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Neurology, cognitive psychology and self observation

My interest in neurology and cognitive psychology actually came fairly late in my experience with psychology and self development. I went into psychology half unsure what I’d like to do with my life, and half fascinated with manipulation and planning some kind of a future corporate career. While this changed slowly over time (thank Hastur!), it started with a switch to social psychology and personal development. It was only after several years that I started to get into neurology, cognitive psychology and the like. Honestly, I can’t recall what lead me there, what my main influences were. Ramachandran was one of the key ones, if I were to guess. Some of his stuff from “Phantoms in the brain” was truly phenomenal for me at that time. Then it was the standard diet of Sacks, Blakeslee, etc.

What this fairly late entry to cognitive psychology has given me, though, was a pre-developed tendency for self observation, derived from years of practice in the self-development field. This really helped me to keep a slightly dissociated attitude to a lot of my experiences and to notice a lot of small patterns, which I’d otherwise have left unnoticed.

For example, while I learnt driving as a teenager, I drove the car one time – exactly once! – during the ten years after I’ve passed my driving exam. (And no, I don’t know how I passed it either… Didn’t even get to feeding the instructor my blood to make them into my thrall or anything like that…) When, these ten or so years later, I started to recall driving once again, it was after my entry to neurology. More precisely, it was after my encounters with the body map stuff from both Ramachandran and the Blakeslees. So I was extremely privileged to be able to actually observe, bit by bit, how my body map shifted to encase the whole car, tentatively at first, then in a complete shift when I actually “felt” where the car was. While this happens to pretty much every driver out there, extremely few are aware of how their body maps shift in this role. Fewer still actually had a chance to observe their inner gears turning as the process took place.

Now obviously this is not evidence for anything. It’s not even an argument for anything. It’s just something that is a privilege to be able to experience and observe, to see the patterns shifting.

(I so very much regret I had not a smidgeon of this knowledge during my clinical death, all these years ago. As it is I have but vague and regularly re-modified memories of the experience from my early teenage years. Still something I guess, but it’d be amazing to actually try mapping the bloody thing from the inside… And no… No! Bad Igor! Put down the crowbar, this was NOT an invitation for round two – or actually three, since the original was a double occurrence as I’m told. Anyhow, bad Igor! No poison for you today!)

Ever since I noticed the changing of patterns with the bodymaps, I have been becoming keener and keener for this kind of self-observation, paying attention to patterns I would have never paid attention to before, trying to refer what I know about how the brain works to my individual experience. I’ve paid attention to it during my work (even today noticing how doing a training in English scrambled my memory in some very interesting ways, with research becoming far more available – I read about it in English, mainly, after all – and case studies from business becoming less available and harder to draw in; or how English-specific phrases which I’ve tended to use in the context of polish explanations -like attentional inertia – were actually harder to recall when I tried to recall them in English). I’ve paid attention to it in my private life. Hell, I sometimes zone out and pay attention to it during stuff like drinking alcohol, just to notice what patterns are going on. (Obviously I tend to go for other sources as well – I was delighted to finish reading Sacks’ work on migraines only to discover a couple of my long-term students had them and to be able to ask them all kinds of questions. Still have an interview planned with a colleague with aphantasia too.)

And it’s fascinating. It’s one of the better things in cognitive psychology and neurology, for me, the possibility to actually “go in” and try to “touch” these things. It’s probably why I adore stage magic so much, since illusionists tend to use so many cognitive principles. (As the Blakeslees have actually been kind to describe in detail – if you haven’t read them, I highly recommend it, the book isn’t well known and it really should be.)

That’s that, I think. Just something I wanted to share – if it’s useful for you, or you have your own examples, do share them below 🙂