I have to admit to losing my muse. There are 23 different blogs sat in the background of this site, all unfinished. I just can’t seem to close the loop, on any of the tales being told. I do my research and then let the homunculus who lives in the back of my head, kick it all about, while I fill a bucket with ideas and images from the various muses, that I uses.
But the writing is always done freehand, so to speak. A free writing technique that seems to work, despite the enumerate fingerfumbles requiring an edit, shortly after pushing the Publish Button.
My immediate problem is definitely the muse, not what to write about or even knowing enough about it, to write. Because the muse is not necessarily the subject matter, but the motivation, or the ambiance required to pursue a little – artistic (at best), creative (inevitably), insightful (hopefully), funny (occasionally) and challenging (always) – productive activity.
And it’s gone. Not far, it’s still there, but out of reach and for me it is very physical. I like being alone amongst loads of people: in a staff canteen; a posh cafe; a noisy library; perched at the periphery of something sporty; or preferrably sat in the corner of an old school, half tidy, shit pub. There’s something about the conversations, the vibrancy or lack of thereof. I like answering those questions that I inevitably get when – despite actually looking like the other curmudgeonly old shites – my behaviour appears, so out of place. One of those old shites, far sharper than the wizened drunken haze he stood in, once said “cheeky bastard is probably writing about us”. Technically he was right, albeit that I wasn’t writing about them, I was nonetheless writing with them.
Taking energy from their proximity, their relations, the long experience and glancing past the excessively expressive un-pc-ness of their obscure turns of phrase, I see the moral obligations binding one and other: I use those people to write with, as physically as any pen or paper.@complexwales
This came up, albeit not in those words, in a recent exchange with some lovely people asking about these blogs, how they are produced and the timetable for publication. As I struggled on with a straight face through a great deal of very complimentary exchanges, I started getting a bit annoyed at all the positivity. That feeling stayed with me for while and made me think about my state of mind, my own mental health. Obvious to me now, but over the past couple of months, I’ve taken a little turn for the worst.
Nothing horrible, so don’t feel sorry for me, just a shallow dip into the dark recess constantly nearby, that I call Compost Corner. Slouched in the same pants for days on end with shit films, autoplay YouTube and an overheated games console all going boom at the same time, I laud it over empty gigantic chocolate button bags and enough discarded alcohol containers to kill a thirsty camel, belching its dying breath into the Twittervoid. It’s not a pretty sight, or sound, or smell.
When the shit hits the fan…
The irony is, that right at the beginning of this pandemic, I started banging on about the real and present need to start the recovery process and plan for the psychological aftermath. I hang around with lots of Public Health people, many of whom have been banging their drum for years, trying to persuade government to properly prepare for the inevitable global pandemic. Nobody enjoys being a ‘told you so’ it’s disheartening, but the scale and longevity of the effects of a new SARS-like virus, were very well known. None of them are surprised that we are, where we are, a year later.
So I wanted to start the recovery plan: get busy making the connections; mapping out the resources at hand; and using the vast expertise we have at our disposal, to start talking to people and predicting the types and extent of post traumatic support our staff will need. It’s amazing how much pressure people can take and for how long they can take it, but you don’t have to be a sportsman to know what happens when the pressure is off.
The elation of finishing is magnificent, but it quickly slides and it can keep sliding, all the way down to rock bottom, if there’s nobody there to catch you and help you back up. It’s called recovery and is as important to sustaining high performance, as any structure or training or strength or skill.@complexwales
Unfortunately, I have more influence over organisational development on the far side of the planet than in my own community! They don’t want me near, most likely because I’m quite good in a crisis and will show them up. I’ve been very successful at parachuting into departmental war zones, but you don’t get famous for quietly making problems irrelevant. No indeed, that requires a huge fanfare and stomping out problems triumphantly with an awards ceremony; then quickly moving on, before they all resurface. That’s how to become famous at fixing shit, so I maintain a list of professional Fan Dodgers to avoid. You all know what happens to the fan, when left out in the open!
There are presently a large number of people on social media, who are clearly at the end of their tether, clinging to a stinking fan. Well done Boris! What’s more, my own personal network of health and care people, are already starting to crumble, as the hope of global vaccination shines bright, at the end of their long tunnel. People are going to need help and now, need it quickly, or we’re going to fall headlong into another crisis, when services implode as the pandemic bubble pops. Not forgetting that for healthcare; turning away from the pandemic, will involve facing the tsunami of ‘normal work’ backed up like another sort of uncomfortable tunnel.
I now have to mention Carl for helping me back up. The important things are always small and intimate and enduring, within arms reach and always bloody obvious, afterwards. But just in the right serendipitous moment, he cheered me up with a reference to Alchemy written by Rory Sutherland that led me off exploring and musing, again. I’d already watched pretty much everything Rory’s ever said on YouTube, but never read his books.
That may come as a bit of a surprise, as I have studied and worked with behaviour change for many years and I’m a practicing fan. If you’ve not read the paradigm-shifting book, based on the work of Dan and Amos, you are sorely missing out. The big message is: you have two modes of thinking; Type 1 fast and intuitive, like catching a ball; Type 2 slow and deliberate, like working out 17 x 23; and here’s a concise summary by Mark Looi.
Rory Sutherland is a marketing guru, so inherently evil and he even has the gall to talk about behavioural economics quite openly, as the field’s principal weapon for mass psychological manipulation. But the way he says it, is bloody brilliant. If you didn’t know Rory was real, I’m sure people would believe that he’s a character designed solely for John Sessions to fill his thespian boots. Sorry Rory but as that notion fell out of the forehead and on to the keyboard, I had to laugh out loud: then bought the book, in penance.
Rory has a marvellous, overblown pompous style, interspersed with base cursing and irreverently calling out shit ideas, for exactly what they are. Now that may remind some people of my own staged based rants, pomposity aside. I use my ‘inner Llanelli boy’ to add the stylistic entertainment value. Rory also uses many of the same references as me in his presentations, so not buying the book is probably some sort of envious cognitive bias about me thinking, I could do that. But listening to him again, banging on and taking the piss out of how stupid we collectively are, it felt like being back in the pub.
Politics, opinions and class warfare aside, I have a real soft spot for people who talk straight, say what they really believe to be true and do it with an entirely contagious rambunctiousness. Without doubt, free speech is the best way to enable the idiots, the bigots and the arseholes to expose themselves, but it also opens the door to a little stab of classy sarcastic irreverence, like this:
“Most powerful thing in medicine, perhaps with the exception of antibiotics, is the placebo effect. But most scientists spend their time trying to minimise it, not trying to utilise it. Making someone better through psychological means is seen as cheating. No you have to poison them, that’s how medicine works.”Rory Sutherland
The really powerful insight that Rory provides and talks about in hundreds of different ways (he’s an ad man what do you expect) is that we’re obsessed with fixing reality, when we’d often be much better off, fixing our perceptions of it. Things can exist in your head that do not exist in reality and vice versa. It was this little connection, that lit my fuse, flicked the light on and popped the viagra into my low mood.
It’s definitely not, all in my head. Thanks Carl.
Making sense of it all…
In short behavioural economics turned accepted theory for how we make decisions, on its head. The field is pretty much all about the heuristics and biases that we use all the time, to make quick decisions. This stuff is peppered all over these blogs and I’ll certainly dedicate one to the subject but for now, think of it like tricks of the trade. You’ll find absolutely loads of perception tricks and optical illusions from a quick Google, but my favourite brain bender is the fact that purple does not exist!
There are no purple photons, because blue and red are at opposite ends of the spectrum and violet is a completely different kettle of fish. Our eyes have photon detectors called cones that are sensitive to different wavelengths of light and rods that detect contrast and they all overlap. Purple is in fact a mental state created by your perception, to explain a complete absence of green. So the colour is more accurately called: nongreen. Here’s a lovely explanation from Grant Sonnex and in a similar vein, I also learned about all this for the first time, in Art class.
A school art project tasked us with making a plaque that contained some wisdom. I mounted a prism on a shield, like a coat of arms and struggled with some words to lure people up close to see the effect. My Polyglot language teacher, tried to help and we eventually settled on ‘move the eye to change the view’. A couple of ugly translations later and we opted for simplicity – movet oculum mutare visum – in tiny lettering behind the prism. The shield was royal purple and the lettering a dull green, so you had to concentrate to see it, but when a spotlight shone on the prism, the words alone, were projected onto the dark floor. Very weird, completely accidental and of course, once discovered, I exuded a nonchalant confidence from which, everybody assumed the phenomenon was indivisible from my genius.
I won, although it wasn’t a competition and yes, yes we sacrificed some ancient grammar for a little oratorical joy; but by the time a bouncing art teacher smuggly announced that “the piece is wonderfully layered” I had convinced myself it was intentional. It’s surprising how often your actions precede your conscious reasons for doing things and how solid and true, those reasons can seem.
One of the causes of this strange after the fact Type 2 Logic, is certainly a form of retrospective coherence, relying more on memory than the rest of perception. But cognitive biases aside, I also suspect that it has something to do with the myth that we have a set of 5 fixed individual senses. We have many more than 5 senses, but most importantly, they are incredibly leaky and like the cones in your eye, all overlap.
Sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, balance, direction, anticipation etc are way more integrated than the specific holes in your skin through which some stimulation arrives. Human ears are rubbish, discernment of odours pathetic, our eyes only focus on about 2% of the view and the hands, mouth and genitals are more neurologically expensive than everything else put together. This isn’t a picture of my personal homunculus, she’s female, but this is how you’d look if your body had the same proportions as their equivalent cognitive load.
We do not perceive the world around us, one sense at a time or just in our heads. We are cognitive beings and use all of us, all at the same time, but that also means it’s really easy to confuse your perception, when some of the stimuli are disrupted. So your homunculus fills in the gaps by just… making shit up.
One particularly amazing and accessible example of this is called the McGurk Effect and there are some lovely Videos about hearing being altered by sight, when the sound is unchanged. A friend, who’s been blind since birth once interrupted a crappy lecture and explained to the pontificator, that he didn’t have super powered hearing, it’s just that he’s got way more processing power available, to understand sound and touch, especially when they arrive at the same time. A colleague once diagnosed me as having some sort of haptic disorder and I’m certainly not Neuro-typical, but I think it’s more likely to be a touch of Synesthesia. Literally, I can’t think properly with empty hands. It’s likely that you too have a sensory bias, which by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with the pseudoscientific, utter astrological woo woo that is Neuro Linguistic Programing.
Before I get into the meat and potatoes of the point of all this, I need to make something abundantly clear! I’m not pretending to be a psychologist, or undermining psychiatry, or any of the myriad disciplines that come together around mental illness. There are indeed physical diseases inside the brain, horrible bugs and drugs that diminish function and there are enduring conditions that push the brain and it’s emergent mind to be at odds with one and other; let alone a mind at odds with its own reality. Deep and dangerous stuff that needs professional support with honed skills, useful tools, a lorry load of Unconditional Positive Regard, a bucket full of knowledge and an ethical obligation to take action. The last thing we need at the end of a global catastrophe, is people’s emotions subjected to coffee-shop psychobabble from enthusiastic amateurs, searching for Ids on a chaise longue.
I have had the benefit of psychological counselling to cope with the anxiety caused from several years of institutional bullying, so I know the difference between that and me rambling about fixing my crappy mood. As the title of this blog suggests (and amongst many other available interpretations) you got to shift your perspective, to see something different.
Hence banging on about your senses not just being the mechanical stimuli that pile in through your biological detectors, but also the formulation of that stimuli into a sense of the world. The set of patterns, combined with memories, concepts, recognitions, relieving knowns and scary unknowns that make up perception and produce a physical feeling of yourself in that context. That’s right, your perception creates a feeling, not just an emotion, but also a physical feeling and one that often, you can’t easily describe. Afterall what does feeling something, actually mean?
