Sunday, September 30, 2012

Seeing with the brain is called imagination...

Continuing with the theme, "Science is awesome". I should have titled this, An enchanted loom.

Everything is energy… in one form or another.

[Robert Winston]
It's amazing to consider that I'm holding in my hands
The place where someone once felt, thought, and loved
For centuries, scientists have been battling to understand
What this unappealing object is all about

[Vilayanur Ramachandran]
Here is this mass of jelly
You can hold in the palm of your hands
And it can contemplate the vastness of interstellar space

[Carl Sagan]
The brain has evolved from the inside out
It's structure reflects all the stages through which it has passed

[Jill Bolte Taylor]
Information in the form of energy
Streams in simultaneously
Through all of our sensory systems

And then it explodes into this enormous collage
Of what this present moment looks like
What it feels like
And what it sounds like

And then it explodes into this enormous collage
And in this moment we are perfect
We are whole and we are beautiful

[Robert Winston]
It appears rather gruesome
Wrinkled like a walnut, and with the consistency of mushroom

[Carl Sagan]
What we know is encoded in cells called neurons
And there are something like a hundred trillion neural connections
This intricate and marvelous network of neurons has been called
An enchanted loom

The neurons store sounds too, and snatches of music
Whole orchestras play inside our heads

20 million volumes worth of information
Is inside the heads of every one of us
The brain is a very big place
In a very small space

No longer at the mercy of the reptile brain
We can change ourselves
Think of the possibilities

[Bill Nye]
Think of your brain as a newspaper
Think of all the information it can store
But it doesn't take up too much room
Because it's folded

[Oliver Sacks]
We see with the eyes
But we see with the brain as well
And seeing with the brain
Is often called imagination


[Robert Winston]
It is the most mysterious part of the human body
And yet it dominates the way we live our adult lives
It is the brain

(Carl Sagan's lyrics written by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan and Steven Soter)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Poetry of Reality

Right now I am (obviously) enamored by the Symphony of Science Remixes featuring quotes and bits of lectures from the great minds of science set to synthesized music. The love of knowledge and thrill of discovery is evident in every song. Not just songs, but love songs... to the universe.

While most of the songs in the series focus on the works of astrophysicists and physicists biology is well represented. This song, which takes its title from Richard Dawkins' statement that, "Science is the poetry of reality" seems to represent most closely the work of two amazing scientists I am privileged to know, and even work with on a modest scale, neuro-geneticists Dr. Frank Lehmann-Horn, and Dr. Karin Jurkat-Rott, Division of Neurophysiology, Ulm University, who are constantly working to expand the edges of the known.

[Michael Shermer]
Science is the best tool ever devised
For understanding how the world works

[Jacob Bronowski]
Science is a very human form of knowledge
We are always at the brink of the known

[Carl Sagan]
Science is a collaborative enterprise
Spanning the generations
We remember those who prepared the way
Seeing for them also

[Neil deGrasse Tyson]
If you're scientifically literate,
The world looks very different to you
And that understanding empowers you


[Richard Dawkins]
There's real poetry in the real world
Science is the poetry of reality

We can do science
And with it, we can improve our lives

[Jill Tarter]
The story of humans is the story of ideas
That shine light into dark corners

[Lawrence Krauss]
Scientists love mysteries
They love not knowing

[Richard Feynman]
I don't feel frightened by not knowing things
I think it's much more interesting

[Brian Greene]
There's a larger universal reality
of which we are all a part

[Stephen Hawking]
The further we probe into the universe
The more remarkable are the discoveries we make

[Carolyn Porco]
The quest for the truth, in and of itself,
Is a story that's filled with insights


From our lonely point in the cosmos
We have through the power of thought
Been able to peer back to a brief moment
After the beginning of the universe

[PZ Myers]
I think that science changes the way your mind works
To think a little more deeply about things

Science replaces private predjudice
With publicly verifiable evidence


(Carl Sagan's lyrics written by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan and Steven Soter)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

We are a way for the cosmos to know itself

"We Are All Connected" was made from sampling Carl Sagan's Cosmos, The History Channel's Universe series, Richard Feynman's 1983 interviews, Neil deGrasse Tyson's cosmic sermon, and Bill Nye's Eyes of Nye Series, plus added visuals from The Elegant Universe (NOVA), Stephen Hawking's Universe, Cosmos, the Powers of 10, and more. It is a tribute to great minds of science, intended to spread scientific knowledge and philosophy through the medium of music.


