Tag Archives: science

The Vagus Nerve and Meditation

Brainstem

An image of a human brain stem illuminated with fluorescent proteins.

I don’t think I use this blog enough to share info like I do on Facebook. As I think about it, though, it seems the things I post here have a much longer shelf life than those I share on FB. Also, my original intent for this blog was to address issues of seeing systems, particularly emphasizing how infrequently — and incompletely — we do so. The piece from Business Insider I’m going to link to here was shared with me by Jon Husband who, in my mind, is inextricably linked to systems concepts via his pioneering work with what he has labeled Wirearchy.

The article concludes with the researchers, Kevin Tracey and Paul-Peter Tak, recognizing how science and, particularly, medicine have approached understanding of the human body as an effort to understand each organ in isolation, and as separate entities. They now realize the systemic nature of the body, and argue for an understanding that is more holistic and that recognizes how everything is connected.

I also found myself thinking about the progress of our understanding and how it shows just how indifferent nature, biology, and evolution are to anything resembling “fairness” or “justice”. Those are human concepts, creations that make sense to us, but have no place in how or why things happen in natural systems. Evolution is interested in what works and a level of adaptability that allows for constant change in survival strategies. Everything else is merely part of the side-show.

What really struck me was the thought of all the people who have existed before us and how much discomfort, pain, and agony have been suffered in the past, prior to our gaining the various understandings we have come to embrace over the last few hundred years of our existence as a species. The “breakthrough” discussed in this article seems somewhat revolutionary and serves to point out how valuable the ability to see systems really is at improving our lives.

Here’s the link. Check it out. Shouldn’t take more than five minutes to read.


A Dichotomy of Tears

After my retirement, I determined to make this blog one in which I could write about both professional topics and personal topics, which meant I would share my thoughts about the many things I find of interest. It also meant I planned on writing about my feelings and experiences over the years. It hasn’t been easy, as I’m quite certain some of my thinking is not mainstream and — in some cases — is certainly frowned upon by some sizeable chunk of the population. Nevertheless, I keep plodding along and, in that spirit, I share here something I posted on Facebook recently.

Two things brought me to tears the other day. The first was the ending of the current episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Just knowing what has been accomplished by my fellow human beings; the incredible discoveries and wondrous inventions that have accompanied our ever-growing knowledge of the workings of the universe takes my breath away at times. The other evening was one of those times. They were tears of ineffable joy.

Japanese Umbrella

A Miniature Wagasa (Umbrella) made of Camel Cigarette Packs, Toothpicks, and thread by my Mother-in-Law, Taka Shitara

The second was being reminded of the terrible injustice wrought on the Japanese people who were living in the U.S. when Pearl Harbor was attacked. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law, as well as many of my wife’s extended family, were “relocated” in internment camps. Many lost everything they had worked so hard to accomplish, much of it never to be regained. They were not the enemy . . . and they did not deserve the treatment they received, nor did those who stole their property deserve what they gained. These were tears of inconsolable anger and shame.


More of That Lifelong Learning!

The Queen Mary from my hotel window

The Queen Mary Outside My Hotel

I just finished my presentation, the last in a group of three on the subject of social media for the American Oil Chemists’ Society’s meeting in Long Beach, CA. This was a huge event, with about 1500 people and lots of organizations in attendance.

The room was set up for nearly 300 people, but no more than 30 – 40 were in attendance at any one time. I have since learned (and am not in any way surprised to find) that the scientists in the organization are somewhat reticent to adopt social media. Actually, I’m very familiar with the problem and even discussed it in my presentation.

One thing I think I’ve gotten out of this, as a result of going through the process of creating my schpiel and also from my conversations with my co-presenters, who both have businesses they’ve been running for about as long as I was at Rocketdyne, is a clearer understanding of what I may have to offer and can build a viable business around.

Both of them told me nobody’s providing much in the way of education and services designed for the use of social media inside an organization. Both of their presentations were about the value of social media, but they were focused almost entirely on how to use it to either market your organization or to connect with like-minded people in order to build your connections or your personal brand.

After I finished, we sat down for a panel discussion. Frankly, I wasn’t feeling all that good about my efforts, but I do seem to be my own worst critic. However, one of the members of the Society, who has been attending meetings since 1976, got up and said he thought ours was the best session he had ever attended. That felt pretty darn good to hear!

One more bright spot. I was asked to write an article on my subject for their industry publication and expect to hear more about it in the next several days. We’ll see how that goes. I’m glad I put this presentation together and now I’m going to refine it and see if I can find other places who would like me to give it. I’m told there’s a market out there. Now I have to find it.


