Category Archives: Society

Contrasts – ምዕራፍ 7 – Molecular Hysteria

I paused for a few moments to take in the panorama.  Absolutely beautiful.

I was sitting on top of a mountain pass looking down through the outstretching valley below.  Mountain ridges rose parabolically, expanding outward and then opening up to a gorgeous vista.  More mountains in the distance shrouded in a light bluish haze.  The product of wind-blown dust and the sun’s rays bending around all of those tiny particles.  Photons bouncing through a prism, the colors and shadows changing constantly with Sol’s rotation.

The undulating hills bore the tracks of water courses, washes that were bone-dry now but would rapidly fill in the monsoon rains.  Rains that would carve.  The softness of water overpowering the hardness of basalt, granite, and rhyolite.  Like a sculptor of the landscape etching images that can best be scene from this bird’s-eye view.

Volcanic remains from a once violent explosion.  The center of the caldera sinking as millions of tons of smoke, ash, and debris filled the sky, blotting out the sun until the jet stream cleared the airways.  Once molten rock now overgrown with sagebrush, Mexican feather grass, manzanita, brittle brush, turpentine brush, prickly pears, mesquite, pinyon pine, alligator juniper, and scrub oak.

A light, warm wind blows as black hawks sore at dazzling heights – eye-level now that I’m at the peak.  I speak to them and offer thanks for their company.  A roadrunner scurries across the path in front of me carrying a freshly caught spiny lizard.  Life.  Predator and prey.  A continuous cycle.

There’s no other human soul around me and I’m basking in eternal peace.  Yet there is another battle silently raging in the recesses of my mind and body.  Ever pressing its way into the forefront of my consciousness.   An insidious illness that many doctors refuse to acknowledge even though some seven million Americans are afflicted.   Symptoms growing from minute exposures.  Triggering a cascade of molecular hysteria.  The body unable to compensate.

***

I found myself rapidly getting dizzy.  My brain was becoming foggy and then the headache came.  I noticed my heart beat was irregular, sometimes slowing down, and other times speeding up.  Skipping beats.  And there was the abdominal pain and nausea.   It was difficult to navigate to find a place to rest.  My voice cracked, became hoarse, it was difficult to speak.  There was short-term memory loss, the immediate short-term, making small instant decisions difficult.

You might think I had been poisoned.  Inhaled some insecticide by accident.  Perhaps a farmer spraying crops in the distance.

Or maybe I could have spilled some rat poison or gasoline on my hands.  Drank some polluted water.  Walked through the thick smoke of a brush fire.  Breathed paint fumes in a freshly painted house or from a recently stain deck.  Or maybe it was formaldehyde or ethylene.  Gassing-off of furniture or from the upholstery and plastic dashboard of the car.

All of these factors, and more, can be triggers.  But all I had done was get dressed.

You see, clothing manufactures are spraying all types of noxious chemicals on clothes now.  To make them last longer, wear better, not catch on fire, and not smell when we sweat.  Or to kill bugs when they’re shipped.  No different than the farmer spraying the crops.

Then there are the chemical detergents the clothes were washed in.  Or the washing machine and dryer themselves.  Now contaminated with chemical residues from past loads.

Chemicals that are truly poisonous, but which most people, at least for the moment, can tolerate in small amounts.  Some of us aren’t so fortunate.  Our bodies have become overwhelmed by all the toxins and we can’t clear our systems of them any longer.  Smaller amounts begin producing bigger reactions all the time.  It’s called toxicant-induced loss of intolerance.

And there’s no escape.

It began with a reaction to chemicals used to tan and waterproof leather.  A new pair of hiking boots.  And then exploded to any clothing, soaps and detergents, sunscreens, shaving creams, etc.  Anything that may contain any type of rubber accelerator, biocidic agent, or chromate.   Foods, now saturated with pesticides and herbicides and preservatives, can trigger it.  Molds, that produce endotoxins that gas-off or are carried by their microscopic spores, once inhaled, can debilitate.

This condition goes by various names.  Multiple chemical sensitivity, environmental illness, sick building syndrome, idiopathic environmental intolerance, ecologic illness, total allergy syndrome, and the 20th Century disease.  In terms of our military veterans, this can manifest as Gulf War Syndrome or Agent Orange disability.

One of the hindrances for doctors accepting the existence of the disease is their disagreement on how to define and name it.  It also doesn’t quite fit the traditional allergen-antibody reaction.  Instead of having hives, or a runny nose, watering eyes and difficulty breathing, the reaction is nuerotoxic, like a poisoning.

Despite the AMA’s denial, there is so much information about this disease and its various manifestations that I won’t attempt to try to cover it all.  Treatment is extremely limited and primarily consists of avoidance and boosting the body’s natural ability to detoxify.  Kind of hard to avoid clothing 🙂

Some medications can lessen symptoms but there is no treatment to my knowledge that is getting to the root cause – an increasingly toxic planet caused by human occupation and alleged progress.

If you find this concept hard to wrap your mind around consider this, there are some 85,000 chemical compounds licensed by the FDA for commercial use in America.  And very few have been tested for safety.  The umbilical cord blood of infants in this country, just prior to their birth, before they have even taken their first breath, test positive for up to 287 industrial chemicals with an average of 200 per baby.  These chemicals include: polyaromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins, furans, pesticides, flame retardants, industrial lubricants, plastics, consumer product ingredients, wastes from burning coal, gasoline and garbage, lead, mercury, methylmercury, perfluorochemicals (PFCs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), to name but a few.

***

So, as I hike through this paradise of nature my mind grows cloudy and my body becomes weary.  A contrast of pristine beauty flooding my senses with intoxicating images, forms and scents.  A vision that is totally energizing and invigorating, while the body betrays and is overwhelmed with fatigue.  Predator and prey . . . the continuing cycle that none of us can escape.  But perhaps our predator has become ourselves.

***

Postscript: Sometimes I believe that the Source strips away many of the material distractions in our lives to get us to focus on spiritual development.  You are compelled to pay attention to those matters of soul growth.  Our mission in life is not to work and pay bills and engage in immediate sense gratification.  There is so much more about getting to and experiencing our true essence.  I believe that this is one of those times.

Photo: Sitting on top of a mountain in the southwestern desert, gazing though the valley formed by an old volcanic caldera.

Language for “Chapter 7” in the title:   I know you’ve all noticed that I’ve been using different languages in the titles of these chapters I’ve themed as “Contrasts.”  Today’s choice was Amharic the Semitic language descended from Ge’ez that is the official language of Ethiopia.  I enjoy marveling at different languages as I explained in my post “Like.”

Prior Chapters of Contrasts:

Contrasts – Kapitel 1

Contrasts – Hoofstuk 2: Which Animals Do You Watch?

Contrasts – κεφάλαιο 3 – Cabrillo National Monument

Contrasts – Chapitre 4 – Two Museums

Contrasts– 第5章 – Wild Spaces

Contrasts – Isahluko 6 – Southwest versus Midwest

Source Materials:

Case Definitions for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

A Report on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

How many toxins is your baby getting in the womb?

Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns: Detailed Findings

What is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity?

