Fechner Day, 2014!

164 years ago today, Gustav Theodor Fechner awoke from a dream which would change his life, and the course of science itself. In his dream, Fechner had discovered the key to studying sensation and perception, the method to measure the mind itself. Of course we cannot simply turn up some switch and increase your awareness, or your sensitivity, or anything about your experience of the world; prior to Fechner’s dream, the only way to study your thoughts was… to think about them. Introspection, essentially. It could not be systematically controlled-indeed, the very thought of controlling the mind, that non-physical part of Descartes dualistic view of Man, was ludicrous. [Read more…]

Because. Just Because.

The American Dialect Society, which does this sort of thing, has voted that the 2013 Word of the Year is “Because”. Because reasons:

Presiding at the Jan. 3 voting session were ADS Executive Secretary Allan Metcalf of MacMurray College, and Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society and executive producer of Vocabulary.com and the Visual Thesaurus. Zimmer is also the language columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

“This past year, the very old word because exploded with new grammatical possibilities in informal online use,” Zimmer said. “No longer does because have to be followed by of or a full clause. Now one often sees tersely worded rationales like ‘because science’ or ‘because reasons.’ You might not go to a party ‘because tired.’ As one supporter put it, because should be Word of the Year ‘because useful!’”

“Because” was a runaway winner, which I think is wonderful, given that its competition included “twerk” and “selfie”.

The announcement is actually a pretty neat read, with the top five vote-getters in the “Word of the Year” category, but also “Most Useful”, “Most Creative”, “Most Unnecessary”, “Most Outrageous”, “Most Euphemistic”, “Most Likely To Succeed”, “Least Likely To Succeed”, and “Most Productive”. For people who have a fondness for words, it’s great fun.

Besides, I have a fond place in my hearts for “Because”.

Because

I’ve examined evolution, and I think I understand
Though the evidence is shaky, still I think the theory’s grand
But it’s only just a theory, so it’s only just a start
And an open-minded person should try picking it apart.
No belief without a reason! Give me proof of what you claim!
And the more I look, the more I see the evidence is lame!
When considering a tangled bank, I choose to see God’s Laws
And the reason I believe it? Just because.

Charles Darwin drew a picture of an ever-branching tree
From the earliest of creatures all the way to you and me
Other limbs produced the fishes, beetles, lizards, monkeys, ants,
Paramecia, bacteria, creationists and plants;
He supported it with evidence of every kind he could
Which I’ve critically examined, as a thinking person should;
Now I know that he’s mistaken in the picture that he draws
And the reason I believe it? Just because.

If you analyze it critically, as science says we must
You’ll find laws of physics broken, so the theory is a bust:
The second thermo-something law is busted into pieces
By the fact that evolution means that entropy decreases!
And random changes couldn’t make the creatures that we find,
So the evidence is clear, that we cannot be un-designed!
With castles out of playing-cards and armies made of straws
There’s the reason I believe it: Just because.

Now, with Darwin and his evolution clearly in the tank
There is only one alternative, if I am to be frank;
That’s the theory found in Genesis, the Holy Word of God,
And with natural selection out, creation gets the nod.
But we can’t be disrespectful to our deeply held belief,
So our critical examination, this time, must be brief
There’s no clothing on this emperor, not even filmy gauze—
But the reason I believe it? Just because.

Sure, the logic may be iffy, and the evidence is slim—
Who created the creator? And then, who created him?
Why the Genesis creation? Why not something else instead?
Can we guarantee the story is exactly what God said?
Is it literal or metaphor, or maybe outright fiction?
What’s the proper course of action when we find a contradiction?
I’m ignoring any nagging doubt within me where it gnaws
And the reason I believe it? Just because.

If I’m right, I go to heaven, which I’d really like to do
But I’ll go to hell for sure if I suspect that it’s untrue
It’s a simple little wager, there’s no reason to think twice:
You get punished if you’re naughty, you get presents if you’re nice
From the guy who watches all of us, from there behind his beard
(And who cares if it’s millennia since last time he appeared?)
And so, even if it’s really just a grown-up’s Santa Claus
Well, the reason I believe it? Just because.

Helping, And Not Helping

As bad as the news is from the Philippines, I hear the real situation is actually worse–that news agencies cannot confirm the worst of the stories because the normal communication channels that would allow confirmation are gone.

I hear that what is needed is not shoes, not canned goods, not blankets… but money. Which is convenient, as it is by far the easiest thing to give (if you are giving for the sake of giving; if you are giving to get rid of that old pair of jeans, you are not helping).

And I hear (seriously) that they have plenty of bibles already. Which reminded me of this old verse (that’s right, I am giving you the hand-me-down verses) from the earthquake in Haiti. (BTW, the audio bibles people actually read the verse and offered an interesting look at some of the constraints of giving, which makes it all the more important that you give money, and with no strings attached, to the groups that are able to get things done. FWIW, the Foundation Beyond Belief did their own checking and has decided to funnel money to the Citizens Disaster Response Center, if you want the name of a group that is able to get things done.)

