Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Stages of ... what is this I'm feeling?

This tracks some of the emotional and intellectual roller coaster I've been riding the last couple of weeks.


via GIPHY

The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Denial was a long process for me. I think that stage started the second time Bush was elected. I disengaged in a fundamental way after a conversation with my Dad in which he gently suggested that Bush might win. And it was as if I was reliving that moment while watching the returns come in, in favor of DJT. I had to go to bed and bury my head in the pillows. (depression maybe?) But I've been doing that since Bush.

It was like when I came to the startling realization that people don't care about evidence. THAT was dumb-founding to me. How intellectually elitist of me to think that there was another way to operate in life that didn't call upon reasoning, weighing the evidence, asking "is that reasonable"? I'm serious about the intellectual elitist part. I do think less of people who don't use the scientific method, or who can be tricked into thinking something is real when it isn't. I really do think I'm better than them.

People actually thought - I mean ACTUALLY gave credence to the truthiness of the idea that the world was going to go straight to hell (figuratively, not literally) once Obama was elected. And despite all the evidence to the contrary assert that he was an ineffective president and that they were right all along. Contrast that with my pride and joy and gratitude and love for who I got to be as an American because Obama was my president. What did I care what those imbecilic, poorly raised, intentionally dim-witted, racist, grotesque anomalies thought? (ok, that might be anger) The world was moving forward and leaving them behind.

A lot of good that way of being does me in the current surreal reality tv reality. The links in the previous paragraph are URLs to google searches. On November 23, 2016 the "facts of obama presidency" search looked like this:

Who knows what this search will look like 6 months into a DJT presidency. The fake news wave surrounding this election, not to mention the "trusted" news networks that gave DJT so much free advertising through out the campaign have left all of us, intellectual elites and luddites both, suspicious of... well suspicious of everyone. And worse, gave legitimacy to the anti-intellectual.

Which leaves us in the beginning stages of a fascist regime in which it is quite possible historians will look back and say "why did they let this happen?". As an intellectual, I look at history, at what has gone before to inform me of when a tyrant appears - to be able to recognize it when it shows up. And we have, we did, we pointed it out, we called it by name. And it fell on deaf ears.

I find it odd that the anti-establishment vote is counting on the establishment to work well enough to withstand a take-over by an autocratic despot. I'm not so sure.

But...

What if I'm as deluded as those people who thought that the world was going to end with Obama's presidency? Hear me out for a second... I think I'm smart, I've got some evidence for it, but I didn't see this coming. We are all talking about our bubbles. After Bush, I said I would never be blind-sided like that again. Lotta good that did. Even the actions I took to ensure I had a broader view did nothing. I didn't know people thought it was the end of the world when Obama was elected. They weren't in my experience.

So what if? I have great respect for the fact that our brain gives us the world we interact in. And our context gives us how the world looks. If you alter your context, everything looks different. Altering your context is hard because it's invisible, you can't see the thing you see with. It's true for your eyes and it's true for your context. And if you look for evidence for that there is another context, you can find it. Again I say it's hard because no one wants to look for another context, another perspective so to speak.

There are people out in the US that are not terrified of a DJT presidency. It's weird, but they aren't. They are excited, thrilled even. That is a perspective that doesn't come easy to me, but I can easily see it in others. And if I don't just attribute it to their stupidity and ism-ness, what might I learn?

Here is what I know I don't know - I don't know anything about DJT - apparently he's written a book, The Art of the Deal, where he describes how he goes about winning. I've never read it. I've never watched his shows - which some people love. I'm not a business person - I'm a scientist, I leave business up to others who (to be honest I used to think couldn't cut it in science - I mean...why get a business degree??). There's an art and maybe even a science to business. I guess. I've never applied myself to it.

So given this is what we've got, I've got some schooling to do. I've started to read things that seem to indicate that DJT is just doing his thing - it's a way of getting what he wants and he's pretty good at that. There is evidence that people get trampled on his way to getting what he wants, and I must never lose vigilance about that. And stand for what I know is right. But I'm gonna go eat some crow - find another perspective and see if I can see what so many others are seeing.

