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 Man does not evolve like animals, for man, evolution of the physical body has been replaced by evolution of the brain.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.

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