as if they knew. . . that the mask is real,
that everything is real, that the dream awaits.
Everything dreams, Robert wrote,
watching birds turn the color of twilight
as he sat in his rickety armchair
at his only window. The heater
leaked gas; to stay alive he kept
the window open like a quarter moon
to the sea, the dark and the rain.
The empty light bulb socket
sprouted gray braids of dust.
The aroma of souls –- lavender
and sweat — do not want to die yet,
Robert wrote, and Robert is dead.
I echo beneath the voices,
innocent as the future,
Robert wrote, becoming the past,
growing as archaic as the grass.
Dew thinks only of diamonds,
Robert wrote, becoming spray.
The cliffs drip wet sea moss.
A seagull like a white cross
pauses in mid-air
over a wounded man
in an oarless boat, sending up
a melody from his harp —
making music, like all of us,
to keep from being afraid.
~ Oriana © 2016
LOST IN REVISION
This is the polished final version. The poem has found its form and its music. It is “well-crafted.” But I mourn for the richness when I look at what I removed. I mourn all that is “lost in revision.” It’s one way that art is gained at the expense of life.
This used to be the first stanza:
The long journeys of your small hands,
Robert wrote. We were not lovers
but one New Year’s Eve
we lay side by side on his bed and held hands;
he a hopeless alcoholic, I in love
without hope with someone else.
And this was near the end:
I think of Tristan,
the incredible trust he had
to lie down in an oarless boat,
waves lapping against the slender wood,
the boat rocking, a perilous cradle —
the trust almost of an unborn child
that the journey will take you
where you need to go.
I see now that the lines I left out are pretty much all the explication the poem needs.
By the way, I took his hand after we read one of Neruda’s Twenty Love poems together. I didn’t mean that gesture as more than companionship, and he respected that. I forget how long we lay that way, in complete silence, in the city night that was a kind of perpetual half-dusk. Was there some dim lamp? If so, he must have turned it off to save on the electric bill. This was the opposite of the “American dream” — but we had poetry, we had Neruda.
But since I’ve gotten into the confessional mode with that omitted first stanza about that unforgettable New Year’s Eve, I might as well reveal how Robert died. He did go on to have a turbulent relationship with a poet who now and then found herself on the mental ward (she was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic) and in half-way houses for the mentally ill. In any case, the two had a quarrel, broke up, and Robert went to a park near the ocean cliffs, sat under his favorite tree — the largest tree in the park — and began drinking. He favored vodka, the most concentrated form of alcohol. He drank until he passed out.
As I imagine this scene under the sprawling tree, I see a tiny volume of poems in his hand: Neruda’s “Twenty Love Poems.” He practically knew them by heart.
His body was found the following day. The autopsy found lethal blood alcohol level. But at first the police couldn’t identify the body because someone stole Robert’s wallet. It’s not known if this happened when Robert was still alive but unconscious, or after he was already dead.
Eventually he was identified — I am not sure about the details. He lived alone so I don’t think anyone reported a missing person. Perhaps the police did find the wallet, minus the money.
The news reached me and affected me deeply, so I wrote the poem, quoting lines from Robert’s own poems. He had a gift for the lyrical line, though it was hard for him to sustain any coherent content. He used to show me new poems, then ask, “But what does it mean?”
I used to give many poetry readings back then, so I decided to read “Tristan” at my next one — held in a bookstore in the town where Robert used to live. Someone who’d known both me and Robert invited his mother.
It was still relatively soon after his death, so I expected the mother to be devastated. I worried somewhat that perhaps she’d start sobbing. She was perfectly relaxed and even cheerful. “I knew he wouldn’t live long,” she said later. “Robert was not of this world. You know, ‘my kingdom is not of this world’ . . . But at least he died peacefully, under his favorite tree.” She smiled and fanned herself with the folded pages of my poem, a signed copy of which I’d handed to her as a kind of pious memorial offering.
So there it was: a proverbial romantic poet who literally drank himself to death, and his mother — not “grieving”, not “inconsolable” — rather, seemingly carefree and content, even happy, clinging to these two magical phrases: “not of this world” and “he died peacefully under his favorite tree.”
It took several years and a pretty dramatic life experience of my own before I understood the mother’s apparent contentment. When someone has a lot of pathology, his death can come as a relief. I missed Robert’s beautiful lines, but they meant nothing to his mother. She had other children. I suspect that to her he was dead long before he was actually dead.
