The Creativity Cycle, Part 2

By Shamus Posted Sunday Apr 19, 2015

Filed under: Personal 95 comments

Last week I talked about my rollercoaster-style creativity cycle. Some people said I sounded pretty abnormal. Others said my behavior sounded pretty familiar. It was an interesting discussion on what makes some people tick. (And sometimes why they stop ticking.) But there’s a bit of family history that I left out of that discussion on purpose.

My grandparents on my mother’s side were Virginia and John. I’ve posted a picture of them before:

Taken in 1949. On the left is Polly, the youngest. I got to see this past Christmas. She is the only one left. Alas.

Virginia is the short woman on the right, in the white shirt. John is to the left. Both of them were stable people with no mental peculiarities as far as anyone knows. They were teens in the great depression and had their kids during or just after world War II.

They had three children: Bruce, Sharon, and Larry. All three of these kids had some sort of mental, uh… irregularities? All of them exhibited signs of what is generally called bipolar disorder and all of them had discernible psychotic episodes. Nothing tragic, thankfully. They all had basically healthy families and held down jobs, but all of them experienced periods where either their reasoning or emotions were completely out of touch with reality. (From delusions in some, to paranoia in others.) These episodes were rare: I think my mom had perhaps four in her entire life. Larry had two that I know of. Bruce lived far from the rest of the family and spent a lot of his years alone, so nobody is really sure about him. (And he’s gone now, so we can’t ask him.)

In all three cases, their episodes were isolated. They lived normal lives for the most part, but then once every decade or so one might have an episode and wind up in the psychiatric ward in the hospital. Or maybe just exhibit an extended period of really strange behavior before leveling off and going back to a normal life.

In turn, these three siblings had families of their own. There are seven of us grandchildren of John and Virginia. The oldest is just short of 50 and the youngest is in his 20’s. And so far, none of us have exhibited the problems our parents had.

So we had a generation of stable people. Then a generation where everyone was bipolarI really dislike the term bipolar for a lot of reasons, but let’s just go with it for now.. Then another generation of stable people.

By a strange coincidence, my best friend growing up also had the same problem. He was fine in high school, and then had his first episode when he went away to college.

I will say that being around people during a psychotic episode is exceptionally creepy. There is something scary – and I mean “horror movie scary” – about sitting across from a loved one and realizing that even though they’re talking, they aren’t really “there”. Their words don’t make sense, their personality doesn’t match what you know, and you can never be sure what they’re going to do next.

An example: My friend David had a part-time job working the switchboard at college. His job was to take incoming calls and route them to the appropriate person or department. When he was sick, he thought he was connecting people to the afterlife. They would call, and by connecting them to the right place he was helping them reach heaven. The entire time he was terrified because once everyone was gone into heaven, he would be left behind. He sat there for an entire four-hour shift with this idea in his head. He did his job without saying anything crazy to the callers, but the entire time he was in this strange state of confusion and fear. If his colleagues noticed anything, it was probably that he didn’t really answer questions properly and kind of had a terrified look on his face all day.

The explanation for psychotic behavior has changed over the years. When I was young, doctors explained it as though the patient’s extreme emotions caused the freak-out. Like, you got so happy/sad/scared/angry that your brain had to start inventing justifications to feel that way. I never liked that. It sounded like saying your symptoms caused each other, which is just a convoluted way of saying, “We have no idea.” More recently I’ve heard it suggested that bipolar psychotic behavior is actually a sleep problem. This makes a lot more sense to me. After interacting with people during and after an episode, I’ll say their thinking sounds exactly like dream logic to me.

As the author of a dream, you often know stuff that you shouldn’t actually be privy to. You know that someone else wants to kill you. Or that the building you’re in is about to fall down and you have to escape. Or that everyone around you hates you. If you jump off this precipice you’ll suddenly be able to fly. Or that the sun will never come up again. Whatever. It sounds a lot like the scenarios psychotic people have. They seem to be inventing a story around themselves. You can try to talk sense to them if you want, but you just end up folded into their dream. “Oh my God! Shamus doesn’t realize the building is about to fall down! I must convince him! I have to save him!

I’m not a doctor and I have no idea if this is true, but it makes more sense than any other explanation I’ve ever heard. My guess is that part of your brain is doing whatever it does when you’re asleep.


Over the years I’ve always been terrified my turn would come. Sometimes I’ll come down off one of these manic periods and suffer some mild depression. Then I’ll start worrying, “Oh no. This is it. I’m going to go crazy. I’m going to have a psychotic freak-out like my mom and her brothers. I’ll scare the kids, alienate the wife, and lose my job.” I worry when I’m at the other end of the spectrum, too. I’ll have a few days of mad productivity and little sleep and I’ll start to worry I’m about to lose my grip on reality.

But the psychosis never comes. So far I seem to be a mostly normal guy with a couple of quirks. Yes, it sucks being depressed. But I generally level out after a couple of days or weeks and get back to normal life. Then after some random interval – years or months – I’ll have another manic period and it all begins again.

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a bad setup at all. Three months of maximum productivity in exchange for a week of feeling sad and listless? That’s not a disability. That’s nearly a superpower. It might even explain the existence of this site.



[1] I really dislike the term bipolar for a lot of reasons, but let’s just go with it for now.

