Great things to keep oneself amused:

  • Koosh Balls. For some reason, balls need to be really bouncy, really soft, or look really cool. Baseballs don't make the grade.
  • Duct Tape or Scotch Tape. Masking Tape just doesn't work that well.
  • A Quarter. Think of all the things you can do with it! You can flip it (I seem to be the world's best coin flipper, everyone else just lobs it up before calling heads or tails), and spin it really really fast. Or you could just stare at it for hours and wonder where it's been, if it had eyes, what it's seen, what fantastic stories it could tell!
  • Office Supplies! A folder clip works great. Thanks to the inspiration of an advertisement I saw downtown, I have some type of quadraped creature sitting on my desk, assembled from 3 folder clips and one stapler remover. Quite fearsome, too.
  • Rubber Bands!!!! RUBBER BANDS! A piece of jewelry! A weapon! They hold stuff together in ways they weren't meant to be held together! Get a few of them together, and they're a musical instrument!
silly putty (or in dire times, ticky tack). there are just too many fun things to do with it. sculpt it. string it out like taffy. pull on it hard and snap it (great stress relief). good silly putty even bounces!

quill and ink for writing. It's fascinating because there's some actual "talent" involved in writing, instead of merely scrawling out words. (and quills look damn cool). they're also wonderful to draw with as the thinkness of the line can be controlled.

dry erase markers are much fun. you can draw on nearly anything--good plastic surface, window, monitor and instantly remove it and do it all over agian.

puzzle toys such as puzzle rings, the little nail puzzles, etc. rubinks cube technically fits here, but is too "orderly" and complex. The things are so irritating because them seem so simple, adn it's maddening to let a little hunk of metal get the better of you!

those little nail board things, the ones with hundreds of tiny blunt nails that you can leave imprints and impressions of things in by moving the pins up or down by squashing objects on them.

I think ADD, or the brain functions affected by ADD, are a large cause of this phenomenon. Folks with ADD swing between a total lack of focus and a frighening hyperfocus. I'm told that there's a mechanism in the brain which regulates your attention, a sort of traffic cop for your CPU. Ritalin and related drugs stimulate the traffic cop.

Everyone I know with ADD is quite brilliant. I'll bet folks who can play with a paper clip for hours, whether or not they have ADD, have a wider range of abilities in that attention regulator. It seems like an important tool in problem solving- looking at the big picture, then at a detail. Folks who can do both become great minds.

The notion of just what a 'small thing' is is much more profound than one might think. some of the things listed here (above) -- office supplies, rubber bands, currency -- what exactly makes these 'simple' things?

The notion of 'simplicity' itself is a way of saying 'useful' -- what can be effectively used as a single, simple thing is what can be used for a particular purpose. A watch is one 'thing' when you are wearing it and using it to tell time. The same watch becomes many 'things' when one needs to replace a gear or otherwise fiddle with the inner workings. a computer is one 'thing' when it is working properly -- i.e. when its various component parts can be regarded as a single unit in regards to some particular end (to check your email or play a game, for example). If, while writing your term paper the screen goes blank and smoke wafts out of the case, something has gone wrong and the 'thing' you were just using is gone, replaced by a more-or-less intelligible arrangement of component parts (one or more of which now have to be replaced).

The true complexity of your computer has been revealed. Now you have a strange question to ask yourself -- is it that:

a) It will become functional as a computer again when you find whatever piece was fried and sucessfully replace it

or rather that

b) It will only become a computer again when you find whatever piece was fried and sucessfully re-build the 'computer' from its 'sub-computer elements?' As long as any particular critical element of the computer is not functional, there is a meaningfully real sense in which it simply is not a computer -- for the simple fact that it can't be used as one.

Alternatively, ask yourself: if tomorrow all cellular phone technology: towers, call direction centers/networks, all other mobile phones on the planet -- except your own cell phone -- disappeared, what does that make your phone? is it still a phone? or does this sudden disappearance of all the background context on which its utility depends mean that it is now nothing more than a piece of plastic and a few bits of metal?

An object's utility -- as seen from your perspective -- determines its status as an object.

No object is 'simple.' an object is capable of manifesting a virtually unlimited number of properties depending on the way it is regarded and its context within a larger system of 'things.'

(try getting your head around that. the implications of such a state of affairs might well be incomprehensible.)

Now it is obvious that your head is full of ideas, and that some are more closely related than others. We don't know too much about how this works -- but we do know that some people are more sensitive to the association of ideas than others. In modern psychology we have a concept called 'latent inhibition;' it originally came from studying schizophrenics. It turns out that as normal people, we have a fairly high inhibitory threshold for allowing one idea to spark off the awareness of another, related one. The practical reason for this is obvious -- if simply seeing a ball were to start us off on an endless chain of possible ideas for how to use the ball (excepting the relevant one you were after) we would never get anything done.

It turns out that there are two kinds of people with low latent inhibition: the aforementioned schizophrenics, and, provocatively, so-called 'creative' people. It seems like for these people, the potential utility of the objects around them is simply biologically more apparent. Of course the downside is that we have many more schizophrenics than creative geniuses. We're not too sure why that is, though it is not particularly hard to see why it might be that having the inanimate objects of the world constantly announcing their novel qualities to you might start to be taxing on your sanity.

Of course latent inhibition is not an all-or-nothing thing, but appears to operate on a continuum. And now we can address the main point:

"Small things amuse large minds."

'Simple' things, it seems to me, are actually just everyday things with particularly rigid, well-defined uses. Office supplies are for getting work done; rubber bands are for holding things together; coins are to be traded for food and other necessary items. So why are you paying so much attention to these things? -We all know what they're good for, so why not just leave them be and get back to work?

Society has a hard time putting up with 'creative' people. They tend to poke around too much and get on everybody else's nerves. But they also have a rare tendency to show us the potential values of things we'd otherwise have continued to completely overlook; this is ultimately why we value such people.

So here is a common (albeit informal) psychological test for 'creativity:' You have one minute to write down on this sheet of paper as many uses you can think of for, say, a brick or some other mundane object.

All done? Well guess what? The more things you thought of, the lower latent inhibition you probably have. congratulations!: You are better at finding uses for things.

It is not that small things amuse large minds, precisely. To a large mind, small things are not small. they're not even one thing.





incidentally, i learned this stuff from the same psychologists that discovered this and wrote an article about creativity that i have just discovered was noded in more detail here: low latent inhibitions: linking creativity and madness

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