Neuroplasticity Is How You Get Your Ship Back Into Orbit

Neuroplasticity Is How You Get Your Ship Back Into Orbit


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I still don't think the iPhone is quite as good as a proper satnav.

It appears the UK is back in recession. That sucks. Time to double our hustle.

What doesn’t suck is this announcement comes on the same day as the rapid dismantling of one of the most destructive global powerbases ever assembled.

Murdoch’s lie factories manipulated war widows, stole elections, fomented racial and sexual hate, bullied some elected heads of state and allowed others to drop to their knees of their own accord.

Even shareholders heartless enough to own Newscorp shares won’t stand for this. His kids are out. And he may yet be unseated before he dies.

Both of these events occurred around the corner from each other. London is amazing like that. It’s a city that temporarily puts up awesome statues of Genghis Kahn.

I think about that as my bus rounds Marble Arch and puts me eye-level with one of history’s most violent men. Even when things are shit they can also be awesome.

Take this so-called “drought” that in the past week has resulted in constant rain, hail and now flood warnings in drought-affected areas. We have just officially had the wettest April on record and May looks to be the coldest in 100 years. Here’s a quote from one of the people inexplicably “handling this crisis”.

Trevor Bishop, head of water resources at the Environment Agency, said: “It’s going to take more than a week or two of rain to undo the effects of nearly two years of below-average rainfall.

“The recent rain is good for farmers and gardeners, and the cool temperatures ease the pressure on fish and wildlife in rivers.

“But with dry soils most of the rain will be soaked up – or, worse still, run off quickly if the surface is compacted, causing flash floods.”

The rain would not “reach down far enough to top up groundwater,” he added, “which is what we really need”.

Hey mister science man… Exactly how does the groundwater get topped up if not for heavy, consistent rainfall? Like the month of it we’ve just had. And the month of it we’re about to get. (Also if plants and fish get access to water it’s not a frikking drought, genius. It’s called ‘what water is supposed to do’.)

Apparently it’s going to take three months of very heavy rainfall to replenish supplies. Now, I’m not great at maths but we’ve just had one, it’s odds-on for another on the way… how bout seeing the aquifer half-full instead of half-empty for once?

How do you think droughts break? You just wake up one morning and the reservoirs have politely filled themselves and left an apology note? Droughts break with thunder and floods and months of torrential rain.

Stop saying this is nothing when it is something. Something good.

Yes, our democrat-ishly elected overlords are building the world’s biggest spy centre. Yes, you don’t need to be paranoid to know that we are consistently being lied to. Yes, borderline-failed states are unable to preserve their archaeological legacy.

But this is a world that can also turn up missing pages of the Book Of The Dead, where higher education is democratising and where you just might be better off than you previously thought.

Does this mean you ignore the bad in favour of the good? Hardly. But it’s amazing what you can find when you defocus your eyes like a magic eye puzzle.

And, despite what you may initially think, these discoveries can be transformative. If you’re worried about personal bias affecting your decision making, then just ask yourself the same question in French. The lack of so-called ‘depth’ of belief is a persistent criticism of chaos tech but even something as simple as context can alter the way you see the world.

Take this racy magazine study as an example:

[A recent study] asked male students to choose between two specially created sports magazines.

One had more articles, but the other featured more sports. When a participant was asked to rate a magazine, one of two magazines happened to be a special swimsuit issue, featuring beautiful women in bikinis.

When the swimsuit issue was the magazine with more articles, the guys said they valued having more articles to read and chose that one. When the bikini babes appeared in the publication with more sports, they said wider coverage was more important and chose that issue.

This, as it turns out, is a common pattern in studies of this kind, and crucially, participants are usually completely unaware that they are post-justifying their choices.

Thoughts, memories… the pictures and scenarios that play in your head. They will define your outcomes. They are actual things. Here is what Rupert Sheldrake had to say about the persistence of memory in a recent interview:

One of his arguments against physically-stored memory is that: “Memories can persist for decades, yet the nervous system is dynamic, continually changing, and so are the molecules within it.” So how could memory be stored in the brain so that it is not lost by molecular turnover? Sheldrake cites recent experiments in which cater-pillars were taught to avoid a stimulus. After undergoing two larval moults and metamorphosis within the pupæ, the resultant moths still remembered what they had learned as caterpillars.

Even if it is only temporary, your thoughts and personal beliefs can even determine whether you remain in poverty:

The poor’s resistance to measures that could improve their lot is often due to a universal truth of human nature known as “time inconsistency”, he explains. “It means something very simple. It means there are lots of decisions that you think today you’d like to implement and stick to, but which – once you get to the sticking-to part – you don’t want to stick to any more. I think most of your readers, and certainly including me, have the problem with candy. I’m very convinced that I should not have as many sweet things as I do, but then when it comes down to when I see one, I really feel like having one. There’s an inconsistency in time between your self in repose and your self in action, and that’s a permanent tension we live in all the time.” […]

The book cites one aggravating factor in time inconsistency: the disproportionately high levels of cortisol – the hormone produced by stress – which is found among the poor and impairs impulse control. […]

“If you happen to be mostly depressed about the state of your life, I don’t know whether you feel like doing impulse control. If you are like me and you see that you have a bunch of ambitions that you actually think you have a reasonable chance of realising in life, you may be very different in terms of your willingness to give up the almond croissant. But if I feel that everything I’ve hoped for never worked, then what am I restraining myself for? That’s a completely legitimate way to think. And I think that it may well be that a substantial part of the reason why the poor look as if they’re taking worse decisions is because they don’t care enough, and they don’t care enough because they really, probably rightly, see that their chances of getting somewhere very different are minimal. If you’re never going to climb up that hill towards attainment, then you might as well not try. There’s no point pushing the rock up the hill and having it roll down on you.”

Bristol. Sight of previous faulty thinking.

Lordy, does that ring true.

A couple of months after my redundancy I forgot how to get into town.

Not literally, of course. But it felt like the person who would go into town and see friends was someone entirely different and I was telepathically receiving his memories.

The idea of how to spend time with friends faded.

If I was supposed to meet them, the idea would stew in my mind all day in the house, making me so anxious that by the time mid-afternoon rolled around they may as well have asked me to fly a passenger jet.

I knew if I hung around them they’d all know how useless I was, how much of a failure. I could read it in their mind. So I’d bail. Usually via text message.

Besides discovering that I have rather a taste for solo daytime drinking, all I could do was job hunt, visit the supermarket, come home and cook. I got pretty good at cooking.

Money wasn’t even an issue. It turns out you don’t need a mortgage to take out redundancy insurance. Mine is the kind of brain that thinks of such things but struggles with personal online banking. So I was getting monthly cheques that worked out to be well above the average salary.

It felt like a gloom had settled over all my previous options. I couldn’t remember how to socialise, I couldn’t remember how to like art. Looking in the mirror I genuinely couldn’t tell if I looked nice or homeless. There were exactly two days when I couldn’t get out of bed at all and that terrified me.

So I ate and drank. A lot.

And it was the long-derided techniques of chaos magic that turned it around. My situation was grim and it was the smallest, easiest, shallowest practice that saved me.

“Fake it till you make it” can now be retired after an axiomatic career spanning three decades. It can instead be replaced with exactly the same thing, neurologically proven, tarted up and ready for apocalypse deployment: “Take advantage of your brain’s guaranteed neuroplasticity and build the reality of your choosing.”

“If you go back to the 1950s, the majority of middle-class citizens in Western countries did not regularly engage in physical exercise. It was because of scientific research that established the importance of physical exercise in promoting health and well-being that more people now engage in regular physical exercise. I think mental exercise will be regarded in a similar way 20 years from now.

“Rather than think of the brain as a static organ, or one that just degenerates with age, it’s better understood as an organ that is constantly reshaping itself, is being continuously influenced, wittingly or not, by the forces around us”[.]

Meditation, physical exercise, daily gratitude, actively seeking out the awesome in a shit world, even an arbitrarily-chosen religious cosmology… there is no difficulty here. You don’t need to somehow get these beliefs down deep. Start shallow. Take a single step. It will fix you.

Here’s a similar experience described in one of the better articles I have read in the last few months:

I walked away with my master’s degree in accounting. That’s right: I walked away from the career I was so emotionally invested in, the thing I loved to do, and into a career that’s honestly just a job for me. It’s just something I do for money, nothing more or less.

I miss teaching a lot. Every day, in fact. But the truth is I’m so much happier than I’ve ever been. Getting out of teaching and not being emotionally invested in my work has forced me to do things besides work more. I’ve learned how to cook, I’m making new friends, I’m reading more, I’m rediscovering my love of things I used to do before I was ever a teacher all over again. I do productive things on the side too, like study for my CPA license.

When it comes to finding a ready source of good bits to balance out the shit bits in your own personal magic eye puzzle, there are a few places that are consistently worth checking.

What has happened in the last fifteen years is that we have simultaneously gotten quite good at mapping the brain and developing popular science distribution channels. And fortunately it seems that the era of inquisitorial, unscientific “debunking” is coming to an end.

Remote viewing has been conclusively proven. Consciousness is either non-local or at the very least can display non-local effects. The weight of evidence supporting the reality of NDEs is now unassailable. (That article is a must-read.) There is something gratifying in watching even science -perhaps the most ungainly of methods for approaching the numinous- stumbling toward something beautiful and significant.

