they called "ideophoria," which they defined as the generation of ideas at a fast clip. I scored in the 5th percentile or so on something they called "foresight," which they described as the ability to plan, step by step, how to reach a goal. So their description of me was that I could rapidly generate ideas without a clue as to how to implement them, and as fast as I could think of solutions to a problem, I could think of reasons why those solutions wouldn't work.

Unfortunately, I could identify somewhat with this, although I still am not sure whether the tests themselves were all that valid. For example, the test for "ideaphoria" was simply to write fast on an assigned topic, to churn out the verbiage at as speedy a clip as possible. The test for "foresight" was to name as many things as you could possibly see in a certain little indeterminate squiggle. This task utterly bored me; I think I came up with three half-hearted answers and then gave up.

When I first started blogging, many long years hence, it occurred to me that that ideophoria business might have been correct after all, and it may in fact be something all bloggers share.

The other day I thought of it again when I was thumbing through the book Exuberance: the passion for life, by Kay Redfield Jamison. I had come across the following passage, comparing and contrasting the thought processes of manics and writers:

Creative and manic thinking are both distinguished by fluidity and by the capacity to combine ideas in ways that form new and original connections. Thinking in both tends to be divergent in nature, less goal-bound, and more likely to leap about or wander in a variety of directions. Diffuse, diverse, and leapfrogging ideas were first noted thousands of years ago as one of the hallmarks of manic thought. More recently, the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler observed: "The thinking of the manic is flighty. He jumps by by-paths from one subject to another...With this the ideas run along very easily...Because of the more rapid flow of ideas, and especially because of the falling-off of inhibitions, artistic activities are facilitated even though something worthwhile is produced only in very mild cases and when the patient is otherwise talented in this direction."...

Both individuals who are manic and those who are writers, when evaluated with neuropsychological tests, tend to combine ideas or images in a way that "blurs, broadens, or shifts conceptual boundaries," a type of thinking known as conceptual overinclusiveness. They vary in this from normal subjects and from patients with schizophrenia. Researchers at the University of Iowa, for example, have shown that "both writers and manics tend to sort in large groups, change dimensions while in the process of sorting, arbitrarily change starting points, or use vaguely distantly related concepts as categorizing principles." The writers are better able than the manics to maintain control over their patterns of thinking, however, and to use "controlled flights of fancy" rather than the more bizarre sorting systems used by the patients.

The second paragraph put me in mind of bloggers, who are of course writers first and foremost. Odd and unusual associations, a different way of combining ideas and images; yes, these seem to be the hallmark of bloggers. They also have a tendency to be a bit frenetic, mentally speaking. This was evident at the Pajamas Media meetup, and there were quite a few jokes tossed around about having mild touches of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), although no one mentioned mania. And, all in all, I noticed that the bloggers did seem to be a rather exuberant bunch, although there was no dancing on the tables.

A while back, Ann Althouse discussed a related phenomenon when she linked to this article on bloggers' brains by Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide:

Blogging can be a powerful promoter of creative, intuitive, and associational thinking.

To remain popular with readers, blogs must be updated frequently. This constant demand for output promotes a kind of spontaneity and 'raw thinking'--the fleeting associations and the occasional outlandish ideas--seldom found in more formal media. (Fortunately, the permanence and easily searchable nature of archived posts helps maintain some sense of decorum.) Blogging technology itself fosters this kind of spontaneity, since blogging updates can be posted with just a few clicks whenever a new thought or interesting Internet tidbit is found. Blogging is ideally suited to follow the plan for promoting creativity advocated by pioneering molecular biologist Max Delbruck. Delbruck's "Principle of Limited Sloppiness" states we should be sloppy enough so that unexpected things can happen, but not so sloppy that we can't find out that it did. Raw, spontaneous, associational thinking has also been advocated by many creativity experts, including the brilliant mathematician Henri Poincare who recommended writing without much thought at times "to awaken some association of ideas."

Hmmm---writing without much thought. I'm not sure that's the goal; it doesn't sound too desirable, does it? But the sheer volume of output necessary with blogging, the need to post very frequently, does mean that we must write--if not thoughtlessly--then quickly and unhesitatingly. In fact, I think the hallmark of bloggers is the ability to come up with a wide variety of ideas per hour (iph).

My home, my car, my purse, my countertops, my drawers--all are littered with little scraps of paper on which are written sentence fragments, notes for posts I haven't written yet. My guess is that that is true of most bloggers. The generation of ideas is probably relatively easy for them. It's finding the good ones, and fleshing them out with thoughts and well-reasoned argument, as well as doing the research that backs it all up, that's the hard part. But for bloggers, it's satisfying work.


At 3:43 PM, January 11, 2006, Blogger Sigmund, Carl and Alfred said...

There's a book in all this.

At 4:01 PM, January 11, 2006, Blogger MP Martin said...

I was supposed to be a glazier - window installer, not donut decorator - no matter how much I tried to sway the test results toward electrical engineer.

All ghis psychobabble hurts my head. I get log-jams of ideas in my head so that I can't get anything coherent out. I have plenty that I'd like to write about. But I don't have notes in my purse. I do have some .txt files with notes in my computer.

