Look how big some of these beauties are!
Found at Walden Ponds, just east of Boulder, CO.
At least somebody is benefiting from all this rain.
Look how big some of these beauties are!
Found at Walden Ponds, just east of Boulder, CO.
At least somebody is benefiting from all this rain.
These days, most people take it for granted that the seat of consciousness is of course in the brain. “Brain dead” means the person as a whole is dead. The rest of the body is either servant to the brain, as in delivering enough oxygen for optimal functioning, or sort of an addendum.
Witness the many “B” science-fiction movies featuring future societies in which the most wealthy and powerful have done away with the body and just live in an intellectually pure state as a brain in a jar.
Donovan’s Brain, a 1953 B-grade movie based on the book by Curt Siomak. An evil millionaire gets his brain preserved in a vat, after which he develops mental powers that allow him to control those around him in even more inventive ways than before. (The movie co-stars the future Nancy Reagan, then Nancy Davis.)
Madmen of Mandoras, example of the “Evil Genius” TV trope
In addition, you might notice how the brain is now discussed in computer terms: hardware (its physical structures such as the hippocampus) and software (the info, processing, data and other functioning, provided by the workings of the hardware). This is not new. You can see examples across recent history where a metaphor of the most current technology gets used to describe the workings of ourselves and/or the universe. In earlier days it was clocks; now it’s computers. Watch for this: it’s fascinating.
So we’re now considered to be made up of hardware and software, with the most important workings all centered in the brain. The rest of the fleshy self is just supportive frosting. Breathe deep to keep your brain oxygenated. We care for the body because we want optimal brain functioning.
But in earlier days, people thought quite differently about the seat of consciousness.
Folks in Shakespeare’s Britain thought the soul, or at least its most passionate part, mainly resides in the liver.
Many other cultures also find the seat of our selves to be not in the brain but in the heart. For example, the ancient Egyptians thought so little of the brain that when mummifying a body to preserve it for the deceased’s use in the afterlife, they tossed the brain away along with all of the other internal organs – with the notable exception of the heart.
And when C.J. Jung worked with people of the Pueblo nations, Hopi elder Ochwiay Biano (Mountain Lake, also a.k.a. Antonio Mirabal) informed him that in his view, white people were not only uneasy and restless, they were crazy mad. Why? Because “they say that they think with their heads. ‘We think here,’ he said, indicating his heart” (Jung 1973, p.247-8). Jung noted ways in which modern culture, construing the gift of knowledge as cognition alone, has deleterious side effects. He interpreted the ‘uneasy restlessness’ spoken of by Biano to mean Euro-Americans’ “insatiable lust to lord it in every land” (1933, p.213). After his encounters opened his mind to other worldviews, Jung observed how, sadly, “Knowledge does not enrich us; it removes us more and more from the mythic world in which we were once at home by right of birth” (p.252).
In the history of philosophical thought about such matters, Rene Descartes was the one to finally limit consciousness to the brain alone. But he didn’t mean it in the same way we do today – it seems to me that what he was describing was less of a noun and more of a verb. According to A.C. Harwood (1964), Descartes was describing a shift from participatory consciousness (seated in the heart) to a spectator consciousness, whereby a person could witness events that s/he didn’t consider herself really part of; “looking at a world outside us to which we feel we do not essentially belong.” The spectator consciousness is, at least in its first manifestations, bound to the brain. (BTW, Harwood’s main argument is that Shakespeare first illustrates this new view in Hamlet. But I digress.)
By seating consciousness solely in the brain, we have become spectators instead of participants in an animate universe, and our people have thereby been robbed of many dimensions of relationship. This is a wholly unnecessary diminishment, caused only by our thinking.
Fortunately, it is now being overturned.
Remember planaria flatworms? You likely tortured some in high school biology class by cutting them up and watching them go on regardless. Well, it turns out that work with planaria happens in actual research too. Tufts University scientists Tal Shomrat and Michael Levin decapitated one (seen on left in the picture above), and then allowed its head to regrow (far right). And according to their study, planaria can retain functional memory up to two weeks after their heads have been cut off!! Who needs a brain? :-p
From their Abstract:
We show that worms exhibit environmental familiarization, and that this memory persists for at least 14 days – long enough for the brain to regenerate. We further show that trained, decapitated planaria exhibit evidence of memory retrieval in a savings paradigm after regenerating a new head.
For easier consumption of the same ideas, here’s National Geographic writer Carrie Arnold describing the study:
Off With Their Heads
After the team verified that the worms had memorized where to find food, they chopped off the worms’ heads and let them regrow, which took two weeks.
Then the team showed the worms with the regrown heads where to find food, essentially a refresher course of their light training before decapitation.
Subsequent experiments showed that the worms remembered where the light spot was, that it was safe, and that food could be found there. The worms’ memories were just as accurate as those worms who had never lost their heads.
Memory Beyond the Brain
The obvious question remains: How can a worm remember things after losing its head?
