Pretty Brains

From one of my favorite blogs, Neurophilosophy, comes this lovely image of a 19th century papier mache brain. Be sure to click through the caption so you can see the whole thing in multiple views. Speaking of brains, I enjoyed reading Jonathan Mayhew's inventory of his own neurological state, especially as it relates to music. What I know about music I've had to learn by conscious effort & my interest has been driven mostly by a love of language set to music. Song seems to me the very highest art. Here is a piece on the Miller-McCune blog about MRI studies of musicians' brains done while they are actually playing. (Unfortunately, the Youtube videos have been removed, thought it is still possible to find tape of Monk & Bird playing.) The problem of how the brain creates our human worlds is, I think, the basic problem of philosophy & science. Is the process of consciousness linguistic? I think so. That is, I don't think modern consciousness could have evolved without language. Consciousness requires a symbolic system. Not quite sure what to make of this large-scale color-naming experiment, but it suggests that there is strong clustering in color names among English speakers. Apparently, when babies -- before they develop the ability to talk -- see colors, a "non-linguistic" part of their brains processes the information. Not sure that makes the color perception any "purer," as the headline suggests, unless you want to associate language with impurity. Which, come to think of it, makes sense philosophically & mythologically: Eden & the Fall, the use of tools for labor, including language . . .

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

2 thoughts on “Pretty Brains”


    Like the air in paintings
    breathlessly caught
    and held

    or time dripping
    crouched to spring
    in the garden of
    walled larkspur

    we’re occupied
    by leaves
    their music of disaster
    shaking me

    some part of you that
    pauses but won’t
    be coming back.

  2. think i’ll jump in with this poem, of 3 decades back when i would think this way, that’s in my new book MINDWALKING 1937-2007 NEW AND SELECTED POEMS (Philos
    Press, 2008, Lacey, WA):


    All things are neutral in themselves.
    We bathe them in our feelings
    where we linger in traditions
    and temptations and our needs.

    When we are hungry and can find no food
    or expect a flowering that does not appear,
    the empty table loses all neutrality,
    the healthy vine withers in our eyes.
    All things seem neutral in themselves
    and yearning for completeness
    build themselves like neutral blossoms
    spreading past all accident.

    An exchange in words is neutral in itself.
    We choose a place that’s neutral in itself.
    Conversation’s interrupted by a knock.
    A steward enters and we meet no more.
    All things are neutral in themselves
    and seem to breathe outside of dream
    and sweep beyond all accident,
    act and process seeming neutral in themselves.

    At nightfall, other stories breed
    bloom, glare, slaughter of new wars
    as life fragments yearning for completeness
    build themselves like neutral blossoms.
    All things are neutral in themselves.
    There is no way to recover the past.
    Life fragments build themselves
    and spread beyond all accident.

    Reaching outward will not bring back
    the impression of breath, the past.
    There is no way to recover the core
    of life fragments yearning for completeness.
    All things seem neutral in themselves.
    Plainness and pretension fuse, combine.
    We are hungry—so we eat.
    A bud blossoms, flares, and falls.

    Life fragments yearning for completeness
    free within their needs and fragments
    build themselves, cracking fortresses
    in the sweep of normal menacing of masses.
    All things seem neutral in themselves,
    free within their needs and fragments
    spreading past all accident,
    act and process seeming neutral in themselves.

    The calculus of memory quantifies recall.
    We bathe things in our feelings
    and spread like neutral blossoms
    but beyond all accident.
    All things are neutral in themselves.
    Beyond all accident then we discriminate.

    Edward Mycue

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