My first published essay! Whooda thunk it! Two years, three and a half months ago I announced to my brother that I would have a new adventure – a one year trial of writing, then extend my thumb up or thumb down. It was a thumb up.
A grandson was helping me install large raised garden beds for my wife. The toll of time tells her that she can no longer garden at ground level. That same bell tells me that I can no longer dig, toss and tote dirt as once I did. Sic transit gloria me. The bell tolls. I ask Jon for help. Read more
I went to a school that had transom windows – openable windows above the larger non-opening windows. They were hinged at their bottom and opened inward. On a warm day the teacher would ask a student to open the windows and the honored student would get a wood pole with a metal hook, and pull the latch. The window would open, held in place by chains. At the end of the day the windows were closed by pushing on the latch with the pole. The windows did not have screens and occasionally something would come in. Quite literally ‘coming in over the transom.’ Read more
It is 4 AM. I’ve been writing for about 2 hours and I am not finished. Why am I writing? “Because I cannot stop.”1 That is an astounding confession, and true. But I cannot find a good dog, cat, cow, or squirrel analogy for writing as I have for curiosity, memory, play, tool making and using, and problem solving. At this point I cannot move between their mental worlds and mine. There is something new, something puzzling afoot. They communicate but they don’t have words spoken, written, or read. Where did words come from? What is the mammalian/primate substrate that developed into speech and then into writing and reading? What is their function for the individual and for his group, society, culture? Inquiring minds wish to know: curiosity. Read more
Almost every night, just before their bedtime, the kids and I would jump on the recliner and I would read them a story. Dr. Seuss was the favorite author and we made good use of the narrative poems collected by Louis Untermeyer in Story Poems1. Stories were an important part of our lives. Read more
A thousand words will never suffice to tell the story told by this photograph. Thousands of stories could be written that never will. Stories of lives on either side of that abrupt line. I try to tell all their stories in two questions: Can an economic miracle be the same time a socio-political disaster? Does that photograph portray a successful disaster?
My previous essay, The Favelas of Sao Paulo, Act 1: One Thousand Words, practically wrote itself after the photograph “Favelas of Brazil: The boundary between wealth and poverty” serendipitously arrived in my email in-basket. It brought forward old ideas and words. It expressed visually what I have striven to write in words. It generated new expressions of those long held ideas and new thoughts. The picture drove me to write. Words gathered in my mind propelled by cresting waves of emotion and thought, and I fixed words onto paper.
I have studied my previous post much as I studied that photograph. What was that initial motivation, the emotion that drove those words crowding into my mind as I studied that photograph? It took me days to render my thoughts down to “the photo asked ‘is this fair?’ ” Or it declared “This is not fair.” Fairness, an old animal, mammalian, primate, and human attribute was the base upon which I built my querying essay A Thousand Words in One Photograph.  Read more
I discovered my unconscious mind in 1972. It happened like this:
I was working swing shift maintaining traffic signal systems for a large municipality. On the weekends I could lollygag in bed in the morning. There was no particular need to get up but I would occasionally chide myself with “get up, you lazy bum” before turning over and closing my eyes again. Finally, I’d say to myself “OK, ok, I’m getting up” and the morning routine would be set into motion. Read more
In my previous essay, Terra Incognita: My Unconscious Mind, I developed the thesis that my unconscious mind made decisions. I did not include a quantifier, either all or some, for ‘decisions.’ I do not know that the unconscious makes all the decisions and I cannot say that it makes some of them. That would be tantamount to saying that the conscious mind also makes some decisions, which I do not know. So I leave the concluding statement bare, pending more observation:
My unconscious mind decides.
This statement is the first in a brief catalog of some of the functions of my unconscious mind, how it works, what it does, how it functions. I use the expressive phrase “the temper of my mind” to encapsulate these attributes. Read more
The Sin Story
Words sometimes irrupt into my conscious mind. I’m walking along and wham! bang! words begin crowding into my consciousness accompanied with “wow!” I grab note cards and pen, and begin writing before the words are lost, for I know from long experience that the thought may be evanescent and the disappointment when a good idea is lost. In the previous essay I framed these events in the sentence “my unconscious mind thinks.”
But the words are in my conscious mind. In this essay I will explore the relationship in more detail, taking an event apart to see what happened. Read more
In the previous essay I used the first sentence in a series of four 3” x 5” note cards to illustrate the unconscious process of pattern matching. This essay will continue the examination of that sentence by looking at what happens as those words first appear in my mind. Let’s return to the scene:
I was walking along, bouncing a tennis ball on the sidewalk and catching it, thinking of nothing in particular. Suddenly three things happen almost simultaneously: words appear in my conscious mind as if I am talking to myself. They are pleasurable; I value them; I know that they are evanescent and I want to keep them for I am sorrowful and disappointed at the loss of a good idea. I write them down, wrestling inspiration into words on paper:
“The concept of sin is functional/motivational – forcing behavior.” Read more
I concluded my previous essay with three linked ideas: mental (and some physical) pleasure is the brain’s reward for successful fulfillment of motivation, that this pleasure is pre-verbal, and that I could understand some element of this pleasure by observing a deer. I see a doe and I have a ray of insight that will illuminate my reward system. Do-re-mi! Hey, that was fun. Aw, quit that and get back to work, I’ve an essay to write.
All life shares a common problem imposed upon us by the power of self-replicating molecules. For a brief time we accomplish the biding of those molecules and hold off the inevitable ravages of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. We must live and for this we must defy entropy. To fulfill this mandate we extract energy and raw materials from our environment to build cells that contain those self-replicating molecules and the structures – bodies – which those molecules are able to form. Organisms possess energy and food detecting, collecting and processing mechanisms or behaviors to solve this problem. Read more
We were the odd couple, long before the TV program of that name. Dorm rooms at the small Bible college were assigned alphabetically so Bill V. roomed with Carl W. Bill had it all: tall, solidly built, good looking, and a great personality. At the end of freshman orientation, he was the most popular boy and the class vice-president. If that was not enough, he had a white over blue Chevy Bel Aire 2 door with a 283 V8, and a girl friend at the nearby state university. He wore his gifts lightly and gracefully – truly a great guy. Read more
I intended a different essay than this one when I published The Key Story. I wanted to continue the story of truth for few human attributes have caused so much havoc and are in need of explication.
Serendipity trumped intention when a most interesting e-mail message arrived in my inbox. It told a story that continues my previous essay The Key Story. It also reminded me of two similar stories. The first comes from a Reader’s Digest Magazine a long time ago: Read more
Squirrels, ducks and geese thinking! Animal genius! Gods incipient in their thoughts! Have I totally lost my mind? Maybe not. Gather around me once again my friends and I will tell you another story:
It was a dark and stormy night …no, not that famous night of Bulwer-Lytton’s novel, this is a true story in the stormy winter of 1925 – Nome, Alaska. Children were dying of diptheria, an epidemic was building and the doctor had an insufficient stock of serum. The closest source was 700 miles away in Seattle, WA and Nome was frozen in. The winter storms made it impossible for bush pilots to fly. The only way to get the serum from Seattle was by rail and from the last railhead to Nome by dog team. These were truly dark and stormy nights, days too as the mushers and their dogs made their way north in temperatures ranging down to -85 deg F. Children were dying and the teams were driving. Read more
I’m back from my writing vacation. I’ll begin by returning to my previous essays – where else to begin but at the end of the before? Reader warning: this is not a well thought out and edited essay. There is a reason so cut me some slack and read on.
About two days ago in response to some thought passing through my mind and now entirely lost, I picked up a book and read a little of it. A footnote mentioned the philosophical problem of epistemology – the theory of knowledge – and asked the question ‘how do we know that we have reliable knowledge of a world outside our mind?’ That was all I needed. This essay practically wrote itself. I present it as an example of the temper of my mind, of what arises out of the Stygian darkness of my unconscious mind, irrupts into my consciousness and is transliterated into a syntactical collocation of words, that is, a story.
Root Hog or Die!
I awakened at 4 AM one morning in mid-November thinking that there were no people in that photograph.[note]See http://jackofafewtrades.com/2017/04/one-thousand-words/ for Act 1.[/note] The story of those dark favelas and the bright condominiums needs people. I’ll write them in, WordShop[note]WordShop: a riff on PhotoShop. Both can create a verisimilitude of reality out of the nothingness of imagination. The epistemological problem is a story-telling problem.[/note] their stories:
I stand on that fence – a singularity dividing the reality of an economic success and a social catastrophe. Looking left I see a tired resigned woman holding a hungry baby up to the condominium in supplication “am I not entitled to a little more of your economic miracle than the scraps from your table and the trash from your Read more
WHAT IS A SOCIAL SPECIES?
A coupla months ago I had completed several drafts of The Favelas of Sao Paulo, Act Two, and I was writing my first notes for an essay on communication. I got to thinking about communication in a social species – that’s us, folks. So, I asked myself, “what is a social species?”
If an individual leaves the group to go walkabout, or to gather or hunt, and returns to the same group, that is a social species. Or if those activities are performed with the group or sub-group, that is a social species. Or, if an individual leaves or is forced out of the group and then seeks to transfer into another group, that is a social species. If there are no or few free-living isolated individuals, that is a social species. Read more
In my previous essay I asked the question “what is a social species?” and gave operational and observational definitions in the form of if-then questions. A naturalist could go walkabout with these questions and see that primates, and in particular the great apes, tend to be found in groups with a species-specific typical range of sizes. With the exception of humans, the great apes have few activities away from their group or a sub-group. They are ‘groupies.’