Somehow, this book is different

To date, I’ve written and published over 10 books. Poetry, fiction, non-fiction, essays, mythology… you get the idea. Actually, I’ve written more than I’ve published.

Some were more important for me to write, than to put them out into the wider world. It was an exercise for me. It served its purpose. ’nuff said. They moved me along to the next project, the next book, the next poem… whatever was supposed to come next.

I’ve written largely in obscurity, lo these many years. I started writing when I was seven or eight, completed my first collection of short stories when I was eight. Wrote a YA novella when I was 10 (or 11 or 12?). And I’ve lost count of how many hours I’ve devoted to writing on (pretty much) a daily basis. It all blends together. And to be honest, all the publishing has felt like a natural progression from the writing itself.

In the past, I would simply publish as a matter of course. I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. I’d just get it out there…

This time, though, it feels very different. Beloved Distance feels different. This has been a multi-year project, which really got its start over five years ago, when I began to really take notice of our neurology. And while I have read a whole lot of words about how the human neurological system works, the pictures have actually been the most transformational for me.

I mean… look at that! Who wouldn’t be fascinated by it?

Well, okay, so not everybody, but I’m one of those people who is.

And it’s led me down this path that originally was all about our most microscopic neuroanatomy, and ended up in our most macroscopic human considerations.

Funny, how that happens.

I think one of the things that’s raised the stakes of this project is the math. Yes, math. I’m more of a words person, and I’m better at geometry than calculus, but one of the building blocks of this book is the calculations of all the distance we have within us — thousands of miles worth, to be accurate. Freaky, right? To tell the story correctly, I had to get the math right. If it’s not right, the point is lost. So, I’ve checked it countless times, from a bunch of different angles and I’ve consulted with “math people”, getting way outside my comfort zone to be as accurate as possible.

And ironically, the more abstract my conceptions got, the more concrete the applications turned out to be.

Yeah, that’s funny, too.

In one of those grand cosmic ha-ha moments, where you realize — yet again — just how interconnected we all are, and how elegantly we can apply principles from one slice of our lives to others.

Well, I’m losing light. It’s snowed all day, and I need to get out and clear my deck, rake my roof, shovel the stairs, and snow-blow the driveway. Should take me about an hour to do it. And it’s easier to do if it’s light out… So, outside I go. Thick socks and snow pants and boots and coat/hat/gloves on… snow-moving implements in hand… to narrow the distance between me and the fluffy white stuff, to close the gaps between show-covered and snow-cleared.

Off I go… and here we go…


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Sharing: The Hundred Trillion Stories in Your Head

Beloved Distance

I came across this totally by accident, last night, but it’s very much in keeping with my current work. I’ve always loved the Paris Review. It was one of my most prized companions, back in the early 1980s. I’m still a fan – here’s one more reason why:

The Hundred Trillion Stories in Your Head

By Benjamin Ehrlich

Arts & Culture

For the father of modern neuroscience, cellular anatomy was like the most exciting fiction.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, “the father of modern neuroscience.” All images courtesy Cajal Legacy, Instituto Cajal (CSIC), Madrid.

Fiction is, by definition, a world away from fact—but Santiago Ramón y Cajal, often heralded as “the father of modern neuroscience,” used it to find objective truth. Cajal spent his days at the microscope, gazing down at faint, entangled fibers that appeared to his fellow anatomists as inscrutable labyrinths. Contrary to prevailing theory, the Spaniard discerned that…

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To work in the mode of Cajal

Beloved Distance

Purkinje Cell illustration by Santiago Ramón y Cajal Purkinje Cell illustration by Santiago Ramón y Cajal

The article I found yesterday about Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s roots in fiction was a welcome addition to my overall work direction. In it, I found my own sentiments mirrored — and by one of the great leaders in neuroscience.

If we would enter adequately into Cajal’s thought in this field,” Sherrington continues, “we must suppose his entrance, through the microscope, into a world populated by tiny beings actuated by motives and striving and satisfactions not very remotely different from our own.” Cajal highlighted that subject and object—the brain scientist and the neuron—descended from the same evolutionary ancestor, contained the same physical material, and were beholden to the same mortal laws.

Here was a man who literally transformed his field, and he did it (at least in part) by reimagining the human relationship with his objects of study — animating them with…

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Beloved Distance – Book Overview

Beloved Distance

Beloved Distance Overview

In our modern globalized world, fraught with strife, violent conflict, and daily casualties numbering in the tens of thousands, separation is often perceived as the enemy of humanity. Keeping oneself at a distance from others is seen as the root of sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, and myriad other -isms which preclude even the slightest chance of peace. “To become a true global citizen,” Suzy Kassem sounds a common refrain, “one must abandon all notions of ‘otherness’ and instead embrace ‘togetherness’. … This is the only way mankind will truly evolve.”

A message of eradicating the distance between oneself and others resounds across the ages, from the Buddha’s warning, “There is … No sorrow like separation,” to John Lennon assuring us that if we all join together, “the world will be as one.” This perspective is practically a given among those who consciously seek our collective evolution…

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The wait is over – Beloved Distance is now available for free download and (print) order

The wait is over – the book is ready.

