Tag Archives: Brain

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

 

Like

I have to say, I really appreciate the WordPress community.  I learned about WordPress when I was looking at job postings for writers and started noticing that a number of them required WordPress experience.  So, I Googled it to find out what it was.

Then I met Laleh Chini on Twitter and was introduced to her blog, “A Voice from Iran.”

After checking out a few more blogs and seeing their beautiful formats, I decided to take the plunge.

One of the things that really amazes me it that we can meet people from all over the world.  And even if their blogs are written in different languages, it’s not much trouble to copy and paste something into Google Translate and read it.

I like looking at other languages and seeing how others compose their ideas.  I think the text is beautiful and I am awed about the whole concept of learning a language.  How do we master such a thing?  Other languages look so foreign to me, it’s hard for me to imagine how children in those countries grow up learning them.  And multilingual people fascinate me even more.

It is such a human trait.  Language.  It’s taken for granted.  And just look how much communication has evolved and the technology that we use now to share our stories all over the world.

I know we all love it when others in our community like our posts.  So here are a few examples of beautiful language from around the world from some of my blogging friends just using the word “like.”

Indonesian                           DisuKai

Turkish                                  Begendi

Italian                                     Mi piace

Norwegian                           Liker

Romanian                             Apreciaza

German                                Gefällt mir

Spanish                                 Me Gusta

Russian                                  нравится

Hindi                                       पसंद

Swedish                                Tycka om

French                                   J’aime

Irish                                        Cosúil

Japanese                               好き

Pakistan (Urdu)                  کی طرح

Nigeria (Yoruba)                 Bi

Phillipines (Filipino)         Katulad

Finnish                                     Kuten

Azerbaijani                            Bəyən

Portuguese                            Curtir

I’m sure you can all add to this list.

Another reason I like it when my blogging friends like my posts is that it reminds me to go check out their pages.  It’s hard to keep up with all of the good writing out there so that serves as a nice prompt.

Looking forward to liking more of your posts 🙂

***

Photo: A closeup of a cactus in bloom at a botanical garden in the southwest.  The feature image zooming-in is sort of other-worldly.  A friend described it as looking like an underwater organism – a sea creature.  An it does sort of look like a Sea Anemone.  The full view is below.  Amazing to see that flower with such exploding beauty thriving in desert conditions.  This is my analogy to the beauty of language in all it’s forms, unexpectedly breathtaking 🙂

Tohono Chul with Heather 4+C2

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.

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

 

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 🙂

The Cabo Monetary Standard

Ok, so I am switching to a new monetary standard.

I’ve just read an interesting historical account of the bimetallic monetary standards – the competition between using silver or gold to back the nation’s currency.  Well not that interesting, I just sort of skimmed the piece.  That was all it was worth : – )

At any rate, the gold standard, which won over the silver standard, was blamed for prolonging the great depression because it prevented the Federal Reserve from expanding the money supply to stimulate the economy.  Clearly not a problem today where administration after administration engages in big time deficit spending.  And come on, we all know there ain’t enough gold in the world to back all the cash that has been circulated now.  I just lit the wood stove with a fiver . . .

What does all this have to do with me.  Well, I went to purchase a new prescription today.  Actually, not new.  It was a type of the same medicine I’ve been taking for some 20 years without any problems, but the “new” one was supposed to be “better.”  But it turned out there was no generic version so Big Pharma could cash in.  But wait, the Pharm was going to help me out with a “coupon.”  But wait again, they refused to give me the coupon because they claim I am on Medicare.  Hold on, I’m old, but not that old.  F#$% that Sh**.  I’m not on Medicare or Gericare, or BSanythingCare.

So, in looking at the co-pay I realized I could buy 3 bottles of Cabo for the cost of that “new” “better” med.  And, thus, the Cabo monetary standard has been adopted.  Anything costing over the price of a bottle of Cabo must now be seriously analyzed – full cost/benefit ratio, except maybe for gas, but I drive a Prius – Ha!  I elected to buy 3 bottles of Cabo and forgo making Big Pharma richer, and that is probably “better” medicine . . .

***

Photo: A bottle of Cabo.  Yeah, it might start looking like the photo trick I used here after you have  few shots 🙂

BTW: I wrote this back during the winter when I was actually firing up the wood stove.  And my doctor came up with another cheaper med.  That one had so many bad side effects that I have no idea what my doctor was thinking.  I went back to the old one and drank the Cabo.

Cabo+Enamel

Writing to Survive

A while back I wrote a piece about how movement, physical movement, was necessary for our creative minds.  In fact, this was a trait we learned and passed on by the forces of evolution.  To eat, we moved.  As we moved, we learned to think.  We had to be creative problem solvers on the move, and we survived.

That article was called, “Move Your Body, Move Your Mind.”  And there, I explored the first “rule” in the book, “Brain Rules,” by John Medina.  This guy, Medina, is a smart guy. He is a developmental molecular biologist.

This technique works for me, by-the-way.  I get some of my best story ideas when I’m out hiking on the trail and I allow my mind to drift.  Evolutionary vestiges repurposed.  I hunt for words as my food is all neatly packaged at the grocery store now.

Well, the second “brain rule” is our ability to engage in IMAGINATION!  More specifically, our ability to substitute objects in our minds so that one object can represent another, or maybe a whole bunch of different objects.  This has been called “Dual Representation Theory.”  More basically, SYMBOLISM.

