Goosebumps

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I was pretty young -- middle school, I think -- when I was listening to music, and got a shiver down my spine -- and goosebumps. I remember noticing where the shiver started; how it progressed. "Oh, neat!" I thought.

Knowing the song, I knew which parts of it were likely to make me react. So, the next time I was hit with a shiver down my spine, I was watching; waiting for a closer look. Studying the shiver.

Years later, this is something I would come to know as "mindfulness," meditation, etc. which I'd summarize as the processing of wiring your brain back into itself.

As I consciously experienced this involuntary reaction, it became familiar. After a few minutes, I found myself anticipating it. Knowing it would feel good, where, and when. Tensing up the back of my head... and, no, I was not trying to do this deliberately. It felt more like I'd established a little reward loop.

Once I noticed that I'd begin to tense up involuntarily, I began to study _that_ in the same way I had studied the shiver.

Once I had a feel for what I was tensing (and how), I realized I could now do it deliberately: Repeatedly induce a shiver down my spine, in absence of emotional triggers. However, the real McCoy -- actually listening to music -- is always superior. More intense.

Meanwhile -- Goosebumps, right! The shiver-down-your-spine reaction can generate goosebumps if I am having a full-blown emotional reaction. Deliberately inducing a shiver down my spine _can_ cause goosebumps, but it rarely does. Subjectively, I'd say it feels like it doesn't have enough oomph.

Real music, however, does. Listening to music I enjoy will reliably give me goosebumps. I love music; I have intensely emotional reactions to it.

At one point, I had a horrible thought: What if I go deaf? How would I be able to go on without music? This bothered me to the point that I began to memorize some of my favorite songs as thoroughly as possible, so I'd have something to keep me sane if anything ever happened to my hearing.

It was tough at first, but I got better. As I got better, I noticed I was starting to "feel" it more. Emotional response, heart rate changes... shivers down my spine... and, yes, sometimes goosebumps.

So, to summarize: The shiver-down-the-spine reaction can lead to goosebumps. I can trigger the shiver deliberately, and the shiver occasionally triggers goosebumps. Not really the deliberate goosebumps you're looking for.

Listening to music triggers all of this naturally, more strongly, and leads to goosebumps reliably... but not deliberately, due to the need for an external apparatus (headphones and an mp3 player).

With practice, meditatively recalling the experience of listening to music can get "strong" enough that it is on par with actually listening to music.

So, if I wanted to deliberately induce goosebumps, my formula would be this: Sit down, clear my mind, and then play back one of my favorite songs in my head... and, boom, goosebumps in less than a minute.

Is this deliberately inducing goosebumps, though? I suppose it would be more accurately described as inducing an emotional state that induces goosebumps. As an analogy -- Salivating is not a "voluntary" response, but if I vividly focus on thoughts of delicious food, I will start to salivate. Being able to self-Pavlov is not quite deliberate! Susan Wilson's popsicle-stick goosebumps are similar.

Finally -- most relevantly -- there was this: As I read the article on Ars Technica, I actually got goosebumps.

Mindfulness is a slippery thing. I never spent much time focusing on the sensation of goosebumps; that shiver down my spine was all I ever paid attention to! I'd never heard of VGP. The idea of deliberately inducing goosebumps had never occurred to me before today.... then, as soon as someone suggests the idea of deliberately inducing goosebumps, I get goosebumps. Not deliberately, but in response to thinking about inducing goosebumps deliberately.

Meditation can be kind of like the Baron von Munchausen pulling himself out of the muck by his bootstraps... but, if you've followed me thus-far, this is a good indication that I may be able to learn to go right to goosebumps without the emotional context, just as I learned to trigger the shivers. I'll noodle with it and see if I get anywhere...