Proof copies have been ordered… now the wait

Deloved Distance CoverLast weekend was a full one. I’m still recovering from the marathon work session. Final edits all typed up, final formatting for the interior done, cover (shown) sorted, and now I wait for the proof copies to show up.

I’ve run six different versions, each with a different typeface. Yep, it’s that important to me. I want to choose the right font, and I also want to make sure all the images are as clear as possible. It’s challenging to tell from the soft copies, as well as from the interior approver app on CreateSpace, because the way something comes across digitally doesn’t ever match exactly how it will look in print.

That whole ink-on-paper thing… and never knowing exactly what quality the paper will be, or if the print job will be done to perfection… all that.

Yep, just have to run a bunch of copies and see what’s the best.

I’m currently in the process of sorting out the Kindle version. That should be ready to go by early next week.

For now, it’s all about wrapping up the loose ends — getting promotional materials together, perfecting the “elevator speech”, fixing the website(s), and getting ready to roll.

One step at a time. One step at a time.

On track to publish, a week from today.


To understand our place in the world, we must consider both body and mind

The Thinker by Rodin
“The Thinker” by Rodin

If you’re reading this, you have a brain. You may (or may not) use it to the utmost of your ability, but if your eyes are following this text, as you peer at your device or laptop or desktop monitor, your nervous system is working overtime shuttling information through your system, which most definitely includes your brain.

90,000 miles of nerves interconnect, both directly and through chemical synapses. They bridge the distance between our skin and our spinal cord, between our internal organs and our cerebrum. Our whole system is afire with electricity and chemical reactions, with our billions of neurons firing some 200 times per second. And all the while, the brain is “unconsciously” making sense of it.

As George Lakoff points out, an estimated 98% of thought is unconscious.

Lakoff embodied consciousness intro text
George Lakoff: How Brains Think: The Embodiment Hypothesis Click the link for the full video

If you think about how busy your “conscious” brain is, just imagine how much moreso is the rest of you. All that chatter and static between your ears is but a paltry 2% of the total thought activity going on. Right now. All the time.

Just let that sink in for a moment…

Okay, let’s come back now. The brain-body connection has been talked about for decades, now, very much in terms of mental health and physical health. A lot of us have reached the conclusion that of course the brain and body are interrelated. How could they not be? The brain is part of the body, and its processes are organic, as well as consciousness-related.

The thing is, we seem to lose sight of this, when we think about our “higher mind” activities. When we get into philosophy and try to understand the nature of reality and our place in the world, we especially tend to split the brain from the body, like a space capsule leaving the rocket behind as it propels into the outer reaches of our cosmos. When we think long and hard about things, when we’re rapt with attention on abstract concepts. the very idea of the body seems to fade away. We forget to eat, drink, use the bathroom. We forget we have a body at all.

But of course, it’s still here. It’s not going anywhere — especially when we’re wrapped up in higher thought.

I usually think of Descartes, when I think of the brain-body split. Mr. “Cogito ergo sum“, who surmised that since he thought, therefore he was. Well, that’s fine. And certainly, it’s true. But I think it can also be said that “We think because we are.” So much of our physical systems are involved in thought, and so much of our systematic functioning is analogous to our thought processes, that the idea of neatly separating out the body from the mind and treating them as separate and distinct seems, well, very 17th Century.

Of course, it feels a lot neater, if we can conceptualize thought as something that’s mind-based, rather than body-based. It’s neater, somehow. It feels… cleaner. But as we’re learning more (and more, every day it seems) how much of the body is involved in processing the information our brains work with, that sanitized neatness carries a significant cost to true understanding. And that costs weighs us down with the burden of ignorance — both passive and active — as we both overlook important considerations and also willfully ignore the physical facts right in front of us.

In order to understand the workings of our minds, we have to understand the workings of the body. We have to understand how our nervous systems work, how they react and shape us in relation to the world around us. And when we understand the principles at work on the microscopic level, it gives us an added frame of reference, a finely tuned lens, we can use to gain greater insight into our innermost workings.

Knowing the body first, before approaching the brain, has stood others in good stead. Freud, in fact, started out as a neuroanatomist. I had no idea, till I did some digging a few months back. Long before he turned to psychoanalysis:

He carried out pioneering neurobiological research, which was cited by Santiago Ramóny Cajal, the father of modern neuroscience, and helped to establish neuroscience as a discipline.

See Freud was a pioneering neuroscientist at The Guardian to read the full (and fascinating) article.

