A New Start

Next thing I know, I’m looking at the sky
My bicycle in pieces far away
Flesh torn, the blood is streaming from my thigh
Atypically, my mind begins to pray.
Forgotten are all thoughts of speeding truck
No pain, no anxious worry in my head
No trace of irony, I praise my luck:
“Now I will know what it’s like to be dead!”

No sooner does this thought articulate,
I think of “miles to go before I sleep”
As sure as life itself, it is my fate
To climb along this path, however steep
The days ahead will offer difficult
New challenges, occasions to exult.

— JJM

No One Wants to Say or Hear, “I Hit a Cyclist with My Car”

“In this house we believe SCIENCE IS REAL”

Doing science means coming up hard agaionst the limits of your ignorance on a daily basis….

This acute awareness of our ignorance is the heart of scientific thinking. It is thanks to this awareness of the limits of our knowledge that we have learned so much. We are not certain of all which we suspect, just as Socrates was not sure of the spherical nature of the Eath. We are exploring at the borders of our knowledge. Awareness of the limits of our knowledge is also awareness that what we know may turn out to be wrong.

cARLO rOVELLI

Science is not a set of beliefs. Scientists don’t believe anything… 
— Kary Mullis

Listening

I am listening for a sound beyond sound
that stalks the nightland of my dreams,
entering rooms of fossil-light
so ancient they are swarmed by truth.

I am listening for a sound beyond us
that travels the spine’s
invisible ladder to the orphic library.
Where rebel books revel in the unremitting light.
Printed in gray, tiny words with quicksand depth
embroidered with such care they
render spirit a ghost, and God,
a telescope turned backwards upon itself
dreaming us awake.

Never-blooming thoughts surround me
like a regatta of crewless ships.
I listen leopard-like,
canting off the quarantine of bodies
sickened by the monsoon of still hearts.
There is certain magic
in the heartbeat which crowds the sound I seek,
but it is still underneath the beating I wish to go.
Underneath the sound of all things
huddled against the tracking dishes
that turn their heads to the sound of stars.

I am listening for a sound unwound,
so vacant it stares straight with the purity to peer
into the black madness of time
sowing visions that oscillate in our wombs
bearing radiant forms as the substrate of our form.

When I look to the compass needle
I see a blade of humility
bent to a force waylaid like wild rain
channeled in sewer pipes.
Running underground
in concrete canals that quiver,
laughing up at us as though we were lost
in the sky-world with no channel for our ride.

I am listening for a sound
in your voice,
past the scrub terrain of your door
where my ear is listening on the other side.
Beneath your heart where words go awkward
and light consumes the delicate construction of mingled lives.
I can only listen for the sound I know is there,
glittering in that unpronounceable, stateless state
quarried of limbs so innocent
they mend the flesh of hearts.

— translated by Dr. Anderson from an ancient text

No brainer

This is excerpted from a 1980 article in Science Magazine titled, Is Your Brain Really Necessary?

There’s a young student at this university who has an IQ of 126, has gained a first-class honors degree in mathematics, and is socially completely normal. And yet the boy has virtually no brain…His cranium is filled mainly with cerebro-spinal fluid.

John lorber

This is nothing new. Scores of similar accounts fill the medical literature. The condition is called hydrocephalus and some estimates of its prevalence are as high as 0.2% of births, most of which are never detected.


My comments (JJM):

It is a minority of children with hydrocephalus who do so well, however it is, of course, remarkable that there are any at all. This study says 38% have normal intelligence, but this may be an underestimate because the ones with normal intelligence may never be diagnosed because there’s no reason to scan their brains.

In the 40 years since this article came out, there are hundreds of references to it, but I have been unable to find any systematic study of high-functioning people with greatly reduced gray matter.

Brains are very different from person to person, and my impression is that a baby learns to “operate” her brain by a process of biofeedback training in the first monts of life. Children born with 5% or less of the part of the brain we associate with cognition and reasoning adapt well to using what they have.

Or perhaps a lot more of what we call “thinking” happens in some abstract realm where consciousness lives, and it is aided by the neural machinary of the brain, but not completely dependent on it.

Implications for posthumous survival of consciousness follow naturally.

Intelligence takes many forms

Michael Levin (at Tufts) has devoted his career to exploring electrical signaling that literally gives shape to an animal’s body. The point is that the use of bioelectricity and voltage-gated ion channels is far older than brains, and still plays a great (largely unexplored) role in the body outside of the nervous system. *A voltage gated ion channel is the equivalent of a transitor.)

This video about fungi is a wide-ranging tour of their biological kingdom, and it mentions in passing that the threads can grow in ways that respond to signals apprehended in distant parts of the same thread network. This is evidence that there are signal through the underground microrhizal networks that transmit information much faster than chemicals could flow through the relevant distances. It suggests that there are nerve-like electrical signaling even in fungi.

This article in Quanta magazine is titled Brain Signal Proteins Evolved Bbefore Animals Did.

The photo is a single-celled eukaryote (a “protist”) that uses neurotransmitters, though it has no nervous system. Protists have sensing behaviors and animal-like motor functions, including hunting, locomotion, and changing shape. The activities and the decision-making that we think of as animal behaviors were present already in ciliates, a type of protist.

