I’ve just added a link in our page, the Psychology of Philosophy, to an interesting article in the NY Times from 2009. I’ve thought back to it a lot over the last year and finally realized it might be worth sharing. The ideas below come largely from that article.
Have you ever found yourself in a rut, performing in some routine way that is not really advancing anything? Or, if you do manage to get words to paper in finishing your thesis or your essays, the results are mechanical, uninspired, boring? Or perhaps you find yourself in one kind of social situation – say an APA interview – and suddenly you realize you are adopting the role prescribed at your mother’s tea parties, where you sat demurely and laughed at the adults’ jokes. OMIGOD!
Well, been there, done that. And could not understand why. But one thing I love about cognitive science is that it can give one explanations of one’s own very puzzling behavior that are better than any one has had before. And here’s one way of thinking of what’s going on in both of the sort of cases described above. Effective creativity, whether writing philosophy or responding to new situations, requires a trust of one’s own instinctive sensibility. You do not get it just by following rules. Stress, however, in effect communicates danger to one’s nervous system, and it’s as though the brain says “There’s danger! Now is definitely not the time to try out new things. Stick with the old routines.” So you find yourself repeating routine things such as summarizing articles, which looks terrible in your thesis. Even worse, you find your adviser’s stock phrases showing up in your work. Or if you do manage actually to say something that could be unexpected, you freeze with embarrassment, thus conveying the idea that your social skills are close to zero.
The alternatives are obvious: either get rid of the stress or get effective routine that will see you through the interview (aka: practive the interviews!!).
Getting rid of the stress? Well, what do you think?