When off on the road, a motel room’s a swell room—
Big beds, lots of pillows, and acres to stretch—
But no, I was sleeping on couches, so “ouch” is
The travel review from this Cuttlefish wretch.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a happy old chappy;
I saw lots of family, and had a great time
But damn, it is clear that I’m older; my shoulder
Is hurting—beyond either reason or rhyme

Now, several days back, I’m still hurtin’ for certain
I’d love for this torment to just go away
I’ve iced, I’ve tried meds, I’ve tried showers for hours
But strangely, I’m not even tempted to pray
You know—if it works when I choose it, I’d use it
But prayer has a record of failure or worse.
So, no, I won’t pray, though I’m moaning and groaning…
With Pain for my muse, I’m complaining in verse.

God, Neurology, And Bliss

A vision of God’s not the slightest bit odd
When your brain’s shutting down, argues Sacks
But you knew all along some would find his view wrong
And would write of the logic he lacks
We might not be deceived; perhaps God was perceived
When the cranial neurons misfired
That was already known. What these data have shown
Is… to see Him, no God is required.

Oliver Sacks writes today in The Atlantic–a highly accessible piece on the neurology of life-altering religious experiences. He notes the documented role of epileptic seizures, typically of the right temporal lobe, which may sometimes give rise to overwhelming feelings of bliss. Other brain activity, of course, may be involved in auditory and visual hallucinations. Essentially, the same areas of the brain that are involved in feeling bliss for mundane reasons are stimulated by seizure, in the absence of some awe-invoking stimulus to account for them, or the face-perceiving fusiform area is stimulated in the absence of an actual face to look at.

It’s a bit like running in place; same muscles involved as in running, but different context. In these cases, your brain is running in place. (It is worth noting that there are many different sorts of experiences that get lumped together into, say, “near death experience”, so it is not reasonable to expect the same physiological underpinnings should account for all of them.)

These experiences are incredibly vivid, and those who experience them are loathe to accept mere biological explanations–which Sacks also illustrates.

But to me, the better illustration came in the comments. To paraphrase a number of commenters… One need not have experienced such a seizure and its accompanying bliss in order to deny a naturalistic explanation. After all, the fact that we can see faces without a face being present does not disprove the existence of faces in the real world! Maybe some people who claim to experience God are only experiencing a seizure, but who knows how many are actually, really and truly, experiencing God’s love directly? It’s only Sacks’s materialistic world view that prevents him from seeing this possibility!

Of course, Sacks knows full well that his article, and all the evidence it cites, could not hope to disprove the ultimate unfalsifiable hypothesis, god.

But it does show that the claim of experiencing the touch of God, even if taken as one’s honest and truthful view, need not require any actual god. We have, now, at least two competing hypotheses which both account for a feeling of overwhelming bliss.

Only one of which requires violating naturalistic assumptions.

Matters Of The Heart (… in a jar)

It’s all over the news–researchers at the University of Minnesota have “created a beating heart in the laboratory“. Basically, they used the protein fiber matrix from one heart, stripped of muscle cells, as a scaffold upon which to grow a new heart, using a solution of cells from another rat. Yeah. I know, all this talk about hearts is so romantic. So, in a bit of a reversal from my previous position, I return to the romantic view of the heart as the foundation of love, with a trio of little verses inspired by the heart in the jar. I can see it now… the picture above, on the front of the Hallmark card, with one of the following verses inside…

I’m new at this game,

And I don’t know your name,

But I love you, whoever you are;

My heart may be true

But it’s also brand new

I grew it myself, in a jar!

I can feel my heart grow,

So I love you, you know, 

And not like a cousin or brother;

I will give you my heart–

Every bit, every part;

If you break it, I’ll grow me another.

My heart is yours; it’s in a jar
That sits upon your shelf;
It’s happy being where you are
And not all by itself.
You asked me for a souvenir
To keep while we’re apart;
I thought a bit, and it was clear—
It had to be my heart.
And now, although my heart may soar,
It is no longer mine;
A message that forevermore
I’ll be your valentine.

A rat cadaver’s donor heart
Is stripped of every cell
The protein fiber matrix left
Looks like a ghostly shell;
This matrix, in a sterile flask,
Is bathed in rat-heart goo
With both adult and baby cells,
And starts to grow anew.
In only days, the growing heart
May beat, or merely twitch,
Then work, at roughly two percent…

Like yours, you heartless bitch.

Danger! Warning!

When bloggers write, with laptops, seated,
Bits of them get overheated—
Sitting in their rooms, retreated
To their hidden cloisters.
If I should hear “Well done! Well done!”
I hope they mean my writing’s fun
And not some cruel and heartless pun
About my mountain oysters.

The writers putting out these blogs,
Like robots built with well-oiled cogs,
Or samurai, or feral dogs,
Eviscerate their fools—
But now, it seems they face a danger,
Not from any foe or stranger,
Simply from a heat exchanger
Near their family jewels.

