Rekindle Your Wild Joy and Deep Belonging to the Earth

Brain Deposed as Seat of Consciousness July 28, 2013

brain in jar by

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.

SF head in jar


Star Trek brains in jarsStar Trek episode

Donovan's Brain still

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

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.

Planaria decapitation

Photograph by Michael Levin and Tal Shomrat, Tufts University

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:

Original research abstract in the Journal for Experimental Biology:


  • Arnold, Carrie (2013, July 16).  Decapitated worms grow new memories. National Geographic,  Weird and Wild. Accessed at
  • Elias, Jonathan. Egyptian mummification: Recent findings based on CT scan data from Egyptian mummies (Ptolemaic period). Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium, accessed 7-28-13 at
  • Harwood, A.C. (1964) Shakespeare’s Prophetic Mind. Rudolf Steiner Press.
  • Jung, Carl Gustav. (1933). Modern man in search of a soul. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
  • Jung, C.G. (1973) Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
  • Shomrat, Tal, & Levin, Michael (2013, August).  An automated training paradigm reveals long-term memory in planaria and its persistence through head regeneration.  Journal for Experimental Biology 216 (16). 

Science Fiction Holidaze January 16, 2012

This post is for you lovers of science fiction and mythopoetic fantasy literature. As one myself, these made me laugh.

1)  When I first saw this sign, I thought it was a clever joke – but no.  Klingons kicked Stormtrooper butt in this ultimate nerd showdown held for a good cause in Portland, Oregon on New Year’s.

“New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are not holidays people typically think of to give blood,” said Steve Stegeman, CEO of the American Red Cross Pacific Northwest Blood Services Region. “We have to get a little bit creative.”

You can read more about it in the Oregonian.  I just can’t help but wonder what blood type each of them are…


2)  Then there are the Xmas ornaments.

My dear friend Burnie, who taught science fiction and fantasy to two generations of brilliant misfits in her high school English classes, has collected Hallmark’s Star Trek ornaments for years. Some of them light up; others even talk. She is amazed to realize that this goofy collection has so increased in value that it may well now form the bulk of her childrens’ inheritance.


Here she is, in a photo taken a few years ago by her porch with me and another close friend.


This cool retro rocket ship night-light is what I gave her this year. The red liquid inside contains glitter that roils around when it heats up from the light. Sometimes a person needs a booster rocket to get to the proper dreamland.


Star Trek is one thing; Lovecraft would be quite another. Would you open a present found under a tree with this on it?

Ornament made by Etsy seller Michelle Scrimpsher


3)  Although the holiday season can bring great joy, you might be surprised by the number of folks who feel relief that it is now past.


Happy January!


SF Podcasts September 29, 2010

SF: Science fiction? Speculative fiction?

Whatever your favorite acronym, I love the stuff, wild dreamings about possibility. Always have, even before Mrs. Burnett’s F&SF sophomore English class at Wooster High School in Reno, Nevada, the salvation of many a brilliant weirdo. (And a few plain weirdos.)

I love the musty smell of old crumbling paperbacks with lurid covers. I even love those ridiculous 1950s images of rayguns, robots, and half-clad cavewomen found – where else? – in the distant future on other planets.

Ah, to roll like a mongrel in the sweet stink of crazy imagination.

And I especially love short stories. A good short story has to be a perfect little jewel with no excess verbal flab of the sort a novel can get away with. The reader can dive fully in and then get out and go to sleep instead of having to stay up until collapsing at 2 am every night for a week to find out what happens. Short stories are a boon to the biblioholic.

I’ve always preferred books to movies, since what goes on in my own head as I read is generally way more interesting than what can get put on the screen. But now, there are podcasts. And my love for the genre has been kindled anew.

Currently, I commute two days per week, around 45 mins one way to the college at which I teach cultural anthropology. And my dad, whom I love and visit at least two times per year, lives around 9.5  hours drive time away. (Before your environmentally righteous hackles rightfully rise too high at this, I must let you know that no, there is no available public transportation. He lives in the middle of nowhere, on purpose. If you walk west over a mountain range from Burning Man, you’ll come to his house. There used to be a railway to that town, but the gummint pulled it up. Not very systemic future-oriented thinking, eh?) But I digress.

These two factors of my life mean long stretches in the car. My boon has been the science-fiction podcast Escape Pod and its sister fantasy podcast Podcastle.

Each podcast lasts around 20 to 40 minutes, with a few lasting as long as an hour + and a few “Flash” casts being only 10 mins or so. They’re perfect escapism for helping a person face gawdawful inching-along rush hour traffic without getting riled up. Who cares if it takes longer? I’ve got a storyteller on board!

They are all FREE but you can donate if you enjoy them, or if you’re broke, tell more folks like I’m doing here. Escape Artists Inc. actually pays their authors, a practice which must be encouraged and supported. Their podcasts are produced and distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works license. As many of the readers are also the hosts and their pals, I suppose they are doing this on a volunteer basis, but don’t know. I’d like to do this sort of long-form voiceover reading myself, and hope these folks get some financial remuneration along with the joy of vocal interpretation.

The readings are uneven, but some of the narrators are excellent at it: good pace, clear enunciation, very pleasant and interesting voice to listen to.

I’ve not yet dipped my pointy ear into Escape Artists’ third sister, the horror podcast Pseudopod, but when I run out of the first two, be sure that I will.

In the meantime, here are some of my favorite episodes for your own delight.

Escape Pod

Science fiction. Many of these listed here involve alternative social structures: messages about current environmental and social issues, the nature of consciousness, animism, time travel, largeness of spirit in the face of conflict, and relationship drama due to problems like cloning. I tend to go for the softer stuff instead of exposes on kewl new space hardware.

