Saturday, February 15, 2014

I Have Another New Blog

It's good to see that this old blog is still continuing to attract readers after all this time.
I have started another blog, I SEE A RED WORLD AND I WANT TO PAINT IT GREEN, which deals with some of the same topics.
Check it out and leave a comment! I'm always happy to hear from readers, and wish I could have more of a dialogue about certain issues.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

My New Blog

My new blog is about food and the brain - mostly about the connection between our highly variable diet and the evolution of our large, complex brain.
Check it out at

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The circle

Time for me to close this little experiment, this public song of myself and my ideas. I have to admit being strongly influenced by this season of dormancy and decomposition. I feel a need to acknowledge how many things this year ended - the short time with my dear cat being only one - and, by doing so, opening myself to hope that life will continue to offer me beginnings.
 Autumn is not just about sadness and the foretaste of winter's death-like stillness. Before leaves and other plant matter release their nutrients to the soil, air, and water, they seem to partake of the fourth element: fire. What better way to go than in the blaze of glory, embodying light? It's as if life itself sings out before departing.

Life continues through recycling, but also by metamorphosis: the transformation of one form to another.

So this may not be my last stab at the blog idea. A new one will likely tie into a new project - book research, perhaps, that needs airing and feedback while in progress - or one of the main threads of this first blog. Human evolution and our dietary habits are on the top of my list. Of course, poetry and ecology will run through everything....

Come springtime, who knows what will appear from the awakening soil?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A challenge or a sign?

I had a talk with an old friend a week ago. The conversation ended up on the subject of "hitting a brick wall." (It is somewhat related to my previous post.)
When you encounter a set-back of some kind - an experimental flaw, a series of obstacles on the path to a goal, or a huge lack of support from all around you as you embark on a new project - do you see that as a challenge to be overcome, or a sign that the matter at hand is not meant to be?
My friend and I only succeeded in parsing out the problem. No easy formula occurred to us for determining which is which. I guess every dilemma has its own unique factors.
I imagine the age you are when you hit the brick wall is quite significant. Young people are inexperienced in most things, so they will find themselves ill-equipped more often than someone older, generally speaking. The brick wall is more likely to be a challenge. Education can overcome it.
They still have to ask if they should continue taking flute lessons or not, try for the football team for the fifteenth time or change to baseball (or no competitive sports at all), stop pining for that girl in biology class and look elsewhere for love, or take the bar exams for the nth time.
As a writer, I have heard many stories of famous books that were rejected by publishers more than 20 times before someone savvy enought to see the genius in the work took it on - making history. Good example, the 1960s travel memoir The Kon Tiki. How did the author keep trying? Did he ever wonder if the constant rejections "proved" it was a dud? Maybe so - but the determination (or benign sort of egotism) made the author go on, ultimately to success.
That difficulty was a challenge.
To someone else, a sign - not to quit her day job. Being a published author didn't seem to be in the cards. (Giving rise to another potential discussion here about "destiny." No ... I won't go there.)
On another note: no word from any of you out there. Four more days and I'm out of here, unless I hear otherwise.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

To Everything, a Season

Many years ago, I had a very good friend who was a Jehovah's Witness. The friendship would not have persisted over more than a decade, starting in our late teens, had M. pushed his beliefs on me. He was very respectful. But I remember one visit when we were in our mid-twenties, when he finally showed me one of his pamphlets. I had a look-through out of curiosity and was appalled. I had never heard of the Rapture - that fundamentalist Christian belief in some sort of global purge and selection of the holy - so the pamphlet was my first taste of the idea that destroying the planet and starting over was a good way to deal with sin (broadly defined). At that very moment, I learned that many people, religious or not, seek to solve a difficult problem by clearing the slate - instead of doggedly working to fix whatever's wrong.The concept of a cleared field or blank sheet of paper or uncluttered desk focusses the mind incredibly. (In the case of the Rapture, we are not supposed to think of all the people who must die horribly in order to leave the planet "clean.")
Since then, I have seen much evidence of this. Of course, stories abound of stubborn/crazy/devoted writers or researchers or explorers. James Joyce took 18 years to write Finnegans Wake. The Australian who discovered Heliobactor pylori, the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers, fought years to convince a whole cadre of medical skeptics that he was right, until his proof became irrefutable, and controversy became accepted dogma. They were ultimately thanked for their informed monomania.
But giving up might be more common - either because of laziness or wisdom. (We can never know how many projects have been ditched prematurely.) To be sure, hard work is, well, hard work - and the easy way out is enticing. However, it can be folly to ignore any number of signals saying, this ain't gonna work, honey, try something else while you still have the strength. Sometimes it's better to clear the slate and start over. It's not weak, it's wise.
The really, really tricky part is to know when you're onto the right thing - and keep fighting for it - and when it's better to quit.
I've been thinking of this all year - for one thing then another. (Why now? Is it correlated with my age?) At stake are time and energy, two very precious commodities. Hope is a basic human feeling, both adaptive and maladaptive. My dilemma: is keeping my hopes alive a help or a hindrance? Am I a dreamer and a fool? Should I face reality (with the facts I have at hand) and get on with the rest of my life, pouring energy into more certain outcomes?
On a related note, this blog is nearing its first anniversary. I have been wondering if I really have more to say on the subject of connection. Also, the almost complete lack of feedback makes me think I'm writing into a void - the reason I was reluctant to start a blog in the first place!
Perhaps the time has come to bring it to an end, and start another, entirely about neuroscience.
If I don't hear any howls of protest by October 28, I'll sign off then.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Various love states

