We need a little madness
I have a question and I am struggling to answer it! It’s about structure and chaos. ‘Structure is good and chaos is bad’ is a belief I upheld for most of my life until I realized that the relationship between structure and chaos, the Yin and Yang of our minds, is much more complex. Since childhood I have obsessed over finding structure. I loved physics when I was in school. Modeling the movement of a ball in the form of a mathematical equation is like distilling the life-soul of the movement and bottling it up. Want to know where the ball would be three seconds from now? Just ask the genie in the bottle! I chose data science as a profession and my life became even more about finding structure. In my work, I develop software (a pattern in code) to find more patterns in data! My intellectual pursuit has been all about dissecting things, analyzing them, and figuring them out. If you had asked me to name one verb which I consider as the single most important activity in life, one that defines and gives purpose to our existence, I would have said ‘to understand’! Rationality and logic were the weapons with which I set out to conquer the uncertainty and meaninglessness of life. So enamored was I with this drive to understand that I named one of my first software projects ‘Apollo’ after the Greek god Apollo, son of Zeus, who is the god of truth and reason, of sun and light, of structure and order.
In the movie ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, Jim Gordon says, I paraphrase, “There’s a point out there when structures fail you, and the rules aren’t weapons anymore, they’re shackles…” A little while ago, in a moment of epiphany, I realized that I had reached that point and my weapons had indeed become my shackles. In my quest for understanding, I had abandoned the joy of spontaneity and impulsiveness. I had emphasized thinking over feeling and logic over intuition. By seeing everything through the lens of Apollo, I had colored my life dull grey. When realization dawned on me that I was missing a dimension in life, I turned towards the other son of Zeus, Dionysus, the god of feeling and emotion, of wine and music, of chaos and madness.
I made supplications to Dionysus to bring me some chaos, so there’d be more warmth and color in my life. For that, I decided I needed more art! However, as it turns out, it’s not easy to break the spell of Apollo. I started doing photography and enjoyed it for a while until I took a class of Visual Computing at Berkeley and I found myself doing more MATLAB and Photoshop than actually clicking photos with my camera. I learnt to play flute for six months but gave up when it failed to stimulate me anymore. I had much better luck at writing than at photography or music. I decided to write a fiction novel and I finished writing it (I am now working on getting it published). A friend who reviewed an early draft of the manuscript told me she found it interesting that it seemed as if every sentence in the novel was written with a clear purpose of adding a piece of information to the story and there were no superfluous sentences. That was my moment of epiphany when I realized that even my art was dominated by structure rather than spontaneity and I had failed to break the shackles!
Nietzsche writes that all creation is born out of tension between the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Creativity is a child of reason and emotion and it needs both parents. It’s a fact that our society shows a marked preference for the Apollonian. If you are hiring, you want an employee who is organized, steady and reliable. Most employers will not tolerate a disorganized unreliable employee even if he could, at times, be brilliant. Patience, perseverance, planning are all Apollonian values and they help us throughout our lives but to truly experience the world in all its dimensions, we need a little madness! We need to let go of the structures, if only for a while, and embrace spontaneity. We need to break the shackles and let our imagination run wild into territories that reason would never permit. Sometimes our need to feel is greater than our need to understand. How do we indulge ourselves in a little madness without losing sight of reason? How can we get our reason and madness to play with each other? How can I embrace spontaneity when my personality is so strongly Apollonian in nature? That’s a question I am struggling to answer! (P.S. According to MBTI personality test, I am an INTP which means that my personality strongly predisposes me to value thinking over intuition, truth over feelings, and structure over chaos)