When the fatigue is too overwhelming to concentrate, I've started to say things like "there's little pieces of my sanity going in and out." Once, while I was sleep-driving the paper route, I channeled something telling me "this one should focus on his corpus collossum, and develop it further." Then, I had to look up corpus collossum, and what it does. Then there was a show that said that women are more intuitive and emotional because their corpus collossum was more developed. So maybe I should get a purse, and start putting blog notes in it.

Read The Holographic Universe. It's fantastic.

At 4:15 PM, January 11, 2006, Blogger Motor 1560 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5:01 PM, January 11, 2006, Blogger Don Radlauer said...

Neo wrote:

The second paragraph put me in mind of bloggers, who are of course writers first and foremost.

Well, the good ones are, anyway.

I too was tested at Johnson O'Connor in New York, way back when I was 18 years old. I don't remember my ideophoria score, although I don't think it was anything especially high. I was classified as what they called a "TMA" - Too Many Aptitudes. It means I can't be a happy specialist - if my job is technical, I need to do additional things like music on the side. Blogging probably fits in there somewhere as well...

At 5:33 PM, January 11, 2006, Blogger Epaminondas said...

ok neo-neo we need an opera house in Eddington, Maine ready by mid-spring.

LET'S ROCK...the cast for Mikado is ready

At 7:20 PM, January 11, 2006, Blogger Tom Grey said...

I thought Blog POSTS were supposed to be those scraps of paper!

I really admire the work you put into so many of your excellent posts (Mid-long; mini-essays).

I'm too interested in too many other flightly things most of the time.
When all is said and done, a lot more is said than done.
(thinking for saying, blogging for doing.)

How does this lead to a better world? I think your changing minds essays are among the best of 2005.

At 8:10 PM, January 11, 2006, Blogger Jamie Irons said...


You'll have to forgive a neuropsychiatrist for noticing that you wrote:

I channeled something telling me "this one should focus on his corpus collossum [sic], and develop it further." Then, I had to look up corpus collossum, and what it does...

When I think you meant corpus callosum(one s):

The arched bridge of nervous tissue that connects the two cerebral hemispheres, allowing communication between the right and left sides of the brain.

The misspelling or typo, however, is creative and suggestive in precisely the way that Neo's piece points to!

There's perhaps something colossal about the corpus callosum. It is not merely, as the Latin suggests, in some sense "callous"!



I was acquainted with Kay Redfield Jamison when she was a post-doctoral fellow, and I was a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar, at the UCLA Medical School. (She worked closely with one of my colleagues.) She was (and is) brilliant. At that time, she had not publicly revealed her own terrible struggle with bipolar disorder.

Jamie Irons

At 8:26 PM, January 11, 2006, Blogger Jamie Irons said...


By the way, in your post below on "Neocons and fear" you write hardened neo-neocon Bush-loving warmonger as though that were a bad thing!


Jamie Irons

At 9:15 PM, January 11, 2006, Blogger Syl said...

What Tom Grey said :)

My blog posts ARE my slips of paper. The research, links, all that good stuff, never gets done.

But, then, I'm not a writer. I'm more of an artist. So that corpus callosum reference actually fits me better. I'm in the midst of a right-brain left-brain battle. More blogging, less art and vice versa.

I cannot do both simultaneously.

At 11:35 PM, January 11, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

I keep all my ideas in my subconscious and lets it do all the hard work. Then I let it all out in a brainstorm post, and then I start piecing the various stuff together in a coherent whole. I find that as I write, my thinking is either on par or it starts skipping around. Only restrained by the writing itself, the need to put it into a chunk of recognizable paragraphs with an end and a beginning. It is a sort of meta-logic in which one disciplines one's thinking through writing. The hard part was thinking while learning how to think and learning how to write. That didn't go so well.

This seems to be different than those who are naturally good at math. Because while it contains some of the inherent traits of mathematicians, pure logic, it also produces a learned skill similar to intuition. Meaning after you write about something long enough, you start to automatically recognize similar phenomenon, ideas, events, and actions. Thinking turns from "logic" which is linear, to "intuition" which is parallel.

This is useful primarily for reading comprehension, but it is amazingly useful for debates and common sense reasoning.

Neo, you're probably actually better at foresight. What you might not be good at is intuition, which is spontaneous idea integration with known variables. You seem to write your posts and structure them, step by step, piece by piece, and learn it gradually over a time as you put a frame onto the structure and ideas.

the test should have used concurrent testing, by using writing for both foresight and manic idea generation. But they picked artistic geometry and then did the brainstorm bit, not exactly a good baseline.

At 12:27 AM, January 12, 2006, Blogger Steve J. said...

Odd and unusual associations, a different way of combining ideas and images; yes, these seem to be the hallmark of bloggers.

Well, YMAR anyway.

At 12:56 AM, January 12, 2006, Anonymous Van der Leun said...

Two thoughts.