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95 thoughts on “The Creativity Cycle, Part 2

  1. BenD says:

    I was one of those ‘this sounds like me’ folks in the last post on this topic. (Maybe I didn’t say it outright? I also mentioned sleep changes being possibly causal to entering a downswing.). Anyway I wanted to say that this, too, sounds very familiar. Right down to the spotty but noticeable family history. And also, the sense that what I can do while in an upswing (what would be the manic phase in regular old bipolar psychosis) is a superpower. It’s really, for me, about minimizing/avoiding downturns.

    1. Tizzy says:

      I don’t know what your experience is like, but the thing I find tricky about the sleep patterns is figuring out whether they are a cause or a symptom.

      1. BenD says:

        For me, it’s both. If I am not getting the right sleep pattern and quantity, I start to downturn. Anxiety or depression and apathy lurk around the corner, and if they get to me, then sleep becomes very difficult. I develop 3 a.m. insomnia and am cloudy all day long and this makes the anxiety/depression-apathy combination so much worse.

        The reason I focus so much on sleep as a cause (even though it’s also a symptom) is that I can treat the sleep problem with careful eating, specific habits, and mild OTC medicines. Meanwhile, anxiety and depression require prescription drugs that have potentially negative effects overall on bipolar types, are often mutually exclusive or counterindicated for each other, and take days or weeks to have a positive effect. Basically, it’s much simpler and faster to attack the sleep problem than to try to do anything specific about the others; if I can get the sleep back under control, the other problems fade away.

      2. MadTinkerer says:

        it helps if you avoid the advice of people who think that eight hours of sleep a night is too much and any reasonable person only needs four, six at the most. And one guy who insists, despite his chronic migraines, that he never needs more than two a night and that his lack of sleep has nothing to do with his migraines and vice versa.

        I really worry that one day their relatively stress-free lives will take a turn for the stressful and their stubborn insistence that they know better than medically trained professionals will lead one or more of them to have proper psychotic episodes. I worry less for the two-hour-a-night guy because I’m pretty sure he’s a socially functional psychotic already….

  2. Rutskarn says:

    I thought I’d chime in a little bit here, because I, too, have mood swings (although I think they look a little different than yours, and it’s a little more wobbly and unpredictable), and you and I do similar work. The take-away is this:

    Sometimes I do have dead patches where I’m not really good for creating much, or where everything I try to make turns out shabby and unsatisfactory. They last anywhere from an afternoon to a couple days. I usually end up working through them anyway and either discarding or editing what I get afterwards.

    As a counterpoint: the “creative bursts” you mention never happen to me.

    This might sound a little weird, because at the moment literally 100% of my living comes from creative work, but I’m almost never driven in a fresh, urgent, immediate sense to create. I have bursts of interest in a project, which are fickle and unreliable and tend to desert me when I reach a corner, but even that interest isn’t what you’d call a driving factor. It just makes it a little easier for me to settle myself down and get to work.

    It’s not that I don’t find joy in creating, or that I don’t ultimately feel compelled to create. It’s just that the sensation of joy comes after the fact, after something is made well, and the sense I’m being compelled comes less in the form of motivation to make things and more as an ennui if I’m not. But every time I sit down to work, with one or two exceptions, I have to do so willfully–I have to overcome my brain’s laziness and the idea that this is work.

    I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else with my life, but it’s never exactly *easy* to get started.

    1. Geebs says:

      For what it’s worth, I think that what you’re describing sounds pretty normal; I can relate to the same pattern for both “creative” and “non-creative” projects, especially longer-form writing. Writing anything worth reading is hard, which adds to the inertia.

    2. Trix2000 says:

      Sound a lot like my approach to a lot of things. I suspect it’s fairly common.

    3. Eruanno says:

      On the getting started on working at something… I think my brain is hard-wired to be as lazy as possible. Even when it’s something fun or interesting, my brain just goes “buuuut… what if we play video games? Watch a movie? Go do something else?” and there’s a super long uphill battle where I have to almost slap myself in the face to get started.

      1. Karthik says:

        “buuuut… what if we play video games?”

        Oh, I wish it would stop there. But this laziness actually hits me recursively; once I’ve decided to play a video game, it goes: “Pillars of Eternity? The payoff’s hidden behind a lot of reading. Why don’t we play Spelunky instead?”

        Eventually I just end up playing Super Hexagon for twenty minutes and watching a Youtube video for ten.

        And I actually really enjoy Pillars.

      2. Majere says:

        I even have this problem with video games. I have this massive backlog but instead of whittling down the ever growing mountain my brain’s like “But that will mean learning the mechanics and getting immersed into the setting why don’t we just exclusively play the same Pokemon game for 6 months straight?”

      3. swenson says:

        I’ll get like this even while I’m in the middle of doing something I genuinely enjoy. It gets to the point where I have to remind myself that yes, I am enjoying this movie/TV show/videogame, I want to keep watching/playing it, I don’t want to stop to go lie on my couch for six hours staring at the ceiling.

        It’s like my brain doesn’t want to have any emotion at all, sometimes, it’s so lazy it doesn’t even want to put in the effort to be entertained.

    4. Cuthalion says:

      I can relate to this as well. The sense of ennui if I’m not making stuff. On the other hand, I do get a little of Shamus’s up and down creativity cycle. I think for me, his thing and your thing can both happen independently, whether separately or at the same time.