Beloved Distance

Deloved Distance CoverNow Available

Beloved Distance – The Separation That Connects Us to All

Paperback 9×6″

168 Pages

$11.95 (+$2.99 s/h)

Printed on-demand, takes 5-10 days for delivery.

Order Your Print Copy Now

Or Download a Free copy of the Beloved Distance eBook (gratis till 31. January 2018)

About Beloved Distance

We live in a world on fire.

Everywhere we turn, there’s discord, strife, violence. It feels like everything is falling apart, and the global suffering never seems to end.

What can we do?

Some say, we must eradicate separation and experience Unity, in order to step back from the brink of destruction. We must come together As One, and embrace a sense of universal connection.

The only problem is, separation is central to our human experience. We are separate beings, distinct from each other. And we constantly seek to distinguish ourselves from others, as part of our community-building work.

This book explores…

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Beloved Distance – In Depth

So, what’s it all about?

Beloved Distance

What’s “Beloved Distance” About?

In our modern globalized world, fraught with strife, violent conflict, and daily casualties numbering in the tens of thousands, separation is often perceived as the enemy of humanity. Keeping oneself at a distance from others is seen as the root of sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, and myriad other -isms which preclude even the slightest chance of peace. “To become a true global citizen,” Suzy Kassem sounds a common refrain, “one must abandon all notions of ‘otherness’ and instead embrace ‘togetherness’. … This is the only way mankind will truly evolve.”

A message of eradicating the distance between oneself and others resounds across the ages, from the Buddha’s warning, “There is … No sorrow like separation,” to John Lennon assuring us that if we all join together, “the world will be as one.” This perspective is practically a given among those who consciously seek our collective evolution…

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It’s not just the dopamine. Facebook is implicated in opioids, as well

Sean Parker unloads on Facebook “exploiting” human psychology

Former Facebook exec says social media is ripping apart society

In the latest headlines, the neurotransmitter dopamine is invoked — that sweet pump we get from a rewarding experience. Apparently, Facebook / social media has been exploiting the dopamine feedback loop to keep us hooked in and hungry for more “rewarding” experiences.

But there’s more to this social media neurotransmitter hacking, than just dopamine. Opioids, which our bodies naturally create internally (“endogenous opioids”, if you want the official term) are also in play — though just how much the social media makers know/knew about it and exploit(ed) it, is anybody’s guess.

In a 2007 paper The neural basis of scene preferences, Yue, Vessel and Biederman point out that

that when research subjects were shown pictures of ambiguous situations that required some interpretation (Are those two people angry at each other?), they appeared to produce more pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters than when shown static and uninteresting pictures. The brain seems to thrive on being exposed to information that needs to be interpreted and rewards us mightily with natural opiates.

Source: Why The First Click Is Always Free, Forbes.com

Okay, so what? So we get a rush of naturally occurring opioids, when we click something.

Here’s why I think it matters:

The whole reason synthetic drugs work, is because they fit like “keys” in the biochemical “locks” in our systems. And when we keep using synthetic imitations of our internal naturally occurring chemistry, our bodies and brains get “wired” to stop producing our own versions of them. And the more you use those artificial replacements, the less your own system is inclined to make its own. Ultimately, you train your body to not produce those chemicals anymore. And because they’re important to our function (in small or large amounts), we become physiologically dependent on the artificial versions just to maintain.

If this is the case with synthetic drugs which produce an opiate effect, wouldn’t this also hold true with non-chemical sources of neurotransmitter release — namely, social media (in particular, Facebook)?

Frankly, I’m surprised more reporters haven’t followed up on this. There were a handful of articles written about 10 years ago, about this social-media-opioid connection, and then everything went quiet. Perhaps because there was money to be made in social media, and nobody thought it was that big of a deal?

But check out the two charts below, and then tell me there’s no correlation:

Look at what happened around 2009. It’s an awfully chilling correlation.

But this could be due to anything, right? Well, look at the usage of opioids, compared to cocaine. Coke usage has actually gone down. But opioid use? Way up.

Of course, without going into the depths of this, it’s conjecture. Without additional data, deeper research, and looking at social media usage patterns among opioid users. But if our bodies’ ability to produce our own opioids (and reduce pain while increasing pleasure) is decreasing because we’ve become depending on social media to prompt the endogenous opioid pump, it would help explain just why we’re so much more inclined to use prescription opioids.

If our bodies are impaired in producing biochemicals that are integral to our well-being and everyday pain management, we’ve got to replace them somehow. And pharmacologically speaking, we have plenty of options.

Unfortunately, a lot of people are quite prone to exercising those options.

Here’s some more reading from 10 years back, when people were noticing the social media/opioid connection:

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Of All the Nerve… writing about the “neuro” things we all experience, but few completely understand

Some thoughts on who gets to write about neurology, and why…

Kay Lorraine

Tripartite Synapse Tripartite Synapse

Of all the nerve, I — a non-scientist, a non-neurologist, a non-medical person — am writing a book about the nervous system. To make matters worse (in case you’re not sure, I am being facetious), I’m taking the liberty of philosophizing about it — as a non-academic, an unofficial philosopher.

