Monday, April 25, 2011


Warning: This post is one big, gigantic spoiler.

Dan and I went to see Limitless Friday night.  The premise of the movie (based on The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn, which I have not yet read) is that a pill has been developed which allows you to access the entirety of your brain (as opposed to the 20% that we currently use).  Within 30 seconds of swallowing, you have a 4-digit IQ. 

The main character is given one pill by a friend of his to help him overcome his writer's block.  Prior to taking the pill, he is depressed.  His hair is long and scraggly, his personal hygiene sketchy at best.  He can't get himself to write even one sentence of the book his publisher has given him an advance for.  He spends a great deal of time drinking.  His girlfriend has just broken up with him, presumably because he is such a loser. Figuring he has nothing more to lose, our hero swallows the mysterious pill.  Within moments his eyes light up.  His countenance changes.  He heads home to work on his manuscript.  When he enters his apartment, he is able to see, for the first time, what a mess it is.  The first thing he does with his increased brain power is wash the dishes.  Once his entire apartment is clean and orderly, he sits down and writes.  He is in the zone, writing all day, and finishing a large chunk of the book he has been unable to work on for months.  He feels amazing. 

The next morning, when he wakes up, he is back to his same old self--depressed and dull.  He wants to feel alive, energized, and powerful again, so he gets himself a much bigger supply of the pills and starts taking them every day.  On the pill, with his brain operating at full capacity, he bathes, gets a haircut, starts exercising.  He finishes his book in four days.  He impresses people with his fascinating insights into basically everything, and makes lots of new friends.  Women can't resist him.  He gets back together with his girlfriend, who is intimidated by him for the first time in her life.  He finds no need to drink alcohol any more. 

He is able to recall, in perfect detail, everything he has ever seen, such as television programs, covers of books, etc.  For instance, he beats up a big group of thugs based on what his brain has learned watching random commercials and martial arts movies.  He becomes fluent in new languages by casually listening to a few tapes.  His senses are heightened.  He sees connections between things and pathways open up that were not visible to him before.   

I take a small handful of pills every night before bed that help with my depression.  Dan and I like to joke that they are my happy pills, and I pretend to be overcome by happiness and joy right after taking them.  They do not really function in this way of course, but I do think they help take the edge off of the worst of my symptoms.  More than an antidepressant, however, the pills in this movie reminded me of the influence of God in our lives. 

Here is a quote Dan found for me by Parley P. Pratt that I think is relevant to the discussion:

"The gift of the Holy Spirit...quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation and social feeling. It develops and invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, invigorates and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being."

And another, this one by Ezra Taft Benson:

"Yes, men and women who turn their lives over to God will find out that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace."

I remember when I first heard that we are not using about 80% of our brain's capacity,  I assumed that potential would be unlocked in the eternities.  God, I imagine, is already operating at full capacity.  Perhaps his spirit helps us access regions of our brain that we cannot yet access by ourselves.

How do you imagine that you would be different if you had access to your entire brain's capacity?  Would your emotional state improve?  Would you stop procrastinating?  Would you wash the dishes and keep your house cleaner?  I don't know if having 100% brain power would be enough to overcome certain negative habits that plague me.  It seems like I already know many of the things I need to do, and what is missing is the part where I actually do those things.  Does that part come from our brains?  From our bodies?  From our spirit?  

Lots to think about, and I'd love to hear from you as well.


Suzanne said...

I knew the shows premise, so you didn't spoil anything. I doubt that having a quadruple digit IQ is really the catalyst for success. The idea that simply making people smarter would magically get them involved, proactive, happy -- have they read any biographies? Beethoven was WOW -- but he was also miserable. So, all the quotes about the spirit and Heavenly Father's influence to unlock our brains -- AMEN! -- but it is also His influence that gets us off the couch. I have other thoughts regarding the distance between knowing and doing and "limits" but have already used up too much of the universe will have to wait for another time. :)

LL said...

A very interesting post! I read it earlier this morning, but wanted to think a bit so I could give a considered response. Also, the kids were crying. :-)

First, it is true that there have been a lot of brilliant but depressed people. HOWEVER, those people were also not using most of their brain, so I'm not sure it tells us anything, except that being moderately more intelligent doesn't necessarily make us happier. It doesn't really tell us what would happen if you used your whole brain. But you're right, Suzanne - the people that cooked up this movie didn't appear to think too hard about it, or they might have considered all the miserable geniuses out there.

