You need to cry

When was the last time you cried? From loss, joy, relief, fear, gratitude? When was the last time you let yourself be that vulnerable?

Well, I’ll recommend it, especially on Thanksgiving. Because, I think, there is no way to really, truly give thanks without shedding a tear. Otherwise, you’re holding back. Not nearly thankful enough.

Yesterday a friend gave me a book, and I’m recommending it to you. There’s a couple of them, in fact. But first, know that these books will make you cry tears from being embraced by someone who knows, who cares, who has seen every thing you’ve been  through, and can see through you, as well. They will bring tears back to your eyes from things you’ve been hiding from yourself. That’s good.

Each was written by someone twice as smart as I ever thought I was, and twice as wise as I will ever be. Each was written by someone who may, just may, have a bit of the antidote for the toxic, inauthentic, self-absorbed yet indifferent world some of us can’t seem to find our way through. Each was written by a woman with strength that would intimidate a roomful of warriors.

Warning: these books are at times explicit, but always honest, human, literate; they will make you cry because of what the writers are not afraid to look at, not afraid to see, not afraid to feel. These books are emotional fire storms.

They will give you reason to say thanks.

“tiny beautiful things,” by Cheryl Strayed.

“Bluets,” by Maggie Nelson.


In writing Chalice, and now again researching It’s Nobody’s Fault, I stumbled across the idea of “who” we think we are. This “sense of self” actually has a home in the left hemisphere of our brain, and it basically integrates all sorts of inputs.

Dr. Michael Gazzaniga has called it the “Interpreter.” I call it “Weaver.” Three quick thoughts, then I’ll leave it alone, for now.

First, it is important to know that one of Weaver’s primary jobs is to give reasons for what is happening in our world. Weaver is constantly weaving yarns of various colors into cause and effect, weaving them to make up our “reality.” That’s what Weaver does. Weaver explains. Always. Constantly.

Secondly, the fabric Weaver creates out of all these inputs is only as good as what Weaver gets by way of information. Some of that information is bogus. Not only external information, but internal, as well. My amygdala may fire a flash of fear through the circuits, and Weaver won’t know it’s a false alarm. Weaver will know only that there has been a signal of fear. Weaver will find an explanation for that signal, usually external, because Weaver explains. Always. Constantly.

This has been called “Tigers in the grass.” We evolved to run from tigers, so we run when the grass moves, even when it is only the wind.

Finally, it is possible to catch Weaver in the act. It’s a two-step process for me. First, I recognize that my unnatural calm may be the result of the chamomile tea, nervousness might be the coffee, the twinge is from seeing a car like one driven by someone I used to know, getting up to do something may not be because it needed to be done five minutes ago, but the result of a memory that just drifted through I did not want to face.

In other words, what I think is happening, even with my own emotions, is not necessarily what is happening. It feels real, Weaver says it is real, but it might not be.

Then I sit and watch Weaver work. That gives me space. It takes a few minutes now, it used to take longer, to put Weaver in his place. He doesn’t stop weaving or explaining, because Weaver explains. Always. Constantly. But, after a few minutes, “I” am no longer being yanked around at the end of his leash.

Dudley’s, at 1 p.m. tomorrow

A few people are going to join me at Dudley’s Bookshop Cafe in downtown Bend tomorrow, at 1 p.m., to discuss some of the philosophy tucked into various passages of “Chalice.” Whether you’ve read the book or not (Dudley’s has a few for sale), or have questions about the book, writing or publishing, come on down for a bowl of soup, cup of coffee or tea, and some conversation. We’ll be upstairs.


Behind tiny hands, eyes are hidden; if my soul window curtains are closed, I am not home; behind tiny hands, myself is hidden.

But, when I pull them aside, for a tiny peek, my laugh burbles out when I see your eyes are still there! When I look at you looking at me! Your curtains are open! We are co-incident! Quick! Close my hands, close my curtains, hide these eyes!

Everything disappears. Except time. Time always moves away from itself, sometimes leaving me behind but always taking me with it: This is now, not then, I am different because I own that then in this now, I am different now because I eye I have been waiting, behind these hiding hands, until I spread fingers so slightly you won’t even notice… I am invisible until… I peek out… and see you looking BACK AT ME!

Hah! Connection is timeless!

You looking at me looking at you, peek-a-boo!

