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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

What goes through your mind in the 6.5 seconds while falling 500 feet to your death?

Actually, more... much more than you would think.

Backstory: A recent fictional article (Without Inspection by Edwidge Danticat) in The New Yorker began: " It took Arnold six and a half seconds to fall five hundred feet. During that time, an image of his son, Paris, flashed before his eyes."

Six full pages later, Arnold hit the pavement and died. That's about one page of his life per second... a lot to think about.

While the article is a good fictional read, the six written pages of Arnold's thoughts aren't at all unrealistic according to the research done on that time between awareness of impending death and the live mind. It takes a lot more time to read his thoughts than for Arnold to think them. And in this scenario, it is a really clever way to tell a compelling story.

Actually, if you are (or are not) a fan of television's The Big Bang Theory, the opening is a grand example of how to think back on 14 million years in 23 seconds, but then, that's technology for you. What your mind can do is even more mind-boggling.

This 'more-common-than-you-would-think' happening is scientifically studied as a Near Death Experience: "A personal experience associated with death or impending death." Neuroscience research says "... a NDE is a subjective phenomenon resulting from a disturbed bodily multiscensory integration that occurs during life-threatening events." 

In other words,  your brain says "Oh my God, what is happening to me?" and kicks into a state of hyperactivity and awareness allowing all sorts of things to happen in your mind. It is often referred to as "your life passing before your eyes' before you die... or fearing you are going to die, It is a state of hyper-awareness.

"What Are You Afraid of?" a column in The Atlantic magazine asks: "One reason we struggle with fear is that we're simultaneously too primitive and too evolved for our own good... Our brains are ruthlessly efficient. Signals speed to the threat-sensing amygdala ( two parts of the brain involved in experiencing emotions) within 74 milliseconds of the slightest hint of danger. This speed has, over eons, helped save us from extinction. But it's also led to plenty of false alarms."  Maybe better safe than sorry, huh brain?

One man writes of his NDE which kicked in as his vehicle skidded on 'black ice' when, in mere seconds, he takes stock of all that is happening as he slides helplessly out of control on a crowded expressway. He reviews all of his options and projects who he might hit and where he might wind up, at the same time, turning to check on his young daughter riding behind him who, to his horror, has unfastened her infant seat belt reaching for some skittles, and moves to try to protect her while he fears they may slide into a guardrail--all in an instant. Post crash, they luckily avoided any collision and missing the guardrail, smashed into the hillside. Reflecting back, he is aware that he saw everything as if in slow motion, including his daughter's six skittles and that he can remember their individual colors and positions on the seat.

So if you forgot to take those scrapbook pictures to look back on, don't worry about it. Odds are, you'll have another great chance, but look fast, you only have a few seconds. What makes me think I am expert enough to write about this? Well, just last week, I saw Einstein's brain... really, so there! (A slice of it is actually on permanent display at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.)

Actually, comedian Emo Phillips has it right: "I used to think that the brain is the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this."


Thursday, May 24, 2018

FACT: Life is sexually transmitted

So admit it, love makes the world go round.

For as long as there has been life on earth, we have been trying to quantify love. It's an emotion we have all experienced times in our lives... and lucky ones seem to have it constantly on their shoulders. One would think that with such a familiar concept, researchers would agree on what constitutes love and how to measure it. That has not been the case... at least, not until now.

With a little research (Google), a few older recollections, scientific advances of quantum knowledge and wonderful personal experiences, I think I've got it! Just take a look at the song lyrics written way back in 1932, just as America was emerging from the disasterous Great Depression. Songwriter Irving Berlin (who also wrote White Christmas, Alexander's Ragtime Band, Easter Parade, God Bless America, There's No Business Like Show Business and other older classics) realized the only thing most of the country had left to give was love... and this song caught the spirit of that emotion.


How can I tell you what is in my heart?
How can I measure each and every part?
How can I tell you how much I love you?
How can I measure just how much I do?

How much do I love you?
I'll tell you no lie
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?

How many times a day do I think of you?
How many roses are sprinkled with dew?

How far would I travel
To be where you are?
How far is the journey
From here to a star?

And if I ever lost you
How much would I cry?
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?

That sentiment has been played forward by Billie Holliday, Etta James, Peggy Lee, Judy Garland, Lianah, Diana Krall and many others. It has molded into a jazz standard and made more than a few people cry. So how do we measure something so seemingly intangible? We don't... but we're humans so we still try to quantify.

