Saturday, December 27, 2008

Left Brain, Right Brain, Television

I walk at night in the quiet and the cold. Even with snowshoes on my feet I sink in the snow. I feel the heat build in my core and radiate outward, temporarily captured by my layers of clothes. Soon I am too warm and I unzip my coat so I don't get overly hot. I imagine moist hot air escaping on the night breeze, my scent carried to wild creatures hiding in the dark.

I admire their beauty, strength and instinct. Sometimes I think I am like them, sometimes I want to go back to be cradled in nature.

On a sub-zero night like tonight nothing will be moving. Best to curl up in a brush pile or in the shelter of some pines and wait for the cold to pass. The deer will find a place out of the wind, perhaps in the pines, and lay down in the snow, leaving behind a body imprint, a dish of ice, when they get up and move along. I consider how I would survive without a house to go back to, without a grocery store or running water.

I am not strong enough, I have become something else. I live in a controlled world of artificial light and uniform temperature. The natural world has become a form of entertainment, not a way of life.

Author Loren Eiseley in his book "The Immense Journey" writes of the evolution of man. He ponders our origins and and our connection to the past. He talks of the forces of natural selection and how they relate to man, He says modern man is physically much the same as his ancestors. Man does not evolve like animals, for man, evolution of the physical body has been replaced by evolution of the brain. "quote from Eiseley about how our body remains unchanged."

Where an animal may need a thick coat or night vision to survive, man has clothing or lights. Because of our wonderful brains, we can make tools that change instead of our bodies. Our bodies are frozen in time because our tools do all of the changing. I think Eiseley assumes our big brains, continue to evolve. I have no way of knowing if this is true, but I am sure something else is at work as well.

I have made a loop through the fields and now I stand at the edge of the woods in sparkling moonlit snow considering our house, some windows glowing with friendly yellow light. Another window flickers with the blue light of the TV. I stand and listen.

I wonder about the clicking and scraping coming from the woods. There must be a breeze in the tops of the trees that makes the frozen branches rattle. There is the sound of a car in the distance on the highway that gets louder and then fades. This is not true wilderness. The distant sounds of civilization would be a thundering irritation to someone accustomed to real solitude. To me though, all is silent. I continue to stand and then I hear the sound of my dog in the house. She is barking a warning. She has detected something out of place.

Friend since the beginning of mankind. Superior senses, she is doing her job. She sees my form, she doesn't recognize it is me lurking at the edge of the woods and barks a warning. Out here it is a distant sound, barking swallowed by the night, but it must be loud in the house. I feel bad for worrying her and move towards home as her barking continues. I look for her outline in the window and perhaps that of the concerned occupants in the house. Surely they wonder what the racket is about.

Our brain is separated into hemispheres that operate like dual processors in a computer, taking over different duties and sharing information. Our delicate human minds store memories, a record of time, as nothing more than electronic impulses in the brain. The same images in different iterations in person after person.

Using our consciousness we recognize relationships between things, we make stories. We dream. I suspect that our dreams are some kind of accounting between the halves of our brain. We re-live parts of the day and relate them with important parts of our life and mash them together into stories that some how make sense and help us make our way in the world.

In our culture we value originality, but the fact is that anything I can think has been thought before. Stories come to life in our mind and through the miracle of language we share them and weave them in with our own. We share experiences with those who have been dead for thousands of years. Through our eyes and ears we are connected to others. This interconnected group thinks for us and processes information as if they were another part of our brain.

I tromp through the snow past the outside of the house. I linger there undetected by everyone but the dog, peering through the windows at what we have become. In one window my son is absorbed by the task of texting a message on his cell phone. I move on to the next window. Faces illuminated in the blue light, not the moon, but television.

We are wizards. Primitive bodies with no need to evolve because we have magic. We have medicine, science and tools. We think for each other and machines remember and think for us as well. The record of our kind is stored not just in our minds, but in delicate machines. Like our bodies, our brains no longer need to develop. Just as tools have replaced adaptive evolution, technology has replaced the advancement of our brains.

Through the window I see my family, bodies relaxed and eyes wide they see landscapes and experience deeds of courage without being there. If we are still evolving, I wonder what we are turning into.