    5. Ilseroth says:

      I actually have the same kind thing. I do game development for fun here and there, but every time I get to a point where I have to do significant work before a creative “payout” I kinda just give up and move on.

      That’s actually part of why I decided to do Ludum Dare for the first time this weekend. Having a set endpoint, a finishline to run towards, actually helped a lot and I ended up getting a crazy amount done.

      I think a lot of finishing creative works is actually to place deadlines on yourself and treat it as though to have to. In the end you’ll be your biggest judge, and chances are you may surprise yourself in what you actually will make.

      ( if you are interested in trying it this is my entry)

    6. Daimbert says:

      Being overly analytic, I noted the same sort of difference between my own behaviour and Shamus’, and figured out why. Shamus really seems to love the process of doing those things as much if not more than he likes having the completed product. This can be seen in how he talks about the process and all the cool and neat and interesting things that he learns while doing it, and also in how he talked about his education where if the process was dull and repetitive he simply couldn’t get into doing it just to get the marks or approval or whatever. So, for Shamus, if the process is fun he doesn’t care that much about the final product — although he’d like it to be good — and if the process is dull and boring unless the final product is outstanding he just won’t do it.

      For me, and it seems for you and other people commenting here, the opposite is true. I definitely care more about the final product than about the process. So if there’s enough motivation for me to push through and get the final product done, then I don’t care how boring the process is; I’ll do it and get it done. But if the final product is at the end of a long process, I’ll put off doing the process because I don’t get any real reward until the process is done and I get the final product, whereas Shamus gets rewarded by the process itself most of the time. So it’s hard for me to get started, like you, but once I do get started things usually work out, and especially so the closer I get to a final product.

      I’ve found that I work better when I can get small enjoyable milestone products. The issue with writing games, for example, is always that I can’t play it until it’s completely done, which is a long way away. Small playable parts make me more likely to actually start it and do it. I also learn better in a class environment with deadlines than simply learning on my own, which is why I’ve been taking university courses instead of just doing readings on my own.

      So that’s probably just personality differences, and nothing really about ones mental make-up in general.

    7. RTBones says:

      That sounds very familiar.

      Growing up, I always adored flight simulation games. They were one of my favorite genres of games – and then a degree in aerospace engineering happened. A career in/around/with flight simulation took off. Along the way, I earned my private pilot’s license. To this day, I continue to work in flight simulation – and I seriously doubt I will ever play another flight simulation game in my life. I certainly enjoy what I do, and airplanes are a particular passion of mine. But I do have days where its difficult to look at a computer (which simulators are full of), let alone a full sim. As you describe, when that happens, I have to willfully force my way through the lethargy.

      1. Daimbert says:

        That might be a different matter, though. It sounds like the reason when I took classes after I got a job I didn’t take anything with computing, but instead took Philosophy: the last thing I want to do when I finish my programming job is do more programming, no matter how much I like it. Philosophy was different enough that it didn’t feel like more of the same, so I didn’t get burned out on it; it was a break from what I was doing and so didn’t feel as much like work.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Sleep is a very weird thing,and going without sleep is bound to mess up a mind whether it is healthy or not.I remember once when I went over 48 hours without sleep,and it was such a surreal experience.I didnt feel tired,I just had this constant feeling of deja vu and floating.People also told me that I responded to everything in a sluggish manner,though I dont remember doing anything odd.

    1. Cuthalion says:

      I tried to GM a game once when I was sort of in that phase after about 36 hours. It wasn’t fun for anyone, but it seemed like a great idea at the time.

    2. Dragmire says:

      I’ve gone about 5 days with no rest. This was a curiosity of mine to see how far I could go. 2 days were fine, 3rd was awful, 4th was oddly fine but with periods of heart rate fluctuations while at rest. The fifth was where I basically fell apart, my sensory reaction time felt delayed as if there was lag when I touched something but the scary thing was hallucinating shadow people. Basically, I would see silhouettes of people in my peripheral vision but the form was like a dark splotch after looking at a bright light.

      Definitely not a great thing to put your body through.

    3. Phantos says:

      I was awake for more than 24 hours last month. Just couldn’t get to sleep even though my body wanted it. And I still don’t totally feel like I’ve recovered from it. I had to walk to the dentist for an appointment, and I was so… “not-there” that I’m actually surprised I didn’t walk into traffic.

      Not being able to sleep when you want to sucks. This made going to school such a nightmare for me, because you have to be there at a specific time. This is also why I will never hold down a job with a fixed schedule. I have no control over when I sleep.

  4. Doomcat says:

    I must say, I’ve had something similar to what you have…but not quite as big. I tend to get really into something new (Such as say, a new game, or a book, or writing something for my RP group, or playing a new piece of music, or doing a new dance.) for about a week-two weeks, then it just tapers off and I’m back to normal…

    I hit lows too for about the same — or longer periods of time (The longest I’ve had is two months) honestly? I think the whole highs and lows thing is normal for people…and it just comes in different flavors of what triggers it and for how long. I’m not a specialist, it just seems like something that happens, I’ve observed it in other people here and there, though not in the same contexts.

    I’m not very good at explaining what I mean, but maybe I got my point across? I dunno.

