Tag Archives: work

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

 

Transformation or Illness: How Would We Know?

I picked up a fun book tracing a historical perspective on the advancement of medicine, and it naturally included a section about the Hippocratic Oath (400 B.C.).  Hippocrates was the ancient Greek physician credited as being the father of Western Medicine.  He is famous for dismissing beliefs, more ancient than he was, that advocated the supernatural origin of disease.

The oath, which has frequently been summed up as “first do no harm” is actually quite lengthy.  It has been modified multiple times over the centuries and, as it turns out, was not, most probably, written by Hippocrates.

Another irony is that, while Hippocrates disavowed supernatural origins of disease, the original oath translated from Greek, begins by invoking supernatural beings: “I swear by Apollo the Healer, by Asclepius [God of Medicine], by Hygieia [Goddess of health and cleanliness], by Panacea [Goddess of remedies], and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture.”

The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of texts associated with Hippocrates’ teachings, only part of which was authored by Hippocrates.  And perhaps in another irony, the Paneth Codex, another medical text that was completed long after Hippocrates had passed, contains some of his writings while using depictions of demons as metaphors for disease.

It seems that it was hard for even the most objective early practitioners of medicine to fully eliminate the supernatural from the corners of their medicine cabinets.  And maybe for good reason.  For the supernatural, once identified and defined, can become quite natural.

So just what is the supernatural and what is natural or normal when it comes to defining illness?

My background and careers are largely based upon science and logical reasoning.  Yet, I’m still willing to keep an open mind and recognize that science and human genius can’t always explain things.  As most people would attest, we’ve seen or experienced things that simply don’t fit neatly into the boxes and shelves of the “normal.”

To say it differently, I believe in the metaphysical realm.  I also believe in mind-body connections and what’s happening in the mind can find ways of manifesting itself in the body.

While I was working at a major research hospital, the doctors and nurses frequently described and linked personality types with specific diseases.  And not always in the most positive terms.  A more neutral example might be that “Type A” personalities were more likely to have heart attacks than “Type B” personalities.

Which brings me to today’s pondering.

Is every so called “unnatural” or “abnormal” condition truly an “illness?”  What’s the interplay between mental and physical illness?”  And what if instead of an illness that required treatment, people were really, in some instances, going through an evolution that should be allowed to progress?

And I guess before I dive in too deeply here, I should clarify that I’m not a mental health professional, nor am I a medical doctor.  If you’re needing a medical opinion, consult your primary care physician, and if you wish to learn more about mental health from a real professional, check out the site of my blogging friend Dr. Perry.

That disclaimer aside, most illnesses would fall outside the definition of normal and some seem relatively simple to diagnose and identify their causes.  Some are genetically related and some follow the pathogen-induced pathway.  Sounds simple, you’re born with the genetic makeup that can be expressed as a physical ailment or you encounter a virus or bacterium and you contract a disease.

But many people have “bad genes” or have close encounters with pathogens and they don’t become ill.  Why?  They are usually said to have healthier immune systems.  What makes a healthy immune system?  Besides good nutrition and exercise there are plenty of correlations to good mental health, positive thinking, and being happy to having a healthy immune system and healthy body.

The idea of illness originating in the mind, or from a body being out of balance might coincide more with some Eastern medical practices, while germ theory most follows Western medicine.  Although I will give Western medicine credit for having researched some things like meditation and meridians and finding scientific bases to support traditional Eastern or more holistic approaches to treatment.  And many Western pharmaceutical treatments come directly from old-fashioned herbal remedies from the Shamans of old.

So if one is encountering an illness, or deviation from normal physical or mental health, something not occurring naturally, then, despite Hippocrates’ claims, could there be a “supernatural” cause, and just what would that mean?

The definition of “supernatural” doesn’t only include references to spiritual entities, but it more basically means transcending the laws of nature or being attributable to an invisible agent.  So, before the advent of the microscope, a simple bacterium or a virus would not have been visible in the observable universe and an illness caused by such would have been a supernatural occurrence.  Consequently, depending on the limits of scientific measurement at any point in time, many causes of diseases could, by simple definition, be supernaturally caused.

And when referring to the supernatural, does it have to be an external source?  What about the person’s own spirit?  Can’t a damaged soul be expressed as a physical ailment?

Or maybe an enlightened soul is causing a physical evolution?

My daughter sent me an interesting article the other day called,  “Shamans Believe Mental Illness Is Something Else Entirely.”  The article focused on a West African Shaman of the Dagara people who proposes that some mental ailments, like depression and schizophrenia may actually be a step towards transformation – even meaning the birth of a healer.