Oh, yeah, the verse…

They were starving; they were homeless; they were dying; they were dead.
There were bodies to be buried; there were children to be fed.
There were broken heaps of rubble where the houses used to stand
There was utter devastation; there was chaos in the land.
There were frantic cries for rescue; there were howls of fear and pain
There were heroes risking life and limb, with much to lose or gain.
There were millions in donations—drinking water, food to cook—
And the most important gift of all… The Christian Holy Book.

While it cannot stave off hunger, and it cannot slake your thirst,
It’s the most important item, when your life is at its worst;
No, it cannot heal a broken bone; it cannot make you whole,
But a Bible, in your time of need, could save your mortal soul!
It’s the timeless sacred message from the Bearded Guy Upstairs,
And it speaks of His omnipotence, and tells you that He cares.
When your world is torn asunder, as your very country bleeds,
Who could doubt, the Holy Bible is the thing that Haiti needs?

It’s the latest, greatest model; it’s a solar powered job!
It can shout the Holy Scripture out, in Creole, to the mob
That has gathered there, expectant, in the hopes of some supplies—
When instead they hear the Word Of God, imagine their surprise!
We are sending them six hundred, and that takes a lot of space,
So we bumped some crates of water, and put Bibles in their place;
Planes will bring the Holy Bibles in, like manna from above…
Cos it’s Bibles, and not medicine, that shows True Christian Love.

Two-Year-Old Boy Carries Unborn Twin

It’s rare, of course, but not unheard of. This recent case from China:

…reminds me of the last time I visited this subject, thanks to Shelley at Retrospectacle (now defunct), when the muse was a… unique… knitting project.

“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!

There It Is! Oxytocin!

Just in time for Valentines Day, Scientific American has an article on oxytocin and long-lasting love.

If cupid had studied neuroscience, he’d know to aim his arrows at the brain rather than the heart. Recent research suggests that for love to last, it’s best he dip those arrows in oxytocin.

This article is better than most; oxytocin isn’t seen as the cause, but the mechanism, of one facet–an important facet, but just one of many–of love.
Back in ’09, it was the BBC reporting on other research, but it was oxytocin again.

In animals, scientists have observed that a chemical called oxytocin is involved in developing a bond between a mother and her young.
Professor Young believes it is very likely that a similar process is going on in humans.
“It’s just that when we experience these emotions they are so rich we can’t imagine that they are just a series of chemical events,” he said.
But even if that is true of maternal love, is romantic love simply down to a squirt of oxytocin and a few other love chemicals at a timely moment?
Professor Young thinks it might be.

I responded at the time, but since nobody pays any attention to invertebrates, I suppose it’s once more into the breach. These verses are an addendum to the Evolutionary Biology Valentine (most recently posted just a few days ago). They’d go between verses 2 and 3 of that poem.

The latest suspect, oxytocin,
Floods the brain when we draw close (in
Some perfumes they’ll add a dose, in
Hopes of that reaction)
The chemical increases trust,
So hopes are that it may, or must
Produce a love that’s more than lust
Or “animal attraction”

But oxytocin, too, controls
The bonding seen in prairie voles
Which act as if they pledge their souls
To one and only one;
Their cousins, though, the rats and mice
Behave as if they don’t think twice
And if some nearby rodent’s nice
They’ll surely have some fun

The differences twixt vole and mouse—
Why one’s a catch and one’s a louse—
If chemistry you would espouse
As why, I disagree—
The chemistry’s not why, but how
One rodent keeps its marriage vow
And one seeks out new fields to plow
Not why at all, you see.

Happy Birthday Charles Darwin!

In honor of his birthday today (sorry, Abe Lincoln, I don’t have one for you):

On the newsstand at the station
There it was, a publication
With a bold prevarication
Where it asked “Was Darwin Wrong?”
Darwin stands among the giants
Of our modern view of science
So, in answer and defiance
I’m replying in this song:

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin, take a look around today—
You might recognize the path we took, cos you showed us the way.
We will celebrate your influence with unabashed delight;
Happy Birthday Charles Darwin, you were right!

Variation in the features
Of all sorts of nature’s creatures
Was a sign of God, for preachers,
But you thought you’d take a look
It’s descent and not creation
That explains the population
So we start the celebration
For the guy who wrote the book

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin, take a look around today—
You might recognize the path we took, cos you showed us the way.
We will celebrate your influence with unabashed delight;
Happy Birthday Charles Darwin, you were right!

From the South Pacific Islands
To the bonny Scottish Highlands,
In the oceans and the dry lands
We can see the evidence.
From diversity most splendid,
We infer that we descended;
It was you who comprehended
And your impact was immense!

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin, take a look around today—
You might recognize the path we took, cos you showed us the way.
We will celebrate your influence with unabashed delight;
Happy Birthday Charles Darwin, you were right!

