Perceiving, Knowing, Creating.

Still mulling Winnicott’s contention that one, while being careful not to locate a clock where one is not, creates one’s perception of a clock through conception and apperception.  No, that’s not quite correct. Or maybe it is.  In any case, I have been looking for an example and think I have found one in the DNA issue.

Watson and Crick are credited with having “discovered” the structure of DNA: the double helix.  The word “discovery” implies that the structure was already there—pre-existing Watson and Crick—to be discovered via perception.




But I think there’s a prior problem; one may perceive but not “know” what one perceives.

Why and how did Watson and Crick know what they were discovering?  Well, more or less digressively, they did not come to know it through the so called scientific method.  Rather, their piece in Nature with the picture of the double helix was a piece of rampant speculation arrived at, not my testing, hypothesis and so on, but by a synthesis of things previously known.

More specifically Watson, in The Double Helix, acknowledges the contributions of A) Erwin Chargaff.  He found out that the DNA in any cell has a 1:1 ratio of pyrimidine and purine bases and, more specifically, that the amount of guanine is equal to cytosine and the amount of adenine is equal to thymine. B) the work of Linus Pauling on amino acids (proteins), his discover of the function of the double helix in the structure of amino acids and by way of method his use of models to demonstrate the structures of amino acids.  And C) and most importantly, I think, the x-ray work of Rosalind Franklin.

Watson nearly pissed his pants when he saw one of Franklin’s x-rays.  This very one I think:




Franklin, however, for her own reasons I suppose did not see this as a picture of a double helix.  Clearly she perceived the structure in this x-ray.  But she did not know it.  Watson and Crick knew it because, following Winnicott’s strange claim, they brought to it conceptions, models, speculations, and imagination.  These led them to create what was already there: the structure of DNA.

So what’s the point?  Not much.  Except that what we know about a perception is not the same thing as the perception. Most of the time of course we do not create what we know.  Rather we have been socialized into knowing what we perceive.  A long schooling has taught me that a green light means I can go.

Creation, per se, is not perception, nor is it simply knowing what is perceived, but seeing or knowing something new about what is perceived.

Pre Historic Depression

So the question to my mind is not how depression, which appears maladaptive, proves through secondary gains adaptive for the individual gene carrier.  Rather how does the depression of the individual gene carrier contribute, not to his or her particular survival, but to the survival of the group as a whole?

Since I lack any scientific evidence for what I have to say I must engage in rampant speculation and attempt to imagine circumstances that suggest how depressed gene carriers might have been of benefit to the whole.  And since about the only think I really know is me—and not very well even there—I imagine myself in Pre Historic Times.  I am a very pasty white person and my knowledge of family genealogy suggests my particular genetic make up evolved in quite cold areas, like England, and possibly prior to that Denmark.

So I imagine a time and a world that, for certain periods of time was warm, and then for extended periods extremely cold.  What was one to do on those days but to sit in one’s cave, eat bits of bark and insects possibly, while trying not to freeze to death?  I think such circumstances might have depressed the hell out of anybody.  But this is situational depression, not genetic.  I am talking about the folks who are depressed even when it’s all warm and sunny.

One thing we know about depression today is that depressed people tend to lose their appetites and, in many cases, sleep way too much.  The tendency to not eat and to sleep excessively seems to be in the circumstances as described quite adaptive for the individual gene carrier since in those cold months in the cave there was very little to eat and little to do but sleep. 

Further these depressed people might have functioned for the whole as “role models.”  Even the more active and non-depressed types might have located in the behavior of the depressed a way to endure their terrible circumstances.  If I am not to go completely insane or stir crazy under these horrible circumstances perhaps I should mimic the behavior of my depressed colleagues who while perpetually miserable seem able to endure terrible circumstances.

The non depressed person, one knowing hope, might then have adapted the behavior of the depressed knowing that this too will pass and the sun will shine again.  The depressed persons would lack this consolation—that the sun will one day come out again and there will be plenty of berries and flightless birds to eat—and think, yes, this too will pass…when I die.  That for the depressed would seem to be the only end in sight and death one might say really is maladaptive.

I therefore conclude that the depressed, lying around moaning and groaning, began to try to imagine reasons for their maladaptive selves and so became the first philosophers and religious figures.  Why did this terrible thing happen?  Why did my infant die at birth or my spouse for no apparent reason?  Well, you know…the gods did it.  Thus the depressed became the first ideologues; people desperate to explain and somehow understand the unmitigated horror of their condition. In which case, I believe I can claim, that the depressed contributed mightily to the survival of the whole, and I say this without fear of contradiction because there is no way to prove me wrong, and for that matter to prove—thinking of those pseudo scientists—that individual gene carriers in Pre Historic times were ever depressed.

Depression, Evolutionarily Speaking

Recently a pseudo science of a sort has started to emerge called “evolutionary psychology.”  The basic premise seems to be that our emotions or psychology must have evolved at different times and in different situations as means or ways for individual gene carriers to survive in these different times and situations.  In other words, the premise says: emotions must serve an evolutionary adaptive purpose.  Take anger for example.  That clearly could serve adaptive purposes; surely it is closely related to the fight part of the deeply embedded (somewhere down on the back of the neck) fight/flight response.  Flight is of course related to fear.  If one did not feel it—at the appropriate moments—one might rather maladaptively be eaten, for example.

Since to their credit these speculative pseudo scientists do take what they do seriously they have been forced also to look at emotions that on the face of it seem maladaptive, one of the big ones of those being—you guessed it—depression.  Once again the depressed get the shaft; if one is depressed one must be maladapted and generally unfit for normal human functioning.  One pseudo scientists looking into this matter suggests that depression may produce what ordinary non-evolutionary psychologists call “secondary gains.”

Take for example you have a phobia about loud, sudden popping sounds.  Every time you hear a loud, sudden popping sound, you freak out, break into sweats and piss yourself.  Now the secondary gain here might be that you are rendered completely and recognizably unfit to serve in the military where loud, sudden popping sounds frequently occur.  So what appears maladative turns out to be adaptive in that one has less of a chance of being killed in some war. I am making a joke of course, but that’s roughly the reasoning.

The pseudo scientist concluded that depressed people back in cave person times may, as a result of their depression, have received extra attention—in the form of say, what the hell is wrong with you and can’t you get up off your butt—and resources.  Other people might for example feel the need to feed you (since you are their genetic extension or even one’s mate, carrying one’s genetic extension) or something.  The depressed person pays a heavy price for these secondary gains (that is, being depressed) but secondary gains make it worth it and thus evolutionarily adaptive, rather than maladaptive.

Now of course this theory is as sexist as hell since it is well known—and seemingly verified by the advertising of anti-depressants which universally are directed at women—that many, many more women are depressed than men. Accordingly one must conclude that women are depressed, evolutionary speaking, to manipulatively acquire those secondary gains.

But there’s another problem with this outlook.  It’s based on the idea—more or less—that each individual being is largely out for his own.  But what if this is not the case; what if what is most distinctive about human beings (and their ability to survive) is not the survival of the individual but the survival of the whole.

I think again of the nervous prairie dog about which I have previously written in these pages.  This is the prairie dog that STANDS on the top of the prairie dog hill keeping an eye out for predatory birds (that might eat his fellow prairie dogs).  Now let’s face it: standing on top of the hill seems maladaptive for that individual prairie dog since clearly and stupidly this prairie dog is putting itself at considerable risk from exactly those predators that it seeks to detect.

Maladaptive for that individual prairie dog, well yes, maybe; adaptive for the whole and the survival of it.  Conclusively.  Yes.