'Cause what I have been doing hasn't made the difference I'm committed to making in this world.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Antidisestablishmentarianism

I woke up this morning with that word on my mind.

Do you remember when "antidisestablishmentarianism" was the longest word in the English language? I say 'remember when' because in reality there are words that are much longer - but if you don't count technical words (the chemical name of tin has almost 190 000 letters) or coined words, it still is the longest word. I remember teaching myself that word because it felt so good rolling off my tongue.

But it also taught me about English, about  how it is perfectly legitimate to add prefixes or suffixes to words to make a new word or meaning. So I laugh when people tell me things aren't really words - like ongoingly, 'cause - sure it is. Just because it gets a squiggly red line under it, doesn't mean it's not a real word - you can make out its meaning. That's English for you.

Historically, antidisestablishmentarianism (go ahead, say it out loud) referred to a political position that opposed proposals to remove the Anglican church as the established church throughout most of England. Just for shits and giggles, lets dissect this word instead of looking at it historically.

Let's look at this word from the base "establishment".

establishment - a public institution
dis establishment -  having a negative, or reversing force - against the establishment
anti disestablishment - opposition to disestablishment (ugh, double negatives)
antidisestablishment ary - pertaining to opposition to disestablishment
antidisestablishmentar ian - someone who is opposed to disestablishment
antidisestablishmentarian ism - the movement  associated with being opposed to disestablishment

I guess the elections of 2016 will go down in history as a sort of antiestablishmentarianism. I have this election on my mind. In fact I'm writing this - right now - just so I don't brood. Hell, let's brood a little bit - haven't you thought about the end of the world as we know it? Not the song. But the event - it's all the rave in young adult fiction (which is awesome, btw). You've probably enjoyed the story line at the theaters - The Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Divergent. I'm currently reading the Emberverse series by S.M. Sterling about an event referred to only as "the Change". I love this shit. I've had thoughts all my life about making the world a better place... which typically (and weirdly) concludes with thoughts like - well lets erase this one first.

There are so many things not to like about how our government - the establishment - works. And I've often thought, "Gah, we need to do something, but it's so big - so established..." and then the train of thought usually ends with something like "shit! that was my stop, now I'm gonna be late for work...".

Watch the pilot episode of Designated Survivor. I'm not recommending that plan - but hell, I'm clearly not the only one who's thought it.

I've never been more proud to be American than when we elected Obama as president. It felt like such a huge thing, like we were making great strides, then the supreme court ruling on marriage equality, it almost made the ineffectuality of our republican congress palatable because we were growing as a nation - species even. I am quite aware now that my views on the last 8 years aren't shared by all. I'm trying to wrap my head around what happened and I'm usually pretty good at seeing the others point of view, but really? You were that threatened by a black family in our sacred white house!?

I know that my point of view is likely skewed - I was one of those who took him literally and didn't take him seriously, while his supporters took him seriously and not literally. I don't believe that politicians will do what they say (even the best ones), so why was I so sure he'd honor his words that I found so nauseating?

And I know he's not the first rapist to live at the white house, and legally he just played the system so he didn't have to pay taxes, and all his justifications about how you do business are a valid (if deplorable) strategy. And I really think/fear/hope that the establishment is going to be so ravaged by his attempt...

no... what I really fear is... The establishment is going to get rid of him and running rampant will destroy so much of what we have accomplished, and this ground swelling of change (even tho it's not how I would have brought it about) will come to an abrupt halt, shattered before it had time to transform into something new (and potentially beautiful).

Yes. I want him to succeed. I want him to prove me wrong. I want the role he has accepted to transform him, to have him value the spirit as well as the word of the bill of rights. To have this movement to up-end the establishment be an unprecedented peaceful resolution to what isn't working with our great country.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Establishment lost last night

This is what the 21st century peasant revolt looks like. It's not just the United States. It's a global phenomenon. People are tired of the establishment. They are revolting against the establishment. The people want a say. It makes me laugh with tears a little to see the poster child of the people uprising against the elite, but there it is.

