The internet has rewired our brain for nonlinear exploration. Imagine if high schools and universities offered the option for self directed free associative research, group study, and private mentors. How many bored students would rise from their sleepy indifference and begin pursuing the topics that actually interested them?
We can explore the world and the collective body of human knowledge without any institutional guidance. However, there is a fundamental road block that keeps many of us from mental freedom: Where should we even begin?
HOW TO F.A.R.M.
Most of the content we explore is being fed to us by social media, news media, and word of mouth. Our exposure to new ideas tends to be limited by the environments in which we exist. There is an antidote to this problem, which I call the Free Associative Research Method (F.A.R.M).
Many great thinkers have compared the human mind to that of a garden. The seed ideas that we plant in our mind will eventually grow and develop over time. The best way to have a lush, diverse, and beautiful garden is to find the best seeds possible. In many cases, our friends and family only have access to a limited variety of ideas, so how are we supposed to break free and discover new things for ourselves?
“The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight.” – Joseph Campbell
I learned the Free Associative Research Method from hanging out with a very intelligent and clinically psychotic friend. He would attempt to beat the lottery using “codes” from his environment; namely in fragmentary details of billboards, addresses, people’s names, license plates, and so forth.
I watched the technique fail him over and over again, as he struggled with all of the trappings of poverty, homelessness and unemployment. None of these codes ever translated into a meaningful lottery victory. However, despite these apparent insane attempts to hack the computer simulation of reality, I noticed something else that most people would have overlooked – this person was collecting an incredibly vast and diverse collection of stimulating bits of information. It was as if he was getting high on the process of research, and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow never had to materialize, because the process itself was the drug.
Furthermore, there was something very peculiar about this person. On several occasions he demonstrated a kind of inexplicable clairvoyance. For example, he would interrupt out conversation with a total non-sequitur, to begin talking about something seemingly unrelated to our dialogue, but which addressed a specific and intensely personal thought that had crossed my mind earlier that day. It was as if his mind behaved like a dousing rod, locating “psychic water”, without knowing what drove him. He was aware that he had this ability, but this drive was on auto-pilot and so often times it would happen without his willing or even realizing it.
The F.A.R.M. Technique
Out of sheer interest and fascination, I spent enough time with this person to observe and even collaborate on long form adventures through the city, absorbing his techniques while standing carefully on guard to ensure that my mental fortitude remained in tact. It felt important that I hold down a job, that I be capable of unplugging from these mind games and reconnect with the mundane world, and that I carefully separate the gifts from the poisons.
Eight years later, I have had a lot of time and space from this person, allowing me to digest and integrate the experience. What I have found and developed is a personal method of intellectual discovery that links the mind to the body and the world, drawing upon the chaotic and primordial immediacy of street life as an energy source for mental stimulation, mystical rapture, and independent education.
I have been pleasantly surprised to learn that many people already practice this method, but never speak out about it because, like a kind of mental tic, it seems somehow unbecoming or “crazy”.
In the remainder of this essay I will attempt to explicate some basic methods that allow an individual to draw meaningful leads from seemingly mundane bits of data. What I love about this technique is that it capitalizes on our thirst for knowledge while circumventing our tendency for short attention span. As soon as an idea loses interest and momentum, the FARM technique provides fresh material for the psychonaut to jump back in and continue learning.
Acronyms – Discover the multitude of meanings behind an acronym. Pick one (or a few) ideas to hone in on and learn something new about the world. For example, the acronym “EZM” stands for “elevated zero maze”, a type of controlled environment for studying laboratory mice. Discovering this bit of data led me to journey to the bookstore and seek out a new book on laboratory testing. I found a book in the biology section called the Lucifer Principle, featuring a lab rat hanging from its tail. This proved to be an interesting book dealing with memetics and super-organisms, two topics that fascinate me.
Abbreviations – Do the letters seem to comprise a partial word? What are the possible permutations? For example “HUN” could be Attila The Hun, Hungry, Hundred, Hunting, etc.
Isolates – Are you looking at letters isolated from a word? A string of vowels or consonants may seem to imply a multitude of hidden meanings. “CRD” could be Card, Cord, Creed, Cared, Carried, etc. In some case a single word may be implied, for example “EAH” may bring to mind the word Each.