The UK is in a recession and some kind of bizarro drought. Yes things are shit. No one is saying you shouldn’t be concerned. But that’s still only half the story. The other half is that somewhere in the world there are people having verifiable NDEs.

To close by misquoting a song:

Do worry. Be happy.

5 Comments

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  1. 1
    Andrew B. Watt

    As a general rule I prefer “orderliness” to “chaos”, but you’ve given me a lot to think about here. On this side of the pond, the election is likely to go to the incumbent, but Congress is up in the air — a divided power likely means more of the same. We too have a drought of sorts in New England. A winter without snow has the rivers unusually low. Perhaps Gabriel rituals are in order.

    Happiness is clearly in order, because otherwise there is quite a lot to be upset by. Or as one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons has it, “my desire to remain sane is in direct conflict with my need to know what is going on.”
    Andrew B. Watt´s last blog post ..Keep a Bug List

  2. 2
    Ivy

    I think that chaos and upheaval is the NORMAL state of the world and that our recent blip of prosperity and stability (at least in the West) are an anomaly in human history driven by a level of resource depletion and third-world exploitation that will be impossible to sustain.

    It reminds me of the ongoing drought in the Southwestern US (a real drought, not your current England drought). It’s been decades of ever more severe heat and dust and decades of lessening rainfall. But interestingly, tree ring studies show that it’s the “drought” that’s normal and the recent century of slightly increased rainfall is the anomaly. This abnormally wet period coincided with the settlement of the Southwest through early American history… a population density that would have previously been, and is currently becoming, completely unsustainable. Yet with our short lifespans (and even shorter attention spans) we assume that the current is the norm.

    The ability to keep going, keep developing, keep flexible, keep POSITIVE while things look (to our limited perspective) like they are coming apart at the seams, is a critical survival skill. Magic isn’t some kind of hobby for the educated dilettante, it’s a necessary step in reprogramming our brains — and our realities — to deal with this “new” normal.

    -Venecia

  3. 3
    Lonnie

    “Meditation, physical exercise, daily gratitude, actively seeking out the awesome in a shit world, even an arbitrarily-chosen religious cosmology”

    You nailed it with that line. Neuroplasticity is a fascinating part of our brain that we are only beginning to understand. Those things you listed are among the known tools to literally and physically change your brain. I suspect that’s what hypnosis does to the brain as well. Research shows very little difference between mindfulness, meditation, and hypnosis.

    “Remote viewing has been conclusively proven. Consciousness is either non-local or at the very least can display non-local effects. The weight of evidence supporting the reality of NDEs is now unassailable.”

    I want to agree with you here. I can’t. Remote viewing is beyond doubt? Give me some links and sources. Consciousness isn’t anywhere near being defined. It’s still way too early to jump on any theory. Finally, the NDE is still very assailable,. I’m rooting for the proof to come. The skeptics are less convincing in their endless quest to suck the fun out of everything. That article does highlight a few interesting studies, but it hardly moves the topic to unassailable.

    The boys at the Daily Grail have a new project on life after death coming out soon. I believe they’re still in the fundraising portion of their quest. Check it out.

    Good post, Gordon!
    Lonnie´s last blog post ..One Simple Way You Can Make the World a Better Place

  4. 4
    Gordon

    @Lonnie why would you need to define consciousness first to observe its effects? Psychology’s been kicking around for a while now with mixed results.

    We don’t quite know how/where great white sharks breed but we know they do. Hence my measured sentence: localised/non-local. Could be either.

    And do your own damn research. :) Russel Targ for remote viewing, Pim van Lommel for NDE. Start on YouTube. Let’s see some assailing then. NDEs have the assassin’s advantage. They only need to be right once and the endogenous explanation needs rewriting.

  5. 5
    Lonnie

    @Gordon I’m a research junky. I do my own damn research :) ha! I will check out your recommendations. I agree NDE’s have the assassin’s advantage. I’m just not sure it can be proven right. It’s another mystery of consciousness.

    When I said consciousness hasn’t been defined, I should have said that there are plenty of theories on what consciousness is but nobody is even close to proving their pet is right. Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Psychology, and Psychiatry all keep digging around in the attempt to nail it down. I don’t think consciousness is just a network of biological processes (not entirely), and I don’t think it’s all non local. I just don’t know.

    However, I do play with consciousness. I think it’s fair to say anyone reading your blog does the same. It doesn’t require much to realize the dominant narratives don’t have the whole picture. It’s a fascinating field of research that’s all too dominated by the meat suit camp. That’s one reason why we likely won’t see any definite answer on consciousness soon.
    Lonnie´s last blog post ..One Simple Way You Can Make the World a Better Place

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