  • EP 151: Behind the Rules, by Stephanie Burgis. Read by Scott Sigler.
  • EP156: Distant Replay, by Mike Resnick. Read by Steve Anderson  5/1/08. [2008 Hugo Nominee]
  • EP162 – God Juice, by  M.K. Hobson. Read by Christiana Ellis (1:01:28 mins), 6/12/08
  • EP170 – Pervert, by Charles Coleman Finlay. Read by Stephen Eley  (35:03), 8/8/08
  • EP173: Robots Don’t Cry, by Mike Resnick.  Read by Stephen Eley.
  • EP191: This is How It Feels, by Ian Creasey. Read by FNH  3/18/09
  • EP193 – Article of Faith, by Mike Resnick. Read by Stephen Eley 4/2/09
  • EP200:  All You Zombies, by Robert E. Heinlein, read by Steve Eley  7/2/09  (a classic, 35:54)
  • EP214: Sinner, Baker, Fablist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast by Eugie Foster. 57:51 9/3/09
  • EP215: Mr. Penumbra’s Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store, by Robin Sloan. Narrated by Stephen Eley (46:36)
  • EP239: A Programmatic Approach to Perfect Happiness, by Tim Pratt. Read by Stephen Eley. 27:30 2/28/10
  • EP241: Thargus and Brian, by Stephen Gaskell.  Read by Chris Miller. 30:53 5/19/10
  • EP Flash: Grandpa? by Edward M. Lerner. Read by Ben Phillips, 4/6/09
  • EP Flash: The Sincerest Form, by W.G. Hopkins. Read by Alasdair Stuart
  • EP Flash:  Patent Infringement, by Nancy Kress.Read by Steve Anderson, 5/31/09  *** (GREAT!)

These contain provocative elements of spiritual ecopsychology and/or animism, such as sentient plants or overly self-interested machines:

  • EP237: Roadside Rescue, by Pat Cadigan. Read by Stephen Eley. ** 20:30 2/7/10
  • EP 195:  26 Monkeys, also the Abyss, by Kij Johnson. Read by Diane Severson.  [Hugo nominee]
  • EP210: The Hastillan Weed by Ian Creasey.  Narrated by MarBelle. 41:20 8/6/09
  • EP 253: Eugene, by Jacob Sager Weinstein. Read by Tim “ShoEboX” Crist.
  • EP Flash – Tired, by Michael Bishop. Read by John Meagher.
  • EP Flash (Honorable Mention in Flash writing contest):  Hello, I Love You by Katherine Sparrow. Read by Rachel Swirsky, 12/4/08


Intelligent fantasy.

  • PC001: Come Lady Death, by Peter S. Beagle. (41:20),  4/1/08
  • PodCastle 073: Rapunzel, by Tanith Lee. Read by Rajan Khanna.  (33:19)
  • PodCastle 070: The Dybbuk in the Bottle, by Russell William Asplund. Read by Wilson Fowlie.
  • PodCastle 77: Nine Sundays in a Row by Kris Dikeman.  Read by Kane Lynch.  37:16, 11/11/09
  • PodCastle 88: Another End of the Empire by Tim Pratt. Read by Cheyenne Wright.  34:59 (sweet!)
  • PC Miniature 36: To-Do List by Nick Mamatas. Read by Jake Squid. 7/24/09, 14:02 [“1. Go to your local public library.  Find a copy of  The Undiscovered Self by Carl Jung. …”]

These allude to Celtic myth, story, song:

  • PodCastle 55: Bottom Feeding, by Tim Pratt. Read by Kip Manley.  [“The salmon of knowledge lived a long time ago, in the Well…”]
  • Podcastle 82: The Twa Corbies by Marie Brennan  Read by Elie Hirschman. 34:29, 12/15/09

These contain provocative elements of spiritual ecopsychology and animism (as does #55 above):

  • PC060: The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change, by Kij Johnson. Read by Heather Lindsley. (55:13)

Short Story Radio

I also like some of what I hear from this British podcast, including:

  • Natural Selection by Jonathan Pinnock. [Just how far would you go to get the perfect job?] (14:12) 9/9/09
  • Valentine’s Day by Nick Cook.  11:44; great character piece.   9/9/09

This American Life

Other podcasts of note are of course This American Life, by Ira Glass

[Check out #293: A Little Bit of Knowledge], and

The Visionary Activist Show,

that delightful dance with astrologer Caroline Casey’s coyote wisdom about the world we live in today. You can also subscribe to her podcasts through the Berkeley public radio station KPFA.


All of these podcasts are providing authors with a way to get the word out about their work. I’ve of course enjoyed discovering new offerings from my favorite SF/F authors like Peter S. Beagle, Nancy Kress, Kij Johnson, and Tanith Lee, but also, to my delight, continually discover new ones. For example, I’ve now clearly got to check out more by Tim Pratt.

I also notice preferences arising for certain narrators. You’ll see the patterns in my favorite podcasts listed here, and if you keep it up, you’ll begin to recognize them in your own as well. Then your trouble with the burgeoning bookshelves will begin, so I’ll just apologize now in advance.

Those of you who write brief fiction may wish to consider submitting your work for this new form. If they find it engaging, I’m available for voiceover work to read it…

In the meantime, enjoy letting these folks into your braaaaaaaains.   ——->


(And by the way, if you happen to invent the affordable, zero-emissions personal hovercar or jetpack, please deliver asap. I’m still waiting, as I have been since childhood. Haven’t you?)

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