Chilly Fingers

So I woke wretchedly at 6 AM.  I say wretchedly because when I wake at six that means I have only managed seven hours sleep; not enough for an aging male.  But I wake and can’t get back to sleep so I go into my closet office.  I check the weather on Yahoo, and it says the temp at 5:58 AM was 34 degrees.  It’s now 620 or so and the temp in my little office must be like 38.

I have this miserable little electric heater that I don’t like to use much because it is a wasteful mother and I wish I hadn’t bought it.  Also the cat has come in and sets to meowing.  I know what she wants.  She wants me to turn on the electric heater.  So I do, but given the narrow confines of my closet office, I end up pointing the heater at her and not at me.  I think about aiming it at me but when I see her so  blissed-out in front of the little heater I just don’t have the heart.  So she gets all warmed up and I don’t.

Neither the cat nor I am used to this cold.  It started last winter and it has come back this winter.  We have had at least three weeks of night time temps falling into the mid thirties, sometimes dropping to 32, sometimes rising to 38.  This is a relatively new thing—for years—afterall we live less than a mile from the ocean which tends to moderate temps—having the time fall into the 30’s was worthy of remark.  Like, oh my, we are going to freeze to death.  Now temps in the 30s have become ordinary.

No big deal…temps in the 30s; what sort of wimp are you?  But I should point out that we live in a Southern California condo.  I might as well be living in a tent.  These places weren’t built for inclement weather.  Especially places, like this one, built back in 1973.  No double paned windows back then; some insulation, I guess, but not much.  Also we don’t have any heat.  Well, we have it but it’s awful.

Back in 1973 the Atomic Energy Commission was pushing nuclear power plants as an unlimited source of electricity.  Consequently—and it must have seemed hip at the time—we have electrical heat by which I mean we have wires behind that plaster stuff on the ceiling.  Electricity goes into these tiny wires, resistance occurs and heat is generated.  The wires must be insulated since so far the roof has not caught on fire.

But maybe that was luck because we have turned on this so-called heat less than six times in the last 15 years.  Mostly because we haven’t needed it.  Now we need it, but don’t use it.  A) Because we are not sure it works anymore.  The last time we tried little heat was generated.  B) Because when it did work the heat produced was very, very dry.  The back of one’s throat became parched and one felt as if one were being slowly baked or broiled alive.

So there I was at 630 AM in the pitched dark, feeling just plain miserable, this being my usual miserable plus being cold misery, which is not just being cold misery but cold that also produces misery in my increasingly arthritic joints.  Also on yahoo I saw the high for the day was going to be 58.  When the sun came up, I saw only slate grey sky.

Carol and I decided something had to be done, so we took a 20% off coupon to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and bought a little electric heater that’s safe and pretty efficient (though I won’t want to see the electricity bill this month).  Now that the place has warmed up a little Carol and I have concluded, by way of contrast, that we have been living in somewhat unnatural state of coldness for at least two months.  We were pretty used to it; but today is/was over the top.

What Time Is It?

Freud who pretty much felt life was suffering at the best wrote mostly about mental illness and didn’t spend much time defining mental health.  He did say once when asked say something to the effect that mental health (as the lack of mental illness) goes along with the ability “to love and to work.”  Later psychoanalysts took a stab at conceptualizing mental health more positively (as something more than the absence of mental illness).

One of those later psychoanalysts was D.W. Winnicott.  He emphasized, as did Kohut and others, that part, perhaps even the backbone of mental health, is the capacity to be creative.  He didn’t mean by creativity painting, necessarily, or playing the piano, or such truck.  In any case it’s quite possible to do any one of these things and still not be creative.  One can find many highly proficient even brilliant pianists who are nothing but technicians without a creative bone in their ten fingers.

Winnicott thought a person could be creative concocting a recipe; and in this context he makes a strange comment about clocks (which is what I am still thinking about re: duration and spatial time):

The fact is we create what is already there, but the creativeness lies in the way we get at perception through conception and apperception.  So when I look at a clock, as I must do now, I create a clock, but am careful not see clocks except where I already know there is one.

