science and society

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“There is something deeply rooted in the human soul that draws us to sites of unimaginable disaster. Pompeii, Antietam…”

stone lion

“But in the 21st century we hold a special awe for the aftermath of nuclear destruction. The splitting of the atom almost a hundred years ago promised to be the most important human advance since the discovery of fire. Unleashing the forces bound inside atomic nuclei would bring the world nearly limitless energy.”

— George Johnson, The Nuclear Tourist, National Geographic October 2014

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expansion of time, part i

“Most of our current theoretical frameworks include the variable t in a Newtonian, river-flowing sense. But as we begin to understand time as a construction of the brain, as subject to illusion as the sense of color is, we may eventually be able to remove our perceptual biases from the equation.”

River in Tibet

“The days of thinking of time as a river — evenly flowing, always advancing — are over. Time perception, just like vision, is a construction of the brain and is shockingly easy to manipulate experimentally. We all know about optical illusions, in which things appear different from how they really are; less well known is the world of temporal illusions.”

Wall in Los Angeles

“If we inject a slight delay between your motor acts and their sensory feedback, we can later make the temporal order of your actions and sensations to appear in reverse… we [come to] find that ‘time’ is not the unitary phenomenon we may have supposed it to be. When a stream of images is shown over and over in succession, an oddball image thrown into the series appears to last for a longer period, although presented for the same physical duration. In the neuroscientific literature, this effect was originally termed a subjective ‘expansion of time.'”

Clocks in Black and White

-David Eagleman, Brain Time

in search of memory

“Twenty-first-century culture continues to be significantly influenced by events that took place in [Vienna] during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, just as each of us continues to be influenced by every experience we have ever had. For human beings, however, ‘influence’ is far to weak a word. We are made of memories. Every moment of our lives brings to a focus the totality of all the moments preceding it.”

St Stephen's Cathedral

“Kandel’s life work has been to demonstrate that memory, learning, and by extension, every other mental process are the result not of some vague set of unexplainable psychic phenomena but rather of distinctive molecular events determined by physicochemical qualities of cellular life.”

Man hiking in Colorado

“Sigmund Freud repeatedly expressed his hope that psychoanalytic theory would one day be subjected to the scrutiny of basic science. There is profound symmetry in the fact that Kandel, another son of Vienna, should have fulfilled so much of that hope… Freud, who began his career as a neuroanatomist studying the structure of cells, made his greatest contributions as a psychoanalyst. Kandel did it the other way around.”

Vienna State Opera House

Excerpted from The Secret Life of the Mind 

‘endless forms’ as brain parts

Sulci, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Corpus Callosum, Glass Lake of the Yellowstone

Ventricle, Mammoth Hot Springs of the Yellowstone

Cerebral Aqueduct, unidentified waterfall

Spinal column

Hippocampus

The Enlightenment “I”

“The average person tends to fall back on the Enlightenment notion of the self — one mind, with privacy of thought and sensory experience — as a key characteristic of identity…

… That very impermeability is part of what makes the concept of the mind so challenging to researchers studying how it works, the neuroscientist and philosopher Antonio Damasio says in his book, ‘Self Comes to Mind.’

‘The fact that no one sees the minds of others, conscious or not, is especially mysterious,’ he writes.

We may be capable of guessing what others think, ‘but we cannot observe their minds, and only we ourselves can observe ours, from the inside, and through a rather narrow window.'”

Excerpted from “Could Conjoined Twins Share a Mind?” Susan Dominus, The New York Times. Published May 25, 2011

Fascinating article on how Krista and Tatiana, adorable 4 year old girls joined at the head, could possibly be sharing thalamic nuclei, which are in part responsible for the body’s perceptions and sensations. Thus, anecdotal evidence exists that a touch on one girl’s foot leads to the other girl’s giggles. Their shared sensations transfers across haptic (touch) and visual domains (so far also suggested anecdotally). No one knows for sure at this point, but the concept is fascinating to think about. What if you personally felt the external events experienced by another person? What if everything you experienced was brought upon someone else? Would you then be so sure of your preserved identity? I would highly recommend a full read of the article.

The most fitting photos from my collection that illustrate this philosophical ‘sense of self’ comes from my travels in Tibet two years ago. The beautiful people there – from monks in a rural monastery to Buddhist practitioners in the streets of Lhasa – seemed to be in touch with their inner serenity. A lot of implications for brain, mind, and behavior. More discussion to come, and suggestions as to future posts on this topic welcome.

“the unfolding of something beautiful or dramatic over time”

“Scientists whose specialty is cosmology tell us that time and space are inextricably linked…

“You can’t have one without the other.  They say that if you could go back far enough, nearer the Big Bang, time and space would merge…”

“…They wouldn’t be separate dimensions…”

“Being on the same continuum, they are relative, not independently fixed…”

“Musicians are especially sensitive to time, since their art form manipulates its sonic materials within time…”

“…as a sculptor does her marble within space…”

“Of course, music happens in space, too—it happens someplace…”

“But, the primary attention is given to unfolding something beautiful or dramatic over time…”

“…You can’t take in music without taking time.”

— Paul Johnston, Artist-lecturer, Carnegie Mellon University

a love letter to my cerebellum

cer·e·bel·lum [ser-uh-bel-uhm]

1. a large portion of the brain, serving to coordinate voluntary movements, posture, and balance in humans

2. a structure central to survival as one scales rocky seaside boulders facing a thrashing Pacific Northwest in Oregon

Happy Valentines Day!

this side of paradise, part II

“Utility is when you have one telephone, luxury is when you have two, opulence is when you have three – and paradise is when you have none.”

— Doug Larsen

“I would say my theme has always been paradise lost, always the lost cause, the lost leader, the lost utopia.”

— Marguerite Young

“Anything that lives where it would seem that nothing could live, enduring extremes of heat and cold, sunlight and storm… testifies to the grandeur and heroism inherent in all forms of life. Including the human. Even in us.”

— Edward Abbey

“I’m a romantic; a sentimental person thinks things will last; a romantic person hopes against hope that they won’t.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise