Archive for April, 2013

The Cake is a Lie

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Most of the time when I was growing up I didn’t get a formal birthday party. When I did get one, well it was a mixed bag. None of them were bad, but some were definitely better than others. On the other hand, I always got a cake.

Actually that’s not quite true, but back to that in a minute.

I suppose the cakes were a mixed bag as well. Sometimes they were store bought, though that wasn’t the norm. The norm would have been home-baked but from a mix. I think I got about as many made from scratch, though, as I did that were bought ready made. My memory on this is all rather dim.

But about those exceptions… There were a few times when I was asked what kind of cake I wanted, maybe three or four, maybe five or six, again, I really don’t remember. What I do remember is that two of those times I was actually assertive enough to ask for what I wanted. What I wanted was pie. Cake is good enough, I pretty much never turn it down, but pie is so much better. Cream pies, fruit pies, whatever. Even cobblers and tarts and strudels.

This all came up in a conversation with God this week and he mostly just nodded his head. Then he told me that he’d let me in on one of the secrets of the universe. I leaned in close, and he whispered to me that the reason we decorate cakes is to make up for their inherent inferiority to pie.

It’s a good thing to know, but as “secrets of the universe” go, well, I think that one could use a little icing.

Another Reason Not to Like Sports

Friday, April 19th, 2013

If you’ve seen anything newsish this week you know that a couple of bombs went off at the Boston Marathon. Since then we’ve heard all of the standard lines about how senseless and tragic this was, and the lines are all true and it’s just sad that they need to be said. My heart goes out to the victims and their families.

That having been said…

I told God that this firms up my resolve to never run a marathon. She asked me if that meant that I was surrendering, giving in, letting the terrorists win.

Actually, I just hate running. I tell you what though, if some terrorist bombs Disneyland, I’ll do my part to make their gesture meaningless, I’ll get on down to the park just as soon as I can manage and buy the most expensive annual pass I can afford.

Of course, I may do that even if they don’t blow it up.


Friday, April 12th, 2013

No answers this week, just a question I find interesting.

In my reading recently I’ve come across the unsourced statistic that we use up to 80% of our brain for visual processing. Ignoring the weasel words “up to” and allowing that the number as it reached me is likely both inflated and broad in it’s definitions… I got to wondering.

Some other things that I’ve been taught all my life are that people without sight compensate by increased sharpness in their other senses, and that when parts of the brain are damaged other parts are able to reeducate themselves to pick up some of the slack. So it seems pretty obvious that that “up to 80%” gets bored when there’s no visual signal coming in and picks up whatever odd jobs it can find. That’s a potent lot of extra processing power, but that’s not where I’m going.

Another area that interests me is the effects of chemical substances on the human mind. Remember that the brain works by a combination of chemical interactions and electric signals and remember also that everything we think we know about the world outside of our bodies is actually filtered through those chemical and electrical signals.

Now you take those last two paragraphs together and you open huge cans of worms taken straight out of Pandora’s box, but, again, I’m going to ignore most of that.

What it came down to for me was simply, when a blind person takes a so-called hallucinogenic drug, some sort of psychotropic substance that messes with our visual processing, what does it do for or to them? Does the drug mess with a particular type of brain processing, so that the effect just isn’t there on the blind person, or does it mess with particular areas of the brain, so that it has some effect on the “alternative processing” that goes on in the brains of the sightless?

I tried asking God for insight, but he just told me if I cared all that much I could go to medical school and then become a research scientist and figure it out for myself. Needless to say, I’m interested, but I’m not that interested.


Friday, April 5th, 2013

God and I have both often heard it said that the secret to humor is surprise. It’s kind of like special sauce, things can be funny without it but with it they can be a lot funnier with it.

But it’s not enough all on its own. I pointed out to God that surprise is also the secret of horror. Not just in a jump out and shout “boo” kind of way, but in a “wow, it never occurred to me that my safety and complacency could be violated that way” kind of way. So we got to wondering just how many things could surprise be a part of. I’ve already noted humor and horror. It can also be a part of tragedy. It can be a part of romance, in fact it probably needs to be. And, of course, it’s a big part of some of the best of science.

So God decided that in the gamut of human experience, surprise isn’t an experience itself, it’s more like a spice, or maybe a condiment. It’s not generally worthwhile on it’s own, but it makes other things so much better. Or, sometimes, so much worse.

So the Chinese curse may be “may you live in interesting times,” meant to show that “interesting” is not always good, but I’d like to offer up the Unsciptured blessing: “May you have just enough surprise to keep life interesting.”

But not too interesting.