Indigenize!

Rekindle Your Wild Joy and sense of deep Belonging through spiritual ecopsychology and the arts, incl. bioregional awareness, animistic perspectives, strategies for simple living, & low/no-tech DIY fun.

Our Wondrous World: Magnetism & Dog Poop January 4, 2014

Statue by Adriano Cecioni, 1880_Dog Defecating

Statue by Adriano Cecioni, 1880: “Dog Defecating.”  (Do you believe this subject? Hope it’s public city art! Ha ha!)

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Ever wonder why on earth your dog twists and gyrates around in some area before deciding where to “go?”

New research suggests that the reason dogs take so long to figure out where to poop is that they have an internal compass that they use to search for the optimum location along a north-south axis, thus lining up their intestinal offering with the Earth’s magnetic field.

Sometimes the field gets muddied, so it takes your dog longer to find The Spot.

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EARTH-MAGNETIC-FIELD

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What difference do you suppose it makes which alignment along which animals poop? Does the magnetic pull facilitate elimination, or is the choice purely aesthetic?

Although the pooping news is new, the phenomenon is not. Other animals are known to work with magnetic north. Migratory birds come immediately to mind, and even city birds have that capacity.  Li-Qing Wu and David Dickman’s work published in Science demonstrates that pigeons’ brains contain special single cells and a substrate that “encode magnetic field direction, intensity, and polarity”, thus, it seems, conferring their famous “homing” ability.

Not only birds use magnetic guidance: fish, turtles and mammals can do it too. According to European research reported in National Geographic, deer and cattle often graze in a north-south direction that aligns with magnetic north. African mole rats have also been shown to possess a magnetic compass, as does one species of bat.

Inspired by others’ prolific output via this method, I’ve decided to re-blog the following well-written article from NPR (my first reblog) rather than researching further and writing about it myself. -erm, except for this preface, which I suppose amounts to exactly that. Oh well. –What do you think of the practice of reblogging? Is it okay?

At any rate, hope you enjoy thinking about this as I did.

–TF

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Everyone Poops, But Dogs Do It With Magnetism

by Mark Memmott
Reblog from The Two-Way: Breaking News from NPR, January 03, 2014

Dog owners have all been there when walking their canine companions.

Fido sniffs the ground and maybe turns around a few times. He searches. “No, not that patch,” he seems to say. “Maybe this one. … Or over here. … Umm, maybe not.”

Then, finally, he gets into position to … well, let’s just say leave that deposit that you’ll have to pick up.

According to researchers from the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, the pooch might be aiming to poop along a north-south axis that lines up with the Earth’s magnetic field.

In the journal Frontiers in Zoology, they report that after watching 70 dogs do their business over a two-year period (1,893 defecations and 5,582 urinations), they reached the conclusion that they (the dogs) preferred to do their No. 2s “aligned along the North-south axis under calm [magnetic field] conditions.”

And when the magnetic field is in flux, “this directional behavior was abolished” — which might sometimes explain why your dog just can’t seem to settle on a place to go.

One might ask why this discovery might be important.

Well, , this is the first time a “measurable, predictable behavioral reaction” to the magnetic field’s fluctuation has been demonstrated in mammals. And that, in turn, could mean that other behavior scientists need to “revise their former experiments and observations and consider the phenomenon in their current and future experiments.” It also might mean that “biologists and physicians [should] seriously reconsider effects magnetic storms might pose on organisms.”

One also might ask who had to do most of the observations. Our hats are tipped to him or her.

We should also give a nod to Taro Gomi, author of Everyone Poops, for giving us a start to our headline.

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In the Comments, Serafin Garcia made a wonderful suggestion: “Must add this to the BSA Handbook as an alternative method to identify North.”

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Read the full Frontiers in Zoology article here.     Dogs are sensitive to small variations of the Earth’s magnetic field.  Vlastimil Hart, et. al. Frontiers in Zoology 2013,10:80 doi:10.1186/1742-9994-10-80.

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Find the original NPR post at http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/01/03/259416979/everyone-poops-but-dogs-do-it-with-magnetism

 

Winter Solstice December 21, 2013

Niwot sunset*

Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere: it feels like winter is just getting started. Here in Colorado, the late December days alternate between relatively mild with lots of sun and below zero with violent winds or snow, then back again. It’s as though the earth is kind here, slowly giving us a chance to get used to the idea of the coldest season being real. We’ve just passed autumn: winter still feels new. The ski season is just revving up. We haven’t begun to resent the bitter cold of January or dread the bleak eternity of February, March, and beyond.

What I love about Winter Solstice time is the widespread reminder that even though it feels like it’s just getting started, the reality is that after today, winter is on its way out. Frosty Elvis is leaving the building.

It doesn’t seem possible, but that’s the truth. No wonder people from time immemorial have celebrated the return of the sun, with its light and warmth and life they bring to every being here on earth.

Every winter holiday that I know of has light as a central motif: the Hanukkah candles; the Christ Child as the light of the world; the Kwanzaa festival of lights; the idea of celebrating a New Year now (instead of in spring when on the surface, it would make a heck of a lot more sense to celebrate new life with the return of new growing shoots), and even secular Santa with his reindeer’s glowing nose lighting the way to bring abundance to the young and innocent.

We put human faces on it, but these holidays are all really about this vast, fundamental celestial dance that ultimately determines life and death for all of us fragile beings on earth.

