Sunday, August 14, 2011

Becoming Statues

The problem with intuition is that it's not intuitive.

What most of us call intuition is simply the outpouring of training so ingrained that it no longer requires thought to be applied. Our minds maintain vast collections of sequences of choreographed thoughts and actions. You experience stimuli. You match the stimuli with one of many recognized stimulaic patterns. You run the sequence associated with that pattern.

It's a form of compression. You take a thousand individual steps, shove them into a package and from then on, all you have to do is remember the name of the package, not all the contents. It's efficient. Imagine how inefficient it would be if you had to be continually aware of all the actions required to ride a bicycle, drive a car, or play a piano. Imagine if you had to do it to walk, talk or breathe. It'd be difficult to do anything else.

The problem with this kind of efficiency is that it's seductive and habit forming. Before you know it, you've packaged choreographies for things like perspective and points-of-view. Your response to a socio-economic statement is no different than your response to a dirty diaper. It's no longer just the formation of syllables and words that's choreographed, it's the entire discussion. Your assessment of individuals becomes a snap-judgment based on pattern recognition and application of associated, predefined responses. It's all very efficient. It's just not always very useful.

I experience this frequently when playing music. I'm good at playing whatever I hear. Over the years I've cataloged patterns that songwriters tend to follow and I can usually tell which one it is before having heard the entire song. Because of this I can learn new songs quickly. I've even accompanied singers performing songs I've never heard. It works great, until someone violates the pattern.

The biggest problem is that my catalog of patterns is so strong that the song in my head can be louder than what is actually being played. When this happens, I end up missing nuances and variations. I have to stop myself and listen to each note. By comparison to what I normally do, it feels inefficient and sluggish. However, it has it's benefits, e.g., playing the right notes.

Since I'm aware that my pattern catalog is so strong, I like to listen to and play music that I've never heard before. Music that uses alternative tunings and chord changes, music that is polyrhythmic, music that is full of surprises, music that evades pattern recognition (at least holistically). I do this quite deliberately. Were I to just roll along with my patterns, I'm quite sure that I'd become a completely unconscious musician, an animated statue.

There seems to be a strong correlation between age and pattern-takeover. We get older, we depend more and more on our catalogued sequences of responses. We become increasingly unconscious. What appears to be a memory-lapse or disorientation or deafness is nothing more than outdated pattern matching and application of the wrong sequenced response.

Pattern-takeover can occur to anyone, anywhere. You may find it in how you respond to your kids or you partner or you in-laws. You may find it in your responses to financial situations or broken appliances or traffic jams. You may find it in what you read or what you don't read. It's long-term effects are significant. However, it's easily avoided.

Where in your life have patterned responses taken over?

Happy Sunday,
Teflon

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