Winnicott wrote like that: more suggestively and elliptically than discursively or systematically.  He must have felt this last thought particularly elliptical even for him because he concludes the paragraph by saying:

            Please do not turn down this piece of absurd unlogic—but look at it and use it.

Well, I don’t think Winnicott was an idiot, so I have in fact tried to look at this piece of “absurd unlogic” and use it.

I am still stumped.  I get the part about being careful not to see clocks where there are no clocks; otherwise one would necessarily be hallucinating clocks, not a good mental space to be in.  Now though I am thinking about clocks and wonder if his choice of the clock, rather than say a chair or a stool, was not, even if unconsciously selected for a particular reason. A clock is different from a chair; the former tells us something (the time); while the latter does not say “sit.”  So I want to think that perhaps the clock was not randomly selected as he sat there at this desk, as something he was aware of because he needed to finish this damn essay and get onto something else.

Could the clock as the teller of time represent that objective world (the one we find) that in telling us the time tells us what and when to do it?  I say “objective” because people don’t argue about what time it is—there isn’t anything to argue about—if they have clocks and those clocks are set to the same standard or can be adjusted mathematically (say by time zone).

This presents to my mind my odd question for the day: can we speak of an object world without it also being a real world.  Apparently…Yes…

High Tide

Christmas morning, Carol and I took a walk along the beach.  I had never seen the tide so high before.  Places where we had sat, plus vegetation, had disappeared.  You can see how the ocean has cut into the sand, making a whole new beach.


The tide was too high for us to walk in our usual direction so we headed in the other direction and came to this spot where the ocean had broken through the beach and was feeding water into the lagoon. 

Looking back towards the ocean.  I had never seen the lagoon so completely full before.
I startled the snowy egret.
We walked for two hours and my legs got tired.  As well as my butt which is attached to my legs. But the walk made for a nice Chirstmas morning. 


Continue reading High Tide

Tick to the Tock

I looked back over the blog to see what I was thinking about on Christmas, 2006.  But I could find no entry for that day.  Then I remembered I had an awful day.  That was the day I decided not to watch the Lakers anymore because watching them play so pathetically made me want to throw the TV through the window; and later that day in some sort of fit, I banged my head into the wall, leaving a roundish indentation in the sheet rock.  Now that’s always embarrassing.

Looking back, I see I was going through withdrawal from that terrible effexor.  That was part of the problem, maybe the straw that broke the camel’s back.  But partly too, there was all that other stuff going on at the time.  Trying to sell Joan’s house being the big thing so we would have the money to pay for the place where she was staying.  We had made the deal for the house, but it hadn’t closed.  I was waiting and I hate that and I was still recovering from the pneumonia.  All and all, I felt like jumping out of my skin.

I can’t believe that was just one year ago; it feels like eons.  These last two years feel like eons.  How can that be? I wondered yesterday, I think, and remembered having read the French philosopher Bergson on something he called duration.  Scientifically or objectively speaking, last Christmas was 365 days ago.  How can 365 days feel like more than that?  That’s where duration may come in as the explanatory factor.  Bergson wrote:

When I follow with my eyes on the dial of a clock the movement of the hand which corresponds to the oscillations of the pendulum, I do not measure duration, as seems to be thought; I merely count simultaneities, which is very different. Outside of me, in space, there is never more than a single position of the hand and the pendulum, for nothing is left of the past positions. Within myself a process of organization or interpenetration of conscious states is going on, which constitutes true duration. It is because I endure in this way that I picture to myself what I call the past oscillations of the pendulum at the same time as I perceive the present oscillation. Now, let us withdraw for a moment the ego which thinks these so-called successive oscillations: there will never be more than a single oscillation, and indeed only a single position, of the pendulum, and hence no duration.

