Monday, July 30, 2012

Philosophical Crisis/Cry For Help

What is sanity? I guess all we can use as a measure is whether or not other people would call you sane. We are a social creature and to not live up to social expectations would be to reject your status as a functioning human.

So I mean...I guess you are crazy if other people think you are.

What if you chose to reject the mentality of this society? You consciously decide to take some sort of mental high ground because you've convinced yourself that the way mainstream society thinks, believes and functions is wrong. Well, if you can find yourself in a community of like-thinkers, this is called counter culture. This is sometimes called revolution or even renaissance. If you can't find a community of like-thinkers, this is called megalomania.

Herein lies my philosophical crisis. This winter, I consciously decided to reject popular mentality and rationality. It came with a backdrop of lots of things. I was in the middle of my second month hitch hiking around South America, I was learning more about the universe than I ever thought possible, and I was reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This was the only book I had with me. I read it several times and thought constantly about how much I can relate to those ideas.

The author, Robert M Pirsig has lots of cool ideas. I don't pretend to know exactly what his intentions were when writing the book but what I got out of it was this: The entire way we think, feel, relate to each other, and personally function is flawed. It's based on the philosophies of men in ancient Greece who told the western world how to rationalize. These men literally set guidelines into stone for how to think. We consumed, internalized and perpetuated these ideas so thoroughly that we convinced ourselves this is how human brains naturally work. Brains that don't work that way are crazy and brains that openly and publicly reject the way we as a culture rationalize are egomaniacs or megalomaniacs.

Pirsig was committed to a mental ward. He completely lost touch with society and received electric shock therapy which somehow altered the structure or function of his brain enough for doctors to declare him sane. He was fixed.

This happened in the 1960s. Not too terribly long ago. I know lots of people that can remember when electric shock therapy was common practice. We consider it cruel and unusual these days.

Pirsig's nervous break down, his time in a mental ward, and his diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and clinical depression freaks me out. The reason why is because I so strongly relate with all my heart and soul to these ideas that drove him insane.

These philosophers...the men that came up with the very basics for how to think, how to reason, how to rationalize...what sort of backdrop did they come up with this shit in? I'm not going to pretend to know very much about ancient greek history and culture...but I would be willing to bet that these men were leaders. They were politicians, they were religious figures, they were men who were wealthy enough to have the time to sit around and contemplate the "right" way to think, reason, and rationalize. Does that make their ideas suspect? To me, it kind of does.

I don't have a viable alternative to modern rationality. Maybe I've been so thoroughly steeped in the culture that utilizes this school of thought that my brain has grown around these ideas. The very way my brain is wired is based on this philosophy. Maybe it's the kind of thing that can only be undone by electric shock.

I wonder...before these Greek philosophers, these men in sheets that came up with these rules for rationality... Before we set up thousands of years of institutions that perpetuate these did people think? How did we think before the Greeks told us how to think?

Maybe the bible is a good resource for this. It's one of the very few documented compilations of human thought in western culture that existed before these Greek and Roman metropolises.

All the magic in the bible, the burning bushes and people living in whale bellies and woman growing from a man's rib...what does this say about the way people thought?

According to our modern rationality, these things couldn't have happened. They are myths. Why would people have made these things up? Were they just lying? Are they supposed to represent something I can't grasp because the way I think is so separate and different from the way the authors of the bible thought?

I know there are people around today that literally believe these things in the bible.  These things are "scientifically impossible" according to modern rationality. Maybe someone who literally believes the bible will even read this blog. I know lots of atheists that would say people who believe these things are just stupid. They would point to their "superior" school of rational thought and scoff while they think about how much smarter and better they are. How their school of thought gives them the "freedom to think for themselves".

In my opinion, this is lazy. Writing people off as stupid or crazy because you don't understand their beliefs is LAZY. This way of thinking does everything if can to swerve away from the open hearted pursuit of knowledge that all of us western thinkers who like to congratulate ourselves for being so clever and critical say that we champion.

I don't like it. I don't like the way we think. It's hypocritical. It's lazy. It's judgmental. There is no love in it. There is no opportunity for exploration of things that seem magical. It disconnects us from each other. It gives us an excuse to write off ideas, alienate and one-dimensionalize people and all the while pat ourselves on the back for being so rational and logical.  I reject it. I REJECT RATIONALITY.

The reason this concerns me is because unless I can find a community of people who agree with me...I am by definition, crazy. I am headed down the same path as Pirsig.

This blog, I guess, is a cry for help. Because I really suspect that I am not alone on this one. I suspect that there exists a community of like minded people who also reject modern rationality. We've just been so entrenched in our culture and the way we've learned to think that the thought of starting a counter culture to rationality itself is daunting and impossible. I'm not asking that we start a counter culture to rationality. In fact, perhaps that a group of people sitting down together and writing actual guidelines for how people should think was something that could have only existed in ancient greek culture. It was just the right time and the right place.

I realize that the thought of doing that...of deciding how people should think, is megalomaniacal. It's egomaniacal. The fact that these greeks dudes did it and got away with it totally blows my mind. But at the same time...if they did it, why can't others?

I guess all I want to know is this: is anyone else frustrated by rationality itself? By the very way we think? By the way we write things off as impossible and treat people like they are crazy/stupid/wrong if they think different? Am I alone on this? Am I crazy? Should I just watch TV and stop living in my head so often? Or are these things other people obsess over too?

