Tuesday, April 30, 2019

MENTAL FLYPAPER

People like to remark about people who won't consider new ideas or forget old ones that they have "a mind like a steel trap -- rusted shut."  My mind is like flypaper: a lot of miscellaneous bits that move around but get stuck in no particular order.  I'll just put some here in case they're useful.  Ideally, they might develop into a system.  Blogging is a way of taking a look and developing connections.


MAMMAL CHARACTERISTICS STAY WITH US
Family is the basic unit of life, but not all families include the male unless the situation demands more than one adult to preserve the children.

The nature of the individual and the culture come from pushing against the advantages and restrictions of the ecology: what to eat and how hard it is to get, how much shelter is needed, what sort of sensory world is offered for creating "metaphor".

Disease patterns shape populations.  The evidence is that smallpox changed North America because it eliminated the human part of the ecology.  Poverty is a disease.  It is changing demographics which means changing the ecology, esp in cities.

Humans must fit into an ecology as much as a fish does. The primary evidence might be climate change due to atmosphere pollution. But small things like zebra molluscs can change the human ecology. Losing insects will reach a tipping point.

The Big Three US religious organizations are all family/tribal based.  They come from areas with shrinking ability to sustain people, like the Mediterranean and the Levant, its east and south areas.  Causes are ecological, affecting agriculture.

MEANS OF SOCIO-ECONOMIC SURVIVAL 
Originally, human life was closely linked to place.  Attachment pertains to both place and other humans (family).  This applies to fishermen, herders, and farmers.  Humans can make some changes: from fisherman to farmer, etc. but it will take time and cost both effort and disorder.

At one time mainly farming people were close to the ecology and therefore could control minimum existence.  Now that so much money comes from occupations distant from the real ecology, specialized people end up on the sidewalk practically overnight.  Their support is resented, their influence is nil.

The invention of money has meant that it has replaced reality.  Bookkeeping of profit has taken priority over everything else, particularly the fantasy that a corporation is a "person" so it has a priority in law.  Money is not real and neither is profit and neither is a corporation.

DEMOGRAPHICS, PARTICULARLY POPULATION DENSITY.
Villages and the cities are by definition creatures of population density. Thick populations mean moving commodities, which mean distribution and accounting, which means roads and transporting devices (trucks, railroads, airplanes) which means constant monitoring and maintenance.

BOUNDARIES TEND TO BE WHERE POPULATION IS THIN
But boundaries imposed by politics ignore those that develop organically.  There are often tensions between the two origins. Boundaries, like cell walls, also create differences in value, thus commerce. But they can trigger war.

Two visibly different populations have three choices: ignoring or separating each other; assimilating; violence for the sake of dominance.

POPULATION DENSITY SUPPORTS INDUSTRIAL EDUCATION
Workers are a product of a country.  To sustain a city or a military, education is necessary.  If a city is wealthy enough, some of the education will not be directly useful but support usefulness.  The shape and nature of the workers also determine the shape and nature of the country. Becoming too dependent on AI, thinking that gets away from labor, makes the entity vulnerable to energy changes, whether petro-based or green, because of infrastructure fragility and the inability of a single entity to control it.

"We" have had industrial mass education for centuries without changing much.  Now we must, but how and what is the organizing principle, both goals and the obsession with steps and levels, certification, hierachy?

SEA LEVEL IS RISING
"Indonesia has just announced it's moving its capital because Jakarta is sinking into the sea. Jakarta is home to 10 million people."

Manhattan is said to have been built on granite which is why tall buildings are possible, encouraged by being on an island so that territory is limited.  The City of Portland, Oregon, (which I know as the clerk for the Site Development Team as well as growing up there) is built in a river flood plain on sediment.  Engineers will tell you that tall buildings are problematic. Valier, MT, is built on volcanic dust that expands and contracts according to the water.  Houses there change shape through seasons and climate variation.  Sea level will not directly impact Portland or Valier, which is a thousand miles inland.  But climate will.

WE MUST REMEMBER SENSUAL PLEASURE

Not just the fantasy of ultimate sexual experience, but things like sunshine after bad weather, fresh-baked bread, well-loved music, and so on.  This is what makes human life worth living.  We can create it, remember it, plan it, tell each other about it, multiply, replicate it, share it.

Monday, April 29, 2019

THE FOURTH STAGE

Several academic thinkers recommended as a key book "A Mind So Rare" by Merlin Donald  (2001).  They sketched out the importance and content.  Now I see what they're talking about.  Donald is able to separate out three main stages in human development that are meaningful, an evolution of mind.  Forget the opposable thumbs and binocular vision.  This is more useful.

