Saturday, January 01, 2011

2011 Year of Our Lady of The Horse Head Skull


Another silence is upon me. Advance and retreat, like the sea and like the sea always restless.

Happy Brand New Year.


I'm reading Christopher Koch's The Quest for Consciousness and finding it a revelation. Although intended for a general audience, his book goes into great depth and detail on the nuts and bolts of neural processing, primarily of visual stimuli as processed by the primary visual cortex, as a means of attempting to locate the neuronal correlates of consciousness. His idea, developed in his work with James Crick (of Watson and Crick, dna) is that not only is there no difference between the brain and the mind, there can't be, and therefore there must exist a physical, tangible, identifiable collection of neurons and their specific activity that correlates exactly to one particular conscious experience. Whether he's on the right track with this or not I can't say, but I am having the time of my life exploring in such detail the physical processes of stimulus through-put, especially when I keep in my mind Dennet's idea of the impossibility of some sort of Cartesian "inner theater of the mind" where these signals are finally "displayed" on a conceptual stage for the little man in my head- the movie of the external world, as it were.

These signals, and I'll stay with visual input since that's what Koch is laying out so beautifully, begin when individual photons of light strike individual cells on the surface of the retina. The eye does not see anything, it's more like a big grassy field upon which light falls like rain. There is a small, hard-focus area dense with cells, the fovea, where visual input is the sharpest and clearest, and it falls off towards the periphery dramatically. There's a blind spot where the optic nerve feeds into the retina where no visual input exists at all. We don't notice this blind spot because the primary visual cortex fills in the missing data from the adjoining input. We also move our eyes around the visual field constantly, bringing things into focus one at a time- but again we have the experience that everything is clear and sharp because of the signal process blending the primary visual cortex does for us.

On and on.

The point is, that with Dennet in Consciousness Explained and Norretranders in The User Illusion, (among others) is that I have a pretty good grounding in the philosophy of the neurobiology of consciousness, but Koch is providing a hands-on, nuts and bolts tour of the factory, as it were.

It's helping me shape and process my own conception of what's happening inside my own bony vault, what the physical processes are exactly that make up my own deeply personal experience of consciousness, of the world both inside and outside my 'self', whatever that is.


It's seriously, deeply, wildly enjoyable to me.


What is trying to coalesce is a synthesis of the concepts of physics, geology, biology, evolution, neurology, philosophy, etc. into a whole that makes sense to me. What I'm imagining is a frothy, thrashing sea of tiny random fluctuations in potential energy that momentarily coalesce into complex assemblies that then explode with unanticipated emergent properties that give rise to something we'd call "real" and "tangible." Stars appear when minor variations in the density of helium and hydrogen atoms are acted upon by the gravitational force and those atoms get gobbed together, tighter and tighter, more and more, hotter and hotter, until something reaches a triggering point, et viola, you have a star. Similar processes are at work in the creation of planets, including our planet. Find the right location, where liquid water can exist on the surface of a planet, and you set up the conditions for the basic chemistry that results in completely random, but ever more complex molecules to form and grow. Give them enough time and you get the building blocks of life, and we're off to the races. The engine on our planet is DNA, and it moves through every living organism- meaning we're all basically the same thing- little biological experiments conducted by the completely random reassembly of Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine and Guanine, over and over, world without end, amen.

Our consciousness, our experience of ourselves and the world, also arises organically from this same process. If we look at the animal world we can see approximations of our own sense of being alive all around us. Look at the great apes, the chimps and monkeys. Look at dogs and cats. Look everywhere. It's a continuum. Jesus Christ, look at the wild variety of pre-human experiments in the fossil record- all the hominid species that came before us, or even existed with us- Homo Neanderthalensis fled the scene a scant thirty-thousand years ago.

We are a naturally, organically occurring physical process.

Now go look out at the stars again. Probably three hundred billion of them in this galaxy alone, and maybe a hundred billion galaxies altogether (although keep in mind we only can account for approximately five percent of the total mass in the universe with the stars and galaxies we know of- there's all that pesky dark matter and dark energy we can't account for.) Every five minutes scientists are finding another planet orbiting a star, just last week they announced they'd found one that was in the right location to support liquid water on its surface, and I'm left with the inescapable conclusion that life exists throughout the whole of the universe, in unimaginable variety and complexity and strangeness, but also in utterly familiar forms- because it's the same everywhere you go! I mean, still its true that the vast, vast, vast majority of space is utterly empty, and so are the vast, vast, vast majority of planets empty of life, but there are so many many many many of them that there are probably effectively numberless iterations of earth-like planets that support life something like what we've got here, and therefore, since the processes are everywhere guided by the same physical laws, consciousness is alive everywhere. Not everywhere, but scattered throughout the whole of the universe, just like light, just like matter, just like energy.


It's all one, man.


So, my plan is to relax.

Have a good time. Eat good. Drink wine. Walk on the beach and in the woods, in the sunshine and rain and all forms of weather. Hold hands, kiss, embrace, get all skin-on-skin. Make art. Stand in the street and scream. Chase bad guys. Shoot guns. Drive fast. Fight. Write books. Doodle and dawdle.

Push away from the table with all the chips or flat busted.


I wish you the very best year ever.

Go kick its ass!




(PS- Go read this essay by Oliver Sacks on what neuroplasticity can mean to you this year, today, right now!)

I don't understand why everyone doesn't spend all their time trying to figure this shit out, man. New facts have come to light... I'll tell you what I'm blathering about... I've got information man! New shit has come to light! And shit... man, she kidnapped herself. Well sure, man. Look at it... a young trophy wife, in the parlance of our times, you know, and she, uh, uh, owes money all over town, including to known pornographers, and that's cool... that's, that's cool, I'm, I'm saying, she needs money, man. And of course they're going to say that they didn't get it, because... she wants more, man! She's got to feed the monkey, I mean uh... hasn't that ever occurred to you, man? Sir? 

"No, Dude, that had not occurred to us."



Blogger Radish King said...

You make me happy. I have my bags packed and some seeds and a pony if they ever want to come get me. I feel brand new today.

8:51 AM  
Blogger deirdre said...

Fucking hell. This is wild and dense. I want to embody this. And strangely what I think of is the movie Volver and its rainbow backdrop and who would I be if that environment was what was thrashing around on my retina.

Obviously I haven't grasped your concepts. I'm very much a microcosm sort of girl, but I love that you are going there and making stars.

You are something else. Happiness all the whole new year to you and yours.

I gotta read this again, after a second cup.

9:08 AM  
Blogger 37paddington said...

dishwasher, your brain-mind is kind of breathtaking. I am just crazy blown away by how you set out the trail and took us there thread by thread. And the writing. wow.

It makes me so happy to see you again.

and those trees. they look primordial and ethereal and the lady of the horse head skull is so much more rooted than they are. The trees appear to my visual cortex like an inner landscape of blood lines, branching capillaries feeding the machine of sight (these exploded on one of my mother's eyes, making her blind spot total, so maybe that accounts for why i see this). i keep clicking and making this larger to study the trees some more and every time I do i see something more.

happy new year to you and your beloveds, dear scott.

peace and love.

9:45 AM  
Blogger 37paddington said...

but, who kidnapped herself?

may 2011 be a year of healing.

10:10 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


You make me happy, too!

This is going to be a great fucking year for you, for all of us, I can feel it.

10:17 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


I'm the last person to say I have grasped any of this stuff. But I love to wrestle with it. It is the deepest form of play that I engage in.

I'm so glad you keep coming round.



10:19 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


Wow! You are totally right about those trees, they look just like the blood vessels in the eye!

The girl who kidnapped herself is Bunny Lebowski. If you don't know her, you should, because "The Big Lebowski" is kind of the foundational quasi-religious text around here, and you'll be hopelessly lost in my world without a knowledge of it.

all best to you and yours!!!



10:22 AM  
Blogger Radish King said...

I can get you a toe, believe me.

Thank heavens for The Dude.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Radish King said...

I read Oliver's bookThe Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and I will read this one as well.

Music is an especially powerful shaping force, for listening to and especially playing it engages many different areas of the brain.

You know Einstein was a violinist. He called this experience, the whole engagement of the brain necessary to engage in such a complicated act, real time. Being in real time. I've always loved that. There's nothing like it no sir.


10:38 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...

That's what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a 'flow experience.'

flow=real time=absence of brain noise=deep abiding joy of the now=enlightenment.

+1 music, art, kissing, athletics, etc.

The Dude abides.

10:44 AM  
Blogger Judy Wise said...

i anticipated the dude.

you rawk.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Ms. Moon said...

Okay. The day you show up at my kitchen door with a six-pack in hand is going to be one of the best days of my life.
I have had that flow experience a few times. The most recent was while "acting". Phew. Blew me away.
So did this.
So did Oliver. He always does.
Now my head feels like that lady's. All skull and stretched out. Horse? Maybe. Maybe just the brain pushing it to its limits.
I think I need some Kahlua.

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the dude abides indeed.

more books for the folder. fanks.


11:14 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I wish you'd apply some of that to explaining my daughter's consciousness. I grope in the dark --

Happy New Year to you --

11:17 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...