[deGrasse Tyson]
We are all connected;
To each other, biologically
To the earth, chemically
To the rest of the universe atomically

I think nature's imagination
Is so much greater than man's
She's never going to let us relax

We live in an in-between universe
Where things change all right
But according to patterns, rules,
Or as we call them, laws of nature

I'm this guy standing on a planet
Really I'm just a speck
Compared with a star,
the planet is just another speck
To think about all of this
To think about the vast emptiness of space
There's billions and billions of stars
Billions and billions of specks

The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it
But the way those atoms are put together
The cosmos is also within us
We're made of star stuff
We are a way for the cosmos to know itself

Across the sea of space
The stars are other suns
We have traveled this way before
And there is much to be learned

I find it elevating and exhilarating
To discover that we live in a universe
Which permits the evolution of molecular machines
As intricate and subtle as we

[deGrasse Tyson]
I know that the molecules in my body are traceable
To phenomena in the cosmos
That makes me want to grab people in the street
And say, have you heard this??

(Richard Feynman on hand drums and chanting)

There's this tremendous mess
Of waves all over in space
Which is the light bouncing around the room
And going from one thing to the other

And it's all really there
But you gotta stop and think about it
About the complexity to really get the pleasure
And it's all really there
The inconceivable nature of nature

Science Hurts

The time honored argument has been solved again by science.

It is claimed in certain circles that dogs are better than cats, and some believe it, much like some believe the scientific logic of Rush Limbaugh.

Unless of course one has a cat, then one tends to accumulate legitimate proofs such as Carl Sagan and Niels Bohr might produce, and which are compelling presented in this production, once you get past the hideous "cleaning the dog's tongue after-it-has-eaten-the-contents-of-the-baby's-diaper commercial". The product is a God-send for dog owners, please buy one immediately!

In science few questions of this importance are ever completely resolved, new knowledge may come to light, but it only adds to a growing body of evidence.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Who (or what) needs therapy?

I've been thumbing through decorating sites; Apartment Therapy (AT), House Beautiful, Style at Home, and Better Homes and Gardens.

There is no way of getting around it. Windowless living rooms like mine are not in vogue, nor are flowered sofas, dark bookcases, or those plastic pails the cat litter comes in when used as garbage cans. The matts on my artwork don't match, and the tops of the paintings don't line up. Cords dangle, intertwine and snake across the floor. Thank goodness, they are camouflaged somewhat by the cat hair that coils around them between vacuuming.

To qualify as "chic" at Apartment Therapy I'd need to reclaim the cast-offs we collected off curbs as impoverished newlyweds almost 50 years ago. The commenters at AT practically wet themselves with glee over furniture I would happily have let complete its trip to the dump 50 years if only I could have afforded what was in style at the time.

What I was hoping for on all these sites was some reassurance that with a minimum of tweaking I could at least go for "cottage" or an off-beat version of "shabby chic", but I think my decor and I are both beyond hope. It might be possible for the "chic" to endure the shape of the sofa if it were covered in chartreuse vinyl or recycled snow tires, but the extravagantly flowered silk fabric is unforgivable. Nothing good can be said at all for the (sob) matched chenille burgundy arm chairs. They are skirted, deeply comfortable and they rock. (What was I thinking?)

Our enormous 40-year-old coffee table has no glass, no metal and is not recycled from a bed frame or the gears from a box loader. It doesn't turn into a table for nine or a queen-sized guest bed. It simply squats on short feet and pretends to be a stack of books from Amazon for I have failed completely and utterly as a furniture-buying humanoid.

Dare I mention art? The pictures on our wall contain recognizable objects and/or humans/landscapes, which reveal our tastes (and those of our ancestors) as artistic goobers.

The new pinnacle of artistic creativity is an 8 x 10 foot paint chip someone drug a dirty burlap bag across. It's vital this gigantic "paint chip" not include any of the colours in the room. Looking at the choices, "Burlap dance 1 (blue)", "Burlap dance 2 (green)", "Burlap dance 3 (pink)" etc., one gets the feeling the artist just bought the miss-mixes at the Walmart for $3.00 per gallon to use as his/her base coat. In case you find my dots hard to connect, that damned flowered sofa encompasses every possible shade of muted blue, green, pink, rose and burgundy, plus ivory, a dozen browns and sly dashes of black. I can't find a single non-matching paint-chip/burlap-bag painting. This seems to indicate that no one plans to paint the nursery nuclear lime, at least not in our end of town.

But my decorating angst doesn't end in the living room. It gallops into the the kitchen/dining room with more than a little schadenfreude. Search as I might I don't see a single kitchen/dining room in these publications with the "accent" of a six-foot high "cat tree" backed up against the windows.

I do see kitchens large enough to host bowling tournaments and regimental reunions, large enough not to require top cupboards, with kitchen islands large enough to host overnight sleepovers. There's one with a wall of floor to ceiling windows covered with shutters ripped from a New England farmhouse built in 1760, still with original paint no less. I didn't see a single one with fake wood cabinets shoehorned into a 4' x 6' corner.