Well, the theory you created
Has, for decades, been updated,
But it shouldn’t be unstated
That it all began with you
That’s the way with any theory
Though detractors may grow weary
As they try to make folks leery
But they can’t deny it’s true

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin, take a look around today—
You might recognize the path we took, cos you showed us the way.
We will celebrate your influence with unabashed delight;
Happy Birthday Charles Darwin, you were right!

The Pope Is Stepping Down

So in his honor, a verse that speculates on what really goes on in the college of cardinals as they go about the business of selecting a new guy to wear the funny hat:

We struggle in vain to distinguish a Mass
From your typical Zombie behavior
As they guzzle down red by the bottle or glass
And delight in Filet of Our Savior.

Perhaps it’s a matter of what’s on the menu;
Your Catholic is more of a snacker,
But if you feel teeth on your shoulder, why, then you
Know zombies want more than a cracker.

When Jesus said “This is my blood that you drink,
And this is my body you eat”
Did something he knew of their tastes make him think
They were zombies, and lusting for meat?

Did the Catholic Church, from the time of Saint Peter,
Rejoice in the words that he said,
And at least once a week, become Zombie flesh-eater
And feast upon Jesus Undead?

I worry it’s some sort of slippery slope
Where they struggle ‘gainst gravity’s chains
And I wonder if Ratzinger got to be Pope
By eating the Cardinals’ brains.

Image by the wonderful Jessica Hagy.

When The Fetus Took The Stand To Testify…

… Because Bill O’Reilly has a short memory, he must have forgotten that Congress already tried to take testimony from a fetus.

Republican Congressmen sat in committee
And called, as their witness, young Tommy.
His presence was purely an act to draw pity;
The lad was still stuck in his mommy.

Their witness, unable to swear or affirm,
And unable to raise his right hand,
Looking less like a baby and more like a worm,
Reluctantly took to the stand.

“I’m glad you had time in your schedule to meet us”
The first representative smiled,
“Your perspective is needed; because you’re a fetus
We value you more than a child.”

The congressmen heard him, so loud and so clear,
Though Tommy, of course, had no voice;
(That’s the reason young Tommy was called to be here–
His mother, of course, had no choice.)

Tommy’s Mommy was there as a baby container–
What’s important is, Tommy was there–
If she’d spoken up, they’d have had to restrain ‘er
Cos Mom’s voice? We really don’t care.

Cuttlecap tip, of course, to PZ.

More on Ohio’s fetal testimony. and more. and more.

Not Sad, Just Amused

I got a payment from Lulu today (somewhere in the low double digits), representing my Christmas revenue from my books. Seven people got a copy of one of my books–in four countries on two continents! Which is really cool, actually. Ok, three of them got free copies (word to the wise–this means if you look in the right place, volumes one and two can be got for free), so a total of four people paid for my book this past Christmas season. And I love them for it.

You don’t get rich in the rhyme business. I figure I have earned roughly a dollar per original verse since moving here (excluding limericks, and excluding stuff from the old blog, the inclusion of either would bring the per-verse [not perverse] revenue significantly lower). This has allowed me to buy a few cephalopodmas gifts for the family I would not have otherwise been able to, and that is just fine.

But if any of you happen to be philanthropic billionaires looking for a tax dodge…

I’d shill for a shilling
But no one is willing
To pay for the things that I write.
I’d rant and I’d holler
For minimum dollar
But no one is offering, quite.
A couple of euros
To stuff in my bureau’s
Sufficient for verses like these;
Though some call it whoring,
I’m begging–imploring–
Come, sully my principles, please!
If someone would shell out,
I’d promise to sell out–
My standards, I’ll keep in my purse–
For now, though, I’m sighing
Cos no one is buying…
And all I can write is Free Verse.

Mind you, that one is from the old blog, so I don’t count it as earning me a cent. Oh, and the books are available at the “cuttlestuff” link at the top of this page, and it won’t bother me a bit if you hunt around for the free ones.

Updating The Menu (Halal Mermaid!)

Via Ed, we hear that there has been a change of dietary heart. Whereas it was apparently once the case that mermaid were officially (there was an official fatwa) off the menu, Ed reports that mermaids A) exist, and B) are halal.

I really never thought I’d have the appropriate excuse to repost this one, but it’s one of my favorites. You have to read it aloud to get the internal rhymes.

A fish connoisseur made paella with Mermaid;
He thought the aroma was nice.
With garnish of seaweed (his sycophants “oui-oui-ed”)
And saffron infusing the rice.
He clarified butter, and started to mutter
“It tastes like it’s really Mazola”
Then added blue cheeses: “the trick, if you please, is—
With Gorgon, you need gorgonzola!”
With minimum bluster, he gutted and trussed her;
You see, in his studies, he’d learned
That the delicate features of mermaid-like creatures,
If left unattended, get burned.
The succulent breast of (as well as the rest of)
The meal, would make proud its creator;
I was told that one bite would bring utter delight,
And I could not refuse… so I ate her.