The Cutting Edge, Consciousness

What is this thing we call consciousness? Is it a magnificent connection through the neural pathways of our brain? Does it, to the contrary, have a spiritual dimension?

I did scientific research in my youth. Some of that was in neuroscience. Some of my schooling was in neurosurgery in medical school.

My four primary areas of interest are theology, neuroscience, history and psychology. My interest in philosophy tags behind that group.

With all the sophistication in neuroscience research, we still don’t have a strong, foundational understanding of human consciousness from my view. Based on all of which I’m aware, I believe our spritual soul is our conscious and subconscious MINDS.

Religious visions have been established over time as perceptions apart from hallucination, events that are viable as well as within the confines of the mentally healthy.

What do you think?

You’ve Got to be Kidding

I have been watching the virtual testimony before a congressional committee of the CEO’s in the four largest tech companies on earth. The companies are Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple.

After lengthy cross examination, the proceedings suddenly stopped. The broadcasters advised the millions of us watching that the proceedings had ceased because of technical difficulties.

You can be heartened the next time you run into your own technical difficulties on the device you are using now. If it can happen in the critical testimony of four giants of the biz, it can sure happen to us through no fault of our own. Makes for interesting comedy. Don’t you think?

Why I Love Books

When I was about eight, I began to read Dr. Seuss’ marvelous tales, particularly about Bartholomew. His real name was Theodor Geisel (Yes, without an “e”). His lines/verses were lyrical. Today they have been dubbed Seussical. His illustrations were hilarious. The books were pure joy.

Like a bookend in my life, it has now been 26 years that I have lived in Theodor Geisel’s hometown, San Diego. It is a city where, significantly for young people, he helped UCSD become a stellar university with his philanthropy.

Also at around eight years of age, I learned with delight about an elephant named Babar. Jean de Brunhoff’s books about him captured my imagination. The illustrations were intriguing and colorful. So colorful, that, a green suit that I loved, a quarter century later, I wore to my wedding. I didn’t realize at the wedding, that, the green suit, that I so enjoyed, was strikingly similar to Babar’s green suit. That came to me when I read to my children just a few years later about my favorite elephant (and suit).

That fun-filled initiation to reading was the springboard for a life of fascination with books. Thank God for large favors.

Not so Subtle Hints with Time

I remember a remark by my mother when she was a few years older than my 75 years. Kristine and I visited her at her home. I asked mom how she was feeling. Her response was”, don’t ask.”

When I was a vigorous, tennis playing, thirty one year old in 1976, one of my “big” toes began to ache one day. “Great” is the medical term for that largest toe. I saw my primary physician at the University of Maryland Medical Center. It was a convenient short walk up the block from my workplace, The Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

He told me I had bad arches and that my feet were flat. He said those abnormalities had caused the arthritis even at 31. Rest was suggested and orthotics were fitted. Orthotics are custom made inserts for the bottom of one’s feet. The rest resolved the pain in less than a day.

The orthotics were effective through about 1995. I was 50. The pain reared its ugly toe again. This time a fine podiatrist indicated I was ready for a new, better pair of orthotics. They were what one might call, as with a new class of medicines, the “next generation” of orthotics. Rest healed the pain in a day. The orthotics were effective for decades.

Almost two years ago, around November of 2018, I had great toe pain that didn’t heal for about three days. It was disconcerting and surprising. Nonetheless I had been walking on flat feet for 73 years.

My next re-occurrence was far sooner than in the past. On 4/11/19 after vigorous touring of Israel for several days, including old, cobbled streets and narrow caves, I began to get my first serious nighttime toe pain in the left, great toe. I had learned in medical school that the pain that awakens or keeps the patient awake is one every physician should be concerned about.

I was unable to fall asleep. I read a book until about 3 am when in complete exhaustion I got a few hours of sleep.

Finally on 4/26/19, exactly the same thing occurred, but, with my right, great toe instead of my left. I recovered to walking without a limp in about three days. Hey, it could have been four or five. Things are changing.

How I Love that Peace in the Outdoors

Being holed up for the pandemic finds me spending less time outdoors. But, today I took my half hour of aerobics in 75 degree weather. My age matched the thermometer. The power walk reminded me of how much I miss being out in the open.

The last leg of the course, I went westward. I was in the midst of an ocean breeze from the Pacific coast, three miles away. As I had worked up a sweat the breeze in my face was uplifting. I had forgotten with my frequent, indoor exercise on an elliptical, the pleasure of a grand day in the open air and the peace it brings me.

It has been convenient to get fit indoors as I have needed neither mask, nor sunscreen, nor an outdoor pair of shoes. But convenience can fall far short of life’s better moments. Today my joint movement was fluid. There was no pain. I am fortunate that either by my lifetime of laziness, or moderation, or stretching, or all three, key joints are working now without soreness.

I recall ardently walking hills and cobblestone streets with a tour group in Jerusalem one year ago. That night found me with the most big toe pain I had ever experienced. I tried to get to the bathroom, but I was barely mobile. The pain kept me up when I got back in bed. That’s why I elliptical to put less stress on my toes (and other joints). I also stretch my toes usually daily.

Dear Lord, thank you that my knees, hips, and toes have been feeling no pain most of my long life. Thank you for that Pacific reminder of the beautiful, natural world You have provided.

Wow, Baseball is Back

Baseball is the only game where the defense has the ball. I watched the Giants and Dodgers commence with the Dodgers holding that horsehide.

The masks ( on the bench players) were new as was the empty stadium. Nonetheless Dodger Stadium was as beautiful as the day it opened, nearly 60 years ago.

It was kind of peaceful without the crowd. It was easier for my old ears to hear the crack of the bat. I knew I was old when I watched Carl Yastremski’s grandson play ball. I watched grandad right through the 70s and his predecessor, Ted Williams through the mid 50s and 60s.

The announcers were in their three, Zoom style boxes announcing from three separate spots in the U S. That was outside the box.

Nevertheless it was still baseball. Batters still had one of the toughest tasks in sports, hitting an opening day pitcher. Clayton Kershaw’s back hurt so the flame throwing Dustin May got the nod. His numbers, five innings, one run and pulled.

We will soon find out what months of quarantine have done to about 2000 great athletes. I know what it has done to me. I can’t hit a curve ball. Actually, I am not sure I can hit a ball

Little Things?

So I had assured my spouse, Kristine, that I could haul an old computer (PC) stored in the garage off to the recycling facility, once I had removed the hard drive. The hard drive contained confidential material and therefore I needed to save it. That assurance may have been, now, years ago.

I decided in the restrictive pandemic it was time to act on my assurance. I spoke to a lifetime friend who has helped me in a pinch before, as, I had no idea where to find it in the PC or what a hard drive looked like. I had never opened a computer to reveal the insides. He assured me it was something I could get accomplished with pictures and texts. This was despite a problem with spatial relations that had limited my mechanical aptitude for a mere 75 years.

On the other hand I knew I could take just about anything apart. That was as long as I didn’t have to put it back together. That was very true of an internal combustion engine I messed with in my adolescence. Fortunately as an autopsy surgeon, I never had to put things back together or avoid a nerve or vessel.

I managed after several failed attempts to successfully open the computer when I found on its surface a huge arrow, put there for people like me. I pushed and the contraption opened. I tried removing one object that vaguely fit his description of a hard drive. I texted the friend a picture and I had failed. It was a power supply.

Somehow, I managed to understand with questions his subsequent technical texts. I found and removed the hard drive.

Now and then I actually manage to summon up, by the grace of God, some grit and persistence. It is hard to tell you how much joy that success brought me. Sometimes it’s the little things that shine brightly in our lives, particularly when you are holed up in a pandemic.

Home Ownership?

I claim no expertise here. I have simply been a home owner for 38 years, doing the best I can, and, have heard about friends’ experiences as well.

To me, on balance, home ownership in California, and many other locales, is a great blessing.  I have never doubted that.

On the other hand, there are roof leaks, slab leaks, water heater replacements, plumbing problems, electrical problems, ants, termites, bees, fires, and earthquakes.

And then one day, if you decide to sell the house, depending on your specific circumstances, people, who, never lived through all of those problems obtain a piece of the proceeds, directly or indirectly.

A much smarter financial person than me, Suze Orman, said, “It’s easy to underestimate the real cost of home ownership.” ( I get it.

Sports or No Sports, That is the Question

So I guess I now ask the question, do I really need sports?  So far it’s been about four months and it has been essentially without games.  Will I discover that the NFL is a complete waste of time?  What about baseball?  What about tennis?

I think in my particular case, I have learned that football and baseball, I can probably live without.  The bone crushing in football and brain wrecking I think I can live without.  The pitchers throwing at batters’ heads I can also avoid by choice.  The cheating with electronics, even in the World Series, I can definitely forego.

Nonetheless I have to admit, I’ve loved tennis since the age of 13.  The game is by nature, socially distant and generally, graceful.

The upside, games are a part of life and can be healthy for the psyche.  They return us to our youth.

Maybe I’m just outside the box.  I guess I enjoy only the grace of the defensive back or receiver up against or with the courage and precision of a great quarterback.  I enjoy that head-threatened batter’s difficult victories. But actually after a long work-life in healthcare the question I ask is, should I be watching this mayhem?

My Reading

In the pandemic at 75 and counting, housebound has been an adverb with increasing frequency in my life. One of the places I find peace and engagement is in reading quality literature.

Reading has transcended the everyday. It has taken me to places I have never been. When the writing has been particularly top notch, my encounter has been amplified.

In the summer of 1963, between high school and college, I read voluminously. I even went so far as to read a 930 page tome called An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser published in 1925. It was a best seller at the time and is debatably a classic. I found it to be powerful prose. The summer of reading fed my soul. It probably was a factor when my score on a freshman composition test precluded me from an otherwise required composition course. Missing that mundane course was a gift.

Then jump if you will to almost 60 years later, to my almost seven years of retirement. In that period I’ve read much more widely than in that summer of ’63. Two books in particular were memorable.

I enjoyed The Color of Water. It was a memoir by the acclaimed composer, instrumentalist, memoirist and fiction writer, James McBride. He alternated chapters with the story of his mother (born an Orthodox Jew, but a convert to Christianity), with memoirs of his own life. His mother’s staggering ability to raise her twelve, half Jewish and half African American brood, essentially alone, was reason enough to relish the book. She was the widow of two, kindly, African Americans, both of whom died young. All of her offspring became quite successful.

As a boy, James McBride asked his mother what color God was and she said, “…the color of water.” But the mother-son story’s majesty was even exceeded by the author’s enormous creative gifts as a writer.

The finest fiction I read, and have ever read, was John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Steinbeck, who won the Pulitzer and Nobel, considered it his finest work. It is a brilliant mix of engrossing character studies with a profound story of good and evil. He also wrote beautiful descriptions of California, the state I’ve called home for almost forty three years. He clearly had the same love for this part of the world that I do.

May your day, by the grace of God, include the richness of a book you truly love.