Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The deep significance of corn

Yup, corn. 
Humble old corn. 

I am about to reveal to you how my brain does pattern recognition. 

I heard about Barbara McClintock's work with corn, jumping genes, transposons, ages ago. She won a Nobel prize for it, in 1983. She's brilliant. That's what she is. 
Here she is, her Nobel lecture (about 46 minutes). She's kind of the mother of epigenetics, not just in my opinion. Dogged, rigorous, dedicated seeker of truth since 1931. What a woman. 

A few days ago, Allie Brosh posted this incredibly brilliant, insightful, smack on the mark  Depression Part 2 blog post. She was lying on the kitchen floor, crying her eyes out, when she happened to spot a corn kernel under the fridge. It made her laugh until she cried some more. Sounds like her depression kinda lifted, right about then. 
"That piece of corn is the funniest thing I have ever seen, and I cannot explain to anyone why it's funny. don't even know why. If someone ever asks me "what was the exact moment where things started to feel slightly less shitty?" instead of telling a nice, heartwarming story about the support of the people who loved and believed in me, I'm going to have to tell them about the piece of corn. And then I'm going to have to try to explain that no, really, it was funny. Because, see, the way the corn was sitting on the floor... it was so alone... and it was just sitting there! And no matter how I explain it, I'll get the same, confused look. So maybe I'll try to show them the piece of corn - to see if they get it. They won't. Things will get even weirder... I don't know if this will be comforting to anyone else — the possibility exists that there's a piece of corn on a floor somewhere that will make you just as confused about why you are laughing as you have ever been about why you are depressed. And even if everything still seems like hopeless bullshit, maybe it's just pointless bullshit or weird bullshit or possibly not even bullshit." 
To me, this is hugely symbolic: the way my brain interprets this is, she realized how corny (from a depressed point of view, -> random, meaningless, pointless, and seemingly alone) life really is, especially for humans, and at last, she didn't really care anymore.

Good for her. Many of us live with depression (over all the endless, ubiquitous, and uncomfortable to us, incongruities and inconsistencies and incompatibilities and inconclusivities and mutual exclusivities of life, that we can clearly see, in life, as life ) as our inner landscape, our secret inner world, all our lives, and...  we can still seem to do OK. 
Once in awhile we tend to beat up on ourselves because it feels a bit (or a lot!) fake, inauthentic or something, but then, realizing we can't do much about much of it, so we go along to get along. The human brain is capable of entertaining or at least observing multiple perspectives and still creating some sort of seamless-looking and sane outward appearance, even when life seems to be nothing but a chaotic mess on the inside. We get by somehow, we depressives do, and sometimes, we can even enjoy life, and ourselves as part of it. We might wish what we experience on the inside and what we see on the outside didn't seem so identical, but there isn't much we can do about most of it... so we cope as best we can, same as anyone else stuck here, doing life. At least until we can go back to the way it was before we were born. 

At least this planet is quite nice, as planets go. 

So, all winter, Chris Hadfield has been tweeting and videoing and sharing his life and thoughts and pictures and whimsey from the international space station. He just landed back on earth, safely, yesterday. He hooked my attention, for sure. I started watching all his videos, looking at the marvelous pictures of earth from space he would post every single day, following his musings. Today, I saw his bio, and laughed out loud when I saw this part - probably why he seems so down-to-earth: 
"Experience: Raised on a corn farm in southern Ontario, Chris Hadfield became interested in flying from a young age." 
What!!??? Corn?? again?? Where is that applaus-icon?

More reading (more patternicity):

1. Metaphors are us, by Robert Sapolsky (not dated, but posted yesterday I think, to Nautilus)
".. there are still ways that humans appear to stand alone. One of those is hugely important: the human capacity to think symbolically. Metaphors, similes, parables, figures of speech—they exert enormous power over us. We kill for symbols, die for them. Yet symbols generate one of the most magnificent human inventions: art.In recent years scientists from leading universities, including UCLA, University College London, and Yale, have made remarkable insights into the neurobiology of symbols. A major finding from their work is that the brain is not very good at distinguishing between the metaphorical and literal. In fact, as scientists have shown us, symbols and metaphors, and the morality they engender, are the product of clunky processes in our brains."

2.  Back to Earth: How Chris Hadfield made us care about astronauts again, by Kyle Wagner at Gizmodo, seen today.
"He took requests from 10th grade science classes, and posted Nuts In Space, just for the hell of it. Never taking itself too seriously, but always seriously enough to tuck in some relatable piece of information, even something as dumb as what a tin of weightless salty nuts looks like. Every time you worried he’d veer off course, mugging a few beats too long, or just plain running out of ideas, he’d rein it back in. In short, he understood how to be the front man."

3. Brain's circadian clock disrupted in depressed people, by Stephanie Pappas at Scientific American, May 14/13
"People with major depression, also known as clinical depression, show disrupted circadian rhythms across brain regions, according to a new study published today (May 13) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers looked at post-mortem brain samples from mentally healthy donors and compared them with those of people who had major depression at the time of their death.They found that gene activity in the brains of depressed people failed to follow healthy 24-hour cycles."

1 comment:

steph said...

Great post. I remember reading the corny hyperbole comic. It was sad, well-written, entertaining, thoughtful...