It seems our fossil history shows that our ancestors evolved a lot physically since humankind’s estimated beginnings somewhere around 7 to 10 million years ago, but there wasn’t a lot of mental evolution going on until about 40,000 years ago.  And then.  Bam!  We went from stone axes to painting, sculpture, fine art and jewelry.  Soon, there would be mathematics and science.  And, of course, more advanced communication.  What caused this big change?

Apparently, it was the weather.

The changes weren’t fast, but they forced adaptation.  Brought us out of the trees and into the savannah when food sources shifted.  To become more streamlined and save energy we became bipedal.

In order to master survival in all of the biomes on the planet, our brains enlarged.  This brings in another concept – Variability Selection Theory.  Two powerful aspects of the brain developed.  A database and the ability to improvise using that growing database.

And since survival not only meant staying warm and eating, it meant not being eaten too, community concepts evolved.  There was safety and better hunting in numbers.  And this meant learning to negotiate.

This raises the “Theory of Mind” or the ability to make inferences.  To peer inside another person’s mental life and make predictions, to understand their motivations.  All necessary skills to develop allies, cooperative behavior, and group species survival.

This ability to draw upon our databases and make inferences reminds me of the “predictive processing framework,” described in my piece,“My Intuition Tells Me . . ..”

With basic survival skills being mastered, humans could focus on more advanced pursuits.  Those beyond only the four F’s – fighting, feeding, fleeing and fucking.  And thus, in addition to art, music, mathematics, and science, us modern-day bloggers have electronic storytelling.

I think most of us still like the fucking, we just have more time for more things beyond the big four now. 😊

Storytelling is an ancient art, and we wordsmiths spend a lot of time in the world of symbolic thinking.  We don’t use this creative process for basic survival like our ancestors did.  Or do we ???  Maybe writing and creating worlds is survival for some of us.  And I suppose some us actually do feed ourselves by writing, a lean diet that is . . .

But basically, every word we use is a symbol, either a subject or an action or a feeling.  Every word has to represent something tangible in the physical world or summon an image or feeling into the mind.

In fact, symbols can convey meanings or reveal details of reality beyond just a physical image.  Symbols can carry strong emotions.  They can summon memories of sounds and smells and touches.  Of happiness and laughter.

And as writers, we employ that Theory of Mind in multiple ways.  We try to look into our reader’s heads, make predictions, understand what drives them.  Figure out how to lead them through the story.

There are times when we want our words to evoke a particular image and have that image be universal for all readers.  But there are other times when we deliberately want those words to convey multiple meanings, to give the reader a choice.  Or to show contradictions between choices.  Maybe they’ll choose a meaning that even we never saw as a possibility.

If we are writing fiction, we have to develop the mental lives of the characters we create.  We add predictability and motivations for their actions, even providing historic context.  Their fictional life traumas that have helped develop their passions, their fears, their hatreds, their loves, their essence.  So the reader understands the next move on the chess board.

So, this survival skill of making inferences has evolved into us examining the minds of non-existent entities and developing believable characters based upon what we anticipate would be their universal actions.  Wouldn’t we do the same thing in the same situation?  And we do this for entertainment, not for negotiating the next mammoth hunt.

Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, the art of writing is stacking symbols in some sequence to complete a portrait.  And we want to draw the reader in so they feel like they are a part of the story.  A bystander.  A witness.  Or maybe even an active participant.

Symbols may relate to objects, but they don’t equate to objects.  They reveal essence.  Symbols are inclusive and expansive and evolve over time acquiring even more meaning from multiple sources.

Meanings may differ depending on peoples’ cultures.  The Owl, for example, to the Pawnee symbolized protection, while to the Ojibwa it symbolized evil and death.  To the ancient Greeks, the Owl represented wisdom.

Great Horned Owl - 6 - 25th Nov + Crop
According to Joseph Campbell: “Symbols are only the vehicles of communication; they must not be mistaken for the final term, the tenor, of their reference.”  This implies that no two people would experience the object of the symbol in the same way.  Maybe so, especially with cultural variations, but it seems the essence of the experience can be shared more universally with a symbol than with bare words.

With context, it seems to me that symbols are the supersonic highway of communication.  The brain is able to process a symbol as an all-encompassing experience in a nanosecond.  Faster than the blink of an eye, a complex story unfolds in images and associated feelings.

Symbolic thinking is said to be a uniquely human skill, and it allows us the ability to understand each other and coordinate within groups.  And with that, I’ll leave you with a few symbols to make of them what you will. 😊

What do these images inspire in your minds?

***

Note:  If you want to read more, there are some quotes on symbolism below.

Photos:  An angel inside an old Spanish mission.  The great Horned Owl.  A sculpture in an art gallery court yard.  Street sculptures in an eclectic small town.  A vulture crosses it’s folded wings to make a heart.