The Dagara believe that some of what we in the West call mental illness is really what happens when people encounter, and don’t how to deal with, psychic phenomena and the spiritual world.  In their tradition, these individuals are seen as a bridge between physical and spiritual worlds.

This Shaman is said to have taken an 18-year-old suffering from hallucinations and depression back to his village.  After 8 months of healing rituals this person was acting quite “normal” and returned to U.S. society to earn a degree in Psychology at Harvard.

While this may be an isolated example, it’s an amazing concept to contemplate.  And I’m not saying that such non-traditional approaches would be a panacea for mental health treatments.  I’m just saying there is still more unknown than there is known.

Given our acculturation, if we were undergoing a positive physical, mental, or spiritual transition we might very well be totally confused as to what was happening and think we were ill.  Our doctors might be unable to come up with a definitive diagnosis and resort to traditional treatments or try to repress the evolution.  You might be labeled as being mentally ill, which could, in turn, send you down medical corridors forever obscuring the inner butterfly emerging from the cocoon.

As more advances are made, and as more ways to measure the currently unmeasurable become available, finer distinctions may emerge as to what constitutes good or “normal” health.  For the supernatural may be commonplace and just another source for healthy growth and development.

***

Photo: The book I picked up is titled: “The Medical Book” and it was written by Clifford A. Pickover.  This picture is a portion of a photo used in the book and comes from the Paneth Codex, completed in Bologna in 1326 A.D.   The book begins in the time frame of 10,000 B.C. moving through medical advances until 2008.  Medicine, indeed, has come a long way from bloodletting starting in 1500 B.C., and I believe it still has a long way to go.

I can personally attest to the advances made in the treatment of asthma since the 1960s when many doctors believed that asthma was a mental illness.  I had many a scary trip to the emergency room as a child, and when in full respiratory distress was even administered Thorazine, an antipsychotic medication, and knocked unconscious.  Oh, the many things we’ve been fortunate enough to survive:-)

Hypocrite: I feel compelled to mention that the word “hypocrite” does not originate from “Hippocrates,” even though it sort of sounds like it does.  Hypocrite comes from the Greek word hypokrites, meaning “an actor,” and translating more literally to “an interpreter from underneath” because actors at the time traditionally wore masks.  Figuratively, it meant someone who wears a mask to pretend to be someone they are not.  In early religious texts, its appears as “ypocrite” referring to those acting like they are morally good to deceive others.  Today, of course, we accept the meaning that it’s a person acting contrary to their stated beliefs.  In a loose sense, that could apply to Hippocrates – denouncing supernatural causes of disease while swearing to supernatural beings to practice good medicine 🙂

Update December 1, 2018: I stumbled upon another article today about this same subject and the Dagara. “A Mental Disease by Any Other Name.”

 
Link Rot Warning: No one can guarantee how long a link on the Net will last.  The US Supreme Court got into trouble over this.  One of the judges quoted from an Internet site, but after a couple of months the site was no longer there for reference.  I also once went to check out a link promoted on our local TV weather channel only to discover it had been hijacked by a porn site – Yikes!

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.

Sirdom

Me: “Hi, how’s it going”

Hiker: “Just great.  Beautiful day.”

Me: “It sure is, absolutely gorgeous.”

Hiker: “Well you have a good day Sir.”

Me: “Thanks, you too.”

A brief interlude as I was passing a fellow hiker on the trail.

“Sir”?

It seems I’ve been hearing this word a lot more lately.  “Excuse me Sir.”  “Hello, how are you doing Sir.”

I kind of want to look behind me to see who is standing there.

And it’s not that it’s bad.  It’s very respectful.  I’m just not used to hearing it, and why now?

This all seemed to start a couple of years ago, right after I turned 60.  Even saying that sounds weird to me, because I sure don’t feel old, or older.  In fact, I don’t think 60 is considered old anymore.  But suddenly people are calling me Sir.

When I think of the word “Sir,” I think of my father.  The Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force.  I think of esteemed people having earned that title by some trial by fire.  More akin to the titles of professor or doctor or judge.

I find it a bit ironic because it seems like when I was younger, I as always sounding like Rodney Dangerfield – “I don’t get no respect.”  I was working hard to try to earn it.  Still didn’t always get it.  My work was sometimes plagiarized too, so I didn’t get the credit for it.

But now, apparently, just by virtue of having aged, people are very respectful.

I guess I’ve reached “Sirdom.”