Second thought: There is something about the brain that affects a person's ability to start things. I know this because mine is broken. :-) Seriously though, I had a traumatic brain injury as a teenager (I'll pause here for you to do a little DIY teenagers = brain damage joke...), so I've done a lot of reading on the topic (but I am by no means an expert). What I have learned is that it is very common to have a personality shift after a brain trauma. People that were short tempered and generally productive become more calm and less productive, because they have damaged the part of the brain that would get them moving. So I think there is something in the brain that controls a person's ability to begin a task. It seems just as likely that there is a part of the brain that focuses you and gets you to finish a task. These things can certainly be learned/unlearned/practiced, but I think there is also something physical that works or doesn't. I can see the possibility of having a fully functioning brain functioning very well in those areas, thereby making an unproductive person become very productive.

Likewise, the parts of the brain that help us interact with other people, read social situations, tell stories, etc, might also be more productive and better functioning. This could make a person more popular by making them less miserable to be around.

But would all of that make you happy? No. That isn't what happiness is. That is the world's idea of happiness. There are things that I think our brains don't do, like empathy, charity, and love. I think those come from Heavenly Father to our spirits (though I'm sure you could see parts of the brain light up on an fMRI when those feelings are present).

Who would I be if I had my whole brain? I probably would spend less time looking at my lists and more time getting things done (another TBI symptom...making lists and then getting overwhelmed by them). I think I would be able to start things without such a struggle, which would be really, really nice (and good for my self-esteem). But I think mostly I would be me, just amplified: more selfish (since more brain power was available to devote to thinking of ME!), more unkind, more intolerant. And I think my huge brain would get in the way of the whisperings of the spirit. I think I would be so smart (in my own mind, at least) that I'd have no use for God or the gospel or anything like that.

I'll bet that He didn't give us full use of our brains because He knew if we had them, we would never turn to Him. But I do know that He does give us insight, maybe lets us have little surges of brain power every now and then to help us understand the things we are ready for. I'm guessing that is how we'll get our whole brains: line upon line, precept upon precept.

And now that I've made an embarrassingly long comment, Suzanne, you should feel free to post more of your thoughts. Obviously the "talks too much" part of my brain works just fine. :-)

PG said...

Suzanne, I second LL's invitation to write more--I'm very interested in your other thoughts about the distance between knowing and doing and limits.

I'm in my little dark place yesterday and today, so I'm super focused on my weaknesses and wishing they could all be chalked up to insufficient use of brain power, but fearing they are a result of "bad character." I feel ashamed that my dishes are dirty and we need dinner and I just want to curl up in bed and hide. It would be a relief if I could know that at full capacity, I would just do the dishes and make dinner and not procrastinate the unpleasant tasks. Why are some things so much harder to do than others? I was saying in Sunday school the other day that I wish I had more energy and strength. Someone asked me what I needed more energy and strength for? Housework. They pointed out that I seem to already have sufficient strength for things I love, such as reading and writing. Indeed. I am a person who believes in the atonement for other people, but not for myself. Well, I do believe that I'll be resurrected and live forever. I guess what I struggle with is imagining that God actually loves me.

Suzanne said...

I will write quickly as I'm very sleepy and think y'all are being very generous. To any individual who feels life is dark or that he/she is beyond redemption, I gently and carefully recommend seeing your doctor. I know what the "dark hole" feels like following post partum depression and thought if I only had a better character, I wouldn't be suffering -- no, if I only availed myself of the wonderful medications Heavenly Father inspired some wonderful doctors to create, then I'd feel much better. Which is eventually what happened -- YIPPEE! My other thought was that too often we, and I'm using the Royal We here, allow some outside voice to dictate what we should be doing with our time. I'm not sure that the little distractions which keep us from the things we "should" be doing aren't the important things that we actually need to do. I have a sweet friend who opens each day with the prayer that she will have the eyes to see what Heavenly Father wants her to do today. Especially to see those she can show love. The older I get, and I'm now firmly on the 50 side of things, which isn't quite old enough for geritol, but certainly looking at orthopedic socks....anyway....I feel the speed of time. It all whooshes by at ever increasing speeds. Brigham Young said that in living the United Order, he hoped everyone would be free to sit under an apple tree four days of the week and work at something he loved the other three. Sometimes we need to contemplate our navel. Sometimes we need to spin our wheels. All kinds of incredible discoveries have come out of routine, mundane activities combined with a flash of creative insight. When we reach our divine destination, the Savior won't ask for our professional resume or a list of our recognizable accomplishments. What matters most is that which is most difficult to quantify. He cares most about the purity of our hearts. I think He also cares about the joy we can experience during our time here -- if mopping your floor doesn't tickle you silly, and you don't have vermin taking up residence on your sticky floors, pray for insight on what you need to do today of eternal significance and DO THAT. Sometimes the gap between what we do and what we think we should be doing, is that we're being nagged to do something good, when we're, in fact, wanting something better. But, I'm on a soap box, which is quite tiresome for Good night. Sure love Andrea.

