The Crow's Dream

Philosophy, geekery, and the meaning if life, and what I read this week…

Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Running Back

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After looking over my last entry, I realized that I might have come across as pretentious. I mean, who wants to hear about another nerd turning his life around through exercise? I can almost hear condescending Wonka saying something along the lines of “so, you’re running a half marathon… Please tell me about how special and challenging it is so that I can aggregate it to the other 3000 posts from everyone running in it.” Okay, I am pretty sure that condescending Wonka could come up with something a little bit more clever, but that is exactly the point: the fact that I will be running for 13.1 miles shouldn’t be all that special. It seems to me like exercise and movement should be a natural part of everyone’s life. There is nothing extraordinary about my undertaking. What attracted me to it is that it feels natural, like something that should have been doing along time ago.

I have to admit that when I decided to do this I thought I was doing something pretty major. After all, I only know a few people who run regularly, but after watching a few documentaries about the process, and after looking at pictures of the marathon itself I can see that there are plenty other people out there who can do at least twice of what I am attempting to do, and they do it much, much faster. I am not writing this to trivialize the actor running, and please, if you’ve been working hard to achieve what may now seem like an impossible goal, do not take this the wrong way. What I’m actually trying to say is that when we run, move, and exercise, we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing. Although it hasn’t happened many times yet, sometimes, when I’m on the treadmill or the road I disappear, and I feel an amazing sense of unity with the rest of the universe. It is almost as if I was carrying on with the task that was begun by the first bacterium capable of locomotion. It is difficult to articulate this vision, but it would seem that they runner’s high might have evolved for an essential reason.

In this article, scientists wonder about the causes behind the powerful endogenic reaction to running humans experience, and about why it is so remarkably pleasurable when the extraneous activity is both dangerous, and costly. Why do humans, as well as apparently dogs, enjoy it so much?

Although it is only speculation, Christopher McDougall, provides what, to me, seems like a valid explanation for the evolutionary development of this trait. He argues that our need to run in packs might have had something to do with it being rewarded by the bounty of protein calories provided by hunting. MacDougall believes that humans learned to outlast even the fastest animals by developing the ability to run incredible distances. Although not perfect, by any means, his explanation seemed to make sense, and provided me with a nice origin myth about why we run. Enjoy the video!

Click here to watch the video

McDougall’s explanation propelled my imagination as I moved though my workouts. I imagine a vast savanna and a tribe of hunters chasing after a few tired antelopes. The mention of dogs in the other article makes me wonder if hunting in packs was something that made the ancestors of dogs and humans become enamored with each other to the point where it’s almost impossible to think of a stereotypical human American family without thinking about a dog.

I wonder if the ritual of putting on our flip-flops, and bath robes on in order to sleepily take our useless, but nevertheless lovable, Chihuahuas, and Pomeranians out for a walk originates deep within our genetic memory. I wonder if, just like us, small dogs running through urban parks, and avenues feel that twinge of ancient power course through their veins as they forget about their small doggie issues. Is that why we run also? It is true that we no longer have to worry about capturing the fleeting calories cohabitating with us in a dangerous environment. We rarely have to worry about mountain lions, and Tigers chasing after us, but we stillrun. We put on our soft and comfortable, sweat absorbent clothing, and carry small water bottles attached were belts, as we listen to music.

Many people run, bike, walk, swim, and move for exercise. We do it because that’s what makes us feel like a part of our ecosystem. It is as natural to us as telling stories, and while I might agree that I am one of thousands of people doing what everyone else is doing, I can say, that without the shadow of a doubt it is a privilege, and in honor to run with the human pack as we make our way through the history of this small but beautiful world.

Written by Hector

April 30, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Some Thoughts on Dark Matters

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So I was reading an article in the Scientific American website that tells us that Dark Matter is one of those things modern Science is really far from completely understanding. The article says that although Dark Matter makes up the majority of the Universe, we only know it is there, because of its gravitational influence on the rest of the cosmos.

My interest in the article, however, became somewhat more personal when I noticed the comment section. Apparently, a few people. had taken it upon themselves to point out that Dark Matter is actually a manifestation of human consciousness. Here is what they said:

Dark Matter is the manifestation within our consciousness of the darkness within our hearts

Of course, the comment could have been a joke. One can hope.

It seems like every time we run across some sort of barrier to our our understanding, someone has the need to fill in the gaps with creative storytelling. We all do it, though. When we worry about something, it is often because of what we imagine will happen if we don’t. It is because we do not have enough information, so we imagine things to make us feel better about the lack of information. The same holds true about our daydreams. As long as they remain as dreams, they are merely a convenient way to avoid interacting with a universe filled with Dark Matter, and other Weird stuff we do not understand. I am not against daydreaming, as long as we know that failing to act on it renders it in to a very cool form of entertainment.

According to the article, it may be 10 years until we figure out what a whopping 96% of the universe actually is, but in the mean time, we should get used to dealing with imaginative “revealed” explanations. Maybe, however, Some of us can choose to embrace the beautiful uncertainty and mystery of the world around us. I, for once, will gladly wait 10 years to Know what dark matter really is.

The imageon this article is in the public domain

Written by Hector

July 12, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Posted in science, thoughts

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White Matter

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White matter is very important for skill acquisition. In his book, The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle argues that white matter is a sort of insulant that helps solidify what we learn, making mastery possible. Coyle argues that deep practice reinforces neural circuits, which are covered with insulating white matter.

Coyle provides some practical advice for those of us wishing to level up our skills. The main idea is to practice, and to practice deeply.

Speaking of white matter, RadioLab recently re-aired an episode on deception. In it, white matter is linked to people’s ability to come up with lies on the spot. It seems like compulsive liars, according to some preliminary research, are more likely to have high amounts of white matter in their brain. This fits with Coyle’s ideas, since this kind of matter would make it possible for someone to access well insulated synaptic connections to come up with a good lie. Neither theory accounts for the compulsion to lie, however. I think this is because the relationship between lies and white matter is not causal.

Whatever the case may be, it seems like white matter is expanding our understanding of the brain now, as much as gray matter did in the fifties. I like to think of it as the gift of liars, athletes, and writers.

This brief article is based on my understanding of the subject, but I’m not a neurologist, so check out Coyle’s book and the RadioLab Episode let me know what you think.

According to, the image in this article is in the public domain

Written by Hector

July 11, 2010 at 5:44 pm

Mind Hacks: The mighty fortress of belief

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Here is an awesome article about belief. It might have subconsciously inspired my own. Though I didn’t get a chance to read it until today. Enjoy!

Mind Hacks: The mighty fortress of belief.

Written by Hector

July 5, 2010 at 4:43 pm