My wife and I were out walking recently and we came across a large piece of rock coming out of the landscape. We looked at it. I wondered at how old it might be. Well, said my wife, some bits of granite are at least 30 million years old. She went on to give a short overview of how granite forms. I had already left the room, I have to confess. My question wasn’t actually the one I asked. My mind was already telling an imaginary audience the “real” history of this rock. How dwarves had sheltered under it when being persecuted by the goblin clans. How, on some nights when the moon was full, unicorns used to meet here to mate. How before men arrived, dragons used this stone for their gatherings. I began to construct the history of these creatures and their interactions with each other. My wife looked at me and smiled. “That’s the wrong answer isn’t it?” “No. Just not the answer I meant.” I replied. We carried on our walk smiling since we both know about these kinds of conversations. My wife is an engineer and, therefore, of a practical mind. For her a piece of rock is a piece of rock. It can be carbon dated. It can be weighed. Measured. Tested in many ways. It has nothing to do with dwarves, goblins or dragons.
In schizophrenia there is a phenomenon known as Knights Move thinking. This is a way of describing psychotic thinking. For example “The next day when I’d be going out, you know, I took control, like uh, I put bleach on my hair in California.” (Wikipedia article on Derailment- thought disorder.) The idea is that the response to a question bears no obvious connection to the question itself. another way of describing this is a loosening of associations.There is a connection in the mind of the person answering .It is not the answer the questioner was asking for. but that doesn’t make it a wrong answer. I remember as a teenager finding maths, physics etc incomprehensible .What possible value did Ohms law have? Why does it matter what Pythagorus thought about triangles? My father came home one evening after a parents night at my school. He relayed the information that my Headmaster thought that my head was “full of nothing”. (It was not given as a compliment!) I’ve often thought about that comment. What he meant was that my mind was not full of Boyle’s law .Or someone’s clever theorem about Pi.My head was full of the story of Romeo and Juliet and Shakespearian tragedy .It was entranced by the story of Animal Farm and corruption. Not “nothing” in any way. Simply a different set of associations. Brian Patten wrote A Prose Poem in Definition of Itself .In it he has these lovely lines “On sighting mathematicians poetry should unhook the algebra from their minds and replace it with poetry; on sighting poets it should unhook poetry from their minds and replace it with algebra…” Or we should loosen our familiar associations and see where that takes us.
I wish you all a 2015 of new, loosened associations. (Now where did I put that algebra text-book…)