Category: Philosophy of Mind

Speak to us of Houses

Then a mason came forth and said, Speak to us of Houses. And the Prophet answered and said:

Build of your imaginings a bower in the wilderness ere you build a house within the city walls. For even as you have home-comings in your twilight, so has the wanderer in you, the ever distant and alone.

Your house is your larger body.

It grows in the sun and sleeps in the stillness of the night; and it is not dreamless. Does not your house dream? and dreaming, leave the city for grove or hill-top? Would that I could gather your houses into my hand, and like a sower scatter them in forest and meadow. Would the valleys were your streets, and the green paths your alleys, that you might seek one another through vineyards, and come with the fragrance of the earth in your garments.

But these things are not yet to be.

In their fear your forefathers gathered you too near together. And that fear shall endure a little longer. A little longer shall your city walls separate your hearths from your fields. And tell me, people of Orphalese, what have you in these houses? And what is it you guard with fastened doors? Have you peace, the quiet urge that reveals your power? Have you remembrances, the glimmering arches that span the summits of the mind? Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain? Tell me, have you these in your houses? Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house as a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master?

Ay, and it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires. Though its hands are silken, its heart is of iron. It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeer at the dignity of the flesh. It makes mock of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels. Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.

But you, children of space, you restless in rest, you shall not be trapped nor tamed. Your house shall not be an anchor but a mast. It shall not be a glistening film that covers a wound, but an eyelid that guards the eye. You shall not fold your wings that you may pass through doors, nor bend your heads that they strike not against a ceiling, nor fear to breathe lest walls should crack and fall down. You shall not dwell in tombs made by the dead for the living. And though of magnificence and splendour, your house shall not hold your secret nor shelter your longing. For that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion of the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and the silences of night.

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Amygdala regulation

Ain’t easy. Especially on low sleep. I recently stumbled upon some literature describing the relationship between the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. Specifically it went over the connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdalae. Will have to come back here & post the link(s) but wanted to jot this down here, as it’s timely & highly relevant to mood disorders.

Sleep is a fickle thing & it seems that quality and duration of sleep is related to one’s ability to keep their amygdala functioning well. The absence of good quality sleep of proper duration can lead one to experience impulsiveness, out-of-control distractibility and responsiveness to irrelevant stimuli, and immense irritability. Take it from me: the vast gulf between being contented & calm or being a murderous monster can be crossed, in part, by hitting the hay.

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

 

Funky Feynman

 

In this video, Richard Feynman shares some thoughts that he apparently had while sitting near a swimming pool. What begins as a plain instance of body shaming quickly turns into a rant about the psychedelic and somewhat unbelievable nature of light.

Looking and acting like he had LSD for breakfast, Feynman leaves us younger viewers wishing that modern science had a single figurehead as entertaining or engaging.

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!

pictures, shapes and patterns <3

 

“Synesthesia” was a word that had never entered my vocabulary (or perhaps even my eyes or ears) before age 16. But the first time that the concept encroached on my consciousness it felt immediately familiar, to the point of utter, unquestioned normalcy. My sister was sitting next to me on the couch explaining that her friend at school had a bizarre tendency – an automatic habit of associating letters or numbers with colors, and quickly rattling off the sequence of colors associated with names or other words. I was struck (But Casey, you’re just blue-blue-red-green-yellow!) and a quick Wikipedia search showed both of us that I definitely had synesthesia.

2 or 3 years later during my freshman year in college I stumbled upon this documentary. If you’ve never seen it you really should- Daniel Tammet is a remarkable human being and a living window into the world of the brain. And he seems really nice too! I’d actually seen this film once in my early high school years and nearly forgotten about it. I watched this scene with Tammet’s magical description of his synesthesia on the very same day that I declared my neuroscience studies major at Macalester. It’s been 7 years and watching this still sends shivers up and down and back up my spine.

(and 7 years later, the example photo on the Wikipedia page – to roughly demonstrate the experience to non-synesthetes – is still the same! check it out below)

580px-Synesthesia.svg.png