Sep 18 2011

My Hippocampus is Bigger than Yours











From the future (2019 AD)

Competitive “Brain-Beauty” events, umpired by MRI scanners, are Earth’s most popular sport.  It’s startling to realize they’re only 2.5 decades old!

Rivalry in noggin-physique erupted in 2004 when University of Wisconsin neurologists gushed about the left front lobe (LFL) thickness of eight Tibetan Buddhist monks they examined. The Lhasa visitors — hand-picked by the Dalai Lama — had spent between 10,000-54,000 hours in “lovingkindness” meditation.  Hard work, but wow!  Hot results!

LFL voluptuousness — indicating Empathy and Compassion — quickly became the sexy fashion rage. On, Luddite facial photos were replaced by X-rays of intimate neocortex tissue. Presidential 2012 candidates were scanned live in expose TV programs, seeking a commander-in-chief with tender depth behind his left eyeball.  2013 launched the reality show Hunting for the Fattest LFL to locate the “World’s Kindest Person.” The winner? A Hindu widow who cheerfully volunteered at convalescent hospitals for 62 years, wiping quadriplegic assholes.

By 2o14 contests were exploding in every territory of the brain. Below I’ve listed the six major Mind vs. Mind categories that have replaced all the silly, abandoned games of yesteryear, that involved… ball possession?

Concerto in Corpus Callosum: Heinrich-Heine University researchers in Dusseldorf discovered in 1995 that the anterior region of the corpus callosum was up to 15% larger in musicians. Within a decade, the globe’s most prestigious music schools banned entrance to anyone with a cc skinnier than a piccolo. In 2017, the planet’s five most gigantic ccs were eventually located in disparate regions by “headhunters”and enticed into a world tour. Unfortunately, the quintet was quickly hospitalized and fired because their rotund ccs were cyst-and-tumor enhanced.

Go For The Gray, Mom:  Yale Hospital research revealed in 2010 that “mothers who gush about their babies” are increasing their brain’s gray matter.  The following year saw the daytime TV program Most Annoying Mommy feature fanatic females that breastfed and burped Buster on camera as they cooed that their hideous, spewing spawn was the most beautiful, special and perfect little angel that ever existed.  After listening to each contestant’s excruciating drivel, the audience guessed which “Annoying Mom” had enhanced herself with the highest total of post-natal neurons. The show was so painful to watch it was quickly replaced by it’s inverse, Most Depressing Post-Partum – a spectacle where miserable parents competed in cognitive decline.

Architectural Triumph: Myelin — aka “white fat” — coats the mainstream neural pathways as the brain eliminates it’s underused trails. By late puberty, 90% of cognitive connections are abandoned, but what remains is customized skull-stuff with alabaster thoroughfares, sculpted like a Banzai. The aesthetics of “pruning” one’s brain into an elegant pattern created a new cutting edge biotech job: Brain Surgeon Barber. BSBs can now — via routine craniotomies — snip, guide, and reroute sloppy myelin into a Maori tattoo design or a crop circle pattern. Post-op? You’ll feel like a “new person” because… you are.  It’s rare that anyone even remembers their name, or how the fuck they ended up in the drool-splattered salon.

Neolithic Amygdala: CalTech researchers in 2011 discovered that the amygdala, a dense wad of neurons in primitive brain territory, was wildly activated when neurosurgical patients were shown images of animals. Scientists theorize that the amygdala has beast identification skills so it can quickly determine what to do with the sentient creatures it faces:  Eat It? Scream? Piss On It? Discovery Channel soon introduced it’s Fight-Or-Flight show, pitting keen Stone Age Amygdalites vs. animals and each other. Yanomani tribals from the Venezuelan jungle ousted their main rivals, Melanesians from Papua, but their team was sadly wiped out when they inexplicably ate the wrong (poison-dart) frog in the amphibian contest.

Hefty Hippocampus: 1999 research conducted at University College London indicated that taxi drivers who pass the city’s 2-year training program developed far larger hippocampus posteriors than the average bloke. This doesn’t mean the cabbies grow “river cow” derrieres, it means they added size — and intelligence — to their spatial navigation centers. By 2013, the sports program I’m Not Lost!  was the world-leader, racing huge hippocampi across urban labyrinths. Popular episodes featured do-or-die mazes in exotic locales like Mogadishu. The show’s success prompted most taxis to replace the “yellow cab” color with pinkish-blue brain tissue hue.