Stage One:  This is the basic beginning that comes out of the evolution from reptile to mammal, keeping some things as well as building on them.  Having fur, producing milk, and living in groups all promote "attachment" which is the beginning of wanting to keep and develop one's relationship to associates (babies and mates) as well as simply surviving as part of an ecosystem.  About 1.75 million years ago people began to speak words.  

All mammals teach in examples and actions.  My mother cats step between their kittens and danger and smack the disobedient.  They also call their babies and croon to them encouragingly.  If a kitten cries in its sleep, the mother will trill a reassurance.  She licks them constantly.  They suck constantly.  These vital signs of attachment are emotional.  If they are missing, death will come.  Emotion emerges from the development of what we recently found as the work of the 6th nerve, the vagus, that emerges from the brain and becomes the autonomic nervous system.  We thought it merely diverges into two, but now we know there are three, called "polyvagal."  Emotion is expressed by panting, heartbeat, that can come direct from thought, triggering weeping or laughing.  (For this you must look for the work of Porges.)

At the early point of departure, this is a smooth nerve, but that branch splits into two, one of which becomes myelinated (insulated) and controls the body from eyebrows to sternum: the pharynx, the throat and tongue, hearing, and the lung/heart complex.  Sucking and licking (oral), using the lungs as an air pump, and shaping the flow through the muscles of the larynx, throat and mouth, the hominid uses sound to communicate.  Hearing is another process that happens in roughly double fashion: the coded sounds are organized in the brain and interpreted into meaning. A person seeing emotion or hearing words, can "read" what is there. 

This is a very rough account, but it is a step in evolution one must be a mammal to take, eventually a primate and then a hominid.  In those early millennia, the tasks to learn were flint-knapping (tool making), fire kindling, shelter building, and sedentary living which always centered on the availability of food, for instance, along a coast with easily caught creatures.

At this point hominins are limited as to distance-- about as far as they could walk -- knew an ecosystem that stayed pretty much the same except for climate shifts, and thought of themselves as "axis mundi", the centerpoint for life.  But it is challenge, new circumstances, that evoke thinking.  "Leaders" developed, sometimes single strong persons, or sometimes a duty that could be shifted according to need, so one is a war leader and another is a migration leader, as needed.  Evolution was based on the attachment to the community, about a hundred people, we think.

This is Stage One in Donald's way of sorting.  Stage two begins when the hominins can travel on water (before the wheel) and meet people who are differently adapted.  Fire is not just for cooking food, but also hot enough for melting metal.  Agriculture develops only a dozen millennia ago and is enabled by settlement in one place.  Animals are domesticated.  Weapons are perfected.  Both suffering and love are felt by these new mammal hominins. They evoke thought.  We look around for what is ultimate, the Force.

Writing is invented.  "Writing – a system of graphic marks representing the units of a specific language – has been invented independently in the Near East, China and Mesoamerica. The cuneiform script, created in Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq, ca. 3200 BC, was first."  It appears to have developed spontaneously around the planet, at first only hash marks and symbolic depictions of hunting.  It is symbolism that developed out of speaking.  Once brains have gripped the idea of symbols in codes, knowledge and skill explode, "the mind so rare."  The Third Stage.  To the extent that we can translate, we can communicate with the world.  Our technologies expand into the Industrial Revolution and then into the cyberweb around the planet that lets us speak on the phone with a tribal person in deep jungle Africa, so long as we know the same language version of speaking.

We have kind of species fascination with the idea of direct brain-to-brain shared thinking.  On one hand it seems the ultimate intimacy and on the other hand the images are of insect swarms, termite hills and the Borg.  To communicate is to control, we think and we're ambivalent about it.  We love our secrecy, our ability to deceive.  So far optimists estimate that 75% of people are literate and half have access to the Internet.  I think those estimates are far too high.

Besides the myelinated half of the polyvagus being a connection direct between thought in the brain and expression in speaking and hearing, it is also part of our ability to empathize.  Journalists and English teachers never get it quite right, confusing it with sympathy, which is only a Theory of Thought outside guess of what someone is feeling and then reacting to that.  EMPATHY is being inside the other person's mind, feeling what they feel.  It can be elaborate, but at the simplest level, if you see someone throw a ball, the ball-throwing muscles will produce a faint echo of the same action.  At the ultimate level so far, two people able to abstract ideas will share a concept, thinking the same thing.