Freud’s theories have fallen out of favor in recent years, from what I hear. But apparently some of his findings are being proven out, much as Einstein’s Theory About Gravitational Waves Was Just Proved Right. I have to wonder if maybe Freud’s understanding of neurology actually put him ahead of not only his peers but also his professional descendants, so much so, that it’s taken greater neurological understanding on our part to fully appreciate what he was talking about. It’s a theory…

And just as debunked theories sometimes need a closer look, our favorite concepts sometimes need to be called into question. Like the idea that the mind and the body are (or can be) separate and distinct from each other. Like the idea that you can disregard the body when you’re engaged in intellectual activities. Like the idea that the mind can completely rule the body, or that the body must be overcome and made wholly subservient to the mind, in order for the human spirit to rise.

All the undercurrents of hostility to the physique that trace through the Western tradition, seem pretty much like the product of people with some serious body issues. But of course, they weren’t alone. And their Körperfeindlichkeit (hostility to the body) filled a need in the Western psyche that didn’t have a lot of good things to say about the human body, until fairly recently.

Fortunately, the trend is shifting, as more and more people are connecting body and mind in philosophical terms, as well as world view. And I find myself quite comfortable within this trend, albeit on the margins, since I’m not exactly up to speed on all the latest thinking. It’s been a long time coming — and about damn’ time, if I say so.

From where I’m sitting / standing / working, it’s literally impossible for us to understand our place in the world or fully grasp the meaning of our existence, unless we factor in the body. It’s both a full partner in our thought process, as well as full of microscopic templates that can inform our macroscopic patterns. Our bodies guide us unconsciously, and when we engage with them consciously, they can enrich us even more.

And now it’s time to get a drink of water. My brain can use the hydration. And the walk to the water cooler will do my mind good.

Discuss: Bad Philosophical Habits: Free Will and Determinism

finger pointing at sun on the horizonI came across a thought-provoking post that made my morning exercise bike ride good for my mind, as well as my body.

Within a certain context, the debate between free will and determinism is certainly useful — it’s made a lot of people a lot of money, and it’s kept a lot of brains busy for a long time. I think these foundational questions keep coming up, because they do serve a deeper purpose, as well — they help inform the meanings of our lives, and as you say, differences between the two mindsets color our attitudes toward punishment, crime, and so forth. So, maybe there’s something to them… though I do agree that the arguments don’t necessarily operate in the same “space”. They aren’t mutually exclusive; they can complement each other. The fact that they keep co-occurring in arguments over and over speaks to that.

It’s interesting… my own research into the neurobiological underpinnings of the human experience has led me to a deep appreciation of just how free will and biochemical cause intersect at the most basic, fundamental level of our lives — in the trillions of synaptic clefts that fill our system with a non-intuitively massive amount of separation. We’ve got a whole lot of distance embedded in our nervous systems (in linear 2D terms, over 2000 miles worth), and across those synaptic gaps, neurotransmitters are constantly at work. They’re active, right now, as I write this (and you possibly read it), transforming distance into intimate connections that truly (literally) enliven us. Neurotransmitters can — and do — exert a causative influence. And on top of that, they can be changed and shaped by our attitudes, our conscious behaviors, as well as how we choose to think and feel about things.

The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that rather than either-or, we have a both-and situation. And when we combine the strengths of each argument and see how they can co-exist and complement each other, it gives us a richer and more generous concept of humanity. It also gives us more to work with — and it lets us avoid sinking a lot of time into arguing about who’s right/wrong, so we can have productive discussions about how to actually address the pressing questions of our times.

How Philosophical Analysis Creates Useless Problems from

Bad Philosophical Habits: Free Will and Determinism

Philosophical problems are a lot like habits, some are good, some are bad, and some never seem to change. This could not be truer for the dichotomy between Free will and Determinism, which has been debated amongst intellectuals from as early as 1525. Some philosophers champion free will, others champion determinism, and a select few suppose it to be the case that free will and determinism are compatible. To say the least, many great scholars have spoken of this subjects within their writings, for instance: Kant, Hume, etc. There have been numerous attempts to formulate a resolution to the dichotomy of free will and determinism, but none have been satisfactory. The reason, I suspect, this problem has reigned over philosophy for so long is because intellectuals have failed to take notice of one key detail: strictly speaking, there is no solution for the dichotomy.

To understand why this ancient problem has no solution, it is a necessity that we first understand the details which support the dichotomy: namely both, the meaning and usage of free will and determinism. After that, we shall be able to see why, in fact, the free will and determinism dichotomy is a pseudo-problem: a problem with no mind-independent solution.

Life is trying to tell us something

light streaks coming out of a burstWhen I think about philosophy, letters, learning, I generally get a visual of a medieval monk hunkered over an illuminated manuscript, toiling away in relative solitude, till the vespers bell rings. It’s not a negative image — it actually has really positive associations for me, since I myself love to hunker over books ‘n’ such in the solitude of my own upstairs study.

Or I think of professors delivering lectures before seminar halls filled with note-taking students. Tweed. I see tweed. Button-down shirts open at the collar, sleeves rolled up, hair touseled in whatever way. That’s a familiar sight to me, as well. At least, it used to be.