Humans need bodies for punching buttons and reproducing and little else. We lay motionless as our brains do accounting with the television set. News shows, TV dramas and comedies stream through our eyes and ears, the collective dreams of a rapidly changing society. We don't even realize we are part of something bigger.

I am starting to get cold and I must return to the house just as I always do. I can still run and get out in nature and I can still dream. I will continue to dream.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Looking for an Upgrade

The other day I tried to go for a run on highway 58. I found myself watching a snowplow three quarters of a mile up the road heading towards me throwing a plume of snow 20 yards into the ditch. I escaped to the median with the re-enforced opinion that the side of the highway in winter is no place for a pedestrian.

The pressure has been building. I considered a treadmill for the basement. I know you have to have at least three horsepower and spend overe $1000 for a moderately good one.
Winter has caused some stress. The dark, the cold, the wind, there is always some reason for staying inside. Strange things can happen when you're under stress.

The TV was on. I passed through the room and it pulled me into stationary orbit. I stood behind the couch for ten minutes, slack jawed, engaged in a medical show.
As I stood there an ad came on the TV for a reality show about people losing weight. Then came an ad for a TV service. The famous, sexy woman looked suggestively into the camera and moved her hips and sang "you're ready for an upgrade". She was wearing a short, tight, shiney gold dress. She fell to the ground and writhed around in piles of gold coins.

Something in me snapped.

I struck a pose and rotated my hips and sang out in a faulseto voice, "I'm ready for an upgrade". I was was about to fall to the ground and continue the song writhing on the floor when the family ejected me from the room. With no where else to turn I stepped out the door into the cold. I rummaged around in the garage and found a pair of snow shoes.
With the snowshoes strapped to my feet I started at a slow jog into the field. I kept myself going and the images and sounds from the tv started to fade. I did the slow plodding jog until I could feel the warmth in my fingers and heat raidating from my body. I stopped on the knob of a hill to survey the world. At first I could only hear my own breathing but as my lungs caught up and my breathing slowed I could hear my pulse in my ears. I could hear the blood rushing in my head and feel it pumping in my fingers. I was comfortably warm.

On this calm night fresh snow covers everything. There is a waxing moon that alows me to see in whites, grays with suprising clarity. A snipet from some old song or poem is in my mind. "Cold orb rules the night, removes the colors from our site..." I look down to the snow at my feet, animal tracks pass by in front of me dark holes in the snow. Beyond the tracks the snow spreads unbroken with an occasional glittering caught by my perephrial vision as if diamonds are inset into the ground itself.

Before the cold could start seeping into my clothing I resumed moving at a walk. A vigorus walk, the snow shoes slowing and lengthening my stride making me feel like a giant striding across the land. I settled into my big stride singing in my head, "I'm look'in for an upgrade, an upgrade." I thought to myself, "I could be a character in a Kurt Vonegut Story." After a time, perhaps a mile, I stopped again on another rise and looked across the fields.

The landscape is truly owned by the moon, the colorless light gives the world a dreamlike quality. But in the distance are radio and relay towers with red lights blinking, out of place in the spell cast by the moon. It strikes me as an odd thing and I pause a little longer. A conversation from the past comes to mind. It was about building a house. The people as I remember liked a piece of land, but it had huge power lines cutting across from the nearby nuclear power plant. We walked the land, it was a beautiful except for the scar of the power lines. We could only find one place were the view was not obstructed. Directly underneath the power lines there was an clear view of the Mississippi river valley. You could almost imagine they didn't exist.

I continued to look at the towers lined up in the distance with blinking lights. I thought of War of the Worlds were huge machines driven by aliens stride across the land conquering all they see. My eyes followed an indentation in the ground in front of me that deepend to a ravine at the edge of the field. There I could see the dark forms of a giant cottonwood and a knarled old oak. If the wind rises, I thought, they will sway and come to life. Perhaps they will cross the hills and defend us from the alien invasion.

This is silly, I've gone too far. The cold has penetrated my gloves. I have to get moving. First step, second step, stride, stride. I'm look'in for an upgrade, an upgrade.