Not everyone has empathy or even sympathy.  Around this planet people are at different stages.  Not every individual can go from being a person in a remote place, thinking what needs to be thought to get along with work and others, to a modern conception that is beyond even many post-doc grads because it is so recently realized.  I mean, the extent of the universe, the workings of the genome, the existence of the Force of Time itself, exceed the capacity to symbolize and must be "felt" as emotion.  We've been so obsessed with rationality that we're not so good at felt thinking.


At this point I'm not thinking about religion, which is a human evolution of institutionalized thought.  I need a new word for what we know is a penetrating Force that we dwell in.  Rudolph Otto suggests the "mysterium tremendum."  "As mysterium, the numinous is "wholly other"-- entirely different from anything we experience in ordinary life. It evokes a reaction of silence. But the numinous is also a mysterium tremendum. It provokes terror because it presents itself as overwhelming power."  We are part of it.  We have the power to snuff life on this planet.  This is the Fourth Stage.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

EASTER KITTENS

Today is Orthodox Easter.  No one is more Orthodox than cats.  Orthodox means the "Right way" and indicates a conservative opinion.  That's cats.  (Dogs are liberal.)  Do anything three times the same way and it will be the ONLY right way for cats.

The way they feel about bunnies is that there are two kinds: edible (small) and avoidable (big enough to thump you silly with their hind feet and leave you dizzy in the dust).  Eggs are okay.  There's no such thing as Easter kibble.

At present, mostly because I badly dislocated my shoulder on Groundhog's Day (luckily not repeated) and am just now almost out of pain except that my doc prescribed meds without telling me they prevent the use of NSAIDS like aspirin, and I was doing pretty well until 2AM when I woke up in agony so took aspirin.  I only knew about the prohibition because I googled.  I google everything.  If something is not said directly, it can be implied if you use a calendar and a bit of guessing.  Maybe a map.

Aside from pain, the worst consequence of being almost paralyzed for two months (and I DID manage to keep blogging but that's about all) is the stink.  Many cats mean much stink.  I thought it was embarrassingly bad until I woke up this morning and realized that probably the reason I woke up at 2am was that I forgot to lock the cat flap and tomcats had been in the house.  They smell far worse than poop.

So I googled cat poop and it had good advice except all of it will be hard.  Like hosing out the litter box in the yard: there's a blizzard coming in with possible single-digit temps so the advice is NOT to hook up the outdoor faucets yet.  I can't even find the "deposits" out-of-box unless they are fresh enough to sniff, but the advice is to find and plastic-bag all excretions immediately!  I suspect they have sparely furnished houses without piles of books and papers, let alone strange little packing gizmos of styrofoam or broken pens.  A kitten just went by chasing the end of a yellow squash that hopped off the counter when I fixed dinner last night.  I wondered where it went.

In the beginning were two proper kittens when I had a real job.  They had shots and sterilization and grew fat, too soon old and rheumatic, so with many tears I paid for them to be euthanized. 

Crackers and Squibs

 I should have nailed the cat flap shut right then.  Instead, the constant pressure of the Valier sea of cats pushed some ferals through the hole.  I fed them. They didn't eat their whole meals, so I put the leftovers out on the walk where other feral cats and some crows made it their business to do cleanup.  

There was a calico feral in the neighborhood who now (years ago) brought her kittens.   She was old and eventually must have died, disappeared, but I think one kitten persists -- the Mooch, who haunts the garage and the cat flap.  A stinky tomcat.  

Then the neighbors bought an old car with three kittens hiding in it, evidently part "bengals", a strain of cats deliberately inbred to get back to the original cat stock. One died, one was kept by the neighbors, and one came over here:  Finnegan the Homewrecker.  The stinkiest of the stinkers.

Finnegan on the left.

A later pretty kitten from somewhere attached to Finnegan, the way a teenaged girl will fall in love with the worst delinquent in the nabe.  When he began peeing in the flowerpots, the way a drunk at a party can't tell a hat from a drawer, I became hostile and Finnegan left.  Too late.  One kitten from that batch persists only because the Blue Bunny (the teenager's name because she was and is blue -- it's actually the name of a kind of ice cream) took the babies down the stairs and back and behind the water heater in a hole where I couldn't get them.  I know she did because she didn't take them by the nape of their necks which would have made them curl and quiet.  Instead she grabbed them by a foot and as they dangled they screamed horribly.

One was Tuxedo and I'm not sure about the other -- I think maybe Thimble, the most lovable of gray kittens whose lower jaw was ripped off somehow.  She already had the Valier Cat Virus, which infects eyes and respiratory systems, turns aside vaccination like some entitled suburban, and kills many.  I can't afford a vet, but I put Thimble's euthanasia on my credit card, already maxed.

