Tag Archives: literature

how the brain works

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The brain is a small but formidable universe within us that controls our physical as well as mental being. In a similar manner of the cosmos constantly moving across the great divine space, the brain fires nerve cells called neurons and wires them together and expands their territories from the physical realms of perception to the world of consciousness, which creates a model of our own reality. The brain is the leviathan enterprise that puts together the pieces of our existence under our constant attentive care of its functional longevity by understanding its fabulous varieties that neither age cannot wither away nor custom can stale away.

7ee906966d71ee3d21013e651439da07Our brains keep learning and adopting throughout our lives by the two neurological processes: Neurogenesis by which the brain creates neurons and neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to rewire the connections between the neurons. These processes continue to change and grow our brains into very old age as scientifically corroborated by the finding of these neurological processes in the brains of 70-year-olds with terminal illness. Also, Albert Einstein whose brain was dissected after his death to unravel the secret of the genius was found to have more interconnections between the neurons in his brain. This is very telling evidence because Einstein was considered “slow” during his high school years. What Einstein made genius was his use of imaginations and reasoning skills that required of him the use of the faculties of the mind to the extent possible by firing and wiring millions of neurons. To further illustrate the wonder works of neurogenesis and neurolplasticity, scientists have found it in the avian world. Unlike other birds, canaries produce new melodies every ear to attract a mate. On examining their brains, scientists discovered that canaries generate each neurons each spring.

The theory of the brain is not as complex as it seems. Simply put, thoughts are like “sparks” rising from a campfire or sunlight’s igniting fire when focused through a magnifying glass. A thought repeated with intense focus becomes concentrated mental power, which becomes a dominant, archetypal energy that authorizes our thoughts and actions. These thoughts in the form of neurons form neural networks, which are like paths through a meadow. What we should do is a change in our brain by rewiring the neural pathways that drive our thought and actions. Einstein, whether or not he knew about neurology, constantly expanded the neural networks by engaging himself in finding a Rosetta Stone for Relativity Theory and other questions of the Universe.

The workings of the brain are in conjunction  with the upkeep of physical exercise, social interactions, and new daily challenges because they are portent stimuli to ignite ongoing mental sparks in the brain. In fact, the ancient Greeks and Romans already knew about the key elements of keeping the body and mind fit with the slogan of “Mans sana in corpore sano” (Sound mind dwells in healthy body.” Father of western narrative history Herodotus noted a holistic connection between diet, drink, exercise and lifespan. Socrates pointed out that many people did not think clearly because their body wasn’t in good health. His pupil and founder of Lyceum Aristotle added that physical exercise was essential for general mental and physical capacity. Then there was famous Roman orator, writer, and statesman Cicero proclaimed that soundness of mind depended on applying one’s energies to something of interest. This relates to the empirical finding of keeping the mind fit and alert in spite of horrible existential situations as evidenced by founder of Logotheraphy Viktor E. Frankl, who endured the horrors of daily life at Auschwitz and other subsequent concentration camps by persistently forcing this thought to turn to drafting his books on the tablet of his mind to publish them after the war. It’s both a priori and a posteriori illustration of how channeling one’s interest to intellectual or creative activities keeps his mental state stable and fit in such a dreadful mire of despondency and atrociousness.

BUJDt1DIAAA7rUXIn light of the above, it is not a hyped fashionably cliched mantra that we are what we think and what we do all the time. Popularity of self-help literature bestriding the bestseller charts has the origin of truth in the workings of the brain in the form of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. For my own brain at the moment of writing this essay is firing and wiring neurons, expanding the neural pathways and the yonder territories of my consciousness. The brain is then also plastic because it is being shaped by everything we do and what we opt not to do. It’s really a self-fulfilling prophecy without recourse to deities or even demons. Consequently, the more actively we use our brain to accomplish new daily challenges by fulfilling demands placed upon our daily tasks however trifle and insignificant that may seem and learning something creative or intellectually stimulating, the healthier our bodily and mental health becomes. Which is elegantly summed up by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “Still achieving, still pursuing… Learning to labor and wait.” For this reason, the brain and the mind are concomitantly intertwined to constitute our wholeness so fascinating, so awesome that even a Psalmist praised God because we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Surely, the praise is worth the singing, for our brain and its works are indeed a wonder.

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beautiful mind

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The image of Aeneas in her eyes awakes
the primal senses in the thalamus,
lights the vision in the occipital cortex,
decides that she loves what she sees
as the sensation becomes consciousness
on the high altar of the prefrontal cortex,
and then on the funeral pyre it all becomes
her dolorous memories in the hippocampus.

Author’s Note: The subject of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity is multidisciplinary, ranging from literature to history, fine arts, and sociology, because it analyzes how the mind works by conceptualizing raw senses into consciousness. That said, I wanted to incorporate the bullet theory of how the brain works in connection with the operation of cognitive faculties called “the mind’ into my favorite unrequited love story of Dido, the beautiful queen of Carthage who hopelessly felt for the wondering Trojan hero Aeneas, who left her at the behest of of Juno (Zeus in Greek mythology). 

leonardo’s horse that came alive

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“Il Gran Cavallo” in San Siro, Milan, Italy

It was meant to be the largest horse in the world when the future Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza commissioned Leonardo Da Vinci in 1482 to conjure it up from the phantasmal world of the artist with his magic chisels. This fantastical statuesque beast, “Il Gran Cavallo” (aka “Cavallo”) was soon to be cast in bronze, standing 24 feet high as the greatest equestrian statue in the world, following the clay model of the equal height made by Da Vinci. Then war broke out in 1499, ravaging Milan and engulfing the clay horse, leaving Da Vinci alone with the original sketches of Cavallo to go back to the drawing room. Such was Da Vinci’s plan to restore the aborted birth of the magnificent bronze horse before it became indefinitely suspended by his death.