  5. Retsam says:

    In the photo, is John on Virginia’s left, or our left? The text says hers, but with how the photo is arranged and the apparent ages, I’d guess John is the person on Virginia’s right. Not that it’s terribly important if I’m misidentifying people in an old photo, but I thought I’d mention it…

      1. Ziusudra says:

        Than I'll start worrying, *Then

  6. Mom says:

    Your sleep theory is great. My own experience that you alluded to is that extreme mood swings caused sleeplessness that set in motion the psychosis. Proof of this is that the first treatment was to make me sleep which caused the psychosis to vanish in twelve hours. The mood problem was still there- I would be pretty depressed- but the psychosis was gone. My brothers, however, have a different sort of condition and the psychosis would linger and anti-psychotic meds are necessary. My theory for a simple bipolar problem is sort of mathematical , P=N+S+C-(Rsquared)where P is your psychological condition, N is your natural psychology, S is your support system, C is your coping system, and R is the stresses in your life. As long as P is a positive number you are all good.

    1. Shamus says:

      Context for other people: The comment I’m replying to is from my mother.

      1. Peter H. Coffin says:

        (Hence the label. And, I’m pretty sure she’s chimed in before.)

    2. drlemaster says:

      So we have a working theory about where Shamus inherited his somewhat novel cyclic moods, but where he got his love of coming up with systems to simulate or model real-world systems may forever remain a mystery.

  7. General Karthos says:

    In terms of mental disease, my grandfather on my father’s side has Alzheimer’s. My grandmother on my mother’s side already died of it.

    The disease TERRIFIES me. (I’m 27, so I’m close to two decades away from even the earliest of early onset.) I can’t stand the idea of losing my mind, but losing my memories, losing everything that makes me who I am is even scarier. The worst part is that we don’t understand how the disease works, whether it’s hereditary or not, and in most cases, you won’t be diagnosed until it’s far too late to be treated. (Speaking theoretically. There is no treatment.)

    EDIT: Lately, all of my comments have been “awaiting moderation” which from what I understand means it’s suspicious. Am I using a word that sets off the detector?

    1. Shamus says:

      Moderation: Recently the spam filter has gone COMPLETELY NUTS and is putting 1 out of 5 valid comments into moderation. No idea what’s doing this. Looking into it.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        And yet I was able to write 4 comments containing only the word “Shamus” in under a minute,with no hitch.I guess the filter has a sense of humor and is a fan of archer.

        1. Von Krieger says:

          The spam filter has been taken over by Giygas.

          I FEEL H A P P Y

    2. Cybron says:

      Yeah, I’m in the same boat. My grandfather on my mother’s side had it. Research suggests that there are genetic risk factors involved, so while we don’t know for sure that it’s hereditary there’s a good chance it’s at least a partial factory.

      I’ve managed to mostly avoid worrying, because it’s not like there’s much I can do about it, but it’s still a frightening idea.

  8. P_johnston says:

    On the idea that sleep affects how the manic/depressive periods work I can see them being related. I also tend to swing from periods of mania where I’m super motivated and organized to depressive states that range from not wanting to do anything to actual clinical depression. When I’m very tired it doesn’t really cause the depressive states (at least I don’t believe it does) but it does make them massively worse. Even when I’m in my “normal” if I get to little sleep I find myself thinking in a similar way to when I’m depressed. I tend to be more pessimistic and unhappy. When I catch up on sleep those thought patterns tend to dissipate.
    p.s. Full disclosure I’ve actually stayed up late the last 4 days finishing up homework and playing D&D so any rambling oddness is probably due to that.

  9. A book I read recently has an interesting take on exactly this issue, Shamus, revolving around a woman who was blind but did not know she was blind because not only was the part of her brain that enabled her to see damaged, but she also had damage to another little-understood part of her brain. She would blithely describe how things looked–even things she had never seen and never could–and was utterly certain that she could “see” them.

    The function of the damaged part of her brain is apparently to apply a “reality check” to the brain itself. What you call “dream logic” is not just a facet of dreaming–our brains do that ALL. THE. TIME. The brain is, literally, always trying to “fit” things together, to make up a “story” to explain things. But there is another part of the brain that basically sits on the story-creating part of the brain and says “no, fool, you crazy” to most of the random junk that the story-creating part spits up. When we sleep, the “reality-check” part either slows down or shuts off entirely, and our brains proceed to have a grand old time taking every random stimulus and slotting it into a completely nonsensical “story”.

    So, looking at it that way, a psychotic episode would be a case of the “reality check” part of the brain shutting off when it wasn’t supposed to. There could be any number of reasons for it, differing from person to person or even case to case.

    1. Tizzy says:

      This reminds me of one of the Science of Discworld books by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, where they rename humans pan narrans, the storytelling ape.

      Their point being that what they find the most defining characteristic of humanity is not wisdom (homo sapiens!) but that need to explain everything we see. I always found this point of view quite insightful, but now I’m intrigued to learn that this trait may exist at the most basic physiological level. It would explain a lot for sure.

    2. Heh! I just love the idea of a part of the brain going. “Hey wait a sec, this CRC32 checksum doesn’t match, re-check that event memory please.”.

      The brain is also insanely good at interpolating things, seeing patterns where computers can’t. Or seeing patterns where none exist.

      Reading a book allows the mind to fill in gaps a lot more than a movie would.

      1. Ingvar M says:

        I’d say that depends on the movie, but yes.

        The hard part about writing is to provide enough words to have the reader’s mind paint something close to the picture you intended, while not providing so many words that the reader’s mind goes “bored now”.

