A Mind Experiment – Conclusion

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The time has come to release the findings of the mind experiment I attempted to conduct over the past week or so. Somewhat surprisingly, the field of brain science — specifically, mapping regions of the brain and observing their functions in the generation of intellect and emotion — only emerged as a serious pursuit within the scientific community over the past 3 decades. Prior to this shift in focus and study, psychiatry was the only pursuit devoted to the exploration of the human emotional spectrum and since this field is not concerned with the specific functions of neurons, it tends to rely on the ideas of nature (a person’s predetermined genetic makeup) versus nurture (the effect of experience on emotion) to arrive at its conclusions. Because neuroscience is still in its infancy, modern therapeutic models don’t yet consider physiological and chemical factors in their execution, although increased knowledge of these factors is undoubtedly responsible for the marked improvement in the efficacy of psychiatric medications. I have a suspicion that when these two fields inevitably merge, it will open many possibilities in the treatment and management of psychological disorders.

Perhaps the best place to start in presenting the results of my pseudo-experiment is to explain how I initially came to the decision to conduct it. The night before I posted part 1 of the experiment, I was — surprise, surprise — laying in bed staring at cartoons on TV. A scene from an episode of Family Guy showed Peter settling in to watch a rerun of the 1980s sitcom Family Ties until he realized that the episode was going to center around the fictional family’s youngest daughter, played by a non-descript young actress named Tina Yothers. Upon realizing this, he turns off the television and says, “And I will check in with the Keaton family next week.” The joke, for those old enough to get it, wasn’t so much the acknowledgment of her questionable acting skills but the very fact that she was even mentioned at all. For some reason, poor Ms. Yothers is a sterling example of an intrinsicly forgettable quasi-celebrity. Yet, those of us who were old enough to get the joke obviously have a long-standing and indestructible memory of the existence of Tina Yothers — a memory that only tends to come to the surface of consciousness at hearing her name or seeing her image (no offense intended if there truly are any actual Yothers fans out there…and if there are, please identify yourself so that I can further probe your fascinatingly weird mind).

Upon being reminded of her existence, something was activated in my hippocampus — the region of the brain believed to be responsible for long-term memory storage. This extracted memory, in turn, activated neurons in my pre-frontal lobe that are responsible for the generation of short-term memory and others in the same region of the pre-frontal cortex that are responsible for the higher and distinctly human functions of planning and the weighing of options in the performance of a task. So upon hearing the reference to Tina Yothers, the activation of the long-dormant memory associated with her caused me to laugh at the randomness of the subject matter injected into my waking consciousness. Maybe I should have just behaved like a normal person and left it at that — a funny joke was made and I laughed at it. But I don’t tend to operate that way. When the humor exhausted itself, I immediately began wondering why such an obscure and unimportant piece of data has managed to survive with the ability to be recalled in an instant after the passage of so much time. We are a species that routinely does things like tear the house apart looking for a hat that happens to be right on top of our head. I, like most people, have also found myself in a certain room of my apartment wondering what the hell motivated me to go there, frustratingly unable to recall a decision that was made mere moments ago. And yet, if someone mentions Tina Yothers, my brain effortlessly remembers this profoundly incidental and insignificant piece of information. This made me wonder whether that place where our emotional and intellectual lives merge — the place, in other words, that drives all human psychology — is so susceptible to the influence of random data and suggestion that perhaps we have far less control over the content of our lives than we seem to think.

So in part 1, I created an expectation in the reader of a reasonably serious investigation into brain function. I did so by essentially asserting that this is what I was doing followed by a short series of instructions based on very basic pre-meditative techniques. In other words, that was a direct and overt bit of manipulating what functions and their corresponding regions of the brain would be most prominently employed in the minds of the readers. And then I displayed the name and face of one Tina Yothers to people who were, it was hoped, expecting this type of stimuli even less than I was when I heard her name in the cartoon. In the space of about a minute, I attempted to activate three regions of the brain in rapid succession – the pre-frontal lobe upon taking in the premise in the first few paragraphs (short term memory), the wider functions of the pre-frontal cortex in performing the pre-meditative tasks as instructed (planning and analysis), and of course, the hippocampus that was forced to retrieve the obscure Tina Yothers memory. It was the unexpected interaction of these three functions that I hoped to explore further.