It’s tricky, to say the least. The field of neurology keeps changing. Our understandings of neurobiology are evolving at a rapid rate, as every month it seems someone discovers something new, or puts 2-and-2 together in ways that add up to more than 4. Or, for that matter, they realize there’s another hidden “2” in the equation that nobody noticed before, and they either add it in, or square the values that they’ve discovered before.

It’s tricky, even for people who are highly trained scientists, on the cusp of cutting-edge research. It’s tough to stay current — even…

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Question: Can Neuroscience Inform Everyday Life? The “Translation Problem” – Neuroskeptic

A new paper asks why neuroscience hasn’t had more “impact on our daily lives.”

The article, Neuroscience and everyday life: facing the translation problem, comes from Dutch researchers Jolien C. Francken and Marc Slors. It’s a thought-provoking piece, but it left me feeling that the authors are expecting too much from neuroscience. I don’t think insights from neuroscience are likely to change our lives any time soon.

Francken and Slors describe a disconnect between neuroscience research and everyday life, which they dub the ‘translation problem’. The root of the problem, they say, is that while neuroscience uses words drawn from everyday experience – ‘lying’, ‘love’, ‘memory’, and so on – neuroscientists rarely use these terms in the usual sense. Instead, neuroscientists will study particular aspects of the phenomena in question, using particular (often highly artificial) experimental tasks.

As a result, say Francken and Slors, the neuroscience of (say) ‘love’ does not directly relate to ‘love’ as the average person would use the word:

Read the full piece here: Can Neuroscience Inform Everyday Life? The “Translation Problem” – Neuroskeptic

I’m personally intrigued by this rising question, because I’ve been studying neuroscience since 2007, when I accidentally/on-purpose came across the autonomic nervous system as an extremely elegant explanation for why so much stuff happens and why people do what they do.

I’ve personally been able to use my continuously evolving understanding of neurobiology and neuroanatomy to approach life in a very different way from most — and consequently, my experiences have differed substantially from what I see others experiencing. I’m probably one of the happiest, most self-directed, independent people I know, and I manage to find solutions to things that stump a lot of folks. And yes, neuroscience plays a significant role, informing my approach and giving me insights I can actually use to sustain my 26-year marriage, stay continuously employed even through brutal economic downturns, have a perfectly fine house in a lovely town, and basically have more satisfaction and purpose in my life than a lot of people dream possible.

I wish, quite frankly, that I could bottle what I’ve found/developed and make it widely available, but time… and energy…  not to mention the fact that people manage to find enough solace in their devices and distractions, that it takes their minds off the troubles they could be otherwise solving (or avoiding in the first place). Ah, well… People make their choices, and there you have it. As for me, I’ve got… science! (Can you hear Thomas Dolby singing? I can.)

But this isn’t about me. It’s about neuroscience. And frankly, I really believe that anybody who’s willing to put in the work and learn and grow, can have the same — if not more. I haven’t even fully pushed the envelope on my own capacity. I have this constant sense that I’m capable of more, and in all honesty, I get a little impatient with myself for not taking things up as many notches as I’m sure I could.

So, that’s what I’m going to do with this blog — bump things up a notch and dive into territory that A) I’m supposedly not professionally qualified to expound upon, and B) the general public blithely ignores, to their own peril… not to mention to the detriment of us all. I’ve been studying the human system since I was in grade school, and I haven’t stopped, even when my work building technology (that you probably use on a regular basis: you’re welcome) ate into my time and attention.

Beloved Distance proof copy cover

Beloved Distance – the proof copy has arrived

I’m writing a book — Beloved Distance: The Separation that Connects us to All. It’s about our neurology. It’s about our world. Most of all, it’s about how we can join the two to make more sense of the lives we inhabit — and the connections we create.

It draws on the time-honored tradition of finding correspondences… analogies… metaphors… to build a framework of understanding where we’re at, how we get here, and most importantly of all, how we can get to where we really want to go — a world where we can feel like we belong, where we can know that we count, and where our differences aren’t liabilities, but assets.

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What’s wrong with this picture?

So, you get yourself a “banana hanger”. One of those inventions that holds your bananas off the counter — maybe so they ripen more evenly?

And it’s fine. It works great. You get a lot of use out of it.

The only problem is… look at the design… see how the piece that will hold the banana is 1) thin, and 2) at an angle and a distance from the support?

The physics of this design — placing the full weight of a bunch of bananas at the end of a thin extension, not to mention the fact that it’s made of plastic, which becomes brittle and loses its structural integrity over time — almost dictate that the end hook will do this.

Maybe not right away. Maybe not as soon as you get the hanger home. Maybe not even for months, or years. But eventually, gravity will prevail. Plastic will fail. And predictably so.

For the record, I was suspicious of this design, as soon as it showed up on the kitchen counter. I’m not happy about being made right. Vindicated, but not pleased.

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