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

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.

field notes pt. 1 (5/6/2017)

An exciting morning.

Got up for my usual headache-coffee-nomoreheadache-sit in chair-birdwatch-meditate session this morning. My usual perch (the purple chair in the living room) had been twisted in the opposite direction when company came over yesterday, so I turned it around to face the window. Sat. Headache buzzing, coffee steaming (in the “Our Hearts are Very Old Friends” mug, extra sugar, a little milk. No meat for the crows today, even though I’d like to have some, so instead I was just watching them fly about. Pretty loud this morning too.

Suddenly, across the street- a little brown pup. Puppy? Dog? I was unsure. It was lingering on the sidewalk, conspicuously alone – I looked up & down the street while leaning forward in the purple chair. Didn’t see anything. The little thing crossed the street towards my house, now CLEARLY alone, with no collar to speak of. I immediately hopped up out of my chair, leaving the coffee & my keys in the living room, & went down the stairs. Got to the porch & saw the little critter out on the sidewalk in front of my house.

hello, bb!

It looked at me – cautiously and intently, while backing away towards Fry street.

hello, bb!

It took off. Walking neatly & adorably along the sidewalk – too civil (and too small) to be any type of wild creature. Nope. Definitely domesticated, definitely helpless, definitely hungry and thirsty, and I’m definitely not its poppa. Therefore no surprise that it bolted. The other morning (a few miles away on Jefferson) I saw a poster for a missing dog – even made an effort to memorize the number. On that day I remember walking away & being concerned that I couldn’t remember the number. Not because I was expecting to find a missing dog (I don’t even have a cell phone to call anyone should I run into a missing dog), but because numbers are really fun, & to be forgetful of them is really annoying to me. So as I saw this dog in front of my house, backing away, I remembered the poster – bright yellow, located on Jefferson ave – it had 2 numbers listed. What were they? 651-???-6041? Even though I couldn’t remember them I could remember 2 other details from the poster: that the dog might have its leash or harness on it (purple in color) and that the dog would run away if approached. With the available information, and the small possibility that this was indeed the dog, the best I could do was to not approach it. At least not too clearly/aggressively/etc. After this first moment of observation and cogitation had passed the dog took off from the house pretty quick & I just walked down to the end of the stoop. Watched it run up the street towards Fry, turning left into the lawn of that apartment building on the corner. At that moment it paused to glance back at me – I was still looking at it -& it left. A crow flew overhead as I walked eastward up the street, & as I tried to call out to the dog the crow landed over my head. Even though the dog situation was sorta stressful the crow certainly made me smile. In fact the entire encounter was smile-worthy. For all the intentional and planned and calculated effort I’ve put in buying meat for the crows, & all the exacting regularity with which I’ve fed them, it is of course while I’m out chasing a lost creature that a crow actually comes up to greet me. It sat overhead in the tree & adjusted itself once, so that its head was facing me. I continued calling for the dog up the street, but it was further up Fry. So up Fry I went. Turned right onto Dayton and, upon getting a few houses up the street someone yelled at me from out a window. They were trying to guide me towards the dog – & then the voice asked, “Is that Ian?”

A former classmate from a few philosophy classes was the onlooker! We chatted a bit thru the window about the pup – they had spotted it the night before over on Selby – but the lil’ fella had disappeared somewhere on Dayton and I decided to walk home. Walked home. Decided to go back out. Went back out.

Found the guy back on Dayton & Fry after poking around for a while. Brought him back up to classmate’s house & left him there. I’ll add a little more about the guy & his movements, etc – but I have 6 minutes until I need to leave for work. And to think- as soon as I sat down with my coffee in the living room I had already assumed it would be a boring morning. Guess not!

FIELD NOTES (04/27/2017)

I dreamt of crows.

One in particular. In the dream I was feeding them from my roof-spot. In the dream there was some type of passage/blockage that had to be cleared, not unlike a windowsill, in order for me to feed them. So I was opening that and leaving food & also leaving coins. The coins were nickels, I think…Im aware that shiny objects are intriguing to corvids so I mustve incorporated that into the dream. There was one crow lingering just before I woke up – it was looking at me from up close as I cooed “hello bb! Hello bb! Hello bb!” The dream-crow looked @ me & left moments later.

I woke up. 6:22 am. Opened windowsill, to toss out some seed – at that very moment a big fat one was just landing on the roof next to me to investigate. A BIG one. The seed scattered on the roof as it relocated across the street, black wings beating like wind-whipped drums….rippling…crow relocated across street. Watched me. Continued to pour seed out. I closed the window & the crow left a few moments later.

So you should view this fleeting world: a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream, a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, a flickering lamp, a phantom and a dream. Went to get some strawberries from the freezer. A hint of snowfall – like a thin film of sleet, opaque yet perceptible (at least against the background of the street)…though after just moments of writing here it has shifted…a bit thicker. Again I look up & it has certainly begun to snow in late April. Wow. So gorgeous – hope the crow I scared off gets some roof-seed before it’s hidden.

FIELD NOTES pt. 2 (04/26/2017)

Re: the little birds that come for the small seed: I googled birds of the midwest. Lincoln’s sparrow? Maybe. The picture of it on this front results page gives

 

crow again. Long eye contact. It slowly approached – getting a few good looks at me. I think each time that the eye contact will send them flying away instantly, but not so. Eye contact continues for a few moments as their black muscled missile bodies ziggle zaggle tic and tac towards the window. 10:45am is when it came. Back to Google. So maybe it’s a Lincoln’s sparrow.