Both the short video in part 2 of the Manson girls singing a lullaby to a backdrop of random images alternating between pleasant and unsettling, and the obvious subliminal image contained in the Fight Club .gif in part 3 were included to reactivate the same three brain centers but with slightly different emotional pulls. The more signficant aspect of part 2 was my asking the reader to pay attention for any seemingly random memories that might arise in their minds over the course of the next day or two. I’m guessing it was fairly obvious that I was trying to see if the unexpected suggestions created by the images and sounds I employed would influence someone’s thought processes when he or she had stopped actively paying attention to what was contained in the blog posts. Quick mini-conclusion: they didn’t, at least not in any way that I could discern.

Now I’ll talk a little more about the answers I received to the five questions I posed in part 3. I’m not going to repeat all of the responses here because they were too disparate to support a comparative analysis of each reply to the same question, but if you’re interested in seeing the responses just as they were presented, you can find them in the comments section of part 3. In total, eight readers answered the questions. Four of the respondents answered the first question regarding randomly activated memories in the affirmative. Three of those readers indicated that they experienced an image or feeling related to someone from their past who they had not thought about in years, which seems to correspond with the sudden recollection of an inconsequential actress. Another reader indicated immediately after part 1 that the mention of Tina Yothers caused him to think of another somewhat recent example of a cartoon (South Park) mentioning her for the same desired effect of humor arising from the oddly random reference. That was an example of the hippocampus performing a dual function of pulling up the initial memory created by her small degree of fame in the 1980s and then relating it to a more recent but still long-term memory of a similar after-the-fact mention. What happened in the brain of this reader is farily easy to see from the perspective of neuroscience. But what about the 3 responders who answered the first question in the affirmative? Would they have had these sudden memory flashes without the suggestion created by the query posed in the blog post? Again, the pool of subjects responding this way is too small to make any definitive jumps to a conclusion. It seems equally plausible that they would have had these same sudden thoughts if they hadn’t read my blog and were therefore uninfluenced by the small amount of manipulation implicit in the question.

The answers tendered in response to my question about whether there is any greater significance to synchronicities than just mere coincidence were as varied as the responders. The median view on this seems to reside somewhere dead center of a higher significance and pure chance. And those who leaned toward the notion of significance varied greatly in just how high of a degree of it they see in such synchronistic events. In other words, if the only information utilized in the exploration of this question is that volunteered by random subjects, there are really no strong conclusions that can be reached.

If conclusive results were what I had anticipated from this endeavor, then the little experiment would have been doomed to failure from the start. But I embarked upon it with that knowledge firmly in mind and was therefore just hoping to extract responses that would form the basis of my own future studies into brain function experiments conducted by people far brighter and more scientifically disciplined than I. And in that respect, it was quite fruitful. I have printed out all the responses I received and intend to revisit them in light of any new neuroscientific knowledge I obtain.

But there is one final fascinating result yielded by this experiment with which I would like to conclude. This was entirely unexpected and its implications are enormous in both the realms of psychology and metaphysics. It might just alter your entire outlook on consciousness forever after. As such, I’m going to humbly pass the baton to one of the greatest minds of the 20th century for its elucidation: THE SECRET OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Solidarity

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Some blog posts just lend themselves to a soundtrack.  Thus, I am taking it upon myself to provide one for this excellent plea for universality written by Tom of the aptly named TomBeingTom.

If you’re feeling discouraged by the ever-increasing inhumanity of the world, please read Tom’s post and then listen to this great roots reggae throwback by the mighty Black Uhuru (or even better, do these two things simultaneously).  In this fucked up climate we find ourselves in, I think we could all use an occasional reminder of our common human bonds.

 

Friday Funhouse 5: Pharma Bro

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Good morning, Miss.  Can I help you, Son?  Sixteen today and up for fun.  I’m a big boy now or so they say, so if you’ll serve, I’ll be on my way.  Welcome to the House of Fun!

By Trump-era standards, this seemed a comparatively uneventful week.  Hillary Clinton embarked on a public sulking tour to promote her new book while the anthropomorphic toxic waste dump to whom she lost the election continued to give us perpetual reminders about why a sulking, scapegoating closet Neocon in a pant suit would have been a far superior Commander-in-Chief.  This just served to reinforce my opinion that although I understand people’s aversions to Mrs. Clinton, I cannot accept or respect anyone’s choice to have voted for her despicable psychopathic rival.  The earth continued to scream its desperate disapproval of our behavior towards it with yet another mega-storm and those with the power to begin reversing the effects of global warming reacted once again by sticking their fingers in their ears and singing, “Nonny-nonny-boo-boo!”  or worse, blaming gay people for their part in creating increasingly dangerous weather systems off the coast of Africa.  Same old, same old.  Except:

Smug, self-satisfied human pubic louse Martin Shkreli had his bail revoked and was sent to prison last night to await sentencing.  No matter how much of a drag today might turn out to be, the fact that this asswipe’s day will be so much worse fills me with joy.

