Sticky Notes - You're an addict.

THE "PAVLOV" ISSUE. 

This is your brain.

You're about to read this week's edition of Chasing Hemingway: a weekly newsletter that explores the minds of the world's greatest thinkers, artists, writers and musicians to help you do deep, creative work you're proud of. Normally, folks pay to receive this newsletter. I'm sending you this edition for free because, well, I hope you will start paying to receive it. If you find it interesting, you can become a subscriber by clicking this glowing text.

This is your brain on drugs.

When I first read of the Russian Soviet neurologist Ivan Pavlov and his salivating dogs back in high school, I envisioned a Santa Clause-looking character with a love for animals that could have put Cesar Millan out of business.

Upon doing a bit of research for the issue you're reading now, I realized that while Pavlov made great strides in what behavioral scientists now know as "classical conditioning" –– or learning through association –– he was an angry, narcissistic genius that abused (and ultimately killed) dozens and dozens of dogs in the name of science. 

Before Pavlov studied the salivating tendencies of dogs, he was obsessed with their Gastric juice; a translucent slime that induces swallowing, coats the stomach in a protective layer, kills any bacteria fornicating on nigiri and breaks down protein in said nigiri after it has been ingested. 

Hands deep in Gastric juice, Pavlov discovered that on a good day, a healthy dog could produce well over a quart of Gastric Juice –– which, at the time, was a wildly popular treatment for indigestion –– and so the scientist set up a Gastric juice factory which writer Daniel Todes describes in nauseating detail in his biography, "Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life In Science"... 


 " 

Five large young dogs, weighing sixty to seventy pounds and selected for their voracious appetites, stood on a long table harnessed to the wooden crossbeam directly above their heads. Each was equipped with an esophagotomy and fistula from which a tube led to the collection vessel. Each ‘factory dog’ faced a short wooden stand tilted to display a large bowl of minced meat.

 " 

In a few short years, Pavlov's venture was selling more than three thousand flagons of Gastric Juice each year and the profits alone raised his laboratory's budget by something like 70%. 

Eventually, when Pavlov did finally study dogs' salivating behavior in response to food, he made his name for the little party trick that every American teenager has read about in science class: he rang a bell every time his dogs got fed and then one day, he rang the bell and decided not to feed them.

The poor, hungry beasts slobbered like hagfish caught in a crabber's net and, suddenly, "classical conditioning" was born.

I mention all of this so that I can write about classical conditioning without feeling terribly guilty. Everybody writes about Pavlov like he deserves a hand-job from Aphrodite. While he was instrumental in helping us better understand our minds, he was a pretty fucked up dude. 

That being said, humans are constant victims of classical conditioning. 

As you've read this piece, there is a very good chance you've felt a mild, pang of boredom and instead of sitting still with this boredom, you've found yourself inadvertently refreshing your email, answering your spouse's texts and talking shit on Twitter.

I'd like to think that my writing garners more attention than this, but several weeks back I saw a bunch of fans on their phones for the entirety of a Kendrick Lamar concert and, unfortunately, my performance on the page isn't anywhere as interesting as Kendrick's performance on stage. 

Our urge to open up our phones when we are bored is a conditioned response, not unlike Pavlov's dogs slobbering at the ringing of a bell. We've created a "Pavlovian Connection" between "boredom" and a sudden need to not be bored by looking at an onslaught of wildly entertaining nonsense on our glowing screens.

This ends up being of great detriment to anyone that makes a living with their mind (I'm looking at you: writers, artists, musicians, scientists, computer programmers, etc).

Why is this?

Because when we condition our minds to run away from boring, quiet, slow, difficult, thought-provoking moments, we've conditioned them to avoid the very moments that are required to make books, art, music, science and code. 

What's fascinating is that while Kendrick Lamar's album DAMN won a fucking Pulitzer Prize and not a single fan on the planet would argue that it's not wildly entertaining –– save for maybe the asshats texting for the entirety of his show –– if we were to ask Kendrick if there were periods of the creation of his album that were "boring" to make, he'd say "yes, probably so". 

However, if we can learn to sit with our boredom, we soon realize that it's within our boredom where we can experience our most exciting, freest, deepest, most beautiful state of play. 

Neil Gaiman, a science-fiction and fantasy writer who I deeply admire, once described his writing process in an interview with the podcaster, Tim Ferriss.

He said that when he's blocked, he allows himself to either write or do absolutely nothing.

Naturally, Ferriss asked Gaiman what he meant by nothing, to which the writer explained that he literally meant nothing; that he could sit in his office and do absolutely nothing or he could write. 

Neil Gaiman then described that the same thing would always happen... 

He would eventually grow bored of doing nothing and he would write.

By Cole Schafer. 

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