This is NOT Your Grandparent’s Brain

The Divided Brain

Beancounters on the left and ne'er-do-wells on the right. Is this accurate?

This morning I came across this picture – actually a drawing – in Facebook that purported to characterize the two hemispheres of the human brain. As long as I can remember we’ve been told the left hemisphere is the seat of rationality and the right the seat of emotion and artistic endeavor.

I shared the picture on my Timeline, along with my observation that the left depicted “bean counters” and the right “ne’er-do-wells”. It was a light-hearted attempt at defining the so-called characteristics of each hemisphere.

However, I soon received somewhat of an admonition that all this was a fallacy, accompanied by a link to a wonderful animation (set to a lecture by the psychologist Iain McGilchrist) from the folks at RSAnimate, and I wanted to share it.

If I understand McGilchrist’s description of the brain’s activities, I believe the left side can be seen as the analytical part and the right can be seen as the synthetic (in the sense of synthesis; not man-made or chemical) part of how we see the world.

As one who considers himself a Systems Thinker and, especially, on a blog entitled Systems Savvy, this makes a great deal of sense to me, though I must admit I was in thrall to the belief that our left and right hemispheres were more like the graphic and less like the video. I, therefore, share them both and am curious to see if anyone will take the time to watch the video and tell me what they think. Have at it!


Why Would We Wish to Waste So Much Talent & Investment?

Atlantis ascending - STS-27

Atlantis Powers to Orbit

As long as I worked at what is now called Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne we referred to NASA and the Air Force as our “customers”. For nearly twenty years I worked on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program and we always called NASA our “customer”. In the last few years of my employment there, when my awareness of – and interest in – social media brought me to learn as much as I could about what was available and how it might be of benefit to my company, I began arguing for a different approach. I believed, still do, that the real customers of companies involved in space exploration are the American people, those who pay the taxes that were used to pay our salaries. I still believe this is the case, and I still await the evidence of an enlightened approach to engaging them.

In the meantime, I just received an email request to take action and I want to pass it on in the hope some of you who read this will consider taking action; very simple, virtual action. I believe it is imperative for the human race to establish not merely a technological presence in space, but a strong cultural presence as well. I don’t believe it has to be dominated by the United States. In fact, I would prefer it be an international, world-wide effort to ensure the long-term survival of our species. Nevertheless, what is currently happening here is the gradual wasting away of our talent and our industrial base to continue leading the effort. I will no doubt write more about this as it is near and dear to my heart.

What follows is the text of the email, which comes from the website I’m asking you to visit and consider using to send a letter of support to the President, your U.S. Senators, and your Congressional Representative. I’m also including the link below the text so you might take action if you’re so inclined.

I’m concerned about the future of the United States’ role in space. Investments in our nation’s space programs will have a direct impact on our future economic strength and ability to remain a space-faring nation on the cutting edge of technology. I urge you to make a strong commitment to maintaining the U.S. as the unsurpassed leader in space.

For decades, U.S. leadership in space has been recognized across the globe. However, that position is perishable, and continued national leadership will be vital for our future. Therefore:

  • It is important to establish a long-term national space strategy that factors in civil, national security and commercial interests in space. Our national strategy must also cut across all agencies that have a stake in space. Without a national strategy, America risks a future where the workforce and industrial capacity needed to maintain U.S. leadership and competitiveness in space is seriously – and in some cases irreversibly – degraded.
  • It is important for our future global competitiveness, leadership and innovation in space that budgets and funding remain stable and robust. Appropriate funding must accompany strategic goals to meet established objectives and sustain a strong and progressive space industry.
  • It is important to support policies that maintain a healthy and vibrant space industrial base that employs technically-skilled American workers. Modernizing our nation’s export control policies – so that U.S. industry can compete on a level playing field – is one step in the right direction.
  • It is important to recognize that the space industrial base drives technological development important to our economy and national security. Our national strategy must identify and seek to preserve the space capabilities critical to meeting our national goals.

The United States stands at a critical juncture between past accomplishments and future ambitions in space. The rest of the world is not waiting. Yet there is uncertainty about the future of U.S. leadership in space; our workforce is facing upheaval and layoffs and the U.S. space industrial base is at the brink of losing our competitive and innovative edge.It is absolutely critical that our nation’s decision-makers work together to show the leadership needed to keep our space efforts robust. I urge you to make addressing these issues a national priority.

Here is the link to send this letter. Thanks for considering it – http://www.spaceleadership.org/


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