I started writing a post explaining that psychotic episodes are like conceptual breakthrough insights, except that they’re wrong and therefore persistent delusions. But I ended up writing several paragraphs of background material and running out of time. Therefore…background material in small chunks.
Insight comes from the compulsive recombinant behavior of the occipital lobe (at least the sort I have to constantly deal with). This is the brain constantly generating mostly nonsense questions and hypotheses like “Is it possible to look at a square at a certain angle and see a triangle?” Every now and then, the occipital comes up with a useful hypothesis for modeling the outside world: “Ozzy’s gene mutation that breaks down alcohol efficiently comes from neanderthals.” In the occipital’s style of cognition, a useful theory is one that is both highly explanatory and predictive. That is, a lot of different hypotheses happen to fit together nicely, and ratio isn’t complaining about internal contradictions or perceptual data that contradicts the theory.
So these useful theories have been rolling around in the unconscious for a while, collecting other ideas that fit into their various paradigms and “stick” onto them like giant katamaris. When one of these gets big enough, it may be passed on to the conscious mind as an “insight”. The conscious mind experiences this as a flash of insight containing a single, simple idea, followed by a short period (a few minutes) I call the “exposition”. The insight is experienced as being of paramount importance for reasons that aren’t quite understood until the exposition gets rolling, but this is an important mechanism because the exposition requires a short period of obsessive introspection. Often, the insight is triggered by an external event requiring an explanation, maybe a headline on the news like “Hijackers Fly Planes Into Twin Towers”, and the unconscious is all like “Hey bro, remember when we read Spengler? Well, I’ve been working on that paradigm for a while and it might explain this, so you can try it out for a bit. Here’s how it works…”
The exposition is a period where the unconscious teaches a theory to the conscious. The conscious mind experiences this as a singular idea which is examined from several angles to reveal a bunch of important implications and applications (which is just the gradual revelation of ideas that stuck to the katamari). I think this is why it often manifests, in the imagination, as a sort of heavily one-sided dialogue. John C. Wright’s character Menelaus Montrose does this in Count to a Trillion when he’s in some sort of coma, IIRC. His unconscious mind invents a character who teaches him the math he’s going to need when he wakes up. In my imaginative experience, the one soliloquizing to a captive audience is “me”, but that’s probably a sort of projection (and a lot like blogging, incidentally). Then again, Menelaus is a post-human with an IQ higher than his planet-sized crystal computing thingamajig, Pellucid, whereas I’m just this guy, so maybe the criticism is unjustified :-P.
Anyway, I think a good way to imagine this process is to picture the conscious mind as a precocious kid who’s mother has told him he needs to clean and organize his toys, and the unconscious mind as a mute servant/caretaker who knew this was coming and has already been working on the arrangements. (I call the occipital “the old man in back” for this reason.) The kid turns around to see shelves, boxes, and drawers already set up for him. The old man then demonstrates how they can be used to organize the toys, slowly placing each toy in a particular place, while the kid sort of narrates his gradual understanding.
“Oh I see, all of the Transformers can go on the same shelf here…(the old man nods)…and all of the stuffed animals can go in the box because they won’t break…(the old man nods again)…and the extra bedding can go in the dresser…(the old man shakes his head)…oh, I guess it wouldn’t fit, would it…(the old man nods)…” Et cetera, until the kid has fully understood the idea.
As an example, consider the bit about Ozzy’s drinking mutation above. Maybe one or two of you read that and were like “Whoa, everything makes sense now!” But the rest weren’t really sure where that idea came from. Here’s what an exposition might look like: Ice people often have alcoholic drinking habits. Thals change mental modes under the influence of even small amounts of alcohol, which is similar to being a functioning alcoholic (specifically within the social sphere). Otherwise, thals are in deepsock mode. Ozzy in particular has lots of neanderthal admixture. Maybe alcohol was a social ritual of sorts for thals, telling them “the work day is over, relax and socialize now”. Maybe this ritual led to increased tolerance over time, favoring people who experienced the mental switch without poisoning themselves as much.