Nonfic: Potpourri 2

Another idea: I’m wondering if certain ideas have boundaries in our conceptual “space”. I was thinking about how our idea of “modern English alphabet” is like a mathematical set that has only 26 elements, ‘A’ … ‘Z’, and the idea of “Greek alphabet” has 24 letters, alpha to omega, and the idea of numbers likewise has distinct elements, though since there is an infinite number of numbers, maybe the idea of “numbers” contains not just things but also a process for coming up with new things (ever-larger numbers).

So, OK, an idea of there being sets of ideas is not new.  But I was intrigued by the idea that there are boundaries between ideas — that we’re not likely to get confused and think accidentally that there are 30 letters in the alphabet, … X, Y, Z, alpha, beta, gamma, delta, etc. A computer memory could make this mistake, but that doesn’t seem a mistake a human is likely to make. So somehow, we must learn a set of things along with the idea of the limits of that set?  I have an image in mind of ideas as balloons, each having its own boundary to push back against other ideas. But of course, boundaries and balloons are metaphors from physical reality — and I don’t have a sense that if I got lost in the alphabet idea I might somehow wander into some other idea. In fact, I’m now picturing each idea-set as being alone in some vast void, having no idea that there are any other ideas in existence, but somehow our mind does keep track of these things. And perhaps what we call creativity is the linking together, associating together, of these ideas in separate voids to form new ideas (each in its own void?) — to think of an alphabet as being like a math set, and then to think of that set as having boundaries like a country — that idea is new and separate?

My mind will often jump — or, a different metaphor — branch — from one idea to a next. My mind seems to work by association rather than by either brute recall (like looking something up intentionally) or by randomness. That doesn’t make my mind unique from others’, but I’m wondering about this associative tendency in light of the idea of ideas having boundaries. What is it that defines an idea in a mind? Do our ideas associate, branch out, because neurons branch out? Eh, that’s just another metaphor.

Sometimes I mean things, as when I tell a student to do something.  Sometimes I don’t, as when I’m just singing some made-up words. Sometimes, particularly in education, we tell students well-meaning things — I’m thinking here of messages about the importance of setting goals and about not bullying other people. These messages are mostly banal and noncontroversial, but do we adults really expect students to believe us when we say them?  Students have their own “crap detectors,” or as a teacher, I hope to help them develop these, so do they really even hear these banal messages? I’m not sure why these messages bother me, except that perhaps they bother me as a creative person and as a teacher of creativity. Ideas grow stale, and we grow stale when we hold onto stale ideas. Old ideas just aren’t interesting, particularly when told to us by others. Teachers often complain about students’ short attention spans, but then, it doesn’t seem we should expect students to robotically ignore their own interests — I submit that it’s what we find interesting that is the center of our minds — these are our interests, and we shouldn’t expect students to ignore their interests.

I feel I’m getting pedantic now in this post. Maybe I have too much to say from not having posted in a while. Maybe I want to say too many things. I want to say that the Hemingway article here, which I just discovered when I searched “crap detector” in the Google, seems interesting but also limited in the sense that whatever Hemingway did is particular to him and of limited value to me. Whatever we write about something or somebody else is abstract, is in essence a myth. Reading about somebody or someplace never resembles what it’s like to meet that person or be in that place, unless of course you retain the ideas from the reading when you have the experience, in which case you’re interpreting the new place through the writer’s lens  — I’m thinking here about reading the D.F.Wallace essay about the Illinois State Fair before going there myself, and then looking at the fair as he did.

I’m gonna end here. I’m sensing that my mind is heading toward a position of being critical and opinionated instead of being open and questioning. I’ll be back later.

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