thoreau on this day (12/31)

12/31/1851:

There is a low mist in the woods. It is a good day to study lichens. The view so confined it compels your attention to near objects, and the white background reveals the disks of the lichens distinctly. They appear more loose, flowing, expanded, flattened out, the colors brighter for the damp. The round greenish-yellow lichens on the white pines loom through the mist (or are seen dimly) like shields whose devices you would fain read. The trees appear all at once covered with their crop of lichens and mosses of all kinds, -flat and tearful are some, distended by moisture. This is their solstice, and your eyes run swiftly through the mist to these things only. Nature has a day for each of her creatures, her creations. To-day it is an exhibition of lichens at Forest Hall, the livid green of some, the fruit of others. They eclipse the trees they cover. Ah, beautiful is decay! True, as Thales said, the world was made out of water. That is the principle of all things.

Advertisements

Data point: Corvids

Sunday, December 24th, 3:34pm

According to Google there are exactly 60 minutes before sundown. While idly exploring YouTube I couldn’t help but look up into the golden-blue skies and notice a few dozen (or even a hundred) flying monkeys up there. Of course by that I mean corvids. Couldn’t even keep count. They were flying northwest (or perhaps north by northwest) on some sort of invisible aerial highway:

Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 3.38.16 PM.png

Couldn’t tell you where they were coming from but……Seemed to be passing over towards the zone over Marshall Ave (by the railroad tracks, between Snelling and Cleveland). I’ve seen them hanging out in the tallest of treetops over in that area before. Here’s a broader view of their observed flight pattern today:

Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 3.43.17 PM.png

These birds seemed to be flying in a coordinated fashion. In the few moments where I’ve seen so many crows there was sometimes a commotion due to risk: Couldn’t see any birds of prey, but one lingering bird in the back of the formation was absolutely huge and barely flapping its wings. Seemed to be gliding more than flying but was still as black as night and unlikely to be an eagle or a hawk. Whatever.

As I was typing this I heard a few crows right in front of the house. Gotta go grab some snacks for them. Until next time!

 

F&c% you, NAC

And no, I don’t mean N-Acetyl Cysteine. I’m talking about the nucleus accumbens. This devilish bit of brain tissue is one that seeks for its larger meat-sack the experience of reward and short-term pleasure. To be honest the NAC isn’t the only zone related to that tendency: the frontal striatum and a few other areas are instrumental as well. To finally reach the end of the fall semester a bit bruised and battered reveals to me that my own proclivity for pressuring pleasure to pop up in the present is pretty problematic.

So the quest now is to develop skills and habits that enable the delay of gratification. In order to conduct this oversized ganglion through larger and longer movements I’ll be getting in touch with some professionals in the area who focus on this issue specifically. How exciting! Will post updates as that moves along. Here’s some soul food for any of you mind-wanderers wondering what to read about to get a sense of the issue.

Delay of gratification in childhood linked to cortical interactions with the nucleus accumbens

Frontostriatal White Matter Integrity Predicts Development of Delay of Gratification: A Longitudinal Study.

Reduced delay of gratification and effortful control among young children with autism spectrum disorders

 

TOO MUCH NOISE

the rapidity with which the brain adjusts to circumstances is amazing. neuroplasticity is not the only far-out skill that nervous systems have, however: there are two extreme characteristics that somehow cozy up and find room together within our skull. these ubiquitous attributes are those tendencies of all brains that are at once coworkers and also contradictory:

brains are formless

the first extreme is the brain’s plasticity. this highly pliable, ultra-erasable, moment-to-moment functional wobbling of the teflon nature takes place at the cellular level. consider your conscious experience right now – it is changing, and changing rapidly. it would not conceivably follow from this observation that some stillness or lack-of-motion is present within your brain. far from it – movement in our experience must mean there is movement inside of your body. even the observation that our moment-to-moment experience changes immediately suggests an unseen organ operating that is as bodily as all the rest, and that must be undergoing minute and constant change. the colorful flickering of our momentary Right-Now-experience is simple proof that life is a film of many frames, and it by observing the bodies of others we can appreciate that underlying this is cellular mutability and impermanence.

brains are formed

the other tenant occupying the shadow of all experience, and the structure of your body, is regularity. your brain is shaped like [almost] all other brains. it cannot be understated how exactly similar your brain is in the overall sense to most peoples’ brains. there are no doubt anomalies – folks who have been injured, or born with developmental diseases, or other modifications. but we are mostly alike in our form. consider car engines. i’m no engine expert but do know that, like people, many types of engines are out there. so a brain is like an engine: unique, overall demonstrating commonalities so major they are almost forgettable. engines are regular in this way: an engine needs gas. it needs the oil changed every 3,000 miles. it needs a car with 4 wheels to roll well in order to bring itself to the dealership to get itself looked at, and if the driver is drunk shit might go poorly for the engine. engines will fall apart if they get too hot and they will absolutely turn to rotten caramel if you stick sugar inside of them. a brain has similar expectations and mandates that, no matter how unique the brain, must be met. things like heart rate, breathing, maintaining some muscle tone in your eyelids in order to observe the bear flying towards you – these are the basics expected of a working nervous system. it helps to have working hormones, air in your lungs, and maybe even a few simple movements in your limbs….and if you can’t choreograph an orchestra’s worth of complexity within your gut you won’t be digesting the bear meat from your hunt a moment ago. these are the deeply regular aspects of being a brain, and they somehow coincide with the plasticity aforementioned.

so brains are both extremely malleable and extremely regular. it distresses me on a daily basis that both of these opposite qualities occupy the same mess of tissue. the malleability [of our conscious mind] then takes place within a context and the structure of the brain shapes that regular context, our place in it, and somewhere down the line, on an irrelevant shelf: these both shape our conscious mind and day-to-day lives, relationships, and feelings.

there’s a little story from a children’s book that was special to me as a kid. it’s about a frustrated old man who lives by himself in a cabin and was written by author Ann McGovern. for anyone who has really fussed over concepts in sensation, perception, and neuroplasticity this story should be a silly one. most of us can relate to being frustrated by noise at one moment or another – it is a regular experience. but with a little help and a few sensory tricks we can get past it. Enjoy this brief little tale on frustration, patience, and change – in the meantime feel free to wonder what was happening in old Peter’s skull during this frustrating little story.

Too Much Noise!


 

Here are a few concepts (sorry for the watered-down sources) to play with when it comes to our rapid adjustment to novel or stressful experiences.

Habituation

Orienting response

Signal Detection & noise (R. H. Wiley)

Broadbent’s model of attention

Attenuation theory (Treisman)

Affective style, psychopathology, and resilience: Brain mechanisms and plasticity

Social influences on neuroplasticity

Shoutout to the wise man!

Exposure therapy