Amputated Lives: Coping with Chemical Sensitivity by Alison Johnson Chapter 2 The Elusive Search for a Place to Live

Chemical Sensitivity Foundation Research Bibliography

Seminar explores multiple chemical sensitivities topic

Fragrance-Free Workplaces

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

Link Rot: As always, I cannot predict how long a hyperlink on the Net will hang around.  They tend to disappear over time or be hijacked to other sites, but they were current at the time I referenced them.

If My Memory Serves Me

“White Crane Spreads Its Wings.”  “Repulsing the Monkey.”  “Grasping the Bird’s Tale.”

These phrases, in isolation, might give you a laugh, but if you’re familiar with Tai Chi, you’ll recognize these names right off as they refer to particular forms or moments that can be part of several different Tai Chi routines.  The words help construct an image of the movement that is not only descriptive but that helps you to memorize the parts of the form for practice.

In a multi-form routine, these word images help my poor brain remember what it’s supposed to do, and after a while, since this memory involves movement it can be incorporated into what’s called “non-declarative memory,” which requires no conscious awareness.

And thus, we have moving meditation 🙂

***

So, I’m back to studying about how our brains work and this time I’m reading about short-term memory.  Memory is kind of important for without it we might have died off as a species.

We learned that fire was great for preventing us from freezing to death and wonderful for cooking our food, but not so great if directly applied to our bodies.  We learned which berries were and weren’t poisonous, and how to hunt bison and mammoths without getting killed – probably by watching someone else die.  But then we remembered, passed the information on, and managed to propagate the species.

Although we might wonder a bit about the new wave of “flat-earthers.”

And I know the scientific community goes a little overboard with dissecting and labeling everything but here goes.

It seems we have two types of short-term memory, declarative, like being able to regurgitate specific facts like “sharks swim in the ocean,” and non-declarative, which is like the motor skills we use to ride a bike.  Declarative memory involves “effortful processing” or a lot of repetition.  Non-declarative memory does not require conscious awareness and is sort of automatic.  If we were asked, we probably wouldn’t list out every detailed step that goes along with riding a bike.   We just go through those motions once the brain locks on and our feet are on the pedals, and we use a simple phrase to embody all of those movements.

There are four steps involved in short term memory.  Encoding, storage, retrieval, and forgetting.  Encoding is defined as the conversion of external sources of energy into electrical patterns the brain can understand.  There are three types of encoding:

Semantic encoding – definitions,

Phonemic encoding – comparison of sounds – rhyming, and

Structural encoding – visual inspection of shapes.

The myriad of signals we receive from different sensory sources are registered in separate brain areas.  It’s a fragmented experience, called the “blender effect.”  There is no central storage or hard drive.  Parts of a single event are scattered and stored all over the cerebral cortex.  And a memory trace will lead you to the same parts of the brain where we originally processed the information.

The total number of brain changes to record an event or information is called an engram, and then comes the “binding problem” – how do we bring all of that sensory data back together from the various spots on the cerebral cortex where they were stashed to compose a complete memory?

While it’s counter-intuitive, it turns out, the more elaborately we encode, the more details and complexity surrounding the event, the better our retrieval of that memory.

Retrieval is also enhanced if we replicate the conditions where we experienced the event or came upon the data.  So, if I learned that sharks swim in the ocean while I’m swimming in the ocean, I will remember this bit of information best when I’m back swimming in the ocean.  How convenient.

It also seems that regardless of the setting where we encounter information, the majority of our forgetting will occur within the fist couple of hours that follows.  People usually forget 90% of what they’ve learned within 30 days of the learning experience.  Apparently, we discard what we don’t use quite quickly.

I know, I’ve forgotten much more over the years than I know right now 🙂

Spaced learning is more effective than massed learning and the more repetition cycles we have, the greater chance we’ll convert something to long-term memory.   Tai Chi again provides a great example because we are taught each form separately and then add that to the entire routine, which we then repeat and continually refine.

And something I mentioned before in the post Boring, teaching is more effective if it includes meaningful examples and experiences and emotion.  Real world situations familiar to the learner.  The more personal the example, the better the encoding because we are adapted to “pattern matching” the new information with what we’ve learned before.

So why am I writing about this today?  Because of the fascinating way we’re able to communicate and tell stories, of course.  When I tell a story I want to transmit my memory to you, the reader.  I use as many descriptive terms as I can think of to relay an experience – what I saw and heard, how something smelled, felt and tasted.  How objects sat in space in relation to where I stood or traveled.

We’re able to communicate because of that pattern matching principle.  I relate an experience to you and hope you’ve had enough similar experiences and gathered enough sensory data to “get it.”

Such is the challenge and art of writing.  If we can paint an image that others can see, detail the scent of a flower that the reader can smell, have someone salivating over a recipe or bracing for an explosive sound, or transmit the feel of the smooth, silky skin of another as we describe caressing their face, then we’ve succeeded.

A lofty goal.

And hopefully the experiences we relate will be as memorable to our readers as they were to us.

***

Photo: This is one of my daughter’s dogs, Harper.  He was over for a visit when I snapped this pic.  I etched out the bare patterns with the photo editor creating what I call the “Ghost Dog.”  Its an image descriptive of short-term memories.  We can hold onto basic concepts and sensations, but over time they may fade into the less distinct and more nebulous 🙂

Source: I used the book Brain Rules by John Medina as my source for this post.  Other posts of mine discussing the workings of our brains include:

Move Your Body, Move Your Mind

Writing to Survive

Wired

Boring

and,

Bailer’s Point

 

Breathing is a Good Thing

A faint sound pierced the cloudy haze.  An echo through a long corridor.

Darkness, but light sort of on the periphery.  A greenish glow that grew brighter at regular intervals.  I wasn’t quite sure what it was.  I didn’t know where I was. 

I smell antiseptics.  Hear voices growing louder.  Shouting!!

Sort of floating.  I wasn’t walking.  I was being dragged.  My legs outstretched behind me.  Feet limp.  I had no control of them.  There was pressure under both of my arms.  I slowly opened my eyes and recognized the green tile floors and walls.  I was in the emergency room at the air base hospital.

Two airmen in uniform each had an arm under one of mine as we burst through the double swinging doors into the treatment area. 

I heard the doctor asking what was going on and one of the airmen yelled, “He passed out in the waiting room!” 

The familiar face of the doctor said, “Oh, he’s ok, he just needs some rest.”

The airman protested, “Well, he doesn’t look so good me.  We picked him up off the floor out there.”

Doctor, “I gave him some medicine.  That’s to be expected.”

The next voice I heard was my mother’s frantically asking what was happening.  She had gone out to the parking lot to bring the car up to the door. 

After we were all dismissed by the doctor, the airmen carried me to the car and put me in the back seat.  A fog enveloped me and I was out.

I woke up eight hours later in my bed at home.  I struggled for breath, coughed, stumbled to the floor and called out for my parents.  I was a nice shade of purple.  Cyanosis.  Not enough oxygen.  Thirty minutes later I as back in the ER, only this time I was being given epinephrine. 

My heart rate picked up.  Lungs cleared.  I could breath after getting the third dose of .3cc.  They followed that with a shot of susphrine, a long-acting form of epinephrine.

These were the meds I should have received on my first visit to the ER, standard treatment for an asthma attack at that time.  But I had unluckily come in when a certain doctor was on duty.  One that believed asthma was a mental illness so he had given me a shot of 50 mg of thorazine, a powerful antipsychotic medication.  A big dose for a 50-pound kid.  And this was exactly the wrong medication to give to a person in respiratory distress because it depresses respirations further.  I would learn later that it was amazing I even woke up after that.

It was time to package me off to home again.  But I’d be back. 

***

1965.  This was a rough year.  Almost 80 trips to the ER – that was one to three times a week, depending on the week.  I knew all of the ER staff by name.  The medical knowledge was limited and the treatments were primitive.  I used to say that if the disease doesn’t kill you, the medicine will.

There were so many things the docs didn’t know or understand about the disease back then.  And they were not of the mindset to listen to their patients either.  Especially a child patient.  No, these docs were educated old-school that they were the keepers of all of the knowledge.  It was a dictatorial approach, not a collaborative one.

A couple of very simple things really threw these guys off balance.  If I had been in respiratory distress for a while and finally got relief from the epi, I would go to sleep.  My body was totally exhausted from having struggled so hard to breathe.   You use all of your chest muscles fighting to inhale and you can’t seem to be able to exhale.  It’s like lifting weights and running at the same time while you’re really just lying in bed. 

They didn’t get it.  Epinephrine doesn’t only dilate your bronchioles, it really kicks up your heart rate.  It’s a stimulant so they expected you to be bouncing off the walls after getting a shot.  More than once, I woke up on an ER gurney being slapped around by doctor screaming “WAKE UP” after the epi finally broke the attack.  A look of panic and fear filled their faces.

Another thing they couldn’t grasp was what absence of wheezing meant.  Wheezing, or air whistling through a constricted airway, was a hallmark symptom of an asthma attack.  But you reach a point where your airway is so constricted that you can’t exchange enough air to produce a wheeze.  The docs know now that this is an ominous sign.  You’re near death.  But back in the day, if they didn’t hear a wheeze, they’d send you home and try to tell you that you weren’t having trouble breathing.

They could have drawn arterial blood gases to measure the oxygen content of your blood, but even that was a new technology at the time, people weren’t skilled with drawing blood from arteries, and most hospitals didn’t have the equipment to analyze such a blood sample. 

Now they have pulse oximeters that give you an instantaneous oxygen saturation reading.  Just clip it on your finger and it compares infrared to red wavelengths of light to tell you how much oxygen is in your blood.  I even have my own at home.   If they had had those then, I’m sure they would have been shocked to see how low your oxygen sat was.

In those days, it was sort of off-the-cuff, hit-or-miss treatment.  So, I was frequently misdiagnosed, given the wrong medication, or overdosed on the right medication.  You name it.  You could die with or without the treatment.  Take your pick. 

An upper respiratory infection could quickly turn to pneumonia, trigger the asthma, and I’d be spending the week in the hospital.  A scary place for a little kid.  Once, when I as in an oxygen tent, a technician walked into the room smoking a cigarette.  Hospitals weren’t smoke-free then.  Patients and staff smoked all the time.

Of course, oxygen is not explosive, but it will rapidly feed a fire.  You don’t bring fire, in any form, near an oxygen tank or tent or mask.  That’s just asking for trouble.  Not to mention that cigarette smoke can cause an asthma attack.  Stupid.  Even as a little kid I knew better. 

For maintenance treatment, they prescribed theophylline-based drugs.  I would use a liquid form of this to swallow the other pills ordered.  But theophylline wasn’t cutting it, and good inhalant meds didn’t exist yet.  So when an allergy specialist rotated into that hospital, he started me on steroids.  

It took high daily doses of prednisone to bring my asthma under control, and the docs weren’t aware of the long-term side effects.  They controlled the asthma but they stunted my growth.  Big time.  A bone age study when I was thirteen put my bones at an eight-year-old developmental level. 

The docs told me I’d never get off the steroids, but I weaned myself off and proudly handed a bottle full of pills back to the doctor.  I thought he’d be happy.  Instead he berated me, “I can’t be your mother and make sure you take your medication!” 

Strange. 

Once off those meds, I grew a foot in height in just one year and normalized my weight a bit.  I never approached my father’s or my brother’s heights, but hey, there are advantages to being short 🙂

While I had gotten off the steroids, and as time progressed, the docs kept increasing the dosage of theophylline and added terbutaline, another bronchodilator.  On these meds, my resting heart rate was 120 beats per minute and my hands would shake so violently that I couldn’t even write my own name.  So the wise doctors added three doses of valium a day to take the edge off.  What a mix.

I could tell you a lot of crazy near-death stories from back then, but it might get boring after a while and I don’t want you think I’m whining or feeling sorry for myself.  I’m not.   It’s all just experience.  I have a great appreciation for life. 

And it’s important to realize that healthcare practitioners aren’t gods.  They don’t know it all.  You need to be an active participant in your own healthcare.

I will end with another brief tale, though.  When inhalant drugs were first introduced, there were no hand-held, pocket-sized devices.  You had to own an air compressor and hook that to a plastic or glass nebulizer attachment, mix the solutions for the nebulizer, and then fire up the machine and breath in the mist. 

One of the first inhalant meds they tried in the early 60s was Isoproterenol (Isoprel).  (An incredibly potent heart medication I would be administering to my patients in the ICU as a critical care nurse years later.)  But the cardiac effects were way too strong and they were giving little kids heart attacks.  I remember two different times showing up for the allergy clinic where we got our twice-weekly allergy shots only to find a face missing from the group. 

Two kids I knew died from this medication at an age when I really didn’t have a full concept of what death was yet.  I just knew I never saw them again . . .

***

Postscript: The inhalant drugs would continue their evolution through Isoetharine (Bronkosol), to Metaproterenol (Alupent), to Salbutamol (Albuterol or Ventolin), and with the addition of Beclometasone (Vanceril or Q-Var), a steroid inhaler, things really improved.   My condition stabilized in 1982 with the addition of Beclometasone, and that was the last year, so far, that I’ve been hospitalized with asthma being the cause.  Of course, now we’ve gone even generations further and have such products as Fluticason (Flovent), a long-acting steroid, and Formoterol (Foradil), a long-acting beta-2 agonist that targets the lung more and the heart less.  Progress.

Photo: The big skies of Montana.  No better representation for the air we breathe.  The oxygen were crave.  The ease of living.

Contrasts – Isahluko 6 – Southwest versus Midwest

I had spent about five months in the Southwest, and I was beginning a roundabout meandering back to the Midwest.  A few years ago, I might have called the Midwest my stomping ground, roost, flop, backyard, or some sort of other euphemism for being settled, but now I don’t really call anywhere “home.”

That’s too big of a word.  It carries too much connotation with it.  As a dear friend put it, home has a “heart connection.” 

After being in motion for so long things become a bit disorienting, but I think that’s a good thing.  Always striving for balance and always approaching each day as if facing a totally new horizon.  You usually are.

