25 A Week In Sydney
26 Interview with the Widow - 1
27 Interview with the Widow - 2
28 Three Kings of Orient
29 1969 - Year of the Rooster
30 Summer in Europe
31 Bellybuttons & Maggots
32 Yes/No vs. Maybe
33 Blood, Beer and Warm Feet
34 Mine Universe
35 Hands off, Boots on
36 The Accidental Cure
37 It's the Only Thing
38 The Professor's Stable
39 Little House on the Highway
40 "9/11 is OK"
41 Suspected Child Abuse
42 Midlife Crisis
43 Where Am I Today - 1
44 Where Am I Today - 2
45 The Rosebud Period
46 Angular and Giddy
47 Sandin, N. A., Computer
48 Hot Trailers
YES/NO VS. MAYBE
Pono: Please draw a rainbow.
You: OK, I need Roy G. Biv.
Pono: Say what?
You: I need the colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet – Roy G. Biv!
Pono: Oh, yeah, I remember that now. Here are crayons. Which color goes where?
You: Roy G. Biv is the order and the red is on the outside. (Draw, draw, draw.) Here.
Pono: Very colorful. Is this accurate?
Well, yes and no. This is pretty much what the eye sees, but the colors in a rainbow comprise a continuous spectrum. We think we see those seven colors, but there are actually infinite colors. Many things that we once thought were discrete have turned out, with greater knowledge, to be spectrums. Here are a few examples. Some may surprise you.
A few years ago, political stance was clear – you were either Republican or Democrat. Now, there is an entire spectrum from radical left through moderate through radical right, and some who claim to be Democrats are actually farther right than some who claim to be Republican. It is not unusual to see Senators and Representatives change parties while not changing their stance one iota! Those who identify themselves as Independents are actually all over the spectrum in beliefs.
The federal census taker gathering data on “color or race” in the late 19th century accepted black, white or mulatto as an answer. (In fact, I’d bet the taker filled in the form by observation and never asked the question.) The 2000 census questionS resulted in a maximum of 62 “groups” ostensibly covering the entire race/ethnicity spectrum. I can’t wait to see the 2010 census question.
My son Stuart offers that Brazil census takers ask the respondent to specify his or her own skin color. Follow up verification indicates that people consistently specify a color a bit lighter than their own skin.
Once upon a time you had no difficulty distinguishing biological from mechanical. If you saw a Pono, you’d think biological. If you saw a car, you’d think mechanical. No confusion, strictly one or the other. It is no longer that clear.
The human brain maintains a record of the status of the biological body. One part of this record is the precise limit of the body – the border where body and not-body (B/N) meet. If I go out and touch my car, the brain knows exactly where my body ends and the car begins. So the B/N is unchangeably wired, right? Wrong.
Lately, the Pono you see might contain a titanium hip, a ceramic knee, a stainless steel plate under his scalp, mercury amalgam fillings in his teeth, false teeth screwed into his jaw, a metallic rod supporting a broken thigh bone, a stent keeping an artery open, a pacemaker-defibrillator monitoring and controlling his heart, plastic lenses in the eyeballs, and/or several other non biological prosthetic devices. Mechanical prosthetics such as these are inside the body and automatically included by the brain on the body side of the B/N. So Pono is no longer 100% biological!
I sit down to dinner. I pick up a knife and fork and begin to eat. The brain adapts – almost instantaneously – and moves the B/N to *include the knife and fork*! Just as the ceramic knee is included in the body, the knife and fork become part of the body as seen by the brain. The brain knows exactly how to place the tines of the fork and the blade of the knife to cut the steak on my plate (which will also soon become part of the body). Pono includes the tools he works with!
My son JR offers that when he uses a “pusher” to guide wood through his table saw he bonds so closely with the stick that he gets apprehensive when it gets too close to the saw blade!
I need to drive to the PO to pick up my mail. I jump in the car and get it moving. The brain adapts and moves the B/N to *include the car*. The brain knows exactly how to do things with the hands and feet to get the newly defined body (me and the car) to the PO. Pono includes the car he drives!
