I am younger in my dreams

Que reste-t-il de ces beaux jours?
Une photo, vieille photo
De ma jeunesse…

-Charles Trenet

I have found myself remembering my dreams more than usual lately, perhaps due to a few months of nightmares that I can’t seem to shake. Obvious ones come in the form of panicked work-dreams — heart-pounding anxiety dreams where I wake panting and needing a cool glass of water to calm me down. Others are more nebulous and unclear in their imagery. And then there are the ghosts.

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Thoughts After my First Float

When I was young, I decided to make a thorough tour of my local library by starting at Dewey Decimal 000 and working my way up. I didn’t get too far because I got very wrapped up in 110 – Metaphysics and 130 – Parapsychology. Aside from books discussing psychokiesis, ESP, ghosts, and transmutations of the soul, there were books that discussed various states of consciousness and the (miraculously extensible) limits of the human body. This is where I first learned about things that continue to exist on the fringes of science, but that seem to be reaching more into the mainstream public’s spotlight of attention — lucid dreaming, cryonic preservation, and sensory deprivation, among others.

In works mentioning sensory deprivation, John C. Lilly’s work was inevitably highlighted. In the 1950s, while working at NIMH, Lilly — yes, the same Lilly that gave LSD to dolphins in the name of science — was at the forefront of a whole cadre of scientists investigating the effects of sensory deprivation. Although most of those scientists concluded that sensory deprivation was harmful and caused distress, Lilly was one of the few to realize that the methods employed by those other scientists were suspect. In an early lecture on isolation tanks reproduced in Tanks for the Memories,tanks_for_the_memories Lilly notes that others were strapping participants into chairs and forcing them to stare at blank walls, having them lie motionless in artificial respirators (iron lungs), or placing paper over their participants eyes while shining a bright light against the paper and playing loud white noise in the background (deprivation through masking stimuli). Tellingly, none of those participants asked to repeat those studies, particularly as prolonged sitting in one position can produce considerable discomfort / pain. Lilly’s method was notably simpler — put people in water in the dark. Much like me, Lilly was the type of scientist who believed that if you are going to subject people to an experiment, you should run yourself in it as well (excepting things like drug therapies tailored to certain illnesses, of course), and he and his wife subjected themselves to hundreds of hours of accumulated isolation time. They found they were absolutely hooked on it. Likewise, participants begged to be able to participate again and again, and from there, the whole thing took off. Lilly found himself building tanks wherever he went and making converts of those who tried it (including physicist Richard Feynman!). In the public’s hands, though, reports started getting more… mystical. People reported visual hallucinations, sudden healing, out-of-body experiences, spiritual breakthroughs, the ability to see into the future (<– I kid you not)…

Clearly, I was interested in trying it for myself.

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Monolingual Neanderthals

This post, is, of course, not particularly serious, even though the premise might be an interesting one to see better stats on. It all centers on this article out of the Telegraph last month. Go ahead — read it. It’s short. But if you don’t want to, the basic gist is that the UK made language classes optional, and British school children don’t seem to really be all that interested in taking foreign language classes if they’re not required. Enrollments have dropped almost by half in the past 10 years to the point where the average number of languages spoken by Brits today is: 1.0. Since I assume few Brits speak fewer than one languages, this means the entire country is almost exactingly monolingual.  What’s doubly interesting to me is that most of Europe isn’t much better. The continental average: 1.4. Now, I’m going to take a wild, wild leap here, and wonder about the possible connection to other phenomena.

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I was wrong

In the last post I made, I gave some of my thoughts on Quentin Atkinson’s Science paper earlier this year, where he demonstrates that evidence of human migration patterns is still available in the world’s languages if you squint right.  His mechanism works on something called the founder effect, which, in terms of evolutionary genetics,  provides that new, small offshoot populations will exhibit less genetic diversity than large populations.  He assumes the same thing applies to language, and I disagreed.  Instead I argued that mechanisms of language contact (which have been observed reducing phoneme counts) would better account for his results, with some possibility that Homo sapiens may have had simplifying linguistic contact with other hominids.

Wellll… it turns out I might have been wrong on both counts.   Continue reading “I was wrong”

Traces of Pidgins Past?

palatal consonants
Various palatal consonants — some of the less usual speech sounds

In April of this year, evolutionary anthropologist turned psychologist, Quentin Atkinson, had a paper in Science titled, “Phonemic Diversity Supports a Serial Founder Effect Model of Language Expansion from Africa.” In it, he provided a mathematical evaluation of phoneme counts (phonemes are the sounds that make up speech — vowels and consonants) from a selection of the world’s languages, indicating that the number of phonemes decreases the further you get from Africa along previously proposed human migration routes. That is, languges with the highest phoneme counts were in Sub-Saharan Africa, and languages with the lowest phoneme counts were in South America and the South Pacific. Continue reading “Traces of Pidgins Past?”

Cooking with Aspirin

Sure, there’s the chance of gastrointestinal ulcers and stomach bleeding, but part of me wonders why aspirin doesn’t appear to be used in any foods. In fact a search for cooking with aspirin reveals no recipes whatsoever. This is fairly surprising to me. After all, acetylsalicilyc acid has a light sour taste that is not unpleasant, and would go nicely in certain types of sweet foods, particularly in something like these.

Now, I should reiterate — I’m not a physician, so please keep that in mind; but think of the application of pain reliever as an ingredient! Continue reading “Cooking with Aspirin”

Don’t Fear the Robots

There are too many sci-fi scenarios of future dystopias dominated by evil robots to count on one hand.  The basic thread common to most of those is that computers eventually advance to a point where the Technological Singularity is reached, sheparding in an era in which this new class of better-than-human intelligence quickly starts to despise, revile, and eventually seek to destroy all of humanity. If it should seem odd that fiction rarely portrays the robot overlords as beneficent, well, there’s a reason for that — that would largely be boring.

Anyway, I was prompted to think about the possibility of a robot takeover recently in that both my work and home computer (one mac, one pc, so don’t start getting uppity about your personally preferred brand being better than the other) have started expressing symptoms of impending failure. Continue reading “Don’t Fear the Robots”

The First Restaurant in Space will be Lousy

I work in a building that has very few windows.   On top of that, the windows it does have run floor to ceiling and therefore do not open.   This latter fact is rarely brought up, though, as windows of that type are not expected to open. However, the environmental limitations of a closed system like that became particularly clear today as I prepared my lunch.   Continue reading “The First Restaurant in Space will be Lousy”