Not too long ago, someone asked me, “What’s the difference between friendship and [romantic] love?” Hard to say sometimes, especially when everything seems right between two people who hang out together.
Many people still believe that men and women cannot be friends with each other without sex entering the equation sooner or later. While this may be true, I know from personal experience that it may manifest itself as nothing more than perfectly harmless “behind thinking” - acknowledgment that you “could” get together (assuming you’re both heterosexual), but never would in a million years. (If there is more tension and attraction than that, well, things need to be discussed.)
I have felt respect and affection for many male friends, and they for me. The word “love” eventually crept into letters and even declarations after especially good visits. Some of the men involved were attached at the time, others not. But we all knew what the word meant. It made us feel good to hear it. Connected.
That kind of love has plenty in common with the common use (i.e., in a romantic context). Both imply loyalty, emotional intimacy (lots of stories and advice exchanged), affection, delight, and commiseration in times of strife. But in friendship, a line is drawn somehow. There may be physical affection – even without considering the new spin on this called “friends with benefits” – but there is no sense of belonging to each other, of being a self-contained unit, a couple.In neurological terms (can't resist), in friendship there is a brake on the release of oxytocin - and that limits the amount of intense attachment. (Adding "benefits" pushes the envelope.)
Romantic love itself is complex, as most people know by the age of, say, 15. Since it pivots on the couple, the “universe of us,” it is all-enveloping and all-consuming … until it shifts into something else. It either burns itself out, shatters on impact with undeniable and unworkable difficulties, or settles into a quieter but far stronger version of its fiery debut.
People who enter long-term relationships often bewail the settling-down stage, saying “the romance has died.” If they still really enjoy being with each other and have a friendship plus a sense of being a unit, then they are likely uninformed about the nature of human emotions (fireworks don’t last indefinitely!), and should realize how lucky they are. (A total lack of togetherness and pizzazz is another matter altogether, and indicates true trouble.)
The all-consuming stage is the exciting part: exciting like a roller coaster, a combination of near-death terror and out-of-body delight! It is probably nature’s way to get us to mate – always a dangerous enterprise, especially for women – by giving us temporary brain damage. (This may be less a joke than it sounds.) By the time we recover, we are either hip to Sweetie’s faults, or we are bound to him or her for the long haul.
In any case, the bond is what counts, not the brain damage that preceded it (as amazing as that can be).
In some ways, what happens is that a kind of friendship settles in – the best kind of friendship imaginable. You have someone there with whom you can be your truest self, and vice versa. You have shared the most intimate aspects of your mind and body. You look to the same future. You make each other grow through pruning and TLC.
The ancient Greeks saw love as eros, phileo, agape, and storge. Eros is not just sexual love, but the need to see Beauty in another another person. It is a manifestation of the life force. Phileo is love of humanity, generalized or individualized (as in love of a friend). Agape is most interesting: it is proven through selfless action rather than feeling - so is closer to the word "respect." Finally storge is the long-lasting love within a family. 
Clearly, romantic love combines or should combine all of these aspects of human emotion. Is the answer to the question: friendship is everything but eros?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Drowning in possibility"

Today, I return to one of my earlier themes on this blog, neuroscience.
I just read another of Jonah Lehrer's postings on his blog, Frontal Cortex. He asks, are distractible people more creative? As someone who is definitely both easily distracted and creative, I'd have to say yes.Others may beg to differ.
I love the quotation Lehrer takes from that great melancholy Dane, Soren Kierkegaard (author of such laugh fests as Sickness Unto Death, which I had to read in Philosophy class), undoubtedly referring to (what else?) the downside of multiple options: "Drowning in possibility."
When the mind is alert enough to pull in sights, sounds, smells, scraps of conversation, odd juxtapositions, interesting coincidences and the like, it feels like a huge gift from the universe. Poetry and other kinds of leaps of faith will arise from the synthesis of the right things rushing in together at the right time. It's a heady experience. No wonder many creative people say they feel like idle observers in the creative process: it's as if they hardly have to do any work at all to get something golden. (That's an illusion, of course. Everything involves hard work at some point - 99% perspiration, right?)
However, all that sensation rushing in can cause a log jam. That's why we need discipline, guidance from the Master, and so on. The selection process (instinct, carefully employed memory, experience, education) has to work, otherwise what occurs is far worse than an embarrassment of riches. It may bring creativity to a complete stop. (Been there, done that.)
The modern world provides access to millions of data to anyone with a computer. And yet a distractible person can be overloaded even while walking down the street. In the extreme, of course, it's mental illness.
No wonder we think there's a thin line between genius and madness. Creative people walk that line almost all the time.