Tuesday, November 14, 2006

About my brain.

I lied in my last post. I was exhausted, but I didn't go to sleep; I went to the cafe and had a decaf mocha with cream. No caffeine, perhaps, but the SUGAR is making me CRAZY.

So as I was walking home, I was thinking about thinking, and thinking about thinking about thinking. Thought thinking itself thinking itself. And my mind got on the subject of how my thought has certain distinguishing characteristics in its movement.

Now, I have been irritated in the past by people talking about how they think in a "special" way that made them see things other people didn't see. Maybe I can distance myself from that by stating that I simply fall on the "N" side of the Myers-Briggs spectrum. I claim no magic powers.

There is a kind of obvious analogy of how N's think that captures the strengths and weaknesses of the style: data compression in computers. Specifically, images.

A picture requires a lot of "space" in a computer. A bitmap image (your basic, non-compressed, Windows image) has to record the color of each of the pixels inside of it individually, no shortcuts.

A compressed image, like a GIF, uses the same "space" (on the hard drive or the memory) to record the color of multiple pixels, so long as they have the same color. This saves space automatically, but GIFs can save even more if they fudge the colors a little to make even more pixels fit into the same space.

A JPEG image works a little differently--and I haven't studied the JPEG algorithm so this may be inaccurate. But I believe a JPEG not only stores the same colors of individual pixels into the same space; but it looks for patterns of strings of colors, and reuses the same space to contain any number of patterns that look similar to each other. Converting a file to a JPEG usually involves selecting a degree of compression, which means that you can tell the software how much or how little you want it to prefer its patterns or the original image's actual data. Turning up the compression can put ginormous images into a little bit of space; but those images will, depending on their complexity, wind up looking like abstract art.

Just as a computer can compensate for a lack of hard-drive space by cramming multiple pieces of data into the same space, so also our minds take shortcuts in remembering.

All minds do this; some are more vigorous than others. Those are the 'N's.

If it's one thing my brain does well, it's analogies. This is why. If it's one thing my brain does not do well, it's remembering names. This is also why. The 'N' is the archetype of the absent-minded professor.

But there's one thing an 'N' brain can do that a computer cannot. Although JPEG compression works by storing similar patterns, the patterns themselves have no actual worth, and they wind up distorting rather than clarifying the picture. Yet the 'N' receives his intellectual paycheck precisely by constantly comparing disparate bits of being. Now, if you happen to believe that being is actually analogically structured in its essence, and not just in our minds, then this opens up all kinds of possibilities.

Of course, just as I pointed out a few posts ago, drawing broad comparisons is worthless if you fail first to make all the proper distinctions. But to recognize patterns is also to recognize differences between patterns--and it is to recognize patterns in the differences in the patterns.

Being an 'N', I think, is a prerequisite on some level for being a poet, or any respectable sort of artist whose work actually communicates meaning of value. But it is not enough. I am not an artist or a poet. There is something wonderfully incarnational about good art, wherein a single work is able to embody a pattern which can--because it is a pattern--explode into a myriad of concrete meanings. I am not referring to "avant garde" abstract art, which pretends to have infinite meaning precisely by having no meaning at all--da-da art that is embarrassed at its own da-da-ness. Nor do I much respect political art, which to its credit does have meaning, but it is only one meaning; as deep as a stop sign.

But (and here is where I falter because I have to do research to find individual concrete examples--blah)... consider the multi-layered and richly symbolic works of Hieronymus Basch, or the subject-object meshing of Van Gogh, the delight and fear of nature's orderliness evident in JS Bach's music, or the oscillating faith and doubt in the cult of romanticism by John Keats.

Whew. That tuckered me out. But I guess what I am trying to say is that the true artist is "ambidextrous" in a sense--intuitive enough for creative genius and sensate enough to actually create. The philosophers and theologians of the world (aspiring and experienced alike) are, sadly, frustrated artists.

1 comment:

Matt of C G said...

There you go with your Manifold Insight again. And you doubt your worthiness to make the transition, pre-priest?