Voice of Sanity – September 2017

 

 

 

Piedmont Humanists

Membership: adults $24/year

Seniors/students $15/year

Editor: Joyce Bates

All correspondence to:

Email:

joycebates@piedmonthumanists.org 

Regular mail:

Piedmont Humanists

3620 Pelham Rd., Suite 5, #135

Greenville, SC. 29615

September 2017

 

The Voice of Sanity

THE NEWSLETTER OF THE PIEDMONT HUMANISTS

                 Visit our web-site for current issues at:

                         www.piedmonthumanists.org

                          

 

 

                                                     CALENDAR

                            http://www.meetup.com/piedmont-SC-Humanists/

                                             www.piedmonthumanists.org

                            https://www.facebook.com /groups/piedmonthumanists/

 

The Sunday meeting: There is a meet and greet 10:00AM to 10:45AM

At 11:00AM there is usually a talk, video, or general discussion from 11:00AM to 1:00PM

Location: the Earth Fare 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville.

A review of business done in the board meeting is presented at the 11:00 time on the first Sunday of every month.

Dates for the Sunday meetings are: September 3rd, 10th, 17th, and 24th

 

For those new to Humanism a discussion group will meet 10AM Sunday September 24th. Location: the Earth Fare 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville

 

The Free-Thought group will meet at 7:00PM September 7th, and 21st (Thursdays) for a meal at California Dreaming restaurant; 40 Beacon Drive; near the Pelham Road exit off I85. 

 

The Free-thought trivia and pool group will meet at Friar’s Tavern,

1178 Woodruff Road, Greenville, SC 29607.

Meetings will be held 7:00 to 10:00PM on August 31st, and September 14th and 28th (also Thursdays).

 

Saturday September 2nd: is the Greer Soup Kitchen. Time: 9:45AM

Location 521 E. Poinsett Street (Route 290) in Greer, SC

There is no definite time the event ends. Serving stops at 12:30PM but time must be taken to clean up afterward. Please remember to wear close-toed shoes.

September 9th: Second Saturday Brunch will be at10AM at the Golden Corral, 3240 North Pleasantburg Dr. Greenville, SC 29609.  

 

 

                          

                         SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS-   A book review

 

Michael Graziano’s Consciousness and the Social Brain not only puts to the test some preconceived notions about what constitutes consciousness but also questions things humans have traditionally taken for granted. His idea or rather hypothesis is that consciousness rides atop two activities of the brain that constantly loop back and forth on each other. One activity is our attention to and gathering of information about the outside world in order to take action. The other activity is called “awareness” and it functions to edit and organize our attention into a model of the world we can carry around in our heads. To repeat, our sensing of the world is not of the world itself but a representation we carry and constantly update within ourselves.

 

Graziano emphasizes that attention and awareness are two separate aspects of our mental model because experiments have shown that we can “attend” an image, process and respond to it without being aware of it. We have these experiences with many daily functions such as reading this page. We are not aware of the complex process associated with it but if we had to we could become aware of the spellings of the words or the shapes of the letters we see. Those things are attended to more or less automatically while we concentrate on the meaning of the sentences. This is where the hypothesis differs greatly from the traditional notions of the conscious and unconscious. Both become intertwined in our minds’ model of the world.

 

The constant editing of our mental model when we are very young allows us to distinguish that which is part of the body and that which is not. Again, it is important to remember here that the model is in our heads and not in the outside world. As we develop in infancy we gradually come to know that “we” are identities separate from what goes on around us. As the model grows we establish spatial locations not only for ourselves but for things around us. Our models are only good enough to allow us to function in the outside world and consequently they are also inaccurate allowing us to believe and even depend on information that may not be true.

 

Faulty perception is an example of how our mental model can be mistaken. If a model of an object is created in one’s brain it can be detailed during the observation and knowledge of it can also be stored as a memory, making it available for future reference when the item is no longer around. Unhappily, many of the models of what we see are not accurate. There are plenty of optical illusions to illustrate this. Try these if you have time: http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/

 

Also, we assign spatial locations and create models of ourselves inside our minds. These models become “identities”, ongoing constant thought processes that don’t break down unless we sleep or are otherwise incapacitated. Assigning spatial locations to things around us also allows us to assign awareness to other human beings and to other objects, as well. Again these models can be inaccurate because we can give personality to inanimate things, apply human characteristics to pets, and even kick our cars if they refuse to start. 

