March 2nd, 2009


Good Morning!!

The icon is of a wave at Maverick's not Asilomar Beach. 

I am rested this morning and reflecting.  I finished the book Crank last night, the one by Ellen Hopkins.   I found it a rough and riveting ride.

Ginahelen made a good comment on my post about the innocence of children, and it is true.  Many children in America today are not directly exposed to as much as children of the past were, and so they learn empathy through books.   Books are expensive in terms of trees and ink.  What is approved does need to have a direct evolutionary effect.

I think my extra sensitivity with Zach right now influenced me, and at this conference we are talking about a huge range of ages.  

There is a new book out called Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams.  It is about a young boy who wants to be a skate boarder, but his family tradition is in the art of bull riding.  He figures his older brother will carry on the family tradition but he comes home injured from Iraq, and so it is up to the skate boarder.  These are hard-hitting and important subjects.   These books will change and are changing the world.  

I continue to see how easily overwhelmed my nervous system is so perhaps that is why I lean, at times, toward soft, and there is a place for it all.   The sand is powder at Asilomar and there are rocks.   I love the rocks punctuating the sand.   Hold me.  I survive.

Alan - sunrise - Palm Springs area

stillness -

Sometimes I wonder if my purpose is simply to be still, "drugged with happiness and with prayer."

Here is Thomas Merton:

In the afternoon I went out to the old horse barn with the Book of Proverbs and
indeed the whole Bible, and I was wandering around in the hayloft, where there is
a big gap in the roof. One of the rotting floorboards gave way under me and I nearly feel through. Afterwards I sat and looked out at the hills and the gray clouds and couldn't read anything. When the flies got too bad, I wandered across the bare pasture and sat over by the enclosure wall, perched on the edge of a ruined bathtub that  has been placed there for the horses to drink out of. A pipe comes through the wall and plenty of water flows into the bathtub from a spring somewhere in the woods, and I couldn't read there either. I just listened to the clean water flowing and  looked at the wreckage of the horsebarn on top of the bare knoll in front of me  and remained drugged with happiness and with prayer.

Thomas Merton. Entering the Silence, Journals Volume 1. Jonathan Montaldo, editor (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997): 363.

ayer's rock -

Out of our heads -

Out of Our Heads,' by Alva Noë

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Out of Our Heads:

Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons From the Biology of Consciousness

By Alva Noë

(Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 214 pages; $25)

The most mysterious thing about the human brain is that the more we know about it, the deeper our own mystery becomes. On the one hand, scientists tell us that we are nothing but 3 pounds of electrical flesh inside the skull, a trillion synapses exchanging squirts of neurotransmitter.

And yet we feel like more than the sum of these cells. We feel self-conscious, endowed with a mind that experiences the taste of a peach, and the redness of red, and the thrill of romantic love. The question of how the brain creates the mind - how these subjective experiences emerge from a piece of pale gray meat - is one of the essential questions of modern science. And yet, despite decades of research, we aren't remotely close to an answer.

Alva Noë, a philosopher at UC Berkeley, argues that consciousness remains a mystery because we've been looking in the wrong place. In his provocative and lucid new book, Noë writes that scientists have been so eager to locate the mind in the brain that they've neglected to consider the possibility that our mind might not be inside our head.

Then where is it? Don't worry, Noë isn't an old-fashioned Cartesian dualist: He doesn't believe that our consciousness is some metaphysical gift from God. Instead, he suggests that who we are and what we know is inseparable from where we are and what we're doing: "Consciousness is not something the brain achieves on its own," Noë writes. "Consciousness requires the joint operation of the brain, body and world. ... It is an achievement of the whole animal in its environmental context."

Noë sells this audacious idea with a series of effective metaphors. For instance, he begins the book by comparing consciousness to a dollar bill. He notes that it would be silly to search for the physical correlates of "monetary value." After all, the meaning of money isn't in the paper, or the green ink, or the picture of George Washington. Instead, it exists in the institutions and practices that give the paper meaning. Similarly, our awareness of reality doesn't depend entirely on what's happening inside the brain, but is a side effect of how we, as individuals, interact with the wider world.

Although Noë is a philosopher, his argument is carefully built on scientific evidence, as he considers everything from studies of cells in the visual cortex to examples of neural plasticity. In each instance, he interprets the data in a startlingly original fashion, such as when he uses experiments showing that ferrets can learn to "see" with cells in their auditory cortex as proof that "there isn't anything special about the cells in the so-called visual cortex that makes them visual. Cells in the auditory cortex can be visual just as well. There is no necessary connection between the character of experience and the behavior of certain cells."

