What is the anatomical basis of inspiration?

by phil on Tuesday Nov 22, 2011 8:01 AM

Terence McKenna, who is probably our most recent incarnation of Timothy Leary (or maybe he transcends Leary), had this interesting, imaginative thought about the history of Earth that mixes quantum physics, Christianity and alternative histories. It's a truly brilliant, inspired speculation. But what's interesting to me is the nature of inspired thought.

He said the idea came to him over the span of 15 seconds on a psychedelic trip he had recently.

What is a trip? Why is it that on trips, people often report these extremely profound experiences. But when people bring along a pen and paper, what they write down usually doesn't hold up later.

Or what about when we wake up from a "mind-blowing" dream. I've had dreams recently where I thought I had constructed the plot for the next Great American novel. But as I scribbled it down furiously upon waking, it seemed to lose it's magic.

Or what about when you're enraptured in a deep conversation with a friend. My friend Guru and I have often gotten into long digressions (1-2 hour long) on the phone, spanning all manner of topics including religion, evolution, history, sociology, interpersonal relations, and so on. I suggested we record our conversations one time, and after we did, the recording just didn't really sound that interesting.

I have a meta-memory of these experiences where I remember myself remembering how profound these ideas were. What is that measure of profundity? Is a willful desire for profound thought necessary to even have them? is it a numbers game (i.e. you have a hundred so-called profound thoughts, but only one is actually profound)? Where does it come from?

It seems to come from a similar part of the mind as insanity. Often, the clinically committed will ramble on with vividly constructed logic and supporting evidence, and it sounds like it's on the verge of being a profound insight. If it's related to insanity, then it sort of makes sense that ingesting psychoactive substances would induce the same effect, since psychoactive sort of make you temporarily insane.


Pablo Cruz said on November 22, 2011 8:33 AM:

...or temporarily lucid.

Bob said on November 23, 2011 12:22 AM:

Salvador Dali recommended "slumber with a key", where you held a key in your hand that would drop on a ceramic plate as soon as you fell asleep--thus waking you immediately after you had that weird awake/sleep transition. So maybe there is something there, a way of accessing the unconscious after all...


Phil Dhingra said on November 23, 2011 3:16 PM:

Good connection! Guess there's a reason they call it a "flash" of inspiration.

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