I had been staying in a little oasis.  Multiple biomes, where desert meets water and where mountains touch the sky.  Wildlife was diverse and abundant.  Trails unending.  Floating on soft ground.  Even rocky trails seem to give way and bend with your footsteps.  Meditative dreaming.

I made a turn west and found an incredible extreme in Yuma.  Desolate.  Sand baked to concrete in 108-degree temps.  Wind farms, sun farms, RV parks, hellacious cross winds, no visible wildlife.  In stark contrast, there was deep blue water, but it was running in cement canals siphoning from the Colorado river.  All to be used for local agriculture or industry.  No longer feeding the Earth.  No longer reaching the Sea.

I continued on for a brief visit to the ocean, the absolute opposite of Yuma, and turned right this time heading back towards the center of the country.  With a slight divergence north, I was now in 40 to 60-degree temps, picturesque mountains, spring-fed streams, towering vegetation, wildlife on steroids.  Simply amazing.

Mid-world again, I find myself on an asphalt trail.  No longer the soft earth.  No longer the coating of dust on my boots.  It’s an old section of railway.  The lines defunct, the tracks were torn up and they were paved over.  There are many paths like this here and they’re all named after the railroad that used to glide down the missing rails.  The Great Western Trail, Blue River Rail Trail, Katy Trail, Rock Island Trail.  The list goes on.

They’re hard on the feet, ankles and knees, but they can wind through some beautiful countryside and trace serpentine waterways.  But they’ll also be close to civilization.

One of the first contrasts I notice upon being back is the humidity.  I had been in the high desert, north and south – clean, crisp air – warm in the south, cool in the north.  The barren desert, with no trace of moisture.  And the coastal region, where gentle sea breezes moderate the air.  Here the humidity is so thick you could cut it with a machete.  I struggle to breathe, feeling a heavy weight on my chest. 

The high desert was full of wildlife, but it largely moved in silence.  Here the air is abuzz with birds and insects.  A constant hum, chirp or chattering.  Even the squirrels have something to say – clicking and barking.  Warding you off.  An angry wren gives its warning call when I get too close to its nest. 

The vegetation is radically different.  While both parts of the country share oaks, willows and sycamores, the varieties here are much larger.  Leaves can be ten times the size of those in the southwest.  So much more rainfall here to feed their roots, nourish their trunks, spread to their leaves.  They grow 65 to 85 feet tall, not 20 to 30.  A full-grown oak here can put 200 gallons of water into the air each day.  Respiration.  Humidification.  To come down as rain again later when icy winds in the upper atmosphere collide.

Plus, there are also hickories, elms, maples, sumac, sweet gums, catalpas, walnuts, cherries, plumbs, olives, locust, hedgewood, redbuds, dogwoods, and buckeyes.  Too many to name them all.  Most are second and third generation, or younger, this area having been clear-cut by the pioneers.  But a few first generation trees still remain.  Older than your grandparents and with trunks so huge it takes four or five people holding hands to reach around their circumference.

The stream beds here aren’t pristine like those I saw out west.  They’re totally polluted.  Agricultural runoff from crops and feedlots.  Toxic algae blooms.  Industrial waste.  Discarded trash.  Plastic bags.  These waters haven’t experienced respect in a long time. Fish still survive in them, but I wouldn’t eat them.

And there is a different kind of people here too.  In the high desert I encountered fellow hikers. Luminous glows.  Shining eyes.  Happy to be in nature.  Thrilled to say hello.  Knowing you were sharing the experience.

Here there are few enjoying nature.  A couple walks their dog, but turn away as you pass.  The homeless.  Looking for a place to wait out the day, and for another to stay warm at night.  Drinking two forty-ounce beers for breakfast.

Yes, there is still staggering beauty here, but also some depression.  Weight. 

It seems harder to settle in each time I come back. 

But along comes a familiar face.  A beam of light.  I wrote about this person before.  Maybe I’ll encounter more of the radiant.

There is hope . . .

***

Photo: Along the trail that skirts both countryside and city.  With pretty streams, but of polluted waters.  Through towering trees, but on an asphalt ribbon.  Many contrasts . . .

I wrote about this town in Echoes of Home.  And I hope this piece doesn’t sound overly depressive.  After you’ve experienced other amazing places it is an adjustment to return to what you’ve become accustomed to seeing as being mundane.  But persons visiting this area for the first time will probably be amazed at the unique beauty and history here 🙂

Prior Chapters of Contrasts:

Contrasts – Kapitel 1

Contrasts – Hoofstuk 2: Which Animals Do You Watch?

Contrasts – κεφάλαιο 3 – Cabrillo National Monument

Contrasts – Chapitre 4 – Two Museums

Contrasts– 第5章 – Wild Spaces

 

Trust Me, I’ll Feel Guilty

As I’m waking up most mornings, I usually enjoy a cup of coffee in front of the computer while scrolling through various social media sites, picking up the news, and marveling over the commentary.  A while back LinkedIn started what it calls its “Daily Rundown” where it features select tidbits of business-related news and solicits comments.  The skew is usually pro-business and pro-employer, although you will also see pieces that are neutral or pro-employee.

The other day they featured an article about some research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology titled “Who is Trustworthy? Predicting Trustworthy Intentions and Behavior.”  The study used several economic games to measure the personality traits that predict if you can trust someone.  And what they discovered was that “guilt-proneness” was a powerful indicator of trustworthiness.

They distinguished “guilt-proneness” from “guilt” by defining it as the tendency to feel guilty about wrongdoing, thereby avoiding that wrongdoing, versus the negative emotion experienced when someone actually commits some transgression.  The gist of the article discussing the research was that if you wanted trustworthy employees, look for people with a high level of guilt-proneness.

The comments that followed ranged from equating guilt to perfectionism, extreme self-awareness, or having a conscience to guilt being a toxic form of shame that destroys self-esteem.  Some spoke of religion using guilt to control people.

One gentleman said, “I don’t do guilt – such a loser’s emotion,” although later he said he was being “tongue in cheek.”  One woman said, “Then employers should hire more young, white men.  For 50 years feminism has portrayed them as being Guilty of Everything.”  Oh dear, no backpedaling from her.

Yes, the commentary can get a bit dicey to say the least.  And it’s important to note how most of us seized on the word “guilt” as opposed to “guilt-proneness,” and seemed to miss the distinction the researchers were trying to make.  I looked at the verb form of the word myself.

Semantics can muddy the waters of any communication.

I’m not sure how an employer would go about measuring guilt-proneness.  In fact, it seems you would have to entice people to do something wrong and then measure their reaction – avoidance or commission.  Which is what the researchers did.  How would you do that objectively in a job interview or in the workplace after hiring someone?

I do know an employer locally that requires applicants to take a personality test.  I think that’s a bit extreme, and having worked for that employer in the past I imagine the purpose of the test is to screen out any non-conformists.  They don’t want to hire anyone who might question authority or their profit motivations.  I think they will end up screening out the most creative and adaptive applicants and end up with a hive of drones, but hey, that’s just my view 🙂  They may measure “trustworthiness” as a completely different concept – “blind loyalty.”

It is an interesting article and context is important.  Like I mentioned, I looked at the verb as in “guilting.”