      2. This is why we see “pictures” in clouds and toasted bread and oil stains.

    3. Rick says:

      Can you recall the name of this book?

      1. Uh, yeah, I have it on my Kindle, lemme grab it.

        Here it is, it’s called “Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error” by Kathryn Schulz. Here be a link:

        The book is about a lot more than that, it is overall about the impact of, well, being wrong on our lives, from a lot of different perspectives. Quite interesting.

    4. psivamp says:

      I watched a clip in a college psych class that illustrated this alarmingly.

      A man who had seizures had his corpus callosum severed to keep the seizures from crossing from one half of his brain into the other. One of the side effects is that you can talk to the halves of his brain separately. They gave an instruction for him to draw a phone in one ear and asked him out loud to describe what he was doing. The left half of his brain could talk, but it didn’t know what directive the right half was following so it just made things up until it became obvious that it was a telephone.

  10. The human body is a chemical factory, too much or too little of something may cause an imbalance, the body is able to compensate quite well too this but not for long duration or with high exposure to whatever is causing an issue.

    There are natural occurring heavy metals in the body, heck there are even levels of arsenic in our bodies. There are people who get tagged in alcohol meters due to a natural high alcohol percentage in their bodies.

    The human body is weird and complex.

    I assume all a have heard that about 80% of the human body is water right?
    But fewer of you may have heard that only about 5% of the cells in the body is human cells, the rest are bacteria. (there are millions in your intestines for example that help digest your food).
    In other words there is very little “you” in your body.

    Heck, ever hear of people where the brain halves are separate? Now there’s a new level of crazy right there. The left hand pulling your pants up while the right is pulling them up. The right hand may try to strike someone while the left hand stops the right hand.
    If you feel like there are two sides to you (or someone else) then that is probably because there are two sides (or two halves).

    Another interesting thing is that it is possible to live with half a brain (kind of depends how things are connected up there though).

    For example the real Rainman (not correctly depicted in the famous movie) actually had separate brain halves and could truly multitask (one half could read one book the other another book). There seemed to have been some kind of databridge between them though when he recollected books he read with perfect recall.

    1. I forgot to say this, but the body is more like a small community/society of “stuff” that need to work together, if that is disrupted somehow then weird shit happens.

      1. They are only now starting to get a grip on just how much the miniature society that is your gut affects your overall health and wellbeing.

      2. Soylent Dave says:

        So if a human is a gestalt entity made up of discrete organs and organisms working together… does that mean that human consciousness (rather than being seated in one of those organs), is more like the ‘hive mind’ of that gestalt organism?

        1. My guess is that no it’s not a hive mind, I guess you could say that your sense of “self” is a partnership between the two brain halves.

          Though you do make an interesting point, while the body is not a hive, it is a symbiotic collective of sorts. And the brain and core functions of the body would not function long without the rest of the stuff in your body.

          Which begs the question, how much does all the “stuff” in our bodies influence the mind or sense of self? Possibly more than one might assume at first.

          The best analog to the human body would be the earth ecosystem itself.

          1. BenD says:

            I think I’d suspect that there are more parts involved in ‘self’ than the two hemispheres of the brain (at least the cerebellum, and possibly stem/spinal cord) but that ‘self’ is a strong enough feature of consciousness that it will cheerfully repair itself (or at least sloppily patch over the hole) should one of the components be damaged. That said, I wouldn’t really be TOO surprised if it did turn out that consciousness is a hive mind. Small chemical or organic changes in the body do affect personality in subtle ways (or not-so-subtle in the case of some chemicals); the idea that flora contributes is not too far out.

          2. Torolf says:

            No, the so-called labor division of two hemispheres is an old idea that has been greatly exaggerated and never corrected in the popular media. I worked for a number of years on a brain injury rehabilitation unit helping people with all sorts of brain trauma or other insults to the brain recover and regain what function they could.

            As you might expect, what function they lost, and what they were able to recover depended somewhat on the location, type and severity of the injury, disease or insult. What is less well known is that the functions of the brain are not centralized solely to specific lobes or parts of the brain as we were taught in school. Rather, some processing power (to use an analogy) seems to be distributed elsewhere.

  11. Other strange things with our bodies. IIRC there are 4 (or so) sleep windows per day, we have a natural body day cycle of slightly longer than 24hrs. Our nostrils swap which is dominant each 2 hours, this is why you breathe more through one nostril than another, one reason is to let your smells sensors (forgot what they where called those tiny hairs) to rest some, it also allows each nostril to focus on different aspects of smell.

    When you breathe through your nose the nose helps filter air impurities, so does the back of your throat (the mucus there catches some impurities), when you breathe through your mouth the air goes straight to you lungs, unfiltered.

    Your stomach inner lining has to renew itself constantly otherwise your stomach would end up eating itself. (ulcers occur when this membrane/lining fails to recover)

    Also…reading about how the body works/does things will scare the shit out of you.

    1. Ulcers are not caused by your gut lining “failing to recover” but (in almost all cases) by bacteria that actually chew a hole in the lining.

      1. Ah! Luckily I’ve never had an ulcer. I always thought it was caused by the stomach acid dissolving the lining.

        1. modus0 says:

          Frankly I consider the fact that we’re able to (mostly) safely contain a vat of acid within our bodies to be rather interesting.

          Along with all the ways the body can fix itself, or compensate for something it can’t.

