I’m a so-so reader. I tend to be easily distracted (I’m about to get much better though, as neuroscientists are closely examining the reading brain). One of the things I discovered early in my learning life was that often, when my mind would wander while I was reading for pleasure or studying written material, if I paused and went back over the material, invariably I would find either a critical word I did not know the definition of, or I would find one that I thought I knew the definition of, but really didn’t. Because I didn’t actually know the definition of that critical word, the brain circuits I was using for my reading could no longer express energy easily. They now had to work much harder to try and make sense of something that didn’t because I’d skipped over or misunderstood a critical word. And, as Neuroenergetic Theory would predict, other, fresh neural pathways would begin firing, mindlessly taking me away from the material I was trying to focus on. This vulnerability of the brain to be easily distracted is massively multiplied by digital technology, in case you haven’t noticed.
With this blog post, however, I’m going to make things easy for you. I’m going to give you the words AND the definitions. And… I’m not only going to use the words in a sentence so you won’t have to, I’m going to use them in whole paragraphs. Or two! So, with that bit of explanation behind us (assuming you’ve come back here after following the above link to Neuroenergetic Theory), on to the 5 Fun and Profitable Words That Neuroscience Has Taught Me.
Word 1. Confabulation (\kən-ˌfa-byə-ˈlā-shən\) – Confabulation is the brain’s built in propensity for making shit up. We all do it, especially if we’re three or four years old. Or if we’re 30 or 40. Or 60 or 80. Or if we’re running for political office. It’s a verbal strategy to handle stress.
Here’s the formal definition: “The production of fabricated, distorted or misinterpreted memories about oneself or the world, without the conscious intention to deceive.“
But it’s not just confined to specific, occasional memories. We all confabulate all the time. Dreams are essentially confabulations. Random neurons project images onto our Dream Screen and our brain goes to work to construct as coherent a narrative as it can, which often isn’t very coherent. At least by waking life standards. In her book, My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor gives a great description of her confabulating brain being reborn and slowly coming back online at this link. David Dunning of The Dunning-Kruger Effect fame, sums up confabulation well in this piece for Pacific Standard magazine: “We Are All Confident Idiots.”
Word 2. Kenosis (\kə-ˈnō-səs) – I first encountered the word kenosis in M. Scott Peck’s poor stepchild book, The Different Drum. That book was his attempt to bring community-making and peace to the world. Perhaps if, like The Road Less Traveled, he’d sold 10 million copies, the world would be there by now. Since we’re not, might our failure with kenosis be the cause? Probably not.
Anyway, here’s the formal definition: “The ‘self-emptying’ of one’s own will and becoming entirely receptive to divine will.” Many of the people who blow themselves up in the world’s marketplaces and who cut people’s heads off in a public display of disaffection truly believe that divine will is their director. Of course, most know little about classical conditioning and propagandist indoctrination and have insufficient neural network capacity to process complex things much differently (which we’ll take up with the next word).
How I personally experience and practice kenosis is by chilling, by relaxing my body, focusing on my breathing, and donning “Don’t Know Mind.” I mostly use it as a form of effective adrenal management. When my thoughts (mostly), or the world directly around me (although too much of the world “directly” around me these days too often emerges from my computer screen) is flooding my system with adrenal-generated stress hormones, that’s the time for me to practice … kenosis.
Word 3. Nescience (\ˈne-sh(ē-)ən(t)s) – One morning 20 years ago, McArthur Wheeler walked into the Fidelity Savings Bank in Brighton Heights, Pennsylvania and held it up. A few hours later he held up the Mellon Bank in Swissvale, PA. Mr. Wheeler, who was 5’ 6” tall and weighed 270 pounds, wore no discernable disguise in either bank robbery. To his great surprise, he was apprehended by police before the day was out.
What surprised McArthur Wheeler is that he actually thought he was well-disguised and would never be caught. Why? Because he’d covered his face with lemon juice, which he knew prevented surveillance cameras from being able to take his picture. Oops! Turns out McArthur Wheeler didn’t know what he didn’t know.
Another name for not knowing what we don’t know is nescience. Here’s the formal definition: An absence of knowledge or awareness. Nescience is similar to ignorance, which is a simple lack of knowledge. When you’re ignorant, you know the knowledge exists, and you also know that you don’t know it. McArthur Wheeler didn’t know that the knowledge that lemon juice doesn’t turn you invisible to cameras was actually out there. He was nescient.
Word 4. Neoteny (\nē-ˈä-tə-nē\) – Neoteny is the retention, by adults in a species, of traits previously seen only in juveniles, and is studied by developmental biologists. As you might suspect neoteny can have a dark side and a light side. The dark side most often shows up in Jungian terms as a puella aeterna or puer aeternus – the eternal girl or boy who never grows into full man or womanhood. Think Peter Pan for puer and Princess Pan for puella.
The light side is probably best exemplified in the transpersonal directive to become as little children and enter the kingdom of heaven. Which essentially is inviting me to get over all my adamantly-held judgments and opinions about everything. You know … kenosis.
Word 5. Neophilic (\nē-ə-ˈfi-lik\) – Neophilic refers to a love of change and all things new. Healthy human brains love novelty. Here are five qualities that generally apply to neophiles:
- The ability to adapt rapidly to extreme change.
- A distaste of tradition, repetition, and routine.
- A tendency to become bored quickly with old things.
- A desire, bordering on obsession in some cases, to experience novelty.
- A corresponding and related desire to create novelty by creating or achieving something and/or by stirring social or other forms of unrest.
The opposite of neophiles are neophobes – those of us who fear change. Where do you fall on the spectrum? Regardless of where you fall, might you still enjoy this week’s Enchanted Loom review of V. S. Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain? If so, click HERE.