Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On Latent Inhibition

Later in the day yesterday, after having written that post about the permeability of my boundaries, I was reading again from Lenswork Magazine's compendium of the writings of Bill Jay. And I found this startling piece:

"Psychologists from Harvard University and the University of Toronto have ... found that the brains of creative people are more open to incoming stimuli from the environment -- things that other people's brains might screen out. This screening process, called "latent inhibition," discards stimuli that are deemed irrelevant to immediate needs. Creative people have much less latent inhibition and continue to mull over the stimuli."

This inability to screen out irrelevant stimuli is often associated with psychosis; apparently the key to transforming it into creativity, according to an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is the ability to "intelligently and carefully choose and edit" the images of the world -- something photographers do on a daily basis.

Wow. It's like a lightbulb went on in my head: I'm NOT crazy -- although, it seems, I'm inclined to skate a bit close to craziness, almost by definition. And I was right -- the very aspect of my being that I find most challenging -- that sort of porousness that makes me vulnerable to everything from horror movies to the moods of my children -- is also what feeds my creativity. And that careful control I exert over my environment -- not watching those movies, or reading the newspaper, or listening to NPR for hours on end the way my husband does -- is my own way of choosing and editing... and essential to my sanity.

This may also explained why I was so intrigued by the porous nature of the materials used for the statuary at Vizcaya: it is because I, too, am porous. And like this lovely creature who lives at the head of that barge pictured in yesterday's post, I find it all to easy to become weighed down by the cares of the world. I suspect that explains also why it is that meditation has become so important to me. By consciously choosing to sit at the edge, at the boundary of me and not-me, and watch the tide of being flow in and out, I improve my ability to sort out what will be allowed in and what will be ruthlessly blocked.

And I can see now that my quest for compassion -- and my unfortunate tendency to judge and exclude -- is all part of a lifelong attempt to protect that permeability, and that what I am attempting to overcome is in fact an important defense system that at some point must have gone into overdrive, and must now be carefully reined in. Like so many gifts in life, there is a curse and a blessing in this particular aspect of my being; meditation helps me to strike a balance between the two.

So curious!


Maureen said...

Don't you just love the explanations for creativity? And the people who have the luxury to pursue a study like this one? Fascinating.

Patti Digh's 37days blog (pattidigh.com) featured a piece yesterday on "hugging meditation". I think we should all practice that form.

Unknown said...

Diane, your words and image remind me of a conversation I had long ago with a colleague on the merits of developing "a thick skin." We came to agree that the holy people of God are often asked not to wear impenetrable thick skins, but rather those porous as you describe. Your meditation also reminds me of Job, "in my flesh (skin) I shall see God"...the suffering of the porousness and the creativity and life that comes out of it. Blessings and thank you! Stacey