The other side

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At the corner of the store, sitting a man looking at his phone and smiling. How magical it is when you were alone and I questioned the very fact.

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The Brain That Changes Itself-Norman Doidge

1. A Woman Perpetually Falling

Vestibular apparatus: the sensory organ for the balance system.

“We have senses we don’t know we have-until we lose them;…The balance system gives us our sense of orientation in space. Its sense organ, the vestibular apparatus, consists of three semicircular canals in the inner ear that tell us when we are upright and how gravity is affecting our bodies by detecting motion in three-dimensional space….A healthy vestibular apparatus also has a strong link to our visual system.” [Does this mean any creature that could feel more than three dimensional space-time must have structural difference compared to us?]-p3

Paul Bach-y-Rita rejected these localizationist claim. Our senses have an unexpected plastic nature, he discovered, and if one is damaged, another can sometimes take over for it, a process he calls ‘sensory substitution’…By discovering that the nervous system can adapt to seeing with cameras instead of retinas, Bach-y-Rita laid the groundwork for the greatest hope for the blind: retina implants, which can be surgically inserted into the eyes.”-p13

Broca’s area: was presumed to coordinate the movements of the muscles of the lips and tongue. -p16

Wernicke’s area: the ability to understand language. -p16

“Bach-y-Rita began to conceive of much of the brain as ‘polysensory’-that its sensory areas were able to process signals from more than one sense….This can happen because all our senses receptors translate diffrent kinds of energy from the external world, no matter what the source, into electrical patterns that are sent down our nerves. These electrical patterns are the universal language ‘spoken’ inside the brain.”-p18

“Bach-y-Rita, based on his knowledge of nerve growth, began to argue that these learning plateaus were temporary-part of a plasticity-based learning cycle-in which stages of learning are followed by periods of consolidation. Though there was no apparent pprogress in the consolidation stage, biological changes were happening internally, as new skills became more automatic and refined.”-p24

“Andy Clark wittly argued that we are ‘natual-born cyborgs,’ meaning that brian plasticity allows us to attach ourselves to machines, such as computers and electronic tools, quite naturally.”-p26

2. Building Herself a Better Brain

“Up through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a classical education often included rote memorization of long poems in foreign languages, which strengthened the auditory memory (hence thinking in language) and an almost fanatical attention to handwriting, which probabaly helped strenghten motor capacities and thus not only helped handwriting but added speed and fluency to reading and speaking. Often a great deal of attention was paid to exact elocution and to perfecting the pronunciation of words. Then in the 1960s educators droped such traditional exercises from the curriculum, because they were too regid, boring, and ‘not relevant’. But the loss of these drills has been costly; they may have been the only opportunity that mant students had to systematically execise the brain function that gives us fluency and grace with symbols. For the rest of us, their disapearance may have contributed to the general decline of eloquence, which requires memory and a level of auditory brain power unfamiliar to us now.”-p41-42

Acetylcholine: a brain chemical essential for learning.

3. Redesigning The Brain

Michael Merzenich‘s specialty is improving people’s ability to think and perceive by redesigning the brain by training specific processing areas, called brain maps, so that they do more mental work….Of neuroplasticians with solid hard-science credentials, it is Merzenich who has made the most ambitious claims for the field: that brain exercises may be as useful as drugs to treat diseases as severe as schizophrenia; that plasticity exists from the cradle to the grave; and that radical improvements in cognitive functioning-how we learn, think, perceive, and remember-are possible even in the elderly.”-p46

“Normally, when one’s hand is touched, an electrical signal passes to the spinal cord and up to the brain, where it turns on cells in the map that make the hand feel touched.”-p48

Dr.Wilder Penfield, in the 1930s, made sensory and motor brain maps, “like geographical maps, are topographical, meaning that areas adjacent to each other on the body’s surface are generally adjacent to each other on the brain maps…..but Merzenich discovered that these maps are neither immutable within a single brain nor universal but vary in their borders and size from person to person.”-p49

Vernon Mountcastle, a famous neuroscientist at Hopkins in the 1950s, is Merzenich’s advisor by then. Vernon “demonstrated that the subtleties of brain architecture could be discovered by studying the electrical activity of neurons using a new technique: micromapping with pin-shaped microelectrodes.”-p50

Micromapping pro: about a thousand times more precise than the current generation of brain scans, which detect bursts of activity that last one sec in thousands of neurons. A neuron’s electrical signal often lasts a thousandth of a second, so brain scans miss an extraordinary amount of information.

Micromapping con: micromapping hasn’t replace brain scan because it requires an extremely tedious kind of surgery, conducted under a microscope with microsurgical instruments.

“David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel were micromapping the visual cortex to learn how vision is processed….They also discovered that there was a ‘critical period’, from the third to the eighth week of life, when the newborn kitten’s brain had to receive vision stimulation in order to develop normally….Clearly the brains of the kittens during the critical period were plastic, their structure were literally shaped by experience.”-p51

“It also seemed that each neural system had a different critical period, or window of time, during which it was especially plastic and sensitive to the environment, and during which it had rapid, formative growth.”-p52

“It is important to understand that the nervous system is divided into two parts. The first part is the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), which is the command-and-control center of the system; it was thought to lack plasticity. The second part is the peripheral nervous system, which brings messages from the sense receptors to the spinal cord and brain and carries messages from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles and glands. The peripheral nervous system was long known to be plastic; if you cut a nerve in your hand, it can ‘regenerate’ or heal itself.”-p53

Each neuron has three parts:

  1. The dendrites: treelike branches that receive input from other neurons.
  2. Dendrites lead to cell body: sustain the life of the cell and contains its DNA.
  3. Axon: a living cable with varying lengths (from microscopic lengths in the brain, to some that can run down to the legs and reach up to six feet long.) Axons are often compared to wires because they carry electrical impulses at very high speeds (from 2-200 miles per hour) toward the dendrites of neighboring neurons.

A neuron can receive two kinds of signals: those that excite it and those that inhibit it.

  1. A neuron receives enough excitatory signals from other neurons, it will fire off its signal.
  2. A neuron receives enough inhibitory signals, it becomes less likely to fire.

“When we say that neurons ‘rewire’ themselves, we mean that alterations occur at the synapse, strengthening and increasing, or weakening and decreasing, the number of connections between the neurons.”

The occult

It rides on the wind, lurking in the dark corner of my hippocampus:
watching the cocoa cookie dough ferment in the sun,
my tore up dress drips it’s cotton fabric into the water, and
the momument standing in solitude embraces the peculier Feburary gloom.
Why not go back in time?

Then you start to tag me between those sheets:
my name, your name, their names, coalesced;
the extraneous, the eccentric, the exact, commingled;
obsolete tales, novel legends, timing lies, merged.
So I’ve heard, your chant, floating, drifting, disolving.

The bleeding scalple makes it impossible to fathom home:
brutal imaginations align before summer returns;
submissive servants bow when the master arrives;
you suffer and fall apart till desperation strikes; yet
I am too stucked to make out of the occult.

How Best to Avoid Dying-Owen Egerton

“I had thought you were not in this story. None of the characters are based on you. But perhaps you are here. Perhaps the three (Zane, Stella, and David) are you. Zane is action; David is inaction; Stella orbits the two like a comet between stars. Is your genius your contradictions? Is your being the unlikely love affair and hate affair of anonymous elements? The pain and joy of your year has pushed out the edges of your soul. In some ways it can hold more than it ever held. But the seams are torn and your soul pours out on me and all those you see.”-note 11; p82

“The sky is high and far. The cliffs are old. In Utah everything stretches up, out, back, and I find me nowhere but now and alone. It’s a good lonely, still hurts, still hollow, but being lonely in a beautiful place is finer than being lonely on my brother’s couch. It’s kind of a scary lonely. I’m afraid it might get me. Especially when the sun goes down. If you get lonely enough God will meet you there. I’m afraid to try.”-p163

“Anywhere in the world, he’d be young.”-p165

“‘Where you fear there is judgement, where you hope there is nothing, in that place there is actually love.'”-p175

But where there is actually love, there would be no judgement; there will be nothing in a way exact you want it to be, a comfortable emptiness that allows you to be you.

*

I bought this book [the yellow cover editon] at Quimby’s, Wicker Park. That was the first independent bookstore J had taken me to.
I bought this book, and started reading in the apartment on Church St. That book, and the first several stores kept me accompany for something like two months, before I graduated, before all began.

Then it stayed in my bookshelf then my moving boxes then my bookshelf again for one and a half year. When I picked it up, I thought it would be something entertaining on my daily commute. But it turns out to be a wonderful book that I’ve long forgotten. The way Egerton plays with words and culture, the insightful and acerbic irony in his observation of our society are all like mouths bursting out cold laugh. Well you just start to notice how absurd life could be, in a unrealistic but reasonable way.

Of course quantum mechanics and neuroscience and other science tell laws of the factual world, but it is always literature, those stories fictions tales and legends carrying on the spirit, lashing the wrong and spread the right.

I gradually realize that it is always other people and other minds we turn to whenever we get lost. Our interests in the enormous universe or the microworld as tiny as a neuron or a photon are just ways to open up a new world, that we could hide and explore, assume and learn. But it is the words related to this world, directly dealing with our heart and soul, that reveals us the path of our individual life. That’s something we shouldn’t give up to, for we are human beings not only having distinguished reasoning skills, but also experience highly emotional and sentimental.

The best thing is, I am always amazed to see that science and literature could be entangled in such a harmonious way rather than conflict with each other.