Tuxie and Thimble

Then Tuxedo, whose fur is flat and shiny as patent leather and who has a soul patch on her lower lip, did NOT get the virus but because, raised in the dark, had a scrambled hormone system for lack of sunshine.  Skinny and childish, she still nurses from her mother alongside her own babies.  Pickle is also a kitten from Bunny.  She is shy and independent.  Tuxie and Bunny go along side-by-side, trotting their predatory way through the days and nights.  They despise Pickle and smack her in the head at every chance.  Pickle is hooked on cat treats, which I very rarely spread on the floor like chicken feed.

Sparrows

This brings running eight cats, five of which are Pickle's last batch of kittens who eluded me when I was in agony.  Three of the eights are moms.  These kittens have bulging tummies and are well-licked, half-grown.  I call them en masse, the Sparrows.  One loves me and comes running when he sees me.  I call him "Buddy."  Another one also tells me things.  That's "Squirrel", who has coarse gray fur and a nervous disposition so his tail is often flared.  Two more are identical -- I can't tell them apart so I call them both "Ditto".  The fifth kitten is called "Five".  I constantly count kittens to see if they are all safely inside after an adventure in the garage, or following a terrible shriek of near-death or even  if they are peacefully sleeping in a tangled pile on my bed.  There are always four and I have to go hunt for the fifth, who is never "Five."

So what must I do?  I'll have to get on all fours to find and scrub the illicit poops, but I'm not sure my shoulder will allow that yet.  I need to find kitten homes in a place that is overrun with cats.  I must always remember to lock the cat flap at night.  Can I afford to spay the three moms?  Since all three are still nursing, and the randy tomcats want to start new batches -- maybe already did -- can they be spayed when preggers?  How can I work on a sensible blog for Orthodox Easter with these worries plaguing me?

I was going to do a massive catchup wash at the laundromat, but the forecast is a blizzard.  Oh, well.  Cats and I know how to begin again.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

SO NOW WHAT?

If the universe doesn't get us, the electrical grid will.  Won't take near as long.  Could happen tomorrow.  Already has tried it.  Might be the result of hostile action -- remember that North Korea is boasting that they have a new weapon, more destructive than anything previous, though they decline to name it.  So far it has only happened by what we think is accidents, widespread regional blackouts that are caused by faulty equipment or perhaps natural intervention in the form of a big bird that shorted out a transformer or a rodent that cut electrical lines.  A transformer is basically an insulated bomb that can blow up anytime, which is why they are usually placed somewhere remote when possible.

The worst example so far is that the State of California has thousands of miles of vulnerable high tension lines, some of it old, that crosses forest and mountain and in even minor short circuits sets massive fires that wipe out whole towns and and territories.  Thorough monitoring is expensive and depends on high-level intention.  "Good intentions" are challenged by our satanic greed.

And the new player is computer control -- AI written by humans so that two big airliners have crashed to the ground and others narrowly escaped because of techie fat-finger or loopy thought error.


https://aeon.co/ideas/an-electrical-meltdown-looms-how-can-we-avert-disaster?utm_source=Aeon+Newsletter&utm_campaign=1bc9a83128-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_04_11_01_12&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_411a82e59d-1bc9a83128-68600437


"In critical facilities across the country, experts predict that it is only a matter of time before the electrical infrastructure holding society together undergoes catastrophic failure. According to the most recent report of the United States Congressional Commission appointed to assess the risk, published July 2017, we face the threat of ‘long-lasting disruption and damage’ to everything from power and clean water to electronic banking, first-responder services and functioning hospitals. Until now, such a dire prediction has typically been associated with only the most extreme doomsday true believers but William Graham, the former chairman of the Congressional Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Commission, says that in this case they could be right."

I'd read about all this in the past but sort of forgotten about it.  But now it seems more possible, maybe even likely.  Part of the reason is that the imagery has been borrowed to picture fantasy stuff like "the rapture" when some invisible power stops everything and grabs believers up up up into some invisible and unimaginable paradise.  "Game of Thrones" pictures a fleet of warships immolated by magical green fire.

"In the broadest sense, an EMP is a sudden burst of extreme electromagnetic interference that causes systems using electricity – especially devices controlled by chips or computers – to fail when the load gets too high. EMPs come in three basic varieties, including a ground-level or high-altitude EMP (HEMP) released by a nuclear burst that could potentially impact power lines, transformers and other critical devices; drive-by EMPs created by high-powered microwave weapons that could silently incapacitate equipment from hundreds of yards away; and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) resulting from solar storms that could interfere with the magnetic sphere surrounding the Earth."