On ideophoria

I see this in myself and moreover in many of the better authors I've edited over the years. I think of the process as the rapid reproduction of idea hamsters. One leads to two which leads to more and more until you've got a vast overpopulation of idea hamsters swarming about in your cage. At that point, triage is a necessity. Unless your in the manic modality. In that case, it seems perfectly normal.

On Writing Without Thought
How can I know what I think until I see what I say?

At 1:04 AM, January 12, 2006, Anonymous vanderleun said...

As Jimmy Durante used to say:

"And furddermore..."

All this blogging about blogging may well bog the blogs.

There's not a whole lot knew in the process other than the access to a channel of distribution. Reflect for but a moment on the journaling impulse that has been with mass society since the beginning of the diaspora of the ability to read and write.

The ability to distribute those thoughts and impulses widely is the only thing that has fundamentally changed.

While we could not easily do so in the past, today we see not only the millions upon millions of people all over the world who wish to write and have their writings go out and go out to the world at random, we also see the tens of thousands who can write well and are worth reading made available without the filtering of the publishing company for the first time in history.

To me, the astonishing thing at the bottom of all this is not the discovery of all those who wish to write -- a few years looking over the slushpile at a major publisher will give you that notion -- but the emergence of so many who do it well.

At 1:11 AM, January 12, 2006, Anonymous vanderleun said...

A key text in this area has to be the somewhat obscure but highly readable and persuasive

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

Web Site

At 1:24 AM, January 12, 2006, Blogger camojack said...

"My home, my car, my purse, my countertops, my drawers--all are littered with little scraps of paper on which are written sentence fragments, notes for posts I haven't written yet. My guess is that that is true of most bloggers."

I rely on my memory for the most part, and/or search engines. Besides, I have no car (just my Harley and my truck) or purse. I've only been posting about once per week, but I just posted twice in one day...I might be in trouble here.

At 1:35 AM, January 12, 2006, Anonymous jack said...

My experience in the blogosphere is that 90% or more have nothing “new” to say. They simply repackage what the 10% that does have an “original” thought into something they think is important. I fall in the 90% category. neo-neocon falls in the 10% category.

Keep up the good work. You make me want to be a better blogger!

At 1:42 AM, January 12, 2006, Blogger Judith said...

"quite a few jokes tossed around about having mild touches of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder),"

Not ADD? The description of mania sounds like ADD, and bi-polar and ADD overlap to some extent.

I make notes in unpublished blog posts.

At 1:44 AM, January 12, 2006, Blogger Judith said...

"How can I know what I think until I see what I say?"

The Myers-Briggs definition of an extrovert.

At 7:28 AM, January 12, 2006, Blogger Goesh said...

-blogs have replaced my paper note pad and fountain pen - I would sit for long periods of time, jotting thoughts, starting a story, a poem, sipping coffee, finishing some - I liked to jot and write in a cafe and had 3-4 of them that I would frequent - I always wondered if the waitress' were jealous that I had the freedom and time to sit like that in a cafe for a couple of hours, writing, observing people, thinking, but I never dared ask them, instead I would leave them a nice tip - I miss the fountain pen, I really do - There is just something about a quality fountain pen with a fine point and the flow of ink, a satisfaction this machine does not provide, yet the flow of words is so much faster with a machine.

I probably should have been a blacksmith and not what I am at present and not all that I have done, so many, many things in so many different places. There is something even more alive in hot iron, more so than the flow of ink. No test or vocational profile has ever shown that I am a secret blacksmith, a closet heater and pounder and shaper of iron, but I know it is true. I have seen it come alive and done some shaping but a few times in my life.

At 1:15 PM, January 12, 2006, Blogger Norma said...

This has been really helpful. Now when people ask why I have 6 blogs (or is it 7) I can say I have ideaphoria. I took the Network test (Zondervan) and I scored very high in Wisdom, Prophecy and Administration. Blogging is a good outlet for those "gifts."

At 1:59 PM, January 12, 2006, Anonymous triticale said...

I have myself worked as a blacksmith, and would love to return to it under different circumstances. The one time I took one of those career selection tests, the result was that I should be a priest or minister - and I was a devout agnostic at the time.

I've noticed that bloggers who display their Meyer Briggs tend to be INTPs. I don't know if this says anything about bloggers, or if displaying ones score is an INTP thing, like the way Pisces tend not to believe in astrology.

At 5:38 PM, January 12, 2006, Blogger Wacky Hermit said...

My biggest roadblock to being a blogger is that I think of all sorts of insightful ways to say all my wonderful original ideas, but I do it while I'm in the middle of driving, or changing a diaper, or cooking dinner. By the time I can get to a computer (or even find a pen) to write them down, my brain is completely blank. So I end up blogging about my kids and my life instead, which makes my blog incredibly boring and totally uninsightful.

At 1:52 AM, January 16, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Logic and philosophy allows one to generate and maintain ideas, by attaching them to real life events, such as changing the diapers and family. This allows the ability to allow one's subconscious to think up an idea, and then to have the conscious mind form connections in order to remember the idea and to form it into a more substantial shape.

Then all it would need to further encapsulate the idea is to write it down. To temper it upon the anvil of concept.

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