Very Successful Cuttlefish

Nature is awesome.

Have you heard of the marshmallow test? It’s all about delayed gratification. Kids between the ages of 4 and 6 are given a marshmallow, which they are told they can eat right away, but if they wait 15 minutes before eating it, they’ll be given a second marshmallow as a reward. Only about 1/3 of the children were able to delay gratification. And then there’s some sketchy indications that those who could delay gratification were much more successful in later life. (I say sketchy because there are a lot of other factors that can encourage success, such as being born in the right place at the right time to well-connected parents, for example.)

Recently, a similar study was done on 9 month old cuttlefish at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Of course, marshmallows weren’t used in this instance. In this case, they used live shrimp and pieces of raw king prawn. The cuttlefish greatly preferred the live shrimp.

In this study, the cuttlefish were given an option. Do you want the less desirable prawn now, or are you willing to wait a while and get the shrimp instead? (I’m greatly oversimplifying the study. For more details, check out an article entitled, “Cuttlefish can pass the marshmallow test.”)

It turns out that every single cuttlefish could delay gratification and hold out for the shrimp. So they did better than the average 4 to 6 year old human. Fascinating. According to the article, “It’s the first time such a link between self-control and intelligence has been found in a non-mammalian species.”

Isn’t nature awesome?

In fairness to the children, cuttlefish come out of camouflage when they forage, so eating puts them at great risk. It is in their best interest to wait for the optimal time to eat. Their ability to delay gratification probably has a lot to do with their very survival. But if you look into the eyes of a cuttlefish, you can sort of tell that they’re very smart, so I’m sure that doesn’t hurt, either.

Marshmallows, anyone?

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The Very Best Dogs are Manipulative

But he’ll always be my baby.

I just read a really interesting article entitled, “Science Proves a Harsh Truth About Very Good Dogs”. I almost didn’t read it, because with all that’s going on in the world, I’m not sure I’m ready for a harsh truth about my dog. I mean, seriously, I don’t think I can take one more thing. But it turns out the article was worth the read.

Have you ever fallen completely in love with a dog simply because it has a very expressive face? That pretty much does it for me. Shoot me the sad eyes and I’m completely at your mercy.

Until quite recently, the general consensus seemed to be that those expressions were involuntary, just as they are with the bulk of the animal world. If a dog feels sad, we assumed, he just automatically made a sad face. I know that when my dog gives me that look, I just have to hug him.

But no. A scientific experiment was conducted to determine if dogs made the same expressions under the same circumstances if a human was paying attention or not. They gave the dogs food with an attentive human feeder, and also with a feeder whose back was turned, and studied their facial expressions. Turns out that dogs give many more facial expressions if the human is attentive.

To make sure it was the human attention that was the game changer for the dog, rather that how visible the food was, they experimented with food visibility, too. No change. It was all about the attention. According to the article, “the faces your dog makes are less about the food you have in your hand and more about getting you to do what it wants.”

I still believe, though, that my dog loves me. Even if he is a manipulative little monster. He may be performing to get a reaction, he may know darned well that he has me wrapped around his little paw, but he’ll always be my baby.

Quagmire, my manipulative boy. ❤

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Breakthrough!

I almost jumped for joy.

Whenever I work the day shift, once I’ve survived the commute and parked my car, I make my way over my drawbridge to the bridge tower. I’m usually not living my best life at that exact moment. I could never be mistaken for a morning person.

But during that foggy-brained walk, I almost always pass a guy who is walking in the opposite direction. I could set my watch by him. We both are creatures of habit, it seems.

I often wonder about this guy. Where is he going? Where is he coming from? He’s a bit scruffy, but he’s punctual as all get out.

So, about 9 months ago, I decided that I would say good morning as we passed each other. He did not even look up at me, and he said not a word. But this is Seattle, after all. People don’t just say good morning to strangers, as a general rule. It’s just not done. (I’ll never get used to that.)

The next day, I thought that maybe this time, my good morning wouldn’t take him by surprise. But I got the same reaction. No eye contact, no response.

Okay, this has become a challenge. I began to want, very badly, to get a good morning out of this guy. I was determined.

Months went by, and I continued to do my daily experiment. It became a bit of an effort to keep my pleasant tone when I could only assume I was going to get nothing back. But I did so because, when all is said and done, I really did hope he had a good morning.

After all that time with no eye contact whatsoever, I began to wonder if this gentleman had some sort of anxiety disorder. If so, were my good mornings construed as a type of bullying? Was I adding stress to his life? That certainly wasn’t my intention.

But I really didn’t know a thing about him. Maybe he was just less of a morning person than I was. Maybe he was a Seattleite from birth and his greeting muscle had atrophied. Maybe he doesn’t speak English. Maybe he just wanted to be left alone, but on the other hand, maybe he’s desperately lonely and just socially awkward.

I decided to press on, because if he never responded, it wasn’t like I’d beat him up or something. He’s an adult and can make his own choices. I’d just be a little sad.

Somewhere around month three, he began to give me eye contact. He didn’t smile, but he didn’t give me a hostile glare, either. Progress.

By the end of month six, I began to detect a change in expression. Was that a very slight, hesitant smile peeking out of his scruffy beard? Yes, I think so.

Then in early February, I got really sick with the head cold from hell, and I missed a week of work and sidewalk greetings. I wondered if he noticed. But I didn’t dwell on it, because I was too busy coughing up my lungs.

When I came back to work, to be honest, I still felt like utter crap. I’m sure I didn’t exactly look like my old self, either. I was so busy trying to ambulate through my vertigo that I didn’t bother to say good morning, or even look up, to him or anyone else, for about two weeks.

The following week, though, I was back to our old routine. This time I got the biggest smile ever. That really made me happy.

After that, his smile was more subdued, but it was still there. I’d like to think that I was a bright spot in his morning. I hoped so, at least.

And then today, it finally happened. I said good morning, and he smiled brightly. “Good morning!” he said.

I almost jumped for joy. I wanted to dance the rest of the way down the bridge. I wanted to look over my shoulder at him, but I didn’t want to intimidate him in any way, so I just walked, casually, to the bridge tower, climbed the stairs, and then started jumping up and down. Yes! Yes! Yes!

Do I plan to escalate this contact? No. I look forward to exchanging good mornings, of course, but I’ll leave it at that. We are strangers, and I’m perfectly content to let it stay that way. But now we’re strangers with benefits of a rated G sort.

Can I get a high five for persistence?

Good morning!!!!!!

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The Geometry of Love

I got to observe an interesting geometric experiment recently. It involved a variety of humans and some tennis balls. It made me change the way I look at love, community, and fellowship.

When I saw that the topic for a recent Sunday at the East Shore Unitarian Church in Bellevue, Washington was “The Geometry of Love”, I was intrigued. It’s a rare day when I get to attend church. Usually I’m at work. But I had this particular day off, so I went.

The chairs were set up rather differently that day. There was a large empty space in front. At first, one volunteer stood alone. She had one arm stretched out from her side, and she was holding a tennis ball. She spun in a circle, to demonstrate that she was her own focal point, and her realm of influence was a circle all around her. (A friend of mine calls this a “love bubble”. Fortunately that cheesy term didn’t come up on this particular day.)

But no man is an island, as the saying goes. Next, two people stood side by side, at arm’s length. One had a tennis ball, the other did not. They both spun in a circle, and as their hands met, they would pass the tennis ball back and forth. They formed an ellipse, with two focal points. The love of two people has an even larger realm of influence than one person acting alone. And I truly believe that. Functional, loving couples can make a huge difference in this world.

But life is even more complex than that. We cross paths with many people in our day to day lives. Friends. Neighbors. Coworkers. Members of our community. And we all impact one other. At this point, about 40 volunteers stood up, and about 15 of them had tennis balls. They walked among each other in random ways, and as those with tennis balls encountered those without, they’d make eye contact and pass the tennis balls on. It was chaotic, but it was also beautiful.

If we walk in the world in a loving way, we are capable of creating many unique realms of influence. Ellipses with multiple foci may not have a pleasing, regular shapes, they might even be confusing at times. But as we encounter others, of different ages, genders, ethnicities, and points of view, and we mix and mingle and intertwine, we can motivate, inspire, and guide each other in many unexpected ways.

So, as you read this, I’m handing you a tennis ball of love, dear reader. I hope that’s not too “crunchy granola” for you, and I also hope you’ll pass it on!

https _i.stack.imgur.com_pU8gt

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What I Thought America Meant

When I was little, I was taught that I lived in the greatest country in the entire world. I thought we set the best example, and that based on that example, other countries would aspire to be better, and someday the whole world would be just as wonderful as we were.

Everyone would be free. There would be no war. Every individual would have equal opportunities. The world would be one big safe, happy, teddy bear of a place. I was so proud. I felt so lucky to be an American.

To me, America meant generosity, compassion, justice, safety, equality, freedom, dedication, love, and integrity.

If you had told me back then that I’d become increasingly ashamed over time, I’d have been pretty darned disappointed. Disgusted is the word, actually. And even horrified every once in a while. (Simply because I can’t work up the energy to maintain horror for long periods.)

How must the rest of the planet view us when we say things like domestic and gang violence are no longer valid reasons for asylum? What happened to “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”?

And when did we become okay with children being yanked away from their parents? Do we think those traumatized children will grow up admiring us for that? Do we think those children deserve punishment? Guilt by association?

We were supposed to be the poster child for human rights. Are we? When our president shakes hands with Kim Jong-Un, the worst human rights abuser currently alive, and says he’ll “probably have a very good relationship” with him, it doesn’t do much for that image.

I also thought we’d be the saviors of the world. But we are one of its worst polluters, biggest consumers, and we live in a culture of selfishness and waste. We can’t even hold on to our national parks, which is an embarrassment, because we were the first country to even conceive of them. The planet cries out for us to take climate change seriously, even as some of them are sinking into the sea, and instead of setting an example, we back out of the Paris Accord.

Apparently we value the profits of gun manufacturers more than the lives of our children. We allow the very worst of our law enforcement officers to become murderers without any real consequences. We step over our homeless veterans in the streets. And we don’t seem to think anyone has a right to health care.

We elected a man who brags about grabbing pussies, thinks that white supremacy is acceptable, and uses Twitter to lie without remorse. We take great strides to make it difficult to vote, but that’s probably a waste of energy when no one can seem to be bothered to do so anyway. We spend more time keeping up with the Kardashians than we do with the real current events that actually impact our day to day lives.

We have become fat and bloated by our laziness and greed. We flaunt our hate. We exaggerate our fear. We demonize education and journalism. We are not who we said we would be.

I once told a cousin that America is an experiment. You’d think I had peed in his Post Toasties. How dare I say that?

Well, Cuz, do you still think we are solid as a rock, unchanging, and will last forever? Do you really think that this thing we have become has staying power, above all other regimes that have come and gone throughout history? Are we a shining example of the best of humanity? Have we reached some bright pinnacle? Should everyone want to be just like us?

I wish I could be that little girl again, with the star spangled banner eyes. I wish I was full of optimism and hope for this country’s future. I wish I still thought I was one of the good guys.

But I have to ask: Are we becoming our best selves? Because if we can’t do better than this, if we don’t want to do better than this, then there’s really no hope. And that scares me.

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Purple Hazeth, Sire

For centuries, Man has been experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs. Embarking on vision quests, shamans have made use of peyote, magic mushrooms, cannabis and other substances. You can’t convince me that some of the art we find in caves wasn’t done by someone on a massive trip.

What I want to know is how primitive man managed to experiment with these drugs without killing himself in the process? I mean, sure, some of it was probably accidental. Ingestion of the wrong (or right, as the case may be) mushroom most likely had psychedelic results. Walking past a field of burning marijuana plants was probably an interesting experience.

But some of it was surely trial and error. Holy crap though, would you want to be guinea pig number 2? I mean, picture this: shaman number 1 takes way too much of something and dies a horrible death. Does shaman number 2 seriously think, “Okay, so, now I’ll try it, but I’ll take a little less”? Not me. Uh uh.

I guess if you want something badly enough, you’ll make sacrifices for it. Or at least some people will. Personally, I’ll let someone else do the experimenting, thankyouverymuch.

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No way was this artist straight. [Image credit: thirdmonk.net]

My Brain on Cruise Control

With an 8 hour drive ahead of me from Seattle, Washington to Missoula, Montana, I wondered what my brain would do with all that “down time”. So I decided to take a digital recorder with me and whenever I started to think about a new subject, I’d take note. I have no idea whether I’m typical or completely out there on the lunatic fringe, but I thought it would be an interesting little experiment. So what follows is a look into my idle brain.

In between long periods where my mind seemed to simply hum along with the sound of my tires, I recorded these thoughts:

  • Did I leave burners on? I’m sure I checked… But did I?
  • Have I forgotten anything?
  • I hope my dog Devo doesn’t pee in the car.
  • I wonder if I’m passing Bill Gates on the highway?
  • It’s so nice to see something different for a change.
  • Why is my GPS not speaking to me?
  • Raining so hard I can’t see out the window. Wish I could afford a car with a working defogger.
  • Devo insisted I stop to let him pee less than a half hour down the road. I suppose it would be worse with small children.
  • After listening to an NPR story, I need to add The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat to my “must read” list, which is becoming so long that I fear I’ll never catch up.
  • My windshield wipers refuse to turn off. Great.
  • Do dogs’ ears pop when we come down from the mountains like mine do?
  • Devo is sitting beside me. He’s my best friend. Blue is sound asleep in the back.
  • Heading into Big Sky country. I can breathe again. I never realize I’m not breathing until I start breathing again.
  • Drove for 2 hours before I remembered I have cruise control. It’s not something I can use in the gridlock of Seattle.
  • I wonder what farming life is like? Lonely. Fulfilling. Hard.
  • I took this same route in reverse a year ago when I drove across country from Florida. I was so different then. What a year it has been.
  • Lots of talk about the forest fires on the radio. A sign outside of someone’s house: “Firefighters, it’s only a house. Take care of yourselves.”
  • Ideas for blog entries.
  • After seeing an out of date billboard on the subject: There’s a TESTICLE festival? Seriously?
  • You know you’re in trouble when the only radio stations you can get are gospel and traditional Mexican folk music. Radio is now off.
  • I begin humming “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson. Over and over and over and over…

[Image credit: larryrebich.com]
[Image credit: larryrebich.com]

Scary Fluffy Bunny

In just about every Psychology 101 textbook they discuss an experiment that was conducted in 1920. Called the Little Albert Experiment, in it a 9 month old boy was deliberately terrified by a loud noise every time he was in the presence of a white rat that he had initially enjoyed playing with. Eventually he transferred the  fear he learned to have of this rat to other animals, even a rabbit, until finally every time he saw the rabbit he would burst into tears. They never bothered to reverse the fear conditioning for that child, and there are a variety of unproven stories as to what became of him. For some reason that experiment has stayed with me throughout the years.

First, I’d love to know what kind of messed up parents would voluntarily allow their child to be subjected to an experiment that intentionally terrified him. How much money did they get for this? What other motivation could there possibly be?

And next, I’d like to know how that little boy turned out. He may not even have known he had been experimented upon. He was awfully young at the time, and heaven knows he would have had ample reason to block the experience out.

So imagine him now, an adult, and he has no idea why he has panic attacks every Easter, and screams like a little girl every time he encounters a petting zoo. And the worst part about it is he can’t even go to a psychologist because for some reason they strike terror in his heart. And he will not camp or live in the country, because you just never know what evil furry creatures will be lurking in the underbrush. If anyone ever starts to utter the phrase, “What’s up, Doc?” he breaks out in a cold sweat. The mere mention of Beatrix Potter probably causes him to break out in hives.

I’d love to find that guy and give him a hug, but he’d be 94 today, and all other facts about him, including whether he even survived to adulthood, are hazy and highly debated. Poor kid.

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A Photographic Mistake

Sometimes I am my own science experiment. Yesterday I got about 3 hours of sleep. And between getting off work at 8 a.m., getting the oil changed in my car, then waiting for the glass guy to come and replace my windshield, plus various unwanted phone calls, and my dog who decided to vomit all over my landlady’s plush carpet, those three hours weren’t even consecutive.

Then I went back to work at midnight without even being able to remember the drive. Finally I’m home again, but I’m seeing things out of the corners of my eyes that aren’t there, and I hope you’ll forgive me, but my mind is in such a fog that I can’t think of anything to write.

So I’ll leave you with this picture which I took entirely by accident. I was driving away from a camping trip to Chaco Canyon and there was this gorgeous sunset. I was on a busy highway and there was no way to stop, so I decided to take the picture on the fly. Little did I know I had the lens open for an extended period, so it came out like an impressionist painting. This photo, which was a complete mistake, is one of my all-time favorites. Nature provides the most colorful of palettes.             Hope you like it.

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Now I’m preparing for bed, but I seem to have gotten a most unwelcome second wind, so I shall eat comfort food, then lie here with a towel over my eyes to block out the light, and bitterly weep as only one who understands profound exhaustion can.

“He’s Not MY President!”

It’s Inauguration Day here in the United States, and even though I worked graveyard shift last night, which means the ceremonies felt like they were being held at the equivalent of my three o’clock in the morning, I watched them. And I got an amazing thrill from the event. Not just because my guy won. (Yay!)

I can say with all sincerity that I’ve gotten goose bumps from every single inauguration I’ve witnessed, regardless of whether the man who was being sworn in as president was the person I voted for. As I looked out at the hundreds of thousands of people who were willing to attend this event (despite the fact that it’s always held in an often brutally cold Washington DC January), I realized that they are bearing witness to history, and one in which we can all, on this day if not on any other, take pride.

During every inauguration, I’m reminded of the words of George Washington during the First Inaugural Address in 1789: “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered deeply, perhaps as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

And it’s true. This nation, this political process of ours, is an experiment. My saying that once got me blasted by one of my relatives. He thought what I was saying was unpatriotic. How dare I say this is an experiment? Well, I say it easily and with pride, thank you very much, because anyone with even the slightest knowledge of world history knows that governments rise and fall and political philosophies come and go. Just ask the people of ancient Rome. The fact that we are lucky enough to be at a point in time when our particular experiment seems to be working quite well is a reason for celebration. And saying it’s an experiment is the most patriotic thing in the world because it reminds us that this stability is fragile, and it needs to be monitored and cared for and debated about with the free speech afforded us by our constitution. What could possibly be more patriotic than that?

Indeed, my love of free speech was sorely tested a few days ago. A very heated political debate broke out on a friend’s Facebook page. I sat back and watched it with interest and enjoyment, at first. Then, as often happens when people don’t have a strong dog in a fight, it deteriorated into name calling and personal attacks. That made me sad, because rather than strengthening their views in my eyes, it simply made me think much less of both parties. So I was thrilled today when President Obama said, “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.” You tell ‘em, Barack. We don’t have to agree. But if you let it deteriorate into insults, you’re only revealing your ignorance, because, you see, this is not about him. It’s about us.

U.S. Presidential Inauguration 2013

That Facebook brawl ended abruptly when one person said, “He’s not my president!” Poor deluded woman. If you’re an American, yes he is. Even if you didn’t vote for him, even if you didn’t bother to vote at all, yes he is. And you should thank your lucky stars that he is. We have held a stable government without a violent overthrow since George Washington made that first inaugural address in 1789. Yes, we’ve had a civil war. Yes, there have been assassinations and assassination attempts and threats from other nations, but through it all, we have remained solid. Millions of people on this planet have not experienced that stability, and can’t even imagine what it must be like. So, yes, he’s your president, love him or hate him, and that fact was celebrated today on a cold, windy patch of ground in our nation’s capital. How cool is that?