Nietzsche on Words and Originality

Nietzsche on Words and Originality

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote:

​What is originality? ​To see something that has no name as yet and hence cannot be mentioned although it stares us all in the face. ​The way men usually are it takes a name to make something visible for them. ​Those with originality have for the most part also assigned names [...]

The first inspiration for neuromythography came from listening to a spiritually-sensitive person describe the interior of their mind as a kind of "inner pantheon". They had nicknames for these characters, like White Rabbit the fearful, Saturn the stern judge​, and so on. These resonated a certain familiarity to me in my then-basic understanding of the brain anatomy. For example, I vaguely recalled that the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex was rather "judgy".

I reasoned, what if certain people have insight into the subdivisions of the brain, and that this is why many people find deity pantheons​, personality systems, tarot cards, Kabbalah, and the like so interesting? And if so, might we use these systems as a kind of fuzzy heritage map for the brain? I became irrationally enthralled with the idea, and began bootstrapping my neuroscience knowledge.

The problem that stares us all in the face is that psychology, cognitive science, and philosophy​ words have failed to find homes in the brain. "Memory" had a lucky break early on when patients with hippocampus ​lesions displayed dramatic memory impairments, but this luck did not last as time went by (and the hippocampus is far richer than a memory store). ​So a fresh approach using ancient resources and unreasonable perseverance might open up new insights. ​

Eventually, I ​​came to invert my starting approach. Instead of seeking​ to find neural correlates for deities, I used the neuroscience literature to find the best allegorical archetypes. This freed me from trying to force, say, the Greek pantheon structure onto the brain, ​and instead I began to eclectically draw metaphors from any domain of human experience that seemed to interpolate what the best researchers were trying to generalize about a given brain area, neurotransmitter, or receptor​. ​

For a few years, I did not have a name for what I was doing. I was cryptic about it when I explained it to other people. I knew why I was doing it, and felt compelled to pursue it, as I was perhaps the only person in the world with the right skill stack and determination at the present time. ​​​​ But I could see something nobody else did.

I called my database a 'neuromythograph', reflecting the combination of neuroinformatics and mythological archetypes in a graph database. Eventually, the word 'neuromythography' came​ to me as a handle for the field and method I had invented. When I read Vannevar Bush's vision of a 'memex' in which he described a personalized research database, collections of data and ideas that the researcher found salient, I adopted that as the noun for the graph database I was compiling.

I share Nietzsche's observation that most people need a word to bring forth an idea. The rise of large language model AI demonstrates what creativity​ can be generated by combining words together, but also demonstrates what early Wittgenstein ​meant by "the limits of my language are the limits of my world". There is a large contingent of intellectuals who seem to really believe that language determines our reality, the medium through which the Societal Spaghetti Monster​ governs our very essences. My own study of the neuroscience literature indicates that language is an expressive skill, beneath which a great mass of wordless psyche constantly churns. ​

About the author
Steven Florek

Steven Florek

Steven Florek is the creator of neuromythography and founder of Neuromemex.

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