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

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 (especially?) if you’re actively involved in research, yourself.

But I’m doing it, anyway. Because, when we look closely at the world around us, and we have even the most basic access to what we Do Know About Our Nervous Systems, it’s possible to use that knowledge as a springboard to better understand the world around us. In fact, it’s almost irresistably compelling.

Very few of us understand what exactly is going on inside the sun that produces all that light and heat and those amazing sunsets. But we do know how to reference that light and heat and color in our lives to add meaning and “texture” to our experience. We don’t understand the exact chemical compositions of water and air, but we constantly use them as metaphors, often without realizing it.

I think we can/should do the same with our nervous systems. Over the past 20 years, we’ve gained the ability to look more closely and understand more completely, just how it all works — as far as we can currently tell. That knowledge is continually shifting and changing, of course, and it could be that some (much?) of what I’m writing about will change in the next 20 years. But that shouldn’t stop me — or you — from considering how it all fits together, and how our understanding of it can enrich our lives.

Once upon a time, very distinguished scientists believed that the nervous system was a continuous network of uninterrupted connections — like the vascular system with its networks of veins and arteries. It seemed like just common sense, that the nervous system would also be uninterrupted, just like our veins, allowing the signals passing along our “wires” to get where they’re going in one piece.

People believed this so strongly, that Camillo Golgi, the scientist who figured out how to stain nerves so you could see them as individual pieces, rather than just another dark clump of organic stuff, devoted his entire 1906 Nobel Prize speech to explaining how it was impossible that the nervous system was made up of separate neurons.

His co-winner, Santiago Ramón y Cajal, was a proponent of the “neuron doctrine”, which held that nerves were separate cells that were connected by something, though people hadn’t figured that out, just yet. Turns out Ramon y Cajal was right — but it took decades before we had equipment that could give us a decent view of that.

Did this stop them, though? Did their obviously imperfect, partial knowledge of How Things Work stop them from moving forward in their work? Oh, no. And even when they stood the chance of being proven wrong, they just moved ahead, anyway. Even staked their reputations on it.

Looking back at the past hundreds of years of scientific discovery, as well as changes in how we view ourselves as individual humans in community with each other, I’m struck by just how dynamic our knowledge of science and self is. We are continuously changing how we think about life, how we relate to it, how we regard ourselves, and how we relate to each other. Nothing stays the same for long, but we seem to get in the habit of thinking that How Things Are Now is How Things Have Always Been. It’s not true, of course, but we tend to believe it. Especially now, when we’ve got our online echo chambers to reinforce our biases and support even our least defensible opinions.

But things change. Times change. Knowledge aggregates and opinions proliferate… and at regular (and irregular) intervals, there’s some knew “wrench” being tossed in the workings of our minds.  And so we adapt. Science adapts. Society adapts. We shift and change along with our surroundings, no matter how firmly we may believe that we’re anchored in universal truths. Maybe Truth doesn’t change, but our understanding of it does.

And so it’s important — for all of us — to step out and take some chances in considering the facts of the world around (and inside) us… building an understanding of those facts that works for us and makes our lives more meaningful. Even if the science might shift in a matter of years, even if we don’t have all the answers or all the insight that more accelerated experts do, I think we have every right to avail ourselves of What We Know At This Point In Time, and use that to better appreciate and understand our world.

Even if we aren’t PhD-grade neuroscientists.

Especially if we aren’t PhD-grade neuroscientists.

It’s our world, they’re our bodies. The science has been funded by our tax dollars. And I say we have the right to understand what’s going on in there, so that we can do better at what we do out here.

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Book formatting fun

Beloved Distance Formatting Choices

Beloved Distance Formatting Choices

I took a break from reviewing and editing this morning to figure out some formatting issues. The font I had chosen originally for its nice look turned out to be too fine and faint in print. The printing didn’t translate well, and the headings actually got changed to smaller fonts than in my original, so that’s no good.

My brain has been full of neurology and neurobiology and neuropsychology for quite a while, now. And it’s nice to take a break and focus on something as straightforward and objective as making sure that all the 10.5pt Caslon540BT fonts got changed to 12pt Constantia.

I’m sure it doesn’t sound thrilling to everyone out there, but to me, it is.

There’s something very fulfilling about coming up with the right font. Setting the right margins. Finding a visually pleasing balance between a chapter heading, a leading quote, and the text. Tracking down all the improperly indented first paragraphs… resetting styles… making the often difficult choice between italics or bold or a combination of both.

Each font handles things differently. And how things look in print is often different from how they look on the laptop screen. So, it’s always important to get a proof copy up front, to make sure your vision carries through to the finished product.

Print-on-demand can be tricky stuff. They can replace your custom fonts with their own. They can trim your pages so they have a different margin than you want. All in all, the technology and techniques have come a long, long way, since I started in it, back around 2000 (or thereabouts). And the improvements have been great. So that’s a relief.