It was almost magical.  Happening overnight.  I’m not sure what exactly changed.  I’m retired now so no one is looking up to me for being a professional.  Perhaps it’s the gray in my beard?  That same beard that earns me the extra security checks at the airport 🙂

Of course, somehow, I also ended up on the senior mailing lists so I get offers all the time for some type of age-related service.  Long-term care insurance.  Reverse mortgages.  My favorite was the funeral insurance.  Their tag line being, “This will be the last insurance policy you’ll ever buy.”  Nice.

I think it’s great that we respect our elders.  They have so much offer in the form of wisdom.  And in some ways, it is amazing to see so many circles of the sun.  I just don’t feel like I’m an elder at the council fire.  And I’m not sure I have any wisdom to offer. Yet.

Whether you’re a “Sir,” or a “Mam,” or any variation thereof, I salute the divinity that is within you, and respectfully wish you a wonderful day.

***

Photo:  That’s Sir Me, somewhere in Wyoming.  Jesse, the border collie, belonged to the person whose home I was visiting.  I miss my old buddy, Taz, and I’ll probably get another dog someday myself.  Maybe I’ll name him “Sir.” 🙂

Framers, Federalists, and the Reality of the Administrative State

The Framers of the Constitution wanted to avoid the problems of the governments they were all running away from in Europe, so while they wanted a centralized government for certain functions, like taxation, printing a common currency and conducting wars, they also wanted less power in that centralized government to prevent abuses and more power vested in the individual states who theoretically would better be able to determine their specific jurisdictional policies and priorities.

They also wanted to form a Union, and concessions were required to get all of the states on board.

Of course, terminology in law is often stood on its head and “Federalism” has become one of those terms.  Federalism, generically speaks to the relationships between the federal and state governments and the original “Federalists” wanted some form of centralized government as opposed to those who did not.  But the term does not mean more “Federalization” of government, it means less.

The philosophy of the Federalist Society today advocates for a very limited federal government, for a strict constructionist view of the Constitution, and for strong adherence to the separation of powers doctrine.  That doesn’t sound so bad.

Except, “strict construction” and “strong adherence” are just as susceptible to legislative and executive manipulation and to judicial activism as is applying the “spirit” of the Constitution.  And laws and social policy are shaped and changed just the same by “textualists” as they are by “living documentalists.”

It is all a fight over words, definitions, and semantics, and it’s all highly partisan and politicized regardless of any faction claiming otherwise.

And, the reason I bring this up is because how this all intertwines with what has become the modern “Administrative State,” and the massive amount of power being wielded by federal and state agencies that weren’t created in the Constitution.  This seems not to have been contemplated by the Founders and certainly seems opposed to what modern-day Federalists all talk about.  So how did this come to be?

And again, standing language on its head we have the “Non-Delegation” doctrine flowing from Article I and the Separation of Powers doctrine.  So we have three branches of government that are supposed to stay put in their respective arenas, provide checks and balances, and not run around giving their authority away to the other branches or interfering with the authority of the other branches.

For example, Congress can’t pass a law that would allow the executive branch to pass legislation – they can’t delegate that authority away.  But the Non-Delegation doctrine has been stood on its head and has become a means of defining the opposite.  It is used to define just what authority Congress can delegate away and who gets to control that authority.

And while Congress largely gives away authority to the executive branch, it will at times, muck around with the authority of the courts by tinkering with structure and jurisdiction, and by dangling the power of the purse over the heads of the judiciary when they get upset over an unconstitutional law being struck down.

Turns out, the Constitution, over time, probably to the chagrin of the Federalists, has been interpreted to allow Congress to create executive branch level agencies.  They create agencies with what we refer to as “Organic” or “Enabling” statutes and while the agencies’ powers are limited by these statutes, Congress gave agencies a little boost by allowing them to promulgate “rules.”  And, gee whiz, rules, if properly promulgated, have the same force and effect as statutes.  Lawmaking.

When you think about it, Congress expanded the executive branch big time.  They created much more of it than the Constitution originally did and much more of it than people probably like.  And, then they delegated away some of their legislative power to the executive branch (rule-making), but we call this quasi-legislative authority.  And what the Legislature (Big “L”) giveth, it can taketh away.  Although changes may be slow.

This is true at both the Federal and State level and we have Administrative Procedures Acts at both levels to give agencies some guidance and fill in the gaps in the agency-specific Organic statutes.  And these procedures allow agencies to intrude into the Judicial branch too!  They give agencies quasi-judicial powers to hear and decide contested cases, subject to judicial review of course.