Certainly, many of the scientists cited by Noë would disagree with his interpretations, but that's part of what makes this book so important: It's an audacious retelling of the standard story, an exploration of the mind that questions some of our most cherished assumptions about what the mind is.

In many respects, Noë's ideas mark a return to an earlier tradition of American philosophy, represented by people like William James and John Dewey. These thinkers insisted that the attempt to reduce the mind to its fleshy source was inherently flawed: The brain is part of an organism, and that organism is part of a culture. "Man is more than a psychical machine," Dewey wrote. "His life is bound up with the life of society." For the most part, modern scientists brushed aside such skepticism, as they embarked on an epic search for the cellular circuits that give rise to our conscious mind. Although much has been learned, little has been found. Perhaps, as Noë argues, that's because we're searching on our inside for something that doesn't exist.


Jonah Lehrer, an editor at large for Seed magazine, is the author of "How We Decide," published in February by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. E-mail him at

oregon, willamette, 1 proxy falls

from a young friend -

We all love water, need water. It is predicted that water, the resource we have taken for granted, will be more valuable than oil, gold, diamonds combined.

Sign this petition:

Dear Friend,

I've just signed a petition that respectfully calls 

upon the United Nations to add a 31st article to the 

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, establishing access 

to clean water as a human right, not a privilege. 

I hope you agree with me that water is a right and not a 

privilege, and that this addition to the Universal Declaration 

of Human Rights represents the first step toward the goal 

of water for all-- please join me!

Water is a right, not a privilege.  See and sign the 

petition to adopt Article 31:

alan - morning glory center

The power of the word -

I am struggling to understand why I feel so tired this morning. Perhaps it was not only the wealth of information, but also the reminder of how much we share through words. Authors and illustrators gather with agents and editors to discuss how important it is to create absolutely the best product to enliven and change our world.

Lee sat next to me at breakfast. I checked out his blog last night and again this morning and I am still sitting with what it might mean to a young person to have access to this support.

I know that Ellen Hopkins is there for her readers, is a support for those who email and call her. Here is her website.

It appears that the idea of the isolated writer is gone.

Perhaps that is good for both, that immediate feedback, support, exchange. We live in an era of communication. We speak of our feelings so we are learning to feel within and communicate what is going on and we are sharing the wonderful world of books and the internet, the power of the word, to even more know how we feel.

I realize now that part of my fatigue is this intensity of feeling from all the connection, and the continuing task to balance thought and non-thought. I love when I occasionally touch the world of non-thought and I know that the path to evolution is through the sharing of our thoughts, the combing and ingesting, like gorillas grooming each others fur.

heart's desire

Balbir Mathur - Planting Trees

The boat I travel in is called Surrender. My two oars are instant forgiveness and gratitude – complete gratitude for the gift of life. I am thankful for the experience of this life, for the opportunity to dance. I get angry, I get mad, but as soon as I remind myself to put my oars in the water, I forgive.

I serve. I do the dance I must. I plant trees, but I am not the doer of this work. I am the facilitator, the instrument. I am one part of the symphony. I know there is an overall scheme to this symphony that I cannot understand. In some way, we are each playing our own part. It is not for me to judge or criticize the life or work of another. All I know is that this is my dance. I would plant trees today even if I knew for a certainty that the world would end tomorrow.

— Balbir Mathur, Planting Love One Tree At A Time
(Heron Dance, Issue 11, October 1996)
cirque du soleil trapeze

Interaction -

There is always something to consider.  Who would have thought of a stroller facing backwards toward the mother rather than forward toward the approaching world leading to better verbal and linguistic skills and interactions?   It may. 

Op-Ed Contributor

One Ride Forward, Two Steps Back

Published: March 1, 2009

Dundee, Scotland

ARE forward-facing strollers having a negative effect on babies’ language development? British teachers have for some time been observing a decline in the linguistic abilities of many children, and some have wondered whether this might be one contributing factor.

There may be something in this idea. Babies who face ahead cannot see their parents or caregivers and thus have difficulty interacting with them. On loud city streets, babies may have trouble even hearing parents talking to them.


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Book Cover


“Know that joy is rarer, more difficult, and more beautiful than sadness.  Once you make this all-important discovery, you must embrace joy as a moral obligation.”

Andre Gide

And so we do!!