Manly Man-Brain: Men’s brains are different than women’s. For example, the medial preoptic nucleus of the hypothalamus governs “male-typical” sexual behavior, and the bigger the man’s MP-ONH is, the more likely you are to hoist a red-hot erection around anything female. Viagra, by 2015, was wholly replaced by expensive MP-ONH that was jerked, still throbbing, out of male cadavers who had died in flagrant delicto.  Animal MP-ONH was also marketed, because it was significantly cheaper.  Unfortunately, this led to untidy episodes like the platoon of elderly Nebraska Legionnaires who assaulted 45 sows in gestation crates.

There’s numerous other cognition-combats to report on, but I’d rather take a break now and watch some “brain porn.” I heard there’s some smokin’ new videos of dopamine transmission…

Aug 23 2011

Atavism: Old is the New “New”


Sometimes, going forward means going backward.  After five hundred years of trying to transcend the physical world, humankind has begun to appreciate the innate genius of evolution’s distributed intelligence and put it to use in our modern lives.

The name for this movement is “atavism,” the return to the ancestral.  It manifests in the local gardening movement; in the Weston Price’s Paleolithic diet; in Terence McKenna’s archaic revival; in the move toward home-birthing and naturopathic medicine.  Culturally, “neotribal” events like Burning Man and the Rainbow Gathering reflect our growing restlessness with the individual mentality encouraged by the modern world.  In psychology, Jung’s explorations of the unconscious foretold later discoveries that traditionally unconscious organisms like plants and fungi may actually possess a distinct and alien awareness.  Esteemed academics like Richard Tarnas argue convincingly for a sober re-appraisal of astrology and other long abandoned ancient ways of knowing.  And in today’s increasingly organic, biologically inspired design landscape, scientists and artists are turning back to nature for inspiration on everything from computer processors to sustainable energy sources.

Naturally, our separation from nature will end in a world with some characteristics we would recognize as ancient.  Nature itself is ancient, and we are ancient too, to the extent that we know it lives in us and as us, as intelligent evolved reactions like emotion and thought.

We were never really out of harmony with nature — but we can feel that way.  Maybe that is why we prefer gear that reminds us of our biological legacy —because on some level, it is easier for us to see ourselves in it.  (Why else would we all fawn over computers pretending to be fruit?)

All of this comes to a head when we consider how biological “designs” now find their way into accessories intended to feel “evolved.”  As our ideas are connected by internet technology, they grow, mutate, and reproduce faster than ever before.  It is more and more obvious that they have a life of their own…and so it seems intuitive to give them the traits of living creatures.  Fuzzy alarm clocks, chirping smart phones, and teddy bears that talk back all evince our innate desire to infuse the world around us with the life we have within us.

Many people — including revered scholars like media theorist Marshall McLuhan — regard augmenting ourselves with ever-more sophisticated gadgets as a kind of amputation.  We can’t remember how to get to the grocery store anymore without looking it up on Google Maps.  But ritual scarring and other bizarre body modifications are the rule, not the exception, in human history.  Bluetooth headsets don’t look all that strange next to bound feet and stretched necks.  If we’re going to experiment with our bodies in creative ways, gear that mimics the patterns we see in nature seems like a more honest and integrated “amputation” than those intended to set us apart from the living world.  With accessories openly acknowledged as prosthetics, we can translate existing evolutionary adaptations from the Great Outdoors to the Concrete Jungle.

(Or, look at it this way: biomimcry is like outsourcing through time instead of space, having the entire world come up with an answer for you.  Biomimicry works because of natural selection, and in that sense the designed world is really no different from the wild world.  Civilization is one more thing that nature is doing.)

The lesson of atavism, anyway, is that evolution never really leaves a good idea behind. Our entire history is written in our genomes — old traits silent but not absent — waiting to be appropriate again in a new environment.  We lost our tails long before we even learned to stand upright… but now that we have more gadgets than two hands can hold, an iPad with a tail that holds itself up for us seems like a great idea.  While some of us labor to create machines that feel and others pioneer fin-shaped tidal energy generators, one thing is clear:  old is the new “new.”