“We have no idea,” Levin admitted. “What we do know is that memory can be stored outside the brain—presumably in other body cells—so that [memories] can get imprinted onto the new brain as it regenerates.”
Researchers have long confined their investigations of memory and learning to the brain, Levin said, but these results may encourage them to look elsewhere.
Somatic psychologists have long known that the brain alone is highly overrated. With this new knowledge, seems to me that it would be a good idea to go out now, and honor our bods in relationship with the rest of the world. Let’s use our intuitive and somatic knowing without embarrassment; the kind that makes the hairs on the back of our necks prickle when someone is looking at us. It’s real. Let’s start to enjoy more of the full range of our “thinking.”
Hey, I just got a wild idea. You know how we’re told we use only a small percent of our brains? Perhaps the reason is that much of our thinking is actually not located there!!! I’ve gotta go now: gonna go dust out the other rooms of my inner house.
To read more:
National Geographic article: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/07/16/decapitated-worms-regrow-heads-keep-old-memories/
Original research abstract in the Journal for Experimental Biology: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/early/2013/06/27/jeb.087809.abstract
What did you blow your tax refund on?
This year, I spent mine on some really cool things, including a mad jaunt to attend an old friend’s birthday dinner over a thousand miles away, and participation in National Geographic’s ancestral genome tracking project.
Regarding #1, hanging around people in their late 90s of age has paradoxically made me aware of how very short life is. And what is more important than friends? Someone I’ve known since my teenage years wrote to say that what he really wanted for his big birthday coming up this year was to simply share a fine meal with his beloved friends. So I’m blowing a big part of my yearly ecological footprint budget to just go back to my hometown to be with that crowd for a long weekend – wonderfully creative, eccentric, smart and kind people I’ve known most of my life and love dearly, but now rarely get to see. This choice feels good to my heart. I’ve had to miss a lot of events recently because of the demands of caring for my aging folks. When I too am old, I don’t want to feel like I blew my chance to celebrate my people, but now it’s too late.
The rest of this post is devoted to #2, National Geographic’s genome project.
I’m adopted, so taking part in Geno 2.0 is a really big deal to me.
I only know what minimal information about my immediate ancestry was kindly written down for me at birth. I have never seen an echo of my own face in another. When someone asks something like, “where did you get your musical ability?” I can only point to nurture, not nature. That works in part for music, sure, but not for the curly hair.
For the individual, participation means you get to find out what percentage of your deep ancestry comes from various parts of the world. Is that wild hair Eastern European, Welsh, or perhaps African?
“The results give you an unprecedented view of your lineage. You will discover the migration paths your ancient ancestors followed thousands of years ago, and learn the details of your ancestral makeup—your branches on the human family tree.”
The test even includes markers for Neanderthal and Denisovan genes!
According to their materials, because Neanderthals “were still alive and well in Eurasia” when modern humans were first migrating out of Africa more than 60,000 years ago, it’s likely that if you have European ancestry, you also have some percentage of Neanderthal. That big Indo-European migration carried more than just stories about snakes.
I’d never heard of the Denisovans, who Nat’l Geographic says split from our current human lineage around 500,000 years ago. But they were there in Eurasia too. “It seems that our ancestors met, leaving a small genetic trace of these ancient relatives in our DNA.”
The way the project works is this: you capture some DNA by swabbing your cheek, and then send it in. At the lab, they test for nearly 150,000 ancestry-specific markers on your mitochondrial DNA. As this is passed down each generation from mother to child, it can “reveal your direct maternal deep ancestry.”
For males, they will also examine markers on the Y chromosome, to reveal direct paternal deep ancestry.
Being a woman, I admit I was feeling a bit bummed at not being able to learn about my biological paternal side too. But they help out with that, and thereby get their thickest data:
“In addition, for all participants, we analyze a collection of more than 130,000 other ancestry-informative markers from across your entire genome to reveal the regional affiliations of your ancestry, offering insights into your ancestors who are not on a direct maternal or paternal line.”
This provides the organization with a lot of data about the entire sweeping human story. Geno 2.0 doesn’t tell you about health, neither genetic health history nor predictions about your personal health based on same; that’s a different kind of test. This one is larger in scope, and I suppose safer in terms of potentially being used in a political or financial sense against participants.
“This is not a genealogical study, and your DNA trail may not lead to your present-day location. Rather, your results will reveal the anthropological story of your ancestors—where they lived and how they migrated around the world over tens of thousands of years. The autosomal results will reveal insights into recent admixture over the past 6 generations—for instance, if you have one parent of Asian descent and another from Western Europe, this mix will be reflected in your results.”
I think one of the greatest things about this study is the potential it holds for eliminating the silly and dangerous idea of race once and for all. At the time of this writing, nearly 600,000 people from all over the world are participating. When we see that every one of us has, say, some mixed percentage of ancestors from Asia, North America, Africa, Europe, Melanesia, Polynesia, Aboriginal Australia, South America, the Middle East, Siberia, and so on and so on… well, who’s then left as the ‘other’? Who can anyone point to to categorically hate?
