Non-linear may explain more about our thinking than our bipolar.

by John McManamy


IT'S FUNNY how many of us feel that we do not belong on this planet. In late 2013, I came across an article posted on a site called Higher Perspective, titled: "Expert Claims That Humans DO NOT Come From Earth."    

According to this expert, humans have a difficult time adjusting to life on earth. Giving birth is a chore, we are disease-prone, the sun tends to be our enemy, and we are synced to a 25-hour day. As for walking upright and all the back pain that goes with it, it makes far more sense that we evolved on a low-gravity planet somewhere else. Our expert raises the suggestion that aliens, possibly from Alpha Centauri, may have interbred with Neanderthals and that we are the result.

If on some level, this makes perfect sense to you, have no fear - it makes sense to me, as well. I often joke about the day when aliens will kindly abduct me and return me to the planet of my birth. Trust me, the people I confide this to laugh with me, not at me. Thus, in 2010, when I found myself telling a hundred people that “we are peanut butter people stuck in a tofu world governed by Vulcans,” it was as if they had been waiting their whole lives to hear that.

Similarly, it was as if I had been waiting my whole life for their validation.

A few months after my talk, I had a run-in with a friend. A certain friend of hers was being a total jerk, and the only way I could respond without making a scene was by making a scene - I left.

Naturally, my friend thought I had overreacted - made a big deal out of nothing - and from her point of view she was absolutely right. So I tried to explain what was happening from my point of view.

Such and such happened, I began, which meant such and such was going to happen. Clear as day, right?

She didn't see how my first such and such connected to my second such and such.



A light bulb went off. How could she? I reasoned. She was thinking linearly. I do, too. I have an honors law degree and highly value the power of rational thought. But many of us also seem to operate with processing units that leapfrog logic. What we are looking at can best be thought of in terms of a spectrum that begins with linear thinking and progresses into nonlinear. Think of intuition as the gateway, one that bleeds into psychic perception, creativity - and madness. Connecting the extremes are circuitry and systems that not only make us extremely sensitive to our environment, but have us perceiving our environment as a different reality.

Very clearly, we’re living in a different world, but it is one that can easily overwhelm us. It’s as if we’re experiencing reality on a quantum level, as if we are aware of the faint rustle of every individual meson and lepton. But what we sense is what we also feel, and often we feel entirely too much.




But our environment is always going to present a challenge. Always, we are flirting with depression and madness. Always, we find ourselves bruising our noses on the social brick walls that seemingly materialize out of nowhere. Far too often, our big mistake lies in assuming that our reality matches everyone else reality.

This brings us back to my encounter with my friend, who couldn’t see how my first “such and such” related to my second “such and such.” Of course! How could she?

It's like this, I explained. You and your friend are thinking, "one-two-three-four." I'm already on "twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight." I already knew what was going to happen before she did. 

They see four. We see twenty-eight. She thinks I'm responding inappropriately to four. Really, I'm responding as she would to 28. Probably with a lot more restraint. At least I was able to mindfully observe my brain undergoing a meltdown. At least I was able to vacate the scene before I said things that I would regret.



Unfortunately - for me - I could not stop the chain reaction in my head. This was the bipolar kicking in. Once the trigger occurs, the condition takes on a life of its own. I drove off with the full knowledge that my day was ruined, that for the next several hours the agony of ten thousand hells would play out inside my skull. My only recourse was to try to endure those hours with some degree of equanimity.

I wasn't asking my friend to understand me. Only that she not judge me. In effect, we occupy two different worlds. Or, rather, we see the same world through different eyes. But the hard cold reality is that the world she occupies is the one I must conform to. For every one of me or you, there are many more of her.

Let’s go back to my talk. As part of the last session of the day, I sat with a panel that fielded questions from the audience. The very first one involved bipolar and creativity. Here, I chose to frame the issue in terms of linear vs nonlinear. I informed my audience of my indebtedness to the work of Nancy Andreasen of the University of Iowa.

Picking up from a remark from a presentation of hers that I had attended three years before, I noted that “our brains are organized in different ways that encourage us to think outside the box, and sometimes this means we don't test well doing linear tasks.”

I went on to say:

If there's a multiple choice question, sometimes all four answers look right to me. Because in a nonlinear way, I can say, oh yeh, two plus two does equal six. Because if you do it this way and this way - can't you see that?

I looked out at a sea of nodding heads. They knew from their own experience exactly what I was talking about. I went on to explain that the people in charge of asking the questions often fail to recognize the ambiguities. They think I can’t comprehend the question. My reality says they can’t see that there are way too many possibilities with the answers.

That brought us into “they see four, we see 28.” As part of my own survival strategy, I explained, instead of responding with “28,” I’ve learned to dial my answer back to six.

These were the same people who had so enthusiastically embraced my remark about being peanut butter people stuck in a tofu world governed by Vulcans. To stick with peanut butter, a linear person might move to “jelly”, then maybe to “bread” and stop right there - at four. We nonlinear types tend to go from “peanut butter” to “Elvis” to “ultimate universal harmonics” faster than a quark can spin.

Perhaps the linear types would have gotten there eventually. On second thought, who am I kidding? Here I am, stifling “ultimate universal harmonics” to accommodate their being still stuck somewhere between “jelly” and “bread.”

For our own sanity, it pays to find our own tribe of peanut butter people, fellow outliers who understand each other. But to get along in the wider world, we also need to learn to adapt to tofu. To which one of my fellow panelists added: "The question is how do you keep from being tofu - and stay peanut butter?”

It’s not always easy. Often, it involves a process of translating nonlinear thinking into linear speech. If I’m looking into questioning faces, I know I’ve missed my mark. That is my cue for joking in a self-deprecating way. "I have absolutely no idea what that means,” I might say with perfect comedic timing in the aftermath of a bewildering universal harmonics remark. The tension eases. People are perfectly happy to accept the eccentric and quirky into their lives. But they do need to see we’re trying.

Let’s be clear. We all benefit from relationships with the “linear people.” We need their insights and perspectives to grow and learn and to help keep us grounded. But we also need to recognize how stressful it is trying to fit in, trying to adapt to their strange folkways and customs. Inevitably, we are going to screw it up. That friend I was talking about? We never resolved the issue. Not long after, she became an ex-friend. Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, forty-two …

See also:
Intuition and Creativity
Madly Creative
Altered States

Revised June 29, 2016


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