Or I think of a handful of philosophers (mostly men, er, white men, to be honest), gathered ’round in a office or cozy living room, holding cups of coffee or some other more “spirited” beverage, arguing the finer points of their arguments with gusto. I imagine them reveling in the exchanges, crossing metaphorical swords in bids to either win the point or at least sharpen their weapons and skills in the process. I’ve been in on more than a few of those kinds of discussions over the years. I’m not sure if I ever really won, but I certainly sharpened my wits in the process.

At least, I like to think so.

When it comes to learnedness, study, and devoting one’s life to the love of wisdom (the original meaning of the word “philosophy”), those are the standard-issue images and associations that come to mind for me.

And yet, when I think about my own approach to writing, reading, study, philosophy — which I practice pretty much daily —  I’m struck by the extent to which that happens far from the halls of academia. Indeed, I’m struck by the depth to which I believe that (for me, anyway), it all has to happen outside of academia. My inquiries, my readings, my contemplation, and my writing about it … that has to take place and unfold in the outside world, the everyday world, the domain of the mundane and unremarkable, the place of pragmatic, where gloriously pure theory has “fallen” to the realm of the applied.

Don’t get me wrong — I love the idea of pure theory. So long as it actually is pure, I’m all for it.

The thing is, purity has its limits. And those limits can make it not only impractical, but downright dangerous. If you consider a thing only in and of itself, without reference to how it intersects with other things, as part of an ongoing unfoldment of dynamic change, you can get yourself in trouble.

Killing dreaded pests with a chemical makes a lot more sense in a lab, where all you’re killing is the targeted pests. But if you don’t consider its effects on the rest of the insects and pollinators which further the cycles of life, before you take it out of the lab, and you don’t factor that in and adapt for it before you spray it all over every danged thing… Of you don’t consider the downstream impact of manufacturing bazillions of plastic bags, or improper disposal (read, dumping them in the oceans)… Well, you know…

And I wonder, in the face of the very real threats we’re facing on a regular basis, these days… where and what-for is all our education fitting in? We sink a sh*tload of money into our educations, and yet, here we are.

Here we are.

And the older I get, the better I feel about my choice to pursue my studies and thinking outside of academia. If I’d been independently wealthy, I might have spent a great deal of the past years in the Hallowed Halls. But I haven’t been in that situation — at all — so, I’ve been doing my thang out in the world, where I get to find out, up close and personal, just how well my philosophy works. I get to apply what I learn, and not only in the direct sense.

It’s not so much about brushing up on the latest digital marketing methodologies and search technologies. Nor is it about getting an MBA specific to a certain corner of the commercial arena. Nope, it’s broader and deeper than that — more humanistic, in a way. I study people. And not just in books. I look at the news (such as it is), and I watch what people do very closely. I read up on how we’re built, from our cells to our chemicals to our prostheses, and I think about how that affects us. How it shapes us. How it makes us function in relation to each other and the world in which we move.

Most of all, I invest time in thinking. A lot of time. Sure, plenty of people think through what they read / study, but I find I prefer to really, really think through what I’ve read, rather than devouring book after book. I’ve tried to push myself to read more. And it just doesn’t work. It’s like eating a meal. I need time to digest. I need time to assimilate. Once that’s done, I can move on to the next book. Or maybe I’ll wait it out and see where else my newfound knowledge will take me.

And as often as not, I find that life is telling me plenty that I need to know. One of the reasons great literary and scholarly works are so great, is that they help us make use of what the world has to offer. They have a sort of fractality, which mirrors our own grand dramas and dynamics in their more manageable collections of carefully chosen words. They can help us make sense of what’s going on around us, and they give us more tools / inspiration to deal more effectively with what is. Or at least give us some hope, however fleeting, that we might be getting somewhere in the whole grand scheme of things.

One of the things that’s made writing Beloved Distance so compelling for me, is the correspondence I’ve found between what’s inside us, and what’s outside of us. The same types of processes we find unfolding at the cellular level are also mirrored in our larger social lives. It’s been truly mind-boggling, at times, realizing how much a microscopic process can teach me about how to handle group dynamics… how to steer a project at work away from the proverbial rocks… or even adjust to the largest high-tech merger in history. The deeper I get into the neurobiology, the better I understand the biochemistry, and the more I just plain think about it all, the more meaningful it is for me.

And ultimately, the more useful it becomes.

You don’t have to be a nerdy-geeky type like me, to get a lot out of this kind of stuff. All you have to do is really think about it… and it can add so much to your life and your appreciation of what all the world has to offer us, in terms of lessons, inspiration, and rewards.

It’s all right there. For me, for you, for all of us. Life is trying to tell us something. And it can.

If we pay attention.