Of reductionist computers and wholistic pesto

There is a lot of meaning in our everyday lives.

So my mantra for the week has been and is continuing to be “Finish things!” Whenever I am working on something, no matter what that may be, from writing to reading to washing dishes or weeding the flower beds, I come up with new things to do projects to begin, new paintings to sketch, photo art on glass mobiles for the window, etc,etc. So inevitably over the years I have acquired a sufficient number of incomplete tasks to “choke a horse.” And it turns out the horse is me! All those incomplete projects stack up, each one eating just a little bit of my attention, even when I’m not working on them. So instead of starting a whole series of new projects, my intention for the next few weeks is to complete as many old ones as I can. ( I can’t recall the number of people I have advised to do this for their own mental health. So, it’s time  I followed my own advice, eh?)

Typing on straight keyboards has always put stress on my wrists. It does for many folks, but I took the plunge and spent money on ergonomic keyboards, where the keyboard bends to fit your wrists instead of your wrists bending to fit the keyboard. (We’ve known about this problem for decades, yet people still spend thousands of dollars on carpel tunnel syndrome operations instead of adjusting the keyboard to their body. Wacky! But it keeps surgeons and insurance Banksters in high profit margins…) Anyhow, keyboards go bad after a while. And usually folks just buy a new one.  I’ve always been of a mind to try and fix things rather than just throwing them away. So I set a couple of ergonomic keyboards aside as they went bad, to fix later when I needed to. Today, after rewiring the overhead light in the kitchen to accept some old compact fluorescent bulbs I wasn’t using elsewhere, I decided was time to attempt such.  Amazing how much harder it is to take modern equipment apart than the older stuff that I trained on. (Been doing computers since the 60s when the first modular circuit boards using transistors came into use! No more switching out bad tubes!) Completely trashed the wireless keyboard just figuring out where they hide the screws to keep people from repairing them.  Better success with the wired keyboard. Got it apart, cleaned it a bit, put it back together again. Works fine now.  It is kind of funny how mechanical things are often repaired simply by taking them apart and inspecting them.  Living things… not so much!

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But, it got me thinking. How many kids grow up these days taking things apart to see how they work? Building crystal radios? Fixing door-bell wiring? Even taking apart old computers before they get taken to recycling when the newest model has been acquired? Our science today is built upon a model of reductionism for the most part. This is analytical science. Analysis is cutting things into pieces, Seeing what it’s components are. Give a primate a complex object and they will try to see what is inside: Kids, chimps, bonobos, … (Give a dolphin a complex object, and they will be Beep at it . They can see inside things that way, no tools needed. But only works for very low resolution differentiation.). So, mass marketing has trained us to just think of just consuming more and more stuff which is designed to break; And the garbage piles up, along with corporate profits.  Sit on your cellphone = Broken BlackBerry screen, equals many hundreds of dollars for a new Blackberry. Instead of $20 for a new screen, and having to watch a ten minute YouTube vid on how to replace the screen. No skill required. It IS the 21st century after all. Finding out how to fix things is easier than ever before!

However, more important than being able to fix things, and at the same time lowering the overall consumption-of-as-much-as-possible –  which is trashing the planet… this taking  things apart as a kid relates to science and analytic thinking , medicine and health and .. yeah a lot of things. College students rarely dissect anything in anatomy and physiology anymore. They do it in a virtual screen world instead most of the time now. The little computers everywhere have entered the land of magic for most folks. No clue how anything works.  It is all just magic!  No more need for even a calculator.  It’s an app on your phone. With no learning to think quantitatively by drawing proportionally, or using an abacus, or manipulating measured blocks, kids learn to punch in symbols on a small computer and read what comes out with no concept of what they are doing. No learning to use a slide rule or other analog computer that simulates rational thinking (rational as a term derives from figuring ratios after all.) Just straight at symbolic semiotics from age two.  And we wonder why scientific literacy is on the wane?! Ha! Interrobang

A heart-healthy meal

A heart-healthy meal

Sooner than I thought, it was time to make something to eat. Today’s evening entree: gemelli pasta al dente pesto (pesto made from home-grown basil – frozen in ice cube trays and bagged in a previous year) garnished with the first basil picking of this year – YAY!!! –  and the first purple basil I’ve grown in something like a decade! Contrast flavor; grape tomatoes. And the last glass of a bottle of organic red wine. Something old -something new. Nothing blue… Well maybe blue cheese and port for desert. And this meal leads me to wholistic thinking.

Italian food of the type described above is associated with lower blood pressure, healthier hearts, and so on. Most modern medical science comes at this data from the reductionist perspective described at the beginning of this article, and tries to determine which ingredient in what amounts causes the healthier heart. And pharmacologists coming from such a perspective tend to deride and ridicule those using herbs because they don’t know what amount of what biochemical they are taking. What reductionist science, by it’s very nature does not do well, is to see multifaceted multifactorial causal patterns. I have a friend who takes resveritrol capsules (that cost way more than a glass of wine). What if it is not just the resveritrol in the wine, but the alcohol, tannins, and other biochemicals in the wine, mixing with beta carotenoids and phyco-pigments and vitamins of various types in the tomato interacting with aromatic compounds from the basil, and it is the synergistic effect of all of them… And maybe combined with a happy family around the table which also lowers secretion of stress hormones, (which kind of meal setting I lack these days, as you can see in the picture),  What If it is all these factors combined. Not just an isolated single bio-chemical compound. Then modern medical science does not do well with it. No profit for Big Pharma there anyway, I guess.

Ecology is one of the few sciences that looks to try and understand, or at least begin to have a look at, the level of complexity in the world.  But even there in ecology, it is the simplified abstract models that have gained much credence amongst scientists. One carrot -> one rabbit -> one lynx.  More lynx -> less rabbits -> more carrots.  Maybe some dozens of kinds of algae feeding a handful of grazer plankton feeding some small fish or sea-jellies. But not hundreds and thousands or millions of species interacting. But at least it’s a step in the direction of looking at multiple interactions. We probably need a medical paradigm change, ecological medicine, rather than narrower tunnel vision to figure out cancer or heart disease or auto-immune dysfunction, etc. Looking to genetics that accounts for an extremely small percent of cancer won’t get us there. For example, the BRCA genes in the news currently account for 1 to 3 percent of breast cancers, at most. Diet and environment account for approximately 80% of such cancers.  Yes, we should change where we spend our money on cancer research.  But no, without computers as extensions of our brains, we lack the ability to deal well with such levels of complexity, other than on some deeper intuitive level. (And of course it is that deeper shaman-mind where most reductionist scientific discoveries come from too.) But we won’t get there if we trust some programmer in the cloud to do our computing for us without understanding, at least to some degree, how that works. Or if we never learn to think quantitatively, analytically, and synthetically. Creative thinking builds on these.

Analysis and synthesis are supposed to complement each other. So cook good nutritious meals for the kids that you all share together. And do let them take apart the broken television and put it back together before you take it to the recycling center. And DO let them do it when they are first curious to – not “later, after you grow up.” Curiosity is precious. Foster it!  (BTW – Do unplug the TV first before it gets attacked by kids armed with screwdrivers and pliers.  I learned that particular lesson the hard hard way as a teenager while fixing the radar during a storm in the ice berg lanes of the North Atlantic. The radar needed fixing, but could not be shut down, much less unplugged.  I do not recommend that particular school of hard knocks for kids!)

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