Saturday, May 30, 2020

Peaceful Seattle Protests

Woke this morning to a crash of thunder. It does rain in Seattle, but the thunderstorms are rare and worthy of getting up to watch with a cup of coffee. We even stood outside under the umbrella to get the full effect, but the cold and the wet are not major draws and we decided to go back inside. Looked like after that excitement it was going to be another boring day in quarantine. Sat with the two youngest and reviewed social media and the violence that occurred last night. Cried at the videos of police brutality and the injustice of it all.

Then my eldest daughter and her best friend called to say they were going to the protests. My younger daughter was in, and my son was upset he had to work. My kids make me proud so often. As a mom I was terrified, proud, and fighting my own mind: I just wanted to numb myself with Netflix to escape the Covid-stupidity, but terrified of not being there for my girls in a situation that could get dangerous. Besides, it was cold and rainy out. So, we suited up and got ready to go.

My daughter’s best friend is a college grad, studying to get into med-school, and a nationally renowned track and field athlete training for the 2020 Olympics next year. When she goes running in the neighborhood to work out she makes sure to take her ID because she is also Black. The things she has to manage for because of her skin color stun me and make me weep.

In the car downtown she gets on the phone and asks her friend if she’s going to the protests and says, bring your white allies with you if you can. It makes me cry behind my mask. Soon after we get to Westlake there are large booms that send the crowd running. The tension and adrenaline are so high because we are scared of the police. This is the whole reason we are here. We are scared of the police.

We were part of the peaceful protest, that’s what they called one of the three protests happening in Seattle today. But all three were downtown and you could hear the flash bangs going off a couple streets over. Most people were there for the right reason and you could hear it when the Black Pastors started praying. But, there were those that were there to stir shit, like the two white guys that were watching people and saying it was the Blacks killing the Blacks. Yeah, I saw you. I heard you and watched you re-cover your faces and walk away. Like the skinny white guy who spray painted “fuck the virus” on the granite before my husband chased you away.

But the helpers were out too. I saw you. The couple handing out waters, the brave chick who yelled at the guy with a hammer in his backpack and made him throw it in the trash. I saw you. When you dug it out of the trash and dumped it down the drain. I saw that too. Even the Black guy who walked by us and said “Look at you, so white and scared AF.” That made us laugh. I saw you see us.

My youngest who deals with anxiety was such a trooper. With flash-bangs going off and people running, she didn’t want to leave, even with tears running down her face. The police kept us from marching peacefully so we stayed listening to the speakers and took comfort in being there. Letting our people know, we hear you.

As an avid fan of the Twitter platform, I watched what was happening far (but still too close) from us and saw both virtually and in the air around us when things started to get tense. We left as soon as the scanners told the undercover cops to get out of the crowd. We were in the car when the alert about the Seattle curfew jarred all of our electronics. You’ll see the riots on the news, you won't see the peaceful marches and the spoken word and the singing. And people will compare this to the 1999 WTO protests and I hope they say that today had the same effect in having the world see that things just aren’t right.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The ethics of brain disorder.

An argument can be made that who you are and what you experience are constructs of your brain. What you see and hear and taste and smell and feel, while coming from your sensory organs, are processed, and "interpreted" in the brain. They are merely information that is processed by your brain and result in what could perhaps be called an arbitrary reality. And your brain can be fooled: optical illusions and tactile illusions are just two ways for you to demonstrate that your brain creates your reality.

So if you take the case, even if just for a moment, that your brain creates your reality - you can start to delve into the possibility that everything could (should?) be questioned. Your view of yourself, for sure - are you REALLY that way? Definitely your view of others and life should be questioned. What about your past? You already have several examples of how things didn't really go down as you remember. And it is becoming increasingly obvious that eye witness testimony is flawed, sometimes fatally. And what about your future? That you even think that your future exists (good or bad) demonstrates the wondrous ability of our brain to fabricate a reality.

One pitfall we all have (yes, even you) is thinking that you can distinguish what is real from what isn't. Have you ever awoken from a dream where you and your significant fought? And you were still upset late into the day with said person until you realized that the reason for your ire couldn't possibly be real - I mean, when have you ever had a pet dragon that they hated, much less secretly barbecued for your friends?

So where do ethics come in? One notion that deserves scrutiny is that we are fundamentally good and that when we do something bad, we did it on purpose. You might consider that our entire justice (punishment?) system is based on this notion. That we have an insanity defense is proof that the accepted perception is that 'normally' we can distinguish right from wrong, unless something is off with our brain.

If you are up for wading into the contradictions that may be starting to tingle your spidey-sense, I recommend reading David Eagleman's book - Incognito. In this book, Eagleman relates a story in which a man's penchant for child pornography is solely the result of his brain tumor. That a complex behavior could be the result of brain disfunction is astounding, and begs further inquiry into the behavioral effects of brain abnormality. Especially when you consider that the brain can be trained to do anything. ANYTHING. For further reading on the amazing ability of the brain to learn and relearn (even seemingly impossible) things, check out The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge.

