proud papa


of two pesky pumas


A Train Without Rails

One way to really waste your time is reading on and on about mindfulness. And there is surely no end of long long long books books books offering a thousand lifetimes’ worth of answers about mindfulness. Complex, marketable, secular answers. Let’s set those answers and those long books on the shelf for now. When I was 18 years old, a scientist in Madison posed a question in the first half of a brief article. That question was Are questionnaire-based self-reports of mindfulness valid?

Now I’m 25 years old. Unresolved is ‘the questionnaire question’, but absolutely certain to me this morning was my own mindlessness. Here’s a small sample of the day’s distractions, brought to you from first-semester chemistry (via self report…validity to be determined):


11:15am Distracted by goal-flavored thoughts about writing a memoir of high quality, visualizing the steps associated with such a venture
11:15:30am Writing-thoughts bubbling up to account for the possibility or inevitability of memoir-thoughts
11:19am Anger-thoughts about institutional life, hot heated word-thoughts offering critiques of abusive power structures and their creations, which stemmed from thoughts about writing
11:24am What’s the best way to steal a lot of stuff from Whole Foods?
11:26am Anger-Argue thoughts about my old job, and the gross inability of my former boss to do her job (or live her live generally)


My intent for that 15-minute period was to simply write those thoughts that were most distracting for me. So when I noticed that my attention was unstable even for a moment, or that my mind’s eye had been occluded by some material other than coursework, I wrote down that material non-judgmentally and as it presented itself. It can be hugely valuable to understand and observe our consciousness without responding to or agreeing/disagreeing with it.

Do you have a wobbly attention span? Are you seeking more FOCUS? Go back to the shelf, pick up those conversations about secular mindfulness, and have some Mental Training™ today!

they stole my idea

once as a freshman in college I found myself scribbling about the ways that consciousness might arise randomly under certain circumstances. our brain surely evolved under completely random circumstances – so we are at least one random arrangement of atoms that has a sense of self. so maybe other arrangements of atoms pop into existence every now and then that also have a sense of self – and maybe those arrangements are not necessarily brains, or even living.

it’s easy to think that brains are necessary for consciousness. but maybe not. sure, we’ve got a brain with tons of chunks and parts – but if none of those parts are in and of themselves conscious, and if we are relatively complex life-forms that evolved randomly….then perhaps less-complex (non-living) forms that evolved under the same random processes might briefly or spontaneously become conscious.

for example – should consciousness be introduced when a physical system has _________ characteristics, and should those characteristics be emergent in more systems than simply brains, then it’s possible that little selves are emerging and disappearing all over us very quickly all the time.

then i stumbled upon the Boltzmann Brain concept online and realized my idea was not innovative whatsoever. but it’s cool to think that someone reached the same odd conclusion/paradox so long ago.

what are the essential properties of consciousness?


Phenomenology, thought experiments and contemplation have in some instances provided valuable insights to physicalist forms of knowledge, i.e. physics or neuroscience. Not unlike Einstein’s successful attempt to access concepts in relativity through thought experiments, Giulio Tononi wants to create step-by-step definitions and images that allow theorization about the subject at hand: in this case, consciousness, subjectivity, selfhood, the feeling of what it’s like to be something.

Plot twist: he completely dodges a great question about unification of conscious experiences in the case of stroke patients. I’m not sure why he neglected to answer or even address that question directly.




field notes (06/19/2017) [*50th entry*]

Had the crow experience of a lifetime this morning. Will try to recount it in the fullest detail possible.

Last night I didn’t sleep well. For a week or two I’ve been without much coffee but during the day yesterday had a few cups – normally these many cells process that caffeine quickly but it seems likely that was why I tossed and turned. At 4:41 a.m. I gingerly crawled out of bed to meditate – felt pretty distracted, with lots of intrusive thoughts – and then at 5:00 kept hearing crows. Sounding close but not necessarily outside of the house – at least 2 or 3 of them.

After a while they broke my attempt at a meditative trance and I had to go see them. Grabbed my bag of snacks (corn) and went out onto Selby. Thought I was hearing them a block west and ventured out – expecting to see them in the tall roost-spot past Pierce on the north side of the street. No luck. Turned left down Pierce and quickly realized there were about 3 or 4 crows a block in past Augustine’s. Walked up the street- their cacophony was remarkable and chattery almost to the point of annoyance. The thick, lush green trees – and dark-ish sky, perhaps on a 2.9/10 brightness setting – made it hard to see the little avian monkeys. Their caws were in bursts of three or four and extremely consistent. As I approached I made a few ‘kawwwhhh, kawwhhh’ noises and shook my keys. Then I walked directly beneath the trees, over a manhole cover next to a basketball hoop (east side of the street). I grabbed handfuls of corn and poured them onto the manhole cover. They clicked and clacked and rained their clattery sound onto the ground and to my surprise the crows were rather responsive. It seemed clear as I did this handful after handful – at least 5 or 6 of them – that the birds were watching, and one rearranged itself (seemingly to get a better view).

