Monday, March 9, 2009

Connections: In Flow

This capacity to make leaps between apparently unrelated ideas is the penultimate ability of our brains. The “aha” moments occur when we have brought our attention and mastery to something for a sustained period, and then in a flash, something unrelated sparks an insight. Sir Isaac Newton and the apple. In the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, breakthrough moments occur in “flow”—those periods when the mind is so engaged that time ceases. Usually, a day passes with fits and starts, and there is a sense of time passing. A day in flow stops time, or it seems mere minutes. And the moment of epiphany is like holding “infinity in the palm of your hand,/And eternity in an hour.” It could be argued that the breakthrough mind is the controlled version of the bipolar mind.

The bipolar mind is the breakthrough mind on speed. It is struck by insight overload, and experiences connections so quickly that they cannot be spoken, expressed, or explained quickly enough. The bipolar brain is trying to translate an experience of the infinite and Eternal into finite space and time—like wrestling fog into a box. Flow without control.

What are the neurological containers that focus flow but breakdown in overflow? Research there could lead to the most useful breakthrough treatments. My take on the persistence of bipolar and depression in the gene pool is simply that it is useful on a species scale, even as it can be devastating on a personal one. After all, nature is not interested in the lemmings who go over the cliff, only the ones who remain. And the ones who can totter at the very edge, and bring themselves back to tell the tale? Well, that’s what we’re here for….

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