Archive for the ‘memory’ Category

The Year of Bugs and Mosses


Thanks to all who helped me ring in the thirty-second, whether by presence, words, presents, or thoughts. I couldn’t have made it this far without you.

I’m dedicating this year to all the little live things that go so often overlooked. The canaries in coal mines, the ancient unchanged organisms, the green things and crawly things and fluttery things we walk past without noticing … until they are gone, covered over by pavement or pesticides. The good bugs and the bad bugs, the bed bugs and true bugs and pretty bugs and ugly bugs. The ferns, the mosses, the lichens and fungi, the algae and the trillion trillion cyanobacteria. Frog homes and lizard homes, pond scums and epiphytes. The creatures just big enough to swat with a newspaper and those too small to see without a loupe or a macro lens or a microscope. I’m no biologist, but I’m certainly not gonna let them have all the fun. I’ll keep a journal, I’ll write a blog, I’ll take notes and make pictures and put them in all in a book just to make sure nobody forgets.

This year’s for you, Jean-Henri.


E.O. Wilson on Memory


What happened, what we think happened in distant memory, is built around a small collection of dominating images.

Consider how long-term memory works. With each changing moment, the mind scans a vast landscape of jumbled schemata, searching for the one or two decisive details upon which rational action will be based. The mind with a search image is like a barracuda. The large predatory fish pays scant attention to the rocks, pilings, and vast array of organisms living among them. It waits instead for a glint of silver that betrays the twisting body of a smaller fish. It locks on this signal, rushes forward, and seizes the prey in its powerful jaws. Its singlemindedness is why swimmers are advised not to wear shiny bracelets or wrist watches in barracuda waters.

The human mind moving in a sea of detail is compelled like a questing animal to orient by a relatively few decisive configurations. There is an optimum number of such signals. Too few, and the person becomes compulsive-obsessive; too many, and he turns schizophrenic. Configurations with the greatest emotional impact are stored first and persist longer. Those that give the greatest pleasure are sought on later occasions. The process is strongest in children, and to some extent it programs the trajectory of their lives. Eventually they will weave the decisive images into a narrative by which they explain to themselves and others the meaning of what has happened to them. As the Talmud says, we see things not as they are, but as we are.

Excerpted from the autobiography of Edward O. Wilson, Naturalist.
Image from here.

Ptilonorhynchidae: A Bird with Bling


Welcome to my blog. You’ll see that everything is very orderly here, with lots of interesting tidbits from all over the world for you to gaze upon and wonder over. If you like what you see, perhaps I will treat you to a brief display of my dancing abilities, which you will be able to view on YouTube. Forgive me if my clothing is somewhat drab, but I think you’ll agree that my blog more than makes up for it.

My interest in the family Ptilonorhynchidae (Bowerbirds) was renewed recently when I rented and viewed this excellent David Attenborough documentary a few weeks ago. Though occasionally heavy-handed, it was nonetheless life-changing and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

(Should you encounter difficulties in viewing the program in its entirety, please accept an open invitation to view it at my residence when next you find yourself in the neighborhood.) I would be very much obliged if you could see fit to lend your mind to this particular train of thought: I am interested in discussing what, we must admit, is a rather peculiar avian family … and primarily because I feel that I may be starting to develop sincere doubts about the level to which it may actually be possible to legitimately anthropomorphize some of these little critters. I suppose this is really like a philosophic question which has been around since that Thursday long ago when Man naively assumed that he was wholly different from the Animals; He, exempt from mechanically responding to carnal desires because of an Almightie Soule or some similar metaphorical abstruseness.

At any rate, I’m sure you’ll agree that the behaviors of various members of the family Ptilonorhynchidae suggest an unavoidable parallelism betwixt They and Us. It is this very similarity toward which I hope you might be willing to shed some much-needed light; my mind, such as it is, seems very muddled by the confusing notion that I in all my privations may share some rather grave characteristics with a handful of obsessive Australian catbirds.

Satin Bowerbird (P. violaceus) photo from here.

Recipe for Disappointment


Lentil & rice dish, ayurvedic: yellow lentils, coriander, misc. spices

Winter salad: raspberry vinaigrette (rasp. preserves, balsamic vinegar, white vinegar, salt/pepper to taste, whisk in olive oil); fresh salad greens; candied walnuts (shell walnuts, whip one egg white, blend in 1/2 c. brown sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, fold in walnuts, bake 350 deg 10 minutes in single layer, cool); mushrooms; carrots; crumbled goat cheese; pears (oregon best)

Appetizers: asst. pitted olives, wheat crackers, artisan cheese, monofloral honeys (tupelo, chestnut), peasant loaf bread

Wine: Pinot Black (Chile), Garnacha (Spain), Cab Sav/Merlot blend (Patagonia)

Dessert: Ginger Rosewater ice cream, fresh raspberries, orange biscuits dipped in 60% cacao

Sunday 8p, reservation for two three.*

*Ridiculously cute ukulele-playing women should know better than to show up for dinner with news about who they like better than you. It hurt, but I have a memory of a Popeye song that outshines any hard feelings … thanks for being real, Lacey.

Freud Analyzes Your Magic Slate


No, not the “Spirit Slate” (above, from eBay), though that looks like a pretty awesome magic trick. Freud knew it as “Wunderblock” back in 1925, but the children of the 70s and 80s will remember this venerable toy, advertising gimmick, and top-secret communication device* as the one-and-only Magic Slate. Known overseas as the Printator, it was patented in the U.S. by a fellow named Watkins, who (so the story goes) got the prototype in exchange for bailing its inventor out of jail. Freud must have had a total geek-out explosion when he saw this thing:

“It claims to be nothing more than a writing tablet from which notes can be erased by an easy movement of the hand. But if it is examined more closely it will be found that its construction shows a remarkable agreement with my hypothetical structure of our perceptual apparatus …”

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This morning, after reading the very kind sympathy card my vet sent me in the mail yesterday, I saw a single wind turbine propeller being hauled northbound up the 183. It was so big it was hanging off the back of a flatbed and had one of those “oversize load” entourages. I wanted to drop it from the sky to see if it would spin like the samara from a maple tree.

The Bessers

three injections: you (white) and me (pink) and all the things we never said (clear).

Your bright spirit will live on forever in the hearts of all who knew you.


Love is a sandpaper tongue that never stops licking your arm.

(Thanks, Caffreys)

What am I going to grad school for?


Well, memory, actually. Or more precisely, the interaction between the vision system and the memory system. Memory for scenes, photographs, symbols, maps … how visual memories are stored and processed, how artists encode memories into paintings, how teachers use visual aids, how dreams are visualized … it’s two really giant fields and I seem to modulate back and forth between them and with varying degrees of specificity. At the moment I’m just generally awed by the whole thing and how little I know, but I’m sure a couple semesters in a PhD program will cure me of that and I’ll run and hide in some little-known corner of research dealing with rubber bands, reaction times, and Vygotskian scaffolding.

Happy Colonial Parasite Day!


Today we honor Columbus Day by … having parent-teacher conferences? I guess that’s what happens when our memories get sick and start to die … they switch from being “Celebrated!” to just (Observed). And Columbus has certainly been getting sick lately, hasn’t he? Boy, it sure would be great if we could blame him for personally killing all of the Native Americans. You know, make it all his fault and then sweep him and his precious little holiday under the rug? I guess that’s the nice thing about rugged individualism and the American ideal: when we’ve decided we don’t like our heroes anymore, we can just forget about them and they disappear.

We like leaders who will take us into uncharted territory, give us new ideas and move us forward as a culture. Locate a new continent and we will name dozens of cities after you, including our capitol district. You will be applauded, added to the history books, and on one day each year, all of the 2nd graders in the country will chant in unison,

“In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue!”

And then, when these same kids get to high school, they’ll learn about smallpox, and genocide, and slavery, and war, and suburbs, and nuclear waste, and capitalism, and theocracy. No catchy mnemonics for those, are there?

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Well-Respected Beards, No. 022: Joseph LeDoux


New York University: studies Emotion, Memory, and the Brain.
Plays guitar for the Amygdaloids.
Wrote a paper that may have inspired the science behind “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

From a Salon interview:

Q: Most memories degrade and distort with time; why are music memories so sharply encoded?

A: I know from my own experience that it’s a very powerful way to remember things. I’ve found that in the short time we’ve been playing music we can convey the gist of a concept with a three-minute song that we’d need a chapter for in a book and many, many hours of painstaking work to get across. Then people read it and they forget everything. But you can just sing the line, “An emotional brain is a hard thing to tame,” which captures the essence of the concept, and people remember it.