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.