On hearing “no.”

In hearing “no,” I think we also succumb to “what if.”
What if he/she/they had said “yes?”
Then I would be rich/validated/happy.
And would not have to feel the pain of “no” anymore.

You’re right. Those very things often go through my head. Finding happiness ourselves is easier said than done…

Easier said than done, because we’ve been taught to look in the wrong places.

“This moment” is woven, on a loom of evolved wiring, from strands of bird song, thanking me for the seed, tragic news of a typhoon and a shooting, from the zing of this morning’s coffee and lull of last night’s chamomile, the slight pain of a sprain from yesterday’s run, echos of childhood loss, all etc.

Our brain does this weaving, always, but often with yarn that is too thin, of the wrong dye, sometimes of the wrong wool. But weave it does, constantly, because it is Weaver, and the cloth is “me.”

To protect us, Weaver learned to double the knots of fear and pain, to twice the count of hoped-for gain, even when loss is of something only imagined. So “NOs,” when they come, pack twice the wallop as the “Maybe?” pushed across the table by Weaver, with a shy smile.

The trick?  You’ve said it so many times: Be real, let go of the knots, be kind, breathe, do what you love and for the right reasons, be honest, have faith. Repeat. It’s not easy getting past Weaver to the barrels of yarn. In fact, it’s damn hard, because Weaver weaves even that effort into patterns it already knows. But, it can be done.

You’re just a wave, you’re not the water.*

At the end of his wonderful 2011 book, “Who’s In Charge,” Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, a neuroscientist, writes: “Understanding how to develop a vocabulary for those layered interactions (at the interface between mind and brain)…constitutes the scientific problem of this century.”

Not just the interface between brain and mind. Also the interface between self and other, pieces and the whole, man and society. That was the job of philosophers: To develop a new vocabulary, because the vocabularies that evolved since we stood on two legs have failed to keep up.

We’re blinded by these limits of our inherited languages, the evolved systems of our brain, and the obvious material success of abstraction. Except for mystics, who spoke in riddles: everything is nothing, the void, being itself, be here now.

But the words, and the images, have  been right in front of us the whole time, we just couldn’t see: It’s a wave, an organization, created by simple sets of rules, that communicates across the interface between systems.

A school of fish has coherence, but there isn’t time for a message to spread to each fish to turn “left.” The school remains organized because each fish inherited simple rules about how far to stay from its neighbor. Rules about proximity keep a flock of geese together in the wind.

Similar rules allow traffic to flow on the freeways. We don’t think of water molecules as having free will, but the very same mathematics that describe the flow of a fluid describes the flow of traffic. Someone hit their brakes when their coffee spilled, and set up a whorl that persisted for hours.

All we know at the interface is a set of simple rules. Don’t change lanes if someone is there. Don’t rear end the car in front of you. Those rules result in behavior that is wave-like when viewed in the aggregate.

Quantum mechanics gives us fits. A photon is either particle or wave… depending on how we measure it. A wave with no medium but one that is organized, and at times described as “coherent.”

We can’t imagine an ocean wave without water. But we can imagine that wave as an organization of information about an earthquake that occurred hours ago and thousands of miles away. Time and space. Look closer. Several waves. Closer still, a single wave. Peak and valley. Each part of the wave reflects information about the earthquake, a hologram, a fractal.

Clarity decreases the tighter we focus, according to Heisenberg. The wave disappears, organization disappears, when we look only at a water molecule and don’t know where it’s going.

What’s worse: that monad may be influenced by more than one wave at a time. Another wave from a squall near Hawaii interferes with the earthquake message, sends information that reenforces or perhaps cancels, temporarily, the movement of one molecule. Our driver pulls to the side of the road to let an ambulance pass. Different rules apply, then don’t, and traffic flows like water.

Blended chords wash over us, conveying laughter, or sadness. Remove the oboe, then the violins. Look small enough and the last musical note is nothing but a blip, as frequency disappears. Then, what we see is the result of what we have chosen to look at, and it’s no longer a symphony.

At the interface, simple rules convey information between systems in ways that seem like magic, when spoken in our old languages, to brains that evolved subsystems to dodge snakes and run from tigers. That brain never needed to know that neural net subsystems process, reenforce and cancel, to achieve results feeding other nets, waves of information flowing in both directions.