DeGrazia - Courtyard Statue     Bisbee - 25     Bisbee - 1BCrop
Bisbee - 27 + Crop     Turkey Vulture - Folded Wings 2+Crop Heart

A sort of Rorschach test 🙂

Quotes: 

“Symbolism is no mere idle fancy or corrupt egerneration: it is inherent in the very texture of human life.”
― Alfred Whitehead

“Things do not have meaning. We assign meaning to everything.”
― Anthony Robbins

“Symbols can be so beautiful, sometimes.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

“If you have to ask what it symbolizes, it didn’t.”
― Roger Ebert

“In many college English courses the words “myth” and “symbol” are given a tremendous charge of significance.  You just ain’t no good unless you can see a symbol hiding, like a scared gerbil, under every page.  And in many creative writing course the little beasts multiply, the place swarms with them.  What does this Mean? What does that Symbolize?  What is the Underlying Mythos?  Kids come lurching out of such courses with a brain full of gerbils.  And they sit down and write a lot of empty pomposity, under the impression that that’s how Melville did it.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction

“A religion is a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods in men [and women] by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing those conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.”
― Clifford Geertz

“The same principles that make a spiral galaxy also create the structure of a seashell and unfurling of a fern.  This is why ancient spiritual people used natural symbols to convey universal concepts.”
― Belsebuub, Return to Source: How Enlightenment is the Process of Creation in the Universe in Reverse

“[A] symbol, like everything else, shows a double aspect.  We must distinguish, therefore between the ‘sense’ and the ‘meaning’ of the symbol.  It seems to me perfectly clear that all the great and little symbolical systems of the past functioned simultaneously on three levels: the corporeal of waking consciousness, the spiritual of dream, and the ineffable of the absolutely unknowable.  The term ‘meaning’ can refer only to the first two but these, today, are in the charge of science – which is the province as we have said, not of symbols but of signs.  The ineffable, the absolutely unknowable, can be only sensed.  It is the province of art which is not ‘expression’ merely, or even primarily, but a quest for, and formulation of, experience evoking, energy-waking images: yielding what Sir Herbert Read has aptly termed a ‘sensuous apprehension of being’.”
― Joseph Campbell, The Symbol Without Meaning

Morning Coffee

I can’t really explain time.

Right now, I know I’ve let days slip away without posting to my blog and it’s time to start writing.

Writing is sort of an addiction.  I love it.  And I am writing in my mind all the time.  But some days there are simply other things I need to do with my time, either to keep up with the mundane parts of life, or to find inspiration to bring stories to life.  Or maybe I should say, bring life to stories.  Creative time.

Of course, it’s not “my time” to begin with.  How could we possess something so ethereal?

Time has a way of standing still yet slipping by at the same time.  Especially when I’m with the people I love, or when I am taking time out in nature.  Time’s simply gone or was time there to begin with?  The true measure of time never really existed.  It is artificially set.  Having no more substance than turning hands on an arbitrarily numbered dial.

While time is an arbitrary concept, at least in the physical world, time is limited for us.  So, sharing that finite time with others is perhaps the greatest gift we can give.  Maybe we’ll have infinite time to share in the spiritual world.

For some reason we decided to define time by motion.  One day is equal to the time for the Earth to complete a full rotation on its axis.  To do that, the Earth is moving, rotating, at approximately 1,040 miles per hour.

In addition to its own rotational speed, the Earth is zipping around the sun at about 66,660 miles per hour.  A full rotation around our star takes what we’ve defined as a “year,” some 365 days in double rotational motion, more or less.

What’s more, the sun and our solar system are orbiting the Milky Way Galaxy at somewhere around 450,000 to 500,000 miles per hour.  This galaxy is huge.  It takes our sun about 225 to 250 million years of motion to complete that journey around the galaxy’s center – that’s called a “cosmic year.”

And if that’s not enough motion or time for you, our galaxy is moving in relation to other galaxies and is on a collision course with the Andromeda Galaxy.  These galaxies are moving toward each other at the rate of 252,000 miles per hour!

Are you dizzy yet?

And while time is an artificial concept based on motion, I can’t even tell you where I am at any given moment in time.  For I, and all of the atoms in my body, are in constant motion.

You see, under particle theory in quantum mechanics, anything, including us, have multiple probabilities of being in multiple places at the same time.  It is not until a measurement of some kind, often an observation of effect as opposed to seeing the actual subatomic particle, is taken that a “real” and yet temporary placement of anything or anyone can be defined.

My new goal is to be unmeasurable, so no one can place me anywhere at any given point in time.  I will remain in eternal motion.  How could I not be?

Actually, I’m really just having my morning coffee 😊

***

Photo:  My morning cup of coffee catches the first rays of the rising sun.

My Intuition Tells Me . . .

I bet you can complete this title.  And how many times has your intuition been correct? But just what is intuition?  Is it something instinctual?  Or simply a regular cognitive process? Is it rational to trust our “guts?”

I don’t know about you, but I continually try to tune into my intuition, and I believe it has saved my hide a few times.

I recently read a neuroscientist’s perspective on intuition.  To sum up her point of view, intuition is sort of a “predictive processing framework” whereby our brains are constantly taking in sensory information, comparing that information with accumulated knowledge and experience and then making a spontaneous decision based upon how these data “match” or align.  The process is said to be automatic and subconscious.

Intuition supposedly can be a sloppy process that can fail because it is based on outdated information.  However, analytical thinking, based upon more current information, can be too slow to allow a timely response and can also err when we over-think a problem or a situation.  These two types of “thinking” are theorized to work in concert giving us a good balance.  And there are times we use analytic thinking to make a post-hoc justification for a decision based on intuitive thinking.

That all sounds like a bit of over-thinking to me.

The neuroscientist says we can trust our intuition if we follow this thought algorithm:

“Thus, for every situation that involves a decision based on your assessment, consider whether your intuition has correctly assessed the situation.  Is it an evolutionary old or new situation?  Does it involve cognitive biases?  Do you have experience or expertise in this type of situation?  If it is evolutionary old, involves a cognitive bias, and you don’t have expertise in it, then rely on analytic thinking.  If not, feel free to trust your intuitive thinking.”