And guess what, since the executive branch enforces the law and agencies are by nature regulatory bodies, we naturally have executive prosecutorial functions as well.  So agencies can make the law, prosecute under that law, and convict you (so to speak) under that law, all under one roof.

Agencies do a little more than licensing and maintaining files of annual reports.

Of course, the legislature generally did not delegate any authority to agencies to run around imprisoning people as punishment for any types of violations, so once the agency “convicts” you, the only penalties agencies can implement have to be found in the statutes themselves or you have to go to court for yet another judicial proceeding.  The Sixth Amendment is still alive, for the moment.

Federal and State legislatures can’t be experts in everything and there is so, so much to regulate that we have evolved into a “Administrative State” that has multiple layers of regulation that come from authority delegated out to the Executive Branch by Congress or by State Legislatures.  And the executive agencies’ regulations and decisions are given considerable deference by the Courts because the agencies are the “experts” in their respective fields.

So while many people focus on the acts of the legislature, which is a good thing to do, they should also pay close attention to what’s happening at the state and federal agencies, because there is much more law and social policy setting going on there that has a much more immediate impact on the populous.  You can look at current environmental policies for example.

There, I just kind of laid out the framework for how agencies evolved.  I’m not trying to address how different administrations have used the agencies to implement particular agendas or the merits of specific agendas.  At least not today 🙂

***

Photo:  My pocket Constitution.  These things are good little tools to have and it might be wise to read the Document once and a while.  The Constitution is actually pretty short.  And pretty amazingly well done.  The development of the Administrative State has shifted major powers to the executive branch, and that is partly why administrations do receive so much attention – because of the dramatic effect they can have on people’s day-to-day lives.

BTW: On a personal note.  Federal and state agencies have administrative law judges to preside over the quasi-judicial functions and trials at the agencies.  For part of my legal career I was a state Regulatory Law Judge.

About a year and a half ago, I applied to make the registry of qualified applicants for Federal Administrative Law Judges.  My understanding is they get 12,000 applicants when they open the registry, which is only opened about once every five years.  And they whittle that number down to 200 with an objective examination process.

They have been doing this since 1920 to ensure they get qualified applicants and to minimize the politicization of the process.

The competitive application process consisted of a series of examinations conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  I made the list, scoring in that top 1.67% of the applicants 🙂 !! This didn’t guarantee me a position, but I could have been selected when there was a vacancy, subject to another interview process.

I recently received an email from the OPM informing me that our president, by executive order, terminated the competitive application process and eliminated the list of qualified applicants, thus doing what no other president has done since the registry’s creation and injecting politics into the selection process.  Selection by one, with no standard for qualifications.

Kind of sad, because the checks and balances set up by the Framers, and even those originally put in place by the independent branches, have been slowly getting whittled away, bit by bit . . .

 

 

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.

 

Afflicted

I have to say that over the years my writing has evolved a bit.  I used to really like to write hard-hitting editorials with those go-for-the-throat zingers 😊  And, a lot of people really like seeing that edge to my writing so I doubt I will give that up completely.

But I’ve come to enjoy writing more uplifting pieces or just plain old-fashioned storytelling.

While steering away from some of the more controversial topics, which I think some of us are getting overloaded on anyway, I still have a couple of pet peeve topics I do like to write about.  One of those is advocating for quality health care for all, and I think health care should be recognized as a fundamental human right.  Another is economic injustice.  So here I go on today’s soapbox . . .

Back in January, I posted a piece called “Toxic” where I discussed various applications of this word as it applies to both harmful substances as well as harmful people and harmful workplaces.  God knows, we’ve all had a big dose of those in our lifetimes.

I had also made a post called “Balance.”  In it, I talked about American economics and just how disproportionate the imbalance is becoming between the ultra-wealthy and the average citizen.  I have made several updates to this piece and I like it.  Because it is turning into an interesting compilation of economic data, and it doesn’t bear out the hype you’re hearing from the politicians.

I added updates to both yesterday and I’m including a boiled down version here as well.

In Toxic, I mentioned two Netflix docuseries – “Rotten” and “Dirty Money.”  As I stated then, I usually don’t endorse products or programming, but these series are worth a watch because they explore multiple issues with modern agricultural practices and monetary exploitation.  Both of which can be toxic to your health.

The hyperlinks I’m including will take you to the trailers for these programs.

