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~~~~~~~~ In Memoriam: Matthew Matherne (1981 - 2015) ~~~~
~~~~~~~~ "Where is my songbird to sing his song for me?" ~~~~~
~~~~~~~~ Songbird sung by Barbra Streisand ~~~~~
~~~~~~~~ Click Here for Newspaper Story of Dr. Matthew's Life ~~~~~
WELCOME TO DIGESTWORLD ISSUE#15c December, 2015== == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == ==Quote for the Darkening Month of December:
Night hides the world but reveals a universe.
— Persian Proverb
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DIGESTWORLDArchived DIGESTWORLD Issues
GOOD MOUNTAIN PRESS Presents ISSUE#15c for December, 2015
Table of Contents
1. December's Violet-n-Joey Cartoon
2. Honored Readers for December
3. On a Personal Note
Rainbows & Shadows Poems
4. Cajun Story
5. Household Hint for December, 2015 from Bobby Jeaux: Setting up Large Christmas Tree
6. Poem from Cosmic and Human Metamorphoses:"The Great Spirit of Earth"
7. Reviews and Articles featured for December:
8. Commentary on the World
- ARJ2: From Comets to Cocaine, GA# 348 by Rudolf Steiner
- ARJ2: Bright Air, Brilliant Fire by Gerald M. Edelman
- ARJ2: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- ARJ2: A Leg to Stand On — A Neurography by Oliver Sacks
1. Padre Filius Cartoon
2. Comments from Readers
3. Freedom on the Half Shell Poem
9. Closing Notes — our mailing list, locating books, subscribing/unsubscribing to DIGESTWORLD
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1. December Violet-n-Joey CARTOON:
== == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == ==This month Violet and Joey learn about Fishing.
For newcomers to DIGESTWORLD, we have created a webpage of all the Violet-n-Joey cartoons!
"Fishing" at http://www.doyletics.com/images/151109vj.jpg
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2. HONORED READERS FOR December:
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Each month we choose to honor two Good Readers of our DIGESTWORLD from those all over the World. Here are the two worthy Honored Readers for December, 2015:
Andrew Weir in New Orleans
James Stewart of e-Lib
Congratulations, Andrew and James!
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3. ON A PERSONAL NOTE:
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Out Our Way:
Since I began working full-time as a writer and publisher from my home, I missed having a break room that I walk over to for a cup of coffee and a short conversation with whomever happened to be there. After going to UNO graduate school with my daughter Maureen for several years, I enjoyed stopping with her at PJ's Coffee Shop near the campus. We would meet a classmate Mary there who worked and had a sticker to park on campus. Riding with her back and forth from PJ's saved me and Maureen the cost of a sticker and we got to talk about casework with Mary who was in the graduate Education classes with us. Maureen would get a double latte and I soon switched to having the same for myself. I found that latte with two shots of expresso would keep me alert during the three hour class from 7 to 10 pm once a week. The stop at PJ's made it a convenient time for us to discuss our work on a Final Project for the College Curriculum course one year when we used a Men in Black theme to discuss our curriculum design for aliens arriving at Earth University.
Years later when I was working at home I found a PJ's coffeeshop near me, three of them actually, and I began going there once a day. On my trips back and forth I listened to Teaching Company courses on my CD player. The short 20 minutes trip each way was enough time to get most of a lecture finished each day. Soon I realized that while I had been to PJ's for coffee on the way to College, I was now going to college on my way back and forth to PJ's each day. This month I switched from my regular PJ's on Lapalco to one on General DeGaulle when they decided to stop taking any bills greater than a twenty. To me a twenty dollar bill can buy what a two dollar bill could buy when I was a teenager, and it seems a ridiculous policy. I would add $30 to my PJ's card with a hundred dollar bill ($10 1950s money) to add some smaller bills to my wallet. When they put the new $20 limit policy into effect, I said goodbye to Lapalco and began going to the store on DeGaulle. It is run by Charlie who used to own the Lapalco PJ's.
One day Del and I had an appointment with our new State Farm Agent Randy on DeGaulle Blvd to arrange insurance on our new 2016 Maxima, so I suggested we stop by the PJ's on DeGaulle and it was gone. No sign of it and no sign directing us to a new location. I decided to drive around the newly renovated shopping center and sure enough, there was a brand new PJ's location about a block away from, but out of sight of, the older location. As we got out of our car to cross the street into the PJ's there was Charlie walking up to his store, and we got to talk to him. He wanted the new location so he could install a drive-through window and that has brought him a lot of new business. Gradually I have made new friends and met a couple of old friends at the new location. I am enjoying the new route, exploring all the new options of driving to and from home.
Ever since I have been working from home, I took over the weekly grocery trips from Del. She had continued to work for almost another decade while I was home writing, so I took over the cooking and by doing the grocery buying, I could walk down the aisles of the grocery and get inspirations for what to cook during the upcoming week. I made a it a point to have a hot meal, often with a salad, for Del when she came home from work each night. I evolved a couple of dishes that didn't require a lot of preparation and could cook themselves without my constant attention. The Swooning Eggplant was one and the Artichoke Flowers was another. The artichokes had be boiled in the a pot for an hour. With ten minutes preparation before the boiling and fifteen minutes after the hour was over, I could work during the hour and just listen for the timer bell to ring.
Recently a Spa opened up near us in Timberlane Estates and Del bought me a month of massages as a gift. Those four massages were enough for me to decide that I could use a weekly massage. I schedule my weekly massage right before my weekly grocery trip for convenience. It's hard for me to concentrate on my writing when the maid is vacuuming and doing various things in the house, the grocery/massage trip is scheduled on the morning that she is here each week.
I was invited by Ott, a regular at the weekly pool night at my club, to join the guys there. I finally bought myself a pool cue and began going and I like the guys. No betting on game, no hassles, just guys enjoying games of eight ball for fun. My few years of playing pool regularly go back to the mid-1950s when my parents hauled me away from the city of New Orleans to a remote subdivision in the middle of nowhere on US 90. There was no where one could go without wheels, which I didn't have until I was almost finished college. But the Lion Oil Company where my dad worked had an air-conditioned Recreation Hall with two pool tables and a Snooker table. It was a long walk, over white clamshells, and it was scorchingly hot in the summertime, but a cool oasis of fun awaited at the end of the 30-minute trek. If the tables were busy, there was a large screen TV and comfortable chairs. Didn't play pool much after I went to college, had kids, and moved around the country to new jobs in the burgeoning computer field. So my pool muscles and skills were rusty from many decades away from the game, but gradually I'm getting my strokes and chops back. I knew that I was becoming a regular this month when I missed a pool night to make our monthly Patio Planters meeting, and one of the guys said they missed me that night.
It occurred to me that I usually only mention in these Personal Notes special events that we attend, and have rarely mentioned the regular events.
One of the monthly trips I make to my book club meetings which for November we were going to discuss "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr. It had come highly recommended to me, so I decided it was time for me to clear my palette of non-fiction with a novel. It was a daunting challenge, over 500 pages, enough to scare off at least one book club member from even attempting it, but it was well worth my effort. Turns out that Del had loaded the novel into her Kindle Fire and began reading a few days after I started, finishing shortly before I wrote my review of the novel and so she went right from reading the novel to reading and copy-editing my review of the novel. You can read it below for yourself.
One of my criteria for a great book is one that inspires me to write a poem, and Doerr's book inspired me to write several poems, including a long one on the Iliad which gave me a chance to share some thoughts on the evolution of consciousness that have rattled around my brain for several decades, particularly how the evolution writing came into being and how Homer's works bridge the non-writing to the writing eras of humanity. Hope you enjoy the poem as Homer explains to you how his Iliad came into being.
The other book I reviewed this month is non-fiction, A Leg to Stand On, and not a book club selection. It is a book that I read within a year or two of first publication, back when I was working full-time and had not yet begun writing a review after I finished reading a book. That would put my reading in the early 1980s. It may be the first Oliver Sacks book that I read, or it may have been following his wonderfully titled book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat. With the news of Oliver Sacks's death last month, I decided to do an inventory of the books of his that I have already and acquired those that I haven't. I'm up to 14 books of his, and have bought most of the ones I haven't read yet. I will complete re-reading and do reviews of the books I already have and then read the new ones. Shoe-horning his books into my regular reading will keep me busy for several years. One of the advantages of my having waited so long to do A Leg to Stand On is that my own knowledge of brain physiology and neurological functions has grown considerably since my first reading. Hope you enjoy this review.
At our Patio Planters meeting, the speaker talked about organic gardening, but focused on products created in bulk by companies instead of what individuals can do on their own. I talked to the owner of the landscaping company whose employee did the presentation after the meeting. She had mentioned equisetum as a patio plant. I explained to her how she can make equisetum tea with the trimming from equisetum plants and pour the tea on the roots of plants and shrubs that are yellowing or getting mold on them. It is a like a miracle cure for sick-looking plants! Note that I said "sick-looking" — rightly understood, there are no sick plants only bad soil. The use of equisetum tea will bring bad soil back into balance and cure all mold, yellowing, or leaf drop in a couple of weeks. And it's an truly organic product that you can make at home. Just find yourself a source of eguisetum stalks and you're in business.
"Cooking With Gus" was a dinner theater presentation at our country club. We enjoyed "The Dixie Swim Club" so much the previous year that we hoped for another fun night and table full of Wego Folks. Unfortunately Millie was missing in action due to a knee-replacement. When asked how she was, she said, "Can't kick!" Or at least it would have been funny if she had said it. We didn't enjoy this play as much as the previous one; maybe it was first night blues and it got better afterward. Comedy requires timing and that only comes with repetition.Few people realize that what made the Marx brothers so funny was extensive repetition of every gag in night club shows before they got recorded on film. I kept thinking how Lucille Ball would have played "Cooking with Gus" to a houseful of roars. How she did comedy so well with so little repetition is a tribute to her great talent.
Our Annual Gretna Green Gala and Period Dress Golf Tournament happened in mid-month and it was another success. Looking at the clubhouse full of people when the golfers came in from their rounds, and for the first time, it seemed to me that the clubhouse was big enough. The event began as a suggestion from our new mayor Belinda Constant three years ago, a way of celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Founding of our City of Gretna, plus as way of helping to support the Timberlane Country Club which is so important to all residents of Timberlane Estates and doing a charity benfit for some local organization. She thought it was time the City of Gretna showed it appreciation for our asking to be annexed to Gretna, and this Gretna Green event could achieve all those purposes. At the end of this year's event, Mayor Constant declared that from now, the Second Friday of November will celebrated as Gretna Green Day. The chairs of next year's event are already planning for Gretna Green 2016.
This year's theme was Hollywood Stars of the 1940s. Del and I dressed as Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. She had a specially-designed Ginger Rogers hairdo, and I had my Top Hat and Tails outfit on. The entertainment this year was the Victory Belles who are a regular feature at the World War II Museum near here. Victory Belles are dynamite singers, dancers, and good sports. At one point in their show, they picked Jerry Daul out of the audience and gave him a wig to look like Billis decked out for "Honey Bun" as they sang the South Pacific tune to him.
Later they did the title song from "Hello, Dolly", and the singer with red hair came into the audience to sing to me briefly and then turned and sang to George Stunk dressed as John Wayne. When she sang the line, "Find me an empty lap, fellows" to him, I immediately sat down nearby and she came over and finished her song, sitting on my lap, as I waved my top hat in the air. I must say that when she first sat down, my lap was indeed empty. Before we left I bought a large movie poster of Casablanca which now has an honored place on the left wall of our Screening Room.
A few years ago I discovered the joys of a Fall and Winter garden: Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Kale, Swiss Chard, Cauliflower, and Irish Potatoes. Most of those are growing and thriving in our Veggie and Babe Gardens now. Also a random turnip showed up. Thought it was a large radish, but tastes like a turnip, which we don't cook. I had too much of it when we were kids. Mom tried to disguise it as potato stew, but I knew by smell when I walked in her kitchen. She always put it in her vegetable soup which I grew to hate. I also hated cabbage, until as an adult I tried boiling cabbage lightly and loved it. Seems Mom always overcooked her cabbage. Which leads me up to Del's Minestrone Soup. It's been a hit with me since she first made it some three decades ago. Recipe is on the doyletics.com website. It features cabbage, so when the first cold spell comes, usually in November as it did this year, it's minestrone time.By cold, for you Upper U. S. folks, I mean lows of 50 and highs of 65, which we had last week and my first Dutch Flat Cabbage head was ripe for the picking. Half went into the minestrone soup and half into cole slaw. Potato salad goes great with hot gumbo, and cole slaw with minestrone. With the recipe you can only make a large pot full, but it lasts, tastes better the second and third days. With microwave oven, heating the soup right out of the fridge in the bowl, does not reheat the rest of the soup, so it always tastes freshly cooked and it's so convenient: Only the bowl needs washing.
Broccoli heads are forming on a dozen plants in the Veggie Garden. One of them we break a small sprig off each day to eat raw. One of the large heads, I made into a very simple and delicious Cream of Broccoli Soup. I boiled the head, broke it into pieces and with an inch or so of water added three cans of Cream of Mushroom soup and heated the mixture up. Then ran it through the VitaMix to blend it till no mushrooms or broccoli pieces showed. Some Tony's for seasoning and it was delicious, tasting only of broccoli. Minimal clean up, too. Just the Mixer and the Pot and the bowls.
Another cold weather treat for us is baked sweet potatoes. Use medium-sized oval yams and hand-butter each yam all over. Place buttered yams on a foil-covered pan (for easy clean-up: just throw away the foil afterward).
Bake at 350 degF for at least an hour, more for large diameter sweet potatoes.
Pierce with fork and if it goes in center of largest yam easily, it's done. Do not cover with foil.
Del likes the yam-candy which often drips while baking onto the foil lined pan bottom. Let the candy cool and peel and eat.
GOOD NEWS ABOUT LSU AND SAINTS FOOTBALL
There's always next year. New teams, new coaches, new hopes and dreams.
GLITCHES OF THE MONTH:
The middle of November was filled with glitches, there were Gremlins Licking In The Computer Hardware and software all over the place. Some of them have been fixed, some of them just went away, and some them I just deferred until later. Amazingly all of the below Glitches took place from November 10 through 12, and all the problems were cleared up by Friday the 13th.
QWERTY NUMBERS BROKEN
One morning I was processing photos and in both Picture Publisher and Photo Shop and noticed that I could only type the number 0 from the top row of my keyboard. If I went to the numerical pad to the right of my keyboard, I could type the numbers in okay. Here's the freaky part: in WordPerfect, all the numbers typed in with no problems. Checked a couple of other word processors, and they were okay. Weird but not a big problem, until I noticed that my MultiClip app no longer would switch between each of the ten clipboards. A CTRL-4, e.g., activates Clipboard 4, but I couldn't switch to any Clipboard. That would cause me major problems in the last week of the month as I need to switch clipboards hundreds of times to add photos to my new DIGESTWORLD issue. I reloaded MultiClip , no help. I tried changing the Hot Keys to the Number Pad, no deal. Tried this row of letters QWERTYIOUP and that didn't work. Finally just set the app back to normal numbers and gave up on it.I considered rebooting to fix the problem but decided to avoid that time-consuming and likely unnecessary routine. I did change to a new keyboard, and that fixed the number entry into Picture Publisher and Photo Shop, but I still couldn't switch MultiClip to various Clipboards. An hour later or so when I returned from shopping for groceries at Rouse's, I was typing these notes and thought to try the CTRL-4 and guess what? The small icon in the tray changed to 4, all of my Clipboard shortcuts were working okay again. Sly devils them gremlins.
OUTLOOK RESTARTING ITSELF:
One morning my primary email program, Outlook, was not working right in auxiliary or Read-Only Inbox. That's the one that I use for emails that are not personal and ones that typically do not need a reply. I get some Poynter, Economist, Word Rake, Architectural Digest, and many other emails through that Inbox.
On this morning, about half the emails I tried to look at in that auxiliary Inbox would cause Outlook to abort itself and restart. I could see the first part of the email before it disappeared. I was unable to find any pattern, except it seems to involve emails with graphics, but not all graphics caused a problem. If I moved the email to my primary Inbox, it would also trigger an abort. I tried rebooting my computer, but the problem survived the boot, and went on for several days. Since this Inbox has non priority emails coming into it, usually, I could wait to see if it cleared itself up. Sure enough, it did. One morning the Outlook restarting problem disappeared after a reboot overnight. I believe the overnight rebooting was due to my Internet Explorer being upgraded to IE11.
GLITCH TO KEYBOARD SWITCH:
The new keyboard I switched to because of the number glitch above had a serious problem with the ENTER Key not working half the time. I had booght two identical keyboards at the same time because they had all the features I wanted and I like having a backup to all my hardware whenever possible. So I was delighted to have the new keyboard, but was soon disgruntled when the most frequently used key on a keyboard, the ENTER (carriage return) Key misfired about half the time. There I was typing 60 wpm and having to Bang! Bang! Bang! till the carriage would return to the next line! My right hand pinky was getting angry, so I went back to the original keyboard. If I had just bought these two keyboards, I would return the defective one, but unfortunately the good one was the one I used for two years, and it's way too late to return the defective on. Usually I have to replace a keyboard because many of the white letters have been rubbed off in the sequence of frequency of use: ETAOINSHRDLU, etc. I hated to have to shelve a keyboard with all its letters still showing.
One morning I went to my club's website to check on a lecture schedule, and the entire webpage was completely BLACK. I searched some emails to find the lecture I was checking on, but it was another one of those unknown unknowns which pop up and later go away and you never find out why. I remember fondly those good ole days when computer systems were completely deterministic and if they did something strange it was due to a hardware problem which could be fixed. Now they break and fix themselves without a by-your-leave or even a letter of condolence.
We drove up to Alexandria in Central Louisiana to have Thanksgiving with the Gralapps, our daughter Kim's family. I brought some New Orleans French Bread and about a dozen bunches of green onions from the Babe Garden to make a large oyster dressing, one of our son-in-law Wes's favorite dishes. Weslee and Thomas came home from college for the day, and Katie, Stephen, and Ben drove in from Woodworth, twenty minutes away.Wes's brother Cole and his wife, Carla, and their two daughters, Maggie and Lily, were there, as well as Bill and Carol Hatchett. The dishes were too numerous to count, but my favorite was the baked sweet potatoes, the oyster dressing, and the Key Lime Pie that Carla baked.
The weather was almost summer-like and the predicted rain shower missed us completely. Del took a photo of me and Wes sitting on the outside patio and called the shot, the calm before the storm. Meaning the arrival of the rest of the gang and the preparation of all the food and the Thanksgiving Feast itself around 2:30. Del went to the movies with everybody and Wes and I remained in the quiet of the house in the evening. The next morning Del and I drove home to get our Christmas Tree and for me to finish up this Issue by adding the photos. Usually takes me several days to do this and the holiday coming at the end of the month means a lot of work before the first of December rolls around.
BABIES IN THE OVEN
We have a grand-daughter in the oven in San Anselmo, about ready to come out, we're waiting any day, any minute for word of her arrival. In an old-fashioned move, her parents Robie and Meghan are waiting to meet her in person before giving her a name.IMPORTANT MESSAGE:
Meanwhile, closer to home, the small town of Woodworth, south of Alexandria, is experiencing another population boom, as our great-grandson Ben Upton is expecting a brother or sister in about 7 months. Our grand-daughter Katie and her husband Stephen are the lucky expectant parents. I was surprised to discover that Ben is already 8 months old, crawling around on the floor, trying to raise himself erect, and loves bouncing up and down in the jumping-jack seat hung from the top of an open door frame. Walking, talking, and teething all about to break out in his life any day now.
EVERY GOOD THING MUST COME TO A NEW GOOD BEGINNING
For the past 30 days, November arrived with wet and cold weather, great for staying indoors, writing, and wrapping Christmas presents. Our Fall Gardens are being harvested now. Took up half of the green onion patch to make the oyster dressing for the Thanksgiving feast. Bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, red potatoes, kale, parsley, basil are being used already. Our holiday plans are shaping up with celebrations at John's home for Del's brood and at Timberlane for my brood. Till we meet again at the end of December and the year 2015, God Willing, stay warm and cozy and enjoy the wonderful Christmas Season with your loved ones. We hope whatever you do, wherever in the world you and yours reside, be it warm or freezing, that you will remember this: Peace and Serenity can only be found within, and so we offer this earnest wish for you, in the last month of this great year:
MAY YOUR WORLD REMAIN PEACEFUL AND SERENE IN TWENTY-FIFTEEN
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Quotes Selected from quotes.htm this month:
- Don't give up — Moses was once a basket case!
- TIDBITS OF INFORMATION ADDED.
If a statue in the park of a person on a horse has both front legs in the air, the person died in battle.
If the horse has one front leg in the air, the person died because of wounds received in battle.
If the horse has all four legs on the ground, the person died of natural causes.
New Stuff on Website:From Rainbows & Shadows, A 1995 Book of Poetry by Bobby Matherne
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky.
What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 53
Why rainbows and shadows? One reminds us of joyful occasions and the other of things that go bump in the night. First, rainbows.
In 1995 I stood in the open doorway of my garage before driving to work on my last day before retirement from the Waterford 3 Nuclear Power Plant, and I saw a beautiful double rainbow in the morning sky before me. My heart lept up like Wordsworth's when I saw that omen. I remembered that the source of the rainbow is in my heart, and was in the heart of everyone who took the time to observe a rainbow that morning. We each saw a different rainbow, and each one we saw was truly our own rainbow.
In 2015 a double rainbow appeared as I looked out my garage door in the morning of the same day I celebrated twenty years of working full-time as a writer, publisher, photographer, cartoonist, and poet. The beat goes on . . .
Likewise, each shadow we encounter is truly our own shadow, created by the materialistic stuff of our world blocking the light of the Sun. Shadows are the dark colors of the artist's pallette of our lives, without which there would be no texture, no structure, no light. As I reviewed my poems for this volume, I found some were naturally rainbows and some naturally shadows, and I separated them into one section called Rainbows and one called Shadows. My wife Del likes me to read to her one Rainbow followed by one Shadow — they seem to complement each other, she says. I have put the section titles in the header to facilitate such a manner of reading.
In addition to the poem, I have included a short note (where available), which notes altogether contain a panoply of information about my poems: when they were written, what I was doing at the time, what I was reading that inspired them, and on what scrap of paper I wrote them. Poems do not "form in their own water" (as my friend Calvin said of volcanoes), but they may form in the water of ideas suggested by others and completed in some fashion by me. In gratitude, I include in many of the Notes the authors' names and sometimes a brief reference or quote of the source of the inspiration. By reading the Notes, one may readily discern my favorite authors and assorted sources of inspiration during the five-year period of writing this book.
There is an ambiguity in the phrase driving to work that leaves unspecified whether I was alone in the car at the time. Believe me, I could never think these thoughts if I were not alone in the car. Sometimes I listened to jazz on WWOZ, sometimes to classical on WWNO, and sometimes only to the thoughts of the writer of the book I was reading and my own thoughts, but always moving on. Like rainbows and shadows are always moving, so was I.
You may have a moving experience also as you join me in my carpool of one on the highway of life. Welcome Aboard! What would you like on the radio, classical or jazz?
These poems are from Bobby Matherne's 1995 book of poetry, Rainbows & Shadows, and have never been published on the Internet before. Here near the beginning of the new millennium, we are publishing five poems until all poems have been published on-line.
1. Rainbows & Shadows
written by Peter Devine
To Play’s The Thing
One sunny, bright, and cloudy day
Young Bobby’s mind went out to play
We’ve haven’t seen it since that time
But Rainbows often come our way
In Mystic Showers, full of Glee,
Magic, and Philosophy.
No reason binds this poet’s rhyme,
He writes because his mind is free.
Once again Bobby has slipped the surly bounds of the FAA, ICC, FCC, NBC, and Polite Society and has brought back a shipload of treasures from other planes, other rooms.
Take time to examine them, and you’ll want to make the trip yourself!
— Peter Devine
2. Shadow3. Rainbow
I Met A Man
I met a man who wasn't there
and wouldn't go away
I wondered what he stood for
and what he had to say.
So I asked him some few questions
and listened to him tell
The answers of a lifetime
that he knew and told so well.
That man is always there for me
he will not go away
He wasn't there again today —
I guess I'll have to let him stay.
NOTE: "I Met A Man":
Inspired by old poem about a man who wasn’t there. Collaboration of Del Matherne and me in the writing of the three stanzas. Reminds me of the story about a man named George going to work and seeing a man with his ear to the wall at the top of the stairs. On his way home George passed the same way and there was the man with his ear still to the wall. George stopped and put his ear to the wall. “I don’t hear anything,” George said. “Yeah,” the man responded, “it’s been like that all day.”
Return to Chaos
Born of many springs
I come to you a seed
Planted in the womb of creation
Nourished by the gentle rain of thought
An overcrowding closes me in
Prophets of doom are everywhere
And few speak of the profits of doom
In the miracle of transformation and rebirth.
In Praise of Procrastination
Seeking ever to postpone
till the last moment
So if life should end
ere one return to them
an extra measure
May have been squeezed
from the fruit
So, rightly understood,
one may purchase
an extra lease
on this mortal plane
By mortgaging the future
To survive to complete
the task thus converts
the pain into joy.
NOTE: "In Praise of Procrastination":
It may not have been necessary to write this down, but I have been putting off doing it for so long, it's about time I give its originator credit. Don't recall the black-haired beauty's name, but she was my German Literature professor during a memorable 1961 LSU summer class that I spent on the shores of the Lake of the Bees reading Immensee in German. She was in a class by herself because she told us of the virtues of procrastination this way, "If you put something off long enough, you don't have to do it." What a great rule! I would have included in my Matherne's Rules, if I had only thought of it on my own. But I have certainly adopted it into my life.
For you skeptics on this issue, take heart in this: you are in a great majority! Few people think highly of procrastination, so nothing I can say will change your mind. For you it is important to do things on time or, lacking that, to feel bad if you don't do things on time. Am I right or am I lying? But Ms. Schwarz, as I will call the professor whose name I forgot as soon as I graduated the next year, allowed me to escape the semantic net which enmeshes so many people in the world, up until now. For that I am eternally grateful and can wait to tell her. She, of all people, will understand.
It's not surprising one and all
That as we walk we do not fall,
We look behind us as before
And navigate right through the door.
Yet though it's true in every clime,
No one suspects it's true of time:
Memories of the past and future
Present us with unconscious lure.
NOTE: "Memories' Present":
This poem was written on March 30, 1995. It is based on my hypothesis that we remember future as well as past events, but because the future events have not happened yet, we don’t have a convenient peg on which to hang the inputs from the future, and the data is most often lost. Valuable data from the future is thus lost because it reaches people as feelings and most people do not appreciate the value of their feeling states. I feel this may be exactly such a memory from the future. See also my poem Bareback Rider published in an earlier Issue, but without its NOTE. Poems missing NOTEs will be republished later with their NOTEs included.
New Stuff on the Internet:
- [add here]
Movies we watched this past month:Notes about our movies: Many of the movies we watch are foreign movies with subtitles. After years of watching movies in foreign languages, Arabic, French, Swedish, German, British English, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and many other languages, sometimes two or three languages in the same movie, the subtitles have disappeared for us. If the movie is dubbed in English we go for the subtitles instead because we enjoy the live action and sounds of the real voices so much more than the dubbed. If you wonder where we get all these foreign movies from, the answer is simple: NetFlix. For a fixed price a month they mail us DVD movies from our on-line Queue, we watch them, pop them into a pre-paid mailer, and the postman effectively replaces all our gas-consuming and time-consuming trips to Blockbuster. To sign up for NetFlix, simply go to http://www.netflix.com/ and start adding all your requests for movies into your personal queue. If you've seen some in these movie blurbs, simply copy the name, click open your queue, and paste the name in the Search box on NetFlix and Select Add. Buy some popcorn and you're ready to Go to the Movies, 21st Century Style. You get to see your movies as the Director created them — NOT-edited for TV, in full-screen width, your own choice of subtitles, no commercial interruptions, and all of the original dialogue. Microwave some popcorn and you're ready to Go to the Movies, 21st Century Style. With a plasma TV and Blu-Ray DVD's and a great sound system, you have theater experience without someone next to you talking on a cell phone during a movie plus a Pause button for rest room trips.Hits (Watch as soon as you can. A Don't Miss Hit is one you might otherwise have missed along the way.):
P. S. Ask for Blu-Ray movies from NetFlix, and if it says DVD in your Queue, click and select Blu-Ray version."The Age of Adaline" (2015) First scene her age comes up, and the rest of the movie answers the question why she needs a new identity as she moves to a new state. This is a Frankenstein movie with a beautiful young woman brought to life. Women will notice that Adaline's emotional responses are opposite to their own until the very end. A DON'T MISS HIT ! ! ! ! !
"Fitzcarraldo" (1982) starring Klaus Kinsky as opera-loving loser whose grand plans fell apart, but he wanted to bring Enrico Caruso to sing at his city on the Amazon River, so he unbelievably hauled a large ship over a mountain, ran the rapids with it, and sold it to realize his dream in a most unexpected way.
"The List" (2007) a cautionary tale of inheritance and secrets, "God’s children and their enemies understand the power of prayer."
"Against the Sun" (2015) WWII pilot flies off course and lands in sea with his two-man crew, two 18-year-olds who grow up a lot during the next month as they drift in the Pacific with no rations or water.
"Love & Mercy" (2015) "That’s what you need tonight" in this biopic of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson who fought his demonic psychiatrist with Melanie’s help and discovered "Every Blue Moon your soul comes out to play." A DON’T MISS HIT ! !
"Project Almanac" (2015) teaches a teenager that changing the world one person at a time must begin with yourself. Time Machine: No experience required. User discretion strongly advised.
"Jupiter Ascending" (2015) "Which would you rather do? Own the Earth or clean toilets, Your Majesty?" This amazing movie will answer that question and raise many more.
"Chef" (2014) another pre-teen-saves-the-world fantasy, this time he only saves his El Jefe father from unemployment. If it were this easy, all the unemployed would become rich.
"The Lady" (2011) is Aung San Suu Kyi, the Female Ghandi of Burma who led her country Burma into reform at the sacrifice of her family back in London, her Scottish husband and her sons. A noble deed and a Nobel Prize lady told in a wonderful way. A DON'T MISS HIT! ! !
"Paper Towns" (2015) are faux towns placed on paper maps to catch primary thieves who would copy the map and sell it as their own. Margo wants to leave home and Quentin searches for her in a paper town. Cute maturation of teenagers flick.
"Woman in Gold" (2015) starring Helen Mirren as the niece of the woman in famous gold covered painting by Klimt and four others which had become the national treasure of Austria worth over $100 million dollars. Mirren inherited the piece but it was stolen by Nazis and then claimed by new state of Austria. How can this immigrant shopkeeper in Los Angeles hope to retrieve her family' treasures? A marvelous story of courage and fortitude against overwhelming odds. A DON'T MISS HIT ! ! !
"Trumbo"(2007) documentary of the life of a great Hollywood writer and hero of the Ten.
"Fortress" (2012) new co-pilot of B29 Bomber becomes old hand in five flights from Algeria to Italy during WWII.
"San Andreas" (2015) was the only fault found in this movie with a good script and great special effects. Fasten your seat belts for this one, "Get up against something sturdy", even the Rock emotes. A DON'T MISS HIT! ! !
"The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (2015) same great cast with Richard Gere for seasoning, pure delightful manic fun for people who are discovering two amazing cabdriver truths: "There's no present like the time." and "Some you win; some you learn." Do both with this amazing movie, a sequel with no equal! A DON'T MISS HIT ! ! ! !
"Tomorrowland" (2015) shows the Future's not what it used to be, and comes alive with a testament to EAT-O-TWIST, Everything Allways Turns Out The Way It's Supposed To, after splurging on a lot of special effects to incorporate into future versions of Tomorrowland, no doubt. Movie proves "Dreamers need to stick together", and maybe "Wish upon a star like George Clooney", Walt Disney would have approved. A DON'T MISS HIT!
Misses (Avoid At All Costs): We attempted to watch these this month, but didn't make it all the way through on most of them. Awhile back when three AAAC horrors hit us in one night, I decided to add a sub-category to "Avoid at All Costs", namely, A DVD STOMPER. These are movies so bad, you don't want anyone else to get stuck watching them, so you want to stomp on the disks. That way, if everyone else who gets burnt by the movie does the same, soon no copies of the awful movie will be extant and the world will be better off.What a LUCKY MONTH! No AAACs!
Your call on these — your taste in movies may differ, but I liked them:"Ex Machina" (2015) Ava passed her Turing Test but flunked her Humanity Test by pretending to love a man just to escape and left him to die in a prison, after killing her own creator — the only human who could keep her robotic systems working. Another materialistic fantasy of non-human humanists.
== == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == == ==Le Boudreaux Cajun Cottage, drawn by and Copyright 2011 by Paulette Purser, Used by Permission
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Thanks to Sharon Roberts for sending in this story.
Boudreaux, the smoothest-talking Cajun in the Louisiana National Guard, got called up to active duty. His first assignment was in a military induction center. Because he was a good talker, they assigned him the duty of advising new recruits about government benefits, especially the GI insurance to which they were entitled.
The officer in charge soon noticed that Boudreaux was getting a 99% sign-up rate for the more expensive supplemental form of GI insurance. This was remarkable, because it cost these low-income recruits $30.00 per month for the higher coverage, compared to what the government was already providing at no charge.
The officer decided he'd sit in the back of the room at the next briefing and observe Boudreaux's sales pitch.
Boudreaux stood up before the latest group of inductees and said, "If you has da normal GI insurans an' you goes to Afghanistan an' gets youself killed, da govment' pays you benefishery $20,000. If you takes out da suppmental insurans, which cost you only t'irty dollars a munt, den da governmen' gots ta pay you benefishery $400,000! "Now," Boudreaux concluded,"which bunch you tink dey gonna send ta Afghanistan first?"
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5.Household Hint for December, 2015 from Bobby Jeaux: Setting up Large Christmas Tree
(click links to see photo of ingredients, preparation steps)
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =Handling Large Christmas Trees
From 55 years of selecting, trimming, and setting up Christmas Trees of all sizes, I have a learned a few tricks to make it safe, easy, and efficient with minimal waste of time and materials and easy clean-up. I disdain having Home Depot cutting the base off my trees because I know what my stand looks like and how to trim the tree to fit into it. The tree shown is about 8 to 9 feet tall, but this same technique has worked well with 10 to 12 feet tall. Plus it can be done by one person. The erect tree is shown at right.
Getting the Tree Home:
Empty your trunk and place tree as far into a corner of trunk and secure trunk with a bungee cord as shown in photo below. When you get it home, slide tree out of trunk directly onto the cart. I like our Vermont Country Cart (this one is thirty years old) because the front panel can be removed and the tip of the tree can be placed extending over the front of the cart. The items you'll need:
One Fraser Fir Christmas Tree 8 feet or taller
A Country Cart or equivalent wheelbarrow
An Orca tree cutting handsaw
A large tree stand
Trimming the Base:
Click Here to see Photo of Tree in Cart, Stand, and Saw. Trim away the bottom branches so that the base of the tree can reach the bottom which has a projecting metal piece to anchor the tree. Set the botton of tree on the handle of the cart for easy cutting of the base. Then carefully cut the base so that it is perpendicular to the tree's trunk. A good eye will do fine or a carpenter's square can help. You'll want to remove at least 2" to ensure the dry end will be cut away and the tree can drink up water during the month in the stand.
Attaching to Stand:
The cart will help make this easy. Simply extend the bare end of the trimmed trunk over the handle and begin tightening the screws against the tree trunk, keeping the bottom of the stand perpendicular to the tree. Some final adjustments will be possible when the tree is stood up, but get as close as you can at this stage.
Erecting Tree in the House:
With the tree on the cart, it's possible to roll the cart indoors. Make sure to roll it base first. Once in place the tree can be pulled over the handle of the cart and erected in place over an waterproof old tablecloth to protect the floor. A festive red skirt can be placed over the tablecloth later.
Keep the red skirt open at the back and refill the water every other day or so. So chemicals are needed to keep the tree fresh for a month. We've found the Fraser Fir to last the longest of any other tree and to shed fewer needles. We used the Balsam firs for many years, but once we tried a Fraser Fir we used it exclusively.
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6. POETRY by BOBBY from Cosmic and Human Metamorphoses:
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The Great Spirit of Earth
The Earth is a Great Spirit
That always Faces the Sun
And Bows to the Sun
To the Great Spirit of the Sun
Once a Year.
The Earth Spirit faces
The Sun in full Consciousness
While the Back of its Mind
Is off in Space being Infused
By the Spirit of the Night
By the Great Astral Spirits of the Night.
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7. REVIEWS and ARTICLES for December:
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For our Good Readers, here are the reviews and articles featured this month. The first and second reviews this month are be ones which were never published in early DIGESTWORLD ISSUES and will be of interest to our DIGESTWORLD Readers. The rest of the items will be new additions to the top of A Reader's Journal, Volume 2, Chronological List, new additions to A Reader's Treasury, or Essays previously unpublished.
NOTE: some Reviews shown in this issue may be condensations of long Reviews, possibly lacking footnotes and some quoted passages. For your convenience, if you wish to read the review with the photos or to print it out, simply CLICK on the Book Cover or choose Printer Ready option on the top line of a review page when it opens.
1.) ARJ2: From Comets to Cocaine, GA# 348 by Rudolf Steiner
This book was originally published under the title Health and Illness before the decision to publish a series of "From . . . to . . ." books was made — thus the major theme will be on health and illness as seen from many different perspectives. The first example Steiner gives demonstrates the principle "All Meanings Are True" — which means that all one has to talk about is one's self, whether one knows it or not. Here is an example of a man who didn't know he was talking about his own health until it was too late. A prominent financier, William Windom, was addressing a trade and transport convention and began his speech by saying, "We need to reform our whole trade and transport system, for as they are today they contain something unhealthy." He talked about immoral concepts in commerce being like poison in the blood stream.
[page 12, 13] Now it struck his listeners that Mr Windom became a bit grey as he spoke of arteries in the context of economic life. They were surprised that someone who had previously spoken only of matters pertaining to economy and finance, who had in fact begun his speech on these subjects, should suddenly use this rather apt analogy and even elaborate on it. He described in detail how poison penetrates the blood and referred to moral concepts. This was indeed a change of subject, and after uttering the words, "Immoral concepts go like poison through the arteries of industrial commerce," he collapsed. He had a stroke and died on the spot.
What happened here? He was speaking from an internal script and the internal condition of his body began to provide the metaphors to describe the conditions he perceived in the outside world of commerce. This process of the choice of metaphors is one that I first became sensitive to while studying with Richard Bandler and John Grinder about 30 years ago. If you study carefully the process of selecting which metaphors to use to achieve a certain therapeutic result in others, you cannot help but notice the metaphors you otherwise select at random or spontaneously at other times. You begin to notice that the processes of at random and spontaneously comprise an illusion — an unhealthy illusion at that — and that everything you speak reveals something about you. Attention to what comes otherwise at random or spontaneously out of your mind and mouth is important information that, applied in time, can prevent the type of thing happening to you that happened to William Windom.
[page 14] Whenever we talk we are actually always reading something that is going on within us. Naturally, what we say is based upon our external experiences, but that mingles with what goes on in our bodies. Our utterances are actually read off from our inner processes, which of course do not always have such sad consequences for us a stroke. Every time you say something, even if it's only five words, you read it from within your body.
As Steiner covers the topic "Illnesses at Different Periods of Life" he explains something that medical science tells us today but doesn't explain why: that various conditions of drug use and illness in pregnant mothers end up creating mentally deficient children. On page 23 there's a drawing Steiner made of a tiny fetus which shows that the most prominent part of the baby at this stage is the head. Any defect in the mother's condition will affect the head of the fetus and create some mental deficiency.
[page 23, 24] Whatever the child can inherit must be inherited first of all from its head. Therefore, if the mother is consumptive, one need not be surprised that her condition is not passed on to the lungs of the unborn child, which, after all, are not even functioning yet. The condition is rather carried over into the head and comes to expression in the brain. Thus, nobody should be surprised that the disease inherited is quite different from that of the parent. Venereal disease, for example, can appear in children as an eye disease. It is no wonder, for when the child's head is developing, its eyes are exposed to what afflicts the parents; its eyes are in an environment that's venereally diseased!
Steiner tells us that the child is more susceptible to diseases between 0 and 7 and 14-21 than between 7 and 14 years-old when it is the most healthy. The 0-7 process is connected with the onset of the new teeth which arise as a result of whole body processes in the child.
[page 25, 26] You see, the fact that a child has a second set of teeth shows that its body is sufficiently strong; if it were not, the teeth would not come in properly. Why? Well, you must understand that what is contained in a tooth comes out of the whole body. The second set of teeth emerge from within the whole system; they are the product not just of something in the jaw but of the whole body. This is true only of the second teeth, however, for the first teeth, the so-called milk teeth, are completely different. They are the result of heredity, of the fact that the child's mother and father have teeth. Only after the milk teeth are expelled in the course of the first seven years does the child get its own teeth. The body must make the second teeth for itself.
Is genius hereditary? Steiner tells us of Goethe whose father was a "dreadful philistine," whose mother could tell good stories, and whose son was "rather stupid."
[page 27] Whatever pertains to the soul and spirit is not hereditary; it is brought into this world from quite other realms and then is united with the part that is inherited. Aside from the time he spends in his mother's womb, man lives before birth as a being of soul and spirit.
This was a commonly accepted fact in the early centuries of Christianity when people could still dimly recall their previous lifetime and catch glimpses of the reality of the spiritual world. This ability was fading however and by the end of the first millennium, it became possible for the church to aver that this life on Earth was the only life and we should make the best of this life in order to prepare for an eternity in Heaven. This grand fairy tale was an essential part of the church's plan for the salvation of their flock. And like all fairy tales, eventually the children who have been fed them, grow up. With the advent of the 21st Century, it is time for Christians to grow up and recognize once again themselves as true human beings consisting of body, soul, and spirit — a being on Earth which is a combination of a soul and spirit which has matured over past lives and an body inherited from their chosen parents for this lifetime. This was the reality of Jesus Christ, whose two names represent the earthly and the heavenly aspects of his humanity.
[page 27, 28] The only reason people reject this idea today is that all through the Middle Ages the Catholic Church forbade anyone to ascribe to man a life of soul and spirit before birth. It asserted that the soul was created at birth by the kind of God which the Catholic Church assumed to exist. So throughout the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church forbade the concept of pre-existence, as it was called, meaning 'existence before, prior to birth'. Modern materialistic science has merely followed suit and then congratulated itself on its cleverness. Now people think they are extraordinarily clever to hold this opinion; unfortunately, they fail to realize how they were conditioned to do so.
In his session on the ear I learned the purpose of the Eustachian tube was to enable us to understand another's speech. If you were to design a computer to recognize a certain song, you would have to somehow play the song in the computer and match the sounds coming from outside the computer to those generated from the computer. The Eustachian tube allows humans to do exactly that. When the sounds of words we hear from others outside the ear match the sounds of words we hear within our ear through our Eustachian tube as we speak the words to ourselves that they are speaking to us, we are able to recognize those sounds and thus understand the words they are speaking.
Have you ever noticed that some people will finish your sentences for you? If you pause briefly, they will say the last word and most always get it right? This can only happen if somehow they are subvocally speaking as you speak and that helps them to understand what you are saying. In fact, we all do that kind of subvocalization out of our awareness — it is how we are able to understand another person's words. The pioneer in subliminal perception, Hal C. Becker(1), was the first to measure the minute electrical signals emitted as people were thinking. These signals operated their vocal apparatus, but kept it just below the threshold of audible speech. One can observe such tremors in people's throats if one looks carefully. In elderly people these subvocal speech tremors are obvious and sometimes become embarrassingly audible. All this evidence validates the point that Steiner makes: we comprehend others's words by the words we subvocally transmit down the Eustachian tube as we listen to them speak. [See also [page 138] quote. ]
[page 45, 46] When we listen to someone else and wish to comprehend him, the sounds come in through the auricle and make the fluid vibrate. Because the air passes into the ear from the outside, and since we know how to set this air in motion with our own speech, we can understand the other person. In the ear, the element of our own speech that we are accustomed to meets the element of what the other person says; there the two meet. . . . The tube that leads from mouth into the ear [Eustachian tube] was there when I learned to speak as a child. Thus, we learn to understand other people at the same time as we learn to talk.
Human beings are a combination of thinking, feeling, and will — and nowhere are these processes in closer contiguity than in the human ear. Here is a synopsis of the layout of these processes in the human ear, given to his audience by Steiner as he points to a diagram of the ear.
[page 47] So, indeed, we can say that the memory for tone and sound is located within these three semicircular canals. Here where this arm is located is comprehension, intelligence. Here, within the cochlea is a portion of man's feeling. We feel the sounds in this part of the labyrinth, in the fluid within the little snail shell; there we feel the sounds. When we speak and produce the sounds ourselves, our will passes through the Eustachian tube. The whole configuration of the human soul is contained in the ear. In the Eustachian tube lives the will; here in the cochlea is feeling; intelligence is in the auditory ossicles. Those little bones that look like an arm or leg; memory resides in the semicircular canals.
If you've seen the figures usually associated with the four Gospels: man, eagle, lion, and bull, and you've wondered about the significance, Steiner lays it out for you in his Ear Lecture (No.3) of 22 Nov. 1922.
[page 50] That gives us the three members of human nature: eagle - head; lion - breast; bull - abdomen.
Of course, the ancients knew when they studied the head that it was not an actual eagle, nor the middle realm a lion, nor the lower part a bull. They knew that, and they said that if there were no other influence, we would all go about with something like an eagle for our head above, a lion in our chest region and a bull down below; we would all walk around like that. But something else comes into to play that transforms what is above and moulds it into a human head, and likewise with the other parts. This agent is man himself; man combines these three aspects.
Matthew depicts the humanity of Jesus, John describes Jesus "as if he hovered or flew over the Earth" like an eagle, Mark presents Jesus as a courageous fighter with the heart of lion, and Luke showed us Jesus as a healer who brought his "remedial forces into the digestive organs" into the bull-portion of man. (From page 52)
Here is an exposition of the nature of the human being that our current medical science would find quaint and outmoded, but it gets at the essence of what constitutes a human being. We are beings who are constantly being poisoned within our body and counteracting the poisons. Health consists not of having a body that is free of poisons, but rather of having one that is able to maintain a homeostasis of poisons and the antidotal hormones which counteract them.
[page 59] What is the basis of the efficacy of such substances as those secreted by the hormonal glands? Gentlemen, you can understand this only when you realize that the body is constantly subject to processes of deterioration. It is a peculiarity of the organism that harmful substances are forever being formed in it. The substances secreted by the hormonal glands neutralize the destructive effect of these poisons that form in the body. It is a most interesting phenomenon that the processes of life consist in man's constantly poisoning himself, and then continuously counteracting the effects fo the poisons by means of these little glands placed within his system.
The mythical process for falling asleep, much depicted in comics and cartoons, is to count sheep as they jump over a low fence. Steiner offers a method which involves concentrating on one word, and I suppose the two methods are equivalent as the one word "sheep" is concentrated on as each sheep jumps over the fence. He explains that using any sleeping potions, pills or medicine to fall asleep will have deleterious effects on one's health later in life. Notice that an insomniac has to "gain strength" to fall asleep. (To me, the best cure for insomnia is to try to stay awake as long as possible.)
[page 65] So it is much better to try to cure insomnia by psychological means, combating it in a more inward way. If the patient is encouraged to think and concentrate on one word, he will gradually gain the strength from within to fall asleep.
Much interest these days is shown in staying the processes of growing old, but never have I encountered a medical doctor advising the reading of Goethe's Faust as an anodyne for rejuvenation. Steiner tells of one otherwise materialistic doctor who recommended exactly that to his patients.
[page 66] There is much truth in this recommendation. If in old age one has an interest that completely occupies one's soul and spirit, something that inspires and enthuses one, this will make one youthful. The meaning of 'inspiration' is that something spiritual enters the mind. Otherwise, the term would not be 'inspiration' but something like 'materialization'. When addressing the public, even materialists do not say, 'Let us be full of materialization!' Though they deny the spirit they nevertheless say, 'Let us be inspired and full of enthusiasm!' Being filled with enthusiasm is indeed a source of rejuvenation in humans. Of course, one cannot prove this in rats!
Even as materialists point to the remarkable technologies their way of understanding the world has brought us, we can look all around us and see the concomitant symptoms of premature old age. As early as a hundred years ago, in Steiner's time, this effect was noticeable.
[page 67] Nowadays people hardly 30 run around with terribly bald heads, particularly those who belong to the so-called affluent professions. Premature baldness is caused by our unnatural forms of higher education. It would be much wiser to educate people in such a way that the body itself would be capable of holding everything together for as long as it retains its life forces.
The next lecture deals with eye and hair color, something that I had always wondered about and had been content with the materialistic answers I had gotten about why this is so. While the concept of the dumb blonde is familiar, as we read Steiner's description of how eye color and hair color comes about, we glimpse the element of truth within this trite cliché. He says that "A person with strong forces drives food substances all the way into his hair, making it brown or black." This does not mean that blond hair peoples are not filled with strong forces, but that much of those forces are involved with surviving in the cold climates where they are most common.
[page 80] Consider the Scandinavians. Much of their nourishment must be utilized in fighting off the surrounding cold. A Nordic man does not have enough energy to drive the nourishment all the way into the eyes; his energy is needed to ward off the cold. A man who is born in a warm, tropical climate has in his blood the driving force to push the nourishing substances into his eyes. In the temperate zones it is an individual matter whether a man possesses more or less driving energy. . . . This also affects the color of the hair.
One of the members of his audience asked why are there fewer blondes around than in his youth. I can suppose that there are even fewer today due to smaller percentage of people who work out-of-doors in the winter time in the Northern regions. Here is Steiner's 1922 answer:
[page 81] The earth was once young. Now it is past its prime; it is growing older and some day will perish from old age, though not in the way described by materialists(2). We are already faced with some of the signs of the earth's old age. Therefore, the entire human race has been weakened in regard to the driving force that moves food substances through the body. So what part of the population is going to be the first to disappear from the earth? Dark people can last longer, for they possess greater driving force; blonds have less and become extinct sooner. The earth is indeed already into its old age. The gentleman who asked the question pointed out that there are fewer blonds around than in his youth. Because the earth has less vitality, only the black and brown peoples attain sufficient driving force; blonds and blue-eyed people are already marked for extinction because they can no longer drive nourishment with the necessary force through their bodies.
Two other minor puzzles were cleared up for me in these next two passages. The first is how does our Schnauzer know that it's me coming into the bed late at night in deep darkness and not a stranger. The second is why women blow their noses when they cry. Both of these I've always accepted as natural, but Steiner clearly explains them both at the beginning of Lecture 6 on "The Nose, Smell, and Taste." It never occurred to me that a dog's primary sense for recognizing people is smell.
[page 83] A dog recognizes people by smell long after it has last been with them. Anyone who observes dogs know that they recognize and identify somebody with whom they have been acquainted, not by the sense of sight, but by that of smell.
[page 86] You will have noticed that children who cry secrete a lot of nasal mucus. A canal in the upper part of the nose leads to the tear glands, which are located on both sides in the interior. There the secretion the tears enters the nose and mixes with the nasal mucus. Thus the nose has a kind of 'fluidic connection' with the eyes. The secretion the eyes flows into the mucous membrane and combines with the secretion of the nose.
Your dog wags its tail when it sees you because it is happy to see you and its joy runs down its spine to the very end which is the tip of its tail. In humans the absence of a tail causes the same feeling of joy to reflected back into the brain, which if unimpeded by the skull would indeed wag. Fawning courtiers or eager subordinates in modern business can give one the impression that they are wagging like a dog when royalty or VIPs wander by. What wags is a bit of warmth in the front of their heads.
[page 93] Now it is warm, now a little cooler, warmer, cooler. Someone with a delicate sensitivity for this fluctuating warmth, who is standing in the presence of courtiers surrounding Lords, sees something that looks like a fool's cap (RJM Note: like a jester wears) wagging back and forth in the front. It is correct to say that the etheric body, the more delicate organization of man, is wagging in front. It is absolutely true that the etheric body wags.
I remember in the decade of the 1970s when health food stores and restaurants were all the rage that a place I went to buy books and occasionally had a smoothie and an avocado sandwich refused to stock black pepper to season its sandwiches. When asked why, they mumbled something about the pepper being trash that just went right through the intestines and never was digested. Their logic was impeccable, but I knew deep down inside, somewhere around my digestive tract, that something was very wrong about this logic. Then I read in this chapter that what smells do to the tail of dog, tastes do to the digestive system of a human being. Imagine your dog waving its tail enthusiastically in joy over seeing you approach. Now imagine your stomach becoming just so receptive to greeting a food that you have just placed in your mouth and tasted! Your stomach has thus geared itself up to receive and digest gladly and in joy the food it has tasted, and the better the food tastes, the better the preparation for digestion the food will receive when it reaches the stomach. By removing black pepper what these otherwise well-meaning restaurants did was dampen the digestive systems of their patrons and reduce the joy of life which they might else experience through a digestive system that worked as efficiently as possible, in fact, working in joy! Gladly that decade with its concomitant mistakes is behind us. Once more, a fuller understanding of Steiner's writings could have prevented this mistake.
Another problem that is yet with us today is the restricting of salt to avoid high blood pressure. Salt is another spice that enlivens the digestive system as soon as it hits the tongue, preparing the digestive system by creating elation and joy in it. Over the past hundred years, salt has gone from being bad for blood pressure to being good for it and back and forth. Currently it is still considered bad. This shows that doctors really don't know for sure whether it's bad, but nevertheless they follow the current fad in their recommendations to their patients. Not once have I heard a doctor's recommendation that small amounts of salt used for making food taste better will improve one's digestive system and thereby lead to longevity by improving the quality of a person's life.
I have tasted many bland meals prepared by my mother, which would otherwise have been delicious, had my mother's doctor not fed her such foolishness. I could add salt to enliven the taste and my digestive system, but she could not. She lived to 82, and died from the consequences of arthritis and a fall, not from hypertension. She never had high blood pressure even though she was over weight. I wonder if the excess quantity of food she ate was compensation for the lack of taste she felt obliged to endure. Some thirty or forty years of her life were made tasteless and unhealthy due to some fad of the materialistic medical profession that deems a number on a chart to be more important than the quality of life, up until now.
[page 98] The tip of the nose is the farthest in front, and the tail is the farthest behind. What is connected with smelling in the dog passes through the entire length of its body, but what it tastes does not; it remains in the abdominal area and does not go as far. . . . You will gain much from realizing that the dog owes its whole tail-wagging ability to its nose, and that when it feels good in the abdominal area this is due to the nerves of the mouth.
In our garden, I used to pluck the flower stalks from the onions as soon as they appeared. Then I discovered one year that the onions made a beautiful spherical blossom of tiny white flowers if I left the flower stalk develop. Now each year we delight as these knee-high puffs of flowers decorate our garden. Our skin is like a garden with the soil on the inside planted with thousands of tiny onions which blossom at the tips of their flower stalks in our brain. These tiny onions are called 'Pacinian corpuscles' after the Italian who discovered them. These bulbs implement our senses of taste, smell, and touch in our bodies, carrying the signals into the far reaches of our brain from our tongue, nose, finger tips, and other sensory areas of our body.
It is the sense of taste that causes fishes to swim long distances during their life cycle. They follow the traces of salt in the water to the ocean. Birds do a similar thing with migrations. I have heard all sorts of theories about how migrating birds follow the Earth's magnetic fields for their migrations, but this explanation seems a bit odd as the magnetic field does not change with the seasons of the year. Steiner's explanation to us is much simpler and explains how the birds not only know where to go but also when to go: odors. Like fishes follow tastes for their migrations, birds follow odors.
[page 107] The swallow has an extraordinarily delicate sense of smell. You remember that I told you that people of savage tribes could smell someone as far away as Arlesheim. Well, for swallows the odour arising in the south is perceptible when autumn is approaching; it actually spreads out all the way to the north. While in the south it smells good, up north it begins to smell of decay. The swallows are attracted to the good odour and fly south.
How this applies to the human is rather interesting. Our etheric body is most at home in the fluids of our bodies and it would like to swim. Held by our physical body in place, it instead tastes and feels for us. Our astral body is at home in the air and would like to fly. Unable to fly, it smells the odors that fly through the sky for us. It does another thing for us, a thing without which I would not be writing this and you would not be reading this: It makes it possible for us to think. "Our brain grows to meet the nose." — this line from Steiner suggests a poem to encompass the ideas in this chapter:
The Nose Knows
Our brain grows from within
To touch our skin.
Because it cannot swim
It tastes the world from within
It feels the world
Because it cannot swim
It feels fit and trim
Because it cannot swim.
Our brain grows
To meet our nose
It smells the world
Because it cannot fly
Birds fly because they cannot think
Our brain thinks because it cannot fly.
As any human knows
We owe a lot to our nose.
We think ourselves sly
Because we cannot fly.
Our dreams have wings
And other things
[page 111] We human beings have only our clumsy shoulder-blades attached to our back, which are clumsy and solidly shaped. Although we would constantly like to fly with them, we cannot. Instead, we push the whole spinal marrow into the brain and begin to think. Birds do not think. We have only to observe them properly to realize that everything goes into their flight. It looks clever, but it is really the result of what is in the air. Birds do not think, but we do because we cannot fly. Our thoughts are actually the transformed forces of flying. It is interesting that in human beings the sense of taste change into forces of feeling. When I say, 'I feel well,' I would really like to swim. Since I cannot, this impulse changes into an inner feeling of well-being. When I say, 'the odour of the manure repulses me,' I would really like to fly away. But I cannot, and so I have the thought, 'This is disgusting; this odour is repulsive!' All our thoughts are transformed smells. Man is such an accomplished thinker because he experiences in the brain, with that part I described earlier, everything that the dog experiences in the nose.
There is another part of the human body in addition to the physical body which gives us our sense of touch, the etheric body our sense of taste, and the astral body which gives us our sense of smell. This fourth part is the youngest part of the human body, having arrived last of the four — it is our Ego body or "I" and it gives us our sense of warmth, not only allowing us to sense our warmth, but actually producing the warmth that we experience in our bodies which are usually warmer than our surroundings and maintain an average temperature around 98.6 degrees F. (page 112)
One cannot expect to comprehend the concept of a sense of warmth easily, but if you think back to when you were suddenly frightened, "Did you not shiver or feel a sudden chill?" And yet the area around your body did not become colder — it was an inner phenomenon you felt. Our expression, "to freeze in fright" refers both to the coming to a stop and to the drop in inner temperature that a person in fear instantly experiences. Do you suppose that one's body could instantly drop its temperature? No, of course not. Is this sense of warmth only an activity sensed by the little nerve bulb onions spread around our body on the skin? If so, how could they react to an instantaneous change in internal temperature when one gets frightened? Science, which does not acknowledge the presence of the Ego or "I" throws logical explanations at this phenomenon, but being logical does not make them true.
[page 114] There are no nerve bulbs sensitive to warmth, because the whole human being is perceptive to warmth. These nerve bulbs are used only for sensing solid, water and vaporous substances. Where the sense of warmth begins, we become no more than a bit of warmth that perceives exterior heat. When we are surrounded by an amount of heat that enables us properly to say 'I' to ourselves, we feel well, but when we are surrounded by freezing cold that takes away from us the amount of warmth that we are, we are in danger of losing our ego. The fear in our ego makes the cold outside perceptible to us. When somebody is freezing he is actually always afraid for his ego, and with good reason, because he pushes his ego out of himself faster than he actually should.
Understanding the nature of warmth and its connection to Ego, allows us to understand such paradoxes as expressed in this story I read forty years ago which I made a strong point to remember, but without knowing why, up until now. A woman tourist saw a native American Indian with no shirt on standing out front of a store in the winter time. She said to the Indian, "Why do you wear nothing on your chest? Aren't you cold?" The Indian looked at her and said, "Paleface wear nothing on her face." The Indian was not afraid of the cold on his chest and the woman was not afraid of the cold on her face, so neither felt anything but warmth there. Materialistic science dissects dead human bodies and offers us an understanding of the human corpse. Steiner gives us an understanding the full, living human with all four bodies: physical, etheric, astral, and Ego.
Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard were two famous French physicians and scientists. Pasteur discovered that large amounts of bacteria were present whenever a disease flamed up and said that the bacteria caused the disease. Bernard agreed that bacteria are found where diseases exist, but the bacteria are a side-affect, not the cause of the disease. These two fought this battle for who was right in public and private, and the rest is history. Pasteur has apparently won, because medical science is still attacking diseases with medicines that are designed to kill bacteria and other microbes. What is not well-known is that Louis Pasteur said to a friend on his deathbed, "Claude Bernard was right." In this next passage, as he talks about bacteria and bacilli, it is clear that Steiner would agree with Bernard and also with Pasteur's death bed confession.
[page 117] The infectious diseases are based on their capacity for tremendous multiplication. These minute beings do not actually cause the illness, but a feeling of well-being is engendered in them when something is ailing us. Like the plant in manure, these little beings feel well in the stricken organs of our body and like to remain there. Anyone who claims that they [RJM: these microbes] themselves cause disease is just as clever as one who states that rain comes from croaking frogs. Frogs croak when a rain shower comes because they feel it and stay in water that is stimulated by what is active in the rain, but certainly do not cause the rain. Likewise, bacilli do not bring about a disease like flu; they only appear whenever the flu appears, just as frogs mysteriously emerge whenever it rains.
What is the one thing people universally do when they get ill? They lie down in bed. Why? As with any question that "everyone knows" the answer to, the full answer is hidden. We lie in bed because we thereby expel from our body the earthly forces that are making us ill. We are not just meat and bones that have weight when we stand on a scale; a corpse has weight, but does not live. Our meat and bones are the only earthly parts of our human body and we shield ourselves from these parts to stay well.
[page 130] Anyone is a fool who thinks that as human beings on the earth we consist only of what is heavy, of the body that is put on the scales and weighted. This part we do not need at all. It is nonsense to think that we consist of these material substances that can be weighed. In reality, we do not become aware of the body at all, because we shield ourselves from it in order to stay well. The curing of illness consists in expelling the earthly influences that are affecting the sick person. All healing is actually based on removing the human being from the earth's influence If we cannot remove man from the earth and its influences, we cannot cure him. He then lies down in bed, allows himself to be supported by the bed and gives himself up to weight. When one lies down one does not carry one's own self.
Just as materialistic science and medicine would like to do away with or ignore the etheric, astral, and Ego bodies and retain only the physical earthen body, so also do they try to do away with or ignore the living Christ and retain only the cross of Christ. This has certainly happened in Christian churches, which before the 9th Century, prominently displayed images of the living Christ symbolized as the Good Shepherd, and since then they instead mostly display a human man dying on a crucifix or cross. Speaking a couple of days before Christmas, Steiner tells us of the importance of the festival of Christmas.
[page 131] Christmas should remind us that once again a science of the spirit must be born. The science of the spirit is the best spiritual being that can be born. Mankind is much in need of a Christmas festival. Otherwise, it does away with the living Christ and retains only the cross of Christ. Ordinary science is only the cross, but we must arrive at what is living once more. We must strive for that.
But why is it, you may be thinking, that we seem to get sick shortly after visiting someone with a given sickness? Surely the fact that we get the same kind of flu they had indicates that the microbes from their body must have entered our body? Yes, we do get sick and yes, the same microbes can be found in our body, but one should be careful of the followed-by, thereby caused-by fallacy that is a favorite ploy of materialistic science and medicine. What happens inside of us when we listen to someone talk who is hoarse or under the pressure of feeling ill from any disease? We begin to feel internally the same way as they do and thus we become a willing host for any microbes which might be floating around.
[page 138] Listening to someone who is hoarse is a particularly uncomfortable and constricting experience. Why do we experience such sensations while listening to another? It is based on the fact that in reality we always inaudibly repeat whatever the other is saying. Listening consists not only in hearing but also in speaking faintly. We not only hear what another says but also imitate it with our speech organs. We always imitate everything that someone else does.
Have you ever noticed that someone with the flu has a very slight smell around them of garlic or onion? I hadn't but Steiner points out that garlic and onions thrive in a soil that contains sulphur and phosphorus and when someone has the flu these same substances are present and causes one to smell of garlic and onions.
[page 139] This odour is always like that of onions or garlic and can be detected by someone with a sensitive nose. Just as we tune in on and imitate a shrill and rasping voice, so do we join in with what an ill person evaporates. As a consequence, our own astral body, our own activity, becomes disorganized. This disorder causes a chemical basis that in turn makes us contract the flu. It is like making soil suitable for onions and garlic. At first, then, the illness has nothing to do with bacteria but simply with the relation of one person to another. . . . Bacilli are not even necessary for one person to catch the flu from another. Instead, by imitating with my fluid organization what is happening in the patient's fluid organism, I myself produce a favourable environment for the bacilli; I myself acquire them. The sick person need not bombard me with them at all.
In Lecture 12 "The Effects of Alcohol" Steiner explains how alcohol causes a hangover due to uric acid and other waste products being deposited everywhere, especially in the head, which causes the typical morning after hangover. He even describes what is usually called the "hair of the dog" hangover cure in which one takes a strong alcoholic drink in the morning to ameliorate the effects of the hangover. While this trick works to remove some of the headache by displacing it to the rest of the body, its long term effects on the rest of the body are most detrimental.
[page 182] Additional drinking in the morning thus unconsciously transfers the hangover to the rest of the organism. Only now, when this occurs, does the real misery for the body begin. Those alcoholics who drive away a hangover with more drinking are in the worst shape, because gradually, as this is repeated, the entire body is ruined.
One of the signs of ruination in an alcoholic is the condition know as the DT's or delirium tremens in which people see themselves being attacked by small animals from all sides. In the Rhine River Valley of Germany there are several structures known as Mouse Towers. Steiner tells us they got their name because people imprisoned there who suffered from the DT's would go crazy from the mice they hallucinated everywhere. (Page 182) In cocaine the hallucinations take the form of snakes coming out of one's body from all over.
The effects of nicotine are to stimulate the heart, increasing the pulse rate and stimulating the circulation. This next passage will shock most people who have been conditioned by materialistic science and medicine to think of the heart as a motor-operated pump like the water pump or fuel pump of their automobile. Yes, the water pump moves water through the inanimate entrails of a mechanical automobile, but the human heart is neither inanimate, nor mechanical, nor a pump. If you have a chance to watch a video, as I did, of a tiny fetus without a fully formed heart showing a pronounced circulation of blood, you might be at a loss to explain how an almost non-existent heart could be powering its circulation.(3) If, on the other hand, you must use a mechanical analogy to understand how the human heart works, try this one that Steiner offers in another place where he deals with this subject more definitively: the heart is like a hydraulic ram which the circulation of the blood pushes against and it is this opening and closing of the valves of the heart that simply modulate the circulation into pulses. Why are the pulses even necessary? Because the turbulence inside of the heart produced during the pulses is essential for the mixing necessary for an efficient oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange that must go on in the heart-lung cycle. The other obvious side benefit is the outside signal of the rate of circulation which doctors have used since time immemorial as a figure of merit of one's current condition of health.
[page 218] Through nicotine, an increased, stronger activity of the heart is called forth. The heart is not a pump, however, but only reflects what goes on in the body: the heart beats faster when the blood circulates faster.
If nicotine helps increase the blood circulation, why isn't this a benefit? In the short term, it is, and this is one of the reasons that people smoke products with nicotine. But if one were to increase the speed of the fuel pump in one's automobile without increasing the amount of air being provided to mix the fuel with, one would soon have carbonized the insides of the cylinders and fouled the spark plugs. In a sense, this is what happens when one smokes &mdash the heart rate speeds up but the respiratory rate, how fast one breaths, stays the same."The result is that the blood doesn't receive enough oxygen, since a certain amount is supposed to be absorbed into the blood with each pulse beat." (Page 220) A shortness of breath occurs because of this.
[page 220] Every shortness of breath causes with each breath a feeling of anxiety. It is easier to control a normal sensation of anxiety than this terrible slight anxiety, of which one is completely unconscious. When something like anxiety, fear, or shock remains unnoticed, it is a direct source of illness.
I hope you can get a whiff of the remarkable insights possible for a spiritual science-infused practice of medicine. The interpretation of symptoms by a doctor practicing this kind of enlightened medicine is dramatically different from the interpretation of the same symptoms by the usual allopathic doctor.
[page 221] Nicotine poisoning, therefore, can be recognized by the fact that such people's thoughts are no longer quite in order. They usually jump to conclusions much too quickly. They sometimes intensify this overly rapid judgement to paranoid thoughts. We can therefore say that the use of nicotine for pleasure actually undermines human health.
Steiner, however, recognizing the benefit for someone with a low pulse rate, who suffers from weak blood circulation, went so far as to say that a doctor may even advise such a patient to smoke. Today they would try to solve the problem by giving the patient some drug to speed up the heart rate. But would a doctor today prescribe that someone take up some difficult reading material to increase their circulation? No way. And yet Steiner shows us the connections that would make such advice beneficial. First, it should come as no surprise if one says most people earn money doing things they don't like to do, and when they're away from the boring office scene, they amuse themselves with distracting entertainment. It was so even in Steiner's time at the beginning of the 20th Century.
[page 223] They go to their offices and busy themselves with something they actually dislike but that brings in money. They sit through their office hours, are even quite industrious, but they have no real interests except going to the theatre or reading newspapers. Gradually, things have been reduced to this. Even reading books, for example, has become a rarity today.
Think how much more of a rarity is reading books today, especially difficult books. Think of how the new technology has supplemented the kinds of entertainment that the theater and newspapers provided in Steiner's time: television, stereo's, sports, etc. And yet, in the midst of all this largess, there is an emptiness, a restlessness, that fills the small gaps between the distractions.
[page 223]That this has all come about is due to the fact that people don't know at all what they want. They must be told what they want. Reading newspapers or going to the theatre stimulates the senses and the intellect but not the blood.When one must sit down and read some difficult book, the blood is stimulated. As soon as an effort is made to understand something, the blood is stimulated, but people do not want that any more. They quite dislike having to exert themselves to understand something. That is something quite repugnant to people. They do not want to understand anything!
Doesn't this sound like it could have come from a lecture given last night instead of last century, a day ago rather than a hundred years ago? So what? — you may be thinking — What does that have to do with me? Let's take a look into your future using Steiner's time machine and you decide for yourself.
[page 223] This unwillingness to understand causes their blood to thicken. Such thick blood circulates more slowly. As a result, a remedy is constantly required to bring this increasingly thick blood into motion. It is brought into motion when they stick a cigarette into the mouth. The blood doesn't become thinner, but the blood circulation becomes ever more difficult. This can cause people to become afflicted with various signs of old age at a time in life when this needn't yet occur.
Okay, you say you don't smoke. But people do take medications whose primary purpose is for some other problem, but, perhaps unknown both to them and their doctor, the corrective effect stems from increasing the blood circulation. And such corrective effect has all the deleterious side-affects of pre-mature aging that cigarette smoking has.
Another debate that rages in various circles with more smoke and mirrors than substance is over what is the healthiest type of food for a human being to eat. Should one eat meat or not? If so, what kind of meat? Steiner takes us on a guided tour through the various types of animals that eat only plants, plants and animals, and only animals. By careful observation he is able to point out that the animals that eat only plants have a long intestine whose job is to digest plant foods and create its own flesh from them. A human being can do both and therefore it is a matter of individual decision what kind of food to eat. If one comes from a long line of meat eaters, one may have a shorter intestine than other humans who thrive on eating only plants, and thus one might find a benefit from eating some meat in one's diet. Oxen or cattle, however, cannot achieve any benefit from eating meat, even a small amount in their diet. Cattle fed with any meat-based products, even as a dietary supplement, are in danger of suffering from exactly the disease that Steiner pointed to 80 years ago, and the whole current wave of "Mad-Cow Disease" or BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) could have been avoided if people had heeded his words. Even now scientists are still trying to figure out if the BSE epidemic in Great Britain may have stemmed from allowing pig's guts to get into cattle feed. Read on, and you decide. First, he tells us that "if an ox were suddenly to turn into a meat eater, it would fill itself with all kinds of harmful substances such as uric acid and urates."
[page 227, 228] Now urates have their specific effects. The specific effects of urates are expressed in a particular affinity for the nervous system and the brain. The result is that if an ox were to consume meat directly, large amounts of urates would be secreted; they would enter the brain, and the ox would go crazy. If an experiment could be made in which a herd of oxen were fed with pigeons, it would produce a completely mad herd of oxen. That is what would happen. In spite of the gentleness of the pigeons, the oxen would go mad.
Other than completely eliminating the possibility of eating hamburger from cattle that have been fed animal products, is there any advantage of becoming a vegetarian today? Steiner gives us a few advantages, but not any that will appeal to the majority of people, up until now.
[page 229] It is certainly possible to be a vegetarian today, and it has many points in its favour. One of the main advantages of eating only vegetables is that one does not tire as quickly. Since no uric acid and urates are secreted, one does not tire as quickly but will retain a clearer head and think more easily — if one is in the habit of thinking! A person who cannot think does not gain anything by freeing his brain from urates, because it is necessary for the whole human organization to harmonize. In any case, through self-control, a person can become a vegetarian today. Then he uses those forces that, in people who eat meat, are simply left unused.
In many movies I have noticed that strange or alien beings newly come to Earth are portrayed as consuming large quantities of sugar; Men in Black, Michael, The Coneheads, and Starman, just to mention a few that come to mind. Nowhere else have I ever seen an explanation offered for this ubiquitous phenomenon, up until Steiner. In several other places, I'd encountered in Steiner's writings how sugar acts to bolster the Ego or "I" or Individuality of a human. Any alien being arriving on Earth would do well to bolster their Ego quickly upon arriving on Earth. Eating too much sugar leads to the deleterious effects of diabetes, in which the body is not able to process all the sugar and discharges it in the urine. I don't know if the differential consumption of sugar for England and Russia still holds after 80 years or more, but one can certainly find an increase of sugar usage in newly developed countries all over the world.
[page 229] This can even be verified by statistics. Much less sugar is consumed in Russia than in England. This really accounts for the entire difference between the Russian people and the English. The English are self-aware and egotistical; the Russians are unselfish and physically not as vigorous. This is related to the lower sugar consumption in Russia than in England, where a large amount of sugar is eaten in the food.
Steiner also points out the prevalence of diabetes in modern society and tells us one thing that we can all do to avoid it, which is to avoid eating pork. Unless one can trace one's ancestry back to for thousands of years and ensure that one has absolutely no Jewish blood, it would be better to avoid pork and pork products. Eating pork makes it more difficult for our body to process sugar. Since discovering this relationship between pork and diabetes, I have asked out of curiosity when someone has told me that they have diabetes, "Do you eat pork?" and invariably the answer has been, "Yes, I love pork." One man told me he had a freezer full of pork. The Jewish race have a particular difficulty processing sugar and their Kosher dietary laws are designed to prevent diabetes.
[page 230] In recent times, Jews have gradually neglected their dietary laws, although they still remain within their racial relationships. Since the dietary rules are really rules for a specific racial group, to abandon them is detrimental, and they therefore succumb more readily to diabetes than other people. That is how it is.
Steiner explains how the appearance of an illness resembling typhoid was really the masked ailment of the brain resulting from an operation to eliminate crossed-eyes. I expect the reaction he received from doctors of his time would be almost as strong as those of today's doctors. "Pure nonsense!" a modern doctor would say.
[page 250] He wouldn't believe it, because he doesn't truly know the relationships within the body but is only familiar with theoretical relationships. As a result such things will happen as in this anecdote that I'll tell you. It is only a tale, but it has truth in it. A person is brought to the hospital. The doctor who is chief of staff examines him, assigns him to a certain ward, and gives an order concerning treatment to his assistants, saying, 'When I return tomorrow, this patient will be dead.' He no longer concerns himself with this case until a few days later. Then he says, 'There is still a patient in Room 15; he must be dead.' 'No,' he is told, 'that patient feels better and is getting well.' The doctor replies, 'Then you've treated him the wrong way!'
I'll give you a true story from recent events. A friend's of mine's 84-year-old father was taken to his family doctor who happened to be the chief of staff of a prestigious hospital. He had collapsed and apparently had a small stroke and was unable to stand up without assistance for a full day. Afterwards, his mobility came back slowly, but he experienced hemiplegia — a slight paralysis of his right hand which gradually disappeared as he worked with it. All these things were obvious to my friend and the members of her family. Her father's doctor ran extensive tests, including an MRI of his brain to locate any indication of a stroke. The MRI showed none, so the doctor told the man that he had severely infected sinuses and that was what caused his vertigo and inability to stand up. He treated him with medication for the infected sinus. I'm certain that when my friend's family reported that their father was doing better, the doctor said something like, "See, the sinus medicine worked." This was said with the complete confidence of a chief of staff of a major hospital. The only problem is there is no case in the medical history books of a sinus infection causing hemiplegia! Since the doctor could see no strokes on the MRI, he concluded that there must have none!
This next portion deals with comets and will be difficult unless you're already a chemist. During earlier portions of the Earth's existence, during a phase Steiner calls Old Moon, the planetary body we live on existed with similar conditions to what we call comets in the heavens today. Its atmosphere consisted of a nitrogenous "atmosphere" (mostly liquid) where nitrogen took the place of oxygen. In such an atmosphere, our oxygen-based compounds were replaced by nitrogen-based compounds. Thus, cyanogen, C2N2, was as common in that atmosphere as carbon dioxide or CO2 is in ours; hydrocyanic acid was as common as carbonic acid.Our human ancestors of that time used the hydrocyanic acid to produce uric acid which it used in constructing the human head. Where can we find examples of humans living in such conditions today? Every human baby in the womb lives in just such conditions — they begin as all head, take in cyanic acid, and produce uric acid in the continuous construction of the completed head that will present itself at birth. A baby in the womb lives under the influence of the Moon and constructs its individual head in the same kind of "atmosphere" that humankind lived in during the time it was constructing the model for the human head.
[page 262] Man didn't need oxygen to stay alive in earlier ages but instead required nitrogen, and was formed by means of it. Man was fashioned during a comet-like stage of the earth, and the relationship between breathing and the blood was completely different in those earlier stages.
[page 266] So one can say that the part of the human organism in which the child develops, the womb, is really like a miniature earth that has remained behind and is still in an ancient comet-like state.
During the Old Moon or comet-phase of our planet, humans absorbed nitrogen just as the comet-earth did: from the universe. "Breathing at that stage was also a form of fertilization."
[page 267] This is only retained today in the process of fertilization in humans and animals. In fertilization, therefore, something of the nitrogen breathing process still takes place, because the most important element in the human sperm is nitrogen. This is transmitted to the female organism and, as a nitrogen stimulus, brings about what oxygen could never accomplish, that is, formation of the organs that must be present later when man is exposed to oxygen. So you see that we actually receive our breathing from the universe.
Now for some arithmetic of life. Shouldn't be too difficult, if you made it through the organic chemistry above. We breathe on the average 18 breaths a minute. That multiplies out to 25,920 breaths per day. The average human lives to 72 and multiplying that by 360 days in a year, you also get 25,920 days. "We take in as many breaths per day as we have days in our human life." Coincidence, or deep truth?
[page 267, 268] But a day, too, is in a certain sense a breathing. One day is also a breath. When I go to sleep, I exhale my soul, and I draw it back in again when I awake: exhalation, inhalation. I exhale the spiritual and inhale it again. This rhythm in my breathing I therefore have throughout my life on earth in sleeping and waking. This is most interesting: 25,920 breaths per day; 25,920 days in the average human life.
Let's proceed to look at what constitutes a year in the Earth's life. The Earth is like a top spinning on the ground. We've all seen a top spinning: at first it is completely vertical and then the top's axis begins to spin around the vertical in an activity called precession. The Earth precesses on its axis as well, which effect could be plotted by the ancients by carefully charted the constellation in which the Sun rose at the time of the vernal equinox (the Spring day of equal daylight and dark). This made a complete circle through the constellation in exactly 25,290 years.
[page 268] It is the same ratio. Even the cosmic rhythm harmonizes with the faster rhythms of breathing and blood circulation. Just imagine how man stands within the cosmos! He is really a child of the universe. The cosmos is his original father and mother.
The days of the week were named after the planets as originally named by the ancients, which included the Sun and Moon under the rubric of planet. We can easily recognize SATUR-day, SUN-day, and MON-day, and with the help of foreign languages can recognize Tuesday is MARS-day (in French, MAR-di), Wednesday as MERCURY-day (in German, WOTAN-day; French, MERCRE-di), Thursday as THORS-day or JUPITER-day (in French, JEU-di), and Friday as VENUS-day (in French, VENDRE-di). In the course of every week we progress through the planets which are our heritage. We also progress through the entire evolution of the Earth, rightly understood, which proceeds from Old Saturn, Old Sun, Old Moon, Earth [includes Mars, Mercury], Jupiter and Venus. Coincidence, or deep truth?
[page 278] Hence, the days of the week are named after the planets. Why is that? Because these names originated at a time when people still knew that man is dependent on the universe. Through the very fact of being alive, all the planets have an influence on us. The days of the week were named accordingly . Today this is called superstition, but calling it superstition is nothing but ignorance. Actually, tremendous wisdom is contained in the naming the days of the week. Yes, gentlemen, in all these matters there lies a tremendous wisdom.
Another realm in which coincidence or deep truth lies to be discovered is in the association of certain metals with the planets. One can find these listed in any book of astrology and their very presence there is enough to relegate this knowledge to the realm of superstition. How did these associations get started? Was it due to some vision of a mystic long ago? Well, it turns out to have been much simpler. These associations came about because the ancients observed that some people sick with a typhoid-like illness recovered and others didn't. Over time they began to notice that those who survived, had the illness at a time when the rays from Venus could not fall upon the sick ones. They experimented with various metals and found that copper helped the patients in the same way that blocking the light of Venus did — those treated with copper recovered. They made the connection that something in the Earth, namely copper, acted to block the rays of Venus from penetrating the Earth and reaching the person. By extension of this process they found the other elements in the Earth that blocked the influences of the other planets as well. Below is compilation of the planets, elements, and sicknesses — the elements are those useful for healing the associated disease.
Mercury - mercury - syphilis
Venus - copper - typhoid
Jupiter - tin - eye diseases
Saturn - lead - bone diseases
Mars - iron - blood diseases, anemia
Moon - silver - labor in pregnancy
If one studies plants, one will find plants which contain minute quantities of these various elements in their leaves which can then be used for medicinal effect. The Benedictine monks were masters at the art of using these elements for a curative effect, but their work was eventually suppressed by the Church as being un-scientific. One can scarcely locate information about the elements contained in leaves in any scientific book extant, up until now.
[page 300] This is how healing is related to what can be known about plants. You can see that today things are no longer in order when even the thickest book on botany, although containing all kinds of information, nevertheless lacks the most important instruction medical men should have. There is no mention in these books of the metals that are dissolved in blossoms or roots. If at all, they are noted only in passing. This is a most important point, however, because it shows us that a plant that still contains copper today, for example, is related in its growth process to the planet Venus; it actually opposes the force of Venus and develops it own Venus force by absorbing copper into itself.
This knowledge of which plants to use can be understood if one simply pictures the human being in its inverted relationship to the plant world. If you do this, you will be able remember which portions of a plant are most likely to be helpful for certain illnesses.
[page 301] One must realize the following, for example. One must start with illnesses that affect the human abdomen. If one has such an abdominal illness, one comes to know that the substances present in the blossoms or the highest leaves of plants are especially helpful. Good remedies can be produced for illnesses of the abdominal organs by extracting certain substances from the blossoms and leaves of plants. Substances taken from the roots of plants, however, provide especially beneficial remedies for everything connected with the human head.
If one imagines a tree whose root system is where the human brain is, and its leaves spread out down throughout the human body, one would have a really good metaphor for the human nervous system.
Coincidence or deep truth? One always confronts this dilemma in reading Steiner's works. How can one decide? A person may occasionally stumble upon a coincidence and claim it to be a deep truth. One can easily ignore such scattered occurrences and pass them by as if a coincidence rather than a deep truth. Even a non-magician can occasionally reach into a hat and pull out a rabbit. But someone who time after time, lecture after lecture, book after book, reaches into the cosmic hat and pulls out a rabbit of wisdom, ahh, there's a magician to be reckoned with!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ footnotes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1.) In 1964 through 1966 I worked for Professor Hal C. Becker as his research associate on an image processing project at Tulane Biomedical Computing Systems.
Return to text below footnote 1.
2.) RJM Note: Just today, May 22, 2003, in the local newspaper, the Times-Picayune, George Will wrote, "As the Earth heads for frigid lifelessness. . ." It is 80 plus years after Steiner spoke and still the consensus about the end of our Earth in frigid lifelessness remains, notwithstanding the pronouncements of spiritual science that our beloved planet will one day vaporize in a fiery blast on that day when "stars shall rise and set no more."
Return to text below footnote 2.
In 1932, Bremer of Harvard filmed the blood in the very early embryo circulating in self-propelled mode in spiraling streams before the heart was functioning. Amazingly, he was so impressed with the spiraling nature of the blood flow pattern that he failed to realize that the phenomena before him had demolished the pressure propulsion principle. Earlier in 1920, Steiner, of the Goetheanum in Switzerland had pointed out in lectures to medical doctors that the heart was not a pump forcing inert blood to move with pressure but that the blood was propelled with its own biological momentum, as can be seen in the embryo, and boosts itself with "induced" momenta from the heart. He also stated that the pressure does not cause the blood to circulate but is caused by interrupting the circulation. Experimental corroboration of Steiner's concepts in the embryo and adult is herein presented.Return to text directly before Footnote 3.
Goetheanum Q &A Sessions In Chronological Order of Discussions:
From Crystals to Crocodiles August to September, 1922
From Comets to Cocaine October 1922 to February. 1923
From Limestone to Lucifer February to May, 1923
From Mediums to Mammoths May to September, 1923
From Elephants to Einstein January to February, 1924
From Beetroot to Buddhism March to June, 1924
From Sunspots to Strawberries June to September, 1924
The Blackboard Drawings 1919-1924
These are color drawings by Rudolf Steiner's hand.
2.) ARJ2: Bright Air, Brilliant Fire by Gerald M. Edelman
I think it not improbable that man, like the grub that prepares a chamber for the winged thing it never has seen but is to be, that man may have cosmic destinies he does not understand.
— Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes
This quote headed my review of Citadel, Market, and Altar [See ARJ], but I could not resist placing it at the top of this review of a book by a materialist scientist who claims to understand that the mind originates in the brain, and therefore our individual cosmic destiny is dust. He has found a watch in the jungle and fabricated an intricate theory to show how the pieces assembled themselves. What he does not say is, who winds the watch. What he does not hear is the ticking of the clock of the centuries that will relegate his grand materialistic masterpiece to the status of a quaint 21st Century myth in a couple of ticks.
It is a grand masterpiece laid out before us of how the matter of the brain is organized and assembles itself into recursive, intertwining loops of systems of neuronal groups as it bootstraps itself into perception, primary consciousness, and higher consciousness. In doing so, he systematically demolishes the arguments of the "brain is only a computer" school of thought, but he attempts to create in biological wetware what he has just convinced us is not achievable in software.
[page 1] If we consider that without a mind no questions can be asked, and that there has never been a solidly established demonstration of a mind without a body, the importance of the subject addressed here needs no defense.
There has been no solid demonstration of a non-solid object! Imagine that! To require materialistic evidence of a non-material world was the fatal flaw of the table-tappers of the 19th Century. Each century has its own quaint way of thinking about the mind. Ancients Greeks thought it was located in the region of the heart. In the 21st Century we think it's located in the brain. Rightly understood, we really don't know where the mind is located, and it is only by reductionist materialistic thinking that one can hold the position that the mind is nothing but an evolving property of matter. He says on page 15, "In the course of evolution, bodies came to have minds." From the perspective of anthroposophy, one could say with equal eclat, "In the course of evolution, minds came to have bodies." The situation is like two alien scientists who come to Earth in the Old West and see men being riding horses. The scientists argue over the evolution of the strange creature they're examining. One claims that the upper part evolved from the lower part and the other claims that the lower part evolved from the upper part. From our perspective we know that there are two beings, a human and a horse, that have formed a cooperative venture. From the alien scientists's perspective they can state that there has been no "solidly established demonstration" of a human without a horse.
Nevertheless, Edelman's position is that bodies came to have minds, and let's take a close look at his brilliant theory of how the material of the brain works, how he sees minds evolving out of matter.
On page 23, Figure 3-3 shows the brain as it develops from the neural groove (Figure 6-3 on page 59) to the cerebral cortex. The neural groove develops into an elongated tube that extends past the top of the spinal column and becomes piled together as toothpaste that is pushed from a tube into a larger space might. The skull of our brain provides the larger space and it evolved from the very top vertebra which expanded during evolution to accommodate larger and larger convolutions of the neural tube as it formed into the cerebral cortex. The concepts of minds coming to have bodies and the skull evolving from the top vertebra I owe to Rudolf Steiner and his comprehensive science that accommodates both material and spiritual facts of existence, anthroposophy. As we progress into the 21st Century, it is time for us to begin to consider seriously both the material and spiritual aspects of our human beingness, and this review of Edelman's book offers me an opportunity to do that.
[page 40] In considering our minds, we must also consider both our kinship with and our differences from other species. As I discuss in chapter 16, one difference is that each of us has an individual "soul" based on language. Whatever we find out about the properties of language, however, the sad fact is that neither psychology nor biology will permit the transmigration of souls.
Rightly understood, our bodies are like compact disk players and our souls are like the recordings in the disks. When a compact disk (CD) player breaks, the disk is easily moved to a new player. One could beef up the analogy by adding that the CD is a read-write CD and new recordings are added each time it spins for a while in a new CD player. And that the music it plays in each new player is also kept in the master recording library called the Akashic library.
[page 41] It was Darwin who first recognized that natural selection had to account even for the emergence of human consciousness.
In the brain we see that the ontogeny of a single human brain recapitulates the evolutionary development of the brains of the lower animals: first the fish brain, then the reptile brain, then the mammal brain, then the primate brain, and then the human brain. There are two ways to think about this progression: one is, as animals grew more complex they finally progressed to the human stage. Another is to say that as humans evolved in their bodies, some of the humans stayed behind in lower stages of evolution. The first presupposes that humans are the output from the latest stage of evolution, and the second presupposes that humans were the agent of evolution at each step along the way. The former is the Darwinian view and the latter is the anthroposophical view. For more details on the latter view, check out my ARJ review of Spiritual Hierarchies and the Physical World by Rudolf Steiner.
On page 102, Edelman makes the comment that "memory is the ability to repeat a performance." Nowhere in the human physiology is that more true than in the curious type of memory recently postulated by the nascent science of doyletics that we may call doylic memory. Doylic memory stores the performance of the human body before it was five years old (an experiential result, but an expected one in light of the neocortex development), and whenever some component (a sensory trigger) of that original memory presents itself in the here and now, the human body that stored the doyle, re-evokes it, thereby repeating the original performance. These repeat performances, that we call doyles for short, comprise the substrate of the complex of human experiences we call emotions, feelings, and many other human capabilities that we take for granted, such as: walking, talking, breathing, and heart rate, among other things.
Further down the same page, Edelman elaborates a bit on memory, referring to his Theory of Neuronal Group Selection [TNGS] thus: "The TNGS proposes . . . that memory is the specific enhancement of a previously established ability to categorize." If the sensory trigger associated with a doyle provides a categorization method, then the storage of the doyle enhances that ability by providing a mechanism for recapitulating the distinction that was categorized.
[page 105] Cortical appendages - the organs of succession. The brain contains structures such as the cerebellum, the basal ganglia, and the hippocampus that are concerned with timing, succession in movement, and the establishment of memory. They are closely connected with the cerebral cortex as it carries out categorization and correlation of the kind performed by global mappings.
The cerebellum provides the fast linking of doyles so as to smooth out such complicated movements as speech production. People who learn a second language after five-years-old lack the phonemes and smoothness of speaking of the language they learned before five when the speech sounds are still able to be stored as doyles of their phonation apparatus. Those who learn a second language before five have the linkage of the phonemes established in the cerebellum and that provides the fluidity of speech we associate with a native speaker of the language. The basal ganglia acts at a higher level over long time scales to correlate the sequences of doylic motor operations. The hippocampus serves to correlate the short time sequences of the cerebellum with the longer ones of the basal ganglia.
[page 114] Qualia constitute the collection of personal or subjective experiences, feelings, and sensations that accompany awareness. They are phenomenal states- "how things seem to us" as human beings. For example, the "redness" of a red object is a quale. . . . Often, the phenomenal scene is accompanied by feelings or emotion, however faint. Yet the actual sequence of qualia is highly individual, resting on a series of occasions in one's own personal history or immediate experience.
Qualia may be live or doylic. That is, the sensations we experience subjectively may be due to sensory data impinging on our senses at the moment, and therefore, live. Or the sensations may be due to a doyle triggered by some aspect of the phenomenal scene, and therefore, doylic. At any one moment we may be experiencing qualia of both live and doylic origins.
[page 115] It is our ability to report and correlate while individually experiencing qualia that opens up the possibility of a scientific investigation of consciousness.
In a similar vein, it occurs to me, Steiner's ability to report and correlate his subjective experiences allowed him to open up the possibility of a scientific investigation of the spiritual world.
In Edelman's section on Primary Consciousness, he describes how the brain stem and the limbic system (which includes the two amygdala) operate to form what in doyletics we would call the doylic system, that is, that system of the brain responsible for the storage and retrieval of doyles or physical body states. This system would contain sources of internally generated pain and pleasure, appetites of all kinds, as well the homoeostatic settings of the respiration, heart rate, and other glandular functions. Here's how Edelman describes it:
[page 117] The first system [of Primary Consciousness] is the brain stem, together with the limbic (hedonic) system, the system concerned with appetite, sexual and consummatory behavior, and evolved defensive behavior patterns. It is a value system; it is extensively connected to many different body organs, the endocrine system, and the autonomic nervous system. Together, these systems regulate heart and respiratory rate, sweating, digestive functions, and the like, as well as bodily cycles related to sleep and sex. It will come as no surprise to learn that the circuits in this limbic-brain stem system are often arranged in loops . . .
In the next section (page 119 quotation below), he develops how the cortical system [i.e., the neocortex] is evolutionarily grafted on top of the existing doylic system to provide a novel type of memory based on this connection which we call conceptual memory. What he doesn't say, but is a major tenet of doyletics, is that the earlier evolved doylic system remains fully operational in read-write mode until five years old and then switches into read-only mode for the remainder of one's life. The read-write mode from shortly after conception to five years old corresponds to the period of evolutionary development during which higher consciousness came to fruition in the human race. With the evolutionary advent of conceptual memory, the keystone to higher consciousness (according to Edelman), the older read-write memory stopped operating around the age of five years old.Think of conceptual memory as a more refined way of remembering an event, a more human way because the doylic memory capability was from our animalistic evolutionary past. As soon as a new, improved function comes on-line, our brain will use it in preference over the older, clunky method of storage. However, all the events stored in doylic memory before five years old, are only available in doylic memory and will continue to be retrieved that way for the rest of our lives, unless some process occurs which permits us to convert an event from a doylic memory into a conceptual memory. That these processes happen normally is evinced, e.g., by the loss of most food dislikes as one ages. For example, a person wonders why he still dislikes macaroni and cheese casseroles. He thinks long and hard over all the times he had macaroni and cheese as a child and soon he realizes that the aversion he had to eating those two foods together, which he has now been eating separately for years and enjoying them, is gone. A process, such as the one I just gave, which allowed someone without conscious planning to remove a food dislike, we call an unconscious doyle trace. Everyone has had some experience of disliking something as a child only to begin liking it as an adult. What Doyle Henderson did was to discover that it was possible to perform this process consciously some twenty-five years ago and thereby laid the foundation to what is now the science of doyletics, named in his honor. With a doyle trace one may quickly and easily, without outside help, remove unwanted feelings and other bodies states that are unpleasant.
[page 119] The first is the development of the cortical system in such a way that when conceptual functions appeared they could be linked strongly to the limbic system, extending already existing capacities to carry out learning. The second is the development of a new kind of memory based on this linkage. Unlike the system of perceptual categorization, this conceptual memory system is able to categorize responses in the different brain system that carry out perceptual categorization and it does this according to the demands of limbic-brain stem value systems.
An animal stores events that happen to it as doyles in its limbic system — that is its only means of recording its past history since it has no higher consciousness. The primary consciousness of early human beings provided them with doylic storage of their individual past history when they were still at a level we would call "animal" today - before humans had developed what Edelman would call a higher consciousness. He says that the importance of the doylic system is to help primary consciousness "to abstract and organize complex changes in an environment involving parallel signals," thus:
[page 121] Even though some of these signals may have no direct causal connection to each other in the outside world, they may be significant indicators to the animal of danger or reward. This is because primary consciousness connects their features in terms of the saliency determined by the animal's past history and its values.
For example, consider this actual case history. A four-year-old girl saw a big Labrador retriever eat her cat's baby kittens and she cried her eyes out. Specifically, she cried so much that the area around her eyes became red and puffed up and her breathing labored. Now, there was "no causal connection" between the Labrador retriever and her swollen eyes and labored breathing in the outside world. However, in the inside world of that little girl, now a grown woman forty years old, when her boss one day brought a Labrador retriever into the office, she developed puffy eyes and labored breathing, and the next day made an appointment with her doctor to treat her "dog allergy." In Edelman's words, the woman's primary consciousness connected the salient features of puffy eyes and labored breathing with the presence of a Labrador retriever and made a casual connection from her personal history. In doyletics terms, her limbic system had stored those items as a doyle at age four, and thereafter the mere presence of a Labrador retriever was enough to evoke the stored doyle. She grew up with a "dog allergy," but curiously, not to every type of dog. Until she traced and removed the dog allergy and recovered the memory of the kitten-killing episode, she had no idea that her dog allergy was specific to Labradors.
She did not have a conceptual memory of that episode with the Labrador, so she could not be aware of why she had an allergic reaction to dogs. She could not "plan an extended future" based on that non-existent conceptual memory. She did have a primary consciousness memory stored in her limbic-brain stem system, however, and that survived for over 35 years of her life, qualifying it certainly as a "long-term memory." The kind of memory she had of the event was an animalistic memory, one that existed when our human bodies were developed to the level that we would call "animal" today. The triggering of the doyles in her by the Labrador at her office created a repeat performance out of her awareness for what she experienced when the kitten-killing episode took place when she was four. As a repeat performance, it qualifies as a legitimate memory event by Edelman's definition on page 102. Read how Edelman describes primary consciousness. Keep in mind that it is not only true for animals, but also for the doylic memory system of human beings:
[page 122] An animal with primary consciousness sees the room the way a beam of light illuminates it. Only that which is in the beam is explicitly in the remembered present; all else is darkness. This does not mean that an animal with primary consciousness cannot have long-term memory or act on it. Obviously, it can, but it cannot, in general, be aware of that memory or plan an extended future for itself based on that memory.
Doyles are primary consciousness functions. They provide memory events equivalent to a flashlight shone into an event in our past. They provide a primitive sensory system and a dimly lit view of a limited area that is stored in a primitive memory and pattern recognition system in the limbic-brain stem system. The amygdaline structures of the limbic region have been shown to have primitive memory storage capabilities. It is that storage of sensory data associated with the events in our past that provides the triggers for re-accessing the doyles for a repeat performance in the present, thus creating a memory recall of physical body states (doyles) first stored before five years old.
In addition, without long-term memory the animal cannot do something else, that any human being past the age of five can do: a doyle trace. An animal cannot do a doyle trace for the reason that it does not have the conceptual memory capability mentioned in the page 119 quote above. Therefore an animal is not able "plan an extended future for itself based on that memory." [Some higher animals may have this capability, in particular, cetaceans with their large cortical systems, but we have no proof of this capability, up until now. In my dolphin novel, The Spizznet File, I share my views about the possibility of conceptual memory in dolphins.] The same conceptual memory capability that was grafted on top of the doylic memory system in the limbic-brain stem region provides a more efficient receptacle for storing events. As a result, when we pass the age five, conceptual memory storage replaces the doylic memory storage in the human being. From then on doyles may be retrieved from memory to provide that rich inner experience we call feelings, emotions, and other things - but after five, novel doyles can never be stored for the rest of our adult lives. This tenet is deducible from the theory of doyletics and is supported by the experiential findings that removal of a doyle is temporary unless one proceeds to before five. If it were possible for novel doyles to be stored after five years old, memory traces could remove them permanently without going to before five, and that is counter to the findings of twenty-five years of tracing and from thousands of memory traces .
If we do the following process: hold the doyle and go back systematically in time to ages before five, when we go before the time at which the particular doyle we are holding was stored, the cortical system makes a conceptual memory of the event that previously only stored in doylic memory. In terms of brain structure, the limbic-brain stem that had been storing the event, gives it over to the cortical system which records it. Since the original event happened before the cortical system was fully operational, five-years-old, the cortical system was not able to store it as a conceptual memory. Now at forty, let's say, the woman who witnessed the kitten-killing episode, is experiencing the doyle as a "dog allergy" or swollen eyes and difficulty breathing. She says, "I'm 40 and experiencing this." "I'm 30 . . ." "I'm 20 . . ." "I'm 10 . . ." "I'm 5 . . ." "I'm 4, am I experiencing this?" Directly upon asking the last question, she feels this enormous rush in her chest and finds that she is able to breathe freely for the first time in over 24 hours! In ten minutes her eyes are no longer puffy. What's happened? Simply this: when she went back to 4 during her trace, it was the first time ever that she had retrieved that kitten-killing episode when she had conceptual memory capability, so her cortical system stored the memory, newly created. From then on whenever she is around a Labrador retriever, she will remember the kitten-killing episode as a conscious conceptual memory instead of an unconscious doylic memory. In other words, she has lost her "dog allergy" for good.
Looked at in another light, her primary consciousness system had faithfully stored the original event for 35 years until she asked for it and once she did, it was stored as a conceptual memory. Having faithfully completed its job of storing the original event until it was transferred to conceptual memory, the original primary consciousness memory is no longer retrieved thereafter in deference to the newer and more efficient conceptual memory. The original memory is not erased, so much as it is left unused thereafter. It's as if the a doyle were a treasure that we hid in a secret place in a labyrinth as a child, and only by re-tracing our steps can we retrieve this treasure and place it on our mantelpiece to admire whenever we wish.
The loss of conscious recognition while maintaining implicit recognition of a familiar object can be attributed to a brain lesion that affects the cortical memory system while leaving the doylic memory system intact.
[page 122] A good example is provided by stroke patients who have prosopagnosia - the inability to recognize faces as such. Although they have no awareness of faces, some of these patients will, while denying that they recognize their spouse's face, perform on tests in such a way as to indicate strong discriminatory knowledge of that face. Another example is blind sight. Individuals with lesions in their primary visual cortex report blindness - no awareness of vision - but can locate objects in space when tested.
The blind sight capability must stem from some ability to perceive and recognize visual patterns without a conscious knowledge of doing so. This capability gives strong evidence for the capability that doyletics postulates for the amygdala. If this is so, it should be capable of verification in someone who has blind sight and then loses their amygdaline function: they should exhibit blind sight before the loss of their amygdalas and no blind sight thereafter.
In the chapter on languages and higher-order consciousness, Edelman describes the evolution of the doylic and conceptual memory systems. In his detailed description of primary consciousness, what he calls "a salience of patterns determined by the previous history of the individual" aptly corresponds to what we call doyles in the science of doyletics.
[page 133] A synoptic picture of how consciousness is related to evolutionary morphology [shows] how two successive sets of bootstrapping events (perceptual and semantic), each involving the evolution of new morphology (memory circuits and new forms of reentry) could give rise first to primary consciousness and then to high-order consciousness. . . . Primary consciousness provides the ability to determine by internal criteria the salience of patterns among multiple parallel signals arising in complex environments. That salience is largely but not completely determined by the previous history and learning of the individual animal.
I read this book with the hope of finding confirmation for some of the ideas of doyletics and was not disappointed. This should be kept in mind: Edelman was not aware of the tenets of doyletics. He was writing to provide the most detailed description he could give of our primary consciousness, higher consciousness, and the reentrant neuronal systems that provide the two levels of consciousness - the higher level resting on the primary level. By inspection of his work, we were able to discern that the primary consciousness system corresponds to the functions we have called "doylic memory" and the higher consciousness with the functions we have called "conceptual memory." In doylic memory we find an unconscious memory capability that leads to re-performance of a salient event from our individual life history before we were five years old. In conceptual memory we find a conscious memory capability by which we are able to re-construct conceptually a salient event that happened to us after five years old.
A perceptive parent who has raised a child from birth can attest that higher consciousness began sometime around five years old. Before that time, the ability to remember an event longer than a couple of days was nil. Freud described the period before five as a time of childhood amnesia, indicating the absence of a fully developed long-term memory in children younger than five. In the twenty-five years of research that led to the science of doyletics, it was found that unless a doyle trace culminated in an event before five years old, the doyle was not replaced by a conceptual memory and would return upon some future triggering. For this reason the age of five years old is called the Memory Transition Age. It is sincerely hoped that as future research is conducted on the processes of primary consciousness that researchers will find independent ways to confirm the existence of the postulated Memory Transition Age that has proven to be so functionally and explanatorily useful in doyletics.
3.) ARJ2: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
In August, 1944 the historic walled city of Saint-Malo,
the brightest jewel of the Emerald Coast of Brittany,
France, was almost totally destroyed by fire . . . . Of the
865 buildings within the walls, only 182 remained
standing and all were damaged to some degree.
— Philip Beck
With this note before the novel begins, we are told the ending of Saint-Malo, and we can now read from the beginning all the events leading to the conflagration and see them through three sets of eyes, well, only two sets of eyes as Marie-Laure is completely blind. Blind, indeed, but what she reports through her senses of touch, smell, taste, and hearing fill us with an up-close-and-personal experience of Saint-Malo few people could achieve with a pair of working eyes.
What a magnificent strategy by the author: to tell the story in the present tense through the senses available to a pre-teen blind girl. The other characters fill in the visible world, and she fleshes out the rest of world for us.
The city is empty or nearly so, citizens heeding the dropped leaflets suggesting an urgent exit before the bombs arrive, but there were no leaflets in Braille and Marie-Laure was alone. She reports the approach of the bombers to us.
[page 6] She can hear the bombers when they are three miles away. A mounting static. The hum inside a seashell.
When she opens the bedroom window, the noise of the airplanes becomes louder. Otherwise, the night is dreadfully silent: no engines, no voices, no clatter. No sirens. No footfalls on the cobbles. Not even gulls. Just a high tide, one block away and six stories below, lapping at the base of the city walls.
And something else.
Something rattling softly, very close. She eases open the left-hand shutter and runs her fingers up the slats of the right. A sheet of paper has lodged there.
She holds it to her nose. It smells of fresh ink. Gasoline, maybe. The paper is crisp; it has not been outside long.
Marie-Laure hesitates at the window in her stocking feet, her bedroom behind her, seashells arranged along the top of the armoire, pebbles along the baseboards. Her cane stands in the corner; her big Braille novel waits face-down on the bed. The drone of the airplanes grows.
We know by page 7 that we are in for a special treat in this novel. We will be riding shotgun with this young girl, experiencing what she is experiencing and, being her only set of eyes, we will be tempted to shout, "Be careful, he's coming for you!" But she will know it before we do, know much more than we do, so it will be us depending on her to lead us through the adventures and dangers awaiting us.
There is a young soldier named Werner doing his job in the Hotel of the Bees, who scurries down to the cellar when the planes arrive. This hotel was the home of a rich privateer who gave up raiding to study bees in the meadows outside Saint-Malo. Within minutes the cellar will be Werner and his crew's dungeon, with no way out, as the hotel collapses.
The third story line involves a German officer named Rumpel and his quest for the Sea of Flames, no, not the flaming city of Saint-Malo, but large precious diamond which he seeks to add to the collection of jewels and artworks going into the Fuhrer's collection in a mountain vault, the contents of which was to be placed into a National Museum in Linz after the war. The museum was to be a half-mile long, and a more correct name would have been the Theft Museum.
Marie-Laure's father works at the National Museum in Paris as a locksmith and keeper of the keys. When not working, he builds a miniature of the city neighborhood in which he and his beloved daughter live. He instructs her to memorize this model with her fingers so that she can find her way around the city on her own someday. Each birthday he places two items on the table for Marie-Laure to open and enjoy. One is a puzzle box which when it is successfully opened, reveals a special treat, usually a chocolate. The other is a book in Braille for Marie-Laure to read and go on adventures in her imagination. Her favorite is Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousands Leagues Under the Sea" which she shares with us from time to time. It is a huge volume in Braille so it is broken into two volumes and she reads and re-reads Volume I while waiting for her next birthday. When the Germans approach Paris her dad takes her to her uncle's house in Saint-Malo.
While Marie-Laure is growing into a teenager in Paris, Werner is in a private school making good grades in school and learning to build and repair radios. His teacher gives a trigonometry problem to the class, Werner figures it out without any help. This gets him inducted into the army as head of a crew of two even younger men tasked with locating enemy radio broadcasters who are wreaking havoc on German soldiers and troop convoys. Given his abilities, I could imagine he was either Werner von Braun (rocket scientist) or Werner Heisenberg (quantum theorist). But he was Werner Pfennig and had a job to do, a job that would lead him to Saint-Malo.
Rumpel has a job to do: appraise and record the jewels stolen from the rich residents of Germany and France and ship the jewels to storage for a Theft Museum post-war, of course, that was not the name intended by the Fuhrer. Rumpel's primary focus centered on the magnificent and legendary diamond, the 130 carat Sea of Flames, and that quest would lead him to Saint-Malo.
There is a fourth character in this novel, the Sea of Flames, whose whereabouts are as important as any other's and whose story is equally interesting. This blue diamond was made by the Goddess of Earth as a present for the God of the Sea, but before it could get to the sea, the riverbed dried up. A prince came along and found it and kept it, not knowing of the legend and the curse.
[page 21] "The curse was this: the keeper of the stone would live forever, but so long as he kept it, misfortunes would fall on all those he loved one after another in unending rain."
The only way to break the curse was to throw the diamond into the sea where it was destined to go in the first place. But what could Marie-Laure do if she found it? The beaches were blocked by German soldiers and no one was allowed near it. To protect the diamond from theft, three perfect imitations of it were made out of spinel, a gemstone often used to forge faux diamonds, rubies, and other precious stones. But Sgt. Major Rumpel knew how to tell the difference between a real diamond and a spinel, and he systematically recovered the three fakes. The next one will surely be real, if he lives long enough or he will die trying. His father used to tell him, "See obstacles as opportunities. See obstacles as inspirations." (Page 174)
You have now met the major players, four of them, and the story unfolds as to how and why they end up in the same place at the end of the world, Saint-Malo, which is perched on a granite prominence on coast of France and which is being bombed into smithereens.
Let us peek into Marie-Laure's mind as she explores the world of the Paris museum where her father is the locksmith, where she accompanies him to work on most days.
[page 44] Sixteen paces to the water fountain, sixteen back. Forty-two to the stairwell, forty-two back. Marie-Laure draws maps in her head, unreels a hundred yards of imaginary twine, and then turns and reels it back in. Botany smells like glue and blotter paper and pressed flowers. Paleontology smells like rock dust, bone dust. Biology smells like formalin and old fruit; it is loaded with heavy cool jars in which float things she has only had described for her: the pale coiled ropes of rattlesnakes, the severed hands of gorillas. Entomology smells like mothballs and oil: a preservative that, Dr. Geffard explains, is called naphthalene. Offices smell of carbon paper, or cigar smoke, or brandy, or perfume. Or all four.
When she is back in the corner of her room, she travels around the world through the adventures of Mr. Fogg who did it in 80 days, in a balloon, a train, and every imaginable kind of conveyance; she did it in Braille. She hears a riddle, "What travels around the world and stays in a corner?" She knows the answer because she feels like a postage stamp(1). "Will I ever get to be near the sea," she often thinks. Her time is coming.
For now her father seems to be building a special puzzle box for the Sea of Flames. Marie-Laure wanted to know about the Sea of Flames diamond about which so many stories were told. Her father wouldn't talk to her about it. She asked Dr. Geffard about it.
[page 52] Dr. Geffard's answers are hardly better. "You know how diamonds — how all crystals — grow, Laurette? By adding microscopic layers, a few thousand atoms every month, each atop the next. Millennia after millennia. That's how stories accumulate too. All the stones accumulate stories. That little rock you're so curious about may have seen Alaric sack Rome; it may have glittered in the eyes of the Pharaohs. Scythian queens might have danced all night wearing it. Wars might have been fought over it."
"Papa says curses are only stories cooked up to deter thieves."
The above passage reminded me of the most famous war in ancient history, the Trojan War, and the long stream of stories told about it before writing was invented, all of which inspired me to write this poem.
A Tale to Grow By
"Stories grow like diamonds,"
"My Iliad was a simple story about a silly lad
that I named Achilles.
"An invincible lad who
had been dipped in the River Styx
to give him immortality
while being held up by his heel.
"That was my tale and
all that I had to regale
my friends around the fire at night.
"Each retelling of my simple tale
added a detail or so
another foe to best,
"And soon the boy
had grown into a man
on the battlefields of Troy.
"Like a diamond adds a dozen new layers
My tale added a dozen new words
And Achilles grew in timé and kleos.
"When Agamemnon loses his concubine in one telling,
he takes away Achilles' concubine in the next.
How will Achilles respond to the theft, to the crime?
"Another layer adds the wrath of Achilles
to the end of my tale and to its beginning.
"A nice touch,
which I liked a lot —
I could have opened the story by asking
the Muse to speak to me
of the wrath of Achilles!"
As Homer grew old his tale grew longer,
and as he listened to it being re-told
around the fire by others, he wondered,
"What have I begun?"
and a chilling thought came to him,
"I am an old man and I will never hear
how my tale will end."
On his deathbed, a storyteller relates to him
how Achilles withdraws from battle,
in John Galt fashion
and the Greeks begin to lose battles
to Hector and the Trojan armies.
"Ah, if only I could hear the ending of my tale,"
was Homer's last words.
So the story grew
from the seed of Homer's tale,
which he had strewn upon the storytellers.
And like from an acorn
a mighty oak began to grow
And how could anyone know
from where the leaves had sprung
but from the mouth of Homer
and the echoes of his voice
down through the ages of unwritten time.
There are no more echoes of Homer's tale
to be heard by living ears,
Only the recording of the tale
of the last storyteller
Which was written down
when the voice and echoes of Homer's voice
faded away and
writing arrived to replace memory.
Each new generation
awakens to hear, to read, to appreciate
the ageless and indestructible diamond
of the Iliad as if it had arrived in finished form,
instead of growing over centuries and centuries,
accumulating over millennia of unrecorded time,
revealing to us the sparkling facets
of the wrath of Achilles
in the Iliad — a tale cooked up to deter thievery.
After traveling around the world on land, in the air, and over the seas with Mr. Fogg, she begins a new journey when she unwraps a large volume on her eleventh birthday, this time with Captain Nemo, in the Nautilus 20,000 leagues under the sea. Rereading it many times waiting for Volume II, she memorized this passage, "The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the globe . . . The sea is only a receptacle for all the prodigious, supernatural things that exist inside it. It is only movement and love; it is the living infinite." (Page 60) Here was a novel about a world which had no boundaries, only endless and unfathomable oceans, which Marie-Laure swam through effortlessly using only the tips of her fingers.
As Marie-Laure and her father travel away from the Germans approaching Paris to Saint-Malo where her Uncle Etienne lives, we learn that her locksmith father has a diamond in his possession. Not even he knows if it's the real or the fake Sea of Flames.
[page 90 The locksmith tells himself that the diamond he carries is not real. There is no way the director would knowingly give a tradesman a one-hundred-and-thirty-carat diamond and let him walk out of Paris with it. And yet as he stares at it, he cannot keep his thoughts from the question: Could it be?
When they arrive at Uncle Etienne's home in Saint-Malo, they are greeted by his housekeeper, Madame Manec, and Marie-Laure is bombarded with a variety of sensations which the author shares, thereby building up a very real world around us readers.
[page 120] They step into a narrow entry. Marie-Laure hears the gate clang shut, then the woman latching the door behind them. Two dead bolts, one chain. They are led into a room that smells of herbs and rising dough: a kitchen. Her father unbuttons her coat, helps her sit. "We are very grateful, I understand how late it is," he is saying, and the old woman — Madame Manec — is brisk, efficient, evidently overcoming her initial amazement; she brushes off their thank-yous; she scoots Marie-Laure's chair toward a tabletop. A match is struck; water fills a pot; an icebox clicks open and shut. There is the hum of gas and the tick-tick of heating metal. In another moment, a warm towel is on Marie-Laure's face. A jar of cool, sweet water in front of her. Each sip a blessing.
Then an amazing breakfast experience unfolds to us.
[page 121] Eggs crack. Butter pops in a hot pan. Her father is telling an abridged story of their flight, train stations, fearful crowds, omitting the stop in Evreux, but soon all of Marie-Laure's attention is absorbed by the smells blooming around her: egg, spinach, melting cheese.
An omelet arrives. She positions her face over its steam. "May I please have a fork?"
The old woman laughs: a laugh Marie-Laure warms to immediately. In an instant a fork is fitted into her hand.
The eggs taste like clouds. Like spun gold. Madame Manec says, "I think she likes it," and laughs again.
A second omelet soon appears. Now it is her father who eats quickly. How about peaches, dear?" murmurs Madame Manec, and Marie-Laure can hear a can opening, juice slopping into a bowl. Seconds later, she's eating wedges of wet sunlight.
This entire book is like one of Madame Manec's breakfast feasts, one of which is followed by this amazing paragraph full of vibrant metaphors and hypnogogic reverie.
[page 121, 122] Probably the grown-ups are mouthing more to each other. Probably Marie-Laure should be more curious — about her great-uncle who sees things that are not there, about the fate of everyone and everything she has ever known — but her stomach is full, her blood has become a warm golden flow through her arteries, and out the open window, beyond the walls, the ocean crashes, only a bit of stacked stone left between her and it, the rim of Brittany, the farthest windowsill of France — and maybe the Germans are advancing as inexorably as lava, but Marie-Laure is slipping into something like a dream, or perhaps it's the memory of one: she's six or seven years old, newly blind, and her father is sitting in the chair beside her bed, whittling away at some tiny piece of wood, smoking a cigarette, and evening is settling over the hundred thousand rooftops and chimneys of Paris, and all the walls around her are dissolving, the ceilings too, the whole city is disintegrating into smoke, and at last sleep falls over her like a shadow.
Anthony Doerr obviously grew up in the age of vacuum tubes in radios as I did. No one under thirty today could have written the details in this simple sentence, the sound of vacuum tubes as they cool right after a radio set is turned off. The tubes also hum when the radio is on, as he mentions in another place. These are details of a radio that a sightless person like Marie-Laure would note, unable to see the radio's dial lit up when it's running, the sounds of a tube radio even when the volume is turned completely down. Another feature of our existence removed by the invention of transistors.
[page 129] "Everybody has misplaced someone," murmurs Madame Manec, and Marie-Laure's father switches off the wireless, and the tubes click as they cool.
The model of Saint-Malo her father made for her when they arrived only went as far as the walls of the city. Marie-Laure had memorized the city with her fingers, and her father had never let her go out to the beach. A month after he had gone missing, Madame Manec takes her to the beach. She asks, "What should I do?" "Just walk," Madame Manec replies. And as she does she has an amazing revelation — that Saint-Malo is greater than her model of Saint-Malo. Just as our world is greater than our model of the world, and someone needs to lead us into that terra incognito, that unknown realm, for us to realize the limits of our models, our paradigms, our very understanding of reality.
[page 232] She walks. Now there are cold round pebbles beneath her feet. Now crackling weeds. Now something smoother: wet, unwrinkled sand. She bends and spreads her fingers. It's like cold silk. Cold, sumptuous silk onto which the sea has laid offerings: pebbles, shells, barnacles. Tiny slips of wrack. Her fingers dig and reach; the drops of rain touch the back of her neck, the backs of her hands. The sand pulls the heat from her fingertips, from the soles of her feet.
A months-old knot inside Marie-Laure begins to loosen. She moves along the tide line, almost crawling at first, and imagines the beach stretching off in either direction, ringing the promontory, embracing the outer islands, the whole filigreed tracery of the Breton coastline with its wild capes and crumbling batteries and vine-choked ruins. She imagines the walled city behind her, its soaring ramparts, its puzzle of streets. All of it suddenly as small as Papa's model. But what surrounds the model is not something her father conveyed to her; what's beyond the model is the most compelling thing.
Inspired by the last sentence above, I wrote this short poem.
What is the Use of an Unexplored Life?
We each have a model of the world
our parents and teachers have
built up for us,
built into us,
a model which we have been carefully taught
and which we accept as the only world
there is to explore.
What's the use of exploring
if we feel we already know the world?
But is there something in the world
beyond our model of the world?
Is there something worth exploring?
What is the worth of an unexplored life,
one in which we cease to explore past
the boundaries we have accepted from others?
What is the worth of an unexplored life,
a life of models we accept as truths,
a life in which we do not look
beyond our models,
beyond our truths?
For it is only when we explore past the model
that we can discover
that what's beyond the model
is the most compelling thing.
What is the most compelling thing that Marie-Laure said to us? "What's beyond the model is the most compelling thing." That is what she said, and she said it rightly. Life is what's the most compelling thing because life lies beyond all the commonly accepted models of the world we live in. "Life" was taken out of our model of world beginning with Lord Bacon in the fifteenth century — it was subtracted from our model and we have starved upon the residue, up until now.
My favorite poet, Samuel Hoffenstein, wrote a splendid quatrain which I memorized when I first encountered it in 1958. I sought, as an unanswered question, to find the faith and fallacy which got fried in Bacon grease and discarded those many centuries ago, and found the answer in the rampant materialism of the world since Bacon's time.
Little by little we subtract
Faith and Fallacy from Fact
The illusory from the True
And starve upon the reside.
"Disorder. You hear the commandant say it. You hear your bunk masters say it. There must be order. Life is chaos, gentlemen," Hauptmann instructs the cadets, and finishes up by writing on the blackboard:The entropy of a closed system never decreases.
Every process must by law decay. (Page 240)
That is true for closed systems, but if it were true for all systems, how could the disorder in the cadets' bunks ever be eliminated? There must be an open system around, one which can decrease entropy and create order thereby, mustn't there? Humans are just such an open system, so that, if entropy is found to have decreased anywhere in the world, like if one found a working mechanical watch in a deep jungle, perhaps, there must have been a human being who dropped it there. The components of the watch will not assemble themselves, they will only rust and dissolve into chaos if left alone on a workbench or in a jungle. Life is itself an entropy-decreasing open system, and the components of life in a so-called primordial soup cannot assemble themselves into a living organism any more than the components of a watch can assemble themselves into a watch.
Let me proffer the other side to Hauptmann's writing on blackboard:
Life is an open system
in which entropy decreases,
in which disorder decreases,
in which order increases.
Metaphors and similes abound in this novel, making exciting even a short walk by Marie-Laure with Madame Manec in Saint-Malo.
[page 242] They clomp together through the streets, Marie-Laure's hand on the back of Madame's apron, following the odors of her stews and cakes; in such moments Madame seems like a great moving wall of rosebushes, thorny and fragrant and crackling with bees.
Madame Manec collects money from all her lady friends and has Madame Blanchard pen the following phrase on each franc note, Free France Now. She thus began the Old Ladies' Resistance Club in Saint-Malo, which would bring peril to Marie-Laure, the child she was helping Etienne to raise. But for now she feels exhilarated! She shares her feeling of freedom with Marie-Laure.
[page 253] Madame Manec brushes Marie-Laure's hair in long absentminded strokes. "Seventy-six years old," she whispers, "and I can still feel like this? Like a little girl with stars in my eyes?"
This inspired me to write the following poem:
The Spirit of 76
The feeling of living outside the model,
outside of the expectations of the world —
An ageless feeling of elation —
to be 76 and to be free
to be a freedom-fighter
at any age
at any time.
The British are Coming!
The Germans are Here!
We are free!
What have we to fear?
My wife, Del, shortly after she began copy-editing my writing, pointed to a sentence one day and said, "No hairdresser could understand that sentence!" I balked at changing it, but I soon realized that my writing must be accessible to everyone, no matter who they are. I was reminded of this when I read the next passage about Madame Manec's "Old Ladies' Resistance Club". Bad fingernail polish would light a fire under any woman who does manicures. These were not just old ladies, these were wounded souls! Cornered and ready to fight back.
[page 248 Nine of them sit around the square table, knees pressed to knees. Ration card restrictions, abysmal puddings, the deteriorating quality of fingernail varnish — these they feel in their souls.
They fight back with Etienne's help. He restores the radio transmitter in the hidden room on the top floor and Marie-Laure goes to the bakery with code words to buy a loaf of french bread with a piece of paper baked inside containing coordinates of targets for the resistance fighters to get to the US and British invading forces. Etienne turns on his radio gives brief messages followed by Vivaldi music. A bit of color in Marie-Laure's gray world.
[page 353] Now her world has turned gray. Gray faces and gray quiet and a gray nervous terror hanging over the queue at the bakery and the only color in the world briefly kindled when Etienne climbs the stairs to the attic, knees cracking, to read one more string of numbers into the ether, to send another of Madame Ruelle's messages, to play a song. That little attic bursting with magenta and aquamarine and gold for five minutes, and then the radio switches off, and the gray rushes back in. And her uncle stumps back down the stairs.
Can we believe that Marie-Laure survived the war and is even now reliving these events and thinking of the living souls of those who brought love, meaning, and salvation to her life? She is thinking of teeming life all around her filled with such things as . . .
[page 529] market updates, jewelry ads, coffee ads, furniture ads flying invisibly over the warrens of Paris, over the battlefields and tombs, over the Ardennes, over the Rhine, over Belgium and Denmark, over the scarred and ever-shifting landscapes we call nations. And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel those paths? That her father and Etienne and Madame Manec and the German boy named Werner Pfennig might harry the sky in flocks, like egrets, like terns, like starlings? That great shuttles of souls might fly about, faded but audible if you listen closely enough? They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.
Can we imagine Marie-Laure thinking that every hour someone for whom the war was memory falls out of the world? If we can, we will want to read every word of this amazing story which is filled precious memories of the war, how it affected people in Paris and those living on the edge of world on a granite cliff in Brittany, especially the young sightless girl who could see into the human soul and shared her sight with us.
---------------------------- Footnotes -----------------------------------------
Footnote 1. The riddle is told by a boy to his mother on page 509.Return to text directly before Footnote 1.
4.) ARJ2: A Leg to Stand On — A Neurography by Oliver Sacks
Thom Gunn was a friend and poet of Oliver Sacks and was mentioned often in his recent biography, On the Move, whose title was inspired by one of Gunn's poems. The heart of this book is aptly described in the Preface:
[page 9] Thorn Gunn has written powerfully of the "occasions" of poetry. Science has its occasions no less than art: sometimes a dream-metaphor, like Kekule's snakes; sometimes an analogy, like Newton's apple; sometimes a literal event, the thing-in-itself, which suddenly explodes into unimagined significance, like Archimedes's "Eureka!" in his bath. Every such occasion is a eureka or epiphany.
Sacks loved the way that A. R. Luria wrote stories based on his personal experience and neurological condition, particularly in his The Man with a Shattered World, and called this way of writing a neurography, coining a word for a genre that Sacks himself was to begin specializing in. (Page 11) Methinks Oliver would like the word used as a subtitle to this book. Basically, if you are to write a biography of someone, you need to get into their life, but if you are to write a neurography, you must get into some neurological disorder, and in this case Sacks had some neurological disorder get into himself. As the accident and its recovery ensued, we find Sacks as both a doctor and a patient, a much more patient doctor than patient.
If someone told us, "I feel ill", we would never respond "You're having a eureka moment", up until now. But, rightly understood, in the science of medicine, its "occasions" or "eureka moments" are illnesses and injuries, and we can learn from them as much about human beings as Kekule learned about organic chemistry, Newton about gravity, and Archimedes about physical density.
[page 9, 10] The occasions of medicine are provided by sickness, injury, patients. The occasion of this book was a peculiar injury, or at least an injury with peculiar effects, resulting from an accident on a mountain in Norway. A physician by profession, I had never found myself a patient before, and now I was at once physician and patient. I had imagined my injury (a severe but uncomplicated wound to the muscles and nerves of one leg) to be straightforward and routine, and I was astonished at the profundity of the effects it had: a sort of paralysis and alienation of the leg, reducing it to an "object" which seemed unrelated to me; an abyss of bizarre, and even terrifying, effects. I had no idea what to make of these effects and entertained fears that I might never recover. I found the abyss a horror, and recovery a wonder; and I have since had a deeper sense of the horror and wonder which lurk behind life and which are concealed, as it were, behind the usual surface of health.
Lacking any insight or reassurance into his leg problems from his doctor, Sacks wrote to Luria, who replied that "Such syndromes may not be rare, but they are rarely described." (My paraphrase) Sacks set out to investigate Luria's claim, found it to be true, and began to describe such syndromes, beginning with his own alienation from his leg during recovery from the operation which re-attached his quadriceps, an operation which restored the muscles and nerves of one leg, but left Sacks curiously disabled. Sacks interviewed hundreds of patients with similar disabilities after operations who were met with similar nonchalance and lack of understanding from their doctors. This book was written as much for the doctors as the patients — neither of whom, rightly understood, had a leg to stand on — the doctors lacking the ability to understand the patients' dilemmas and the patients lacking the ability to communicate with their doctors. Sacks, a qualified doctor, found that even he could not communicate his own recovery dilemma with his surgeon until after he had completely recovered the function of his leg.
Sacks was climbing up a 6,000 foot mountain overlooking a fjord in Norway when he encountered a sign, "Beware of Bull", at about 3,000 feet and decided this must be a prank, that no bull could be pasturing this high, so he went through the gate and continued climbing until he turned a corner on the narrow path and there was a huge white bull sitting down blocking the path completely. When it turned its face to Sacks, it seemed to turn into a monster and evil devil. Sacks turned around headed down the path, but suddenly he lost his nerve and began running lickety-split down the steep slippery path and suddenly found himself lying at the bottom of a rocky cliff. The doctor part of him took over.
[page 21] My first thought was this: that there had been an accident, and that someone I knew had been seriously injured. Later, it dawned on me that the victim was myself; but with this came the feeling that it was not really serious. To show that it was not serious, I got to my feet, or rather I tried to, but I collapsed in the process, because the left leg was totally limp and flail, and gave way beneath me like a piece of spaghetti. It could not support any weight at all, but just buckled beneath me, buckled backwards at the knee, making me yell with pain. But it was much less the pain that so horribly frightened me than the flimsy, toneless giving-way of the knee and my absolute impotence to prevent or control it — and the apparent paralysis of the leg.
Sacks asked himself, "OK, Doctor, would you kindly examine this leg?" So Dr. Sacks examined and proclaimed that the entire quadriceps had been torn away from the knee. In the process, he flexed the heel to the buttocks, causing Sacks the patient to scream in intense pain. Only after this detailed analysis did it dawn on Sacks that he might die, not so much from the injuries but from hypothermia, if he could not get down the mountain before nightfall to some shelter. He created a splint out of his umbrella, tearing strips from his jacket to attach the splint to immobilize his leg and prevent further injury as he moved himself down the mountain to safety. He took inventory as he started to move, "Three good limbs and the energy and strength to put up a good fight, including a leg to stand on." (Page 25) That included one leg to stand on, but for now that good leg could only act as a brake as he slid feet first down the muddy, slippery path. When his bad leg hit an obstruction, he screamed in pain, but quickly remembered the white bull and silenced himself. After two hours, he encountered a mountain stream with stepping stones that he had feared crossing on two good legs on the way up. He decided he could only cross by walking on his hands to keep his head above the frigid flowing water. He yelled at himself, "I'll kill you if you let go — and don't you forget it!" (Page 29) After crossing the stream, he struggled on down the path, using swimming motions, pulling his body over the muddy and rocky path while singing aloud the refrain of the Volga Boatman's song of Goethe, "Ohne Haste, Ohne Raste!" (Translated maintaining the Germanic rhythm: Without Hurry, Without Stopping!), heaving his body downward with each beat of the song. Soon he felt a coordination set in with the rhythm of the song as he moved almost effortlessly. He could even notice and enjoy the sky above him triggering happy memories as he maneuvered down the slippery path.
[page 33] An hour passed, and another, and another, under a glorious cloudless sky, the sun blazing pale-golden with a pure Arctic light. It was an afternoon of peculiar splendor, earth and air conspiring in beauty, radiant, tranquil, suffused in serenity. As the blue and golden hours passed, I continued steadily on my downward trek, which had become so smooth, so void of difficulties, that my mind could move free of the ties of the present. My mood changed again, although I was to realize this only later. Long-forgotten memories, all happy, came unbidden to my mind: memories, first, of summer afternoons, tinged with a sunniness which was also happiness and blessedness — sun-warmed afternoons with my family and friends, summer afternoons going back into earliest childhood. Hundreds of memories would pass through my mind, in the space between one boulder and the next, and yet each was rich, simple, ample, complete, and conveyed no sense of being hurried through.
Later he realized his mood had been one of preparing for death, recalling what his friend W. H. Auden had said, "Let your last thinks all be thanks." It was getting dark and he as running out of hope when two reindeer hunters heard him moving, took him for a reindeer, and stalked him, only to discover a horizontal man crawling injured down the path. They asked him what happened and when his meager knowledge of Norwegian failed to reach them, Sacks drew a picture in the dirt of a bull, at which point the two hunters began to laugh, and Sacks along with them. He was alive, he had been rescued, and all was right in the world again. The hunters brought him to their small cabin and one of them went down to fetch help from the nearby village. A group of villagers arrived and carried him down in a stretcher to the small hospital in Odda, from which he was to be moved to a larger hospital in Bergen, where he contacted his brother who arranged for him a later flight home to London for the quadriceps surgery.
In the Bergen hospital a new cast was placed on the leg prior to his flight to London. Sacks awoke in bed with his leg swollen inside the cast with his mood was a black as ever, fearing he would never regain full use of his leg. Only an angel could help him recover a shred of hope, and miraculously one appeared in his room. Sacks rubbed his eyes thinking he was dreaming, but he wasn't, a vision in white had floated into his room.
[page 43] A young man — dressed, preposterously, in a white coat, for some reason — came in dancing, very lightly and nimbly, and then pranced round the room and stopped before me, flexing and extending each leg to its maximum like a ballet dancer. Suddenly, startlingly, he leapt on top of my bedside table, and gave me a teasing elfin smile. Then he jumped down again, took my hands and wordlessly pressed them against the front of his thighs. There, on either side, I felt a neat scar.
"Feel, yes?" he asked. "Me too. Both sides. Skiing . . . See!" And he made another Nijinski-like leap.
The young man in white was a Norwegian surgeon who had a similar accident and was demonstrating the possibility of a complete recovery for Sacks. Doctors who do not think outside of their deeply ingrained medical procedures would never consider such behavior proper or useful — unless they read this.
[page 44] Of all the doctors I had even seen, or was later to see, the image of this young Norwegian surgeon remains most vividly and affectionately in my mind, because in his own person he stood for health, valor, humor — and a most wonderful, active empathy for patients. He didn't talk like a textbook. He scarcely talked at all — he acted. He leapt and danced and showed me his wounds, showing me at the same time his perfect recovery. His visit made me feel immeasurably better.
After the surgery, which went just fine, the challenges began for Sacks. His surgeon, Dr. Swan, told him desultorily before surgery, "We reconnect it. Restore continuity. That's all there is to it." Ah, were it only so easy for the patient as it is for the surgeon. Miss Preston was Sacks physiotherapist, and when she went ballistic over the orthopedic surgeons knowing so little about the recovery portion of the operation for the patient, Sacks warmed up to her. Sacks' inability to budge his repaired leg worried him intensely until he realized that his foot and toes worked fine which meant he had nerve connections down the length of his leg. Now the big problem arose: Sacks didn't believe he had a leg! When Nurse Sulu came in and found Sacks' left leg hanging out of the bed, she scolded him. Sacks replied, "Nonsense! My leg is right here, in front of me, right where it should be." Well, it wasn't, so he asked the nurse to return his leg to the bed and then a remarkable thing happened.
[page 69] I waited for her to move it, but to my surprise she did nothing. Instead she bent over the bed, straightened up and started for the door.
"Nurse Sulu!" I yelled — and it was her turn to be startled. "What's going on? I'm still waiting, please, for you to move my leg back!"
She turned around, her almond-eyes wide with amazement.
"Now you're joking, Dr. Sacks! I did move your leg back."
Sacks lifted himself up with the monkey-bar and confirmed that she was correct. So he decided to do some tests with his eyes closed, to check for his "muscle sense" or "proprioception" sense as Sherrington called it. He was interrupted from his reverie by the nurse complaining that her arms were aching from moving his heavy leg with a cast all over the place. Sacks apologized and said he had felt nothing at all and was waiting for her to begin. Sacks had experienced some jamais vu — the complete loss of perception of his leg. He experimented by touching his flesh and reported, "The flesh between my fingers no longer seemed like flesh." It seemed like something completely apart from him. (Page 73) He began to feel like a functional amputee, an amputee with a leg still attached.
This anosagnosia, the inability to recognize one's own body parts, was named by Babinski, a French neurologist, and Sacks remembered reading him. In fact, some fifteen years earlier, Sacks had was asked to interview a patient who kept falling on the floor every night. Sacks discovered he had been waking up in the middle of the night, seeing a strange thing in bed with him, and throwing it out of the bed. It was his own leg and he followed his leg onto the floor. Sacks confronted him, pointing to the man's left leg, saying if that's not your leg, where is your own left leg? The man replied, "I don't know. I have no idea. It's disappeared. It's gone. It's nowhere to be found. . ." (Page 78) This severe cognitive disturbance was one that Sacks was currently experiencing himself about his own left leg.
Dr. Sacks the patient had a confrontation coming with Dr. Swan the surgeon. Apparently there was more to Sacks' recovery than just reconnecting the quadriceps to restore continuity, as Swan had so abruptly told him before the surgery. Swan declared the surgery successful, and yet Sacks was no closer to walking after the surgery than he had been before. His physiotherapist and his nurse knew it, but the good doctor did not. Surely he would listen and understand, Sacks thought.
[page 93] In the thought of Swan's visit, his understanding, his reassurance, I was permitted, at last, a profound repose. I had had the most bizarre and alarming day of my life — more bizarre and alarming, in its way, than my day on the Mountain. For there my fears, though ultimate, were natural and real — I could and I did confront the thought of death. But what now confronted me was un-natural and un-real. There was perplexity here of a terrible kind. . . . But Swan would understand this, he would have encountered it before: I could depend on him to say the right thing. How often had I myself, as a physician, mysteriously stilled the apprehensions of my patients — not through knowledge, or skill, or expertise, but simply by listening. I could not give myself repose, I could not be physician to myself: but another could. Swan would, tomorrow. . . .
That tomorrow never came so long as Sacks was Swan's patient. Only after Sacks had completely recovered the use of his legs was he able to express his feelings, concerns, and suggestions to Swan, doctor to doctor. Typical of Sacks' problems was a powerful dream he had one night involving a war in which people feared a Derealization Bomb might be used.
[page 95, 96] We were at war — with whom, and why, was never too clear. What was clear, or on everyone's lips, was the fear that the Enemy had an Ultimate Weapon, a so-called Derealization Bomb. It could, so it was whispered, blow a hole in reality. Ordinary weapons only destroyed matter extended through a certain space: this destroyed thought, and thought-space itself. None of us knew what to think or expect, since, we had been told, the effect was unthinkable.
That kind of bomb had been exploded on Sacks' left leg and removed it from his thoughts and reality. To compound the situation, when Nurse Sulu came in after Sacks had just awoken, he could not perceive her entire left side! After a bit Sacks realized this effect was a scotoma due to his migraine, something which had happened many times before, but this morning, it was like the Derealization Bomb had exploded in his room and wiped out half of it and half of its occupants. Suddenly he felt relief:
[page 99] "Why, this is what's going on with the leg! What I am experiencing with half my visual field is essentially similar to what I am experiencing with my leg. I have lost the 'field' for my leg precisely as I have lost part of my visual field."
Sacks asked Nurse Sulu to move around the room, make faces, gestures, talk, etc, and as she did so, he noticed that no longer was only his visual field fractured in a web-like crystalline structure, but time itself was also fractured! He saw her moving in a succession of still images like an early motion picture with a slow image rate. Suddenly, as he watched her, her decomposed body in space and time morphed into a real, solid, warm and alive human being again. He added, "There had been beauty, mathematical beauty, in the crystalline world, but no beauty of action, no beauty of grace." (Page 101)
In the Grand Rounds, Dr. Swan came around to see Sacks accompanied by a cast of junior physicians, but the event was like the Grand and Glorious Wizard of Oz visiting Sacks, like a Grand Know-Nothing visiting what he considered to be his Know-Nothing patient.
[page 104, 105] Swan neither looked at me nor greeted me, but took the chart which hung at the foot of my bed and looked at it closely.
"Well, Sister," he said, "and how is the patient now?"
"No fever, now, Sir," she answered. "We took the catheter out on Wednesday. He is taking food by mouth. There is no swelling of the foot."
"Sounds fine," said Mr. Swan, and then turned to me, or, rather, to the cast before me. He rapped it sharply with his knuckles.
"Well, Sacks," he said. "How does the leg seem today?"
"It seems fine, Sir," I replied, "surgically speaking."
"What do you mean — 'surgically speaking'?" he said.
"Well, umm — " I looked at Sister, but her face was stony. "There's not much pain, and — er — there's no swelling of the foot."
"Splendid," he said, obviously relieved. "No problems then, I take it?"
"Well, just one." Swan looked severe, and I started to stammer. "It's . . . it's . . . I don't seem to be able to contract the quadriceps . . . and, er . . . the muscle doesn't seem to have any tone. And . . . and . . . I have difficulty locating the position of the leg."
I had a feeling that Swan looked frightened for a moment, but it was so momentary, so fugitive, that I could not be sure.
"Nonsense, Sacks," he said sharply and decisively. "There's nothing the matter. Nothing at all. Nothing to be worried about. Nothing at all!"
"But. . ."
He held up his hand, like a policeman halting traffic. "You're completely mistaken." he said with finality. "There's nothing wrong with the leg. You understand that, don't you?"
With a brusque and, it seemed to me, irritable movement, he made for the door, his Juniors parting deferentially before him.
Like Dorothy in Oz, Sacks cowered before the Grand Poobah, and Swan blithely swam away, on to more important matters than someone who can't locate his own leg. Sacks asked the nurse to have Swan's assistant, the Registrar, to come by after the Rounds. But Sacks was met with the same kind of stonewalling, "not-my-problem" attitude from the Registrar.
By documenting in detail the response Sacks got from the highly trained medical specialists, he did two things: 1) Ensured that orthopedic surgeons thereafter will listen to patients and assist them in getting through the scotoma problems post-surgery. And 2) Sacks himself learned how important it is for such patients to have someone to talk to who will listen and offer understanding, encouragement, and hope for their complete recovery.
[page 106, 107] But the Registrar, alas, was exasperated and exasperating, obviously annoyed that I had asked for this special extra meeting
"Well, Sacks," he snorted. What's the matter now? Haven't you been told there is nothing the matter? Are you critical of the surgery or post-operative care?"
"Not at all," I replied. "Both seem exemplary."
"What is the matter then?"
"The leg doesn't feel right."
"This is very vague and subjective. Not the sort of thing we can be concerned with. We orthopods are really carpenters, in a way. We are called in to do a job. We do it. And that's that."
"Since you speak of carpentry," I replied, "That's just what it feels like. Carpentry would suffice if it were a wooden leg. And this is exactly how the leg feels — wooden, not like flesh, not alive, not mine."
"Sacks, you're unique," the Registrar said. "I've never heard anything like this from a patient before."
"I can't be unique," I said, with anger, and rising panic. "I must be constituted the same way as everyone else! Perhaps (my anger was getting the better of me now), perhaps you don't listen to what patients say, perhaps you're not interested in the experiences they have."
"No, indeed, I can't waste time with 'experiences' like this. I'm a practical man, I have work to do. Experience aside then, the leg doesn't work. That's, not my business."
"Then whose business is it? Specifically, there is something physiologically the matter. What about a neurological opinion, nerve-conduction tests, EMGs. etc.?"
He turned away and gave me no answer(1).
When the famous cartoonist Al Capp had his leg severed by a trolley at age nine, he was fitted with an actual wooden leg, and then was sent to a home for retarded boys, even though there was nothing wrong with his mind, only his leg(2). No doctor would treat an amputee as a retard these days, but Sacks was treated as a retard by esteemed doctors when he explained to them that he felt like an amputee with a leg still attached!
When the doctor said, "That's not my business" above, I recalled a comedy album from the 1960s about a doctor who said, "It's not my job to eliminate pain, but to minimize pain. I tell my back surgery patients post-surgery, 'There, that doesn't hurt, does it? Be Big Boy! Stand up straight!'" What the comedian's doctor did was not much different from what Dr. Swan and his Registrar did to Sacks: they minimized Sacks' psychic pain and ignored his very real problems. They defenestrated Sacks into darkness, into nothingness, into the limbo he describes so fully in Chapter 3. It would be funny if it were not so tragic an indictment of the arrogance of doctors today.
When the etheric or life body of a person's leg leaves it after an accident it feels lifeless. When this spiritual body returns, the leg feels like a bit of heaven has returned to it, even if it arrives in lightning like flashes of pain. Sacks wrote in his diary, "What on earth goes on?" when these flashes occurred, but it Would have been more descriptive if he had written, "What in heaven is going on?" He was cheered because it was the first signs of life in his leg since he had entered the hospital. Humans who are heavily injured often go into comas during recovery, and doctors often induce comas for that reason as it aids recovery and eases the concerns of the patient. Friends of the coma patient may think, "It almost like he's not there." Exactly how Sacks felt about his "wooden leg" during recovery. Perhaps Sacks leg went into the limb-equivalent of a coma while recovering its function. These flashes of pain were signs of the leg coming out of its self-induced coma.
During his period in Limbo, Sacks yearned for music, but the radio reception in his room was terrible. Finally a friend brought him a tape recorder with one cassette of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. Not a fan of that composer, but it was still music, and Sacks played it, over and over and over again. It became a balm for his soul and a key component of his later recovery.
[page 119] The music seemed passionately, wonderfully, quiveringly alive — and conveyed to me a sweet feeling of life. I felt, with the first bars of the music, a hope and an intimation that life would return to my leg — that it would be stirred, and stir, with original movement, and recollect or recreate its forgotten motor melody. I felt — how inadequate words are for feelings of this sort! — I felt, in those first heavenly bars of music, as if the animating and creative principle of the whole world was revealed, that life itself was music, or consubstantial with music; that our living moving flesh, itself, was "solid" music — music made fleshy, substantial, corporeal. In some intense, passionate, almost mystical sense, I felt that music, indeed, might be the cure to my problems — or, at least, a key of an indispensable sort.
After Sacks gets his cast taken off once more, for the umpteenth time, he sees his leg again, but it still doesn't feel like his leg, just some waxen counterfeit of a leg. The next step in the casting room is for the nurse to remove the long row of stitches from his leg before they add a new, lighter cast. She tells him it may hurt, and begins fiddling around with his leg and Sacks figured she was doing some preparations to remove the stitches. He finally looks at the nurse and asks her, "You going to start now?" He was flabbergasted at her reply.
[page 126] She looked at me in astonishment. "Start!" she exclaimed. "Why, I just finished! I took out all the stitches. I must say. you were very good. You lay quiet as a lamb. You must be very stoical. Did it hurt much?"
"No," I answered. "It didn't hurt at all. And I wasn't being brave. I didn't feel you at all. I had no sensation whatever when you pulled the stitches out." I omitted to say, because I thought it would sound too strange, that I had entirely failed to realize that she was taking them out, indeed that I had failed to make any sense of her activity whatever, or to see it as having any sense or relation to me, so that I had mistaken all her motions as meaningless "fiddling." But I was taken aback, confounded, by the business. It brought home to me once more how estranged the leg was, how "alien," how "exiled" from myself. To think that I could have seen Sister making all the characteristic motions of snipping and pulling out stitches, but was only able to imagine she was "warming up" in readiness for the "real thing"! Her activity had seemed meaningless and unreal, presumably, because the leg felt meaningless and unreal. And because the leg felt senseless, in all senses of senseless, absolutely senseless and unrelated to me so had her motions which had been related to it. As the leg was merely a semblance, so her motions, her taking-out stitches, seemed merely a semblance. Both had been reduced to meaningless semblance.
Sacks is surprised when he first gets his leg to move, and learns from it the act of will which, rightly understood, activates all of our limbs. We don't consciously decide to scratch our nose, it itches, and our hand rises to scratch it. A mosquito lands on my neck and my hand rises and swats it. During Sacks' early recovery of leg movement, the spontaneous movement by his will fails when later he tries consciously to demonstrate the movement to the nurse. He is showing us how the will precedes the conscious execution of the will. Only after the will is working on a limb can we consciously will its working. We simply don't know how to connect conscious volition with the unconscious will, but over time it connects for Sacks as it did for each of us as an early toddler.
[page 129] When I awoke I had an odd impulse to flex my left leg, and in that self-same moment immediately did so! Here was a movement previously impossible, one which involved active contraction of the whole quad — a movement hitherto impossible and unthinkable. And yet, in a trice, I had thought it, and done it. There was no cogitation, no preparation, no deliberation, whatever; there was no "trying"; I had the impulse, flash-like — and flash-like I acted. The idea, the impulse, the action, were all one — I could not say which came first, they all came together. I suddenly "recollected" how to move the leg, and in the instant of recollection I actually did it. The knowing-what-to-do had no theoretical quality whatever — it was entirely practical, immediate — and compelling. It came to me suddenly and spontaneously — out of the blue.
Soon these movements arose more and more frequently; where previously Sacks could not will movement of his leg, now movements were happening un-willed, on their own. What was a scotoma of willed movement became a plethora of un-willed movement.
[page 133] An accident of physiology, an injury, had deprived me of will — specifically and solely in relation to the injured limb; and now another accident of physiology, the sparks of returning innervation, were to rekindle will in this limb. First I was will-less, unable to command; then I was willed, or commanded, like a puppet; and now, finally, I could take over the reins of command, and say "I will" (or "I won't") with full truth and conviction, albeit in the single matter of moving my leg.
Walking, well, that is another matter. Sacks had to be forced to rise, to stand, and to walk, and every step was an adventure into the unknown for him and his recovering leg. On page 135, he asks the eponymous question, "How could I walk without a leg to stand on?" Walking is a spontaneous matter and one cannot command a spontaneous action. Paul Watzlawick pointed that out most succinctly to me in his books and called such an attempt a "Be Spontaneous Paradox". I have uncovered many such BSP's over the decades since I first read Watzlawick's works(3), and found it a most useful concept. It explains why one should never tell a child to "Go to sleep", e.g., because sleep can only come spontaneously, never under command. One does best to turn off the lights in the child's room and say something like, "Be quiet and you can stay awake as long as you like." Photographers rarely say, "Smile" because they know that natural smiling can only come spontaneously, never on command. So they say and do something unexpected to evoke a natural smile. Lovers should know that "Tell me you love me" is a great way to destroy the natural feeling of love. You can probably think of many other examples of BSP's, too, but until I read Sacks in this book, the idea of walking becoming a BSP never occurred to me.
[page 135] Had ever I faced a more paradoxical situation? How could I stand, without a leg to stand on? How could I walk when I lacked legs to walk with? How could I act, when the instrument of action had been reduced to an inert, immobile, lifeless, white thing?
Sacks recalled A. R. Luria's The Man with a Shattered World, especially how the man had forgotten how to write, but by systematically forcing himself to make block letters, the way children learn to write, suddenly he found himself writing spontaneously, without thinking. This became an Aha! Moment for Sacks.
[page 136] Spontaneously! Spontaneously, yes that was the answer. Something spontaneous must happen — or nothing would happen at all.
A solution, yes, Sacks found an answer, but implementing a solution created a Be Spontaneous Paradox, even for him to take his first step. He told the therapist, "I can't move. I can't think how to. I have no idea whatever how to take the first step." (Page 142) He could flex his hip in bed, but not standing up. What finally worked was the therapist pushed his leg forward for him and he saw how to do it, how to flex his hip so his leg move forward. It was not spontaneous, but made connection with some spontaneous process in him and allowed him to take carefully calculated steps with one good leg and the other a clumsy cast-covered cylinder, but only while looking at his feet, similar to how Luria's patient made his first writing steps, slowly, carefully, one letter at a time.
Suddenly Mendelssohn came to his aid.
[page 144, 145] "This is walking?" I said to myself, and then, with a qualm of terror: "Is this what I will have to put up with for the rest of my life? Will I never get back the feel of true walking? Will I never again know a walking which is natural, spontaneous, and free? Will I be forced, from now on, to think out each move? Must everything be so complex — can't it be simple?"
And suddenly — into the silence, the silent twittering of motionless frozen images — came music, glorious music, Mendelssohn, fortissimo! Joy, life, intoxicating movement! And, as suddenly, without thinking, without intending whatever, I found myself walking, easily-joyfully, with the music. And, as suddenly, in the moment that this inner music started, the Mendelssohn which had been summoned and hallucinated by my soul, and in the very moment that my "motor" music, my kinetic melody, my walking, came back — in this self-same moment the leg came back. Suddenly, with no warning, no transition whatever, the leg felt alive, and real, and mine, its moment of actualization precisely consonant with the spontaneous quickening, walking and music. I was just turning back from the corridor to my room — when out of the blue this miracle occurred — the music, the walking, the actualization, all one. And now, as suddenly, I was absolutely certain — I believed in my leg, I knew how to walk. . .
I said to the physiotherapists: "Something extraordinary has just occurred. I can walk now. Let me go — but you had better stand by!"
And walk I did — despite weakness, despite the cast, despite crutches, despite everything — easily, automatically, spontaneously, melodiously, with a return of my own personal melody, which was somehow elicited by, and attuned to, the Mendelssohnian melody.
I walked with style — with a style which was inimitably my own. Those who saw this echoed my own feelings. They said: "You walked mechanically, like a robot before — now you walk like a person — like yourself, in fact."
Sacks was deliriously happy. His leg was back! Even though his leg was still covered with a light cast, it was back. He spoke to his leg as if it were an old friend newly arrived back in town after a long absence.
[page 152] "You dear old thing, you sweet thing," I found myself saying. "You've come back, you're real, you're part of me now." Its reality, its presence, its dearness, were all one. I gazed at it in a sort of bliss, filled with the sense of intense physicality, but a physicality radiant and almost supernatural — no longer an uncanny, ghastly-ghostly dough, but "the holy and glorious flesh" restored. I felt aflame with amazement, gratitude, joy — aflame with love, worship, praise.
During his convalescence period, Sacks had one more lesson to learn: how to use his left knee again. If he tried to flex his knee while walking, it felt uncomfortable and he stumbled, so he avoided using it. Some trick to overcome his Be Spontaneous Paradox would be required, and his physiotherapist was up for the task.
[page 192] "Why do you walk as if there were no knee? It is partly habit — this is how you walked with the cast — partly, I think, because you have 'forgotten' your knee, and can't imagine what using it is like."
"I know," I said. "I feel that myself. But I can't seem to use it in a deliberate way. Whenever I try, it feels awkward. I stumble."
He thought for a moment. "What do you like doing?" he continued. "What comes to you naturally? What is your favorite physical activity?"
"Swimming," I answered, with no hesitation.
"Good," he said. "I have an idea." There was a half-smile, somewhat impish, on his face. "I think your best plan is to go for a swim. Will you excuse me for a minute? I have a phone call to make."
This is the point in a magic act where the Magician places a cloth or a curtain over some container, says a Magic Incantation, and as he does, something off stage is activated, some Deus ex Machina perhaps, and then magic happens.
[page 193] He came back in a minute, the smile more pronounced.
"A taxi will be here in five minutes," he said. "It will take you to a pool. I'll see you at the same time tomorrow."
The taxi arrived, and took me to the Seymour Hall Baths. I rented a towel and trunks, and advanced tremblingly to the side. There was a young lifeguard there, lounging by the diving board, who looked at me quizzically and said, "Why, what's the matter?"
"I've been told I ought to take a swim," I said. "The doctor told me, but I'm disabled. I've had surgery, I'm sort of scared."
The lifeguard unwound himself, slowly, languidly, leaned towards me, looked mischievous and suddenly said "Race you!", at the same time taking my stick with his right hand and pushing me in with his left.
I was in the water, outraged, before I knew what had happened — and then the impertinence, the provocation, had their effect. I am a good swimmer — a "natural" — and have been since childhood — from infancy, indeed, for my father, a swimming-champ, had thrown us in at six months, when swimming is instinctual and doesn't have to be learnt. I felt challenged by the lifeguard. By God, I'd show him! Provocatively he stayed just a little in front of me, but I kept up a fast crawl for four Olympic lengths, and only stopped then because he yelled "Enough!"
I got out of the pool — and found I walked normally. The knee was now working, it had "come back" completely.
When Sacks returned to the Magician the next day, he was greeted by a big laugh. The physical therapist said "Splendid!" He then explained to Sacks that the swimming trick works for dogs as well, it was how he discovered the trick. I have seen dogs walking on three legs, holding the fourth leg up as if it's unmovable. This therapist told about having a dog with a healed bum leg, but who never used it. Until one day he took the dog far out into the sea, let her go, and watched his dog paddle back to shore, after which, the dog used all four legs again.
The Magic Act we have just witnessed during the extent of this book is over, the act of Sacks losing his left leg and recovering his leg is over, the curtain has fallen, the applause has ended, and we are left breathless by the events which we have just witnessed. We have learned how the human being learns to do detailed physical tasks from a Master Magician who lost the functions of his leg, and through a long, torturous, and tortured path, marshaled, with help, his leg back to complete and spontaneous functioning. And this Magician, like the Wizard of Oz, took us behind the curtain to show us how the Magic worked, allowing each of us to perform such magical tricks in our own lives from now on.
---------------------------- Footnotes -----------------------------------------
1. It was only four years later that I [Sacks] was put through nerve-conduction tests, electromyograms, and so forth. These showed that there was still quite severe denervation of the quadriceps, and marked impairment of the conduction of the femoral nerve which supplies it. At the time of my "alienation," my scotoma, these impairments must have been profound — or absolute.Return to text directly before Footnote 1.
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BOOKS by OLIVER SACKS
Click to Read Review
1. The Island of the Colorblind
2. Uncle Tungsten — Memories of a Chemical Boyhood
3. Musicophilia — Tales of Music and the Brain
4. An Anthropologist on Mars — Seven Paradoxical Tales
5. On the Move — A Life
6. A Leg To Stand On — A Neurography
8. The Mind's Eye
To Be Reviewed
9. Seeing Voices — A Journey into the World of the Deaf
10. Awakenings — A newly revised edition of the medical Classic
11. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat — A Collection of Neurographies
14. Oaxaca Journal
Read/Print the Review at:
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I hear often from my Good Readers that they have bought books after reading my book reviews. Keep reading, folks! As I like to remind you, to obtain more information on what's in these books, buy and read the books — for less information, read the reviews.
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= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =In this section I like to comment on events in the world, in my life, and in my readings which have come up during the month. These are things I might have shared with you in person, if we had had the opportunity to coverse during the month. If we did, then you may recognize my words. If I say some things here which upset you, rest assured that you may skip over these for the very reason that I would likely have not brought up the subject to spoil our time together in person.1. Padre Filius Pauses to Read a Historical Plaque this Month:
Padre Filius, the cartoon character created by your intrepid editor and would-be cartoonist, will appear from time to time in this Section of DIGESTWORLD to share with us some amusing or enlightening aspect of the world he observes during his peregrinations.
This month the good Padre reads a Historical Plaque on the door of a French Quarter residence in New Orleans:
2. Comments from Readers:
NOTE: I love hearing from all my Good Readers and including your missives here (slightly edited).
If you prefer any comments or photos you send to be private, simply say so and they will not be published.
- EMAIL from Sheila Pickerill in 1999:
NOTE: I am publishing Sheila's email to mark the publication of Rainbows & Shadows poems on-line. Here's a taste of what it was like in the dead-tree publishing days when an eagerly-awaited book arrived in the mail.
Subject: Rainbows & Shadows
Date: Fri, 06 Aug 1999
From: Sheila Pickerill
Today I was watching out the front window while we were visiting with a friend, and saw the mailman drive up. Something told me a treasure was being delivered into our box across the street, so up the stairs I flew for my keys, back down and out the door — flying across the street. Yes! Rainbows & Shadows was sitting there in all its packaged glory, but not as strikingly beautiful until, like the cocoon, it shed its envelope.
I asked Orville to open it and all admired its beauty and your lovely messages. It's a lovely book, and we both read some of your poems out loud to our visitors. Your card and book was passed around for all to admire, and the contents were spoken of for quite a long while. "Yes, indeed he is a poet" was the theme in all sincerity. I feel so honored and blessed to have it and your kind thoughtfulness. This means so very much to both of us and I'm sending heartfelt thanks and blessings from both of us, too.
Hugz to Bobby,
Sheila and Orville
- EMAIL from Jessica in New Orleans:
I think the November DIGESTWORLD issue is spectacular. Love the stories. Great photos, too!
- EMAIL from Good Reader and New Subscriber:
Thank you for your Reality Is Broken review, I really enjoyed reading it. Greetings, Bill
3. Poem from Freedom on the Half Shell: "Politics - the Social Umbilical Cord"
Give me your poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free and I will give them taxes, regulations, restrictions, and every manner of unfairness ever created by persons saddled with the illusion that they can decide what is best for someone else's welfare. The individual, like the business professional, knows what's best in a given situation and, given the freedom, will take that action. The forces of coercion are prying open the shell that contains the living muscle and spirit of the American people — will we resist those forces and keep our muscles and spirit alive, free to open at will, or will we give up like the oyster and settle for "freedom on the half shell?" Here is another poem from Freedom on the Half Shell:
the Social Umbilical Cord
Life begins with two,
Adam and Eve, sperm and egg,
A foetal growth in paradise.
In the womb of Mother God
The King rules over all.
Teeming races, one and all,
Bursting over the waters of life.
In the womb of Mother Earth
The King rules over all.
Arms and legs are free
Supply lines umbilical
A government political.
In inspired democracy
The State rules over all.
Yearning to breathe free
The umbilical cord dries up
We stand on our own two feet.
In freedom, rightly understood,
The government of all rules over none.
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9. CLOSING NOTES:
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