I’m doing a massive disservice to the entire history of cognitive neuroscience, but the point of me meandering around, is to reinforce it: you cannot think about your own Mental Health, as if it’s only in your head. Or at least not solely in your head, as your wellbeing includes all that stuff coming in and going around, but also all that stuff going back out to the context, in what you do about it. That made perfect sense to me and as I thought through what to do for myself, it dawned on me that this – slightly abstract way of approaching the issue of psychological recovery – might be helpful to those about to meet it, head on.
EQ PQ IQ SQ MQ
No, that’s not the name of some super evolved Pokemon. When I worked my way through Dan and Amos for the second time, it’s a tough read, I mapped it all out as I went along, on a picture that stretched across all four walls of an empty office. I have 20:20 hindsight and should have taken some pictures, before the painters got to work, unannounced! But in doing so I thought Dan had missed a trick in the categorisation of thinking types and I came up with a Type 3 and two intermediate states. It wasn’t me, it was her, kicking it all about.
There is no real Homunculus in the back of your head running your Type 1 thinking, it’s imaginary. But because it is, I can extend the imagination to assume that they’ve also got Homunculus Bluetooth and can wirelessly talk to each other, unbeknown to us, as they sit there in the back our heads. Don’t panic, I’m not completely mad yet, it’s just a metaphor, like Type 1 and Type 2 although I suspect that unlike Dan, my Nobel Prize is still in the post. If our internal cognition combines to form the emergent feeling, it’s not much of leap to suggest that when people get together there’s another collective emergent property. A Type 3 perhaps, but I choose to think of all these Types, as Intelligences.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised after all this, when I say that your intelligences all work, all at the same time and are bloody leaky. But most fascinatingly of all and where Dan and Amos were absolutely on the ball with Thinking Fast and Slow: is your intelligences all operate at different speeds!
Everywhere you go, all the time EQ is running in the background. Imagine yourself walking casually into a big room and then suddenly, you get a weird feeling.
Most people have heard of Emotional Intelligence, afterall we are Homo Sapiens, so it should come as no surprise in terms of intelligence that we have more than just the traditional IQ. Unfortunately, I can guarantee that much of what you’ve heard, is utter gobshite. EI has not got much to do with being sad or mad, very little to do with self control and nothing whatsoever to do with either suppressing your feelings or exuding continuous inane positivity. EI is all that stuff I described above: the gathering of external stimuli together with the internal experience required to create that momentary, emergent state of awareness. The whole thing, again in Dan’s terms, is Type 1 all the way up to the moment when your homunculus rings a bell in your head and you look up. This can be really disturbing when it’s exaggerated by stress and anxiety. It’s as if your homunculus escapes and goes mad. Sat on your shoulder like an invisible stress monkey, it jumps and shouts and rings the bell right in your ear, for just about bloody anything. It shatters your nerves, knackers you out and jumps on anybody who comes near. I play a game with people in team away days, to bring the naughty Homunculus to life. It has to be the opposite gender to you, adolescent, uncooperative and be completely and utterly bloody evil, with the extreme opposites of all your good points. It’s really good fun to let your friends help, as they’ll create something much more grotesque, but either way give the horrible little bugger a memorable name. Then when it shows up, sat on your shoulder, doing its thing, everyone knows what to shout, to get it back in its box #Rumplestiltskin.
Poised at the edge of the room, you’ve sensed something weird and then you stop. Your PI is making sure that you don’t inadvertently step in anything nasty.