But none of this gives me a true understanding of how I just “know” I’ve hit my turn around point on the trail.  My gut tells me there is some danger out there if I continue and it’s time to go home.  As I leave, I hear a hunter’s shot ring out and a deer runs out of the underbrush and passes by me.  Or a large tree branch falls where I would have stepped next.

How about, when I walk into a business and I just get the vibe that something is about to go south there so I turn around and leave.  Then, I read in the paper the next day that there was a fight that broke out in that establishment and someone got shot.  Or the place was robbed just moments after I left.

Or I see a vehicle pass me on the road and just “know” something is amiss.  Then I later pass it as it sits a contorted mass, in a deadly embrace with a semitruck.

What about the times there is no danger?  But I “know” to follow a butterfly who leads me to a wonderous discovery.  An overlook into a canyon that was off-trail and thoroughly hidden. Inspiration and beauty, I would have walked right on by but not for my gut.

Or I meet a person and within seconds I’m sure they have a good heart.  As time passes, this assessment proves to be 100% accurate.  People seem to have that intuitive trust with me too, and often just open up to me and share very personal information before they know anything about me.  I can’t tell you how many times this has happened, and the person says to me, “I don’t have any idea why I’m telling you all of this.”

None of these situations appear to involve past or present sensory input that could lead to a predictive outcome.  It is merely a feeling or my “inner voice” that I have listened to.

As the Universe would have it, the same day I read the neuroscientist’s article I would be directed to another about the topic of what it means to be “clairsentient,” or to be someone who feels things very deeply.  Notice, this is not the same as being clairvoyant. Not the same as being able to “see clearly” or predict the future.

The author of this article lists out 25 traits that may accompany being clairsentient.  And I don’t want to oversimply a complex topic, but suffice it to say such a person is extremely tuned in.  Not only to their own feelings, but to the energy fields surrounding everyone and all things.  This hypersensitivity allows for acting on senses without necessarily having any discernable information.  Or it allows a different level of accessing and analyzing information to make predictive outcomes.  To act purely upon a subconscious process where we are fed information.  It is almost as though that information comes from an outside observer who has clairvoyance.

Or maybe that is precisely what this is.  Being hypersensitive may just mean being in tune with all of the spiritual energy surrounding us.  This allows for lightening fast decisions based not upon historical data accumulated in our brains, but on real-time or even future-time data coming from external sources.

Imagine that.

And since we are talking about the subconscious, let’s talk about consciousness for a moment and what that means.  To be conscious means we are presumably awake and aware of our existence, our sensations, our thoughts, and our surroundings.  The subconscious mind concerns “the part of the mind of which one is not fully aware but which influences one’s actions and feelings.”  While on the other hand, the unconscious mind is said to be “the part of the mind which is inaccessible to the conscious mind but which affects behavior and emotions.”  And being unconscious, well we all know what that means; lights out and nobody’s home.

But these are not the end descriptors of consciousness and subconscious processes because we also have “collectives.”  The collective conscious is “the set of shared beliefs, ideas and moral attitudes which operate as a unifying force within society.”  The “collective unconscious,” in Jungian psychology, is “part of the unconscious mind which is derived from ancestral memory and experience and is common to all humankind, as distinct from the individual’s unconscious.”

Now that’s a lot to wrap your brain around.  And maybe the collective unconscious could provide a source of data for our intuitive responses.  But how do we get that package of ancestral memory jammed in our heads?  Is that knowledge carried in our genetics?

Well, I have a different idea about the collective minds, or perhaps “energies” is a better word.  What if the collective unconscious was not ancestral memory?  What if the subconscious or unconscious minds of all were collectively linked, 24/7, in the present moment?  What if we could, through “intuition” or other means, tap into all that data and awareness?  What if being clairsentient meant exactly that, being tapped into this collective energy?  Wouldn’t that allow you to be extremely empathetic, to sense another’s innate qualities and characteristics, to perhaps perceive disruptions in the energy fields that tip you off to events unfolding?

I don’t know.

A number of years back I built a bridge.  It spanned a 22-foot, water-filled ravine that fed a lake on my property.  I arched it slightly and it had no supports underneath it to resist gravity or to support its own weight.  It was the biggest carpentry project I undertook, and I did it with virtually no experience or knowledge.  I drew the design out on a brown paper bag.  I was no engineer.

Each night before bed, I would formulate a question in my mind with regard to part of the project.  Usually a problem that needed to be solved.  And each morning I awoke with an answer in my conscious mind.  An answer that worked.  Now where did this information come from?

I had no inherent knowledge in my mind to process in my sleep with regard to bridge building.  Could it have come from some ancestral memory, really?  Or could I have tapped into a real-time collective of conscious, subconscious, or unconscious minds, or energy fields, that provided the answers.  I have no idea, but that bridge is still standing 22 years after I built it.

Bridge - 3 Winter
And it’s a nice metaphor too.  Bridging between conscious and subconscious and unconscious dimensions 😊

Of course, I don’t know that words can ever adequately describe such a process.  And you can call me crazy if you want to, but I do know that the times I didn’t listen to my inner voice were the times that I got into trouble.

So, I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to tune-in.  Tap into all that is out there.  And trust what my inner voice is telling me.

Pleasant trails, keep listening, and trust your gut.