Of course, when you’re putting your own work out there, it adds to the work at the end. Probably the most problematic thing is how distracting it can be, when you start thinking about formatting before you’re done writing. Then again, as you’re writing and choosing your images, you have to keep in mind how the whole book is going to flow, not to mention how it will affect the overall presentation and ultimately cost. My 150 pages in the smaller font has expanded to nearly 200 pages with the larger font. I’ve shrunk the spacing of the text so it’s more compact (but still readable), and I’ve adjusted the page margins a bit. Another 50 pages to print will add another $1 to the production cost, so I have to consider that, as well.

Choices, choices. Tradeoffs galore.

Okay, I’m done thinking about formatting stuff. I need to run to Lowes to buy some home repair supplies. And later, I’ll get back to my reviewing.

It’s good to take a break. And it’s even better to know when to get back to work.

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So, this book is coming along…

Beloved Distance proof copy cover

Beloved Distance – the proof copy has arrived – no cover design yet.  That’s the last thing to be created.

I’ve been working on my latest book, Beloved Distance : The Separation that Connects Us to All, for the past year or so. Actually, I started it almost two years ago. Time flies. Especially when you get busy.

And yes, I have been busy.

Anyway, I “finished” the book a few weeks back — is a book ever finished? Hard to say. Some authors talk about “abandoning” their books, rather than finishing them. I know, for me, there’s always the temptation to add more… and more… and more. Because I think of a lot more salient details to add.

But that’s really what this blog is for.

Anyway, since I’m publishing the book myself, I needed to get a look at the print quality before I finalized everything. I needed to get a look at how the fonts came out, how the page dimensions look… Get the page numbering together. Table of contents. Sequences from chapter to chapter. Make sure there aren’t numbers on the divider pages. Check the line heights and margins.

Figure out the endnotes.

And of course give more thought to the cover design.

Not to mention, give it one last read — as an actual book — before calling it “done”.

All those last-minute details that make the project feel like it’s dragging on. But they’re very important details, so it’s important to pay attention at the very end. Especially at the end. Because that’s really the beginning of the book.

Fortunately, there’s a long weekend coming up, so I should have a chance to rest up some more and then give it a read. It’s not a terribly long book — about 150 pages, with extra spacing between the lines (which I’ll tighten up in the final version). And I’ve had a few weeks to clear my head, so I can come back to it fresh.

Fresh is good. Especially when an intense project like this is wrapping up… before launching into the world.

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Sharing: The nervous system: more than 90,000 miles of sensations! – Visual Dictionary

Drawing of the Central and Peripheral Nervous System - showing brain and nerves throughout the human body

The Central and Peripheral Nervous System – just the high-level view

The nervous system: more than 90,000 miles of sensations!

The structure of the nervous system

The nervous system allows our bodies to perceive sensations, to think and to perform all of our movements, both voluntary and involuntary. It is composed of the brain, the spinal cord and the nerves. Anatomically speaking, the nervous system is comprised of the central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord, which are the interpretation and command centers), and the peripheral nervous system, which is composed of the nerves (the transmission network).

Follow this link for more: The nervous system: more than 90,000 miles of sensations! – Visual Dictionary

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Wasting time at the speed of trust. Jayden K. Smith and our instincts to protect the ones we care about.

I've made a huge mistake

I’ve made a huge mistake

It never should have happened. I got the following message on Facebook from a friend, and promptly forwarded it on to a handful of others friends.

Please tell all the contacts in your messenger list not to accept Jayden K. Smith friendship request. He is a hacker and has the system connected to your Facebook account. If one of your contacts accepts it, you will also be hacked, so make sure that all your friends know it. Thanks. Forwarded as received.
Hold your finger down on the message. At the bottom in the middle it will say forward. Hit that then click on the names of those in your list and it will send to them

It never should have happened, because the message was rife with those little red flags that are the hallmark of many a phishing attempt:

  • Spelling and punctuation errors – there are missing commas and quotation marks that someone who knows how to communicate would use.
  • That telltale “has the system connected to your Facebook account” – suitably vague and likely to spook folks who were resisting getting email in 1998, or who believe every “From” email address that looks official.
  • Instructions to spread the warning far and wide. Complete with basic step-by-step instructions for how to do that. If a thinking person who knew me were really trying to communicate with me, they’d not bother with that last paragraph.

I’ve been around long enough to know a hoax when I see one. So, why did I actually follow the instructions included and forward the notice to a bunch of friends?

Because I trusted the source. And I assumed that the source was in fact the person who messaged me — instead of the source being a joker who figured out how to game networks of trust and plant a seed of foolishness that was watered by the knee-jerk reactivity of people who genuinely wanted to protect their friends from an imminent threat… and then blossomed throughout the Facebook-sphere, bringing along with it a host of entertaining memes about said Jayden K. Smith that provided a bit of levity about the whole stupid thing.

