Add to Technorati Favorites

Alter Egos - I Am Done Watching This

When clicking on an Alter Egos in the sidebar, please look above this title for video content.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Slowing Down the Years - Dead Beat Discovers the Secret of Eternal Youth

So Hofstadter's second riddle:

“Why does each new year seem to pass faster than the one before?”

Hofstadter explains: The more we live, the larger our repertoire of concepts becomes, which allows us to gobble up ever larger coherent stretches of life in single mental chunks. As we start seeing life’s patterns on higher and higher levels, the lower levels nearly vanish from our perception. This effectively means that seconds, once so salient to our baby selves, nearly vanish from sight, and then minutes go the way of seconds, and soon so do hours, and then days, and then weeks...

“Boy, this year sure went by fast!” is so tempting to say because each year is perceived in terms of chunks at a higher, grander, larger level than any year preceding it, and therefore each passing year contains fewer top-level chunks than any year preceding it, and so, psychologically, each year seems sparser than any of its predecessors. One might, somewhat facetiously, symbolize the ever-rapider passage of time by citing the famous harmonic series:
1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + 1/5 + 1/6 + 1/7 + 1/8 +...

by which I mean to suggest that one’s nth year feels subjectively n times as short as one’s first year, or n/5 times as short as one’s fifth year, and so on. Thus when one is an adult, the years seem to go by about at roughly a constant rate, because — for instance — (1/35)/(1/36) is very nearly 1. Nonetheless, according to this theory, year 70 would still shoot by twice as fast as year 35 did, and seven times as fast as year 10 did.

But the exact numerical values shown above are not what matter; I just put them in for entertainment value (who else but Hof and D.B. would throw in harmonic series for light relief?). The more central and more serious idea is simply that relentless mental chunking makes life seem to pass ever faster as one ages, and there is nothing one can do about it."

So what gives?

Chunking and analogy gives.

Your poem is built in chunks and so too are your stories and your novels, your memoirs and anything else you care to writer.

Your mind produces the words and the sequences of words, images etc through analogy.

Some sensory or abstract input triggers "prior mental categories". These categories "are quintessentially fluid entities; they adapt to a set of incoming stimuli and try to align themselves with it. The process of inexact matching between prior categories and new things being perceived (whether those “things” are physical objects or bite-size events or grand sagas) is analogy-making par excellence."

Creativity is not bestowed upon us by some airy fairy muse but by mental processes we re only now beginning to understand.

Spend some time exploring your own mapping systems. Who knows maybe you can slow down the years.

No comments: