" /> The Deception of the Thrush: Agosto 2004 Archives

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29 de Agosto 2004

thoughts that express absolutely no unifying theme

I've noticed today how easily seduced I am by product packaging. When I came home from the grocery store, I saw how much pleasure I derived from looking at all the nice, new stuff in my fridge. It's much more attractive than, say, the marinara-stained tupperware containers that I sometimes use. There are no half-opened packages, no half-eaten produce. Everything in its natural completeness. I like how all my new boxes of tea and instant oatmeal and so on stack neatly together in my cupboard, flaps firmly sealed instead of coming loose and hanging open. And have you ever seen those milk bottles (I know they're in Minnesota, I don't know if they're elsewhere) that are covered entirely with a blue or pink label and have a nifty looking screw cap on top? Land-o-Lakes, I think. Looks different than your average milk jug, and I always bought it because I thought it would look so fantastically spiffy in my fridge. Sad.

I need a hobby. Just at the point in my life when I'm not going to be able to have one. But the problem is that all these people suggest that survival in grad school requires at least some token maintenance of a "side interest." (There's some Simpsons episode where Marge says something like: "I'm developing an outside interest. I heard they work well for other people") Anyways, I try to think of the "side interest" that I'm going to maintain and I'm not sure what it is. I don't really have one. Academics seem really into outdoor sports. Few are the researchers who don't have pictures of themselves whitewater rafting or flyfishing or cycling in the mountains. I understand the motivation--when you spend all day inside, engaging in sedentary activites, there's probably an impulse to do exactly the opposite, once you get the chance. So, I don't know, what am I going to do? I thought, maybe for the time being, I'm going to make something up, so that I can at least tell people what I do "for fun" (ha ha ha ha ha) I thought I could tell them that I hike through exotic deserts, and then I could just take a digital picture of myself in hiking boots and use adobe photoshop to paste my image onto backdrops of the Sahara.

I just bought a Paul Simon solo album. Which I always hesitated to do; it seemed kinda heretical given that I think he never should have ditched Art on the side of the road. Do you know the song "Slip Sliding Away?" There's a verse I really like:

I know a woman
Became a wife
These are the very words that she uses to describe her life:
She said a good day ain't got no rain
She said a bad day's when I lie in bed and think of things that might have been...

Or as would say good buddy TS Eliot: Footfalls echo in the memory/down the path which we did not take/towards the door that we never opened/into the rose garden...

The next few weeks are important here in grad-school land and the way I play my cards during this time could have a strong impact on how my first year or two will play out--what I end up doing, how much I end up liking it, and so on. I don't want to be lying in bed and thinking of things that might have been. Wish me luck--and knock me on the head if I'm not blogging for a while, it's probably an indicator that I'm far too absorbed in something that's not worth it.

28 de Agosto 2004

watch it glow


This is my new favorite area of the brain, the anterior cingulate.

25 de Agosto 2004

not going anywhere for a while

god, i can't sleep again.

i have these bouts of insomnia that are mild but frequent. It's 12:30 a.m. I was hoping to get to sleep sometime around 11:00.

I had a moment when I was almost there, i can tell, because my thoughts were doing that funny free association out-of-nowhere stuff, like I think I was in the airport and olympic events were going on there and there were water sprinklers around...don't ask me.

but no, something from more mundane parts of my consciousness grabbed me and took me out of happy la la zone and I'm back again, thinking about the concerns of waking life.

That la-la zone is nice though, I wish that I could let it stick around for a while; some days I wouldn't mind operating completely in that mode. I'm sure there's drug-induced routes to that which would be a bit extreme for me. I wish it would just set in naturally, when I need to not quite see the world as real anymore, when a walk through the airport might be more entertaining if you understood it as an Olympic venue with sprinklers.

it just goes to show what a drag reality is. Or at least the order that our full-blown consciousness likes to inflict upon it. I feel, somedays, like doing or saying something completely senseless and not at all predicted by the circumstances--like bringing up a comment about sea turtles when someone asks me how I'm doing. Or creating an artificial snow mountain in the middle of my office. Or sending out emails to everybody on my contact list, announcing that they all have new nicknames that I derived from the latin names for fungi. Just something like that to remind people that all the constraints are artifactual and not somehow dictated by nature, unless you count nature's indirect influence in her creation of a kind of human being that feels so inclined to constrain himself.

of course, I won't ever do this. sometimes we really just have to keep following the path ahead, brainless lemmings we are, and you know it really irritates me the more I observe those principles that unify human behavior, and specifically when those principles highlight the similiarities between my behavior and anyone else's, because then I realize what a machine I am. It's dangerous, when you study cognitive neuroscience, to see yourself and others as machines. It's kind of the whole trick to the science but you have to separate in real life which cannot be enjoyed so well if viewed in that way.

too much thinking and it won't lead to anything anyway, around the circular track back to the point where we began, back to where we never knew anything, where forms were hardly discernable in the environment and the influence of basic drives was patent in every cry and squawk we made. it hasn't changed. we've just covered up the squawks with sophistication. it's just a trick though.

so we go to bed and we slip back into it again, back to where we never know anything, for all we know, sprinklers might be watering our airport terminals as we speak, and it wouldn't even be all that surprising. Back into that world until the alarm wakes us up and then we slowly know ourselves, and then our bed, and then the room, and then all the world comes crashing back down in the same shape in which we left it. Too bad.

