I’ve always known I had trouble problem-solving. This became apparent to me as an engineering student in college. It isn’t because I don’t have the executive functioning capabilities – something I was actually worried about at the time. The reason is actually that I don’t have the right filter in my brain to know which factors are important and which aren’t – something I became consciously aware of just today, although it’s been lingering in the back rooms of my brain for a while.
It makes sense. Ask my wife to tell you who is the most frustrating person to watch a movie with. Me. I just don’t get them. Movies aren’t like life in many ways. They artificially show a series of events that are all geared toward telling that particular story. There are no unimportant scenes – if there were, they’d be cut. No, they are all converging on a final story or outcome. The problem with me is I expect certain pieces of the movie to be unimportant and I never really pick up on the ones that are important. So my conclusions are all off by the end and I’m never really able to support the conclusion I have personally come to with any hard facts – just my perception of the meaning of scenes and an incorrect ranking of their importance to the overall big picture.
As frustrating as it can be to watch a movie with me, imaging living with me:
Wife: The bread just popped out of the toaster, I think it’s ready
Me: What’s that supposed to mean!!!???!!
It also explains why I lose my mind when I write books, because I’m so caught up in managing the introduction of novel, pertinent information then sprinkling it with a dash of meaningless garbage for the sole purpose of confusing and deceiving the reader with irrelevant information until I’m ready to spring the Truth on them at the end. If they are gifted with “latent inhibition” – as most people are – they shouldn’t have a problem.
This also explains why I am again driven nearly crazy (and fascinated at the same time) when I re-read my books years later. With my terrible memory and apparent lack of latent inhibition, I am easily caught up in my own web of deception. It also explains why I think my books are so good.
I came upon the concept of reduced latent inhibition by reading an article about creativity and the highly sensitive person (HSP). The article states “throughout our daily lives we experience an influx of emotions, sensations, and sounds. If we had to consciously decide at all times what to ignore and what to pay attention to, we would quickly become overstimulated. This ability to screen things out of awareness that were previously tagged as irrelevant is called latent inhibition.”
There is a benefit to not having this trait. If you don’t know what to filter out, you are almost guaranteed to not think like anyone else. A normal person, provided 10 bits of information, will know that only item 3, 6 and 8 are relevant to a given situation. 2 people with reduced latent inhibition will not know that. One may think 1, 2 and 3 are relevant and another may consider all 10 relevant. How do you think this would affect the conclusions they draw? Normal people will converge to one or few similar conclusion while the “abnormal” ones will diverge as there are over 3.5 million possibilities just in those 10 bits alone (10!).
This is where creativity comes in. If you think of creativity as unique thoughts triggered by sometimes random associations – some of which may bring about some kind of value – it is easy to see where the link is.
Now, work in the concept of the HSP (highly sensitive person) that is hyper-aware, more attuned to the characteristics of their surroundings, i.e. more affected and aware of input such as sound, sight, feel, smell, taste. The normal person is taking in just those 10 bits of information and reaching converging, similar conclusions; the HSP will take in more – maybe 20 bits or 30 or even more. And they are not making sense of these bits of information or filtering them out with the “noise”. This causes feelings of being overwhelmed in high-stimulation, oftentimes public environments.
This weakness of inhibitory mechanisms may also be a characteristic of the schizotypal nervous system. Schizotypy is a psychological theory stating the existence of a continuum of personality characteristics and experiences that range from normal to extreme states as related to psychosis. The characteristics and experiences of someone high on this continuum are similar to the HSP: unusual experiences and interpretations of events; cognitive disorganization; introversion and flat asocial behavior; unstable mood and behavior.
I’m starting to understand myself and why I feel like “the functional lunatic”. But I’m not really sure it even matters. As I peer inside of myself honestly I see someone that would likely score high on both an HSP and schizotypy test. But then again, I’m that same person that doesn’t really know which bits of information are important and which ones aren’t, so can I even trust my own introspection?