Sunday, March 21, 2010

On Thinking Like A Scientist (Well, Me)

Been thinking a lot about how we think and brain structures/types lately. Not going into details why, but the more simplistic of the reasons is that ADHD, something I've lived with my entire life, is a fascinating disorder. The spectrum it exists on is facsinating as well: Asperger's/ASD, manic-depressive, OCD. It's rare to sit at purely one of those endmembers.

I'm no medical doctor or psychologist, so I have no qualifications upon which to make a diagnosis, but I can certainly find the correlations between what I've found in literature and my brain. Better yet is that my observations are inherently contaminated because I'm making the fundamental mistake of observing myself. It's funny how that works.

In my case, though, whatever particular point of the spectrum I occupy has proven to be advantageous. I've had the luck of good, solid parenting in which I can root my morals, values, and behaviors. The first two are obvious; the third is not. I've never been able to entirely unconsciously assimilate acceptable social behaviors. There are an array that I've had to consciously learn, some by trial and error. Means that in some ways I've become a good actor. In other ways, it's gone from consciously responding in what's deemed an acceptable way (and avoiding other things like smiling at inappropriate times, which is something I've caught myself doing as an apparent standard emotional response where it's NOT recommended), to it becoming second nature because I've done it so much.

Anyway, I'm veering a bit. Back to the advantageous bit. I can argue that "disorder" is a misnomer for my brain's setup. It may have been at one time, but I've learned how to function in tandem with it in such a way that I can turn my tendencies into helpful behaviors. Some behaviors that I naturally want to engage in I know not to. One is busting into a room with voice at full volume, announcing what may or may not be a triviality. I save that for when it's really needed, sort of like the time we thought NHB was on fire (a bio student on the 3rd floor managed to mix ethanol, a Bunsen burner, and his lab manual), but other times, I consciously remind myself to suppress. That's one extreme.

The other extreme is the ability to hyperfocus. That comes naturally when I find myself doing something I find highly engaging. I don't take my luck for granted, especially when it's good, and I've certainly been lucky to find my subject of choice. Had no idea what I wanted to do, even coming into college, and thought I did shortly after. Found geology by chance partway through my junior year, and my mom was supporting enough to let me do an extra year in my undergrad to let me get my degree in geology instead of my previous major, which I'd been starting to flounder a bit in because I couldn't find research (no interested faculty), and as a result no real semblance of guidance. That alone caused me to start spacing out again. Getting into the Geology Department gave me a more engaging environment, a wide variety of subjects to sample, and a sense of community. I had the community with the band, but not so much in the academic side.

Fast fowarding to now, I'm in my niche area of study, which makes it easy for me to sit down and work 8 or more full hours a day. I don't always (not always 8 full hours of work to do), which means I can fill it by puttering around in the storage room of my teaching lab, reading papers, or engaging in the community in the department here. The key is that I enjoy what I do, so it's hard to consider it "work." If it's not so much work as fun or a game or a puzzle in my head, it's a relatively simple matter to sit down and expand my knowledge in the area or go work on my samples in the lab. Given the Scientific Method is essentially the thought structure I gravitated to at a young age, working the way I do is natural. Field work makes life even better.

However, try to get me to figure out something about insurance or business and it can take a few tries (sorry Mom!).

I'm loath to admit that there are a couple of downsides here and there to this "disorder." Though I'm one of the lucky ones who rarely has emotional downswings, they DO happen, and they can surprise me - sometimes just the right trigger, especially if I've been stressed about something. Thankfully, they never last more than a few hours, maybe a day or two at most. Stress is another issue in and of itself - can deal with it okay until it hits at the wrong angle and I break (insert shear stress/structure joke here). I'm sure that's true of almost everyone. Social stress is something I'm not used to, and there's been a fair amount this semester. Details as to why are irrelevant in this medium. All that matters is that I've once again demonstrated that I don't hide emotions well, which means it's probably very clear to the person with which I have a conflict that I have a conflict. Ironically, it's because this person and I are so much alike, but at different stages. This person is so close to the scientific rationale, except that it's clouded by a combination of upbringing and behavior that has obviously been advantageous in the past.

Once this person reaches a level proper for this academic environment, life will be better. The question remains as to whether or not the capability exists, because of some fundamental differences in this person's upbringing.

To bring this post full-circle, it's the above paragraph that has gotten me thinking about all of this again. We are very alike and very different, and I've been trying to reconcile the differences in our thinking. In doing so, I have turned inward to try to figure out again what my brain's up to in somewhat of an attempt to figure out what's going on in this person's brain. I don't know why I'm doing this. It fascinates me, but it won't be productive until the group faces this problem. We won't face it because no one wants to be the first to address this person. It's definitely not been ideal (never mind I have to suppress a laugh anytime we discuss "ideal" in class because it essentially doesn't exist) and I think that's what's been stressing me out the most.

Brains are weird, people are weird. Yes, I'm attaching labels, and only because it's the best way I can explain at the moment.

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