I've just been looking at pictures of a kitchen where all the crockery, dishes and glassware are stored on rough wood shelves on either side of a 14 foot tall mirror-finish range hood "chimney". How one is supposed to reach a water glass stored on a shelf 12 feet above the floor? Climbing up and down a 10-rung ladder to get a glass every time you need a drink of water seems a bit absurd, especially if you have a big pot of spaghetti boiling on the stove below. But hot damn it looks fabulous.

Fashion, in clothes, decor, houses, hairstyles and hipsters comes and goes like the tide. In 50 years time some chic young thing will be dreaming of finding my sofa but right now the only thing I have which would excite the AT crowd is this guy. They are suckers for cats at AT, which probably means they are an okay crowd, even if they like ugly 1950s furniture.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Attachment and letting go...

I did something I rarely do today. I had a raging migraine which I simply could not work through, sit up through, push through. I gave up about 2:00 and went to bed.

I don't think my head hit the pillow before I was asleep, brain flickering in that slow-seizing wave that *is* a migraine. When I am awake I am all senses, all raw reaction, every cell grating against the bouncing light, the frenzied collision of air against my skin, the smell of my own hair and the lavender body wash lingering around me.

When I am asleep the brain interprets stimulus in its own inexplicable ways. Curled with his back into the curve of my recumbent body is a small, muscular, compact dog. Slick-haired, breath slowing rising and falling, his head resting on my crooked arm. He smells like Fritos. His whiskers twitch.

I wake enough to realize that "he" is the weight of a bunched blanket, a pillow migrated to lie against my arm, the warmth of my own breath. "He" is not there. I hang onto the "him" that has not been there for 30 years. Tears well up into that emptiness where he was once.

Attachment, the Buddha called it. I hold on to my attachment, brought unexpectedly to the surface by a thunderless storm raging in my brain. I enjoy the memory of that joyful little body, and my attachment to it, touch it once more - lightly - and let it go.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

I am suspicious of myself....

Are you an eccentric? I suspect I am. Maybe I ought to feel bad about it, but I don't.

“That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of our time”. ~ John Stuart Mill, On Liberty.

Dr. David Weeks is the world's foremost expert on the subject of eccentrics. A highly regarded researcher and great storyteller (he's known as The Laughing Psychiatrist on the BBC), Weeks finds eccentrics to be happier, healthier and more creative than most conformists. Psychologist David Weeks mentions people with a mental illness "suffer" from their behavior while eccentrics are quite happy. He even states eccentrics are less prone to mental illness than everyone else.

“Time and again, the eccentrics in our study clearly evinced that shining sense of positivism and buoyant self-confidence that comes from being comfortable in one’s own skin.”

In a study of 1000 eccentrics a profile emerged with fifteen characteristics that applied to most eccentrics, ranging from the obvious to the trivial.

The first five characteristics listed are the most important and apply to virtually every eccentric. Nonconformity is, of course, the principal defining trait of the breed.

Characteristics of Eccentrics

  • Nonconforming
  • Creative
  • Strongly motivated by curiosity
  • Idealistic: wants to make the world a better place and the people in it happier
  • Happily obsessed with one or more hobbyhorses (usually five or six)
  • Aware from early childhood that he is different
  • Intelligent
  • Opinionated and outspoken, convinced that he is right and that the rest of the world is out of step
  • Noncompetitive, not in need of reassurance or reinforcement from society
  • Unusual in his eating habits and living arrangements
  • Not particularly interested in the opinions or company of other people, except in order to persuade them to his – the correct – point of view
  • Possessed of a mischievous sense of humor
  • Often Single
  • Usually the eldest or an only child
  • Bad speller

According to Dr. Week's Study, eccentrics are:

  • Less likely to be addicted to consumer culture than the general population.
  • Very unlikely to be substance abusers or alcoholics. Dr. David Weeks “fewer than 30 of the more than 1,000 eccentrics he sampled had been substance abusers or alcoholics.”
  • Nonconformity, extreme curiosity and irreverence for the strictures of culture continually resurface as the most distinguishable eccentric traits, and these are indeed qualities that most of us consider admirable.
  • They’re permanently non-conforming from a very early age, and there’s a great overlap between eccentric children and gifted children. They develop differently, though.
  • The eccentrics become very, very creative but they’re motivated primarily by curiosity. They have extreme degrees of curiosity, and they’re very independent-minded.
  • Their other motivation is fairly idealistic. They want to make the world a better place, and they want to make other people happy.
  • They have these happy obsessive preoccupations, and a wonderful, unusual sense of humor, and this gives them a significant meaning in life. And they are far healthier than most people because of that.
  • They have very low stress. They’re not worried about conforming to the rest of society, low stress, high happiness equates with psychological health.
  • They use their solitude very constructively.

Source; "Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness"; David Weeks; Jamie James, ISBN 13: 9780394565651, Publisher: Villard Books, Publication Date: 1995