Thinking About Thinking

Little kids repeat sounds and then words. My eldest said “ba” first. Everything that began with a B was “ba.” Since bottle was ba, all food was ba. Her blanket was ba. Next she said other short-A sounds (ma, da, ta), ki(tty), and then “baby.”

This is how sounds and words and concepts get programmed in, I think. She could recognize a cat face early on, from just a few basic features, and would point and name it — because I did this sometimes or because we had real cats she interacted with?

(Don’t remember what my second kid did, lolz.)


I knew a schizophrenic once who wanted to fit in at work and seem normal. (He was on drugs, functional at this point.) So, he said he was going to “reprogram” his brain. He made lists of things to say and do, such as wearing his red shirt and saying good morning to the boss. I didn’t find this weird after thinking about it, because most of us are already “programmed” to do these things naturally, but what if you’re not? It makes sense to try to fix your responses, right? Assuming this is what’s wrong with your socialization, not saying good morning when appropriate.


Then there’s my father, with some form of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s. He has always had a habit of repeating words for fun, because he loves words and sounds. He was an English major, adored literature and poetry. Can still recite a few pomes (or lines) by heart, though he can’t recall his best friend’s name half the time or the main street outside his house. When I visit him, he usually asks me about five times in the space of an hour how the girls are doing. He tells me the same neighborhood gossip every week for months as though it had just occurred last week.

It’s like he’s deprogramming. You know how when you delete a file, it’s still there, but marked with a character in front telling the normal program not to “see” it (then when you get the recovery program it can — miracle! — find it again)? I think that’s what the Alzheimery brain is like, cells/nerves tangled up in proteins, making the cells inaccessible (or killing them).


I’ve known people who seem like “real people,” but after I interact with them for a while, I notice that they’re almost robotic. They repeat themselves — stories and jokes and phrases. They are clearly not schizophrenic, nor Alzheimeric, it’s something else, not sure what. I’m reminded of the schizophrenic and wonder if they’ve programmed themselves, too, but at a higher, more complex level. They seem to use their programmed responses in lieu of real emotions. It’s interesting, and bizarre.


But then I wonder if we are all “robot people,” just with varying amounts of data plugged in. Putting aside the fact that we all have a finite lifespan, does any one of us have an infinite degree of creative output? I don’t like to think of myself in that way, obviously. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.


7 responses to “Thinking About Thinking

  1. I think we do: have an infinite degree of creative output. In other words, given enough time without going all Alzheimereimer, and if we could break our patterns, we’d think of just about everything.

    Breaking the patterns ain’t gonna happen, tho. I’m sure if I was sent away on a spaceship with a robot doc that kept me alive and healthy for the ten thousand year trip to somewhere interesting, well, never mind. What a horrible thought. I should never have read that story.


  2. We are pack creatures, so we mimic and patternize and go with what’s comforting and familiar, establish memes that help us identify ourselves to one another. We do program ourselves and work to fit in well. When we don’t fit in, we feel out of place, and are prone to depression. Ever notice how the geniuses and extraordinarily creative types also tend to be the ones who fit in least?

    Infinite degree of creative output? Sure! That’s how human beings have “progressed”, if you call it that, from the trees to high rise condominiums and fancy cars.

    Many of us have a capacity for creative output but still manage to fit in. Kinda. I mean, right?

    I think of how I do the motions of socializing — almost seems natural. So now I wonder who else out there is just going through the social motions simply to not seem “other.”

    Don, hope the robot doc is also hot ‘n seck-say. Just sayin’.


  3. I repeat myself ALL THE TIME. Even when I know I’m doing it I can’t seem to stop myself. Perhaps it’s a comforting mechanism. I find being programmed and robotic (to the extent that I am) very safe. Routine, structure, and repetition all come down to the same thing really: predictable outcomes. Predictable outcome = feeling in control = happy. Creativity makes me happy too, but in a different way, and I have to have a certain base level of the first kind to even relax enough to be creative.


  4. Some grooves are worn deeper than others, and those are the ones to which we default.

    But trying to ground people in reality has always been futile, if you ask me. We just develop different ways of denial.

    A woman I know is making a career around “forgetting memory” and finding different ways to interact with demented people. One thing they do is show pictures and ask the demented to make up stories about the events and people in them.

    What a blessing to be relieved of the pressure of right answers. Which is one reason we like fiction.

    And an artist in residence at her program, the Duplex Planet guy, collected some of the stories and fractured recollections of older people and a fine local musician set them to music. Cherrypicking Apple Blossom Time, I think is the name of the CD. It’s pretty cool.

    Those repetitions: refrains, eh?


  5. Now that is pretty cool.


  6. Our brains as the grow develop pathways which help them become more efficient, the way a path will be beaten through the woods so that everyone who comes after doesn’t have to find their own way. I think the breaking down of those pathways is a good way of looking at dementia, and the ways it makes old people similar to babies, who also have no set pathways. Autistic people don’t seem to have the same sort of pathways as everyone else, which is why they have to learn coping strategies for social interaction, in much the way your schizophrenic did. And of course we all use pre-arranged scripts for much of our behaviour, whatever the situation. That’s why you don’t come to the office in bermudas, and why even on dress-down Friday everyone seems to be wearing a uniform. We simply couldn’t function in a highly complex society if everyone was following his impulses.

    So what I’m saying is that most of us are robot people most of the time, and there’s very little creativity around at all. When was the last time you read some writing that was truly creative? Now ask yourself why it was impossible to get through it.


  7. Been wondering the same thing myself and then decided not to worry about it. I can think myself into a stupor. It’s a special talent of mine.


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