Though Yossi Vardi starts to warn
It’s not time, yet, to be forlorn
(Though if your kids are not yet born
You’re one unlucky putz.)
It is, however, time to plan,
And if you are a hopeful man,
To buy and use a cooling fan.
Oh, yes… and shave your nuts.

Thanks to Greg Laden.

Teratoma–or, Knit me a sister.

Shelley serves as my muse again today… The brain was not her first post about anatomically accurate knitting; there was a previous post on a cute and cuddly teratoma. Ok, so she calls it “complicated and grotesque”, but tomayto tomahto. But the knit teratoma is indeed cute and cuddly, if you ask me. So I thought I would try a slightly different spin on the whole idea of having had a twin who died and whose body, in the womb, was absorbed into yours in the form of a tumor with recognizable body parts.

I mean, that can’t be all bad, can it?

“Teratoma”, or “Knit me a Sister”.

“I have an invisible friend”, I said,
“But she doesn’t hide beneath my bed,
Or in my closet–no, instead,
I keep her tucked inside.”

“We do not mean to condescend,
But we all know, there’s no such friend;
This fabrication now must end.”
My Mom and Dad replied.

“But Mommy! Daddy! Please, I swear!
She’s closer than my teddy bear!
See my tummy? She’s in there!
I even feel her growing!”

My parents didn’t scream or shout;
They trusted me, despite their doubt,
And had a doctor check me out
When something started showing!

My friend was real! I hadn’t lied!
At first, my twin, but then she died.
The doctors cut me open wide
And shoveled out my basement.

I never knew I had a sister,
But once my friend was gone, I missed her;
So, knitting till she raised a blister
My Mom made a replacement!

By the way, the original source of the pictures also has a poem (or song) about it! And instructions!

Knit me a brain!

A tip of the cuttlecap to Shelley of Retrospectacle for reporting on the Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art

We’ve got sweaters to mend; we’ve got socks we can darn,
So pull up a chair, and I’ll spin you a yarn;
It’s a song with a Scarecrow-of-Oz-like refrain:
Please pick up your needles and knit me a brain!

I’ve knitted my bones, and I’ve knitted my brow,
But I’ve never seen brains knitted—up until now;
With each neural pathway a separate skein,
It’s Art and it’s Science, so knit me a brain!

Two hemispheres knit, and then reaching across ‘em
A beautiful, zippered-up corpus callosum;
Such fine application of knit, purl, and chain,
I want one myself—so please, knit me a brain!

With the brain’s convolutions appropriately gyred
This fabric creation has got me inspired!
My love for this art, I can hardly contain—
So how can I get one? Please knit me a brain!

Some people may tell you I’ve gone ‘round the bend
That the stuff ‘twixt my ears needs some decades to mend.
I could use some new grey-matter; mine’s gone insane,
It would not go to waste, if you’d knit me a brain.

You can see for yourself—why, just look at the time
I must take to obsessively put things to rhyme;
Something’s wrong, and I think that the answer is plain:
I need a replacement—so knit me a brain!

cellular biology…an excerpt

In every cell, the means of replication,
Monomers (they’re termed “nucleotides”)
A sugar and a base in combination
Link in helix, forming side by side;
Guanine will attach to cytosine
Always “G to C” or “C to G”
And thymine will as well, to adenine
With “T to A” or maybe “A to T”
The polymer called DNA is made
By adding monomers onto the end.
In living cells, a template strand will aid
The synthesis—the two strands now will bend
In double helix form, as we have seen.
The information carried in this strand
Will be transcribed by RNA; it’s been
Discovered that this process has a hand
In synthesizing proteins—but that’s still
To come—for now, we take a closer look
And see thymine replaced by uracil;
A slightly different way to write our book.


The one-eyed…nevermind…

At one time or other, each sister and brother
Has pondered the musical question
(The topic’s not easy, just take it from PZ):
How an eyeball is like an erection.

The answers may vary—be skeptically wary—
Like “Both can display your affection.”
Well, so can a rose, but that doesn’t disclose
How an eyeball is like an erection.

Perhaps evolution provides a solution
Both organs arise through selection
But so, then, do fingers; the question still lingers
How an eyeball is like an erection.

We may hope to deduce, if we try to reduce
To a chemical sort of connection
But will “similar stuff” prove an answer enough
How an eyeball is like an erection?

Nitric Oxide (you know, you can call it NO)
Causes GuMP to take up a collection
So that GuMP, for a lark, keeps your dick “in the dark”
Thus an eyeball is like an erection

Reproductive success got us into this mess
So it might get us out, on reflection—
But Viagra, we find, is not blindly designed
We distinguish both eye and erection.

With both vision and hearing, the answers are nearing
(Although we can’t hope for perfection),
And for now it’s just fine as a bad pick-up line:
How an eyeball is like an erection.*

(*answer: “It’s an empirical question—let’s experiment, and find out.)

Pharyngula asks the question…
…based on effectmeasure’s post.