You may already be familiar with the concept of Physical Intelligence. Have you got one of those friends who can play the piano beautifully, drink their wine and chat to you, all at the same time? I know, bloody annoying isn’t it, as they sit there looking so wonderful and effortless. It’s as if their hands and feet are doing it all by themselves, or even their homunculus is driving. There have been a few shitty articles about PI being rubbish and it’s all in your head, but the idea is an analogy. Nobody is suggesting your body works without your brain, but it’s not just your brain and that’s exactly how it feels, when you’re really bloody good at something. Ok call it a skill if you like, but that’s a pitiful underestimate of the power of a complex sequence of actions embedded deep into your bones. In sports psychology it’s called flow, or in the zone, when everything feels effortless, your ability is tightly coupled to the challenge at hand and time slows, just for you. If that’s not intelligence, I’m a Frenchman. Now there’s certainly a physical fitness component to your mental wellbeing, but it doesn’t have to be athletic or head to toe in lycra. For us ordinary humans, PI might appear when chopping onions, doing your makeup, stacking a shelf, grafting a cider apple tree, in a gentle external cephalic version, or just driving your car. When was the last time, you told your left foot to push the clutch? You lift your hand toward the gearstick and your foot’s already there. PI is next fastest, because like the left foot, it starts operating before you really notice. Your nervous system belts around your body at 250 mph based on familiar cues and you don’t have to do much, to trigger it. So your PI definitely has an element of Type 1 but when you’re not so adept, you can also concentrate and get it right with Type 2. In fact that’s how you turn an innateness into a talent, so clearly this is one of those intermediate states.
Inside the room and now fully aware of the field of play, you stand there concentrating on all the data flooding in. Your IQ slowly and deliberately loops down and around, to a bloody good guess.
Everyone is familiar with the concept of Mental Intelligence and a measure of IQ. It’s essentially a blunt instrument about processing speed in various directions. Down in and up out, it’s designed to see how quickly you can think about different things and how much thinking you can hold in your head at the same time. I was obsessed with this for a while and I’m not declaring any numbers (despite the spreadsheet) but I’ve never been able to beat my 10 year old self. None of the tests and I’ve done them all, go anywhere near the entire, creative imagination, side of thinking, so it’s just a test of working memory; not deep memory, that is different and is obsessed with smells, for some reason. Dan might even say that this is pure Type 2 in action, logical and determined. IQ is still fast but a little late to the party. The freeze, fight or flight reaction is already in gear, but you do get a brief window of opportunity to make a choice, providing the stress hasn’t taken over and you’re already under the table. Type 2 kicks in and you get to look around, take it all in & square up the feeling, with what you can now deliberately and slowly attempt to interpret. IQ is very context specific and weirdly just like PI, if you don’t keep using it, you start losing it. So as amazing as this is, thinking really hard about a difficult problem can be really fun and stimulating, but only for a while. Cognitive overload is as dangerous in a moment of risk, as it is debilitating to all your other faculties, when it becomes chronic. Everyone learns and grows just by being alive, irrespective of any particular level of IQ, but if it is high, some of that learning will be a little bit easier. BUT and that’s a big but, I know a couple of people toward the top of the scale, who can’t tie their own shoelaces without banging their head and a couple toward the bottom, whom you’d gladly spend the rest of your life with.
Stood there, you’ve scanned the room and noticed that ‘Slimeball’ is looking mad as hell. Your SI now takes over and you consider running across the room and high fiving your friends.
Not last and certainly not least, all types of primate yearn for a sense of belonging, or being a part of something bigger and understanding your place within it. It’s called Social Intelligence and the easiest way to understand SI is when it’s absent. You all know someone who doesn’t understand how to behave in a room full of people. There’s even some pretty stunning research by Robin Dunbar to suggest that the neocortex in your brain is directly proportional the number of people with whom, you can maintain a stable relationship: it tops out at about 150. The sad thing is, very few institutions take SI seriously, despite the organisation only really existing in the interactions between its people. Go on remove the people and see what the building does on its own: even Bezos had to give in. Possibly one of the most undervalued of all the intelligences despite the inordinate amount of evidence for the positive effects of a sense of belonging, being connected and having opportunities to develop relationships. If PQ is the speed of your body, SQ is like the speed of your mother. Social intelligence is slow to develop, takes a generation to change and for people pushed around from pillar to post, almost impossible. There are things that your parents could say and do in public, that would now certainly get you arrested or put on some kind of list. Despite that, a deep sense of belonging is the key to resilience, to be able to depend upon others is incredibly powerful and that’s squared, when you’re happy for other people to feel like, they can depend upon you. There are Cognitive Biases here too, like group think, so it’s important to share stories that expose it, like that of Kitty Genovese. So, I’d go a step further and suggest that SI is all about understanding your place, your value, in the eyes of others and I call it Socience. A bit of Type 1 and Type 2 and Type 3 coming in from the outside that allows you to see into the minds and empathise with the homunculus of those around you. SI is as much about the person you could be, as the one you are.