***

Photos: I built this bridge in the summer of 1996 – winter and summer views.

Links: Here are links to the articles I read.  All links are subject to link rot.

Is it rational to trust your gut feelings? A neuroscientist explains

25 Signs You May Be Clairsentient — Someone Who Feels Things Very Deeply

Quotes: And here are a couple of nice quotes on Intuition:

“Intuition is seeing with the soul.”
― Dean Koontz

 
“The material world is simply an expression of the mind; that’s what so many fail to see. We’re so dependent on what is before us that we discount our intuition. Yet if one dismisses instinct, how can one understand or believe in a world that exists beyond one’s sight?”
― Megan Chance, The Spiritualist

 
“Intuition comes in several forms:
– a sudden flash of insight, visual or auditory
– a predictive dream
– a spinal shiver of recognition as something is occurring or told to you
– a sense of knowing something already
– a sense of deja vu
– a snapshot image of a future scene or event
– knowledge, perspective or understanding divined from tools which respond to the subconscious mind”
― Sylvia Clare, Trusting Your Intuition: Rediscover Your True Self to Achieve a Richer, More Rewarding Life

 
“Situations produce vibrations. Negative, potentially harmful situations emit slow vibrations. Positive, potentially life-enhancing situations emit quick vibrations. As these vibrations impact on your energy field they produce either resonance or dissonance in your lower and middle tantiens (psychic power stations) depending on your own vibratory rate at the time. When you psychic field force is strong and your vibratory rate is fast, therefore, you will draw only positive situations to you. When you mind is quiet enough and your attention is on the moment, you will literally hear the dissonance in your belly and chest like an alarm bell going off, urging you from deep within your body to move in such and such a direction. Always follow it. At times these urges may come to you in the form of internally spoken dialogue with your higher self, spirit guide, guardian angel, alien intelligence, however you see the owner of the “still, small voice within.” This form of dialogue can be entertaining and reassuring but is best not overindulged in as, in the extreme; it tends to lead to the loony bin. At times you may receive your messages from “Indian signs”, such as slogans on passing trucks or cloud formations in the sky. This is also best kept in moderation, to avoid seeing signs in everything and becoming terribly confused. Just let it happen when it happens and don’t try looking for it.”
― Stephen Russell, Barefoot Doctor’s Guide to the Tao: A Spiritual Handbook for the Urban Warrior

Red Coral – To Feel is to Heal

I hike into the canyon and I am marveled by what surrounds me.  It’s Fall.  Greens, golds, reds, oranges, pinks, a rainbow of leaves held tightly by the trees while others, released from that grip, float softly through the air to blanket the ground.  Painting abstract portraits.  Pastel pathways.

There are majestic mountains, and underground streams.  Dry stream beds until the elevation is ripe for the water’s emergence.  It trickles, then flows, then forms small falls over rock out-croppings.  A Damselfly lands on a Horsetail Reed.  Metallic green, it’s wings shine in the sunlight.

This land I walk, used to be on the bottom of the ocean.  Fossil remnants confirm its history.  Bivalves and crinoids and coral.  Once a shell inhabited by an animal, or symbiotic pairings of algae and invertebrates forming exoskeleton metropoles.  All forms of calcium carbonate taking on infinite designs.  All now limestone.  And eventually dust, from which something new will rise.

The silence is broken by the cry of a Hawk.  Its flight interrupted by a Raven that dive bombs it.  A battle ensues in mid-air.  And the Hawk acrobatically rolls onto its back.  Inverted in flight it claws back at its interceptor.  I’ve never seen a Hawk fly upside down.  Never.  I’m amazed at its agility.  What a true gift this vision is.

I am surrounded by life.  I hear it, feel it, taste it, smell it, touch it.  I perceive it.  Enter it intuitively.  And yet I walk alone.  Connected, yet separated.

Night time comes and I’ve returned to shelter.  And I think, how much better the day would have been could I have shared the experience.  To have gazed through more than my own eyes.  To share laughter and surprise.  A warm smile, shining eyes looking back at me.

Being alone is not the same as feeling lonely.  Tonight, I feel alone.

How nice it would be to hold someone in my arms.  Just hold them and feel their touch.  Infinitely.  Hear their breath.  Their heartbeat drum.  Feel their warmth.  Their fire.  Their love.

We all want answers to the big questions.  They usually start with the word “why?”  Why am I walking alone?  But then “where?”  Where do I find the answer?

My inner voice silent.  I look outside into the darkness.  The Coyotes synchronize their howls.  The Crickets, high-pitched chirping.  An Owl joins the chorus.  Life surrounds me in my solitude.  Why?

We all have places or entities to where we direct these questions.  Consult the ancient texts?  Cast stones or charms?  Read cards?  Deep meditation?  Extrapolate from dreams.  We find affirmations from the world around us.  Intuition is valid.  These sources nourish it.

Tonight, I pull a book.  Sacred Path Cards by Jamie Sams.  I draw an accompanying card for a daily reading.  “Coral.”  Some people might call this mysticism, paganism, or even heretical.  But isn’t it strange how these ceremonies end up being spot-on.

Coral speaks to the absurdity of my question.  It tells me to cut the “I am the only one” refrain.  We are never alone.  As the Seneca would say (Ms. Sams’ tribe), we are continually surrounded by “All Our Relations.”  It’s time to reconnect with All.