She spoke of wanted to publish Robert’s poem. She wanted the pages to be special paper, light blue with white clouds. “He was not of this world” — she was perfectly satisfied with this formula. The publishing project, clouds or no clouds, came to nothing.
Roots and Wings — this anthology was to Robert what Rilke’s New Poems were to me — the “founding text” that showed us what poetry was and served as a poetic awakening.
And the girlfriend? After she received the news of Robert's death, she swallowed a quantity of pills — she always had a supply of several powerful tranquilizers. But as soon as she did that, she called emergency, was taken to a hospital and had her stomach pumped out. The last I heard about her, she’d joined a bible society and was walking door to door as a missionary. She stopped writing “because everything important was already written in the bible.”
I don’t know if his mother is still alive. If she is, I suspect that when the topic comes up (though perhaps it never does, unless a stranger, unaware, points to a figure in an old family photo), she still talks about how Robert died “peacefully, under his favorite tree.” No one mentions that he literally drank himself to death. Instead, he’s been turned into a legend of a good death, a beautiful death. And perhaps that’s better. Perhaps, for a mother, that’s the best way.
“Tales of ordinary madness” is how Charles Bukowski would likely dismiss this story. Ordinary alcoholism, ordinary mental illness. But I'm glad I had the ability to transmute it all into some lines of my own, however romanticized. Beauty is its own excuse.
And I'm wondering about Robert’s words I quote in the epigraph:
as if they knew . . . that the dream awaits.
What awaited was his death at thirty six. Yet while Robert wanted to be out of emotional pain, and turned to alcohol for that, he was never suicidal. It’s not that he “wanted to live” — that’s not a meaningful phrase in this case. He wanted to write, to string together beautiful images. The dream was the continued outpouring of lyrical poems. And that dream didn’t “await.” He was living it.
The aroma of souls — lavender
and sweat — do not want to die yet —
He also wanted to be loved, but he was too damaged for that. I'm tempted to say that he died for lack of love — poetry couldn’t save him. I used to keep some loose pages of his handwritten poems — the lines I quote in “Tristan” come from those pages. Then I moved a few times, and the pages got lost. For me, what remains is mainly that poem of mine and the dusky memories it brings, as if the ocean breeze touched a wind harp. Not much, but not nothing.
My first draft of the poem includes this last stanza that I eventually omitted:
He drank himself to death;
he was no Tristan,
says the sober corrector.
He lived in a drunken yet lyrical
squalor, pleads a more merciful muse.
He was hopeless yet he sang
his brief song — like all of us,
to keep from being afraid.
WHY TRUMP MIGHT WIN
“A recent article in Politico points to two traits that best predict whether you are a Trump supporter: Authoritarianism, and fear of terrorism. Matthew MacWilliams found that Trump’s bump in the polls is connected to support from “Americans with authoritarian inclinations.”
Authoritarian personalities OBEY, follow strong leaders, and tend to respond very negatively, and aggressively, to outsiders, like immigrants, Muslims, and visible minorities. When they feel threatened, persons inclined to authoritarianism support any policy that they think will help keep them “safe”. You know, build a wall, ban Muslims, establish a database to track Muslim American citizens.
This gets into other correlates of authoritarianism, such as militarism (being “hawkish”), and nationalism (“my country is the best in the history of the world”. Again, if you support a strong military, and believe your country is the best ever, you are more likely to justify use of that military might against persons or countries whose policies or actions work against the national interests of your country. “Carpet bombing” (killing civilians in the effort to kill one’s enemies) and torture become legitimate options to those who score high on authoritarianism and zeal, and score low on critical thinking
The trend over the last decade and a half has been authoritarians moving in droves from the Democratic to the Republican parties. As Democrats continue to support the rights of various groups (e.g., civil rights, gay rights, immigrant and refugee rights, equal pay for equal work, etc.), there is less emphasis on one group being naturally stronger, better, or more deserving than other groups; hence the shift of authoritarians further to the right of the political spectrum.
Here’s the danger: A lot more persons from the political middle can join the authoritarian column and end up supporting the Donald. How? As folks on the hard right continue to fear monger, and fan the flames of prejudice and suspicion, more Americans are expressing fears of imminent terrorist attacks (i.e., they feel threatened). For instance, MacWilliams reported that 52% of voters who expressed the greatest fear that another terrorist attack will happen in the US in the next year were authoritarians. That is, they are susceptible to Trump’s campaign themes and messaging.
Scary? Yes. Inevitable? No. But we must stop thinking of Trump supporters as a “small, pitiful band” of older, uneducated white malcontents, and acknowledge that Trump is riding the crest of a burgeoning wave of authoritarianism.