This weekend, I’ll be posting the results of the mind experiment, such as they are.  I say “such as they are” not because anything was lacking in the responses I received but because of course, any information obtained from what was essentially an online survey cannot yield any conclusive findings, though it did point to some interesting possibilities that I will explain in the summary.  Thanks again to everyone who participated.  As a token of my appreciation, here’s this:

 

Do You Remember?

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Only angels have wings, Girl.  And poets have all the words.  The earth belongs to the two of us and the sky belongs to birds. – Grant Hart

I wasn’t planning on posting anything today, but a few moments ago, I read an article that saddened me deeply.  Grant Hart, former drummer and vocalist for 1980s powerhouse Hüsker Dü died at the age of 59.  For those who are unfamiliar, Hüsker Dü embodied everything that was magical about college radio in the formative decade of my teens.

The trio from Minneapolis began as a hardcore act, playing furious songs at breakneck speed.  With their double disc magnum opus Zen Arcade, they cemented themselves as one of the defining acts in the evolution of punk rock, alternative, grunge, emo, hardcore and melodic hard rock.  With each passing release, they honed their sound into one that was completely their own.  It’s not a stretch to say that without the trailblazing influence of Hüsker Dü , the grunge explosion of the 90s spearheaded by Nirvana would never have occurred.

I saw Hüsker Dü live several times, including their final NYC show at the Ritz that was so cathartic I lost a shoe in the mosh pit and had to wander around Manhattan in a ripped T-shirt and a dirty sock while waiting to catch the subway back to Penn Station.  Guitarist and vocalist Bob Mould had a strange stage presence, with his guitar slung low below his torso of considerable girth causing him to lurch about the stage as he filled the club with the delicious sounds of his searing buzzsaw guitar.  Bassist Greg Norton would have been a rather unassuming presence if not for his anachronistic handlebar mustache.  But Grant had perhaps the most unique presence among them.  His long unwashed hair and grease-stained T-shirt coupled with the fact that he hammered away on the double-bass with filthy bare feet made him look like the world’s greatest homeless drummer.  Though Mould’s songwriting contributions exceeded Hart’s by a ratio of about 10 to 1, the songs Grant wrote were always among their most memorable.

Rest in peace, Grant.  Thanks for providing the coolest soundtrack imaginable to my teen years and beyond.

 

Flying Star

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Ningún Santuario Pt. 17

I was at my desk when my cell phone rang and I noticed Detective Leyba’s number on the caller ID.

“Good morning, Detective.”

“Good morning, Andrew. Listen, do you think that your boss will let you go for a few hours so you can come down to the station?”

“Sure, it’s been kind of slow here today. What’s up?”

“There’s an officer up in Santa Fe that’s been working a case he thinks is related to the murders of your friends. He asked me to have you come in right away.”

I shut down my computer, told my supervisor I had to leave for a few hours and headed downtown. Grace and Jose had been staying with Jose’s mother in Belen since they heard what had happened to Jim and I’d been thinking that it was probably time to give myself up to my tormentor the next time he showed his face. Last night while I was pondering the whole fucked up situation, I had all but resigned myself to this fate, so I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic about what this cop from Santa Fe might have to say.

When I walked into the detective’s office, Sgt. Martinez of the SFPD rose from his chair and extended his hand.

“Hello, Mr. Guilden. I’m Sergeant Martinez, but you can call me Mike. Thanks for coming in.”

“You bet. Nice to meet you, Mike.”

“Likewise. Detective Leyba told me that he’s already filled you in on the potential Santa Muerte connection to what’s been happening, right?”

“Right.”

“Well, as is the case in most police stations, the walls have ears and considering the nature of what we have to discuss, we thought it might be better if we had more of an informal chat over coffee. Is that okay?”

“It’s fine with me.”

“Great. Do you know how to get to the Flying Star on Central?”

“Yeah, should I meet you there?”

“That would probably be best since all three of us will be going our separate ways when we’re done.”

The cafe wasn’t very far from the police station on Roma, so we’d only be saving a couple of minutes by taking separate cars, not to mention the difficulty in finding a place to park on Central Avenue, but I opted not to raise an argument with two cops whose agenda for this hastily arranged meeting wasn’t clear.

When I got to the Flying Star, I noticed with some relief that it had its own parking area at the rear of the building. My two unlikely coffee companions were already there leaning against the bumper of Martinez’ cruiser. I parked my car, got out and walked across the nearly empty lot to where they stood. Martinez — Mike — extended his hand again, which I thought was a strange formality since we had already introduced ourselves a few minutes ago at the station. When I grasped it, he pulled me toward him and wrapped an arm around my torso while his other hand pulled the revolver out of his holster and leveled it at Detective Leyba in one practiced and fluid motion. Before I had a chance to process what was happening, he fired a shot directly into Leyba’s forehead. I watched in astonishment as Leyba’s eyes widened in terror and he fell backwards, plank-straight, hitting the pavement with a thud. There was a silencer on the gun, so no passersby had been startled into checking out what was happening in the parking lot and Martinez quickly scooped up the spent shell laying on the pavement next to Leyba’s body. He was incredibly strong and continued to restrain me with one arm while walking back to his car and hissing in my ear, “Just keep still and get in the back.”

He tossed me into the back seat of the cruiser and slammed the door. In a matter of moments, we were speeding wordlessly up I-25 towards Santa Fe.

The Simpletons Are Armed & Dangerous

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“Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face — not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival. It’s responsible behavior, and it’s time we encourage law-abiding Americans to do just that.” – Wayne LaPierre, NRA SpokesIdiot

 The above hysteria from the bespectacled, beak-nosed mouthpiece of the National Rifle Association is a perfect example of the recent Bizarro-World re-definition of machismo and masculinity.  Somehow, American men have been reprogrammed to believe that being terrified of every improbable calamity that could possibly befall them is proof of their manhood.  But since the typical pusillanimous American male isn’t frequently quoted in the press, how is he to prove to the world how manly he is?  That’s right: by strapping a firearm over his shoulder – preferably one with more fire power than he could possibly handle.

I’m sure I don’t need to cite any of the countless examples of the NRA and their paid Congressional flunkies using such twisted logic to avoid all discussion about enacting gun control measures in the wake of our all-too-frequent mass shootings.  Suffice it to say that long-standing Senators and Representatives have taken to using LaPierre’s schoolyard assessment of “good guys with guns” being the only antidote to “bad guys with guns”.  That’s right: elected members of the highest chambers of government actually believe that the world is a game of cops and robbers wherein every single individual is either a “good guy” or a “bad guy”.  But somehow this argument only applies to firearms.  It is mostly conservatives who consider it their obligation to cock-block any and all gun legislation (or these days, even a VOTE on whether or not to vote on gun legislation), and they do so under their usual guise of being defenders of citizens’ freedom from government interference.  Bullshit.  Name me one current self-proclaimed conservative politician who has the balls to take on government intrusion into people’s personal drug use, unorthodox sexuality, atheistic speech, or any number of other issues that DO NOT tangibly threaten anyone else in any way.  Conservatives don’t want small government – they want HUGE government, as long as the vast majority of funds pour into the military, domestic policing, and private prison expansion…you know, the entities that really have the power to strip citizens of their tenuous freedoms.

If all of this were confined to the realm of politics, it probably wouldn’t be such a big deal.  But the talking points publicly utilized by most politicians beholden to the gun lobby are simple enough for a 3-year-old to understand and that’s where they become dangerous.  Now every toothless yokel with an 8th grade education can express his fondness for things that go “bang!” in words he can comprehend and feel pretty smart about it, too, because after all, “Rick Perry said the same thing!”  And if such good ol’ boys aren’t already armed to the teeth, I’m sure hearing such proclamations from the highest halls of gubmint will motivate them to start building their arsenals forthwith.

I have to be honest: I really don’t give much of a crap about any of this anymore.  It seems to me that the most efficient way for the world to solve its seemingly insurmountable problems and crises would be to shed most of its population and start over.  Along with epidemics and genocidal weaponry, guns would serve as indispensable tools for such global scale house cleaning.  But the victims of gun violence, especially children, would feel differently, I’m sure.  So it is on their behalf that I impart the following sentiment to Wayne LaPierre and the NRA, politicians nationwide, Fox News talking heads, Ted Nugent, and every moronic hillbilly that considers the aforementioned people to be reliable sources of information: Fuck you.  Take your precious rifle, wedge the barrel firmly into your sphincter, and pull the trigger.  Like a man!

Sitting Is The New Smoking?

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Today, an article in Yahoo Health declared that “Sitting Is The New Smoking”.  This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this ridiculous pronouncement, but it is the last time I’m going to just let it slide.  With the help of some subtle paraphrasing of a prize-winning essay penned by 10th grader Blake Ballard of Doniphan-Trumball High School in Grand Island, Nebraska, let’s explore this dubious claim of those whose idea of a health Utopia is one wherein nobody gets to sit the fuck down and relax.  All instances of spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, precocious self-righteousness and just plain bad writing are entirely Blake’s.

About 23 percent of all adults are sitters. This fact seems dwarfed when you hear that 30 percent of adolescents use some sort of chair. In fact, statistics show that the average age for first using chairs is 13. This means that the majority of all chair users started when they were a teenager. The effects of sitting are common and dangerous but what most people don’t realize, secondhand and thirdhand sitting is just as bad. Authority figures need to set up limitations for chair use and combat young age sitting.

Chairs contain around 4,800 chemicals, 69 of those can cause cancer. The effects of using chairs are wide and varied but all of them are dangerous to every user’s health. A study done by the American Ass Association states that sitters die significantly earlier than non-sitters. Sitting men and women have an average of 14 years of less life than a person who doesn’t use chairs. Human beings are supposed to do all they can to extend their lives. Yet people still make the choice to use chairs and other abusive furniture. A few dangerous diseases one could get by using chairs include: coronary heart disease, lung, oral, throat, kidney, and pancreatic cancer, and even COPD. The list goes on and on and most of them can leave a person scared (sic) for life. Sitting is unacceptable in general, but doing it while pregnant is even worse. Just under eleven percent of all pregnant women sit. Using chairs while pregnant accounts for ten percent of all infant deaths. Sitting is obviously terrible. All of these facts plainly support that simple statement.

If one person sits, the whole building sits! Whether that statement describes a house, a place of work, or an apartment building, sitting affects everyone in the near vicinity. The more prominent example of the three would be an apartment building. What would happen if a chair user decided to sit in a building full of families and young children? The ass that is released from the chair has the possibility of infiltrating the homes where young children are playing. Secondhand ass is not something to joke about. It’s just as bad, if not worse than directly inhaling ass on a regular basis. Secondhand ass occurs when one person exhales an ass cloud and that cloud makes its way to another person. That other person could be baby sleeping in the apartment next door, a teenager doing homework the floor directly above the sitter, or even an elderly lady knitting in her room across the hall. It could happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Thirdhand ass occurs when the actual ass permeates a person’s clothes and anyone who takes a sniff, inhales particles of ass. This is a much more widespread problem than secondhand ass because one person can carry the scent of ass wherever he or she goes. In the elevator, through a hallway, in the lobby, the possibilities of meeting someone who sits are endless and that increases the chance of inhaling ass. Only the actual sitter has the power to stop second and thirdhand ass. They have to take the initiative to not harm other people and quit bringing dangerous ass to innocent humans.

Certain places are making it illegal to sit around other people. The Grand Island City code prohibits sitting in public places. Why not outlaw all sitting except for certain designated places. This would limit the amount of exposure non-sitting individuals receive. It would allow families to safely take a walk through a park without encountering any disease filled ass clouds. California was the first state to try and achieve this by initiating a statewide ban. Following California’s lead other states started to join in. On June 1,2009, Nebraska’s Clean Indoor Air Pact went into effect. This banned all sitting in bars, restaurants and all enclosed workplaces. This is a great start and hopefully Nebraska bumps it up a notch and initiates more laws and bills that effectively stops second and thirdhand ass altogether.

The effects of sitting are widespread and can be deadly. The issues one could get by using chairs should turn anyone away from the idea. Yet, it still happens. Youth still have a high probability of trying some sort of chair use and when they live in an environment where secondhand ass is constant, it makes it that much worse. Like stated above, an apartment building would be the perfect example for showing the dangers of second and thirdhand ass. If one person sits, the whole building sits. This phrase clearly states that when one person decides to give in to the addiction known as sitting, the whole building and the surrounding area are affected to (sic).