Approximations – Perhaps a string of letters reminds you of a word with a different spelling. This could be phonetically, “LUV” brings to mind the word Love or “HYT” invokes the words Hit or Height. Alternatively, you may see a non-phonetic correlate, for example, “DHZ” could bring to mind the acronym DHS (Department of Human Services) because the letter Z resembles a backwards S.
Anagrams – The letters may be a rearrangement of an actual word, for example “EEB” to the word Bee and “EEV” to the word Eve.
Nonsense – In some cases a string may have no logical meaning at all, but the mind creates a spontaneous meaning that sticks. “QZX” could take on some internal meaning where the word “Quiznos” emerges, because X is sometimes a symbol for the word No. (QZ + NO leading to the thought of Quizno sub sandwiches). Anything goes!
Three Numbers – It could be the area code for a phone number. The location ID becomes significant. Could also imply a date (i.e. 453 = 453 BC / AD) or the last three digits of a date (i.e. 1453). If you are in a neighborhood and are close to an address of that same numeric value, check to see if there is a house with that number, and if so, observe any meaningful details. Through this technique I discovered that Atilla the Hun died attempting to conquer Constantinople in 453 AD, and that coincidentally, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 AD, after which it became Istanbul.
Four Numbers – If it starts with the number one, check events that occurred on that date. Otherwise, google the number itself to see if it belongs to some other technical designation. I have discovered strange items in the world because they were ID’d by a random number… The number “3757” led me to LRG-3757, a gravitationally lensed galaxy nicknamed the Cosmic Horseshoe:
Five Numbers – Check for zip code ID and look into the region designated by that number.
Where to Look
There are innumerable license plates and it takes some effort to look into each one. Leisure time may limited, not to mention energy and attention span. Rather than scanning everything that comes your way, wait for something to catch your eye. I have found that anomalous events – weird things that show up in the immediate environment – are statistically more likely to produce meaningful leads. This may very well be a trick of the mind — as the observer I am already interested in that thing and so the data-bits attached to it are more intrinsically interesting. On the other hand, perhaps there is some higher organizing principle that is nudging me toward something. Who knows?
Heightened States Produced Better Results
The best way to locate meaningful leads for independent research and nurture the spirit of discovery is to begin the hunt in a euphoric state. This can be achieved through any number of preparatory techniques, including relaxation (yoga, a nap), sensory deprivation (quiet period without stimulation), and even cognitive dissonance (an argument or troubling experience). Anything that interrupts the ordinary patterns of thought, feeling and behavior can serve to exalt the exploratory drive and increase your odds of landing on something meaningful.
Find a path with lots of cars and people, where you can feed on the movement. Listen closely to bits of conversation as you pass by, disturbances in the psycho-social environment, and so forth. Walking through the forest is a good way to clear the mind but it is not conducive to the FARM technique. You want to be in a safe but slightly chaotic environment.
When you find the ideal environment to go “fishing” for data bits, make a habit of returning to these areas. Study all of the cars that park on that street and become acquainted with all possible interpretations of their plates. These will help to anchor the psychic landscape and increase your chances of detecting novelty, proximity and contrast to pre-established meaning structures in the environment. Try seeing the environment as a psychic rather than physical environment. In other words, interact with the surroundings as if you were in a symbolic and dreamlike space.
What To Do When You Catch Something
Don’t discriminate against new fields – Keep your mind open to discovering an interesting piece of information. Tracking and deciphering alpha-numeric codes can lead you toward an event, location, person, item, philosophy, or concept that you would otherwise never investigate. There is no obligation to stay with information unless it interests you, but be sure to stay open to new ideas that you wouldn’t normally encounter. For example, I have no interest in stock markets, but I have found that there are some interesting ideas and techniques within economics that appear to me in that moment to be philosophical gems and metaphors for the human condition.
Cultivate Happiness and Compassion – There’s no need to allow this process to transform into paranoia or conspiracy. One of the big pitfalls in this type of thinking is the drive to identify sinister forces. It’s not at all necessary and in fact will likely only work against you. On the other hand, there is no need to reject dark or evil elements in the field either. Treat all elements as though they are extensions of a unified multifaceted arena. Cultivate happiness and kindness.
