November 29, 2006
This is a work in process vaguely entitled Synaptic Gasp. The synaptic cleft in the human brain reminds me of the gap between the hand of God and Adam in Michaelangelo’s visualization of Creation.
Neurons must be triggered by a stimulus to produce nerve impulses, which are waves of electrical charge moving along the nerve fibres. When the neuron receives a stimulus, the electrical charge on the inside of the cell membrane changes from negative to positive. A nerve impulse travels down the fibre to a synaptic knob at its end, triggering the release of chemicals (neurotransmitters) that cross the gap between the neuron and the target cell, stimulating a response in the target (Baggaley 2001:104).
My mind is stuck on the image of the gap. That’s the leap of faith between that which we can know and that which is beyond our capacity to know. In the human brain this synaptic gap is so microscopic no one has ever seen it. But there are amazing images that are somewhat like science fiction as artists attempt to compile scientific data into visualizations of what it might look like. I am not attempting to be a science illustrator. But I think somehow this image will be like a cartography of a way of thinking that resonates more with complex hyperlinkages than with the human brain. I have been working on this Adobe Photoshop Image which seems to keep getting larger and larger.
I used the starry night wallpaper for the background. I did a pencil drawing of the the neural architecture learning as I was drawing. And I keep making sketches of close-ups so now I am trying to imagine terminal nerve fibres entwined in neurofilament, proteins at the interface of the downstream end of neuron’s dendritic spine and an excitary synapse.
The brain is a supersystem of systems. Each system is composed of an elaborate interconnection of small but macroscopic cortical regions and subcortical nuclei, which are made of microscopic local circuits, which are made of neurons, all of which are connected by synapses (Damasio 1994:30).
Damasio’s elegant text reads like poetry. He describes the neural underpinnings of reason and challenges Cartesian dualisms of mind/body, emotions/reason. Feelings and logical thinking are not like oil and water.
The “body [. . .] represented in the brain [constitutes] an indispensable frame of reference for the neural process that we experience as the mind (Damasio 1994:xvi).”
Our bodies are the ground reference for the construction we make of the world. Our embodied selves construct the ever-present sense of subjectivity, our experience. The body becomes is the instrument through which we construct our most refined thoughts and actions (Damasio 1994:xvi).
Churchland takes this reasoning to imply that we, our subjective selves — our very consciousness — are merely chemical reactions, synapses firing across synaptic gaps for purely physical reasons that science alone (not religion) will one day explain and interpret for us.
The ontology of things ─ objects, substance, stuff are all one thing ─ raises questions about the world’s origin or original principle (arche) and its nature (physis). The Conflicting-Worlds model holds that science and religion are mutually exclusive ways of knowing. Science is one ontological perspective, a way of studying what exists and ways of being of different kinds of things. Religion provides another ontological perspective or another way of adding something to the study of what exists. Those who adopt the Same-Worlds-Model, argue that science and religion are different epistemologies not different ontologies. Probably most of those who believe in the Same-Worlds-Model believe in a Higher Power, a God, Divine Architect in some form, who created man with the capacity and responsibility to explore logic, pure mathematics and physics. I can believe what I want but I like to read from both sides of the Möbius Strip.
Flashback: A uniformed unsmiling, fully armed police officer pulled me over. What had I done? What was I, my young, idealistic, apolitical and therefore politically naïve self ─ doing there in a Third World country under an unstable, potentially dangerous, communist, military dictatorship? The officer leaned into the open window on the passenger side of our old Renault 4. There was a long silent pause as he decided what to do with this flushed creature whose hands were clenched on the steering wheel like a ship’s railing in a storm. He reached in and picked up the book on the front car seat and calmly asked me a question in a voice that could have been saying, “Did you know you failed to stop back there?” But that’s not what he asked. Instead, I can still hear his words even decades later. He asked me, “Do you pray?” Is this a threat? No, he was fingering the book entitled Livres de prière indicating that he too prayed and would appreciate having the book. As I drove away trembling I looked in the rear view mirror as he opened the book, then pocketed it.
After I returned to my Western home and graduate studies, I could not forget this incident which repeated itself in many forms. In spite of the pervasive even dogmatic message that the logical next step in human consciousness resided in the 20th century’s western form of atheism, humanism and materialism most people many still living in fragmented nation states that were former colonies ─ still believe that humans are spiritual beings and that some form of prayer unites us all even if it is a silent “Help!”
For more on the body/mind duality debate see Dawkins, Pinker, Fodor, Searle. According to Richard Dawkins (1976 SG, 2006 GD) these scientific and religious ways of knowing are conflicting and mutually exclusive.
Heraclites described the ontological ultimate stuff a process, a ceaseless flux like fire, not a substance retaining its identity through time.
These sources include:
Baggaley, Ann, Ed. (2001), “Anatomy of the Human Body,” Human Body, Dorling Kindersley Publishing: NY, p. 104.
Damasio, Antonio R., 1994, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Grosset/Putnam: New York.
Damasio, Hanna, (1994) “Gage’s skull, illustrations” in Damasio, Antonio R., 1994, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Grosset/Putnam: New York. p. 31-2.
Johnson, Graham, (2005), “The Synapse Revealed,” 23 September 2005, Science Magazine and the National Science Foundation. The first place winner of the Science and Engineering Visualization Challengewas Graham Johnson from Medical Media, Boulder, Colorado. His image is described on Science Magazine’s web page:
Deep inside the brain, a neuron prepares to transmit a signal to its target. To capture that fleeting moment, Graham Johnson based this elegant drawing on ultra-thin micrographs of sequential brain slices. After scanning a sketch into 3D modeling software, he colored the image and added texture and glowing lighting reminiscent of a scanning electron micrograph.
November 27, 2006
Thursday, October 26, 2006
The Athenian Caratyds, a Roman copy of 4th century BC Greek sculptor Praxitele’s Hermes and Dionysos (300 BC), Bernini’s (whose patrons included Pope Urban VIII) The Ecstasy of Saint Therese (1647-52), Hermaphrodite Sarrasine’s relief (18th century), Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (1767-1824) Endymion(1791) and his Pygmalion et Galatée(1819), Honoré de Balzac’s (1830) Sarrassine, Michel Serre’s (1987) Hermaphrodite: Sarrasine Sculpteur Précédé de Balzac Sarrasine and Serres (1982) Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy.
I layered these images after reading Michel Serres (1987).
There is something about the inspired playfulness of Dan Brown’s characters in Angels and Demons and setting that reminded me of this image. I hope to use free internet tools to connect the dots between layers. Dan Brown’s protagonist, the art historian, Renaissance expert and James Bond of the art world, irreverently described the ecstasy of Saint Theresa as sexual and secular not sacred.
Links: Hermes, hermeneutics, East and East, Persian and Greek Empires, Greek and Roman sculpture, Greek and Roman culture and art, Greek and Christian art, Greek, Roman and Renaissance sculpture, originality, copies, derivatives, Western art, western metaphysics, interpretation, contributions of East and West.
These are the free technical tools helping me to map my mind:
This is a from an interview with Dan Brown posted on his web page. I have been trying to read Angels and Demons as a way of relaxing before my grandchildren arrive in a few hours. But the book Angels and Demons is exciting not soothing:
In many ways I see science and religion as the same thing. Both are manifestations of man’s quest to understand the divine. Religion savors the questions while science savors the quest for answers. Science and religion seem to be two different languages attempting to tell the same story, and yet the battle between them has been raging for centuries and continues today. The war in our schools over whether to teach Creationism or Darwinism is a perfect example. We live in an exciting era, though, because for the first time in human history, the line between science and religion is starting to blur. Particle physicists exploring the subatomic level are suddenly witnessing an interconnectivity of all things and having religious experiences…Buddhist monks are reading physics books and learning about experiments that confirm what they have believed in their hearts for centuries and have been unable to quantify. (I will connect his url. Meanwhile it is on my del.icio.us).
November 24, 2006
For awhile I wasn’t sure if it was a snow fall or a sun shower. The early afternoon sun cut through the trees glittering with raindrops and blinded me as I drove along winding roads to the quiet village of Shawnigan Lake. There is one field along the way where half a dozen deer may be grazing one minute and leaping into traffic the next. I drive by Cobble Hill village and think of the summer hike to the summit of the hill. I pass by Masson’s Beach where we went swimming or launched the canoe just weeks ago. My favourite places in Shawnigan Village are on Dundas Road. There’s a small art gallery upstairs with constantly changing displays of Island artists’ work. Next door is Moziro: Coffee Roasters and Chocolatiers, a family-run business where you can get the best chocolate in the region and where a discussion about coffee sounds oddly like someone discussing an art collection. Mom and Dad named their shop using two letters from the names of each of their three children. Downstairs is a coffee shop (serving Moziro’s freshly ground coffee & chocolate) that is always busy usually with local customers of all ages. There are comfortable chairs, great artwork (from upstairs) and a no-rush atmosphere. It’s the kind of safe, family environment place where a stranded school girl can wait until her embarrased and tardy grandpa shows up. Next door is a small restaurant with delicious, inexpensive soups and stews that also provide fresh baked goods for the coffee shop.
November 21, 2006
Raymond Rees wrote this useful article explaining “What is Web 2.0?” on their PI Technology Blog. I learned about this entry because I have customized my Google News page so I only get the news sources I have selected! I wanted to Digg the article but I was third. It was already posted and dugg on Digg. So I left the following comment to thank Raymond Rees. I really liked the digitage he posted with this article. Pictures help us visual learners to understand at a different level. (I had been working just last evening trying to create an attractive digitage with hot links to each of these logos using WordPress’s HTML friendly blog service and Adobe Photoshop’s tools to create .png images.) It took me a long time to realize that Adobe Photoshop hides the option of making transparent images under the “Help” menu. I had been trying to figure that out since early September when I wanted to add .png images to Google Earth. Anyhow WordPress allows us to upload all kinds of images that can then be accessed by right-clicking on the media library and selecting “copy url.” I’m writing this down because I forget everytime I try to do it. Note to myself do not select “add to page” under the options for “uploading images” because WordPress creates a new page for every image when I do this.Tuesday, November 21, 2006, 01:29 PM
Hi Raymond, I am a bricoleuse, basically learning by starting with basic tools. I am attracted to the technology for the way in which we can collaborate. In September 2006, I started using Web 2.0 without knowing I was. Previously I had only used HTML for web pages and prior to that Toolbook authoring software in the early 1990s. Web 2.0, if I understand it correctly, seems like a huge revolutionary shift in maximizing connectivity for independent researchers who are not affiliated with any particular cultural, social or economic institution.I could not believe how quickly concepts I needed for my own research like “memory work” could take on a whole new life using the combined forces of Swicki, Google’s customized search engines, del.icio.us, wikipedia, technorati, WordPress tags, Flickr and of course Digg, etc. Very specific concepts have been developed for more nuanced discussions on democracy for example. Terms and ideas are slowly built by reading both sides of debates about social justice vs economic efficiency, human rights, distorted histories, etc. The readership is small, scattered all over the planet, not necessarily with formal education. They are people who are politically engaged with a small “p” who are concerned about a renewed democracy. The concept of “memory work” has been built over decades and has become clarified since WWII. I can see how Web 2.0 is a powerful tool providing a forum for the slow world using fast world technology. Thank you for contributing to making technology that works for us. Maureen Flynn-Burhoe