But I most highly recommend the new series they have added called “Afflicted.”  Afflicted tracks seven individuals struggling with disease processes that have been caused by, or contributed to by, our world’s toxic environment.  You can umbrella them under the term of “environmental illness.”  And it explores how these peoples’ lives have been affected and how the mainstream medical community generally turns their back to them.  It is definitely worth the watch and was of great interest to me since I have developed chemical sensitivities over the past year and have been found to have toxic metal poisoning.

This reminds me of my early years growing up with asthma.  The medical community didn’t know shit about the disease, tried to claim it was a mental illness, and damn near killed me a dozen times over experimenting with extremely bad treatments.  We all know now that this is a commonly recognized and bona fide medical illness and the treatments have vastly improved because Big Pharma found a way they could profit from it.

Sorry if I sound a tad bit cynical there 😊

Back to the post Balance.  I’ve added an update there about CEO compensation.  As you can guess, it’s beyond disgusting and has been tremendously magnified by the latest tax policy.  The average CEO is being paid 312 times what the average worker is earning.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand the argument that you have to pay a premium for good leadership, although in my jobs I rarely witnessed it.  But paying anyone a salary that is the equivalent of winning the lottery each and every year is a bit beyond anything rational.  It’s just pure greed.

And if you’re wondering about the tie-in between corporate greed and health, well keep in mind that we average workers or retirees are all one serious illness away from bankruptcy.

Well, enough of that stuff, right?  Do check out the updates if you’re interested and I hope you are having a wonderful Tuesday !

I’ll be back soon with some more uplifting and fun stories 😊

***

Photo: I caught this midwestern sunset many years ago and I titled it “Moods.”  I think the gradation of colors sort of captures various moods or states of mind, from golden and blue and purple to pink, orange, and red.  It goes well with this short piece where I’m talking about the moods with my writing 🙂

BTW: If you haven’t seen them before, here are a couple of my other healthcare posts that look at toxicity and the interaction of economics with the provision of care.

Antimony, Stibine, Babies, and Death

Seeding, Misleading, Switching, and Stealing: The Vocabulary of Competition in Today’s Pharmaceutical Industry

Citizen Scientists

I took a few days off blogging this past week and was out living 😊  Not to say that blogging is not living.  After all, I’ve already written about how writing is a part of basic survival for us bloggers.  But my days were filled so writing had to wait a little.

Just what was I up to?  Well, I had the opportunity to go back to the classroom.  It was a weeklong seminar that was, in part, supported by a grant from the state Fish and Wildlife Service.  As you might guess, the courses were all about the wild things.  And as a naturalist, I thought all the presentations were wonderful.

Why?  Well, I consider myself a life-long learner.  If I haven’t been in a classroom, I’ve been involved with continuing education.  I’ve even taught a few college courses myself, and I love teaching too because you learn just as much from your students as you are teaching them.

Some people might think education stops once they’ve completed their schooling, but in a way, it has just begun.  Experience fills in the gaps for one.  But this is also a fun time to return for classes.  No pressure.  No notes to take.  No exams.  No grades.  Just listen, really listen, and learn.  Soak it all in.

The big take away I got from this seminar was something I never expected.  The presenters were an interesting mix of scientists from state and federal agencies; private, non-profit organizations; and people who had simply decided to become involved in whatever it was they were passionate about.  People who volunteer to help other researchers and people who have gone out on their own dime and time and engaged in independent research.  Citizen scientists.

And the information these CSs have collected is just as accurate and informative as those making a living doing this type of research.  In fact, some of the citizen groups, after collecting data, successfully sued the government agencies to get them to follow their own regulations and do their job – namely protecting the environment.  It was great!

So, I learned about bears and wolves and jaguars and coyotes.  About giant raptors and tiny hummingbirds.  And the various birds in between.  About insects and reptiles and arachnids.  Bats.  Pollinators.  Climatology.  Specific biomes.  Ecological diversity.

The diversity and complexity of all of this research is something that most people probably wouldn’t even know about.  And that in itself is an amazing thing.  So much knowledge out there.  So much to learn from observation of the life that surrounds us.

Everything, absolutely everything, is interrelated.

If you find it difficult to believe that statement, here is a practical example.  There is one specific species of nectar-feeding bats that pollinates the agave plant.  The agave plant is the plant we make tequila from.  No bat, no tequila.  It’s that simple.  Unless you want to live the way the Chinese do.

It seems the Chinese have virtually wiped out all of the natural pollinators with insecticides.  So now, for example, if they want fruit on their fruit trees humans have to do the painstaking work of pollinating each and every fruit blossom.  And humans aren’t very efficient with this process.

