Brain-hacking And The Glass Bead Game

Glass beads

“…a mode of playing with the total content and values of our culture. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced…the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has obtained an almost unimaginable perfection. Theoretically, this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.” -Herman Hesse

I think I ran across The Glass Bead Game in a list somewhere of books favored by Jorge Luis Borges. Borges makes me jealous because even footnotes in his stories are interesting. If you’re not yet into this guy, go get this. It’s not really my point today that you should go read either of these books, although you of course should; but it is absolutely my launching point.

But so you know, in the case that you haven’t come across The Glass Bead Game, the idea is there’s a game in the future where the players link up themes or hidden associations between ideas and expressions and build massive intellectual edifices as they go. Not sure how you win or even how you play because it’s like chasing fog as you read that maddening book what the rules are. Worth it, though. If you’re at all into mind-expanding originality and chin-scratching genius…it’s worth the read. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of the James Burke show from back in the day, Connections. Except maybe with more coffee and on another level.

Again though, not my point today. Let me tell you about synergy and neuroplasticity, then I’ll drop you back off here with Hesse. It was just a weird thing that started happening to me that connected a lot of things and opened up some of my writing. Maybe it’s happened to you too.

A few summers back, I went on a history binge and read these:

  1. A biography of Billy The Kid emphasizing his rise as folk hero by way of dime novels
  2. A book about 19th century political schemer, Boss Tweed and the role cartoonist Thomas Nast played in bringing public opinion down on him
  3. Fawn Brodie’s scathing biography of Mormon Church founder, Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History

These books aren’t related to each other in any way, apart from just my weird, scattered interests; but something glared back at me so obvious and bright when I finished the third of them that it really struck me. All three of these (forgive me if you feel differently about Smith) swelled into larger-than-life, mythical figures and in some cases shattered against the rise of literacy in 19th century America. As more people could read and as newspapers and dime novels grew in popularity, these three came to power (and fell); and they couldn’t have done so beforehand. It was a unifying theme, entirely unexpected.

I’ll hit you with another one. Happened over this past Christmas holiday:

  1. Practical Object-Oriented Design In Ruby (don’t judge me, I only understood half of it – just curious). This one did a nice job showing how object-oriented programming languages set up little balls of usefulness that act on their own, waiting on signals, and do only the stuff they’re asked but generate emergent behavior. Just a way of programming computers, but super satisfying when you think about it.
  2. The Cell: A Visual Tour Of The Building Block Of Life, which does a nice grand tour of the little balls of usefulness acting inside our cells – organelles and proteins, cytoskeletons building and unraveling, walking proteins…all acting on their own, waiting on signals, and doing only the stuff they’re asked but still generating emergent behavior.

You get me, yeah? Cells work like object-oriented programming languages. Whatever that implies. Somebody should write something about that.

Since our brains are neuroplastic, they rewire themselves as we try to think differently or encounter dramatically new types of information. If you start trying to learn to read music, for example, over time it will get a lot easier as you learn to think that way. You can actually see the brain doing this, by the way, making new connections. My overall point here is that if you get in the habit of looking for hidden connections like I happened across, like a Glass Bead Game player might, over time you’ll get better at doing so.

Seeing crazy connections and themes between things you run across or read or watch, expands your thoughts and makes you more creative. If you’ve spent any time at all hanging around this blog, you’ll know that’s kind of my thing.

Any crazy connections you’ve come across? Drop me a note, I’d like to hear about it. Some folks have told me they’ve actually played recreations of Hesse’s game – details, man! If you’ve done that, send me details!

Less whining. More Inspiring. Have a great rest of July!