Mom said...

First of all, this is not Mom, but Aunt Elaine.....Andrea, I love reading your posts. Yes, this is very fascinating. I would like to access more brain power to be sure. Sometimes, I don't know if I even have 20% as I keep drilling the same Swedish words over and over. It's good to know that more can be available to us... Aunt Elaine

Jacqueline said...

What an interesting post, and awesome ensuing comments! I've been thinking about this very thing a lot lately as I've been in the process of coming out of my worst post-partum depression ever. The difference between what I know needs to be done and what I actually do is the measure of my depression. I have SO so so many ideas about things that should be done or could be done, or would be awesome if they were done. Sometimes all the possibilities just clog up my brain and overwhelm me before I get started on any one of them. It is like a crowd of people trying to get through the fire exit too fast, and jamming it up, and perishing in the fire. When I am in a productive mode, my thinking is much clearer, thing at a time, kind of. So I don't really think that only a powerful brain could be the solution for me. I need a balance between my physical energy and the good ideas that are coming to my head. The ideas need to slow down, and the body needs to kick it up a notch. And as for the influence of the spirit--while I know that the spirit can help us to be the very best we can be, I KNOW FOR A FACT that you can still have a very strong testimony, feel close to Heavenly Father and still be depressed. I gotta go, but I have a lot more to say about this! Maybe I'll come back to it.

PG said...

Jacqueline, is this you (Lybi's mom), or is this Lybi writing? I thought Lybi's mom, but the comment on just coming out of a postpartum depression is making me think Lybi.

Either way, thanks so much for your comment, and please do come back and write more when you get a chance. I like the idea of the depression being measured in the distance between the things you are thinking of doing and the things you are actually doing. I've had that racing-thoughts-with inability-to-actually-act problem a lot. I've also felt the other way--I like how you describe it as slower thoughts, or as one thought at a time and you can just act on it and then move on to the next thing.

The comments on this post have been so helpful and interesting for me to contemplate. I'm still thinking about them. I really appreciate Suzanne and LL for getting us started! Please keep writing, everyone. And please don't feel like you've written enough or too much--I love your thoughts!

LL said...

I love the idea of measuring depression in terms of what we know we need to do and what we are actually able to do. Very well said!

Lybi said...

Yes, Andrea, you are right. It is indeed me who impersonated my dear mother. It was an accident, but I daresay there are many a worse person to emulate.

OK, so here are my other thoughts about your post... So you mentioned that this guy was able to see the mess that he was living in for the first time after he took the pill, as if he were somehow blind to it while he was depressed. That doesn't jive from my experience with depression i.e. blind to problems/messes. I am always acutely aware of every little mess when I am depressed, in fact I am almost obsessed with them. So I don't think the magic pill would've helped me there. It goes back to the difference between knowledge and action. It doesn't help that much to radically increase your knowledge of a problem if there is no action associated with it. I see this even on a societal scale (bear with me!) For example, there is so much more evidence of people exposing/analyzing/discussing problems than people trying hard to fix problems. There are so many books, articles, documentaries etc. illuminating problems in our society, and much fewer (or less visible) movements towards taking ACTION to make things better. I think our whole culture has a predisposition towards depression in this way.

Another thought: so this guy took the pill and got way smarter, and that cured his depression. This is another point that does not seem true to life. The people that I know who struggle with depression also tend to be the most intelligent people that I know. (Feel free to take that as a compliment!) It is kind of like dog breeds, the more trainable, intelligent breeds are also the breeds more inclined to develop obsessive behaviors and other crazy stuff if they are not being challenged. (Not that I am an expert in dogs, but I DO watch The Dog Whisperer bwahaha.)

Last point...sorry so long! This guy with the pills suddenly cleaned his whole living area, took up a whole bunch of other projects and is just fine with all that. Hmmm, not true to life again. There are definitely people out there who behave similarly, but they are called manic/depressives or bipolar. One of the keys to keeping balance is NOT overdoing it, but constantly seeking balance between rest and productivity, fun and work, compromise and standing up for yourself etc. The fight against depression is not a one way battle for power, it is much more like trying to balance a teeter totter. I think that someone who exerted himself as much as this guy would probably slip into a rather bad patch of depression (think of ir as an exaggerated rest phase) after so much exertion. Anyway, that is what I think. Thanks again for the amazing post! I'll have to go watch the movie now.