This article goes back to January of 2016 — it seems back then it was still possible for some to think of Trump’s supporters as a “small” band, rather than a widespread movement. How naive that seems now that Trump has become not just the “frontrunner,” but the Republican nominee. Now almost everyone will admit that it would take just one terrorist attack similar to the shootings in San Bernardino to elect Trump. In fact such an attack wouldn’t even have to be on US soil. The secret of Trump's appeal? It's as basic as the fear of death.
Trump, the star of his own reality TV show, becoming president? Let’s remember that some dismissed the possibility of Ronald Reagan, an actor, and a mediocre actor at that, becoming president.
And it’s not just about macho authoritarianism and racism. Trump does happen to have a powerful message that appeals to workers who feel insecure about their jobs. Supporters of free trade may disagree with that message, but there it is, with Trump as the unlikely champion of the American working class. And he constantly presents himself as someone who can’t be bought, independent of the power of lobbyists.
Look at how many times we've said it before: Trump is a joke, he can't last, he's just too revolting. He was supposed to drop out any time. Instead he became the nominee. So it was all wishful thinking after all — we refused to believe that he could say anything at all, e.g. that he could go out into the street and shoot someone, and still not lose any votes -- that he could say anything, do anything, and get away with it. And time after time, he did get away with it, winning state after state. True, in the last few months, when people will be presented with the stark choice, maybe the psychological climate will be different, and maybe even those with the lowest IQ and least education can see it's all talk and ego and bs, and Trump can't really bring back the lost jobs or defeat ISIS or anything — but all bets are off.
The main bet here would be on the appeal to reason versus the appeal to emotions. Appeals to the jury are emotional, the stock market is “emotional,” and people vote mainly on the basis of whether or not they like the candidate — or so the research people have told us. People seem to decide early on if they like a candidate, and stick to it, defending their preference against rational arguments.
But then I also cling to this — though it may be true only for a small minority — religion is supposed to be 100% emotional, yet there are many examples, myself included, where the longing for the afterlife was as strong as anyone's, but after much tormented thinking in one moment [sic: it was literally a moment] the rational mind took over and said, look, this is all mythology, this is all ancient fairy tales, all made-up, every single god, every single religion.
And the emotional longing — along with very real fear of hell — was completely impotent against this insight. So reason CAN prevail. Can it prevail also in this election? Can a candidate with the least emotional appeal win because her opponent — for all the wild enthusiasm he arouses in his fans — is just too evil (racisim) and incompetent?
Re: the Nazi similarities — there is one saving factor, and that is, the US is not really in economic collapse the way Germany was in the Thirties. There is no out-of-control inflation etc. There is a lot of rage — but it simply may not be enough as long as there isn't the economic collapse — or, as some argue, another serious terrorist attack to fan the fear.
This Egyptian human rights activist knows that his life is in danger; all the “apostates” like him, Salmon Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Wafa Sultan — and a surprising number of others (surprising only because of the danger) — are what the Soviet dissidents used to be. They are the real heroes of our times.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
YOUNG VOTERS, IDEALISM, AND THE OUTSIDER POSITION
Voters between the ages of 18 and 29 are in the process of becoming adults, but don’t yet associate themselves with established centers of power. As such, they look at life through a different set of lenses than their older counterparts who have already formed roles in society—from powerful to powerless.
1. Challengers of the Status Quo
Young adults are part of the in-between generation. Unlike their older adult counterparts who have accepted aspects of democracy they may not like or agree with, younger adults have a psychological need to challenge the status quo. In fact, it’s an important role youth play in all democratic societies. Leaders who earn the youth vote are successful at communicating passionate messages of hope and change. Those leaders connect emotionally with youth in ways that help these younger voters feel seen, heard, and understood.
2. Believers in the Common Good
Voters between 18 and 29 are evolving from the self-focus of their teen years to a felt sense of the common good. They have reached a stage of development where they believe laws should be changed to meet the needs of the greatest numbers of people. While their voting decisions are often issue-related, those decisions are not based on the more narcissistic reasons. Young voters care about student debt and single-payer health care because those issues connect emotionally with a young adult’s sense of ethics and fairness for all. Candidates who earn the youth vote in today’s democracies connect with young people on issues related to social justice and equality.
3. Speakers of Truth to Power
Cognition and emotional judgment change as young people move through stages of moral development. Young voters are generally more idealistic than older voters and have strong moral-ethical convictions tied to their civic identities. At this stage of life, they feel empowered to speak out on issues they believe in, even when those in power hold different beliefs. Political candidates who are not members of the powerful elite often connect with youth in ways that no other candidates can, solely because of their perceived outsider positions.
4. Followers of Role Models
Young adults are influenced by role models, and the qualities they associate with them are often reflected in the candidates for whom young people cast their votes. In the research study I conducted for my book, Tomorrows Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation, five qualities of role models stood out. Candidates are viewed as role models by young people when they possess 1) a capacity to infect youth with their passion; 2) a clear set of values and an ability to live those values in the world; 3) a focus on others rather than themselves; 4) an acceptance of people different from themselves; and 5) an ability to overcome obstacles in their lives. Leaders who earn the youth vote show many or all of these characteristics that are valued by young adults.
5. Advocates for Ethics
Probably at no other time in their adult development, twenty-something voters exhibit a high awareness of ethics and ethical behavior. Ethical problems related to political candidates have been shown by research to be catalysts for decision-making by young adults. Leaders who are able to insulate themselves from perceived ethical failures will appeal most to youth.
And you don’t have to be young to feel like an outsider, and not identify with the power elites. One of the most interesting experiences I've had was teaching creative writing in prisons. "Poets always identify with the prisoners," a supervisor told me. "It's the outsider status.”
Aside from that, there is youth’s hunger for idealism. It’s a rare politician who feeds that hunger. Sometimes it seems that JFK was the last president who knew how to inspire the young.
WHILE RECITING THE APOSTLES’ CREED (favorite moments of truth series)
“I'd been on patrol, and I went to church that evening. It was an Anglican church, quite high church (I always liked the ceremony) and I was standing up, reciting the Apostles' Creed (which to this day I could recite word for word) and suddenly I realized I didn't believe a word of it, and probably never had. And I never went back to church after that, except for the occasional funeral.”
~ Arthur Hailey, in Walden Book Report, July 1998
Hailey reports this moment in truth happened to him in Cyprus in 1944. He was a RAF pilot. Even this proximity of death did not disable his cognitive function: when the “I don’t believe a word of it” insight was ready, there was no stopping it.
It’s different for everyone, but going over a familiar text and suddenly seeing it in a completely different light is one way. I didn’t get to see a single page of the bible until after I’d already had my epiphany: “it’s just another mythology.” I was certainly familiar with the Genesis story of creation, but seeing the actual text, phrase by archaic phrase, creation in six days, the solid firmament like a tin roof with the “waters above the firmament,” Eve from the rib, etc, made me think, again but with deeper conviction, “This really IS mythology.” And not subtle literary mythology, but big time archaic mythology, hopelessly tribal. Instantly I knew it could not be saved by a metaphoric reading. It could only be seen as yet another creation myth, not even as entertaining as some of them are.
One of my two favorite stories of suddenly seeing the light. It happens in so many different ways. "Apostasy is autobiography", I am tempted to say, but that's my love of alliteration speaking. Yet I am truly fascinated. Sometimes there is one distinct moment of realization, and sometimes a very gradual process of shedding the beliefs and gaining more and more clarity. And the journey isn't over after that. More reasons, more answers come like waves lapping toward the shore.
My #1 favorite is the priest who was re-reading the proofs of the existence of god before mass, just to pass the time — something he’s done many times before — but this time, suddenly, he saw that every single proof was invalid.
(Apostasy! How I love that word — that lightning flash of reason, and the courage that has to follow.)
In general, I am fascinated those moments when the voice of reason suddenly prevails — not just the moment when one sees that religion is man-made, but, for instance, the moment when I saw that it was too late in life for depression. It’s a common belief that reason is basically impotent against emotions — that you can count on reason prevailing all of a sudden. And yet now and then that’s precisely what happens: reason prevails, and it can indeed be “all of a sudden.”
BETHLEHEM IN JUDEA DID NOT EXIST IN JESUS’ LIFETIME
Archaeological excavations have shown that Bethlehem in Judaea likely did not exist as a functioning town between 7 and 4 B.C., when Jesus is believed to have been born. Studies of the town have turned up a great deal of Iron Age material from 1200 to 550 B.C. as well as material from the sixth century A.D., but nothing from the first century B.C. or the first century A.D. Aviram Oshri, a senior archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority, says, “There is surprisingly no archaeological evidence that ties Bethlehem in Judaea to the period in which Jesus would have been born.
Many archaeologists and theological scholars believe Jesus was actually born in either Nazareth or Bethlehem of Galilee, a town just outside Nazareth, citing biblical references and archaeological evidence to support their conclusion. Throughout the Bible, Jesus is referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth,” not “Jesus of Bethlehem.” In fact, in John (7:41- 43) there is a passage questioning Jesus’ legitimacy because he’s from Galilee and not Judaea, as the Hebrew Scriptures say the Messiah must be.
“If the historical Jesus were truly born in Bethlehem,” Oshri adds, “it was most likely the Bethlehem of Galilee, not that in Judaea. The archaeological evidence certainly seems to favor the former, a busy center [of Jewish life] a few miles from the home of Joseph and Mary, as opposed to an unpopulated spot almost a hundred miles from home.” In this Bethlehem, Oshri and his team have uncovered the remains of a later monastery and the largest Byzantine church in Israel, which raises the question of why such a huge house of Christian worship was built in the heart of a Jewish area. The Israeli archaeologist believes that it’s because early Christians revered Bethlehem of Galilee as the birthplace of Jesus.
“There is no doubt in my mind that these are impressive and important evidence of a strong Christian community established in Bethlehem of Galilee a short time after Jesus’ death,” he says. Oshri, however, doubts that Bethlehem of Galilee will be recognized as the birthplace of Jesus any time soon. “Business interests are too important,” he says. “After all this time, the churches do not have a strong interest in changing the Nativity story.”
Much had to be fabricated in order to make the historical Jesus (if he did exist, he was likely one of the many itinerant apocalyptic preachers, possibly a schizophrenic cult leader) conform with the prophecies about the Messiah. Even with all these contortions (like the invention of the census that allegedly required everyone to return to the town of their birth — no census works that way), it was not a good fit.
Slaughter of the innocents, flight into Egypt, reading in a (non-existent) synagogue in Nazareth, people there wanting to throw him off a (non-existent) mountain — I needed to have those things debunked detail by detail before words like FICTION and MYTHOLOGY could have a full effect.
If I had known even a fraction of what I know now — e.g. that Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John were not the real names of the evangelists, and Mary and Joseph were not the real names of the parents of Jesus — or that Bethlehem in Judea wasn't a town in the times of Jesus — I would have liberated myself much sooner. I wouldn’t have had those moments of terror — what if I'm wrong and thus destined for the jaws of hell? But that information wasn’t really accessible when my doubt became serious.
A silver star marks the spot where Jesus was allegedly born
DOES THE BRAIN ACTUALLY STORE AND PROCESS INFORMATION?
“No matter how hard they try, brain scientists and cognitive psychologists will never find a copy of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in the brain — or copies of words, pictures, grammatical rules or any other kinds of environmental stimuli. The human brain isn’t really empty, of course. But it does not contain most of the things people think it does — not even simple things such as ‘memories’.
We don’t store words or the rules that tell us how to manipulate them. We don’t create representations of visual stimuli, store them in a short-term memory buffer, and then transfer the representation into a long-term memory device. We don’t retrieve information or images or words from memory registers. Computers do all of these things, but organisms do not.
Computers, quite literally, process information – numbers, letters, words, formulas, images. The information first has to be encoded into a format computers can use, which means patterns of ones and zeroes (‘bits’) organized into small chunks (‘bytes’). On my computer, each byte contains 8 bits, and a certain pattern of those bits stands for the letter d, another for the letter o, and another for the letter g. Side by side, those three bytes form the word dog. One single image – say, the photograph of my cat Henry on my desktop – is represented by a very specific pattern of a million of these bytes (‘one megabyte’), surrounded by some special characters that tell the computer to expect an image, not a word.
Forgive me for this introduction to computing, but I need to be clear: computers really do operate on symbolic representations of the world. They really store and retrieve. They really process. They really have physical memories. They really are guided in everything they do, without exception, by algorithms.
Humans, on the other hand, do not – never did, never will. Given this reality, why do so many scientists talk about our mental life as if we were computers?
In his book In Our Own Image (2015), the artificial intelligence expert George Zarkadakis describes six different metaphors people have employed over the past 2,000 years to try to explain human intelligence.
In the earliest one, eventually preserved in the Bible, humans were formed from clay or dirt, which an intelligent god then infused with its spirit. That spirit ‘explained’ our intelligence – grammatically, at least.
The invention of hydraulic engineering in the 3rd century BCE led to the popularity of a hydraulic model of human intelligence, the idea that the flow of different fluids in the body – the ‘humours’ – accounted for both our physical and mental functioning. The hydraulic metaphor persisted for more than 1,600 years, handicapping medical practice all the while.
