Tag Archives: work

Beauty – Adaptive or Arbitrary

A number of days past, I made a post titled Wildflowers where I pondered the evolutionary adaptations of plants.  How their beauty, shape, and the perfume of their flowers attract certain pollinators to ensure the propagation of their species.

Naturally, I simply enjoy their beauty, regardless of how it came to be. 😊

Then yesterday, I stumbled upon an article discussing the theories of “adaptive adornment” versus “arbitrary beauty.”*  And I must admit, those terms are much more scientific and deliberately descriptive than my own ponderings.

It seems that Darwin had a second theory apart from natural selection – sexual selection.

Continue reading Beauty – Adaptive or Arbitrary

Fugitives From Ourselves

Ozark Cabin with John Gardner Quote

Yesterday, my post was about the need to get back out into Nature to promote both our physical and mental health.  What constituted the path to true happiness.  The outward journey to inner healing.

So I felt the need to balance that today with this quote about the inward journey.  This is the toughest journey of all.  And it’s something we often try to avoid.  It can be a scary trek, but it’s also the most rewarding.  Making contact with our spiritual selves.  Without all of the distractions from the external world.

The quote is spot on.  Sometimes people lose themselves.  They become automatons.  Traversing the same trails every day.  Speaking in clichés.  Allowing platitudes to fill the mind.  Avoiding self-examination.

A little time spent in quiet meditation every day is a step to getting back in touch with our real selves.  Unplug from the technological world.  Disconnect from the external illusion and find your authentic soul.

LOGOz

Photo: I chose this pic because this isolated cabin in the Ozark mountains is a good analogy to our inner selves.  Yes, in the material world it’s an external physical structure, but it can symbolically serve to represent our inner consciousness.  Our soul.  Our particle of awareness.  Our gift from the Source.

It is surrounded by a vast external world of distraction and illusion where we often flee.

Come home and relax for a spell.  Sit by the fireplace.  Reconnect with your spiritual self.  Expand your consciousness.

I actually stayed in this little cabin a few years back.  It was a great place to get back to Nature.  Away from the frenetic pace of modernity.  And away from our self-generated hubris.  Not only a place to heal in the outdoors, but a place to make that inward journey in peace and solitude.

In Metta

Call of the Wild*

I’ve been doing a lot of stumbling lately.

I really like that word.  Its main definition is about walking in an unsteady manner, being clumsy, to almost fall, or to make an error.  Blunder.  But I like the other definition, that of unexpectantly coming upon something – like truth.

Now that’s no error.  That’s magic.

Continue reading Call of the Wild*

Dragon !

I’ve been seeing a lot of articles and postings on the Net lately about Millennials.  And a lot of it is very derogatory and carries an overall tone of blame.  Blame for what?  Apparently, there is a blame game now where if it looks like you’ll be delayed in reaching some of society’s dictated milestones, such as marriage, children, and owning a home, then you are defective.

In fact, people falling in this category are more than just defective.  They are downright utter failures.  And those in this generation acquiring a higher education are also called fools for racking up student loan debt.

Of course, if you visit the pages like LinkedIn, the general tone is that if you’re having difficulty achieving the American Dream, regardless of who you are but especially if you’re a Millennial, it’s because you are incompetent and lazy and simply haven’t learned to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  It’s also assumed that you do not know how to prioritize your purchasing power and always spend beyond your means.

If you were only like the commentator who walked 20 miles to school each day, uphill, both ways, and forwent buying so much as a candy bar until they could afford to buy a falling apart car with the money they earned mowing lawns and doing other odd jobs until they became a self-made . . . blah, blah, blah . . . judgmental bigot?

I find such types of gross over-generalizations to be pretty ignorant.

Continue reading Dragon !

Coffee

A couple of days ago my coffee pot died.  It happens.  Machines reach the end of their productive years just like us living, breathing beings.  Usually sooner though.  Entropy.  That eternal state of decay.

Of course, when a machine bites the dust one of the things we think of is, “Did I get my money’s worth?” How many years did I get out of that coffee maker?  Well, that sparked some memories.  Not all that pleasant.  And they began with the why.

Why did I get that coffee maker?

Continue reading Coffee

Brain Games

Well the old brain is clicking along today. Somewhat dazed, but the ramblings in my head don’t go away – except maybe when I meditate.

It’s funny we go through life trying to find meaning, to discover an identity for ourselves, and yet try as we might, we, as beings, are kind of hard to define.  And if we can’t even define ourselves, then how can we elucidate a purpose for this existence.

As I was listening to a song this morning the lyrics kind of hit home when I heard, “I don’t even need a name anymore, when no one calls it out, it kind of vanishes away.”

Continue reading Brain Games

A Worthy Trade

We all misplace things from time-to-time.  Car keys, your cell phone, a pair of glasses, a pen.  Perhaps a favorite shirt.  Of course, there is also the void.   A vortex.  That place where a single sock or the lids to our plastic containers seem to just vanish.  To be swallowed up.  Leaving behind the sad, unmatched partner, only to be discarded at a future date.

Their usefulness now lost . . .

And sometimes I think the spirits are messing with me.  Because I search and search, retrace my steps, look in the same place multiple times, and there it is, my quarry, sitting in one of the same spots I’ve searched three times over.  Only now it’s so obvious I can’t miss it if I tried.

I wonder ???

Over the years, I’ve tried to keep a copy of everything I’ve had published.  It’s nice to have an electronic copy, but even better to have a hard copy.  Something tangible.  Something I can hold in my hands.  Feel the texture of the paper.  Smell the ink.  Visualize the word placement.  Hear the words as I read through them.

There’s something about the whole sensory experience that makes it more magical.

Continue reading A Worthy Trade

Our Greatest Opponent

goose island - glacier national + opponent

Photo: Most people who have visited Glacier National Park in Montana have probably captured this very photo as you are coming in from the east entrance to the park along the Going To The Sun Road. The tiny island is Wild Goose Island sitting in the middle of St. Mary Lake.

The mountain peaks on the south side of the lake (left in photo) include Red Eagle Mountain, Mahtotopa Mountain, Little Chief Mountain, Dusty Star Mountain and Citadel Mountain.  Gunsight Mountain and Fusillade Mountain are at the far end of the lake.  And on the north side, (to the right) not really captured in the photo are Goat Mountain and Going-to-The-Sun Mountain.

Not much further down this road was where I had my first encounter with Grizzly Bears.  A pair strolling along up on one of the mountain slopes.  It was an amazing sight to behold.  A gift.

I chose this pick for the quote, because it’s when we overcome our doubts and fears that we will experience the greatest adventures, encounter the greatest beauty, replace our ignorance with knowledge, and have our ego put in its place, having seen what a tiny speck we are in such an infinite Universe.

***

Clearing the Cobwebs

Well, I’m coming up to my one-year anniversary here on WordPress, and the blog has certainly helped me do what I set out to do with it.  It’s given me a creative outlet and provided incentive for me to write on a more regular basis.

That, in turn, has had many beneficial effects.  I do love to write, but I have to say, it is so easy to let time slip away with a million other things that it’s good to have something to help with my focus.  More importantly, I find writing to be very therapeutic for me.

The more I write, the better I feel.  And I have a lot of stories I want to get down on paper.  Some are a little hard to believe, but they’re true, and that makes them more fun.

I passed the 200-post mark a little while back and I realize as time goes on that my earliest posts probably aren’t being viewed by people anymore and I’ve decided to start taking them down.  They may get recycled at a later date in some form, but it’s time to clear the cobwebs off the blog, and out of my mind too.

New Year, fresh start.

I will keep up some of my personal favs, and some of those posts that everyone really liked.  And it may be time to start compiling some materials for a book.

Guess we’ll see what happens 🙂

***

Photo: An Orb-Weaver Spider, sometimes called a Yellow Garden Spider or a Golden Orb.  Orb spiders weave distinctive spiral webs.  I like to think that we, as writers, weave the stories we tell.  They go in all sort of directions, take many shapes, and have interconnections that will hopefully “capture our prey” – the attention and imagination of our readers.

spidy + spfx2

Coming Up: A little later today I’ll put up part one of my story that lost the writing contest I had entered it in.  (See my prior post “Loser.”)  I think it’s a good story from back in my road-living days of my early twenties.  It’s true too.  Hope you like it.

Winter Solstice

It’s that time of year.  Gray skies.  Light-time fades.  Contracting days.  A barren landscape.

It’s the first day of winter.  The season of dying, or the twilight of life as people sometimes analogize.

For me, it’s an appropriate time to end a cycle.  The death of a lifetime within a lifetime.

Continue reading Winter Solstice

Unfolding

Picture yourself unfolding some paper.  Perhaps opening a letter you just received from a great friend.  Or maybe it was scribblings from a time past that you crumpled up, cast aside, and you had forgotten what you had written.  Or maybe you’re opening a package.  It is Christmas time after all.

You’re not sure what you’ll find.

Now use that as a metaphor for today.  You are just beginning to discover what’s on the page of what will become another chapter in your memory.  You might think you have a plan for today, or for your life for that matter, but you don’t really know what you’re going to discover or what will really happen.

It’s unfolding.  In its own time and its own way.

That’s the way my day is starting.  Really, that’s the way all days start.  But I am truly amazed at how what appears to be a scattering of random things or events seems to coalesce into something that seems fateful.  Like something that was supposed to happen.  Set in motion by the Universe some time before, it keeps building into something more.  Something of real value.  A chain of events comes to fruition.  Physically or mentally or spiritually.

Insight.  Wisdom.  Compassion.  Forgiveness.  Love.

Continue reading Unfolding

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!