          For instance, at the age of 10 I discovered that I had amblyopia affecting my left eye, bad enough that I was practically blind in that eye. It was only discovered because of an eye test the school gave us.

          But I’d managed to go through at least most of my life up to that point with my brain only accepting input from one eye, and never noticed a thing.

          And after spending the summer wearing an eye patch on my good eye and glasses with a strong prescription, I can see out of that eye, but everything’s blurry and my brain still defaults to preferring my right eye.

        2. Supposedly (and you can look this up) the guy who discovered that bacteria cause ulcers met so much resistance from the medical establishment that eventually dosed himself with bacteria, got ulcers, and then cured them by taking antibiotics to prove his point.

          Doctors be hardcore, yo.

  12. More weird stuff. Measure your height when you get up in the morning, then measure your height when you go to bed at night. You will find that your bones have compressed during the day, during the night when you sleep they decompress again. If your work involves a lot of walking/standing then you should more easily see the difference.

    All the cells in your body takes about 11 years to be replaced. This is why “smokers lung” may take up to 11 years to get clean again. Even the cells in your bones are replaced over the years.
    As you age though the quality of the replaced cells start to get worse though and is something scientists are working on to improve/prevent.

    In other words after 11 years all your old cells are gone and you have been fully “replaced” (cell by cell). So each 11 years there is a new “you”.

    If cells are replaced then why doesn’t stuff get fixed? Not sure, ask a scientist. My guess…the cell replacement is replication based rather than regenerative so a scar on bones/skin will still remain, it may fade over time but it will always show signs that there was something damaged there.
    I may be wrong but the tongue is probably the only organ in the body that is actually regenerative (to a certain point).

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Technically,its not your bones that compress,its your joints.

      As for the cells getting old,almost all the cells get replaced.Neurons dont.And what makes other cells old is basically a kill switch that counts the number of generations that the cells have and starts killing them off once a limit is reached.Why this happens to multicellular organisms but isnt present in monocellular ones is a mystery though.

      1. Neurons DO get replaced–like any other cells, they have a life cycle.

      2. Jabor says:

        “Cancer” is basically the reason – the kill-switch that kicks in after a cell divides too much means that a single mutation that turns a cell bad will just burn itself out after a while. Having that kill switch increases long-term survivability for multicellular organisms.

        The exact mechanism by which it evolved in the first place is still a mystery of course, though that’s basically the norm – the best we can do about those sorts of things is speculate.

        1. Not just cancer–excessive growth even of NORMAL tissue can cause a lot of damage.

          Your body actually has to have bone tissue to destroy in order to trigger you to grow bone tissue once you become an adult. This is how bone grafts using cadaver bone work–the cadaver bone triggers your “destroy this” mechanism which comes in and eats all the cadaver bone and replaces it with your own bone. It’s quite fascinating.

    2. Soylent Dave says:

      Your liver quite readily regenerates – and can in fact regenerate completely from only 25% of itself (like a lizard regrowing its tail).

      Kidneys can regenerate a bit, and young humans can actually regenerate fingertips & toes (provided they aren’t capped off with a skin flap… which is of course the normal way of treating such amputation (oops!)).

      1. I did not know that, kinda cool.

      2. Tom says:

        And yet our eyeballs are inside out, and our wind and food pipes cross through each other. That’s the catch with evolution: if a particular set of mutations is a *net* positive gain then they get kept, even if some of the changes that add up to that net positive are actually negative.

        Well, that’s one of the catches. The other big catch is that evolution (and algorithms and simulations based on it), although very, very effective at producing very, very efficient designs, is itself not efficient at all compared to, say, conscious, analytical design.

    3. Torolf says:

      Actually, the liver regenerates, though alcohol is poisonous enough that you can drink enough to kill it off before it can regenerate completely.

  13. Da Mage says:

    I feel there is definitely a link between creativity and sleep. I am not what you’d call a creative person, I cannot draw, my design skills are poor and although i can use 3D modelling tools, I am no artist. Most of what I do is research and programming, which is mostly logic based and fitting things together.

    However when I was in university I had to complete a few design courses. The one time I had to pull an all nighter in order to finish and assignment I draw amazing looking cartoon figures. Testing myself since then I’ve found myself able to be both very creative and much better at expressing it when tired or lacking sleep. When I need to work on a new concept I will often play sport and then work on it in the evening (9pm-12am) and my head just seems to be clear then.

    It’s not much use for the logical work though, it’s very hard to think about how programming should be done when tired.

  14. MichaelG says:

    You mentioned your unusual 24.5 hour sleep cycle last time, and I was tempted to comment. I do the same thing, and find it kind of annoying. I hate the part of my cycle when I’m getting up in the evening and staying up all night. It’s like there’s no daylight for a few days!

    But I was surprised how many people commented that they had the same problem. According to Wikipedia:

    “As of 2005, there had been fewer than 100 cases of sighted people with non-24 reported in the scientific literature.”

    This must be really under-reported or concentrated among techies if so many of your readers have it.

    1. My guess, it’s that “techies” tend to pay less attention to the light outside. Some of us spend all day looking at a screen. Thus the internal clock is relied upon more than visual cues. And the internal clock is on average longer than 24hrs (last time I read about it) so your 24hr cycle will “drift”. Ah in this paragraph are some numbers on that.

      I wonder if those who work outside all day have the most “solid” sleep patterns?

