Friday, January 18, 2013

One Amazing Pigmy

The brain is a neural network. It works by establishing connections between cells with varying degrees of connectedness then sending electro-chemical pulses through it.

The brain is continually tweaking these connections and it uses sleep to make adjustments. During sleep, what you learned during waking hours is contextualized and adjusted to fit everything you already know. All this happens below the level of conscious thought.

When you cudgel your brain into solving a problem it is a conscious effort that puts all the facts into your mind.  In this you load up the brain with all the puzzle pieces that the subconscious uses to solve your problem. And the subconscious will continue working after you've nodded off to sleep.

When I write a story, I have to think of how I'm going to get from where I am to the next point. It can be as easy as putting Mycroft Holmes on horseback with a couple sepoys and sending him into the countryside of Kashmir. Or it can be as tough as figuring out how a bunch of boffins can miss the solution our young adult protagonist finds at the climax of your story.

One of my favorite grand masters of the golden age of Science Fiction was A. E. Van Vogt. He spoke of how he went about engaging his brain to write:
"I took the family alarm clock and went into the spare bedroom that night, and set it for an hour and a half. And thereafter, when I was working on a story, I would waken myself every hour and a half, through the night--force myself to wake up, think of the story, try to solve it, and even as I was thinking about it I would fall back asleep. And in the morning, there would be a solution, for that particular story problem. Now, that's penetrating the subconscious, in my opinion. It's penetrating it in a way that I don't think they'll be able to do any better, thirty centuries from now."
What Van Vogt did in his spare bedroom was to alternate between conscious and unconscious thought every 90 minutes or so directed toward the goal of solving the story problems of his work in progress. I think this approach will work with any kind of problem solving, but I particularly want to use it on one of my future writing projects.

A. E. Van Vogt was characterized by Damon Knight as a pigmy at a giant's keyboard. If this is so, then he was one amazing pigmy.

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