By the 1500s, automata powered by springs and gears had been devised, eventually inspiring leading thinkers such as René Descartes to assert that humans are complex machines. In the 1600s, the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes suggested that thinking arose from small mechanical motions in the brain. By the 1700s, discoveries about electricity and chemistry led to new theories of human intelligence – again, largely metaphorical in nature. In the mid-1800s, inspired by recent advances in communications, the German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz compared the brain to a telegraph.
Each metaphor reflected the most advanced thinking of the era that spawned it. Predictably, just a few years after the dawn of computer technology in the 1940s, the brain was said to operate like a computer, with the role of physical hardware played by the brain itself and our thoughts serving as software. The landmark event that launched what is now broadly called ‘cognitive science’ was the publication of Language and Communication (1951) by the psychologist George Miller. Miller proposed that the mental world could be studied rigorously using concepts from information theory, computation and linguistics.
The information processing (IP) metaphor of human intelligence now dominates human thinking, both on the street and in the sciences. There is virtually no form of discourse about intelligent human behavior that proceeds without employing this metaphor, just as no form of discourse about intelligent human behavior could proceed in certain eras and cultures without reference to a spirit or deity. The validity of the IP metaphor in today’s world is generally assumed without question.
No one really has the slightest idea how the brain changes after we have learned to sing a song or recite a poem. But neither the song nor the poem has been ‘stored’ in it. The brain has simply changed in an orderly way that now allows us to sing the song or recite the poem under certain conditions. When called on to perform, neither the song nor the poem is in any sense ‘retrieved’ from anywhere in the brain, any more than my finger movements are ‘retrieved’ when I tap my finger on my desk. We simply sing or recite — no retrieval necessary.
Because neither ‘memory banks’ nor ‘representations’ of stimuli exist in the brain, and because all that is required for us to function in the world is for the brain to change in an orderly way as a result of our experiences, there is no reason to believe that any two of us are changed the same way by the same experience. If you and I attend the same concert, the changes that occur in my brain when I listen to Beethoven’s 5th will almost certainly be completely different from the changes that occur in your brain. Those changes, whatever they are, are built on the unique neural structure that already exists, each structure having developed over a lifetime of unique experiences.
This is why, as Sir Frederic Bartlett demonstrated in his book Remembering (1932), no two people will repeat a story they have heard the same way and why, over time, their recitations of the story will diverge more and more. No ‘copy’ of the story is ever made; rather, each individual, upon hearing the story, changes to some extent — enough so that when asked about the story later (in some cases, days, months or even years after Bartlett first read them the story) – they can re-experience hearing the story to some extent, although not very well.
even if we had the ability to take a snapshot of all of the brain’s 86 billion neurons and then to simulate the state of those neurons in a computer, that vast pattern would mean nothing outside the body of the brain that produced it. This is perhaps the most egregious way in which the IP metaphor has distorted our thinking about human functioning. Whereas computers do store exact copies of data – copies that can persist unchanged for long periods of time, even if the power has been turned off – the brain maintains our intellect only as long as it remains alive. There is no on-off switch. Either the brain keeps functioning, or we disappear.
We are organisms, not computers. Get over it. Let’s get on with the business of trying to understand ourselves, but without being encumbered by unnecessary intellectual baggage. The IP metaphor has had a half-century run, producing few, if any, insights along the way. The time has come to hit the DELETE key."
I agree that the computer analogy has become cumbersome — especially the idea of an exact digital transcript. But I like the idea of "emergent phenomena" — or perhaps “emergent patterns” is a better term. Perhaps the firing of neurons is more like the flight of migrating birds -- an emergent pattern. Once something starts it, it just unfolds. I like what Courtney Hilton wrote in her comment: "Yes it is obvious that Beethoven's Fifth isn't stored in the brain in any objective sense. But indeed there are emergent patterns in the brain, which gives us the capacity, for example, to play it. The important bit is that these patterns have no meaning outside of the brain, i.e. one couldn't meaningfully 'decode' these patterns into the sheet music for Beethoven's Fifth.”
Perhaps what is stored is an “activator.” I'm not prepared to speculate about just how that would translate: certain proteins, or the ways they are folded? So many fascinating questions.
ending on beauty
A little farther
we will see the almond trees blossoming
the marble gleaming in the sun
the sea breaking into waves
a little farther,
let us rise a little higher
~ Giorgos Seferis