  • So, how deep is the ocean? (Almost seven miles deep in the Pacific's Marian Trench near Guam.)
  • How high is the sky? (Latest guess, 156 billion light years across... with a scientific belief that there is more... much more.) 
  • How far is the journey from here to a star? (Closest star is our sun, a mere 140 million miles more or less, but we're talking love here... so let's hit it out of the solar system and travel to Proxima Centauri,  4.22 light years from Earth--or about 26 trillion miles.)
  • And if I ever lost you, how much would I cry? (A Pacific Ocean-full... or about 1/3 of all the water on the planet. Better hydrate.)
So that's love. See how simple it is to express the most profound feeling we humans know? What it means is that emotion knows no bounds. But in every lifetime, it seems to rise and fall like the stock market... which is good, right? For how would we appreciate the highs if we didn't have something less to compare them with?

That's today's lesson. Don't try to make sense of it. Just do it because, as another song says, love makes the world go round. And we sure could use more of that.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Things that amaze me most... Part IV

OK, I'm cheating. It's been too long since I put out a new post but I thought you deserved better. So here's a favorite of mine from 2010... still true, still vital to a better life. Enjoy this now, I have a doozie coming up in the next few days.

From November, 2010
As I told you before, there are a number of things/events/emotions that absolutely blow-my-mind because they are so introspectively amazing and give me a deeper sense of awe. So I made a list of the things that amaze me most... some big, some small, some acts, some things... but all, in my mind, amazing.  So far:

Part III: THE YOUNG: Babies, toddlers and teens

Part IV:  LAUGHTER: A peek into the soul

I'm a sucker for this one. It's not only laughter, which offers a peek into an individual's soul.... it's the power of a smile, the lighter heart, the joy of living. The world is a serious place... no one gets out alive. But to live on a globe half-empty makes time spent a tough slog when compared to the joy to be had on a globe half-full. Laughter is just one very public indication of a person trying to keep in balance with life's ups and downs.

Ever walk down the street with a smile and nod to the strangers walking toward you? Most smile back... not counting the few who think you are an idiot. However, this is absolutely guaranteed to give at least one person--you--a lighter step. And you can be sure it affects a few more than that.

For something to be funny, it only has to amuse one person... you. Anything after that is a bonus. Example: Comedian Emo Phillips said, "I used to think that the human brain was the most fascinating part of the body. But then I realized, Well... look what's telling me that!" See how happy that made me?

Do you know a person can actually die of a broken heart? (Check out the Mayo Clinic's take on broken-heart syndrome.) There is unhappiness in life and we have to deal with it best we can. Then, there are other times... lots more of them... that better defines us.

A lighter heart is a free, not-toxic, over-the-counter drug that is good for almost anything that may ail you. The welcome side-effect is that it is infectious.

Robin Williams tells this story: Bono was performing a benefit in Scotland before a crowded house. He started slowly clapping his hands and told his audience, "Every time I clap my hands, an elephant dies in Africa!" A man in the back row stood up and hollered, "THEN FOR GOD'S SAKE MAN, STOP CLAPPING YOUR HANDS!"  See?

A sense of humor represents more 'life in balance' than almost anything else because it comes from the reflection of the world as seen through your eyes. Carry a grudge... seek revenge... harbor hate... see seven shades of gray... fail to appreciate life's delights? Then my friend, I'm sad for you because you only have one crack at it.

Live life to your principles... WITH GUSTO!  What that does for the soul... that is something that amazes me most.  

Elsie had it right: (with thanks to Fred Ebb and John Kander who created the song and Lisa Minelli who made it come alive in Cabaret.)

What good is  sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.
Put down the kniting,
The book and the broom.
Time for a holiday.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.
Come taste the wine,
Come hear the band.
Come blow a horn,
Start celebrating;
Right this way,
Your table's waiting.

No use permitting
Some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away.
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret!

I used to have a girlfriend
Known as Elsie,
With whom I shared
Four sorid rooms in Chelsea.
She wasn't what you'd call
A blushing flower...
As a matter of fact
She rented by the hour.

The day she died the neighbors
Came to snicker:
Well that's what comes
From too much pills and liquor.
But when I saw her laid out
Like a Queen,
She was the happiest corpse
I'd ever seen.

I think of Elsie to this very day,
I remember how she'd turn to me and say:
What good is sitting alone
In your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.

Put down the knitting,
The book and the broom.
Time for a holiday.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.

As for me,
I made my mind up back in  Chelsea,
When I go, I'm going like Elsie.

Start by admitting,
From cradle to tomb
Isn't that long a stay.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Only a Cabaret, old chum,
And I love a Cabaret.