Maybe tequila is not important to you, but you get the idea.  We live in a very delicate balance and if we, as a species, wish to survive we are going to have to get smarter and quit destroying the world around us in the name of short-term profits.

As for me, tequila is at least minorly important.  I even jokingly devised a monetary system around tequila, which I’ll have to explain in another post 😊

At any rate, it was a great seminar.  And now it’s time to get back out there hiking and see all of this incredible, natural beauty up close.  And time to get back to writing . . .

Oh, one other take away from this seminar.  If you are passionate about something, go do it.  You can even launch another career after retiring by just following your passions.  Go be that photographer, that artist, that writer, that educator.  Go be that warrior.  Fight for your causes.  And keep learning.

***

Photo: I found this image on the Internet in the public domain.  It tracked back to an article in Gnome Magazine titled “Citizen Science: So Eighteenth Century!

BTW: I could have used any one of the pictures I’ve taken in the wild for this post, but I wanted to emphasize the humans, the citizen scientists.  And I don’t usually take pictures of humans 🙂

 

All Lives Matter

Does anyone see anything wrong with this title?  I mean sure, we can add other value judgments and say maybe that criminals’ lives don’t matter, as much.  Or perhaps terrorists?  Surely their lives don’t matter, as much – compared to those doing good in the world.  But those are relative comparisons and still don’t affect the overall message.

If you believe in the sanctity of life or truly practice any form of religion, then it is hard to get away from this statement.  And I would expand it beyond the limitation of only human lives and say this applies to all life – humans, animals, plants, etc.

A strange thing happened, which is why I brought this up today.  This phrase was used as an accusation that I was diluting a conversation because I put forth the implied notion that all lives matter when that person believed the subject had to be restricted to only women in certain situations, specifically health care treatment.

So how did we get from point A to point Z?  Good question.

You see, it’s like this.  An article was posted on a social media platform that can be summed up in its opening sentence: “Every year, thousands of women suffer life-altering injuries or die during childbirth because hospitals and medical workers skip safety practices known to head off disaster . . .”  I’ve no doubt this is true, and bad medical practice has not only been a topic of many articles I’ve gotten published, but it is a pet peeve of mine as an RN who was dedicated to providing safe and quality nursing care.

So, I responded with posting links to two other articles.  The first was a general article about the annual number of deaths in America attributed to preventable medical negligence.  We’re talking 200,000 to 400,000 preventable deaths caused by medical negligence each and every year in this country – shocking!

The second was an article about how a medical device company actually pays doctors to get them to use an implantable birth control device that has injured women.  This article was more specifically related to the topic of women receiving bad health care in relation to reproductive care.

So far so good.

Then a woman posted a comment about women receiving inferior medical care and claimed that men would automatically receive better care.  I pointed out that in my 24 years of experience in the medical arena I did not always find this to be true.  I observed, more generally, that people with better insurance receive better care, and I’ve witnessed plenty of men receiving inferior care as well.

The response was that plenty of research studies (none were cited) demonstrated women receive worse care than men and that person did not appreciate me “derailing” the conversation with my “all lives matter” comments.  Humm, let that sink in a little.  I will also note that the original person starting the discussion did not seem to have issues with the topic being broadened a bit.

I responded that I didn’t think I was derailing anything.  Remember, I agree with the posting.  Many women do receive sub-standard health care.  I just added that I was a first-hand witness to people of all sexes, races and ethnicities being treated badly in health care, and in general, health care can be a pretty iffy gamble for everyone.

What’s the deal here?  Was the objection related to trying to label the biggest victim?  Hey look at me, my group is treated worse than yours!  Is this some type of a bragging point?  I don’t know.

What I do know is I switched careers and became an attorney to specifically fight for anyone victimized by bad medical practice.  I advocated for my patients, women and men, when I was a nurse.  And I did the same as an attorney.  In fact, most of the medical malpractice law suits I handled involved women and children clients.  I support and have actually fought for women’s issues.

I’m not interested in labeling and segregating and trying to make claims about who might be the biggest victim of something.  I realize that all people are not treated fairly.  I realize there is real bigotry in this country and it can play out in all sorts of fashions.

I don’t believe, to be politically correct, that anyone should be expected to acknowledge only certain forms of discrimination over others.  I believe all people should be treated equally, and as an RN and compassionate human being, yes, all lives matter.  Sorry, I don’t see that as a deficiency.