When I was a practicing RN, I did a literature review of nursing management journals.  Forty articles out of four hundred – 10% – were dedicated to describing methods for employers to take advantage of, or abuse, their staff.  One in particular was titled, “Manipulation, Making the Best of It.”  The article focused totally on using guilt as a means to take advantage of the staff.  Guilt is a powerful motivator for caregivers and management was encouraged to guilt their staff into working additional 12-hour shifts, accepting ridiculous patient loads, floating to units where they did not have expertise, not taking breaks, and even into not getting paid for their work.

One winter, after an extremely heavy snowfall, my ex was guilted by her employer into trying to go to work.  We lived out in the country and the roads were impassable.   She barely made it out of the driveway when she tried and had to put both of our cars in the ditch to finally absolve her of that boss-instilled guilt.

So while the article focused on how the propensity to feel guilt can be a reflection of the trustworthiness of employees, the question I would ask is if we can trust employers, or anyone else for that matter, not to use guilt as a weapon.  Maybe that’s a better measure of trustworthiness 🙂

***

Photo: I wasn’t sure what pic to choose for this one, but decided this innocent, young buck was a good one.  I was at a distance and made a slight noise to attract its attention.  He warily observed me, not knowing whether he could trust me not to do him harm.  Our eyes met for a spell, after which, he leisurely resumed his grazing.  I guess I somehow communicated that I meant him no malice.

Wavelengths

Have you ever noticed how you might be thinking about something, maybe even putting pen to paper to memorialize those thoughts, and then suddenly someone else says something that is exactly what was in your mind?  As if they had reached inside your head and grabbed it.

Or maybe, you had just read something that really intrigued you and suddenly material on that same topic starts popping up everywhere?  A friend recommends a book – same subject.  You see an advertisement for a TV documentary – same subject.  A billboard along the highway – same subject.  A blog post from a friend mirrors that same subject.

Affirmations from the world around us.  We’re on the same wavelength.

And none of this is related to some mainstream news cycle.  Maybe it’s about showing gratitude.  Or demonstrating generosity.  Or learning to smile at the beauty that surrounds us.

This seems to happen all the time, if we’re paying attention, and it happened again just the other day when my blogging friend Searching for Grady posted to her blog.  It’s a piece she calls, “Migratory Spirits” about the twelve virtues.

And it just so happens, I’m reading a book about the twelve virtues called, “The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living.”  The author, Joseph M. Marshall III, dedicates a chapter to each virtue.  Providing the Sioux word and pronunciation, and then telling some traditional stories to illustrate the concepts.

So we have:

Humility – Unsiiciyapi  (un-shee-ee-cee-yah-pee) to be humble, modest, unpretentious;

Perseverance – Wowacintanka (wo-wah-chin-tan-gah) to persist, strive in spite of difficulties;

Respect – Wawoohola (wah-wo-o-ho-lah) to be considerate, to hold in high esteem;

Honor – Wayuonihan (wah-you-v-knee-han) to have integrity, an honest and upright character;

Love – Cantognake (chan-doe-gnan-key) to place and hold in one’s heart;

Sacrifice – Icicupi (ee-chee-chu-pee) to give of oneself, an offering;

Truth – Wowicake (wo-wee-jah-keh) that which is real, the way the world is;

Compassion – Waunsilapi (wah-un-shee-lah-pee) to care, to sympathize;

Bravery – Woohitike (wo-oh-hee-tee-keh) having or showing courage;

Fortitude – Cantewasake (can-te-wah-sha-keh) strength of heart and mind;

Generosity – Canteyuke (chan-te-you-keh) to give, to share, to have heart;

and,

Wisdom – Woksape (wo-ksa-peh) to understand what is right and true, to use knowledge wisely.

Isn’t it amazing how these ideas seem to travel.  I don’t think it’s solely because of the Internet or modern communications either.  While we might look at these systems as being more dendrites in the collective nervous system, ideas seem to travel with or without exterior electronics.  We are all connected.  We may have just not realized how widespread collective thoughts manifest.

There are no coincidences.

I find it encouraging that at a time when there seems to be more division and hatred spreading like a cancer, that the twelve virtues have emerged.  Perhaps as the antibodies to defeat such infections.

May the thoughts and the actions from the virtues gain lightspeed 🙂

***

Photo: The sun rises over a rock formation in the Badlands.  A universal symbol.  The sun rising, a new day, new beginnings, a fresh start, we’ve embarked on a new journey.  These thoughts arise in everyone’s minds, synchronously, without the need to speak.  Perhaps a look into another’s eyes, the nod of a head.  Just knowing.

Echoes of Home

As I’m trying to settle back in from my latest travels, I find myself growing restless.  Every chance to drive somewhere triggers that “highway call.”  That “road fever.”  And a simple trip to the grocery carries with the temptation to just keep on driving.  Doesn’t really matter where.  Just need to be in motion.

So, I headed out to the closest trail to take in some of the sunshine of these ever-shortening days.  Stretch my legs.  Moving meditation.  Mind a drift.  Day dreams of far away places.

There’s only one lengthy trail nearby and it sort of weaves in and out of the countryside while skirting this small Midwestern town.  And as I walk, it occurs to me that I’ve called this place “home” for four years now – to this date exactly.  I had never really intended to stay.

A temporary hold-over while I adjusted to the loss of my prior home.  A marriage destroyed by my partner’s alcoholism.  She refused all attempts at getting help.  It’s not easy watching someone you love self-destruct, but life does go on.  It has to.

In these past four years, I worked a little over a year and half before internal and external backstabbing saw my position handed off to someone else as a political favor. Age discrimination brought the career to an early demise.  All-in-all, though, it’s been ok.  Probably a blessing.

So, I loaded up the car and drove.  And I’ve been on the road now for at least a year of those remaining eighteen months.  Exploring, rediscovering, breathing again.  Stopping back here periodically to rest up, repack, and move on again.

Other places had that homey feeling.  Sort of like you grew up there and fit in.  Like you could stay and be content.  I never bothered to get to know this town.  I hadn’t planned on fitting in.  Still don’t care to.  But here I am.

Today, I diverged from the natural part of the trail that follows a stream through the woods and headed into the heart of this unknown downtown.  What is this place where I’m hanging my hat?  Where I know no one.

It strikes me that there are a number of features that are universal to the places I’ve been.  Of course, there’s a “Main Street.”  But there’s always a Broadway, Euclid, Park, Oak, Maple, Elm, and 1st through 10th streets.   There’s always a Memorial Park and a Veterans Park.  Plaques and signs from the local Chamber of Commerce.  Lion’s Club, VFW, JCs.  Sometimes a local chapter of the Confederate Sons or Daughters.

While there’s going to be a cemetery or two, I was surprised to the see that the street leading through the main cemetery was named “Dyer.”  Some weird twist to that one. Some cemeteries don’t even name the roads running through them.

There’s always a part of town that’s lined with restored Victorian homes, and a part where the same style homes are decaying.  Where you could drop a hammer on the roof and it would fall through every floor to the basement.

