Your Brain on Science!!!

Boy, do I love me some science.  If you read this blog with any regularity you already know this, especially my fascination with quantum physics.  I maintain that not only will quantum physics change EVERYTHING that we know about our universes (that’s right: plural, bitches) it will lead to a new way of worshipping, as we gain an understanding of  how close we are to the creator at all times and how very tangible and “close” that presence is.  It gets me giddy and excited.  But there are plenty of regular-old scientific principles and miracles that get me fired up.  Stuff like space travel and medicine.  There’s so much that we don’t know, and seeing humanity figure that stuff out gives me a big ol’ knowledge boner.  I am literally in awe of the world out there, and equally impressed with the complex machinery that is the human body.  For example:

I’m driving down a busy street in Ft. Wayne the other day.  Lima Road, to be exact. (For those outside of our great city, that’s pronounced like the bean, not the Peruvian city.)  As I drove, I casually reached over to my dashboard and selected for myself a delicious piece of Trident gum.  I do so enjoy good gum!  So, as I drove with one hand, I unwrapped the little piece of chewy, minty goodness (they are incredibly small when you think about it) with the other.  It was right at this moment that  a woman in her (seemingly) early-eighties with Idaho plates drifted right on over into my lane without signalling, forcing me to apply the brakes to avoid disaster.  During the course of my Star Trek-like “full stop” maneuver, I was able to get the wrapper off of my gum and toss it into the trash bag on the floor of my passenger seat area.  Eventually the nice elderly fellow traveller got her speed up and I eventually made it to my destination unmolested and with a completely intact vehicle.

I’m going to END YOU, Watson!!!

After this incident, I sat there in traffic and thought about what had happened.  The whole thing.  It was fucking mind-blowing.  A goddam miracle.  Fuck!  (Sorry about the language.  I was just sort of overwhelmed, asshole.)

“Whoa, whoa, WHOA!!” you yell at your computer monitor.  “You got all psyched because you almost hit an old lady?”

No, although that did give me a momentary sense of elation.  Moreover, I was intrigued by everything that had happened in that fifteen-second span.  Let’s break it down:

1) I’m driving a fucking motor vehicle.  Forget about the technical marvel of American ingenuity itself, my Ford Escape.  Never mind that this thing works on a principle of burning a fuel made from the carcasses of animals and some plant material that existed several million years ago and was subsequently mined from the ground and refined so that I may cause a chemical reaction by applying heat as the result of a combustion predicated by a tiny spark when I turn a metallic key, resulting in continuous pressure moving pistons in a manner that turns a crankshaft which propels my vehicle forward in a speed ratio that is determined by how much pressure I apply to a footpedal.
God DAMN that’s a lot of stuff to wrap your mind around already.  But forget all that.  No, it was the fact that I was using literally all of my senses simultaneously. Eyes detecting a bunch of variables:  the cars in motion around mine, the distance to the intersection a block away, the fact that the light is green now but calculating that by the time I reach said intersection it may have turned yellow or red, meaning that I must anticipate the braking required to come to a complete stop.  My sense of touch on the wheel and sense of inertia.  My ears listening to the radio but also picking up engines, sirens, horns, etc. all around me. My mouth is watering at the thought of a delicious piece of chewy candy, and my nose can already smell the mint. And now we get to the motor skills…

See, kids, gum gets SOFT when you put in in your mouth, unlike…um…

2) Oh, did you say MOTOR SKILLS?!?!  YES, MOTHERFUCKER, I DID!!  And I ain’t talkin’ ’bout my skills behind the wheel, even though I know for a fact I am the greatest driver in Indiana. (Citation needed.) No, I’m just saying that it takes an INCREDIBLE amount of fine motor skills to open a piece of gum with ONE HAND while not even looking at it!!  Seriously:  how the hell does the human body do this shit?  How does the brain remember the exact, minute little adjustments to the electric signals it sends to your muscle fibers which tell them to contract or expand in a precise manner at the right fucking time?!?  While, Might I add, also running a million different computations related to keeping my dumb ass on the road or even remembering to apply the right amount of pressure to the gas pedal to maintain the current speed?  HOLY SHIT!!!  Seriously, we as a species are generations of scientists and their smart kids away from developing a robot that can successfully navigate a flight of fucking STAIRS, let alone a robot that can navigate a flight of stairs while carrying a load of laundry and avoiding that goddam cat trying to make you trip.  And here was I, just humming alone down the road at 40 MPH unwrapping a piece of gum, disposing of the wrapper, and totally not killing anyone, including myself, in the process.  And something else I can do that no stinkin’ droid can do?  Predict the future.

Although they sure know how to fuck it up.

3) “WHOA, YOU DONE FUCKED UP NOW, SON!” you’re yelling between sips of bottled water.  “Oh, have I?” is my smug retort.  Forget my simple “is the light going to change?” example.  I have a better one.  My lovely wife Heidi and I were enjoying some Stanley Cup Playoff Hockey in our home in New Bern, North Carolina back in 2002.  The Carolina Hurricanes were playing the evil Detroit Red Wings.  In one particularly awesome contest, the play was pretty balanced, but you could observe by watching that the Wings were slowly getting the momentum all to themselves.  Wave after wave of attackers crashed the net.  The Canes made counter-attack after counter-attack.  It was a nail-bitingly awesome contest.  Suddenly, there was a neat play by Detroit at the Carolina blue line and my wife, who had been in keyed-up silence for a while blurted “Shit, they’re gonna score.”  Two strides, a pass, and a shot later and the red light flashed.  Wings were up.  Fuck.  Why, at that particular time, had it occurred to her that a goal was about to transpire?  The last forty minutes of play had been literally back-and-forth, end-to-end warfare, a pitched battle for loose pucks and heroic saves by both goalies.  So why THEN?  How did she know (and she did, obviously) what was about to happen?  Because she saw the future.

Pictured: NOT my wife.

Okay, not LITERALLY.  But her brain took in all the available information.  It saw the positions of all the players from both teams.  It figured out who was out of position.  It was aware of how much time was left in the period and whether anyone was off-side. It perceived the Detroit players movements and predicted them.  Her incredible mind extrapolated all the data and came up with one inescapable conclusion: the red Wings were going to score.  The odds against it in that one microsecond were too great.  It was the only way things could transpire. Oh, and her mind came to this conclusion in about a tenth of a second.  Instinct?  Peh.  There is such a thing, sure.  But only because the brain makes it happen.  You know how they say that really good baseball hitters can literally see the laces of the ball as it comes at them?  Their brains are so finely-tuned that they literally notice the things we don’t and are able to act on them in a way that seems super-human, but that capacity is in everyone.  Maybe not equally so, but it’s there in some measure.  We just don’t use those skills all the time, those skills that require sifting through a massive amount of data and stimuli to do that one thing that is required in that moment: hitting the ball, scoring the goal, avoiding the cat, unhooking the bra…or unwrapping the gum whilst driving.

To say nothing of reading an overly-wordy blog about science and your incredible brain.  Yes, yours.

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4 responses to “Your Brain on Science!!!

  1. My mind could explode from the minute details of how intricately our body, minds, and surroundings work that intrigue the hell out of me on a normal basis… thanks for sharing your most recent intellectual blowout!

    Like

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