Imagine living in a subsistence culture, or any human culture during much earlier times. If it’s cold too long, all of the plants die. The animals then starve too, and/or freeze, and there is nothing for you to eat. The firewood is buried beneath meters of frozen snow, so now there’s no real way to keep warm unless you prepared by making stacks during warmer times – but even so, for how long? And what if your fire goes out? Worse, what if the warm times never come back? The idea may sound childish, but that was the reality during the Ice Age… over the course of generations, it never did! No wonder we humans need the hope that yes, even though it sure doesn’t feel like it at the time because each one goes for so long, the seasons flow in a cycle, not an eternal line, and Spring will indeed come again.

Food, gifts, and gathering together are also part of this – another reminder that life isn’t always going to be spare. Fear begets hoarding and separation, shrinking away; whereas generosity begets some abundance for all, at least in the heart.

Some of my friends in Morris troupes got up today before dawn to dance up the sun. I will call contradances this evening as part of the Solabration festival in Denver, which also features group singing, potluck feasting, storytelling, a Mummer’s Play, Xtreme juggling and more low-tech offerings both silly and sublime. Trees have been brought into our homes and honored with gifts of ornaments and yes, lights. They are evergreens, another symbol of eternal life. In a sea of bare branches, they remain supple and ever green. Gifts await beneath their boughs. People bring ridiculous numbers of cookies to work. We put on fat that can tide us over if the winter lasts too long.

Light, warmth, sharing, possibility, hope. We can make it through another dark time.

Tonight is the longest night of the year. In this darkest time, celebrating the Solstice offers a reminder of the physical reality that really, things have turned and it’s getting easier now. It’s not just wishful thinking: it’s Science! 🙂  The Sun bought her ticket and packed her bags, and has just begun her long journey back to us. Already tomorrow the world will begin to lighten up.

It might not feel like that for months, but just hold on. Watch the skies. Go outside first thing in the morning and last thing at night before you go to bed, and notice how things are changing. Pay attention. The gratitude will come.

Midwinter is a cusp time: both dark, resting, & quietly contemplative and also a tender new beginning. The energy of all earth begins to quicken now.

Along with zooming around taking care of the details of the impending Xmas etc. extravaganza, you may wish to take the opportunity to align your life with these large natural energies. The ancient Taoists would certainly applaud this notion. Unless you’re a salmon or we’re talking political metaphor, isn’t it wiser to ride strong river currents in the direction they’re going instead of fighting to go upstream?

Here’s one way to work with the energies of the winter solstice. Sit quietly, preferably outside. Feel the earth breathing. This day offers a pause: the cusp of earth’s autumnal in-breath (pulling in to let go and rest) and her spring outbreath (birthing new life). Take some time to consider your life. Where have you been this past year or more? What structures, qualities, etc. have served you that you find precious and want to keep and grow further, and what would you like to let gently and naturally fall away like dead leaves? Finally, what new sources of light would you like to bring into your life at this newly waxing time of unlimited potential?

Merrie Solstice.

 

Brain Deposed as Seat of Consciousness July 28, 2013

brain in jar by fuuka.warosu.org

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

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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.

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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

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References

  • Arnold, Carrie (2013, July 16).  Decapitated worms grow new memories. National Geographic,  Weird and Wild. Accessed at http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/07/16/decapitated-worms-regrow-heads-keep-old-memories/
  • 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 http://www.amscresearch.com/id2.html
  • 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). 
 

Geno 2.0 April 25, 2013

"Gogo and the Ancestors" - painting by Marietjie Henning

“Gogo and the Ancestors” – painting by Marietjie Henning

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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.

Human DNA. Image from fastcoexist.com

Human DNA. Image from fastcoexist.com

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.

Check out the Genographic Project here.

How much Neanderthal is in me? Stay tuned!

 

What happens if you wash your hands in outer space? April 20, 2013

This is just majorly cool: how water acts in outer space, without gravity to dance with.

Imagine you’re an astronaut. You’re orbiting the earth in a space station for weeks on end. At some point, you’re gonna want to wash yourself.  Or your fellow astronauts are really gonna want you to wash yourself. How to pull this off?

Obviously, a shower would create a potentially tremendous mess. Plus water is very heavy and therefore fuel-expensive to carry, so you wouldn’t want to waste your limited supply on anything besides precious life support.

Enter the special astronaut washcloth. It looks like a little condensed hockey puck. So you shake the thing out until it looks like a small towel, then get it wet to give yourself what my mother used to call a “spit-bath.”

What happens when you wring the washcloth out in this gravityless environment?

Watch and be amazed.

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One more thing that adds to the overall fabulousness of this: the experiment was originally proposed by high school students! Go Canada, supporting the curiosity of your young people.

From the YouTube video site:

CSA Astronaut Chris Hadfield performed a simple science experiment designed by grade 10 Lockview High School students Kendra Lemke and Meredith Faulkner. The students from Fall River, Nova Scotia won a national science contest held by the Canadian Space Agency with their experiment on surface tension in space using a wet washcloth. Credit: Canadian Space Agency/NASA

CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield has made a number of interesting videos showing aspects of everyday life in space. Do check them out, and let yourself fill with wonder – plus perhaps a new appreciation of how gravity makes life so much easier down here.