To paraphrase Ms. Sams:

Coral symbolizes the blood of Mother Earth.  It acknowledges that all “two-legged” have the need to be nurtured from their own kind.  But it reminds us who our true “Mother” is.  Red blood runs through every creature.  Water, the oceans, symbolize the blood of Mother Earth.  And Red Coral, arising from those waters carry that representation.  The “Water Nursery of Creation” gave birth to all life and Red Coral, and its connection to the sea water of its own origin, symbolizes our birth and the connection to the “Mother Of All Things.”  Every life form, “All Our Relations,” is sustained by Mother Earth.  Using Coral can allow us to reconnect to our own blood and the waters of Mother Earth.

Once we reconnect, we can “develop a communication with our physical form that is not based upon addiction, compulsion, fear, gluttony, or selfishness.”  We can recognize that our physical body is our vehicle for connecting with our spirit and our needs.  We, therefore, must learn to respect and care for our bodies.  All nurturing is dependent on our ability to recognize our feelings and needs.  And if we don’t know what we need, how would we identify the needs of others to give comfort.  “To feel is to heal.”

It is time for self-nourishment.  For reunion with the Planetary Family.  To listen to All Our Relations and acknowledge we are never alone.

While I ponder the message, I think back to today’s hike.  I fumble through my backpack and produce a stone I found.  I wipe it with vegetable oil and it comes to life.  Patterns emerge.  Skeletal patterns, flower-like shapes, concentric circles.  It’s fossilized coral. Coincidence?  I quit believing in coincidences a long time ago.  Why did I pick up that particular stone for the later discovery?

While I was on top of the ridge, and while I was down in the bottom of the canyon, I was standing on the ancient ocean floor.  The sea, the blood of Mother Earth, once flowed here.  The many connections I made today with my “Relations,” why did I try to separate myself from them?  They all visited for a reason.

The Damselfly with the power of light.  The Hawk with its visionary power, the guardian. The Raven, the magic shapeshifter.  The Coyote, the balance of wisdom and folly.  The Cricket, the bearer of luck and success.  The Owl, it’s silent wisdom, the visionary of the night.  And even the ocean creatures frozen in time.

While it’s true, I seek connection with another “two-legged,” I have that connection as I share my story of the struggle.  Like the hawk and the raven, we internally battle.  Visions versus fleeting images.  Mirages and echoes.  Our self-deception.  The denial of our eternal connections.

Others can experience what I have, see it through my eyes, brush my hand with theirs, share the joy.  I wasn’t alone, and I can be nourished by nourishing others with my words.

We are never alone.

***

Photo: I found this photo on the Internet in the public domain.  The link accompanying it tracked back to a New York Post article titled: “Forcing Coral to Have Sex Could Save the Great Barrier Reef.”  As with all web-links, this link is subject to “link rot,” and I can only say it is valid at the time I posted this article.

Attribution to The Urban Howl:  On June 18, 2018, this article was published by The Urban Howl under the title of “The Unmistakable Message Of Red Coral: To Feel Is To Heal.” I am honored to be a part of this wonderful publication.

Education – Form Over Function?

I read a Wall Street Journal article this morning about how companies are beginning to train their workers in the areas where colleges have failed.  I think this is fascinating. Our education system is failing to teach basic skills so companies are actually stepping in.  I can see this in terms of leadership instruction.  Huge vacuum there with the people that are usually put in charge.  But math and writing???

The gist of the article was that technology is evolving faster than colleges can keep up, and employers say that schools simply aren’t teaching the skills necessary for work performance or even critical thinking.  This is frustrating for those with college degrees as well, because, according to the article, fewer than half of college graduates actually find a job that utilizes their degree.  But the article focuses on basic skills, not tech-oriented ones.

I can tell you from having to edit law clerks’ draft court opinions that after a minimum of seven years of college the majority of those folks just plain couldn’t write.  I think I found myself saying, quite frequently, “This is the biggest piece of shit I’ve ever read!”  Apparently, I never found the “biggest piece,” because the shit just kept on coming, and getting bigger.  I also became fond of the saying, “I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and shit a better [legal] argument than that.”  I don’t know who authored that one, and I inserted the word “legal,” of course, but that person could write!  And write and think better than those clerks with their Juris Doctor degrees.

A single sentence is one coherent thought.  And if someone can’t compose a sentence appropriately that tells me they can’t think coherently either.

I suppose this could support the position that colleges aren’t supposed to be preparing people for jobs.  Colleges used to provide solely a more liberal arts curriculum, and only the wealthy attended to become more “cultured.”  Are we reverting to the Victorian Age of education?

And one can always question the choices for the curriculum.  I mean becoming a nurse was a bit confusing because there is three-tier educational system to become an RN.  And you all get paid the same regardless of the level of education you obtain.  You can get a 2-year degree, focusing primary on practice skills, a 3-year diploma, which adds a little more health theory, or you can do as I did and get your bachelor’s degree in nursing.  Supposedly, those of us who chose the 4-year route had a lot more emphasis on assessment, theory, and the esoteric science of healing.  We had much less focus on actual practice skills.  We were told that once we had a couple of years of experience we would be far ahead of our 2-year counterparts because we would be able to see the “whole patient.”

This structure appears to dilute the profession – no standardized education to enter the field.  But I doubt it will change because the need for skilled nurses far outstrips the number of graduates in all three categories combined.  They need hands and bodies over theoretical knowledge and the ability to assess and anticipate a patient’s future needs.  The immediate takes priority over the long-term, and long-term in a hospital stay could just mean tomorrow – if you get a tomorrow.  You are lucky to survive today’s hospital environment, but that is a story, or stories, for future blog posts.

Law school, similarly, teaches basics and you learn the practice when you get that OJT.  Besides, there is no way a law school could emulate the actual contortions of law practice with deceptive attorneys, procedural traps, corrupt judges, home-towning, and over-zealous, politically-elected prosecutors.  You can only get that schooling in the real world, not some law school hypothetical.

So, has form taken precedence over substance?  Are we merely conveying the image of having attained an education as opposed to teaching valuable and applicable knowledge?  Do college advisors just check off the boxes of the packaged curriculums, and once the last box is checked the ancient scroll of wisdom is presented, yet we are none the wiser?  Once the grocery bag of classes is consumed, regardless of the ingredients – the balance of fats, carbohydrates and proteins – are we ready to enter the workforce?  All rhetorical questions, and apparently the answers are becoming yes, yes, yes and no.

Victor Hugo said: “The ideal and the beautiful are identical; the ideal corresponds to the idea, and beauty to form, hence idea and substance are cognate.”

Of course, “cognate” only means “related” not identical.

***

A note on my own writing style.  Yes, I use sentence fragments and other techniques that aren’t grammatically correct.  I try to write a little more like we speak, and usually this serves to communicate more effectively – it’s a better read.  Or, at least, that’s the feedback I get.  Maybe I never learned to write the right way either 😊

Photo:  I couldn’t really think of a good photo of mine to represent “education.”  So hey, I chose this one – the reflection of a balloon in a lake.  You know like “thought balloon.”  Plus, it’s upside down and only a “reflection” – form over substance.  Ok, maybe I’m stretching the imagination a bit . . .

Neural Roadmaps Revisited

Revisiting the past seems to cycle in our lives.  If not physically, mentally.  But it seems there are times when the physical odyssey is unavoidable.  It may even be unconscious at first.  We embark on a journey just to realize midway we are circling back in time. Perceptions have shifted, aged, but we are retracing routes gone by.  “Treading trodden trails,” as the saying goes.  Neural roadmaps.  Highways of memories.  Echoes of day dreams.

The roads might be slightly different.  And the faces we see this time around may be new to us, drawn together, in passing, by a transitional event.  In this case, it was my mother’s final breaths.

I saw the parallels as I was driving by the home where myself and my brothers grew up.  A small town now a burgeoning suburb of a major city.  When the family moved there, the population was around 250, plus a lot of corn fields.  When I left, there were little more than 2500 people.  It’s no longer a rural community and the population has passed 30,000.  The corn fields replaced with structures.  More boxes for storage, of categorized life.

My old home is now a dental office with the yard paved over.  A parking lot for tooth repair.  The vacant lot across the street, a playland of the imagination where mythic battles raged in the jungles of weeds, now a motor bank.  The majestic apricot tree on the corner by the park, gone.  Not even a seed to carry its memory of the sweet fruit it offered free for the taking.  The lake we fished in, fenced off, imprisoned.

The historic downtown, an outward reflection, a mimic of time, but the core has transformed.  The library is office space.  The hardware store, an art gallery.   The feed mill, a microbrewery.  The old school is torn down.  Time and places evaporated.

But all of my memories are intact.  The pleasure and the pain of growth.

Every summer this home was a launch point for the family reunions.  First with my dad’s family in Indiana, and then my mom’s in Michigan.  Those were times of active voices.  Of laughter and play.  The excitement of seeing cousins, of family card games, and mysterious old homes to explore.  Spiral staircases to dusty attics, and coal furnaces in the basements.  We mined for treasures.  And we found them in shiny objects unearthed, planted by the generation before.

And there were haylofts in old barns, where we leaped into the sky, hay piles lying beneath to break our fall.  Flying for instants that lasted forever.  A shirt was a cape, or a parachute.

An old hand pump still brought water from the earth.  A hidden aquifer of life.

An electric fence for horses, and a dare to feel its pulses.  Grab hold the wire and zap a brother with the other hand, before mom or dad would shoo us away.

Pulses, pulses, I feel my heart beating as I drive, wandering back in time, shuffling though images not matching the roadway.  Highway hypnosis.

I’m retracing that reunion route again, but this time, the nuclei of both families are gone, having passed on to the Blue Road of the Spirit.

My father passed in ’09, and after revisiting the ground where I was raised, I stop to pay my respects to him and my paternal ancestors.  He was buried in the family plot in the town where he grew up.  A few miles down the road is “Stearleyville,” or its shadow, founded by my great, great grandfather.  The reverse of my hometown.  The small village is gone, fully reverted to farmland.

The cemetery is filled with generations, back to the original immigrant couple.  Two stones eerily bear my own name.  One my grandfather, and one his second son that died as an infant – born on my same birthday, passed 30 years before my birth.

I remember my dad’s funeral.  Full military honors.  Steeped in tradition.

He taught me the meanings of honor, integrity, loyalty, strength of character, and hard work.

We talk in silence.  For a while.

Then it’s on to Michigan.  A small town on the border of Ohio. My mother also to be buried in a family plot.  Similar small town and farm family roots.  The memories of both homes blurred.

She’s outlived the rest of her family so we have a small ceremony.  A few cousins, whom I’m meeting for the first time.  It’s a nice service for a well-lived life of a good heart.