"According to the 2017 report, Russia, China and North Korea could already have these weapons under wraps. And CMEs from solar storms are like metaphorical magnetic earthquakes: they vary in intensity from relatively harmless ripples all the way to a potential Big One that could take down a nation’s grid within minutes, creating widespread destruction that would take years to repair."

Around here we are aware our electricity is often "dirty," varying more than is good for the machines.  And sometimes we have blackouts that last hours.  A transformer in an old deserted city on the line feeding to us blew up and burned -- they say it was very old-fashioned and couldn't stand modern loads.  It destroyed the embroidery-capable sewing machines of a precious small business, taking with it salary hours and expensive litigation over repairs.  Some household machines were affected.  

Infrastructure should be the most basic priority, but anyone who drives on pot-holed highways knows reality.  Our distribution system is one of the most crucial infrastructure -- how to get food and gas where it should be and how to store and deliver it once there.  Gas pumps need electricity. Computers and pocket phones need electricity.  Stores have electronic cash registers and credit systems that depend upon electronic bank records.

"As the EMP Commission concluded in 2004, even low-yield nuclear weapons detonated at an altitude of 30 kilometres could create extensive damage, while a detonation at 300 kilometres could affect the entire continental US and have a catastrophic impact on the nation."

We talk about being bombed back to the Stone Age, but the 30,000 local survivors in the US would only be bombed back to before rural electrification.  Around here a few can remember that.  We know how to do it, but there wouldn't be a lot of energy left over to do much more than that.  Without TV we'd have to talk to each other.  I don't know whether landlines would work -- the microwave towers would not.

So this is your spring scare, something like the big blizzard that has arrived to the East.  I can see it on highway camera feeds, though the sun is shining through the window.  The earlier major floods have already messed up the billing cycle so my checkbook is a mess.  I figure we won't starve once we figure out how to steal grain out of the bins that almost outnumber houses in Valier.  If you want meat, there are cows all around.

But how would I blog?  Luckily I have a little hoard of good pens and a stack of legal pads.  Publication is the only problem, and it always is anyway.

New story:  https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/9kxb85/cyber-event-california-wyoming-utah-dont-panic

Friday, April 26, 2019

LIMBERLOST AND THE DUNES

An entire shelf of one of my bookcases is novels by Gene Stratton-Porter (1863 - 1924).  Aside from her personality, which was vivid and Edwardian, she was an early environmentalist, concentrating on birds, esp. those of the majestic high timber in the Limberlost.  She was a particularly vivid version of a kind of woman I admire.  https://www.indianamuseum.org/limberlost-state-historic-site

Just north of the Limberlost is an ecology called "The Dunes" which is a sand ecology and in fact, where some of the thinking about the theory of ecology was developed.  I didn't know about it until I was in seminary and the assistant of J. Ronald Engel, a now-retired professor who still lives in a close-by village.  He was writing a book about the Dunes, or at least that was the theory.  He had a bad case of writer's block.  My job was to find all the books about the Dunes on a list he gave me, and condense them into a precis.  There were a lot of them and they had a major influence on me.  This linked website would have been a big help:  https://enviroliteracy.org/special-features/geoquiz/indiana-dunes/  Somehow, I missed reading Henry Cowles (1869 - 1939)  I'm not sure he was on the list Engel gave me, since Cowles is important enough to read direct.

These two places are examples of terrain that are different from what is around them, ecologies created by lack of water or too much water, desert or marsh.  Humans are wired to recognize and award significance to such places.  They may become taboo, like the area at the end of my street after it becomes a road and then a two-track until it reaches a stretch of Birch Creek that is shaped by erosion into "hoodoos" which look like buildings or bent-over people.  Some find it scary -- maybe a cougar lives there.  Maybe ghosts.  On the Blackfeet rez are two geological mountains that carry significance: Heart Butte and Chief Mountain.  Though they appear to be square as tables, like the other buttes erosion has left, when seen from the air they are blades.  No matter: they are landmarks.

Neither the Limberlost nor the Dunes are the kind of landmarks one can see from afar.  The Limberlost was full of climax hardwood trees of enormous majestic size.  Stratton-Porter -- with her Christian bias -- spoke of trees that had by accident grown as though on a boulevard, forming a cathedral-sized arched sanctuary.  The Dunes attracted a more frivolous crowd who picnicked, designed festival performances, and enjoyed bonfires.  The University of Chicago faculty (of which Henry Cowles was part) had a small ship with staterooms that left South Chicago after classes on Friday and chugged to the Dunes in the dark with the professors snoring in their beds, ready for recreation over the weekend.

The value of the hardwood trees for the furniture industry near the Limberlost prompted fortunes and piracy.  It seemed at first that there was little value in sand, but then a corporation wanted to dredge out ports for tankers, so the very location had value.  The sand and dirt that was removed went to Northwestern University's location on Lake Michigan -- a cheap place to move it by ship -- so that the campus is now twice the size it was in 1961 when I graduated there.

The books based on these two places are little read now, except that "A Girl of the Limberlost" continues to be popular among girls trying to separate from their mothers while finding a place in the world.  Cowles idea of ecology -- how everything on the land is interwoven and removing or adding something small can change everything -- has become foundational.

Along the 49th parallel -- roughly, since it takes water from the Canadian side and guides it along the American side to feed towns and ranches -- is a siphon and canal combination, a diverted river, with a lot of water that travels a long way.  It's pretty old and maintenance had been neglected.  A leak had sprung in one place that soon created a little oasis garden of plants, which attracted small animals and then their predators.  Birds came a long way to sip and splash.  It wasn't big but it was unique and beautiful.  Then came a drive to conserve water.  The hole was patched and the oasis went back to being prairie.  Something similar happened when homesteaders punched wells and planted trees, then got bought out by corporations with massive machines, and moved away, leaving their woodlots and shelter belts to dry up and die.

Both the Limberlost and the Dunes are national parks now, guarded by organizations who fund, patrol and explain them.  Someday the current weather patterns will shift to drought enough that the Limberlost marsh might burn.  Dune buggies wreak havoc on the pristine sands of the Dunes.  Nothing stays the same, though we use our human powers to change the world according to our preferences.  Inhuman corporations have only one preference: profit.


If we see this planet Earth from space, it is clear that the blue bubble that contains everything we love is no different from these two beautiful small spots on the Michigan/Indiana border.  The planet remains endangered.  When we can no longer exist here, the stars will still shine.  They will have no place for us.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

What were they thinking?  Seriously, what does the Ethiopian mother, gaunt and barely walking, carrying her dead starved baby and an empty can meant to be for water -- what does she think?  What does the fat politician, disobeying his doctor, think while he sits with friends, overeating and drinking?  What did the Vikings think?  What did pre-contact NA indigenous people think?  What does that kid over there think -- the one staring at back you and wondering what you think?

This is the best explanation I've found of the most recent evolutionary leap in human thinking, which has left a lot of people behind, been scorned by others, and may be lost in computer communication.  The explication I'm following here is written by Merlin Donald.  (I'm tempted to call him "Merlin" to distinguish him from Trump, but Merlin would connect him to magic.)

"Human cognitive evolution is characterized by two special features that are truly novel in the primate line. The first is the emergence of "mindsharing" cultures that perform cooperative cognitive work, and serve as distributed cognitive networks. The second is the emergence of a brain that is specifically adapted for functioning within those distributed networks, and cannot realize its design potential without them."  (I added emphasis.)

J Physiol Paris. 2007 Jul-Nov;101(4-6):214-22. doi: 10.1016/j.jphysparis.2007.11.006. Epub 2008 Jan 8.

Donald's belief is that "Brain and culture were co-evolving in a symbiosis."  We've described previously how the functioning human begins as an internal genesis in the mother's body, continues by pressing against experience for several years while learning how to speak and walk, using a special "space" (which is virtual, meaning it's not physical) between infant and caregiver, and between five and eight begins the basics of a primitive human.  

"The critical period hypothesis is the subject of a long-standing debate in linguistics and language acquisition over the extent to which the ability to acquire language is biologically linked to age. The hypothesis claims that there is an ideal time window to acquire language in a linguistically rich environment, after which further language acquisition becomes much more difficult and effortful.
The critical period hypothesis states that the first few years of life is the crucial time in which an individual can acquire a first language if presented with adequate stimuli. If language input does not occur until after this time, the individual will never achieve a full command of language—especially grammatical systems."  The acquisition of reading and writing skills is considered one aspect of intelligence.  But the acquisition of the culture comes through the "holding environment" of family, school, community, and so on.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_period_hypothesis

Between eight and twelve, children develop their understanding of systems and social interaction.  Twelve to eighteen is adolescence when sex is integrated due to internal body drives, and eighteen is adult capable of more advanced thought.  Evidence is that by about 26 the brain is mature and doesn't keep growing unless challenge continues.  This is usually supported by the culture, esp. one that is rich enough for some people to begin specializing and participating in what Donald calls high level literacy, like the study that college grads do in universities and then lifelong on a self-propelled trajectory.