Don’t wait too long – You may want to carry a notebook with you or jot things down on your smart phone’s note pad. It’s a good idea if your memory bank is full and you want to retain something, but don’t wait too long or the momentum will be lost. I often find myself stopping in the middle of a walk, looking something up on the side of the road. Be mindful of the environment and don’t put yourself in harm’s way. Take a seat or lean up against a wall. There is a strange kind of ecstatic spontaneity available to you if you act quickly.
Internet + Physical books – Conduct research into your little treasures. If there is only one take away from your walk, then go to a book store / library and see if you can find material that covers that idea in greater depth. I like to use the internet for my initial search queries, and then use physical books for deeper long term research.
Share With Friends – Knowledge is power. We are all caught up in these limited reality bubbles constructed for us by the social groups to which we belong. Break free of those constraints and then extend your newfound knowledge to those friends who you think may be interested.
Engineering Personal Ecstasy – Synchronicity and Magick
One of the best parts of this process is when synchronicity occurs. This aspect of the process seems to be very difficult to control — it appears to happen of its own accord. It can also be difficult to talk about or describe without going into personal stories or anecdotes, so I will offer one here…
I noticed a car a couple of blocks from my house whose front tires were blown out and right window had been smashed. Taped over the window was a newspaper. Curious, I approached the window and read the fine print on the page. It was an article about Sam Barlow, the trail blazer who completed the final stretch of the Oregon trail. The name of the article was “The Key to Time Traveling”, though the article itself was simply about driving on the highway and had nothing to do with time travel.
For some reason I mentioned this to my girlfriend, and the next day I went back to the car to take a photo of the newspaper. As I did so, my ex-girlfriend showed up – a blast from the past – and I made a quip about time traveling. She joked that it made sense because she loves the show Doctor Who, which is all about time travel.
A few days later, I dreamed that I was in the passenger seat of a car speaking to a famous author named Neil Cross. During our conversation, I explained that I also am a published author and that I write about music mysticism.
I had never heard the name Neil Cross before, but when I woke up I felt a sense of total certainty that it belonged to a real author. A quick search revealed that he was in fact a published writer, but I didn’t recognize any of his books. I went to the local bookstore where I like to shop and searched there database. They carried none of his books. So much for the idea of subliminal / peripheral vision.
I went back on his Wikipedia page and looked closer at his TV script credits, to find that he had written the script for two Doctor Who episodes. One of the episode description popped out at me — an episode about a little girl who uses her voice to pacify the gods. I watched the episode and was completely floored, as it centered around many of my favorite concepts – secret magical melodies that open up doors (see: Zelda’s Ocarina of Time, Batman’s piano and the Batcave, Prometheus and the Cosmic Holographic Flute, etc), ancient aliens in foreign galaxies, and without giving away the ending to this episode, the power of love to conquer evil.
In Summation: We can follow tiny scraps of information and be led toward bizarre, almost mystical experiences. A bit of newspaper attached to a trashy car led me to reconnect with a close friend, have a vivid and meaningful dream, and led me toward an episode of a trippy show that I would otherwise not have seen. The FARM method is therefore not only a way to research new ideas, but also a means by which we can come into direct gnostic union with the mysteries of the universe.
MindMapping – Construct Your Personal Neural Network
Over time the knowledge acquisition process will begin to bear fruit. Here are some things to consider.
Art and Creativity – This is not merely about becoming more intelligent or memorizing little facts. The value of nonlinear research is that we begin to discover places within the collective psyche that we’ve never explored before, and in turn, we discover aspects of our Self that we didn’t know exist. This can lead to heightened creativity.
Mind-mapping – You can use free mind mapping software like Google’s Mindmup to generate visual webs that highlight the discoveries. As the free associative process continues, it may be helpful to literally draw connections between these nodes. I have experienced improvement of memory with these techniques.
Synchronicity and the World Soul – Free association loosens our mental bondage and frees us up to explore all fields of knowledge. As you track the a-causal interconnected relationships between things, things like word-play and the juxtaposition of seemingly disparate ideas can lead to a radical reinterpretation of reality.
The well worn aphorism that We Are All One will become ever more clear, not merely in terms of a felt spiritual experience, but intellectually as well, so that the contents of our mind experience a similar kind of union and cohesion.
The Free Associative Research Method is available to everyone and is an extension of mystical traditions into the technological advanced climate that we live in today. To those willing to explore the world with an open mind, untold treasures will be revealed…