      1. Supahewok says:

        Its more likely that those who work from home can afford to have non-24 hour sleep cycles. The vast majority who don’t/can’t, don’t have a choice about when they can go to work.

        1. BenD says:

          Folks with relatively unstructured offices, or somewhat round-the-clock job responsibilities, will also find themselves less tethered to the day/night cycle (for better or worse).

    2. swenson says:

      Eh, but 24.5 hours isn’t that far off from 24 hours. I’d suspect the Wikipedia article is talking about people with significantly more variance.

    3. BenD says:

      My guess for how few are mentioned on Wikipedia is that this is how many have been studied in scientifically reliable environments (sleep studies). Sleep study is difficult, few people want to undergo it, and the science is (at this time) likely to be fairly uninterested in people whose deviance from 24 is as slight as half an hour.

    4. Retsam says:

      I’m guessing there’s a difference between functioning better on a non-24 hour sleep schedule and having it be severe enough to really be a “disorder”.

    5. Deoxy says:

      I saw a study some years ago that isolated people from the “natural” world (the sun) and watched what would happen.

      Non-24 hour days was the NORM. The average was around 25 hours a day.

  15. Human skin is odd (and cool) too, it can absorb sunlight and turn that into vitamin D.

    I also remembered a documentary about a colorblind guy. The only reason he knew a color was red was because other people said it was. To him it looked like a different shade of green.
    So when somebody says a color is red you may not actually see exactly the same shade of red.

    I wonder if there are many that have the colors inverted (can’t imagine that test being easy to do).

    1. 4th DImension says:

      This is a wierd thing about being concous individuals. We’ll never know what other people see and sense with their senses. We only assume it’s the same as we do. But for example somebody that likes the color blue might internally in their mind see things differently than somebody that likes color red. For the blue guy the sky is not color blue. It’s that nice color while other things aren’t as nice. It’s was later that we have actually named the shades of color. But my internal sense of blue can be completly different than your sense of blue and thus we can disagree which color is prettier.

      YOU your conciosnes is sitting inside the head cavity in the brain synapses, and is monitoring sensing bothe the body and the world through signals sent to it by the senses. In time we master their use and make them aour own but that doesn’t change the fact that we are not really in direct control of our body but are piloting it from our brains with readouts that are supplied by the senses.

      1. Bryan says:

        Also interesting re: color — societies, in general, have taken a long time to start writing about some colors. (Blue is always last for some reason.) Which is why a lot of medieval writing refers to “gray eyes” and “gray sea”.

        Or why in both the Illiad and the Odyssey, Homer called the sea “wine-dark”, and sheep … “violet”, actually.

        Colors are weird.

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      RE colors inversion: they don’t.

      Or, speaking at length, they may but it doesn’t matter. How we perceive a particular colour is a matter of how the brain interprets a given wavelength of light for the benefit of our conscioussness. We can’t really determine if my consciousness perceives green the way your perceives red because, assuming we have roughly similar capabilities for colour recognition (in the purely mechanical sense), we will both call the same lightwave red and reffer to the same objects as “red”. We could maybe try to go in the direction of subjective experiences (how much we “like” a given colour) but that may be a matter of association rather than perception.

  16. Felblood says:

    We, as a society, are very bad at defining what is “normal” psychologically. — well, especially psychologically.

    Everyone has biorythyms. Everyone gets depressed occasionally. Everyone has a day when they just cannot get this idea for a project out of their mind. Everyone has wondered what their annoying coworker tastes like raw.

    Where does it cross the line into a place where we or those around us should be worried? Even the guidelines that do exist are vague and full of weasel clauses like sometimes and maybe.

    Relevant XKCDs:

    Image only, to spare those who cannot escape the pull of the random button.

    1. Mathias says:

      That’s why a lot of psychology textbooks are very leery about diagnosing – it can very quickly become a case of pathologising what might “just” be a psychological quirk.

      NOTE: That’s not to say genuine mental illness doesn’t exist or anything, or that there’s necessarily a correlation between having a few bad days and having clinical depression. It’s more that there’s a broad range of psychological states that might carry shades of a more serious psychopathology but aren’t.

      And as for diagnosing serious mental conditions, that’s what we have psychologists and psychiatrists for. And even for them it’s difficult :P

      1. Psychology as a science is still in its infancy–still gathering the material from which a science will eventually grow. But it’s hindered by bad epistemology.

        1. Mathias says:

          If anything it’s hindered by that great scourge of mankind (and mortal nemesis of the great Stephen Fry), general ignorance.

          Or the fact that psychology is the only science in the world that agreed on its methodology before it agreed on a subject matter.

          …And then changed its methodology along the way because behaviorism was awful. Woop de doo.

  17. Coblen says:

    The scariest part for me is how completly rational it seems in the moment. I went through a bought of paranoia last summer. During it every thing felt right, and reasonable. I had very good reason to believe my freinds where out to get me so I avoided them all summer long. Then idk one day I forced myself to go see them. We hung out and then I thought back on the last month and it made zero sense. I had no justifcation for why I felt that way, but in the moment I was convinsed.

  18. Wide And Nerdy says:

    Its like I said last time, there are multiple types of manic depression characterized by different kinds of manic and depressive phases and I remember when I first learned this thinking “Some of these actually make me jealous”. I seem to recall that there was one listed similar to what you describe of yourself. Your aversion to that diagnosis makes a lot of sense now too. I have no idea if you have it or if you’re just a really creative person who burns himself out periodically. Either way, I think you fared well.