There are always some nice people sitting out on old porch swings that will wave and say hello.  And there are a few front porches and alleyways occupied by people who I wouldn’t want to run into at night.  Or maybe even right now in broad daylight.  They eye me as an invader of their turf.  A hush descends.  I keep moving.

Downtown businesses are mostly closed on a day you’d expect them to be open, except for the bars.  And there’s one of those on every corner.   All busy at 2:00 in the afternoon.  Not much else to do around here I guess.

Half of the shops are going out of business.  Booming economy is nowhere near here.  An old antique shop says it’s having a “retirement” sale.  Sixty to seventy percent off.  But it’s closed with no hours posted.

The streets closed for the farmer’s market open again as the last pickup drives off.  I think there will be some type of Halloween parade on these streets next weekend. Parades and high school bands always a staple.

I can always find the courthouse by looking for the flag.  Small town kingdoms where prosecutors and judges rule.

I head through one of the parks on my way back to where I parked the car.  I’ve always enjoyed hearing the happy voices of children playing.  Reminds me of simpler times when days stretched on forever.   When games had no rules.  We made things up as we went along.  Unbound imaginations.

Maybe that’s why I enjoying moving.  Stretching days down the length of the highways.  I guess it doesn’t matter what town I’m in.  Some things seem eternal.  Echoes of the last stop.

Maybe everywhere is home 🙂

***

 

Photo: This Victorian home was restored and converted into a Bed and Breakfast.  Another staple of small town America.

The Many Flames of Life

I love fire.  Always have.

A Passionate Embrace.

Cozy snowy days by the woodstove.

Well, not quite a Haiku’s traditional 5-7-5, but fire is still poetic.  Fire is symbolic of so many things.  Transformation, purification, life force, power, strength, destruction, rebirth, transcendence, inspiration, enlightenment.

Truth and Knowledge.  Light and Heat.  The Intellect and the Emotions.

“Baptism by Fire” restores primordial purity.  An intermediary between the Source and all of us tiny Particles of Awareness.

Fire is a good visual representation of our emotions.  Anger, I believe, is the most destructive – a raging inferno.  Passion, the most inspirational, a slow intense burn.  Love, a steady light.  Life, the precious spark.

The blaze in the feature photo above represents that out-of-control burst of anger.  Hatred.  The stare of death.

While this image . . .

Fire +

the steady, passionate burn of the heart.  That electric heat, tingle of fire, with the brush of a lover’s hand.  A slow, deep delicious kiss.

And there’s another image I truly love, from my background of being a health care provider – The Keeper of the Flame.  I found this pin at a military surplus store.  I was told it was a German medic’s pin.  The hands delicately cradling that life force.

Keeper of the Flame

And here’s one, a story for another day, perhaps, of a long ago camping trip in the mountains of Colorado.  The howling winds channeling through the mountain pass.  Filling our eyes with smoke and ash as we reached for those life-giving flames.

Cold in Them Mountains

But anger.  Yes anger is the most destructive.  A fire that can consume us.  Destroy us physically and mentally.  We might think it’s directed outward, but the amount of negative energy that burns within can kill.  An insidious suicide.

I end with a link to a friend’s blog.   Lucid Being recently posted “Solving the Anger Issues! – Open Leader.” It’s a good read.

As for that spiritual burn in all of us – don’t let that fire go out.

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BORING

A few days ago, I posted a piece about attention spans and when people will “bail” from reading additional text.  As a writer, it’s helpful to know what’s happening in the reader’s mind so we can craft ways to capture their attention.  And that Bailer’s Point actually ties in nicely with the fourth “Brain Rule” discussed by John Medina. *

People won’t pay attention to boring things.

It seems that when we encounter any stimulus our brains go through a number of discrete phases to process that information.

Intrinsic Alertness – our ability to detect something.

Phasic Alertness – our ability to focus on that something.

Executive Network – our ability to decide what to do about that something.

And despite what people may think, the brain’s attention spotlight can only focus on one thing at a time.  We process concepts sequentially.  Task shifting, or multi-tasking, delays accomplishment time by 50% and increases errors by 50%.  We’re just not wired well to do multiple things at the same time.  We are also much better at detecting patterns and then extrapolating the meaning of events than we are at registering and remembering the details of those events.

We saw before how readers can check out within seconds if their attention is not corralled, and listeners, it turns out, can only hold on for about 10 minutes before tuning out.

So what enhances or extends attention spans?  How can we reach into the readers’ or listeners’ brains and shake their frontal lobes around without screaming PAY ATTENTION?! !

We can add emotion!

It seems emotion coupled with information not only captures attention, but it significantly improves retention.  People remember personal stories bathing in feelings better than they will rote recitations of facts, no matter how intriguing we might think those facts are.

As writers, we need to try to engage all of our reader’s senses.  So they can taste it, hear it, smell it, feel it, breathe it in.

But it also turns out that we need to give people frequent breaks.  As a lecturer, that may mean switching topics or keeping the presentation short.  As a writer, it means we need to effectively use punctuation.  Let the reader come up for air once and a while.

That’s one reason I like to use sentence fragments.  Even though were not supposed to 🙂

And on that note, I’ll call it quits today.  Except if I can hold your attention a little longer, there are a few more fun pics at the bottom of this virtual page.

***

Feature Photo: An old hotel in an 1800’s mining town has a character all of its own, but by bending the light and showering it with color, we add emotion.  Fire!  It draws in the eye and holds the attention.   With blogging, I’ve found that a great pic can really draw in the reader.  Of course, what I think is great others might find boring.

Past Posts on Brain Rules by John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist.

Move Your Body, Move Your Mind

Writing to Survive

Wired

I hope you all have a day of excitement filled with brain candy.  Here are a few more pics I played with, turning the ordinary into a little something more.

Bisbee - 53 - Castle Rock + CF

 

Ramsey Canyon 25th - 7 - CF13-26

Horseback Riding - 1 +MC100+Enamel

Miller Canyon - 3 +Solarize 245

Sunset from the Little House + Enamel

 

A Question for the Women

I’m really not interested in getting into shouting matches or debates regarding a lot of political topics.  We all have views formed over time based upon our education, our individual experiences, and our peer associations.  We can agree or disagree, and do so civilly.  And we can also talk about more positive and enlightened subjects 🙂

But I am curious about a broader topic right now that was brought into the spotlight with the Senate confirmation hearings of Kavanaugh.

What I’d like to hear from the women out there is how you see the proper way for men to enter the discussion about credibility, double standards, and the elephant in the room – sexual assault.

Women are certainly justified with being outraged with men’s behavior and especially with the fact that men’s morally reprehensible and even criminal behavior appears to be accepted and, at times, even reinforced or rewarded.

I support women’s issues.  I support women professionals.  I helped to raise a strong daughter, although she came into this world with her own fire so I can’t take much credit there.

I’ve always tried to be respectful of all.  And I recognize that women do not “need” men to fight their battles.  They are fully capable of doing so themselves.

So, the question is, how would you like for men to help and support you?

Comments I’ve read have given me pause about even engaging in the discussion.  And I don’t think that is helpful because men do need to be involved, not only to control their own behavior and serve as examples of what it is to be a “good man,” but to influence what is and what is not going to be socially acceptable treatment of over half of our population.

Some of the comments I’ve read recently include:

“We don’t want men speaking up for us, that’s just another way for them to try to control us.”

“Just being a good man is the equivalent of doing nothing.”

“Any man who defends himself as being good, and not like the others, is insecure with his manhood.”

“You (men) should probably just sit this one out right now.”

 

Your thoughts and perspectives would be appreciated.

***

Great Blue Heron from the Net

Photo: The Great Blue Heron.  I found this picture on the internet in the public domain and could find no further attribution for it.  It was much better than my picture of a Blue Heron 🙂 I chose the Heron for this post because it symbolizes self-determination and self-reliance.  It also represents balance and the ability to progress and evolve.  I believe we all have these strengths and can use them together to the benefit of the community.

BTW: With Kavanaugh, it’s been pointed out that in our representative government, the Senators voting No for his confirmation to the court represented 182 million people, while those that voted Yes represented 143 million.  But we can save the discussion on the functioning or non-functioning of the system for another day 🙂

Bailer’s Point

Not so long ago, I read where the average American attention span was 8 seconds, or one second less than that of a goldfish.  Now clearly those of us who write would like for people to hang on just a little bit longer.  Below I attached some research I complied on the way people read materials on the web.

And when they reach their bailing point.

If you don’t find statistics interesting, you better stop here, but you might be just a little curious being a blogger how some may make it, or not make it, through your blog posts.

I’ve been trying to learn to write better to capture the reader’s attention, but the following is a bit academic and dry, if I do say so myself.

If you boiled it all down, you’d get the impression that our posts shouldn’t exceed about 170 words.  But I have faith that us bloggers do hang on and read, especially if we find the material of interest to us.

And that was 168 words – time to bail 🙂

***

In 2008, Professor Harald Weinreich, Ph.D. of the University of Hamburg published a study analyzing the way people read web articles and interact with web browsers.  The study concluded that the average attention span for humans viewing web pages was 8 seconds – that is 8 seconds before jumping to the next page.[1]

Internet browsing statistics demonstrated that: (1) 17% of readers would view a web page for less than 4 seconds; (2) viewers would only read 49% of web pages containing 111 words or less; (3) readers would only read, at maximum, 28% of the 593 words on an average web page, i.e. 166 words; and, (4) only 4% would view a page for more than 10 minutes.

The ten minute category is believed to be from those who left the browser open while doing something else.[2]

While these statistics certainly grab one’s attention about the lack of human attention span, detailed studies reveal more specifics on how people view and read materials – especially web-based materials.

The Nielsen Norman Group[3] has conducted extensive evidence-based research on human reading and human-computer interaction.  Their findings[4] expand upon the data collected in the Weinreich study and further reveal:

  • For each 100 words added to the initial 111, a highly literate (proficient) reader (reading 250 words per minute) adds only 4.4 seconds of viewing time, or only reads 18%, or 18 words of each 100 words, of the added verbiage.
  • Articles with less than 200 words are viewed for 30 seconds or less.
  • Articles with 1200 words are viewed for 80 seconds on average (a proficient reader (only 13% of the U.S. population based upon literacy studies) would read only 254 words).
  • On average, web page users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit – if they devote all of their page-viewing time to reading; 20% is more likely.
  • Studied readers only would read 10% of what they agreed to read.
  • Web readers spend 80% of their time looking at information “above the fold” – no scrolling to read the bottom of the page, and it is rare for users to read an entire page.
  • Readers attention – 78% focus on text initially, while 22% focus on graphics.
  • Generally, readers are drawn to headlines, article summaries and captions.
  • Readers will alternate reading between multiple web sites using interlaced browsing.
  • Users read fewer words on other sites than they do on newspaper sites.
  • Those readers who do read a “full” article only read 75% of the text.
  • Readers will spend 69% of their viewing time on the left half of the screen and 30% on the right.
  • Only 1% of a reader’s attention will be spent scrolling to view information not visible on the right-hand side of the screen.
  • Attention diminishes with each successive paragraph. Readers scan pages in an “F” pattern – following navigation bars and picking paragraphs to read. Thus, 81% of readers will scan the first paragraph, 71% the second, 63% the third and only 32% the fourth.  Twelve percent of users will scan the bottom of the page.[5]

The point at which a reader quits reading is often referred to as the “bailer’s point” or the “kick-off point.”[6]

***

[1] Wienreich, et al., “Not quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use,” ACM Transactions on the Web, Vol. 2, No. 1 (February 2008).  A 2013 Associated Press article citing to this research, and to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, reported that the attention span of a goldfish was 9 seconds. http://www.statisticbrain.com/attention-span-statistics.

[2] Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, the Nielsen Norman Group, “How Little do Users Read?” May 6, 2008.

[3] The Nielsen Norman Group is a business training, consulting and research group that tests computer interfaces, and researches user interaction with those interfaces. It focuses include internet design, interface design, application design, E-commerce design, information architecture, human-computer interaction, web writing and content strategy and intranet usability.

[4] Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, the Nielsen Norman Group, “Eyetracking Study of Web Readers,” May 14, 2000;  Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, the Nielsen Norman Group, “How Little do Users Read?” May 6, 2008; Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, the Nielsen Norman Group, “Scrolling and Attention,” March 22, 2010; Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, the Nielsen Norman Group, “Horizontal Attention Means Left,” April 6, 2010.

[5] Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, the Nielsen Norman Group: “Website Reading: It Sometimes Does Happen,” June 24, 2013 and “How People Read on the Web: The Eyetracking Evidence,” http://www.nngroup.com/ reports/how-people-read-web-eyetracking-evidence/; How People Read on the Web, National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities – citing to the Nielsen Norman Group, http://nichcy.org/dissemination/tools/webwriting/reading.

[6] Research various and attempts have been made to determine how interest level affects reading behavior.  In 2008, the Poynter Institute (journalism school) reported its eyetracking research that indicated that people will spend a maximum of 98 seconds per article they select to read, and read, on average 62% of the story.  http://www.poynter.org/extra/Eyetrack/keys_01.html.  A 2010 study, however, demonstrated that 57% of news users now go to digital sources to obtain news, but only 44% of Google News readers will read any text beyond the headline for the story.  Source: Outsell Research and Advisory Group, http://techcrunch.com/2010/01/19/outsell-google-news.

Photo: You might be wondering why I chose my picture of the Roadrunner.  Well, besides being beautiful and reminding me of tiny dinosaurs running around, they are very curious bids and they will hold their attention on you.  I think I had a little more time than 8 seconds to take this pic, so it’s attention span also exceeded the Average American 🙂

Roadrunner

Note:  In a former life, I prepared a rather extensive research study on a similar topic for a not-so-grateful employer.  Seemed a shame to waste it all so I tracked back to related data to use here 🙂

Link Rot: I can’t guarantee that any of the links to internet sites will actually take you to those original sites as time progresses.

 

Wired

Building on a theme I have going on brain development, I wanted to explore rule 3 of the book “Brain Rules” written by John Medina.  You might recall my previous two posts on this, Move Your Body, Move Your Mind, and Writing to Survive.  Well today, we’re looking at “wiring.”  While we might think generally that men and women are wired differently, for example, fact is, all of us are wired differently.

