Saturday, January 1, 2022

Unifying Framing, Learning, Creativity, Depression, and Narcissism

This edges closer to a grand unification of the ideas that occupy me. For newcomers, I’m insatiably curious and trying to work through insight as it errantly arrives (see the Slog's subtitle at stage left). Fitting pieces together. I’m like Columbo, only more foggy and with a slightly shabbier raincoat.

I've often noted that children learn easily and adults learn painfully. Adults obviously ought to emulate the learning style of children, and it's insane that we have, since the Victorian era, forced young people to learn in the most adult way. Hey, kids! Learn more like a grown-up! 'Cuz we do it super-badly!

I've explored the reason children learn faster/better (check out postings tagged "education"), attributing it to their uninhibited playfulness and adaptability. They haven't yet frozen into the pose of someone too distinguished to pilot a unicycle. They haven't yet decided they're the sort of person who doesn't speak French. It's all about pliancy of perspective.

I've also previously noted that I've been eleven ever since I was eleven. Looking around me at that age, I observed that teenagers appeared to have lost their minds, and grown-ups were stiff, stodgy, growly, boring, plodding ogres. Powerful but dim and blinkered, they were classic examples of strong drunks.

Most kids can't wait to advance to the next level, but I realized I'd never be more pliant, exuberant, curious, and receptive than I was at that moment, and saw no reason to level up - to graduate into some new persona, discarding my current perch. I’d found a good perch! Why unperch???

At that stage, I hadn't framed framing. I recognized, intuitively, that I had great fluidity of perspective, and that it was helpful, but I couldn't explain it all to myself (perspective on perspective arrived only a few years ago....epiphany chronicled here in this Slog). But the thing about me that seemed usefully pliant and quick and magical - and which teenagers appeared to half-lose (becoming dumb and dramatic and heavy) and which adults had lost entirely (becoming stiff and slow and dull) - was my faculty for reframing, aka shifting perspective.

I didn't clearly understand it, but I knew I needed to retain it at all costs. When I say I'm still eleven, I don't mean this weirdly tall and hairy body, and I don't mean that I chew bubblegum and play Pong all day. It's not the outward eleven year-old, it's the lithe inner perspective. The pliancy. That’s what I inarticulately meant. We are our pattern of framing; of attention-paying. We are subject, not object.

This also explains why some people (never women, oddly) mistake me for gay. The palpably light core of this grizzled 59 year old, who you’d expect to be gruffly sluggish, suggests that I'm hiding something. If gayness is a preoccupation for you, it makes sense to assume I'm that. I also get other odd projections. I'm a human Rorschach. But it's natural. I bought the ticket, so I've taken the ride. I really can't complain. It was the correct move to stay eleven, despite the drawbacks.

Grown-ups, super occupied with playing a character, congeal and lose pliancy. "Maturity"! This role-play requires obsessive upkeep, expending enormous energy (explaining why adults are so sluggish), and it's tremendously counterproductive. It's all about freezing perspective, which is what depression is. Even non-depressed grown-ups seem pretty depressed to an eleven year old. The less-depressed ones are a bit more carefree in portraying the character they've made themselves forget they’ve chosen to play. Just a bit.

At eleven, I wasn't playing a character. And while I've lightly dabbled over the years with role-playing, I never really bought in (I plied my eager/daffy Chowhound persona entirely as broad comedy). At a certain point, I dropped all pretense (and charisma with it, which led to weirdly troubling social encounters, which I used to call my "curse").

Despite the drawbacks, this "letting go" returned all my childhood energy, and I'm more eleven (i.e. pliant) than ever. I learn like an 11 year old. Long time readers surely have noticed my eager all-embracing curiosity...and this explains it. They say people don't change, yet I'm unrecognizable from previous iterations....and this explains it. I'm a moderately talented, reasonably intelligent guy who's managed to excel far beyond his potential in seven different fields....and this explains it (I'm not here to boast, I'm here to share my tricks so you can do way better than I did).

You can't learn if you're fully occupied with playing a character, with the exhaustingly self-referential perspective of starring in some movie. First, it ties up all your attention. Second, it inhibits the playful curiosity necessary for learning. And, third (this is the subtle one), learning is change, and adults are notoriously phobic of change. Why? Obsessively maintaining your role as This Person inherently means avoiding becoming Some Other Person.

Learning means changing from the type of person who doesn't speak French to a person who pretentiously trills "No no no no no!" through pursed lips. You go from someone who's bad with computers to a nerd preoccupied with his disk cache. Learning turns you into another character.

And that's not just unpleasant, it's downright existential. The highest possible stakes! We fiercely defend ourselves from losing the character we've convinced ourselves we are. I don't want to play a Francophone or computer nerd because I'm playing this guy!

That's the x-factor. That's why adults tenaciously resist change, growth, learning, and pliancy. It's not that we sadly lose some crucial cognitive faculty. It's that we inhibit it with all our might, hooking it in to our very survival instinct.

I observed here that "Creativity is the ability to generate and wisely choose among a complex set of options." That requires pliancy of perspective which allows creative people to make art. Creative people work a bit less hard to deliberately inhibit their pliancy.

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