Mortified by the exuberance of your high five, you discover that Slimeball’s dog was in a hit and run. Your MI now kicks in, late as usual and files the feeling deep in your soul.
Surely, it’s now not much of a stretch to imagine that you also have a distinct rather slow, but long living sense of right and wrong, irrespective of context and especially when there’s no single obvious or intuitive answer. I believe this is a collective sense, a collective Intelligence that develops from the outside in – the Homunculus Bluetooth – an intelligence that only really exists in the space between people. Now before you think this is some kind of Buddha-like transcendence reserved for the great and the good, MI is the achilles heel of egomaniacal Leaderism! You don’t even have to teach children an ethical way of thinking, as Moral Intelligence is built into their genes. There are plenty of examples of psychological experiments on monkeys, apes, college students and normal humans that demonstrates our innate sense of fairness. So MI starts off as pretty powerful, but continues to build across your entire lifetime. Albeit that it mostly involves learning lessons just after it would have been really useful to know them. An almost reflexive intelligence, useful only to make your next really tough decision. This is the Type 3 system I felt was missing, but it doesn’t stand alone. It’s a synthesis of all the other intelligences working in chorus, in not just your head, but everyone else’s too. As an aside, if MI is the emergent property of all the other intelligences in action, it makes the idea of declaring some institutional values, look particularly bloody stupid. MI is our human ecosystem in action, as we have evolved to be much better at avoiding other people’s mistakes, than mimicking their successes, mostly using EQ and not knowing why, for 99% of the entirety of human existence. It’s why they invented religion. But the evolutionary consequence of surviving by learning from mistakes, is that we give ourselves a visceral mesocorticolimbic reward for occasionally doing the right thing, especially in the face of injustice. This is where the mind resides.
Doing the right thing…
My proposition for good mental wellbeing is the need to see, attend to and act upon, all of these components of your cognitive life. So I’m going to follow EPISM and do a little intervention for each, although I’m sure you could think of something else at every level, that would be equally restorative:
|EQ – Ask people: how are you feeling?|
|The first thing to do is engage people’s feelings, but only ask, when you really would like to know the answer. We can all do a little of this and it’s evidence based as effective, is very easy and you too get a little boost, from asking the question.|
|PQ – Take plenty of small and regular breaks.|
|Organisations are going to need lots of little places for this to happen, not just massive impersonal dining rooms. Invite someone to come for a break with you, sounds very ordinary, but throw in some cake and a quick recharge, goes a long way.|
|IQ – Talk about things that you like doing and why.|
|Some people look after their mental dexterity by stimulating the grey matter, learning a language, others meditate, but some just chill out, knocking the brain into low power mode. I talk to a Labrador called Monty, but whatever it is, do it and share why.|
|SQ – Connect two people you know, to each other.|
|An aspect of wellbeing that has taken a firm kick in the guts for everyone, over the past year. Definitely spend time to reinforce old bonds with your people, but also make new connections that create a bridge to people and places that you don’t know.|
|MQ – Be good to yourself first, then everyone else.|
|If you’ve paid attention, then you’ll already know that this step is made up of all the rest and it’s not entirely beyond the bounds of possibility to do them all in one go. And don’t be put off when it takes a couple of attempts: doing the right thing, is it’s own reward.|
Movet Oculum Mutare Visum
Well there you go, that was a long one, but it was required to restart the grey matter and give the homunculus some shit to kick. It doesn’t take a professional psychoanalyst to see the connection between my loss of muse and the resultant destructive, compensatory behaviour. So I’ll push my luck with one more thought: this way of thinking about your cognitive self is not just good for your mental health, but essential for a little Eudaimonia.
The way I’m going to get started with this, is to print out these little purple and green cards and stick them up around the place. When someone eventually asks what it’s all about, I shall start the explanation by first opening a bag of Gigantic Chocolate Buttons and then asking: how are you feeling?