If the brain creates a reality that includes how we interact with the world - is our prison system really the best way to habilitate a human being? This is a question that is so mired in "yeah, buts..." that it is vastly difficult to hold a reasonable discourse on it. But we can (should?) start to question how we think about people who have committed heinous crimes. Like Aaron Hernandez.

Aaron committed suicide at 27 years of age while he was in jail for murder, and he had C.T.E., Chronic traumatic encephalopathy - a persistent or long-standing neurological (brain) disorder induced by trauma. Hernandez was an embarrassment to his former team and they refunded thousands of fans who had purchased his jersey. The hidden communication behind all this could be interpreted as "We didn't realize how bad a human being this individual was and we are sorry".

How does one get C.T.E. and did this disease play a role in his criminal behavior? C.T.E. is caused by repeated trauma to the head, as is common amongst veterans or athletes such as boxers, WWE fighters and NFL players.

Figure from: Cortical maps and modern phrenology
Brain. 2008;131(8):2227-2233. doi:10.1093/brain/awn158
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms
of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License
which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, 
and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is 
properly cited.

Much of what we know about the brain is through studies that reported functional or behavioral deficits after localized trauma. We know that trauma to the fore-brain can impact higher order functions such as decision-making and social cognition. People with damage to the amygdala are more likely to make decisions that do not take emotional processing into account.

Since we know that damage to the brain can result in personality changes that can have dire consequences, shouldn't we be putting attention on how best to eliminate those factors that can induce the worst kind of behavior in people?

Wait, what? Did I just say out loud that certain activities (like perhaps tackle football) may actually result in human beings committing heinous acts? There is a lot about the brain that we don't know, yet when there is compelling evidence that some activity has horrible consequences (don't get me started on global warming) shouldn't we take action to eliminate the risk?

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The untwining of death.

Last Thursday was the Feast of All Souls (as a practicing Catholic those words don't sound at all as gruesome as seeing them on the screen), and as a member of the St. James Cathedral Choir, I had the profound privilege of singing Durufle's Requiem Mass that night. This mass is an opportunity to mourn those we have lost, to meditate on our mortality and to look death in the face.

Death is apparently a part of life, a natural progression, inevitable... and yet I would venture to say that there is nothing in life that instills more fear (but then, I like public speaking).

Fear of our own death for sure. And the scary part of our own demise is the unknown, the uncertainty that comes with death. As a catholic, I recite the Nicene Creed each week. And as a conscious catholic, I always stumble over the line:

... and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Do I? As far as I can tell, death is the ultimate adventure, the great unknown. What really happens after we die? You don't know! (kudos if you get the reference) I know I'm supposed to believe something, but REALLY? There is no way to know. Until it happens, and then I suspect I won't care anymore anyway. And while being afraid of something that will eventually happen, regardless of how much I try to avoid it, is a possible way to spend my time - it seems like a rather sad existence.

I think the harder part of death is when someone else dies. Because we have to continue living life without them. My daughter is a freshman at the University of Utah studying Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering. The same majors as the young man who was randomly murdered there this past week. When I got the campus alert, I had a visceral reaction until I got her on the phone. Death of someone young or violent death is the most crushing. And as a mother, I'm terrified of the thought of losing one of my off-spring. My parents too. The closer it gets to the end of their lives, the more fear I have of losing them.

My father-in-law died two years ago. Les was the first of our parents to succumb, to go, to pass, to die. It's hard to even call it like it is. It was heart-breaking to be with my spouse's sorrow in losing his Dad, and in my own sorrow, but the hardest part to be with how heart-wrenching it was for my mother-in-law to lose her love/partner/soul-mate. My mind balks at merely having to imagine, much less be, in that position.

Let's talk about that. Hebbian Theory very simply states that "neurons that fire together, wire together". Practically speaking, that means that when two things are associated together, they become intertwined. My daughter's first word was "kitty". A word that was spoken whenever the four legged furry being was present. She associated that sound with that phenomenon. It's what we call learning, associative learning to be precise.

When we associate with another human being, our neural pathways become intertwined. That emotion with that experience of eating at that place with that person... they all become intertwined. Even the routine that happens as you start to leave a place, especially when you have been leaving places for many many years together. A moment that sticks with me from Les's funeral was my mother-in-law turning around after the service to make sure Les was with her.

That funeral was such a surprise to me! It was so impactful, both as a Catholic and as a Scientist. Rituals are the bomb!!! And Fr. Tom was brilliant. He reminded us that our experience of Les continues to happen, regardless of whether or not his body is there. Everything that is associated with Les is still associated with Les which is both the bitter and the sweet part of losing a loved one.

If you subscribe to the notion, as I do, that the brain generates EVERYTHING, then your experience of another person resides solely within your skull. Add to that another thought experiment, think of someone you love, or someone you hate... if you really inspect it, you love not them, but who you are and how you feel when you are with them.