Stupid is right. Like the animation above,  “I’ve made a huge mistake” kept running through my mind for days.

Then again, it should probably say “Hive made a huge mistake” – because a lot of us did it.  Hive mind. Coupled with the instinct to protect the people we care about.

And the ones we care about most, were/are the ones who get the brunt of this stupidity. Unfortunately, everybody wastes a whole lot of time having to research what the heck is really going on, as well as following up with all the people they may have steered wrong – to correct the record, to apologize, to include links to hoax-debunking sites. It’s all a huge waste of time, which could have been avoided if people at the start had verified first, before forwarding.

But of course, that didn’t happen. Because we’re wired to respond instantaneously to a threat — even before thinking about it. Our sympathetic nervous system (“SNS”) — fight-flight-freeze-f**k — is specifically “wired” to not pause to think about the ramifications before it kicks into action. That’s one of the reasons we’re still alive as a species — because our ancestors didn’t stop to ponder the ramifications of fleeing fire, flood, and charging rhinos before their legs started running. With extreme SNS situations, to pause and reflect can mean you pause and you die.

And what better place to hijack that knee-jerk SNS response, than social media, where everybody’s a bit “trigger-happy” anyway, and our fight-flight systems are fairly constantly engaged?

It’s all pretty stupid, if you think about it. But then, our SNS isn’t designed to be smart. It’s designed to avoid higher reasoning… to shunt energy and attention away from gray areas, nuances, and higher-mind considerations, towards instantaneous reaction. When it’s working properly, “stupid” keeps us alive.

For the record, I don’t just use the word “stupid” lightly. As much as I don’t care for the movie “Forest Gump”, I do agree that “stupid is as stupid does”. And there are specific things we do, and ways we do them, that qualify as stupid.

  •  Not paying attention.
  • Not verifying something – not collecting enough info about what’s going on.
  • Not questioning assumptions.
  • Acting on an obvious lack of information.

Massive amounts of energy and money have gone into studying what makes us smart and what makes us stupid, but in the end, smart people still do stupid things.

Hive made a huge mistake.

But so it goes.

Jayden K. Smith has now officially take up enough of my time. Let’s move on. It’s time for me to leave my self-imposed hoax-spreader pillory and get on with writing my latest book… a book about how we connect, how we disconnect, and how we can use what we now know about our nervous system, to build better “meta-level” connections in this fragmented, conflict-ridden world of ours.

More to come…

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All this drama

dumpster fire with fireman

It’s about the most apt metaphor I can think of

So, the 21st century dumpster fire continues. All I have to do is go over to Google News to find out what else we’re doing to ourselves, these days.

And I say “what we’re doing to ourselves” – not “what they’re doing to us”. Last I checked, we’re all here on the planet together.

Last I checked, we were all interconnected in ways that we’re still just beginning to appreciate.

Of course, lots of people have known for a long, long time that we truly are all interconnected. And lots of people have had ideas about how we can more peacefully co-exist, if not combine and collaborate to actually make some cool stuff happen.

But not everybody.

And this is what I wonder about, these days… what makes us do the things we do, what makes us choose the things we choose, what makes us think that we’re doing the right thing, when the results so often turn out completely differently from anticipated (or deliberately planned).

I wonder about a lot of things, and some interesting ideas have occurred to me. They fit together. They work. They actually make sense, in the midst of this nonsensical world we appear to inhabit.

And that’s what I want to think — and write — about. Not the rest of it.

I’m interested in causes, in underlying principles, in the foundations of our drama. Drama in and of itself, not so much. But the mechanics of it… the neurology of it… the biochemistry and philosophical underpinnings of this time… now that interests me.

So, let’s think and talk about that a bit, shall we?

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Why would anyone publish in print? Here are 4 good reasons.

I’ve been a believer in books my entire life. Even when the Web came along and threatened to make them obsolete, I had a sneaking suspicion that would never happen. We love our books. And authors and infopreneurs should definitely consider print publishing — not just eBooks or digital editions. Print has a lot of upsides – even more than what’s listed here.

From E to Ink

old books on a shelf Why would anyone publish in print, when digital is so much easier?

Why would anyone want to create a printed book, when they can create eBooks a lot more easily – and cheaply?

Why would anyone want to get wrapped up in the process of designing and producing physical books that take time to deliver to customers, when they can deliver a digital information product immediately, with no additional production or shipping costs?

What’s the point of having a tree-killing artifact of yesteryear in your creative portfolio? Aren’t printed books so… 1990?

1. Comfort. Familiarity. Ease of use.

A lot of people still prefer printed books to eBooks. They like – no, they love – the feel of a physical book in their hands. It gives them a sense of well-being and solidity, to have something tangible they can carry with them and put on their bookshelf. They’re “old school”…

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