I know these types of thoughts are extremely personal. The only reason I am able to publicly talk about them is because I have made every attempt to be so shamelessly honest about my thoughts and feelings in the last few years that sometimes it's even frightening and repulsive to the people who know me and love me the most. These are the people who will sometimes call me crazy for thinking the way I do. I don't know about y'all but when the people who love me and know me more than anyone suggest I am makes me call my sanity into question.

I'm not asking for you to agree with me or say what you think if you don't want to (if you do want to...please do!). I am asking, if you can in anyway relate to this can you please comment with something like, "word" or whatever? I need to know whether I am a revolutionary or an egomaniacal crazy person. Yes, this is a pathetic cry for support. So sue me.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Beetle I Found

Y'all! So many exciting things have happened in my life since the last time I blogged. 

One of the main things I’m excited about is that I’ve been given a tool to feed my obsessive nerdyness. This tool happens to be a company that makes microscopes and I totally tricked someone into hiring me there. Suckers. 

SO ANYWAY. I found this Beetle. I found it on the black top of some airport. It was all dead and dehydrated. I picked it up because I thought I could glue it to a canvas and make a cool painting around it. It looked like this:

Photo Credit to JJ Blackwood

But I happened to be hanging out with a coworker who suggested we take it to work and look at it. 

So then, I cut off it's leg and I cut off it's head and my friend Marc stuck it into his Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). It looked FREAKY. I'll show you in a sec but first you need to know that it was a pristonychus terricola (I think) based on a picture I found in a library book called The Anatomy of Insects & Spiders by Claire Beverly and David Ponsonby. 

This is a really cool book because not only is it full of historical drawings that are from as far back as 1255 but it also talks a lot about uses for these bugs in ancient cultures. Turns out, Egyptians were really into Beetles and their traditions around it are fascinating and worth their own blog which I might get to someday. 
Ok, so first of all...let's look at it's leg. 

We are about to look at this part.

This is the hook at the end of it's foot. I was playing with the cutest june bug that I found when I was in Tennessee last weekend. It was crawling all over me and I kept thinking about how it's digging it's little micro-hooks into my skin but they can't cause me pain because they are too small.
That scale bar in the bottom right hand corner says 500 microns. To give you a frame of reference, a strand of human hair can be 17-50 microns for people of European descent and 56-181 microns for people of African descent. If you want to measure the diameter of your own hair, it's really easy! All you need is a laser. Follow these steps. If you are using one of those red laser pointers then it's a helium neon laser and the wavelength, λ, is around 633 nanometers. 

This is what I like to call the leg vertebrae! See in the drawing above how beetles have a whole bunch of joints on the leg? You know what I just found out about these joints? They work like screws! Instead of a ball-and-socket joint like humans have, beetles joints have threads that screw into place. They can do a full 360 rotation and are much harder to dislocate than human joints. 
Here is a close-up of one of the leg vertebrae. It's a beetle-knee!  I think the spikes are for defense based on the fact that they kind of look like medieval armor. I don't know what enemies beetles have besides birds and things that could just swallow their little 10-micron-wide knee weapons whole...but it probably makes them look tough to other bugs.
The schmutz all over it is probably dirt or dust specks. 
This is one of the coolest pictures in here, in my opinion. It's looking into the inside of the leg from where we cut it off. That's right...EXOSKELETON. Besides the support structures, it's totally hollow on the inside! If this beetle hadn't been dehydrating in the sun when it found me, it would have been full of goo.
Exoskeletons are made out of chitin, which is a long-chain polysaccharide. According to Wikipedia, "chitin has some unusual properties that accelerate the healing of wounds in humans". The Egyptians totally knew about that, fyi. As I learn more, I'm starting to suspect that beetles are actually magical. 
Ok, next we are going to look at this long antennae here.
Look at all the little hair follicles! Antennas are for sensing, and are insects' primary olfactory senses. In other words, these are the smellers. I tried to figure out how they work but then got really confused by all the jargon. Maybe one of you bio people can explain it to me? Thaddaeus, I'm looking at you. 

OK, compare the texture of the big antennae to the smaller one.
This one.
Super smooth! They must have two entirely different functions. Like, one for sensing and one for collecting particles...or, something like that. I'm not really sure. 
This is the end of one of the long antennas. The antennas are jointed just like the knees and this one was broken off at one of the joints when I found it. This is really cool because you can see those screw threads I was talking about where their joints come together! See them?
I think the stuff on the end of it is a little speck of pollen.

This is that pollen up close. It's also got this thread stuff all over it. Seems too small to be spider web....maybe a bacteria?
This is that same thread stuff that was all over it. I have no idea what this is.  I looked up SEM images of bacteria and spider webs and they don't really look like this. What do you all think? 
Here it is close-up. See how it's kind of braided like rope but then it's got this gooey part like snot? 
Here is part of it's head. It's got a chunk of dirt and also a little crawly thing. 
Here's the crawly thing up close. Maybe a little bacteria? It's got those little leg-looking things. I actually have no idea what this is. It's hard to put "5um long wormy thing with legs" into google and get meaningful results. I wish I knew more about this stuff so I knew what I was looking at!
Ok, I guess that's enough nerding out for now. See ya next time!

UPDATE: My friend Jessyka told me that the crawly thing might be a nematode. Here is a picture I found online of a nematode:
Yep....looks like it. Nematodes are a parasite to beetles and are used as organic pest control. Maybe that's what killed my beetle. Check out nematode pest control