The story of the unfinished Leonardo’s Horse piqued my usual counter-popularity curiosity when I came upon an article in a magazine on the train. Since this year sees the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo Da Vinci, many an article has featured the masterpieces of Da Vinci and the background stories thereof, but to me none other than this story about Da Vinci’s last masterpiece is intriguing and worth the writing. In fact, this “Horse that Never Was” had spanned a phantasmagoria of imaginations throughout the centuries until a certain American art patron named Charles C. Dent intended to make it his lifelong goal to bring the abstract equestrian statue to reality in 1977 when he first learned about Leonardo’s incomplete project about which the National Geography magazine covered. Upon his death in 1994, American sculptor Nina Akamu continued to carry out where her Renaissance predecessor had left off based upon the surviving sketches as a substratum of artistic guidance and completed a bronze sculpture of the horse in 1999, which was dedicated in San Siro in Milan, Italy. The great statue of Cavallo is a sight to behold with poised magnificence: it commands a sense of legitimate attention in a moment of suggestively continuous galloping that looks wholly authentic and real, rendering a majestic impression of dynamic continuity to marching music as pomp and pompous as Radetzky March.

Da Vinci’s creation of the great horse proves to be his last masterpiece that truly links the past with the present and the future by the medium of art. It weaves the subjectivity of time into a grand tapestry of history and betokens cultural achievements as an intelligent collective enterprise. Akamu wonderfully re-created the great horse by internalizing the artistic sense of the Renaissance period by devoting her years of studying Italian Renaissance works of art in Italy as she pursued the highest levels of craftsmanship and professionalism in the field. Also, her love of animals, especially horses, contributed to the anatomical study of and aesthetic perspective on Leonardo’s Horse. Akamu’s recreation of Cavallo manifests beauty that penetrates minds of the beholders and lingers there in solipsistic ecstasy so deep and intimate that it feels almost physical. For our faculty, as it interacts with a plight of fantasy, is rather instinctive than reasoning; rather sensual because it delights in pleasure than because it thrives in disciplines. That is why “Il Gran Cavallo” is a gorgeous piece of art.

Live to Tell: ‘Hold the Sun in Your Hands: The Erika Jacoby Story’

Hold the Sun in Your Hands: The Erika Jacoby Story from Cheri Gaulke on Vimeo.

Great Philosopher Spinoza advised the mankind of how to endure suffering in days of yore: “Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.” The essence of this suprameaning of emotional suffering, which Spinoza also poetically termed Amore Feti (Love of Fate), is to endure what you can’t change but to accept it as it is, for there is a meaning to it in the dark night of the soul.  In the terrible ordeal of the tormented soul, one has two choices to make: to yield to the force of deception calling for total abandonment of hope or to force oneself to turn to the voice of hope to sustain strength of the heart. The sovereignty of humanness is manifested by this holy office of selecting the spiritual choice in the darkest hour of the soul in the deepest valley of the abyss. “Hold the Sun in Your Hands: The story of Erika Jacoby”, a short documentary produced by Harvard Westlake-School, is one such tale of a survivor from the atrocity of moral and physical turpitude as a young child at Auschwitz during World War II.

A curious alchemy of illustrative animation and neorealist documentary delivers a momentum of pathos without elaborately scripted lines or special effects in the most powerfully elliptical way, which adds to the authority of truth that the story itself owns. Ms. Jacoby’s straightforward narration without a prolix litany of her woeful past is felt through the heart of the viewer, and it communicates to the mind of the viewer her smothered traumatic experience at Auschwitz, where she had to witness the death of her beloved and the enormity of evil reincarnate in the Nazis’ mass killing of the Jews and the violence against humanity through the eyes of a young girl.  Accordingly, the film is seen in the perspective of a young child whose innocence betrays ingenuousness of the story and thus delivers the profoundness of such experience that sublimates it into the highest form of Art in the context of regarding Da Vinci’s aphorism of “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

This short documentary has chimed the hearts of thousands, including those judges at the Cannes Film Festival, which is one of the most highly regarded film festival (note that it’s not an “award” ceremony where only gowns and jewelry and tuxedos and fake smiles are visible.) in the world. It will be shown at the American Pavilion at Cannes this month as part of a series on young, emerging film makers, one of whom includes Ian Kim, who is son of Mr. Harry Kim, a corporate lawyer at a law firm I am privileged to work. The creators of this documentary will appear on stage at Cannes, ergo it will be a festivity of creation, a festivity of humanity. Above all, the fruit of this film is a triumph of human will that rose above the carnage of war and the degradation of dignity and a manifestation of meaning of life, will to meaning, freedom of will as also corroborated by Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, founder of Logotheraphy and also a survivor of five concentration camps during World War II. Ms. Jacoby shows us what it means to have hope as long as she lives. Dum Spiro, Spero. This documentary will strike the highest notes of your heartstrings.

 

goodbye to april

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Le faucheur by Henry Moret

When the hounds are on
winter’s trails

The Lady of Seasons in
meadows and fields

dons the barren places soon
with green sleeves and emeralds.

Author’s Note: It’s the end of April, which will never come back, vanishing to the horizon of time and space, the misty past with memories and images. I was on my last train home after work this evening and wanted to record this last day of April of 2019, which was my first April here in California. So as a ceremonial gesture of farewell to my Californian April, I wrote this poem as I was basking in the bright golden rays of the gorgeous Californian Sun that began to stay a little later than before.