Sunday, June 12, 2011

Your brain on an ipod

Bonding with my coworkers.
Fun fact: David Little never smiles with his teeth. It's because he doesn't have any.

There are two types of people in this world:
1-those who bite into a whole apple, and
2-those who cut up an apple before they eat it.

Oh, 3 groups. David Little can only eat apple sauce.

The first group--the Goethes--see things as coherent wholes. The second group--the Democrituses--break things down into their constituent components.

The same is true of ultramarathoners. Some people start 100-milers with pacing guides, split goals, and a run-from-aid-station-to-aid-station mentality. Others appreciate the integrity of the undissected occasion. Neither group is better. If you can run 100 miles, then I think you're a stud. I am in the second group. I like the bigness of a thing. I like when adventures are so huge it's hard to wrap my imagination around them. But recently, my training has become Democritian. I am running more intervals, speedwork, and hill repeats. I take things one at a time, and I think it's working. I am also doubling every day. I wish I had felt this strong when I was attempting to race 50Ks earlier this year. 24-hour events require more consistency than raw speed. I also wish training in New Haven weren't such HECK. I love Virginia.

But what I'm really writing to say is that your brain is in danger.

Last year, my professor told our class that a man was struck by an airplane while he was running because he was listening to an ipod and didn't notice the plane plummeting down from the sky. Everybody immediately turned to me--the token runner--and frowned, in a group sigh seeming to communicate "YOU'RE NEXT." My fate is sealed to death by an airplane.

I had a few questions, like:
1-Wasn't there a breeze from its descent?
2-Did the sky darken above him?
3-How loud was his music?

But I will never die by airplane because I do not run with an ipod.

Our culture has a serious issue with always needing to be mediated. We are disinclined to unplug ourselves and detach from noise, but we need silence. Our brains require it.

Silence is when your memories are strengthened and consolidated. Memories, technically speaking, are pathways of interconnected neurons, or Hebbian synaptical loops. The more you retrace a pathway, the more it is solidified as an indurate retrievable item. Memory is subcortical, and sensory stimulation is superficial. The significance of this is that the primacy of sensible immediacy precludes depth of processing. So if you are listening to things or visually engaged, and you are wholly captured by those senses, you are less able to traverse Hebbian pathways, and your memories dissipate prior to crystallization.

I do appreciate that this is dense material. Thankfully, I speak two languages: English (Academic) and English (Thug). So here is the digested, thug version of the above: Be quiet, yo, cuz if you don’t, yo’ brain aint gonna have nothin’ in it. Dat’s what’s up. Or in the words of Eminem to Rihanna: “I can’t tell you what it really is, I can only tell you what it feels like.” This is because his sensory stimulation is primary and is precluding his data retention. Or, at least that is how I interpreted the song.

Furthermore, our need to incessantly listen to music is resulting in an elevated dysthymia. By this I mean it is more difficult to feel happy. For example, running is a positive reinforcement. It results in the production of endogenous morphine, or endorphins. Music has the same effect. The coupling of the two reinforcements diminishes the reinforcement of each item on its own. So if you lose your ipod and cannot listen to music one day while training, the run will be less enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. Many races have a No Ipod Policy. Do you want to start a race already enjoying the event less than your competition? No way, no way.

And perhaps most importantly, I think it is a valuable thing to unplug and spend time alone with your thoughts. It is weird that we think we need entertainment, and I think you forfeit a lot of your individual agency if you keep listening to other people's lyrics, rather than your own thoughts. Don't run with an ipod. Or if you must, turn off the sound.

In other news, there is a giant rat on the street near my office. It is like Godzilla.
It's the simple things that make life exciting.

Happy running! Have a great week.