What must be done,
Must Be Done.
I can procrastinate all I like, plumb
the depths of my lazy rationalizations
all I care to, excuse
my inaction with a chock-full
But what must be done,
Must Be Done.
It’s not like I didn’t know
it needed doing.
It’s not like
I could have gotten out of the commit-
signed up for.
Duty calls — but I called first.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 “Hivemade 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.
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?
I am searching for poetics
Like a displaced, untenured professor,
cast adrift by budget cuts
at the local community college, I
amid my books, scanning the want
ads, knowing I can do better,
I must do better (and fearing I’ll never
than my last job, jealous
as I’ve ever been
of these uncertain moments between
and resume faxes,
when I catch a glimpse of heaven
in a cat fight
below my window.
If no one else did,
I saw you.
Trapped in a car turned on its head, the
hood sucked into itself, the front wheels
hanging crazy like palsied fists
of a punchy, cauliflower-eared worn-out boxer,
with two firemen wedged in
the cockpit, trying to separate you from the
steering wheel’s embrace.
I saw you, your eyes wide
with lazy rainy day disbelief, the pain
taking a backseat to shock, one hand reaching out to clutch, to grab,
to feel, to touch life
you saw flash before your eyes
on the slippery X of an on-off ramp.
You weren’t in any hurry, this afternoon,
but the other driver filling out reports
with the police, was.
I prayed for you and cursed him,
and pulled into the passing lane, checking twice
behind me as I signaled.
Days of showers,
weeks of rain.
When it first comes, we’re taken by
surprise. Didn’t anyone tell the sky
this is the worst drought in 50 years?
Days of showers, weeks of rain.
the only consolation of running laundry
to the laundry room in pouring-down rain,
is that now we can do extra loads,
and not worry about running up our water tab.
We can take long, hot showers again,
too, now that rationing
has been lifted.
But habits that mix hygiene with fear
can be the hardest to break.
Natural compliments, they still make us think
twice about flushing the toilet
while its contents are still light.
Days of showers,
weeks of rain,
Back East, they think us crazy when we call,
whooping for joy at this should-be-everyday
Why should it delight us at all?
Days of showers, weeks of rain.
Smoke from wood fires hangs low
in the air, smelling good — a far cry
from the anxious tinge
to wildfire scent. And there are some who live
in the hills who think twice,
I’m sure, about lighting fires in their hearts
after the blazes a few years back…
but now we have days of showers,
and weeks of rain.
Light the match and set it to wood
and bless the warmth the cold wet
and will allow.
Now the rains have come
and there’s’ no threat of wildfire
for another year, at least, provided
May the rains stay.
Coffee cup in hand, I linger over the steam
rising from my reflection-in-brown,
and breathe deep —
Now I can greet a sharp bite
in my nostrils
first thing in the hazy morning
without checking on the waist-high tawny grasses
waving from the hills beyond
my kitchen window.
I once had a friend who drew
faces for dollar bills for a living.
She said it was more challenging
than most people realized
and more rewarding.
And I wondered if I ever saw her work,
or if she only did 500’s and Thousands.
And I wondered if she made commissions or royalties, or if
she was just a work-for-hire skald
who could only create the big bucks,
not own them.
I think of her often
whenever I pay large bills in cash.