Now comes the more difficult part to describe. My computer failed a few months ago and I was really lost. My budget was online so I didn’t know which checkbook to use for the rent check. My address book was online so I didn’t have phone numbers, e-mail addys or snail-mail addresses – communication was at a stand still. In thinking about the computer failure, I realized that the procedure I carefully put together to remake a hard disk in case of failure was (you guessed it) online. But worst of all, I didn’t have a search engine! I suddenly realized that Pono’s brain had incorporated the hard disk and all its files and the entire World Wide Web into his B/N!
So, body, prosthetics, tools, car, hard drive, and WWW – is Pono biological or mechanical, or electronic or ethereal, or somewhere on a spectrum that includes all of these things
“I’ll never eat anything that is genetically modified!” Hah! Every living thing that is not in its first generation has been genetically modified. The very process of reproduction includes genetic modification. Maybe you meant you would never eat anything that was genetically modified by a human. Another hah! Man has been interfering with evolution for millennia by selectively breeding plants and animals to display traits deemed to be desirable. Or perhaps you meant you would never eat anything fiddled with by Monsanto. Yet another hah! Depending on the food item and the estimate you accept, anywhere from 5% to 65% of current plant foods are grown from seeds that have had some degree of genetic modification. It is very likely that you have eaten a GMO and even more likely that you have eaten something that was fed a GMO. Vegetarian? 65% of soybeans are genetically modified!
I’m afraid that while we were not paying attention the Grinch sneaked in and stole “natural”, leaving a big spectrum of GMO in its place.
Now, one thing we can surely depend on to be binary is sex, right? Well, not so much!
This subject came up recently due to the remarkable 2009 World Championship women’s 800m win by Caster (Mokgadi) Semenya of South Africa. Semenya is tall, thin, and muscular. She has a rather deep voice, narrow hips, flat chest, the appearance of a mustache, and a somewhat androgynous demeanor. The question of her sex was raised after her outstanding time in the 800m race and her significant improvement since races earlier in the year. An interview with Caster is online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-bqET22vEU which will allow you to see and hear the ambiguity for yourself.
Caster’s father was filmed in an interview during which he consistently referred to her as “he”. This is, of course, a common error for people to whom English is a second language and whose first language lacks sex-differentiating pronouns. Caster is sometimes described as a tomboy, meaning a girl who acts like and/or has the interests of a boy. It has always seemed to me that “jillboy” or “tomgirl” would be more logical to express this attribute.
Apparently tests were conducted on Caster to determine her sex. As near as I can tell, results were never officially released, but it was “leaked” that her testosterone levels were three times that of an average woman. One possible explanation of this would be the presence of internal testes that generate the male hormone. Because of this possibility, she was labeled by the press as a hermaphrodite, one who possesses genitalia of both sexes.
This case has brought up discussions of genetics, specifically the supposed sine qua non of maleness, the y-chromosome. Normally, persons with an XY 23rd chromosome pair develop as males and those with XX develop as females. It turns out that some persons with an XY 23rd chromosome pair sport outwardly appearing female genitalia, while some with XX look like males. These persons clearly break the “Y rule” and spread determination of sex from a binary choice into more of a spectrum composed of various combinations of male and female parts. (I don’t know for sure, but I doubt that all combinations are possible – I’ll ask Lady Gaga.) So anyway, you can’t even depend on sex to be binary, but I understand the 2010 census still accepts only two choices.
By the way, rumor has it that Caster intends to continue to compete as a female runner, but she plans to change her last name from Semenya to SemenNO.
The concept that I call the body/non body border (B/N) is often referred to in the literature as the “body schema” and much more can be found about it online. The body image that the brain forms relative to the human senses is sometimes called the “homunculus”. This image presents sensory body parts in sizes proportional to the importance the brain puts on inputs from them. You might be curious to see what’s big in that image.
Genetically modified organism (GMO) is usually defined as an organism into which DNA from a foreign source has been introduced. For this discussion I have expanded the definition to include any organism which has experienced “artificial selection” at the hands of humans.