A final thing that’s neat about the Geno 2.0 project is that part of the proceeds from the sales of participation kits like the one I bought goes to support community-led indigenous conservation and revitalization projects.
How much Neanderthal is in me? Stay tuned!
Some very excellent news! Here we see a political action in service of the health of both people and our environment. And what a perfect place to do it: the hometown of Henry David Thoreau.
Thank you, Concord, Mass, for carrying on his legacy of visionary activism.
This action will mean less plastic building up the Pacific Garbage Patch, an island of garbage floating in the sea; cleaner groundwater in Massachusetts’ landfills, and healthier people who won’t be drinking water out of these as much, or breathing air polluted by manufacturing and transport of these unnecessary plastic bottles.
For a link to a Huffington Post article that provides more details, click the picture (the admirable work of missionpraxis).
Manufacturers of reuseable bottles, now is your chance! Sales will be increasing. Please make your wares sturdy, non-toxic, and beautiful. It’s nice to own such possessions worthy of long-term respect, instead of those intended from their birth for thoughtless insto-disposal.
Ah, it’s a good day.
We made it!!!!!
Years ago, an activist I admire shook his head sadly as he observed, “Every environmental victory is a temporary one.” But not this one. A lot of people responded to the tribes’ urgent call for donations of money to keep their sacred lands out of the hands of developers. I was among those who gave what they could, and now this land will stay wild. Well, wild in the really old sense: in partnership with people who will be with it as equals instead of lord-and-masters or museum-goers. Tears of gratitude are flowing.
And yes, the very idea that the native peoples had to buy their own land back is completely perverse. But the important thing is, They Got It Back. This is cause for big time celebration.
Here you can read the full story & watch a video:
“Tribes Reach $9 Million Goal and Purchase Sacred Site of Pe’ Sla after months of high-profile fundraising that drew celebrities’ attention.”
And in today’s weird news… an osprey protest?
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. (AP) – “Nobody yelled “Fore!” at a Southern California golf course when a 2-foot-long shark dropped out of the sky and flopped around on the 12th tee.”
The 2-pound leopard shark was apparently plucked from the ocean by a bird then dropped on San Juan Hills Golf Club, said Melissa McCormack, director of club operations.
“Down with golf courses! Bring back the wetlands!” the osprey was heard to think. (Okay, no, I made that part up.)
Still, can you imagine being there? Talk about a golf hazard!
This incident reminds me of the wonderful collection of weird phenomena collected by Charles Fort. His books, compiled in the early 20th century, center on exhaustively documented ‘puzzling evidence.’ These run the gamut from events of Biblical proportion like sudden plagues of locusts or rains of blood, and what would today be called UFO phenomena, to small surrealistic moments like this one.
The best part of this story is that the golf course workers managed to save the little shark’s life! One noticed it and took it to their office, where they quickly stuck it in a bucketful of water. Then they suddenly remembered, hey, this is a SALT water creature. So they mixed in some table salt (!) and transported the shark to the ocean. He initially just sat there, stunned, but then flipped his fin and swam off.
Read more from ABC.com: Shark Falls From Sky Onto California Golf Course
P.S.: There are many kinds of sharks. The one we usually think of, thanks to the movie Jaws, is the Great White shark (pictured grinning below). Leopard sharks (pictured above) are much smaller and sleeker in design, and their skin features cute spots.
Another big difference is that leopard sharks have not acquired a taste for human flesh. However, just to set the record straight, given the choice, Great Whites will overwhelmingly choose other fare too. Apparently, we just aren’t the choicest dish in the sea. (I don’t know about you, but knowing this brings me a combo of relief and petulant wondering why not.)
Yesterday there was a bear up a tree in someone’s yard along the main drag out of Niwot, CO, the little town I live in.
A lot of wild creatures have been driven down from the mountains into the more populated flat areas, since the recent heat and fires have brought difficulty in finding food. Bears need to stock up their fat supply for the coming winter’s hibernation. You can already feel fall crackling in the air here.
Police tape was up and officers patrolled around the fenced yard all day, to keep the streams of watching people at bay and the traffic moving.
Instead of shooting the 300-pound male down with a tranquilizer gun (which would undoubtedly leave him seriously wounded from the high fall), officials there said they planned to wait till night when all the two-leggeds left for bed and just let him come down. I praised the Fish & Game guy for that choice and told him I felt reassured by it. He looked surprised but pleased.
And the strategy worked! The bear was gone by morning.
Wonder where he is now?
The great photo above is by Matthew Jonas, as published in the Times/Call, a Longmont CO online newspaper.
No wonder the bear has that look on his face – there were loads of paparazzi, including myself. But the best of my iPhone pix only show a dark blob:
If you want to keep bears away from your home, don’t leave out delicacies that will likely attract them such as tasty, fat-laden birdseed and fruit that has fallen from trees. Or if you would like to attract ursine visitors, go collect these from your neighbors and strew them about now.
By the way, you do know that old call-and-response camp song that the title of this post refers to, right?