Murmurations of thought  February 28, 2011   «  »

I admire people who blog every day, I do. But I'm not that kind of person. I'm a cogitator and a muller. Ideas float through my head with mad abandon. No, they're not having sex, that being the indelicate way to talk about idea interaction these days.

No, my thoughts are swarming like murmurations of starlings, swooping around, banking in seeming impossible ways, shifting directions, slipping through apparent cracks in space-time, looping up and down, wildly exuberant in midflight—a kind of spectacular, incomprehensible cognitive noise. Occasionally, if I pay attention long enough they coalesce into something briefly recognizable, like a lovely but evanescent cloud shape: a mythical being that's there but not quite there, appearing only for as long as my imagination can hold it.

But Nietzsche was right about the abyss, so I try not to observe them too keenly; try not to snapshot the moment and miss the kinetic beauty of their flight. I have found that I need to let my ideas drift and go their own ways, without my consciousness worrying them into oblivion.

Because this is the way that my mind works, with swarms of thought suddenly gathering, then just as suddenly disappearing into the distance, I've learned to accept random inspirations, to expect creativity to take a while, and to enjoy the inevitable empty skies. Provided enough time, the swarm will reappear and produce something that, even if it's for the briefest of moments, provides a glimpse of some exquisitely beautiful possibility.

Given the elusive, recursive nature of my thoughts, my start-stop creativity, it seems that the most effective sort of blog for me would be a palimpsest. Because the writing and overwriting would reveal the emerging swarm formations and organically highlight their actualization. (Surprise, surprise, I've been thinking about the best way to design this type of site for quite a while.) A visual and temporal palimpsest would provide the added benefit of allowing me to put information down to circle around to later to see if I still agreed with what it said, if I could still make out the shapes I thought I'd found earlier.

It's not that unusual for me to arrive at the end of writing an essay and be taken aback by my own paragraphs: "Where did that come from? Did I really start off thinking those thoughts? How did I end up here?" As if it were someone else's work, yet it's my own. What does that mean for what's been occurring in my head? Probably that the neurons were cross-connecting, the action potentials gathering like summer storm clouds.

The title of Lawrence Weschler's book about the influential Californian artist Robert Irwin captures the inspirational kineticism of this ideological flow: Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees.

Just so chance emergence: pattern potentials, embryonic possibilities.

I recently came across Dave Gray's unbook, Marks and Meaning, version zero. I love the unbook (inspired by Jay Cross) because it's a series of ideas that are in progress.

Gray's unbook is not finished in the classical sense of a published book. Sans the formality of consistent typeset pages and finished illustrations, the information can still fly freely around the realm of the possibly-related-but-possibly-not cloud. You can see the thought swarms still in flight; the individual thoughts can still move.

To me this sort of presentation seems like the best possible solution: accomplished incompleteness. Because it's the process of thinking that I find valuable: possibilities engendered by each new swarm.

And yes, I've actually provided links to Jay Cross, and Dave Gray's Marks and Meaning. They're that important.

Carla Casilli Talk to me at cmcasilli at gmail dot com.