    The conspirator in me projects my behavioral assumptions on to you and concludes that you posted this at a time when it could be quickly buried by today’s Diecast. Its what I’d do if I was a productive polymath.

    1. Tizzy says:

      The Diecast is still not up right now. I blame you for giving Shamus such an easy way to prove your theory wrong…

      1. Wide and Nerdy says:

        lol, I was thinking “he wouldn’t do that” but yes he would. This is the guy who used to post “first” on his own posts to spite others who were doing it.

        I wasn’t trying to be accusatory though. I’m just saying I’m a private guy and when I put myself out there like that. I’m quick to delete or bury it.

      2. Shamus says:

        Spoiler: We recorded a MASSIVE Diecast this week, in honor of episode #100. Josh is editing it this week. I have no idea when it will appear, or how much he’ll break it up into episodes, or what.

        1. Tizzy says:

          This makes me so happy. Really looking forward to it…

        2. Wide And Nerdy says:

          For the record, I really liked it when you were posting “first” to spite first posters (in case I wasn’t clear before). Very satisfying.

  19. Cybron says:

    I just finished reading an interesting account by a guy who had a psychotic break induced by drugs and sleep deprivation. It sounds very much like you say in terms of dream logic, and also sounds pretty similar to the incident your friend had (except bigger).

    I also find it interesting to compare this stuff with what we know about how memory works. Memory is not a tape recorder; it’s more comparable to a set of pointers (as in programming). These events happened, with these people. This is notable because it means our memories are not static, they can and will be influenced by our later perception of the events and people involved with them. If you have a friendly memory of someone and your relationship with that person later sours for some reason, your earlier memory may be revised to depict them as less friendly. I can’t help but wonder if psychotic episodes involve scrambling those pointers around.

    1. 4th Dimension says:

      I prefer to think about memory as a gigantic set of HTML pages with hyperlinks on nearly any term. Depending how often you traverse the hyperlink, the thoughts at the other side can easily bleed into the current article.
      It also explains how my own mind can go on wiki walks through it’s memory.

  20. Robyrt says:

    I love hearing these explanations. My family has a history of mental illness too – clinical depression, in my case, on both sides – and I fortunately wound up with only a portion of those genes. So I’ll have depressive episodes every month or so, where I’m completely aware that I’m being irrational and inconsolable and generally displaying a different personality, but getting REM sleep will fix the issue.

  21. LadyTL says:

    Honestly the biological components of mental disorders is a big reason as to why I won’t have children. My MIL has three kids, my husband who has Asperger’s, my SIL who is a high functioning autistic and my BIL who is a very low functioning autistic (he actually lives in a group home for autistic adults with no chance of moving out). I also have Asperger’s. The misery I go through sometimes because of the way my mind works is not something I would pass on as long as I have a choice about it.

    Though I finally found the best analogy to explain Asperger’s to people. It’s like most people’s brains run on Windows OS, functional with occational quicks and fairly user freindly. My brain runs on a Linux kernal with everything having to be hand coded in from the start. Sure it can talk to a Windows brain but not seamlessly and not without sometimes losing information and communicating with people is a massive amount of work.

    1. Yeah, I’m leery of having kids (as much as I want ’em) for similar reasons. One side had a self-medicating alcoholic with (likely) severe depression, the other has one suicide (half-bro) and then there’s me, who has severe depression & suicide attempts and has to go on meds every so often (just started back on ’em today when I realized that I was way too close to the suicide cliff).
      I do keep hoping they’ll come up with a genetic test (since I just got genetic testing to see what meds are likely to be effective and what ones should be avoided) & I could do the egg removal invitro thing with eggs with a lesser chance of depression. I guess you win bits of the genetic lottery and lose others, but I wouldn’t wish severe depression on my worst enemy.

      1. James says:

        Oh god no, i’ve been down, really down though not as far as to act on self harm or suicide thank god, though sometimes had thoughts of whats the point in life and carrying on. and i wouldn’t wish this on anyone even people i hated with a burning passion, people i have physically lashed out at at times. this shit isn’t any fun kids.

    2. James says:

      I’m personally currently seeking a diagnosis for Autism Spectrum Disorder in relation to some of the things that have become more apparent to me recently. things like Social Anxiety and difficulty and whatnot, and your analogy there kinda of fits with how i feel in social situations, sure i can talk to “normal” people, but its not always easy and more often then not requires conscious effort, from how i stand, to how i talk to what i do with my hands. i don’t know if i’m Autistic or if i have Asperger’s or even if i do to what degree but i hope to find out, i’m on a waiting list about 4 months long to get my assessment and fortunate for me its free on the NHS.

      Side note, i find it much easier to talk to people over the internet, even on Skype or Mumble or whatever as there is a degree of separation i suppose, and as i get to know someone over time (several years) i get more comfortable and everything gets easier ( i suppose this is true of everyone, but i feel its more pronounced in myself)

  22. Torolf says:

    If anyone wants an in-depth look at a psychotic break from the inside, you might read Peter Welch’s “And Then I Thought I Was a Fish.” It’s quite lengthy, and he needed a better editor, but he thoroughly tracked down all the documentation from his medical records, and tells the story of the events leading up to his own psychotic break, hospitalization and recovery.

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