Monday, January 14, 2013

Defeating the "Ooze"

I have a weird thing for a really destructive mental habit: The "Ooze." I suffered from it, and I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people in traditional schooling systems suffer from it too. Simply put, I define it as the particular state in which it feels "good" not to think, such as when a person might coast or "shut off" their mind, and then a flow of endorphins creep in, rewarding them for turning down the brain like that. When I first became an autodidact it was practically the number-one obstacle to developing my intelligence.

How does it come about? Well, I hypothesize that it's due to people being taught in school with extremely poor methods, which requires a student to expend a tremendous amount of energy, such as rote repetition for information they don't understand, and at the end of it all they see that it hasn't left an impact, so they end up viewing many class subjects as boring and garbled, especially when they ace a test and forget its contents two weeks later, which leads to them running away from intellectual subjects when they can, and being okay with it.

I compare it with doing an extremely unproductive workout regiment that doesn't inflict serious injury, but it is painful, uncomfortable, held up for years, and at worst it does not provide a single perceivable benefit. As the government mandates children get a certain number of years of education, predominantly in government educational systems, imagine a parallel metaphor where the same thing would be pushed upon students with this exercise regiment, the constant moving, shifting, sweating, discomfort, and exhaustion. They're forced to keep it up for years and years, and all the time they can see they're not getting strong, thinner, or more fit. Once they've fulfilled the requirement, obviously they'd quit at first chance. Why be surprised that they do the same with school?

I think this leads to be very unfortunate consequence of the "Ooze." The brain recognizes that the learning and thinking methods the person are employing are vastly uncomfortable and ineffective, so it rewards them for not doing them. When the person coasts the endorphins start flowing, encouraging the person to keep doing it, perhaps inducing a kind of Beavis and Butthead state.

This disturbed me when I noticed I did this while watching television. At the beginning of my self-directed studies, it was extremely hard to direct my attention. When I sat down to watch television, even educational programs, I noticed I would relax my brain in a way that made me feel really good. Some kind of pleasant gel would course in the neurons, my vision would fade to a soft blur, sounds went in and out of my consciousness, and generally you could say I totally zoned out without even daydreaming. Given my desire for a strong mind, it struck fear in me to watch a full hour of television and to see I didn't remember any of it. None of the characters, the events, the plot, the theme, the experiments . . . nothing. Letting the Ooze take over me here made me voluntarily stupid to the point that my cognitive powers were nullified. If I wanted to nurture my intelligence, then this sort of Beavis and Butthead behavior must stop!

What I did to solve the problem was merely keep myself self-aware of what was going on inside myself, and whenever a creep of endorphins starting leaking in I would immediately see it's the Ooze and quickly snap myself to, and quiz myself one what's going on. Since the Ooze happened primarily when I watched television I took to repeating the characters names in my head over and over again, so that my mind wouldn't miss or skip over it. It was actually pretty uncomfortable doing this. Truthfully, slamming on the break on the Ooze like this made me experience the mental equivalent of blue balls, and my head hurt when I refused to indulge the stupefying endorphins and so effortfully quiz myself.

However, in just a few days -- less than a week -- the Ooze was gone, permanently. My concentration improved, and, more interestingly, my mental habits changed to the point that endorphins started excreting in my brain whenever it seized upon an intellectual subject. Yeah! It started to literally feel good to think! It also started inducing great pain, very real physical pain, inside my head whenever I attempted to mentally coast like I once did, so not only did I defeat the Ooze I rendered myself incapable of going back to my old habits without experiencing pain. I remember once someone tapped into a very interesting subject which my brain greeted with great glee, and refusing to discuss it deeply -- even though they brought it up -- made my neurons writhe in pain, and I had to tune out into my own world to satisfy the thinking demands of my brain. If you can get yourself emitting endorphins in intense thinking you're in a good spot!

The unfortunate thing is that many people may be unaware victims in life of the Ooze, who dull down their cognitive powers through the feel-goodness of mental idleness, who become the stupidest among us and entirely through voluntary mean. It doesn't have to be that way. Thinking doesn't have to be a painful process, and I think it's these people's inability to fathom that any sort of thinking or learning could be pleasurable and life-enhancing that keeps them in Beavis and Butthead mode.

So how's a person to escape the Ooze when its feel-good touch is practically a siren song?

First off, you've got to assert your intellectual values. If you actually want to become intelligent at anything, whether it be fixing cars or being a full-blown scholar, you've got to be serious about your values in these realms to truly want to defeat the Ooze.

Secondly, pay great attention to the physical sensations inside your head. If you start to notice those feel-good sensations are starting to seep in when you're zoning out in class or whatever, this is the time to slam the brakes and snap to attention. Most likely there's something difficult in the situation that's encouraging you in this direction, such as a boring lecture. Exert your will to pay attention, and quiz yourself on what's going on. For me, it was really tough to keep track of character names on television; I usually ignored them. Consequently, it was really effective to concentrate super-hard on them. Keep slamming on the brakes like this every time you notice the Ooze. Most likely it's very particular things encouraging it, like learning names for me.

Eventually, even in just a scant few days or so, the Ooze will disappear, and if you lead an intellectual intensive enough lifestyle you may actually experience endorphins while thinking, which is a great help in encouraging more and more thinking.

Though a person may have to address his beliefs about the nature of learning and thinking in order to fully defeat the Ooze, for as I stated above it could very well be the case that a person will have an improper conception of what learning and thinking is, imposed on him in bad schools or ineffective traditions. For that, I'd recommend various books. Henry Hazlitt's Thinking as a Science is a great and slim book on the various facets of thinking, from concentration to being constructive while on a train. If you really want to examine your learning conceptions, consider Edwin Locke's Study Methods and Motivation to examine some particular follies which a school may have passed onto you. If you really want to get hardcore about it, check out Ayn Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, for while it is very philosophically deep it really helped me understand just how it is that I can call the knowledge in my head knowledge. All three books, together or individually, are great gateways into understanding what impractical thinking and learning methods you may have been maintaining, and to teach you better ones. To continue the gym metaphor, these books will better teach you exercises that are less uncomfortable, easier, and far more effective for developing actual fitness. I wouldn't be interested at all in learning if I hadn't examined my epistemology about it. (Seriously: That was a big emotional hang-up.)

Wherever you may be, don't let the Ooze play any role in your life, for it could cost you your entire life. There are many people I've known in life who indulged the folly of the Ooze one way or another, and rendered themselves so mentally incompetent they were incapable of achieving anything of worth in life, whether it be money or a good career. They just enjoyed the endorphins and gave up opportunity after opportunity for cultivating themselves, and paid the price.

Much of the ignorance in society may have underlying Ooze, but you don't have to be a part of it. Overcome it and see what heights you can soar to.  

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