How my brain works...

Over the years I developed a visualization of how my brain works. It doesn't change the way I think or learn, or recall information, but it describes the delay I experience between hearing something and knowing it.

My mind is a large tree, and everything I know is a leaf on that tree.

When I learn new things, those new leaves are on the ground. It isn't until I pick up the leaf later, study it, decide where it does, does it go up to the proper branch, where it can see the other branches of knowledge that relate to it. Sometimes it takes years to get the leaves up in the tree, but once there they are very useful to me.

I never understood why I had that image. 

I thought once, and still sort of think, that an analogy of the tree, arborescent thinking, was responsible, and it still might be. Arborescent thinking is contrasted with the typical person using rhyzomal thinking, one idea is related to the next thing, related to the next thing, like the way strawberry plants propagate. The terms were invented by a French psychoanalyst and a French philosopher in 1980 (Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix. 1980. A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi 1987. London). They described arborescent thinking as black-and-white thinking, as though each branch had two branches coming off, a binary tree. I never thought of my thinking as binary, though my thinking largely is binary.

The advantage of this is that I can rely on my tree to guide my thinking aright. For example, when I think about how scientific method is to operate, I have a very real and distinct idea of what works to get verifiable science and all the things that won't work. I've spent a year thinking about the method, and how it can fail, and what it looks like when it works well. I went into chemistry in part because we have a very good application of scientific methods to produce provable theories. Other sciences aren't so lucky. Math is better at it than we are, and most physics, too. But we can verify what we can't see (we can't see atoms) through methods we have proven well in the past.

Then I read this tonight:

People on the [autism] spectrum often operate by internal codes of honor and behavior to maintain consistency, and this is very true of me as well. What we lack in the natural ability to intuit an appropriate response, we compensate for by building internal codes and rulesets that guide our actions almost in an automatic fashion. Operating against them becomes very, very difficult and feels like a serious violation of something: to do so can trigger significant frustration and anxiety.

David Plummer, Secrets of the Autistic Millionaire

Needless to say this hit me like a lightning bolt: he was describing how my "tree" operated! My tree was an elaborate set of rules and relationships between things I knew. I guess it's always a bit of a shock when someone describes something that you thought was yours and yours alone.

I've felt it before. When reading about the internal experience of those who have experienced emotional neglect, for example. A couple other things related to that, too. Authors describe a coat and you recognize it as yours.