We talk as if we live in a binary world. Yes/No, zeros/ones, self/other, alive/dead. But we do not. We live in a world of potentials, of gradients, of transmission — of waves that bounce, bend and reflect upward and downward, information conveyed by simple rules at the interface that lead to organization, causation in both directions.

Mathematician Gödel blew up one of the grandest efforts of philosophy in the 20th century with the observation that any self-referencing system could not be both coherent and complete. For wonderful explanations of this, see Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by  Douglas Hofstadter.

But if we assume that any such system both refers to itself and does not, then incoherence, or incompleteness, disappears. Is that itself incoherent? Not if we let Gödel pet Schrodinger’s cat, a potentiality, a wave, peak and valley, pressure and not, created by rules that govern observation of elements in the subsystem.

Waves exist because of alternation over time communicated by rules between elements. For a single molecule, there is no wave, just a monad in waiting, ready to follow rules that don’t apply until it moves. Hit the brakes to keep the distance, then accelerate, change lanes to fill the gap and traffic flows like water, or sand through an hour glass, described by simple equations that do not reference free will.

Here is the tricky part. Where do those rules come from? Why does the spiral of sunflower seeds match the spiral of a conch, and both match the spiral of this galaxy? Fractals may be Fibonacci’s children, but math does not govern, it describes something that does. What is that? Being as such, the Hand of God, a chance collection of rules that may or may not apply in the universe of dimensions next door?

I don’t know. But a key to the door may be that simple rules between entities create organisms of information that have the power of causation  between systems and subsystems that otherwise seem unrelated, to our old paradigms. I believe this crossing at the interface can best be described by the mathematics, and metaphor, of waves.

*Jimmie Dale Gilmore

A course I’d like to teach

I would like to teach a Freshman college course. I would name it, “Essential Tools,” and it would center around three texts:

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond.

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter.

Guns, Germs, and Steel won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997, Gödel, Escher, Bach in 1980. Kahneman won a Nobel Prize and Thinking, Fast and Slow summarizes much of his earlier work.

The course “concept” would be “Who are we, and how did we get this way?” It’s not political, and would puncture much of what pretends to be political discussion. It’s not religious, and would be rejected by fundamentalists of any religion. And it’s not Philosophy, because it talks about things we understand.

There are other great books out there, of course. I won’t name any other favorites because every time I bring this idea up in conversation, other people immediately provide their own list. There are obviously too many “essential texts” for any of them to be essential. This is mine.

I lament that I seem to be as old as I am, that I feel as if humility has been replaced by entitlement, that thoughtful discussion seems quaint, that ideas that take more than 140 characters to “articulate” are boring, that “reality TV” does not offend, that compromise is thought of as surrender, that “on-message” is more important than governing, that “news” has been replaced by opinion in a media war of words where “truth” is collateral damage, that I am living in a declining culture that has given so much to the world.

In teaching this course, I’d hope to give a sense that some of the ideas we hold most sacred are fictions that we have been told, and that we tell ourselves: useful, satisfying and false. I’d hope to call out those assumptions we regard as absolutes, and create a sense of wonder.

I’d hope that one student, somewhere, would be able to make a difference, do what I’ve never done.

The new book

Some progress has been made on the new book. But, oh boy, is it slow.

Some of the difficulty is what Steven Pressfield calls “Resistance,” a force field of repellant energy pushing me away from my computer, from the books I need to do research, from the task at hand. It is powerful, and incessant. And some of the difficulty is because “It’s Nobody’s Fault” is hard work. Period.

There are four parts in this book. Yesterday I roughed in key information for the third part that looks at the science of attachment disorders, from about 1940 to today. “Science” requires both a theory, and evidence for that theory that is reproducible.

Bringing science to psychology has not been easy, because the evidence is hard to sift. Minds are not brains, and behaviors are not neurons. But they are all related, and nailing down those relationships is difficult. Not only are some things hard to observe, but, like quarks, their existence has to be inferred, because they can not be seen, at least not with the eyes we use to look at the dog, or the computer screen.

When we look at the computer screen, what do we see? Are we seeing glass and plastic and aluminum? Are we seeing pixels turning on and off? Are we seeing words and images? Are we seeing psychology and philosophy?

Are we seeing all of these at the same time? And if so, what system of language can we use to describe the entire vision?

This, you see, is why it is slow going.