To understand how we’re all wired differently, we first have to look at the cells that compose our bodies.  Billions of cells, that are all acting independently from our thought processes.  Thank goodness.  Our minds are jumbled enough without us having to consciously think and direct the activities of all of the complex and differentiated cells in our bodies.  Can you imagine having to think about absolutely every body function at the microscopic cellular level.  Not to mention the macro-level of organ function.  Come on, breathe body breathe, beat you silly heart . . .

And each of our cells become specialized when the 6 feet of DNA in each cell is folded in a particular way to fit in the microns-sized nucleus.  For perspective, this has been compared to taking 30 miles of fishing line and cramming it inside an object the size of a blueberry.

While we could talk for days about all of the differentiated cells in our bodies and all of their unique functions, since we are looking at our brains, let’s talk neurons.  These are, of course, the tiny structures firing off electrical charges like lightning bolts at 250 miles per hour and causing chemical neurotransmitters to be released that bridge the gaps between neurons called synapses and carry that signal forward somewhere into our gray matter where we interpret it.  We are basically electro-chemical machines.

That always makes me wonder how all of the electronic pollution we are dumping into the airways affects us.  Maybe that’s how we end up with mass shooters, who knows?

Turns out that as we learn, the neurons are shifting and solidifying pathways for communication to each other.  We can relearn things too and reshape our neural wiring.  That’s called neuroplasticity.  What we do and experience actually physically changes our brains.  And the more activity we make our brains perform, the larger and more complex they can become.

The author identifies three types of brain wiring:

Experience Independent wiring = controlling breathing, heart rate, proprioceptive sensations, etc.;
Experience Expectant wiring = things like visual acuity and language acquisition; and
Experience-Dependent wiring = hard-wired not be hard-wired = flexible, sensitive to external inputs and thus cultural programing.

The latter two forms of wiring explain how we are acculturated or assimilated into any particular culture or social structure.  We must beware of our programming.  Especially that programming that starts in early childhood.  We should continually question everything and rewire our brains as needed 😊

No two brains are alike, not even identical twins, because every brain experiences the same phenomena differently creating different memories and the resulting changes in the physical structure to the brain.  This is why neurosurgeons have to do brain mapping on each and every one of their patients before slicing and dicing.  They can’t know ahead of time which precise areas of the brain are tied to which functions because each person is unique.

It also turns out that the brains of wild animals are 15 to 30 percent larger than their tame domestic counterparts.  So, it would seem that living in the wild requires constant learning and adapting.  A different intelligence, perhaps, is required for survival.

That might make one wonder if we become less intelligent the more we become domesticated and sedentary???  Or perhaps we’re just more specialized.  This makes the concept of intelligence a bit more nuanced, which leads researchers to hypothesize about different types of intelligence – verbal, musical, logical, spatial, bodily, interpersonal and intrapersonal.  Such brain differences can be detected when comparing brains of say musicians to athletes.

Since all of our brains develop at different rates and develop completely differently because we all experience things differently, wiring can predict performance.  And education systems, with one set of standards fits all, end up mismatching performance expectations to linear age.

The implications are that smaller class size and individual attention results in, not only improved learning but, more equalized learning.  Teachers with smaller numbers of students can make use of the Theory of Mind I brought up in my last posting on the brain.  They can assess their individual students and gear instruction to improve individual performance.  I guess we have an argument to support home schooling here.

Where does all of this brain talk lead to today?  Well, if we are all wired differently, and if no one experiences any singular event in the same way, then are the images any of us try to convey with words the ones the reader or hearer receives?  Or do each of us have a completely different experience filled with visions, tastes, touches, smells that the storyteller never imagined?

I’ve always said communication is difficult even on a good day.

Intriguing, isn’t it?  Keep on firing neurons !

***

Lightening 5+C1

Photo: Not only are lightning bolts demonstrative of the way neurons work, they are actually similar in structure.  I imagine a giant electrical storm going on in our minds constantly 🙂

Average?

Have you ever considered yourself to be “Average?”  I mean, I like to think that we are all uniquely, unique.  And yes, I know you’re not supposed to use words like that.  Superfluous repetition, but I like it 😊

I guess we need a little context.  Average in terms of what?  Intelligence, appearance, earnings, sexuality?  So, the context I’m coming from today is the “American Averages Quiz” that was on the How Stuff Works website.  I took the quiz, not because I wanted to see if I could get any answers right, but because I wanted to see what they tallied up to be an average American.  They won’t show you the answers unless you take their quiz.

Apparently, being average here means you’ll have 2 cars in your household, that household will most likely be in the state where you were born, and your average annual income will be $34,940.  We are talking averages here, so the average income for a 15 to 24 year-old was $16,000, while the average income for a 35 to 39 year old was $55,000.  Just adding some more context.

You’ll distrust Congress, but you’ll lack a basic understanding of how your government works.  You will know virtually nothing about how the stock market works, you’ll spend $69 per day ($25,185/year), and you’ll be $75,600 in debt.  You’ll have a vocabulary of approximately 15,000 words and you’ll believe in global warming, the death penalty, evolution over creationism, and that the government should invest more in education.

You will not be secure with being able to maintain your standard of living.  Humm, side note on correlations to standard of living (SOL) and shit out of luck (SOL) and statute of limitations (SOL).  SOL seems to imply something negative.

If you are a woman in America, you’ll be, on average, 5 feet 4 inches tall and weigh 166.2 pounds.  If you’re a male, it’s 5 feet 9 ½ inches tall and weigh 195.5 pounds.  Interestingly enough, for both men and women the average body mass index, based upon these heights and weights, is exactly 28.5 for both men and women.  This puts the average American in the overweight range, but a little shy of obese.

So, are you average in this context?  First off, I’d like to know where all of these 5 foot 4 women are.  I’m only 5 foot 5 and it seems women don’t like to date men unless they’re 6 foot 2.  I only weight about 128.  BMI = 21.3, normal.  So, I’m apparently below average in height and weight, which I’m happy with.

I think my vocabulary is over 15K words and I do understand how our government works and capitalism pretty well.  And I’ve traveled and lived in more than one place.  I guess I’m above average there.

I’m retired and have no debt, so above average there.  I was average in my income during my 30s, but I had about 3 years of exceptional income later – before I was kicked to the curb.  Such is life.

I’ve only got one car but, hey, I can only drive one at a time anyway.  Below average.

Global warming and evolution, check.  Education, check.  Death penalty, not so much.  I don’t understand the state demonstrating that killing someone is bad by killing someone.  Plus, it costs the government more in terms of legal appeals.  Kind of like the war on drugs – not all that smart or effective.  Just put those guys in solitary, forever.

Average my “aboves” and “belows” up and I guess I’m kind of average.

Uniquely average 😊

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Photo:  I think that’s a pretty above average looking grasshopper.  Smartly dressed.  I passed it walking down the street one morning.  Grasshoppers symbolize making extraordinary leaps forward – above average.  They never leap backwards.  In China, they are symbols of good cheer, good luck, and abundance.  So be a grasshopper, be exceptional.  Uniquely exceptional 🙂