***

Photo: I found this photo on the Internet in the public domain.  I traced it back to an online publication called Missouri Blogspot.  I had my own picture of an elk in Missouri, but it was an old photograph from the 70s and was very blurred out in my attempts to upload it to the computer.  The reason I wanted that Elk was it was actually in a fenced wildlife enclosure run by the state.  The week after I took its picture some idiot used the same observation platform I used to photograph it in order to shoot it with a bow and arrow to kill it.  The moron just wanted to kill something apparently and left the body of the defenseless caged animal there.  All lives matter and play their role in the ecosystem.

BTW: I posted this under the topic of health, but I suppose it could go under the topics of society or even politics.  It’s one of those issues that bleeds over into many subject classifications, but since the original discussion came out of a dialog on health care I placed it there 🙂

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 😊

***

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 🙂

I-Crap, Therefore I’m Rich

Back when I was a kid, which was not that many eons ago, one of our neighbors was proudly showing off her new Cadillac.  I guess this was my first introduction to what may be termed as a “status symbol.”  Owning a luxury item was a sign of wealth.  That the owner had more money than they needed for everyday living and could afford to buy something that was not only totally unnecessary but was additionally wasteful in that it would guzzle gas by the boat full.  We actually referred to these monster cars as being boats because of their size.

So, flash forward to today.  A time period where market information is collected on all of us in real time, in an ever-increasing age of consumerism, if that’s possible, and in a time where there effectively is no longer a concept of privacy.  Even as I type this, adds are flashing on Facebook and Gmail reflecting key words that I used in my electronic correspondence.

Humm, I think I’ll just start swearing a lot and see what adds are generated as the corporate state ownership endlessly hacks my thoughts.

I just came across a study where the researchers were identifying predictors of how rich a person is by products that they own, or the ones they didn’t buy.  For example, in 2016, if you owned an I-Phone this was a 69% predictor that you were in the “high income” bracket, defined as being in the top quartile of income for households of that type.  Type of households were divided up by such things as being a single adult or a couple with dependents.

Fascinating.  And the researchers had apparently been doing this type of data collection for a while and had statistics going back to 1992.  A few highlights from the three years they compared:

In 1992, the indicators that you were rich included:

Owning a garbage disposer – 64% indicator.  The same percentage applied to international travel.
Using Cascade Lemon Dish Detergent was a 59% indicator.
Owning a garage door opener – 65.8 %.
Buying Kodak film – 61.6%.

In 2004, they included:

NOT buying a Bic lighter – 59% indicator.
Buying a new vehicle – 73.6%.
Ordering any item off of the Internet – 68.4%.
Drinking diet Coke – 57.5%.

In 2016, they included:

Owning an I-Pad – 66.9% indicator.
Subscribing to Verizon Wireless – 61%.
Owning a Samsung TV – 58%.
Using Ziploc plastic bags – 57.7%.

The economists in this study “used a machine learning algorithm to conclude that ‘cultural differences,’ or how common brands and experiences are across groups, aren’t getting larger over time.”  Their conclusion is that the US is not becoming an increasingly economically divided society.  These researchers must not live in America and their product choices and inferences appear, to me, to be a long drive away from reality.

I mean, geez, by most of these “standards” I’m a very rich man.  Not.  And I’m really not sure you can call some of these products top-of-the-line luxury items either.

I suppose I-Phones (69.1%) and I-Pads (66.9%) are status symbols now.  I affectionately called the I-Pad I was loaned at work the I-Crap.  Big piece of SHIT (100%) that had no word processing capability or ability to share documents in a meaningful fashion.  Crashed continuously.  Tragic results from the Great War between Apple and Microsoft.  The I-Crap was a great toy for surfing the web and doing email, lousy business tool.  Of course, that may have changed by now as industrial competitors collide and figure out ways to profit.

I guess I must be getting poorer because I switched from Verizon (61%) to AT&T (58.1%).  But I do use Ziploc bags (57.5%).  That has to count for something, I think ???

By the way, I copied the article I read and pasted it into a word document and that revealed that the text and graph of the article filled 2 pages.  There were 24 pages of accompanying advertising.  Commercial focus, I guess, but I didn’t see any of those wealth indicators in the adds.  They must be catering to us poor folks 😊

***

Photo: A Bic lighter, obviously.  I purchased this just to prove that I am poor.  In fact, I got a 5-pack – really cheap 😊

More Stuff: If you would like to look at a much broader picture of economics in the US, check out my post “Balance.”  I keep updating it.

Source article: “Researchers find that owning an iPhone or iPad is the number-one way to guess if you’re rich or not.”