The importance that comes next is called by Donald "distributive cognitive systems" which he also calls "The Slow Process."  This name will NOT catch on!  We equate "smart" and "high status" with FAST.  This idea is sort of being elite, privileged, specially equipped, and that's another major handicap.  It runs headlong into the moral principle of equality, a basis for democracy's "one person, one vote" idea of self-governance, which prevents stigma from sorting everyone into a hierarchy that justifies the oppression of those who don't meet certain criteria: disabled, dark, female, and all that stuff.  These distinctions have nothing to do with "distributive cognitive systems" and in fact, interfere with the ultimate goal by preventing access to what is needed.  Wealth distorts the process by substituting for thought.

"Distributive cognitive systems" develop when people who can deeply communicate with each other are thus able to collaborate and share thought.  This ability to communicate depends upon the mature social development of Porgas' myelinated half of the third autonomic vagus nerve that connects the brain directly to the "presentation screen" of face, voice, hearing, processing, and upper chest with heart and lung.  (This physiological apparatus also needs a good name.)  This allows "deep empathy", mind-sharing, engages "culture," and enriches, enlarges, develops it into communities with common interests, whether the study of math or the building of skyscrapers or the composing of concertos.

The rigid enforcement of the scientific method (Ask a question, gather evidence, develop an hypothesis, test the hypothesis) and the forced division between mind and body have allowed the development of enormous skill in technological augmentation of experience, coded perception beyond what the human body can perceive.  All this has demanded emotional participation and stability, which is part of what Porgas' apparatus does.  Morality, which comes from the part of the brain behind the forehead, is often an interference even as it tries to supply order.

I'm particularly interested in Donald's thought because I empirically see major differences in the thought of people around me, not just in Valier but everywhere.  Donald describes the evolution of thinking humans as three levels.  The first is "episodic" which is mostly about getting through the day with work and socializing.  It is common among agricultural cultures, esp. those preceding the industrial revolution.

Then comes "mimetic and mythic," the time of storytelling and mythic theories of the world, when people can take breaks to create Turner's "liminal space" with arts and liturgy.  These introduce flexibility and alternatives to the daily routine.  Donald's third level of evolution he calls theoretic.  Unfortunately, to me it sounds entirely too academic.  In fact, he identifies it with the creation of institutions, a very mixed achievement IMHO.  Maybe I need to read more of his work.


I consider the highest level achieved by the evolution of communicative capacity to be in fact Donald's "distributed cognitive networks."  This is close to being "virtual." My advisor in seminary and I went round and round about what "virtual" means.  I did NOT connect it to virtue, which he tried to, but more than that he wanted to connect it to the supernatural.  He did NOT want the loss of the supernatural, the idea that there is another world, unseen, where the gods live, though he was willing to give up the gods  themselves.  Most of the people around me (including those on media) are the same.  The great virtual advantage is that it allows participation in historical cultures, fictionalized experience, and openness to the multiplicity of life on this planet.  Ask that kid who is watching you what he thinks.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

THE TRAJECTORY OF HUMAN LIFE

This is partly a review of prior thought and partly a check list  This thought about what is human and how a person "works" is so different and so much the work of many people that the best reminder is my book shelf where I wrote the dates of copyright on the top edge and arrange the books in chronological order of their publication, though that doesn't exactly match the sequence of understanding.

Here we go:

All mammalian animals come out of the insides of slightly older animals.  The first mammal came from a transition of evolved reptiles who came from eggs that came out of the insides of slightly older animals.  Mammals are reptiles "plus."  They have fur, give milk, and respond to the pressure of their environment by being "various".  This varying, pressed by the environment which kills those that don't fit, gives rise to evolution because the ones that fit better are more likely to survive and make more examples of themselves with new fitness installed.  They preserve much of the last reptile used for a pattern, which is the basis of the book called "Your Inner Fish."

The sexuality of animals is binary if you are considering reproduction. Two humans begin as half-a-double helix from each side which gets across the gap between the two (when doing it naturally) by a penis ejector which sends a cloud of small wiggly cells self-propelled into a vagina, past the cervix, to another big cell with all the basic starter characteristics of a home cell plus the other half of the instructions for making the proteins and so on which begin to organize and grow.  This is called gestation.

The two half-helixes wind together into one and then split into two, which split until there are four, then eight cells, called a blastosphere.  This takes a little more than a week.  The tiny ball splits in half so that one half becomes the placenta, the means of attachment to the inner lining of the uterus.  The other half, joined by the umbilical cord to the placenta, begins to develop into a fetus, then an embryo, then a baby.  This takes about forty weeks.  When complete, the baby is squeezed out through the vagina and its placenta follows shortly.  This presses hard on the organs of excretion, as well as releasing a lot of blood, so it is a messy but lubricated event.  (That's why the midwife says to boil water for cleaning.)