She taught me compassion, empathy, and self-sacrifice.

My parents’ bodies lay some 300 miles apart.  Their spirits united?  Their soul contracts complete?  And the particles of consciousness they helped bring into the world are scattered about the Midwest. Such is the stardust of which we’re composed.

Family plots.  Family traditions.  Traditions I will not follow.  My ashes are to be released into the wind.  No name carved in stone.

I wonder, when I leave, what neural roadmaps my daughter’s memories will travel.  I hope that she too has flown wearing a magic cape.

***

 

Photo: I didn’t actually take this image, but it is an image of my brain from an MRI . . .

“Angel Dusting”

I remember when all employment practices, like hiring, firing, policy formation, etc., were handled in the “Personnel” office.  And then the wave of new management-speak began and the name was changed to “Human Resources.”  My colleagues and I were quite offended.  To us, we had gone from being “persons” to “resources.”  Just another log to throw on the corporate fire to be burned out, burned up, and our ashes discarded.

Then all of us employees became “Human Capital.”  Now management was using banking terms to describe people.  This was, perhaps, a little better in that the connotation was that employees were an “investment.”  This term evolved when employers realized half of their workforce was getting ready to retire, and they needed to invest in new logs to burn.  Some employers may have actually valued the loss of institutional knowledge that was going to be exiting when all those bodies walked out the door, never to return.  I can’t say for sure.  The places I’ve worked always seemed to value replacing long-term employees with unskilled cheaper ones.

I always love it when new terms like this are coined.  Sometimes they’re good and sometimes they are bad, but they are almost always entertaining because those creating the new terminology don’t always understand the messages they are conveying.  But I also love it because I can see other applications of the new phrase.  That’s where some of the real fun begins.

The one I heard yesterday was “Angel Dusting.”  And I absolutely love this one, seriously.  The context in which it was applied was in the way manufacturers of body-care products mask the toxins they are conning us into spraying on ourselves.  Or maybe “masking” is not the proper term, maybe “hyping” is better.  You see, these manufacturers put all forms of toxic compounds in things like lipstick, body wash, fragrances, sun screen, shaving cream; you name it.  Beauty products manufacturers don’t even have to disclose what all is in their concoctions and potions. They get to hide the bulk of their ingredients in the name of preserving “trade secrets.”  Tune in to the Heavy Metals Summit if you’d like to learn more about these toxins.

The “Dusting” occurs when the companies add a dash of vitamin A or E, or oatmeal, or vanilla, maybe an essential oil, and even yogurt.  But that’s all they add – a dusting.  These additives are in such small quantities that they have no beneficial value at all.  It’s a great marketing ploy, and it steers you away from all the bad stuff in there like parabens, synthetic colors, undefined fragrance, phthalates, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate, formaldehyde, and toluene.  Check out this article: “10 Toxic Beauty Ingredients to Avoid.”

The connotation of “Angel Dusting” is that they give just a minute amount of the good, to get you see past or accept the huge quantity of bad.  And, I can see this term being applied in all sorts of situations.

How many of us have put up with an extremely bad job, or bad boss because of the small perks that come around every once in a Blue Moon.  Or personal relationships.  They could even be abusive relationships, but we get a “dusting” of good, just enough to keep us holding on.  Believing that things are all right or that they will get better.  Flowers after a verbal or physical assault.  Promises of treating us better, of respecting our needs or desires.  The narcissist that dominates and controls while gaslighting you (another fun term) into believing they are the nice, sane partner in the relationship.  All the while, we are being poisoned.  Having the energy drained from our bodies, our spirits crushed.

Perhaps it’s a phony spiritual leader, dusting us with promises of acquiring wealth, happiness and spiritual union, all for a donation of $99.99.  The language sounds so sweet, so believable.  There are testimonials from saved souls – more dusting phonies on the payroll.

How about legislation that is named in the opposite of what it actually does.  My favorite is the Patriot Act.  It allows highly questionable government intrusion into personal privacy, basically violating constitutional rights in exchange for a mere dusting of the idea of increased security.  Maybe it has worked in small measure, but at what cost to liberty – but angelically, you are a “patriot.”

Unfortunately, it takes time for the toxicity to increase to the point where we finally realize we are poisoned.  Detoxing is extremely difficult and the long-lasting effects of the toxins can be catastrophic.

In terms of environmental pollutants this can lead to the devastation of entire landscapes, displacement of families, and the need for Superfund cleanups.

In terms of personal exposure to toxic chemicals, it can manifest as autoimmune diseases, severely impairing the quality of life and leading to early mortality.

In terms of spirituality, well just remember Jim Jones, Jonestown in Guyana, and the poison Kool-Aid.

In terms of lawmaking or executive action, it can be when we realize the action taken was all to benefit a special interest at the expense of everyone else – the public treasury already raided, billions of tax-payer monies gone, like the banking bailout.  Too big to fail, right?

In terms of relationships, it can destroy trust and self-esteem and set us up for a life of loneliness and alienation – and that’s if the poisoning was mental.  Physical abuse, perpetuated and repeated with doses of retaining Angle Dust, can be fatal.  The victim wasn’t able to escape in time.

“Angel Dusting.”  What a concept.  A way to profit off of poisoning the healthy by adding a minuscule speck of honey to entrap us . . .  I bet you can think of some more applications of this term.

***

Photo:  A beautiful lake in northern Montana.  It was one of the most amazing places I’ve visited.