Embrace the Absurd: How Kafka’s Puzzling Tales Sharpen Your Mind

How often do you find yourself drawn to a strange film, an eerie painting, or a bewildering short story? Perhaps you have stumbled across films like “Memento” or read the bizarre works of H.P. Lovecraft. These surreal and eerie experiences not only intrigue your mind, but they might also make you smarter.

Researchers from the University of California Santa Barbara and the University of British Columbia believe that exposing your brain to situations that don’t make sense can help improve cognitive function. They studied this by having participants read a story by Franz Kafka called “The Country Doctor” and watch David Lynch’s film “Blue Velvet.”

The Mind’s Response to the Surreal

When you find yourself confronted with situations that don’t seem to make sense, your brain works hard to make connections that might help it comprehend its surroundings. Travis Proulx, one of the researchers, explains that “when you’re exposed to a meaning threat — something that fundamentally does not make sense — your brain is going to respond by looking for some other kind of structure within your environment.” And that structure can be completely unrelated to the meaning threat itself.

The critical factor in this study was that participants had no prior expectation that they would be experiencing something surreal. Proulx says that “if you expect that you’ll encounter something strange or out of the ordinary, you won’t experience the same sense of alienation.” While you may still be disturbed by the bizarre material, the surprise factor is what makes the brain work harder to find meaning in the material it’s encountering. The study was designed so that participants walked into an unexpected bizarre situation, forcing their brains to immediately adapt to make sense of the events.

How to Apply This Findings in Your Life

Now that you know that surreal experiences can boost your brain power, how can you incorporate them into your life to gain their potential learning benefits? Here are some ideas:

  1. Explore surreal art: Pay a visit to a local museum or art gallery and hunt down paintings of fantastical beasts or scenes that defy the reality we know. Allow yourself to get lost in the work and let your mind ponder over the strange world presented before you.
  2. Watch surreal films: Make a movie night out of strange cinema. Look for films that challenge narrative or visual conventions, like Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” or Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York.” If possible, don’t read up too much on the films beforehand. Embrace the surprise element as your brain grapples with the twisted plots and confounding visuals.
  3. Read mind-bending literature: Dive into the works of authors famous for their surreal storytelling, such as Haruki Murakami, J.G. Ballard, or Franz Kafka himself. Open yourself up to books that create worlds full of dreamlike logic or unsettling events.
  4. Challenge your beliefs and perceptions: One of the reasons surreal works have such a powerful impact on our brains is that they force us to see the world from a new perspective. To keep your mind sharp, make an effort to question your own beliefs and consider alternative views on a regular basis.
  5. Embrace the unpredictable: Surprise and the unexpected are vital elements in feeding your brain the surreal. Whether it’s discovering a new time-travel-based TV show or trying your hand at games that defy conventional logic, look for opportunities to immerse yourself in the unknown and the bizarre.

A Curiously Smarter You

Learning and cognitive growth don’t solely stem from textbooks, seminars, or online courses. Understanding the power of surreal experiences and intentionally seeking them out can help exercise your brain in unique ways and improve your cognitive abilities.

So, the next time you stumble upon a puzzling painting or an enigmatic film, remember that these experiences may bring more than just entertainment. They might just make you a little bit smarter.