I continued to alert them with noise and the 4-or-so crows quickly became 10. The most I could count (as they were moving) was 10, but I believe a few were in my periphery. Continued south to the middle-end of the block and laid down a few noticeable ‘lines’ of corn – perhaps 12-18 inches long, 3 or 4 inches thick, and just about 1 layer of corn tall or heightwise. Yellow enough to be bright and visible but not voluminous enough to deplete my entire supply. I laid out one or two of these on the ground and another on a blue recycling can – the crows were extremely loud at this point, and many more were flying in (primarily from the west end of Pierce, above the trees).

Wow – it was exciting. Always I am hoping that they are comfortable or at least unalarmed by my presence, which is to some obvious extent intrusive and loud, and if they are not unalarmed or comfortable my second hope is that they will comfortably leave. Or fly away. What sucks is the possibility that crows needing rest, or really just trying to roost in one spot, or that are otherwise unwilling to take off and fly away from me, are irritated by my presence. So this morning as they screamed and gathered I kept wondering if I was bothering them – scaring them – enraging them – etc. But as they were summoning one another (within a matter of 5 minutes there were 2 dozen large birds) and screaming together over my head, which has certainly never happened in the absence of food before, I must think there was some positive reward response associated with their screams. (Later tomorrow I’ll get back over there to see if they snacked on any of it – do crows even eat corn? Don’t ask me!)

Waving my keys on my carabiner (this is a sort of Pavlovian stimulus that I introduce when I feed the crows anywhere) I walked south into the intersection of Pierce and Hague. Wave wave wave keys, drop drop drop some food, caw caw caw, sing sing sing. A common and monotonous attempt at engagement – and, for my neighbors, probably a sickening morning regularity. There were so many crows (or corvids? Ravens? Hm.) above me that I didn’t know what to do or think. Just black mass after black mass, dipping and swooping like planes, but never getting close or suggesting outward aggression. Unless I am completely ignorant to their own aggressive strategies. Together they could have shredded my scalp (or worse) and instead they simply screamed like an avian chorus and made me super duper happy. I kept laying out seeds and lovingly cooing “hello, babies!!!”

Walked back northward after a while. Those few moments with a zillion birds around me felt like a zillion years. Really admired the big fat one that was atop the roof on the NE intersection of Pierce & Hague. It was short, squat, and had the same inward neck-thrust (head upwards, body fat) as a few ravens on youtube – at least, that was what my memory suggested. For some reason this one bird (on a roof instead of trees or in the air) caught my attention as I was walking through the crowstorm back towards Selby. I walked past Selby and onto Dayton a bit, seeing yet another fatty (maybe the same one from the roof) doing the inward-neck-thrust-guttural-call from atop a tree. NE end of Dayton & Pierce. Hm.

Went home. Scattered corn around the house as I arrived – also put a few round masses of the yellow stuff onto the roof. Then crawled back into bed with a cute girl as the crows kept hollering outside.

baby consciousness…we meet again

Photo on 5-12-17 at 9.09 PM #4.jpg

this kid is too darned adorable. I’m currently with him at his momma & poppa’s – they’re out on a date. and lucky them, because both of them are pretty swell folks. as is their little boy here – his facial expressions are so remarkably nuanced. sitting with him & constantly smiling at him, trying to make him smile back – i am instantly reminded that He Sees Through Me, and wont be irrationally tickled into a happy state. immense and subtle is his learning – amazing to watch him move, grasp, re-grasp, squeak, re-grasp, drop……like a drop of ink falling into the water. the ink (baby) & its environment (water) are not separate, but are distinct…..& adjust, mingle, altering one another reciprocally. even most contemporary language in the world of developmental psychology and developmental neuroscience is suggestive of this idea that babies are ‘learning the skills needed to be an adult,’ as if the passivity of embodiment suddenly vanishes at old age. in my experience both the adult (or the advanced adult/senior/cute old prune) and the child follow this same ink-water relationship. perhaps the adult-ink has settled more equally into the water, and is more familiar with the turnings of the water, and vice versa. but both follow the same rules, & neither is entitled to magic intentionality.

as a helpful reminder (or perhaps the very prompt) for these lines of thinking are some of the books that mom & dad have sitting around here. The Soul of an Octopus is the clear Ian-choice:

“Popular naturalist Sy Montgomery explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus, the remarkable connections it makes with people, and the vibrant community that arises around this complex, intelligent, and spirited creature. Practicing true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, Montgomery befriends individual octopuses with strikingly different personalities – gentle Athena, assertive Octavia, curious Kali, and joyful Karma – who show their cleverness in myriad ways: escaping enclosures, creative trickery to get food, and jetting water to bounce balls. Montgomery also chronicles scientists’ growing appreciation of the octopus’s problem-solving as she tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about the meeting of two very different minds.”

but resting just nearby is another consciousness-themed text. Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy. I would type the description of that one but it’s too long, and this baby over here is murmuring/moving in his sleep.

Be back soon