It will be OK. There's enough diversions out there to keep you busy, to keep you happy, to send giddy streaks of endorphins through your system, at least until it's night again, and then you go back to your beginning. If only you could, if only you could sleep...

Please don't say you read any of that seriously :-)

21 de Agosto 2004

good music

Here's a new site I discovered today that I really like:


There's some nice stuff there. My favorite artist is John Adams-- try out the "Trembling and Shaking" track.

18 de Agosto 2004

I think I can I think I can...

So, someone else tell me if they've ever had this experience:

I am walking up the hill to my building on campus. Note that this is a fairly substantial hill.

There's this guy in front of me kind of lumbering up the hill. He doesn't seem to be in the best of shape.

I'm going much faster than he is. But then, as I approach him, I can't bring myself to pass him, because I think, hmm, he might feel bad, if he sees other pedestrians rushing by. So I slow down, and stay a few feet behind him the rest of the way up the hill.

15 de Agosto 2004

han sido demasiadas las cosas en mi vida

Another hastily written entry when I could be doing more productive things.

To translate the title: There have been too many things in my life. It's a quote from Borges, written while he was reflecting on his worsening blindness.

Too many things. I look through the journal article databases and see all the research projects, millions upon millions, all those experiments and theories and overly educated people behind them. Surely only 1% of these ideas are really worthwhile.

It's depressing, sometimes, to see such multiplicity, in any context. From my perspective, seeing the numbers in which research projects are produced seems to trivialize my own efforts. A dime for a dozen...

Sometimes, it happens when I see large crowds of people, like at the State Fair, or a ball park, or wherever. Too many. Reproduction happens far too easily. You get images of Mr. Rogers when you watched some widgets being made in a factory and they were just fired out of the machine, these tiny things that landed in a bin below. What if one of those widgets fell through the cracks of the factory floor? Would anyone care?

It happens a lot in a country of affluence. Too much food, too much stuff we no longer want that we store in our basements, too many tacky pieces of clothing that we wouldn't dare wear again....It hurts the eyes. Go into a used clothing store and study the racks and racks of clothes. It hurts your eyes. Too much.

Sometimes you want to react, and dramatically. Go off and live in a cabin and live off the land, or whatever. And maybe that would do the trick.

But no matter how much you simplify your own lifestyle, you still know its all out there--too many ideas, too many people, too much stuff.

14 de Agosto 2004

Purposeful slothfulness

An interesting book review I read today....

12 de Agosto 2004

token blogging

Hi, I know I've been neglecting you all. I don't have much time to write; I want to get to bed soon because I have to be up bright and early to observe another fMRI scan. How nonchalant one can become with the act of peeking into another person's brain. I think if I really thought about the awesomeness of what I am doing, of being able to detect the physical substrate of these very personal, private and seemingly magical mental processes, then I would just be floored. But you just kind of block all those sensations out. If it were my own brain, I might feel differently.

Hmm, what interesting discussion topic can I introduce this evening. Give me a second to think....

OK. Does anyone else out there have several little dry bumps on the back side of their upper arms? I saw a girl on the bus with those, and I have them too. They're just very very tiny pink bumps. I'm not sure if they're associated with hair follicles or not. Why are they specifically there? How are they created?

Surely it's not just me and the stranger on the bus. Surely we're not alone.

6 de Agosto 2004

like a rat in a Skinner box

Wow, so I'm learning that the whole state of Pennsylvania feels that it's perfectly sane to stroll out into the middle of traffic. Yet when I try to take my bike onto the streets, the drivers look at me like they've never seen such a crazy newfangled contraption....

Anyways, glad to hear that I keep the x500 password. I sometimes forget to look back onto previous entries to see if others have added comments....

My days are packed right now so not much time to provide updates here. Here's a thought that I've recently had, though: what about those buttons that you press to get the walk/don't walk sign to change at the crosswalk? I have always believed that they are completely misleading, that you have zero control over what the crosswalk sign will do, and that any perception that you do have control is complete placebo effect. I've never seen anyone press that button and shorten the standard interval for the light to change. Never. And why would you let Joe Pedestrian have such control anyways?

But recently I've witnessed a lot of people using these buttons...people whose intelligence I respect, who I think would have caught on to the big crosswalk conspiracy, were it true. So I'm beginning to reconsider my own skepticism. What do you think? Are crosswalk buttons total lies imposed upon us by a malicious local government? Or are they effective, but only under certain conditions (maybe certain times of day)? Or do they have only a modest effect on your wait time, such a modest effect that I've never been able to perceive it?

Help me out here. Bonus points for anyone who actually asks a real transportation official for the lowdown on this, and double bonus points if you design and implement an empirical study to see if condition (a) pressing the button and condition (b) not pressing the button differ at all in terms of how long it takes for the don't walk to change to walk.

4 de Agosto 2004


I'm in Pittsburgh.
Yay Pittsburgh!
How are you all?