Statistics from The National Bureau of Economic Research: “Coming Apart? Cultural Distances in the United States over Time.”

Note: All links are subject to link rot.

Bic Lighter crop

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

Hieroglyphics with Soul

This storytelling challenge comes from Becky All-Inclusive with the axiom that no one succeeds alone.  That we all have mentors, people who have spurred us on to greater things than we would have accomplished on our own.

You should check out Becky’s blog.  How could you go wrong with a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Relationship Counsellor & Sex Therapist?  I mean that’s the whole package right there 🙂

The Challenge: Identify that person who is/was the major influencer of your passion.

Rules:

• Share with the world your #OnePerson story.
• Pingback to the post (or add the link in the comments).
• Add the pictures, if you like.
• Humor and quotes are welcome.
• You can even come up with your own title for the post.
• And use your own featured image for the post.
• Spread the word: up to 3 – 5 bloggers.

Humm . . . Identify my passion and then identify my influencer.  Seems simple, but now that I’ve logically laid out the mental process here, I have to say I’m confused.  You see, passions have certainly shifted over the years, or at least some passions have.  So which passion and which influencer??

Some may think that career paths match a person’s passion, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true.  When I was practicing as a critical care nurse, I’d say my patients were my passion.  Healing was a passion.  That’s one time the career and passions aligned.

But my passions for hiking, being a naturalist, having that desire to continually learn and grow, certainly didn’t necessarily align with my careers.  At least not very much.  Especially the free-thinking part. 😊  I worked many a job where the boss just wanted you to shut up, never ask the question why, never try to improve things.

There was a time, before writing, that animals were my biggest passion.  I loved having them around and had even decided I’d become a veterinarian and turn my passion into an occupation.  But a big detour came along and my career path shifted, and those passions didn’t manifest into a way of life.  I still love animals, of course.

Writing, or more descript “storytelling,” has definitely been one of my passions; a consistent theme in this lifetime.  Something that does really burn in my soul.  And before I retired, I was writing in the background of whatever my job was.  At least that’s when I would engage in the fun kind of composing, not some formula-drafted work product like the attorney’s life.  Now that I’m relieved of the work routine, I can write anytime and about whatever I want.  No limits.

But did anyone ever inspire me to write?

And the answer to that question varies depending on the time.  My father inspired me with the general ways to approach life.  He led by example and reflected the qualities honesty, integrity, strength of character and strong work ethic.  All to be applied to whatever my passions were.  He was a mentor in life.  I guess he was my first influencer.

I’ve been inspired by various authors, old and new.  Thoreau, Emerson, Ellison, Herbert, Salinger, Hesse, Vonnegut, Moore, Brown.  That list can stretch on for miles.  And I can remember a couple of writers in the negative.  “If that guy could write a book as awful as this is, and get it published, so can I.”  But a good book I’ll write, not an awful one 😊

After a while, names fade.  I’ve forgotten text.  I remember a feeling.  The feeling I had reading powerful words.

“A true piece of writing is a dangerous thing, it can change your life.”  Tobias Wolff

And I have to agree with Wolff.  Words can inspire.  Words can bring you to your knees.  Words can send you over the mountain top.  Words can carry you to far away lands, or even to worlds that don’t exist, except on paper and in minds.  Words are addicting.

Writing is magic.

quotes-writing-mary-gaitskill-600x411

Hieroglyphics with soul.

“Once writing has become your major vice and greatest pleasure only death can stop it.”  Ernest Hemingway

Now that describes a true passion. One where only death can intervene.

I’m inspired to write poetry when I am in love.  I’ve been inspired to write by societal injustices.  I’ve had some of my work slashed to pieces by editors, but even that inspired me.  To better learn the craft.

I’m inspired when I read all of your blogs.  To see how others describe the world around us.  It doesn’t really matter who or even what, if it’s good writing I like it.  It helps me breathe.

Another great inspiration for me, of course, has been my daughter.  It’s been amazing watching her grow into the strong and compassionate woman she is.

Just one person?  One influencer?  I don’t think so.  It is a conglomerate of all these persons rolled into one.  A powerhouse of inspiration.  And maybe the desire to escape reality once and a while too 🙂

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”  Ray Bradbury

And here’s a few other bloggers that may want to give this a try:

Novus Lectio
Midwest Bliss
Painting the Journey
Letters from a Wanderer
Searching for Grady

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Photo: Horseback riding at dusk.  Sometimes it’s all a blur 🙂

Mary Gaitskill Meme:  I found this on the Internet in the public domain.  It was linked to QuotesGram.com.