Judy Wise-

you rawk, too, oh wise one!

thanks for coming by, and happy eleven!

11:23 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...

Ms. Moon-

Keep your eyes peeled.

And don't light me up with your shotgun when I'm standing on your porch in the middle of the night!

bless you.

11:24 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


This "Quest for Consciousness" by Christopher Koch really, really makes me think of you, on every page.

You will dig it superbad.

happy new year!

11:25 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


I think we all grope in the dark when it comes to trying to understand that kind of tragedy and unfairness. It's one thing to cope with it, I mean, you do that. You just step up and do what's needed, no matter how hard or what the cost.

but trying to understand it is altogether different. More difficult.

I don't know why my sweet wonderful beautiful daughter became a strung-out meth addicted criminal and hated everyone and everything around her for years and years, and I don't know why she seems to be coming out of it now, either.

The mystery is unfathomable. The unfairness of it all is deep, true, and abiding.

But so is the wonder of beauty and so is the redemptive power of love.

You are both damned and saved, all the time, in every moment.

As are we all.

Love and peace and goodness to you and especially to your daughter.

Life is a shitstorm.



11:30 AM  
Blogger susan t. landry said...

thanks for your brilliance. just read, coincidentally, the Sacks piece in today's NYT. this stuf is fascinating; i am grateful for your mention of fothers who are writing about it.
i saw Oliver sacks in NY, at a guest lecture not too long ago.
very intense, he sat straight up in his chair, at attention, as tho he was surrounded by a magnetic field that sparked with intellect & curiosity. the guy who was interviewing him was a total asshole, to put it politely; and Sacks was puzzled by him, confused by his dumb-ass sardonic sense of humor and inability to listen to Sacks' wonderful, slow-coming, serious answers to a bunch of ridiculously glib questions. i fell madly in love with sweet, brilliant oliver sacks....
and happy happy new year to you, too, scott.

2:33 PM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...

oliver sacks is brilliant and sweet and wonderful. he suffers from prosopognosia- he can't recognize faces. Any faces, even his own.

It's no wonder he developed such a deep and abiding interest in neurological deficits. And why he's got such a human touch.

Happy New Year, Susan. Thanks for your friendship.



2:41 PM  
Blogger Craig Sorensen said...

Tearful Dishwasher wrote:

What is trying to coalesce is a synthesis of the concepts of physics, geology, biology, evolution, neurology, philosophy, etc. into a whole that makes sense to me. What I'm imagining is a frothy, thrashing sea of tiny random fluctuations in potential energy that momentarily coalesce into complex assemblies that then explode with unanticipated emergent properties that give rise to something we'd call "real" and "tangible."

"That theory tied the whole room together, Dude.

"Am I right? Am I right?"

Seriously, good strokey beard ponderous stuff, Tearful.

I suppose I spend a lot of time pondering things off the physical plane. To me the body ties the spirit to the physical plane. I love to consider the building blocks of life, the complexity of DNA and how it enforces its patterns in life. But, in that spirit, I feel the physical processes, so complex, so intertwined and so intricately weaved, echo something even deeper and more mysterious than this life.

I wish you and your loved ones all the best in the New Year. And I wish you continued enlightenment, and living life to its fullest.


6:35 PM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


Thanks for the thoughts and the good wishes for the new year! Right back atcha.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Petit fleur said...

I love this post.

I adore the dude.

I will read the article as soon as I have dedicated time.

Can't wait!

Thanks and Great writing and photo/art! (Still not clear on what it is you do to make your art, so not sure what to call it..? But I like.)

9:14 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...

Hey Petit Fleur-

Thanks for visiting, as always. As for the art, I think digital collage is the closest "label" for it.

I'm glad you like it, anyway.



9:49 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I love your comment to Elizabeth.

You are incredible.

and I didn't know about your daughter.. I've been trying to read here get to "know" you .

I am a parent, and just can't imagine.
And yet, we do not own or control our children.
We just love them the best way we know.

9:54 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


Some of the hardest lessons in life come to us to bring us to our knees and admit that we are not in control, that willpower and good intentions cannot save us from the abyss.

Of course, the lessons come even if we think we already know that.

I enjoy your blog, you post some beautiful photographs, and your family seems deeply blessed.

hope you'll keep coming by.



10:40 AM  
Blogger St. deVille said...

b. yes, we are all the same thing. i just read that the DNA that makes up our eyes is most like that of the common housefly, yet, our eyes are designed completely differently. amazement!
c. i love to think of the inter-breeding that happened with the early hominids, the romeo and juliet stories. should i pitch the idea to HBO for a miniseries?

12:26 PM  

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