One dark October night in Wallonia, two neuroscientists were talking to a vegetable.
Not any old cucumber, Patient 23 had been in a ‘vegetative state’ for five years following a tragic accident.
Comatose and unresponsive, Patient 23 had been declared dead to the world. But the researchers believed otherwise.
Using an fMRI to scan his brain activity, they asked Patient 23 to imagine walking around his house to communicate “no” and playing tennis to communicate “yes.” These would produce distinct brain patterns.
They asked the first question, “Is your father’s name Alexander?”
The man’s premotor cortex lit up. He was thinking about tennis — Yes.
“Is your father’s name Thomas?”
Activity in the parahippocampal gyrus showed he was imagining walking around his house — No.
They continued to ask questions about Patient 23’s life before the accident. Every answer was correct. He had been completely aware of the last five years; Buried alive in his body.
They asked the final question on their list:
“Do you want to die?”
For the first time that evening, there was no clear answer.
You can’t see this, but there’s a secret labeling system in these blogs.
Each blog has a handful of tags to describe it, so I can find articles on the same subjects later.
They also help me to understand what I like to write about most.
If you’re any good at HTML, you can probably still see them in the source code.
The most common tag used on the blog is “Life.” This tag is completely useless, but it is easy to use.
The next one is “Mindset,” and the third most popular is “Kaizen.” Motivation, Creativity, Change, Stoicism, Being Human, and Buddhism all make the top ten.
It’s usually well maintained, but when writing is an obstacle, the tag system is ignored in my haste to get something published.
Classification is useful. That all science — what all human knowledge — is. Different hierarchies of labels.
Labels are useful, yes; powerful, even. But they’re not necessary for creation; they mostly get in the way. They’re only useful post-creation, for people who like to know the labels that are in vogue.
So, don’t let one little label stop you from what might have been.
Science likes to put us in groups.
That’s 90% of what science is: classification.
We often read newspaper reports of the latest study that says introverts do this or women prefer that.
Don’t pay too much attention to that pop-science.
The only thing we can be sure of is that those studies were performed on hungover university students by slightly older, arguably less hungover students.
If some parts resonate that’s because our brain is very good at spotting the things we think inside our heads out there in the real world. But there’s little to be gleaned from a study of 20 late-stage teens on a wet Wednesday afternoon in Leeds.
Remember: just because you’re similar doesn’t make you the same.
You are like some people, it’s true. But you are alike no other person that ever was or will be.
Keep breaking that mould, baby!
The fastest route from A to B isn’t always a straight line.
There’s a special kind of curve that can get a ball from one point to another faster than in a straight line across the shortest distance.
It’s called a Brachistochrone curve.
It works because of gravity and friction and the shape of balls and all sorts of other juju that we don’t fully understand.
It won’t help you win many races, but it works quite well as an analogy. Sometimes it seems like we’re heading way off-course when we might actually be taking a shortcut.
That’s just how the Universe fits together.
How the math on that works, I guess we’ll never know.
A lot of the science we learn in school is wrong.
It’s mostly either oversimplified or partially disproved by the time we hear it.
One myth is that the right brain is creative, and the left brain is logical, right?
The right side of the brain is best at novelty: identifying new problems and solving them, learning new things. Experimentation.
The left side of the brain is concerned with sorting the results and recalling them when needed. Matching them up.
When a student plays an instrument, their right hemisphere is firing all the time. But Miles Davis, the right side would be only simmering gently; the patterns of chords and melodies neatly delivered from the left side.
Even that is a gross simplification.
But it’s clear that by performing a creative task every day, creativity becomes muscle memory.
That’s why experts can see all sorts of patterns that a novice may miss. They just pop out. And those experts can get so used to seeing those patterns that they forget to experiment with them.
Art is experiementation. Science is experimentation remembered.
Now, remember your art.
Recently, a paralyzed man was able to write using his thoughts.
Ten years after the man they called “T5” was utterly paralyzed, researchers planted a robot in the part of his brain that controls movement. That long after losing the use of his body, they weren’t sure his brain would remember how to move at all.
But it did. When the man imagined handwriting the alphabet, his brain started to light up, and the robot living in there began to learn.
Over many months they grew closer, until the robot knew him well enough to read his thoughts.
Eventually, they hooked him up to a screen and told him to copy some words, until he could do that to their satisfaction. Then they asked him what advice he would give to his younger self.
“Be patient. It will get better,” he wrote.
Even when things get unimaginably difficult, when we are trapped and scared and defeated, we can at least take comfort in knowing that things will always change.
And often a lot sooner than we think.
Most people don’t know this one very gross and disturbing fact about the human body.
Your bodyweight is at least half bacteria cells — maybe more.
Some people think we’re just very complicated bacteria-transport machines. I’m going a step further and saying they run the whole damn planet.
Hear me out.
There are more bacteria on earth than all other life forms combined.
They live everywhere from the sea bed to the roots of trees, and they talk to each other. They live in our gut and they talk to our brain.
And we just found out these crafty little buggers use quantum mechanics to control energy.
Now, I’m not saying that one day they’ll get tired of us messing with everything and extinct us off their planet.
But I’m trying to stay on their good side, just in case.
Circles are proof we don’t know anything.
We live such vibrant and data-filled lives that it’s easy to think everything has already been invented or danced or sung or written or painted.
Nothing is original and everything has been found. And there’s nothing left for you to discover or create for the world.
Fortunately, that’s just not true.
The truth is that we make a lot of noise about what we think we know, but ask any math professor what (π) is they’ll only be able to give you an approximation.
It’s a very accurate and useful approximation but it’s still an approximation.
A computer hasn’t figured it out yet after three months of trying.
That doesn’t mean it’s worthless — it’s accurate enough that we can send rockets to the moon and make incredibly well-rounded balls and engines that fit together oh-so-beautifully.
But that trillionth of a trillionth place is still unknown. (π) is still represents an anomaly. It’s just a letter we use to describe something we don’t understand or haven’t met yet. Something we don’t understand.
Don’t let anyone tell you there’s nothing left to do or find or make.
We haven’t even started.
People who are right a lot all do the same thing.
First, people who are right a lot listen a lot. They often read but they all know how to really listen.
They also change their mind a lot.
Most people spend a lot of time trying to back-up their beliefs.
But people who are right a lot change their minds a lot because they’re always looking to prove themselves wrong.
In other words: people who are right a lot work very hard not to be.