 

Of course, the idea of such a model begs for an explanation as to how the brain does this. Research has provided some hints but much more is needed. Below are a few interesting studies.

 

Some epileptic patients who have constant seizures undergo surgery in which the corpus callosum, the part connecting left and right hemispheres of the brain, is severed. This disconnects certain neural circuits between the two hemispheres and successfully relieves the epilepsy. Michael Gazziniga, head of the SAGE center at the University of California, has done research of these post-operative patients and found their right hemispheres could respond to and perform actions, but their left hemispheres processed the actions into awareness. When a card on which the written command “walk” was presented to such a patient and that same card was displayed only so that the patient’s right hemisphere could perceive it, that patient would get up and walk immediately. But when he was asked for a reason why, he would consistently provide a reason unrelated to the card. This was done on many patients using a variety of commands with the same result. Gazziniga thinks that without the information from the right hemisphere the left hemisphere somehow makes up stories to explain the action. Our author thinks the mental model in these cases demands an explanation even when information is missing.

 

Benjamin Libet, another pioneer in the field of human consciousness, did research focusing on intentionality. For these experiments volunteers had a set of electrodes placed on the scalp to monitor electrical activity of the motor cortex in the region where the brain initiates movements to the fingers. The participants were asked to note the precise time that their intention to move their fingers occurred to them. They carefully noted the time but the activity of the motor cortex showed initiation of movement a moment earlier in nearly all instances. This raised the question of whether that decision was genuine or really a narrative to explain the action..

 

There are many examples in the world of art to illustrate the confusion that occurs in our mental models. One that comes to mind is a painting by René Magritte of a very realistic rendering of a pipe underneath which are painted the words: “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” (This is not a pipe.) Well, of course it’s not a pipe but…..

 

Research has pointed consistently to one area of the brain (the parietal) for processing sensory information and also tracking the location of one’s body at all times. When this area is damaged patients lose their ability to reach, take hold of, or manipulate objects even though they see where the objects are and can describe them in detail. One the other hand, one patient with diffuse brain damage that left this area untouched had the opposite problem. She was completely unaware of the shapes, placement, or sizes of objects in front of her. In spite of her insistence that she didn’t know where they were she could still reach out and pick them up when requested to do so.

 

One of the most tantalizing mental deficiencies in brain damage is hemispatial neglect. This disability occurs in certain stroke patients who suffer from damage to particular areas on the right side of the brain. These persons lose the ability to be aware of the left side of their visual field. This is not a situation where the individual is blind on that side, but one where he is not aware of the existence of that side. In one classic experiment a patient was asked to close his eyes and imagine he was standing in a familiar city square and then was asked to describe the entire square. He mentioned everything on the right side of the square but nothing on the left. Then he was told to pretend that he had turned 180 degrees, facing in the opposite direction, and describe the square fully again. He then described everything on the right side of his visual perception but since he had imagined being turned completely around, the features he described were those on the left side of the square.

 

Damage to this particular area of the brain only destroys awareness on one’s left, but there is almost no history of anyone losing awareness on the right side of their visual field from any brain injury. So far no one has been able to come up with a useful explanation for this.   

 

The idea of a mental model with attention and awareness serving as an ongoing process in updating, remembering, and reacting to the environment is a radical idea but has some support in experiments thus far. The concept prods us to question our notion of free will especially in the Libet experiments where we witness awareness as an epiphenomenon (a consciousness that makes sense of the action after the fact). Secondly, it shakes our understanding of what is actually true since we can routinely be fooled by the evidence of our senses and we can become gullible enough to believe what is consensus without real proof.

 

Lastly, our awareness of others as contained in such a model and carried in our imaginations enables us to attribute awareness to things that may not have it at all. Indeed, some of us make-up and attribute awareness to things for which there is no evidence at all, such as unicorns, aliens from another world, Bigfoot, and gods.

 

For those who would like to read more the book is:

Consciousness and the Social Brain, Michael S. A. Graziano, 2013, Oxford University Press  

 

 

                             GENTRIFICATION AND WEST GREENVILLE

 

Greenville recently has been listed as one of four of the fastest growing cities in the United States and has been enjoying some notice on the national scene. Back 2013 The Boston Globe highlighted Greenville in its travel section as an interesting place to include in one’s itinerary. The coverage featured a three day weekend stay in town complete with suggestions for dining and historic tours. A visit to the pre-gentrified arts district west of the downtown area and a bicycle trip on the Swamp Rabbit Trail were also recommended. 

 

On the other hand there is a website run by the city government called the Greenville West Side Comprehensive Plan. This pdf identifies downtown neighborhoods such as Southernside, West Greenville, Sterling, Green Avenue and others as communities that are gradually being displaced by gentrification. True, downtown Greenville is a nice place to go during the weekend for a walk down Main Street to Falls Park and lunch at one of the bistros, but how do improvements such as this repeatedly become detrimental to original inhabitants?

 

Part of the problem is the locations themselves. According to the website the single highest concentration of jobs in the greater Greenville area is in the downtown. All the west Greenville areas are close enough to the downtown for it to be reached conveniently. For cyclists there is the Swamp Rabbit Trail. Also, there is now a proposed bus rapid transit that would also increase access. It is ideal for anyone wishing not to commute a long distance to work. High traffic and air pollution would also be kept at a minimum. Ironically this is not a good thing for people already living in these neighborhoods.

 

When new individuals with higher incomes move in, they usually invest in what are very inexpensive homes that have history and architectural interest. They repair and remodel them. This brings up real estate prices and property taxes. Original home owners are burdened with the higher taxes. It’s a great temptation for these owners to sell and make a profit during the real estate boom. The same is true for landlords. For areas west of downtown over half the population lives in rent and would be faced with eviction if the buildings they live in are put up for sale. Even if they are not sold, increased taxes would cause rents to increase as well.

 

Presently, the West Side is in need of better transportation services and grocery stores. There are poor connections to services most of us take for granted such as doctors’ offices and retail stores. Bridges over railroad tracks are in poor repair or non-existent. The dearth of stores that could exist in these neighborhoods is an indication of market failure. Most large retailers don’t want to invest in stores here because they know that profits will be lower. They prefer to build in communities where they can sell large quantities of goods with cheaper prices drawing in large crowds and creating big turnover.  These are the stores to which people can afford to drive.

 

There should be plenty of employment opportunities in the downtown area for people living in the western Greenville communities. Wherever there is a large concentration of businesses there also has to be an equally large supporting network for their maintenance: jobs from electrical and plumbing repair down to painting and office cleaning. The question here is: Why can’t people who do these less glamorous but necessary jobs also have a modest but affordable living space near their place of employment?

 

Reference: http://connections.greenvillesc.gov/forms/CompPlan/Chapt_4_OrganizingtoEmpowertheCommunity.pdf

https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/travel/2013/03/16/days-greenville/A8z64755qPO8FTDZQ6PQSO/story.html

 

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More Wonderful English from Around the World:

Contributed by Andrew Kuharsky

 

In a Tokyo bar: Special Cocktails for the Ladies with Nuts

 

Hotel, Yugoslavia: The Flattening of Underwear with Pleasure Is the Job of the Chambermaid.

 

Hotel, Japan: You Are Invited to Take Advantage of the Chambermaid.

 

In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian Orthodox monastery:

You Are Welcome to Visit the Cemetery Where Famous Russian and Soviet Composers, Artists and Writers Are Buried Daily Except Thursday.

 

A sign posted in Germany’s Black Forest:

It Is Strictly Forbidden on Our Black Forest Camping Site that People of Different Sex, for Instance, Men and Women, Live Together in One Tent unless They Are Married to Each Other for This Purpose.

 

Hotel, Zurich:

Because of the Impropriety of Entertaining Guests of the Opposite Sex in the Bedroom, It Is Suggested that the Lobby Be Used for This Purpose.

 

Advertisement for donkey rides, Thailand:

Would You Like to Ride on Your Own Ass?

 

Airline ticket office, Copenhagen:

We Take Your Bags and Send Them in All Directions

 

A laundry in Rome:

Ladies, Leave Your Clothes and Spend the Afternoon.

 

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