Before birth -- which is a major and momentous experience for both mother and infant (potentially fatal) -- the incomplete gestate shares its mother's experiences, partly mechanically -- like music or walking -- and partly chemically through the placental exchange.  Perception begins as soon as the brain and its feeder nervous system is able to code whatever is coming to it in electromagnetic or chemical messages.  This process of perception responding to experience will be lifelong -- the capacity to code responding to experience -- and because of that increasing sensitivity and capacity to record what is sensed.

At birth the baby is outside the mother but still attached by this reciprocal system of experience/coding/memory in which the nurturer participates.  The basics of survival  -- food, shelter, warmth -- must be present and are encoded as basic to survival.  If they are insufficient, toxic, or erratic, the infant will suffer, possibly become deformed.

There is another basic need which is the creation of the first relationship, the "liminal" ground of being that forms between mother and infant through nurturing and play.  This is probably carried by the development of the myelinated autonomous vagal nerve which controls expression both produced and as understood.  This "third" autonomic (unconscious) is explored in the polyvagal theories of Dr. Stephen Porges.  "The Polyvagal Theory".  (This book is hard to read, so Dr. Porges promises an easier version soon.)  

The autonomic nervous system controls the basics of visceral functions like breath, heartbeat, digestion, and so on.  The third vagal myelinated nerve (which needs a better name) connects direct from the brain to the face/voice/expression and to the heart/lung combination which responds to emotion.  Vital inquiries are into the relationship to crib death when a baby simply stops living, or into the relationship with the deranged hormones of the mother that push her into depression, so that there is a need for backup intervention.  Basic temperament comes out of this period of development.

At first an infant has little expression, only needs, but over time and with the stimulus of urging from other humans, the ability to smile, frown, and so on appear, usually with the mother.  From before birth the ability to suck is present, which later develops into babbling, then speech as the ear begins to learn the code.  Gripping is also a strong remainder from earlier versions of mammals.  Sexual response exists during late gestation (erections and lubricating).

All humans are hominins, which are historical "rough drafts" that we know in three ways:  genomic instructions, fossils of bones, and material culture.  All hominids and most mammals have material cultures, ways of doing things both experienced and expressed, but only homo sapiens has a fully developed myelinated third vagal nerve.  There are hundreds of other hominids but only one version, ourselves, is living.  We know how some of the others died as individuals, but rarely understand why the species clade did not.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18280714  Obviously, the experiences they had overwhelmed them and the environment didn't sustain them.

Some people think the first three years of life should be considered a continuation of gestation, since they are needed in order to acquire basic human characteristics like walking and talking.  (Many mammals are born able to run.)  During this time the senses and basic understanding of the structure of their unique experiences form according to where they are.  Now the ecosystem comes into play and the culture based on it -- whether a prairie agrarian life or a Manhattan skyscraper world, what the language carries of the culture, what foods and clothes are necessary -- begin to be active experiences.

The next fleshly developments may be guided by DHEAS from the adrenals which carry the timeline forced by maturation.  The next step is decrease of the fear of strangeness that was protective at first, so that interest in other people (esp peers) can start and the cerebral cortex begins a long period of development that extends from age 6 to more than twenty.  The end is "maturity," but new research suggests that brain plasticity (adaptability) continues lifelong.  (I'm guided by https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16917887  The article is called "The Slow Process: A hypothetical cognitive adaptation for distributed cognitiveby Dr. Benjamin Campbell, an anthropologist.

I'm going to stop here and continue next time by considering  A paper called "The slow process: A hypothetical cognitive adaptation for distributed cognitive networks" by Merlin Donald.  Many people consider this a benchmark for developmental cultural theory because it explores the leap to shared knowledge -- as in culture: math, science, philosophy, architecture, religion and the other material and virtual culture we enjoy now in some settings.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18280714

I think this capacity arises with Dr. Porges' third myelinated vagal nerve that lets communication leap from person to person without physical means.  The empathy and understanding is enabled eye-to-eye.  This can also touch the Lakoff/Johnson theory of thought, that it is based on metaphor which comes from experience coded by communication, which can approach the intensity of religion.  Taken together, all these theories suggest ways to alter evolution by making environments and ecosystems less conventionally lethal, and by directly intervening in gestation, disease, social organization, and more.

You still there?