Thursday, October 8, 2009

Divinipotent About Nonsense

"Don't talk to me about a man's being able to talk sense; everyone can talk sense. Can he talk nonsense?"
~ William Pitt

Let's talk nonsense. One of the most e-mailed articles in the New York Times this week is "How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect." Its subject is new research into the way the mind reacts to absurdities. Study masterminds Travis Proulx, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Steven J. Heine, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, maintain that the brain has evolved to search for patterns, and because encounters with nonsense encourage us to discover patterns we might otherwise overlook, it can lead to breakthroughs.

"A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men."
~ Roald Dahl

Divinipotent Daily can never get enough of life's absurd and nonsensical encounters and thinks of them as glittering little treasures to be pulled from memory and marveled at. As an example, some years ago, during one of New York City's rare blizzards, the following nonsensical sights were noted during a brief walk in midtown Manhattan: people skiing down Third Avenue; a city bus repeatedly slamming into the back of another city bus; a Department of Sanitation snow plow stuck in a snowdrift; and best of all, a man at a bus stop reading a newspaper while sitting in an armchair atop a huge pile of snow.

"I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities."
~ Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

If Divinipotent Daily ruled the world, the nonsense researchers would get together with Professor Kalina Christoff, who has conducted a study indicating that the parts of our brains dedicated to complex problem-solving are very active when we daydream. Collaboration should be simple enough to arrange since Christoff, like Steven Heine, labors in the salt mines of the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia. Imagine the possibilities: solutions to complex absurdities such as Congress or, who knows, even Fox News.

"Forgive me my nonsense, as I also forgive the nonsense of those that think they talk sense."
~ Robert Frost

By the way, what an interesting place the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia must be. And how resourceful its researchers are to initiate research into the naturally nonsensical, daydreaming state of the average student. Perhaps next they can turn their attentions to the potential beneficial effects of zoning out during overly long stories and explanations or the "dead brain" state so typical of audiences at PowerPoint presentations.

“Nonsense is an assertion of man's spiritual freedom in spite of all the oppressions of circumstance.”
~ Aldous Huxley


  1. Hi Michele, I enjoyed this entry immensely . . . nice touch with the quotes. I've always been a big fan of nonsensical daydreaming and indulged in it quite a bit when I went without a TV for a year when I first moved to NYC.

  2. Thanks, Patricia. Nonsense is such a welcome refuge from oppressive reality, we might have known it would be good for the old thinker.