While listening to Fr. Tom speak, I intentionally started to remember the things I loved about Les, like when he first met me and told me that he was a contact. Yes, by aliens. Our mutual love of science and space was one of the things that has him continue to be present for me.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Being Profoundly Connected...

What exactly does that mean?

Let's take a look at experience to explore this question. And by experience, I mean your actual day-to-day, living-your-life experience.

When you look at why you do the things you do, ultimately it is to have an experience.

  • Riding a rollercoaster
  • Giving a present
  • Going in for your first kiss
  • Volunteering at a food-bank
I mean, why would you even go to a horror movie?!

When I saw "It" with my family, the experience of the hackles on the back of my neck at full attention, goosebumps over my entire body, the lightness of my internal organs defying gravity... the entire experience was something my son and I reveled in. The experience of being that terrified (in a controlled environment) was awesome.

If you look at why you do things, even the things you don't want to do that you do anyway, it is  ultimately in pursuit of a particular experience.

Now, if you took the extraordinary experiences, those that you try to reach again and again, can you identify the intention that was being fulfilled in that moment?

I am most inspired, lit up and fulfilled when I am profoundly connected to another human being. Or when I am around other human beings who are profoundly connected. "Connected to what?" you may ask...

  • When I am present to my love for my husband of 28 years. 
  • When my colleague is in touch with and expressing their life's passion. 
  • When my child is aware of their own brilliance and unique expression. 
  • When my other child is proud of what they have just accomplished.
  • When I am watching someone in the zone - performing at their peak at what they love to do. 

All this is people being profoundly connected. And I am fulfilled when that is happening around and within me.


What if I set up my life so that what I do, the actions I take, the thoughts that arise, are all aligned with People being profoundly connected. If my life were set up that way, my experience - all the time - would either be inspired and fulfilled or in pursuit of that which inspires and fulfills me. Sounds cool, life affirming and worthy. Lives, people's lives, especially MY life isn't set up so that it is aligned with People being profoundly connected.

As I set out to align my life with that intention, that calling, what I must deal with first is everything that is not aligned. This is non-trivial. A lot of the structures in my house are designed so that I can check out (Hint: not connected).

I'm taking the next 3 months to have my life be aligned with my calling: People are profoundly connected.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Creating Something New

The world didn't end last November, nor in January nor every week since then. Granted it has proven to be a colossal embarrassment, step backward, travesty... you get the picture. I'm still gunning for "Good will come of this whole mess"...

But it's funny how life goes on, isn't it?

So in the meantime, let's create something new.

I recently left the Allen Institute for Brain Science, it was bittersweet - I loved the work I was doing there - Science Communication in pretty much every medium, but the direction we were heading had me realize that I had to get off the train before I was carried too far off track. I've had friends, family and colleagues tell me that I should take a little time off - that amazing things happen in the in-between, apparently. So while I've been looking and inquiring into what's next job-wise, I've also been pausing. It has been about a month since I left. And indeed, some amazing things have started to arise.

I decided to be a scientist when I was 8 years old. I walked up on my best friend in the school library while he was reading a book. "What are you reading?" I asked. "Oh, you wouldn't be interested, it's a book on astronomy, and girls don't do astronomy". That simple innocent phrase set me on a path that resulted - 11 years later - in my crunching numbers on the site of the Very Large Array, and wondering what the hell I was doing there. Granted, my dogged determination to prove that girls can do whatever they want had me excel in math and science - something I may have done anyway - but it left very little room for creating and exploring what there was to do with my life.

I LoVe science. Doing it, writing about it, talking about it - the scientific method is an extraordinary way to view the world. And since I was 8, it has never occurred to me to do anything else. About three weeks post-leaving the 'tute, it occurred to me - "What if I did just start from scratch? What would I do?"

THAT was a mind-bending thought (which I love btw).

And I started inquiring from here:

If you look back in time at my blogging, you'll see (no, not the giant spaces where I stopped writing) that I also love transformative work. I call it practical neuroscience. You can train yourself to see your own view. It's hard, especially at first, but it is the best thing (bar none) you can do for yourself and for the world. I highly recommend it. Do it. The first thing to get is you can't see your own view. Thankfully, other people can.

That's where coaches come in. I traveled to the hot-bed of transformative thinking [sarcastic font], Venice Beach where I inquired into how to live my life in alignment with my calling. Something this grave and profound obviously needs a sufficiently profound name. Seriously tho, the difference engine is a method I'm using to create the next phase of my reality.

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
- Buckminister Fuller
Also my take on this whole Administration reality. But I digress...

My calling - that which is more important to me than anything - is People are profoundly connected to Source. The quest then is how to align my life with this calling.

So my inquiry is happening in real-time and I'm tracking it here. You are welcome to join me in this journey. I'm not sure where it will end, but telling a story is one of the things I've always loved...

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.


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.


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


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.