Saturday, June 21, 2014



When I sit down to write a blog post -- sometimes at 3AM, having just waked up with an idea, and sometimes at 10PM, having just posted and realized that I didn’t say what I wanted to -- I know that I’m fishing in the subconscious with all the metaphors that might pertain.  Real fishermen, very much including Tim Barrus, will know what I mean.  In fact, he has taught me a lot about lures and snags.  But I promised to let him speak (or film) for himself on his own blogs.

This morning the fish are jumping at Aeon Magazine, which published this online:

Here’s the description:
Out of Our Minds
Comparative cognition is a relatively new scientific field which addresses the mechanics of the brain from a cross-species perspective, asking how memory and intelligence function in different animals. In Out of Our Minds, Kate Webbink goes on a science road trip, travelling from Montana to New York – with stops at major universities in between – to ask scientists about the challenges they face, the limitations of the field, and what exactly they’re trying to achieve. An entertaining and humorous look at comparative cognition and scientific endeavour in general, the film delves into the mysteries of the brain, and the insights and uncertainties of the scientists who study it.

Director Biography: Kate Webbink currently works on digital media at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. She is interested in films about methods and ideas in science, epistemology, agnotology (the study of culturally induced ignorance), and beyond. She asks you to kindly share if you have observations on how to not put one’s foot in one’s mouth, how to not put other people to sleep, how to cope with the inescapability of either, etc.

Here’s an intro film:

An Open letter to Sara Waller, who is only over the horizon from me.
This is Mary Scriver, an old retired woman in Valier, MT, on the edge of the Blackfeet Reservation with a background in an assortment of "sciences" and "arts" and other boojums about to fall prey to old worn-out boundaries.  I'm delighted to know you are there.  Think of me as a momrath outgrabing, but not a bandersnatch.
I'm focusing on the boojum labeled "religion" which is an institution of sclerotic function so the label doesn’t fit what I do.  (I was once a circuit-riding minister in Montana for the Unitarian Universalists, so I'm known to Marv Shaw and Lynda Sexton.)  Sometimes I call it "spirituality" which is a kind of carnival boojum.  At 75 I've shucked all the encumberments and go where I want to, which feeds my blog:    I read a lot of "brain" theory, have read a lot of comparative religion and philosophy, live on the borders among culture assumptions, and so on.

A plasticized man

Here's the way I'm using the concept "brain."   I think it is not an "organ" but a symphony.  It is an instrument of constantly changing multiple relationship with everything else that "exists."  I think about it in four parts:

1.  The sensorium that interfaces with the out-skin world, bringing it to the in-skin world.  If a sense is missing, deranged, or insensitive, then as far as that individual is concerned, reality is also deformed -- but from what form?  No one knows.  We all have limits to what we accept in-skin.  Some of it is and always will be unconscious.  We don't know when a neutrino plows through us.  Some things are only detected with instruments.  

2.  The processing web dashboard which is the real work of the total brain, which includes the whole body -- the autonomic nervous system (including the enteric web) -- muscle tension, the internal microbe community.   It IS a process: the world coming in and the world going on out on its merry way.  This process is dependent on metaphor and mapping.

3.  Decisions to move, to sort ideas, to change consciousness, become clear in rat psychology as "response to stimulus," but are far more subtle and various.

4.  Connection to the human community through empathy and metaphor systems.  A feeling of being too fat is mediated by society -- a decision to go on a diet is mediated by society, which can sabotage individual decisions, deform them into economics, or energize them to action and change.  This is also an interface between out-skin and in-skin and influences our dashboards.

There's no good word for this stuff.  I think I'll call it "boojum" since it's bound to be obsolete when we find out more.  But I'm operating on a few principles:

1.  Everything is connected.
2.  Everything changes all the time.
3.  What you see depends on how you look.
4.  Communicating what you see changes it and affects what you see or can do with it.
Screw publishing.  It's more sclerotic than religion.

I just wanted to tell you this stuff.  I don't travel, so I won't show up on your doorstep.

At present my community includes a family of feral cats: a mother and her three grown kittens plus a tiny kitten the mother had in a second litter and which I spared from an ecological intervention.  She is a delight.  What's in her fuzzy head?  Her -- what is the word for a half-sister from a previous litter ? -- anyway, her striped and runty relative is raising the kitten -- not the mother.  I am not able to catch these cats, but I do keep them pretty much located in my yard.  I put out “Cat Stars” kibble twice a day, plus the leftovers from the canned catfood I feed to my two indoor cats: fat, elderly, picky.  This story evokes much local emotion, for and against, depending on world view.

Now the Cat Stars have been discovered by blackbirds who can empty the dish in an hour or so.  Birds at the cat feeder.  I don't have a bird feeder because the cats eat the birds.  The heavy rains that are interfering with commerce all through the East Slope of the Rockies, made the Cat Stars into soup but provided a bonanza of soggy sparrows in low bushes.  

I would have brought the dish in but I spent the day at the eye doc in Great Falls.  Final verdict was that everything was fine.  The eye photo machine is new and took fancy pictures.  There were five.  I'll only include the most interesting one.

My macula looks much like the landscape on the way to Great Falls.

The new tech is a military wife from Texas who is very proud of her background in making eyeglasses.  “I know this stuff from the ground up,” she says.  (I call her “Sarge,” because though her allegiance is commercial, her methods are military.)  I was disconcerted when she demanded to know how old my glasses were, why I was wearing them, told me that my prescription was too strong, that I should have ordered the anti-glare coating, etc.  These were my $400 no-line graduated-prescription very fashionable glasses that give me a kink in my neck from tilting my head around to get the right prescription aligned.  But they're good for driving.  In truth, what I wear every day are $36 Harry Potter single-focus glasses I bought online from China to wear at the computer.   “Hmmmph,” says Sarge.

Apart from the issue of who should make decisions about one’s life, Sarge had no consciousness that she was preoccupied with glasses but that I was there for eyes, which existed long before there were ever spectacles.  The doc is a gentle, humorous Filipino man who does not make assumptions.  His other two techs are sweet, open-minded, cuddly-looking study-buddies who go around with their shirt tails out.  They're working on advanced certificates.  Thaddeus and I were talking about tech advances.  (There's a new microchip to implant in the eye that monitors glaucoma.)  I suggested that soon we'd just order new eyes on Amazon which would be delivered by drone -- the tech would stop by to make sure they were installed and aligned properly.  He thought that was a good premise for a sci-fi story.

I have an allergic reaction to the numbing drops necessary to check for glaucoma (I have four precursors for glaucoma).  If we wash my eyes out immediately after the test, I can get by with only prickly feelings.  EVERY time I get an eye check, I make a big fuss about it, saying that if they don’t wash it out immediately, I’ll have to stay with them overnight because I won’t be able to see to drive home.  (It’s true.)  “Sarge” said that would be a disruption.  Thaddeus said, fine, but he hoped I wasn’t allergic to dogs as well.  Once again, the information was put into my file.  It probably won't be there next time. 
Maybe you think all this is irrelevant.  It’s not.  It’s life.  I can barely keep up, but I haven't sold out yet.  I am neither military nor commercial.  I'm uncategorized.

No comments: