Monday, September 10, 2018

Distinguishing Brilliance from Cray Cray

Just because you don't understand something doesn't mean it's crazy.

But, on the other hand, we can't endlessly rake through seeming nonsense for nuggets of unsung brilliance.

It's damnably hard to distinguish between unconventionality and dementia. "Off the rails" is a pejorative phrase, yet it also describes the fruits of great insight and creativity. Leaps like the Theory of Relativity were remarkable for their rail-lessness.

Of course, there's bad "unhinged" and good "unhinged", and vastly more of the former than the latter. But good luck distinguishing. To do so requires plunging in all the way...and who wants to plunge fully into apparent craziness?

I know a writer who's about 5% brilliant, and 95% cocoa-for-cocoa-puffs. In her case, I have taken the plunge, and come up largely - though not completely - empty-handed. But it troubles me, to the point of nausea, to outright dismiss anything she writes, because of that shiny ribbon of brilliance. She sees things I can't, and therefore she deserves slack. While my impulse is to dismiss what seems like pure whacky cray, she's earned the benefit of my doubt. So I fight my impulse.

She'd insist that everything she's written is equally truthful and useful, and that I've just failed to see the wisdom in the stranger-seeming material. Maybe, maybe not, but I can certainly relate. Slog readers inevitably tell me they love "some" of my postings. I always ask which they particular like and dislike, and, of course, it's a completely different bag for everyone. I seem astute in certain realms...which others consider froth and balderdash. A reader might love one posting, but be infuriated by another making the exact same point from a slightly different perspective. One thing's nearly unanimous: I am inconsistent, if not erratic. Sometimes smart, sometimes Cocoa Puffs. Which may be true, though, like that other writer, I'd insist, plaintively, that it's all equally truthful and useful (unlike her, though, I register the potential for self-delusion in that insistence).

So how do you distinguish illumination from dementia? Happily, there's a trick, made possible by an undocumented human feature.

You have an internal truth detector. If you come across something deeply truthful, even if you're not in a position to ascertain the truthfulness, you'll get a small jolt. A buzz. A charge. It doesn't come from your mind, which mostly seeks the strokes of confirmation bias, and rarely enjoys surprising, unfamiliar material. Rather, it's intuitive; in the body - perhaps the chest - and not in the brain. The signal is available to all of us, though we may be conditioned to ignore it (scientists and other analytical thinkers must train themselves to ignore "emotionality", and "emotion" covers a very wide terrain for such people to include all nonverbal and intuitive faculties).

Want a test? Here is (in PDF form) one of the most notoriously opaque books of Eastern wisdom ever written: "I Am That", considered a great classic. I gnawed at it for years, opening randomly and reading a page or two, rarely understanding a word. But something drew me to persist, because it kindled an undeniable buzz. I trusted that buzz, even if I didn't yet trust the material. And, over the decades, it unravelled itself, to my delight and benefit. Skip the introductory stuff and go to straight to "1. The Sense of 'I am'"...or just dip in randomly at the start of any chapter. And see if you experience that inexplicable charge. Consider it a calibration tool for your internal voltmeter!

This trick distinguishes illumination from dementia in others. How about yourself? How do you know whether you're on to something or simply chasing your tail? Simple! No form of neurosis or mental illness leaves you happy. You may feel manically geared up, and convinced you're Ms./Mr. Awesome for a moment, but that feeling has a very short expiration date. If, over time, you ain't happy - if you feel no equanimity - you ain't getting it. In that case, stop trying to pivot the world to what you want; instead, let go and let the world pivot you to what it wants.

Deliciousness is never an accident. So many parameters must align for deliciousness to happen that it can't ever occur by chance. The odds are a billion to one against. So I offer enormous slack to anyone who's ever fed me something great. I'll tolerate gaffes and failures and keep coming back like the ultimate diehard. Because I know there's no such thing as a complete fluke when it comes to deliciousness.

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