Hillary was the establishment. She is an amazing woman who I am proud to have voted for and she was the epitome of the establishment. Hell, we democrats also had the opportunity to turn the whole thing on it's head with our "people's candidate", but... as a party we are a little too much ok with the establishment. Remember when we said only that ultra-progressive could beat the likes of their front runner in their primary? Remember how we mocked them for how their base, those peasants, couldn't tow the line and work it from the inside - like we were going to do? If the system worked the way it was supposed to, we would have had a progressives voice in this uprising. Kind of points to why the establishment lost, doesn't it?

After the crying at 4 am this morning, and the crushing despair, I had to deal with reality. Hello reality, good to meet you. We voted in a black man 8 years ago to change it all, and that didn't work. I've never been prouder to be an American with a black man at the helm of my country, but even that extraordinary leader couldn't make a dent in what doesn't work about this vast machinery.

So this is what a peasants revolt looks like. It is a boil that must be lanced - painful, messy and smelly. But its what is there to be dealt with.

Here is your charge: Be light. In every meaning of the word.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/martinluth101472.html
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/martinluth101472.html

Monday, February 10, 2014

Rekindling

Hi. I'm back.

It has been a while. Seven years in fact. Much has shifted in the intervening years, and I've grown in immeasurable ways. I worked for an organization that is making a profound and real difference in the world. I learned a lot about running a business and making promises and being empowered even when I broke my promises. The thing I liked best about that job was how trained I got in messing with my mind. One thing that has not diminished is my urge to write. I like this medium. In the past 5 years, I've learned the business side of running things. I've taken on more than I thought I could handle, succeeded and failed. But, I cannot escape my love for the scientific method. My context is always "is that reasonable?" and not in a transformed way either. Maybe a better way to say it is "How real is that?" I still have no urge to return to the bench. I occasionally have a thought about running a gel again, but mostly that is accompanied with a snort.

Now, I talk about brain science. I have the extraordinary privilege of working for a company that isn't federally funded and is doing cutting edge neuroscience. And I get to talk about brain science. I get to travel the world and interact with neuroscientists and talk about brain science. And did I mention I get to talk about brain science?

In the next 10 years the field of neuroscience is going to dramatically change, and being in the thick of things is unbelievably fulfilling. And I'm gonna talk about this, and things I love like, my job, consciousness, twitter, being a catholic scientist (yep, I'm on that recording) and probably my kids.

I'm rusty. But it's good to be back.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

What about me?

I don't normally talk about me personally, but this time, I'm gonna.

I have always been fascinated by the mind. It's a terrible thing, you know. I mean it's a terrible thing to waste (hee hee). In particular I've been captivated by the study of consciousness. Scientists do a pretty good job of pretending to be objective, but when it comes to studying consciousness, objectivity starts getting muddy (read 'impossible'). And when you get into it, you start to realize that "objectivity" is just a farce. No one is objective. Everyone has an opinion about everything. It's the soft science version of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The part about the observer influencing what is observed.

When you start to get into consciousness, you invariably start to ask questions like "Why do I think the way I do?" and "Who am 'I' anyway?" - Classic philosophy. About 13 years ago, I did the Landmark Forum, and to paraphrase Douglas Adams - it illustrated that everything I had held to be true, ain't necessarily so. For the first time in my life, I was able to effectively mold that "me" that I was so sure was already established. And I could create that "me" in any way I saw fit. I have been leading seminars for Landmark Education for several years to that very end - I figured why keep that kind of thing to myself, everyone should have it.

In the not too distant past, I was dead set on the academic track - I was going to use my Ph.D. to study the kind of brain plasticity involved in altering really set pattens, like who you know yourself to be. It then occurred to me, who cares?. Knowing how that happens will make absolutely no difference, even in the small scheme of things. What would make a difference, however, is actually altering those patterns of thinking for large numbers of people.