Hello Darkness, my old friend

“Hello darkness, my old friend…” Everybody knows the iconic Simon & Garfunkel song, but do you know the amazing story behind the first line of The Sounds of Silence?

It began 62 years ago, when Arthur “Art” Garfunkel, a Jewish kid from Queens, enrolled in Columbia University. During freshman orientation, Art met a student from Buffalo named Sandy Greenberg, and they immediately bonded over their shared passion for literature and music. Art and Sandy became roommates and best friends. With the idealism of youth, they promised to be there for each other no matter what.

Soon after starting college, Sandy was struck by tragedy. His vision became blurry and although doctors diagnosed it as temporary conjunctivitis, the problem grew worse. Finally after seeing a specialist, Sandy received the devastating news that severe glaucoma was destroying his optic nerves. The young man with such a bright future would soon be completely blind.

Sandy was devastated and fell into a deep depression. He gave up his dream of becoming a lawyer and moved back to Buffalo, where he worried about being a burden to his financially-struggling family. Consumed with shame and fear, Sandy cut off contact with his old friends, refusing to answer letters or return phone calls.

Then suddenly, to Sandy’s shock, his buddy Art showed up at the front door. He was not going to allow his best friend to give up on life, so he bought a ticket and flew up to Buffalo unannounced. Art convinced Sandy to give college another go, and promised that he would be right by his side to make sure he didn’t fall – literally or figuratively.

Art kept his promise, faithfully escorting Sandy around campus and effectively serving as his eyes. It was important to Art that even though Sandy had been plunged into a world of darkness, he should never feel alone. Art actually started calling himself “Darkness” to demonstrate his empathy with his friend. He’d say things like, “Darkness is going to read to you now.” Art organized his life around helping Sandy.

One day, Art was guiding Sandy through crowded Grand Central Station when he suddenly said he had to go and left his friend alone and petrified. Sandy stumbled, bumped into people, and fell, cutting a gash in his shin. After a couple of hellish hours, Sandy finally got on the right subway train. After exiting the station at 116th street, Sandy bumped into someone who quickly apologized – and Sandy immediately recognized Art’s voice! Turned out his trusty friend had followed him the whole way home, making sure he was safe and giving him the priceless gift of independence. Sandy later said, “That moment was the spark that caused me to live a completely different life, without fear, without doubt. For that I am tremendously grateful to my friend.”

Sandy graduated from Columbia and then earned graduate degrees at Harvard and Oxford. He married his high school sweetheart and became an extremely successful entrepreneur and philanthropist.

While at Oxford, Sandy got a call from Art. This time Art was the one who needed help. He’d formed a folk rock duo with his high school pal Paul Simon, and they desperately needed $400 to record their first album. Sandy and his wife Sue had literally $404 in their bank account, but without hesitation Sandy gave his old friend what he needed.

Art and Paul’s first album was not a success, but one of the songs, The Sounds of Silence, became a #1 hit a year later. The opening line echoed the way Sandy always greeted Art. Simon & Garfunkel went on to become one of the most beloved musical acts in history.

The two Columbia graduates, each of whom has added so much to the world in his own way, are still best friends. Art Garfunkel said that when he became friends with Sandy, “my real life emerged. I became a better guy in my own eyes, and began to see who I was – somebody who gives to a friend.” Sandy describes himself as “the luckiest man in the world.”

Adapted from Sandy Greenberg’s memoir: “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: How Daring Dreams and Unyielding Friendship Turned One Man’s Blindness into an Extraordinary Vision for Life.”

Spiritual Bypass

Forget all these, the barren fool in power,
The madman in command, the jealous O,
The bitter world, biting its bitter hour,
The cruel now, the happy long ago.
Forget all these, for, though they truly hurt,
Even to the soul, they are not lasting things,
Men are no gods, men tread the city dirt,
But in our souls we can be queens and kings.
And I, O Beauty, O divine white wonder,
On whom my dull eyes, blind to all else, peer,
Have you for peace, that not the whole war’s thunder,
Nor the world’s hate, can threat or take from here.
So you remain, though all man’s passionate seas
Roar their blind tides, I can forget all these.

— John Masefield, born this day in 1878,
did not name this poem ‘Spiritual Bypass’

The Light Within | Psychology Today

On the beach at night alone

On the beach at night alone,
As the old mother sways her to and fro singing her husky song,
As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the clef of the universes and of the future.

A vast similitude interlocks all,
All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets,
All distances of place however wide,
All distances of time, all inanimate forms,
All souls, all living bodies though they be ever so different, or in different worlds,
All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes, the fishes, the brutes,
All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages,
All identities that have existed or may exist on this globe, or any globe,
All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future,
This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann’d,
And shall forever span them and compactly hold and enclose them.

— Walt Whitman was born this day in 1819

Rob Greenfield grows everything he eats

…and he invites neighbors to eat freely from his gardens.
Total square footage — less than 4000.

I’m super passionate about growing food. But the passion is equally as much about inspiring people not just to grow their own food, but to look at the world in a different way, to start to see the world as something to work with, rather than against, in all facets of life: our food, our water, our energy, our waste and our transportation.