Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Brain Compost

You know those ideas and thoughts you have which disappear into the great void of forgetfulness?

Not the ones which happen to get lost on the way up the stairs or from one room into another;  the ones when you meant to fetch something, do something, and by the time you got wherever it is you wanted to fetch it from or do it, the whole thing has vanished, and you have to start all over again.

Nor the names of books, films and plays you are just about to throw nonchalantly into the conversation when you find your mind a sudden blank and your face red with embarrassment.

Nor the appointments you miss because you forgot to transfer dates from one diary into another.

Nor when you find you have forgotten the name of the person coming towards you with outstretched hands, beaming with pleasure and loudly greeting you by name.

Nor when you forget the names of people in your own family and you recite them all, male and female interchangeable, all the way through, until the final name you utter is the one of the child/aunt/uncle/other grinning delightedly at your discomfort. My dad was particularly good at that; we used to let him work through the list and congratulate him when he finally matched name to person.

No, none of the above.

I am talking about the really good ideas, the clever ones, the insightful, creative ones. Like when you have a brilliant idea for a blog post. Or, if you are of a slightly higher order on the literary scale, an idea for a short story, say. Or at work, a problem which has irritated or confused you for many months, and suddenly, you have that light bulb moment, and there’s the solution, as plain as the nose on your face.  Or maybe you have a really insightful thought, one of those that should be anthologised, an aphorism destined to be forever repeated by bloggers given to filling their posts with quotations.

I am sure you know the sort of thing I mean.

If you do, and are the person who experiences a flash of brilliance, I advise you to write it down there and then. Somebody, something will interrupt your train of thought and the solution to all the evils of the world will have disappeared for ever. Einstein/Shakespeare/Beethoven never allowed a mere mortal  to disturb the creative muse, that’s for sure.

But now I finally come to the point of this post (the idea for which I’ve nicked from PerlNumquist at his blog Mental Floss) : what happens to that collection of bright thoughts which appear like shooting stars across the night sky, only to disappear as quickly? Where do they go?

Everything on our planet is recycled.

Is there a bottomless pit in the brain where they collect, become a kind of primordial compost heap of thoughts which rots down over the years, only to be recycled as manure for new growth?

Is it possible that ‘wisdom comes with age’ is nothing more than absent-mindedness during middle age?


  1. I do! Light bulb moments that suddenly go plink - all the while.

  2. ja dat kan een heel groot probleem zijn.

  3. I tend to agree that forgotten thoughts are forgotten for a reason, which may be they are not ripe for harvesting at the moment, but will contribute to new growth once they have been allowed to spend purgatory in the compost heap. And, yes, I think there is something to the notion that the "wisdom of age," such as it is, is related to matters which have slipped from the mind. It's been said that the two keys to happiness are a good appetite and a bad memory — and I quite agree.

  4. Unlike Perl and you, I never have any such great ideas. I do take note of ideas for blogposts and other stuff, mostly in the shape of one or three words typed into the notepad feature on my mobile phone. Sometimes these are ideas for Christmas and other presents for people, something I find very useful every year, as often these ideas occur to me in the middle of the year, and by the time Christmas comes round, I would not remember what I intended to get for everyone were it not for those notes.
    But when it comes to blog posts and other, more creative, thoughts: I re-read those little notes after weeks or months and then wonder why I ever thought them worth keeping; I am disappointed at how banal they seem at closer inspection, and have more than once deleted quite a few such entries from the notepad. I guess creative minds such as yours, Perls and of many other people brim with ideas all the time, and all you lack is the time (and sometimes energy) to sit down and pour them from your mind into the keyboard. I envy you!

  5. Damn, I had a great idea for a comment a moment ago, but it's gone clean out of my head!

  6. I met a guy once who attributed it to the brain cell dump. He read somewhere that the brain dumps about 50,000 brain cells every day in order to make room for the new ones. so that's what I think too. all my brilliant ideas, thoughts, and solutions get snagged by the brain dump.

  7. this happens all the time to me Flora...Fran...ah....Florence.....Fanny,Frita....Friko..yes that's it Firko!
    gave me a good wee smile across my face
    I read that 2 ounces of coconut oil and working a Scrabble board can help ")

  8. Brain compost…interesting. Problem is, I can't always remember something long enough to write it down,let alone 'retrieve' it later.

  9. Friko, some folks believe that our dreams are an attempt for our brains to find places to "file" new thoughts, experiences, memories collected during recent waking hours. Sometimes this causes rather extraordinary plot lines, or strange sorts of visual puns, or what might seem to us to be nonsensical dreaming.

    However...what if these fragments were just waiting to the summoned by some future spark? That's my take on your composting theory.

    And so, dreaming is part of the creative process...and so is waking up! xo

  10. I wish I knew where that stuff goes because I would go there and get it back. I have forgotten so many brilliant ideas. At least I think they were brilliant. Of course, I forget ordinary stuff today. Last night Favorite Young Man and I were talking about politics and I couldn't remember Michael Dukakis's name. Thank Heavens he looked it up on his phone or I might have lost my mind completely.


  11. Oh I do know exactly what you mean and the suggestion to write it down is a very good one. On those rare occasions that I do, I remain brilliant. ;) I had another thought about what to add to this but... gone.

  12. I just love this concept, 'compost of the brain'. This will keep me amused for ages, thanks so much:)
    As for great thoughts, mine only happen at night, and in the cold light of day are revealed for what they truly are, the more hot, steaming, organic kind of animal 'compost':(

  13. ha. that is why i def keep my notebook with me...i dont need any more compost between my ears...i have

  14. Wow -- you're getting deep on me. But it's a good thought. I have those flashes of assumed brilliance only to lose them (along with the keys and whatever else is in the path.) Like when my cousin and I invented caffeine free diet Coke. Well, that one I remember clear as day, laying on the beach muttering that if they can take the caffeine out of coffee and tea, why not diet soda? We pondered this at great length and then went back to trashy books and look what happened... And that is the idea I remember. What about all those at the bottom of the pool. OK, now I am officially depressed...

  15. When I was working and had a problem I couldn't solve in the day I used to find the solution would come to me in the early I kept a notepad by the bed.
    These days the flashes come during the day - usually when I have my hands wet or dirty - and are promptly lost.

  16. Yes. I know exactly the ones you are referring to. The ones I just KNOW I won't forget because they are so darn good. But then... they are not where I left them. I sometimes have the best dreams and I will awake knowing that I've got it, but before long it's down in the compost. Maybe your other commenters are correct and it's just not quite time and it'll sprout out like last year's beans. :-)

  17. There is a wonderful Far Side cartoon. His usual dorky kid has his hand up in class 'May I be excuse? My brain is full.'
    Which resonates. I would feel better if I thought that there was matter quietly composting away, but fear it simply doesn't make it in to the grey matter in the first place. And the log jam prevents anything surfacing either.

  18. I want to read this again, so I bookmarked it (so I don't forget). I was smiling reading it, Friko!

  19. I like the idea of those lost great thoughts becoming compost for other great thoughts. Makes sense to me.

  20. Well, this isn't brilliant, but today Dick and I took Lindy to see the vet, who had posted a list of things that are bad for our pets, to give us something to do while she was busy elsewhere. It seems compost is bad for dogs. I never knew that. We knew the other things on the list, though.
    And the lump on the side of the Lindimus, which I was afraid might be terribly bad news? It was a fatty deposit, and it seems Golden Retrievers are particularly prone to such things.
    Now I'm pretty sure I won't wake up in the middle of the night worrying, as I did last night and the night before.
    And I hope I can remember where to find a pen or pencil next time I have A Brilliant Thought.
    Luv, K

  21. I find that I remember brilliant ideas a couple of years later after not having thought about them all that time at all. But that is just how my mind works and it may not work for you and be too slow. Probably by that time you can no longer get the patent on them. :)

  22. Ahhhh, you are not alone in this Friko!
    Regarding the first part of your post: ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh YES! Definitely known to me quite good! :-)
    About the second part; YES I follow the writing down thing for some time already, otherwise it is all lost.
    And your theory about that collecting bin in my brain - I am going to search for it! :-)

  23. Such a philosopher, Friko. And yes, tiny scrawled notes, never being without a pen or camera, all add up to ideas and blog posts worth clicking on. I've been ill so long though (a week? A millennium?) that I fear all worthy ideas have fried up in the fever, wrung out by aches, or starved......but something tells me they will return when I can get out again....they always do.

    ALOHA from Honolulu
    Comfort Spiral
    > < } } ( ° >

  24. Aah Ha - I carry a small pad with me to jot down those brilliant moments, that dash flash of the mind and have also a small pad by my bedside, for I do have those moments while resting. I can remember waking up one night with a brilliant idea and immediately wrote it "groggily" on paper - next morning I hardly remembered, checked what I had written and a decent poem came out of all of it. Please do not mind the expression, but I have heard a Maritime expression which means the same as all you have written above - you might even laugh - its called a "Brain Fart". Cheers :)

  25. Ha ha - quite possible. But the more we train our brains, the less forgetful we are.

  26. Friko - I am rather obsessed with having pen to paper/ pen to walls/ pen to skin. If jotting down is out of the creative question, I try to make a rhyme or mad little rap to help keep the idea fresh. I've read ninety percent of our dreams are forgotten within the first ten minutes of waking - lest it be a nightmare or one of THOSE dreams that stay with you all day. You're absolutely spot on, Friko. I've had some days when my arms can be covered in writing - one neater than the other, of course.

  27. Humm – we will soon be going to my husband’s brain/Alzheimer specialist at Emory for his yearly visit – I guess I should ask him about memory compost? I know this is macabre humor – but why not have a laugh. I enjoyed your post – even if your memory is sometime faulty, at least you have a lot of imagination.

    I sometimes (often) wake up around 4 am and realize I was writing a post in my dream. I usually memorize the sentence or the post thought and use it soon. For example the post about chocolate came to me in a dream – I had planned to write something else. I get those dreams often – to show you how blogging has gotten into my brain …

  28. I carry a little 'writer's notebook' with me everywhere, and write things down as soon as they occur. You are so right. This is the only way. Nice to catch up with your blog again after being away on holiday, offline for ages and now with lots to catch up on.

  29. In the first part of your post I thought you are describing me !
    I get the best ideas laying in my bed and trying to fall asleep. If I really think it's good, I quickly get up and write it down. But these light bulbs don't happen very often. Mostly I have forgotten the brilliant post I wanted to write ... the next morning !

  30. I sort of like the ideas as compost--useful, then, whether brilliant or not!

  31. My mother would recite what we called The Litany of the Saints, as she tried to address one or the other of us. For some reason she'd start with the names of her six sisters and then go through her three daughters. Now I find myself doing the same thing.
    Brain compost? I think I'm working on a lovely, steaming heap.

  32. Oh, the litany of names! First my grandmother, then my mother and now me. I find I have to write everything down when it occurs to me or it's gone, probably never to reappear. I do like the idea of brain compost. Who knows what seeds of genius may be germinating in it?

  33. If memory compost is like the real stuff, it will in time encourage brain-worms. And something of the idea will come back: or maybe it'll feed a completely different flower.

  34. Oh yes,
    there she comes
    beaming with outstretched arms
    and I cannot remember her name.
    I do not forget faces
    but names
    and do not like this :)
    I keep pen and paper by my bed, kitchen, desk
    and by reading table
    to jot down a thought
    or I mayl forget...

  35. All. The. Time. Even an hour ago, out walking, I had 3 marvellous ideas in a row and made sure to forcibly remember them by repeating them out loud. Ran into a friend. Chatted for 15 minutes. Got home. Ideas gone, I wouldn't even call it compost, compost is useful. More like a vacuum from where I am.


  36. Hallo Friko,
    ich bin seit geraumer Zeit dazu übergegangen, mir eine Ideenliste zu machen. Dann schnipsele ich aus Tageszeitungen schon mal Ideen aus. Vieles kommt auch spontan, vor allem das, was ich fotografiere. Da es i.d.R an Zeit fehlt, das niederzuschreiben, was ich im Kopf habe, landen viele Ideen nicht in meinem Blog. Ist schade. Ich versuche aber, meine Texte auf längere, werthaltige Texte zu konzentrieren. Von dem, was ich fotografiere, fliegt auch einiges raus, weil es Foto-Blogs in einer viel zu großen Hülle und Fülle gibt.

    Gruß Dieter

  37. Hello Friko
    I can really relate to your post - round and round we go wondering just what was it I was thinking about doing/ going/cooking. You know what it was because you described it in such detail.
    All those great ideas which managed to actually make it to notation stage have probably made it to garden compost stage during a clear out the scraps of paper stage.

  38. I am glad you liked the concept. I am pleased to say that the decomposition does indeed seem to be bearing fruit. I am also pleased to see that my brain compost fed your own fertile mind. Now there is a strange extension to the metaphor. Not quite sure how work that in. Anyway, As the plants which grow from compost need not look like those which contributed to its substance, the ideas sprouting from our own metal detritius may manifest as something seemingly entirely unrelated. And how lovely this should be the case, don't you think?

  39. Love this post and can completely relate to it!


  40. We were told in school to always have a writer's journal. We were told to write down those little snippets of thought. Of course, I never did. Do you know how many great American novels I have written in my head? Unfortunately, those ideas for novels, and the writing of them in my head, stopped when I got older. I think it is how I filled my days while raising my children. Now, I have brilliant ideas for blog posts that don't get written. At times, I do write the blogging ideas in a small notebook, but then, when I look at them, I wonder what I was thinking. You are right. Where do those ideas go? I'd like to find the place.

  41. Hi Friko .. I seem to trestle ideas together, then I have to weave the story and make it pretty - perhaps! My brain compost is still full of dust .. but daylight is appearing ...

    Good thought is brain compost - it holds lots of goodly ideas ... all grist for the blogging mill at some stage - cheers Hilary


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