So I've altered the course of my life. I am now working full-time on altering - fundamentally altering - the experience of being for human beings. I love science. I will continue to talk about things from the viewpoint of a scientist, and I will continue to have people critically think about the world around them, but my day job is ensuring that people who register into the Landmark Forum in the Seattle area - powerfully complete the course.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Just say no to (prescription) drugs.

You know you are seriously messing with brain chemistry when they say that the drug you are taking takes several weeks...several weeks... to take effect. That should make us take a step back to really reconsider what this drug is doing to our brains. There are some drugs that have immediate effects - like opiates or painkillers - that inhibit pain reception; you take the drug, it binds to specific receptor that interrupts the painful signal. The biology is pretty straightforward here.

However, there are some drugs that we don't know how they work... I've taken a statement directly from the package insert of an antidepressant...

Although the exact mechanisms of the antidepressant and central pain inhibitory action of xxxxxxxx in humans are unknown, the antidepressant and pain inhibitory actions are believed to be related to its potentiation of serotonergic and noradrenergic activity in the CNS.

This in itself isn't bad, (although using the word "believe" in scientific speak always sets my teeth on edge) I just find this kind of scary. Mind you, we didn't know how aspirin worked for decades and we still used it to GREAT benefit. Now that we know how it works, we have tweaked it so that it doesn't cause other adverse effects (like ulcers).

Here is my BIG disclaimer, for conditions that are really debilitating, like depression you really should do whatever you need to, to take care of your well-being. I still think that you should carefully consider what is going on with your brain while you are on the drugs.

I think where I take the most offense however, is at the ads on TV that suggest that if you have this or that (sometimes unheard of) condition, you should talk to your doctor about {outrageously expensive but very effective} drug for {your unusual condition}.

Now I don't personally have restless legs, so I don't know how debilitating this syndrome is but apparently if you take a new class of drugs designed to treat this condition, you could turn into a pathologic gambler. This drug apparently interacts with the dopaminergic system (read: reward pathways, Parkinson’s disease). Big brain areas.

I'm just saying...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

It's not a cure to Mad Cow Disease... yet.

We've all heard of Mad Cow Disease... no not the one that has cows retaliating for the whole cow tipping phenomenon, the one that has everyone scared that if they eat a cow, they are going to go crazy. In case you haven't heard or if you don't know much behind the biology of it, I'll give you a little primer.

Prions are proteins that in their natural state are responsible for... well, we don't know really. A recent Nature article says that we are narrowing down their role...

There is now increasing, albeit patchy, evidence that the process of prion infection might have a vital role in a large number of biological processes—not only in single-celled organisms but also in higher eukaryotes—ranging from adaptation to new environments to the establishment of long-term memory.

...Ok, so it's not narrowed down much.

But anyway the interesting point about these proteins is that when they are folded in the "prion" conformation, they are almost impossible to degrade. Which means they don't go away. Ever. Which is bad in the brain. Even heating to very high temperatures doesn't harm these proteins.

Here is the next really cool thing about prions, well morbidly cool anyway... when a prion protein comes into contact with a native form of the prion protein, the native protein changes conformation and becomes highly stable as well. So not only do prions stick around, but they make others just like them.

And the scary thing about this kind of protein is that a lot of animals have them. Sheep have them, the disease they cause is scrapies. Cows have them, that disease is actually called bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE). And humans get it, one form of it is called Crutzfeld-Jacob disease. The worst part about it is if we were to eat a cow that had BSE, those prion proteins could start interacting with our normal proteins and give us the human form of the disease.

Recently, a group has produced genetically engineered cows - over a dozen of them - that don't have the message for this protein (December's Nature Biotechnology). Which means they can't get the disease. These cows are almost 2 years old now and... At over 20 months of age, the cattle are clinically, physiologically, histopathologically, immunologically and reproductively normal.

So, I'm left with a nagging question... What the heck is this protein for?