I don’t know if this explains anything or not, but to follow up on what Bergson says, we might imagine a year clock with 365 positions or ticks on it.  When we count these ticks, he seems to say, we are thinking of time in terms of the spaces between the ticks.  Each tick perceived in space is a single position with no past positions implied.  But in duration one endures and in that position, outside of space,  all the past ticks are summed up or implied in the previous ticks.  Something like that.

So perhaps this feeling: “I cannot believe last Christmas was only 365 days ago” arises from my immersal in “duration.”  From that perspective, the perspective of duration, all the days merge and flow indistinguishable into each other.  There is no such thing as 365 days ago.

This Christmas is not the tick to the tock of last Christmas.

The Chicken Part Is the Hardest Part

Yesterday, I made up some chicken cacciatore which is pretty tasty and not all that fattening and pretty easy to make except for the chicken part but you need the chicken part if you are going to make chicken cacciatore.  At the store the chicken comes in all shapes and sizes.  You have your separate plastic wraps of chicken legs and chicken thighs and chicken breasts with or without the skin, and these are all packaged up in neat little rows, and separated out like that these pieces don’t really look like a chicken at all. 

I guess if you bought a bunch of chicken legs and chicken thighs and chicken breasts you could sort of assemble something that looked like a chicken.

They also have whole cut up chickens.  Plastic wraps that have two legs and two thighs and two breasts and sometimes the back.  Once I saw a mistake and the package had three legs in it and only one thigh, like the parts had come from a three legged chicken.  But, hell, I don’t know if those parts even come from the same chicken.  In this case, apparently not.


But when I make chicken cacciatore, I don’t know why exactly, I insist on buying a whole and not cut up chicken that comes in a plastic bag and looks sort of like a pasty white bowling ball, and I take that home and cut it up myself.  Honestly, I don’t know why I do this.  Maybe I just get some sort of satisfaction at taking the thing out of the bag and looking at what appears to be the remains of an actual chicken (without its head, of course, and little chicken feet).


I bought some chicken scissors a while back.  Those help me out and I have knives too; so I have pretty much what I need to cut up a chicken.  First I clean out the stuff they stick inside the chicken—I wonder who the hell does that—the gizzard, the liver, and of course the neck, which in the chicken’s natural state is not inside the chicken but out there in front holding up the chicken head. 

Then I cut off the Pope’s or Pastor’s nose depending on how you look at it.  And then I go to work on the carcass per se.  First off comes the thighs with legs attached and then the wings, and then I separate the legs from the thighs and then I cut out the back and separate the breast into two breasts and then I skin the whole damn thing, so by the time it looks like half the chicken is going into the trash.

I don’t know.  It seems pretty wasteful, though sometimes I give in and fry up the liver.  But I don’t like the gizzard and neither of us eats the back or the neck, and every time I do it I feel like I am going to cut off one of my fingers in the process.  And this last time, the chicken was damn cold and I had to keep warming up my fingers while doing the job.

Like I said, chicken cacciatore is pretty easy except for the chicken part.  I could make it easier by just buying the whole cut up chicken, but that costs like twice as much.  But I don’t think that’s it.  It just seems—I don’t why—right to buy the whole, fully assembled chicken and then cut the sucker up myself.

Golden Fears

My shrink has been warning me for five years at least that as I approach those “golden years” I should find some things that I do and want to do just for myself.  Otherwise she seems to suggest I will just dry up and become even more bitter and cranky than I already am.  It’s a life and death matter.  But I remain uncertain about what she means—what is this thing I want to do for myself.  I suppose she means something like a hobby, maybe, collecting stamps or bird watching.

But I remember—when was it? 15 years or so ago or maybe longer—she started hounding me at every session.  What do you want Neek (she is French so Nick comes out Neek); what is it exactly that you want?  This question just drove me crazy.  It pissed me off.  I understood the words, but not what they meant exactly or how they might apply to me in particular.  What I wanted, I had learned over my childhood, was not a matter of any significance.

I don’t remember my parents having ever been interested in what I wanted, except as in “what the hell do you want” and “stop bugging me” because you can’t have it since money doesn’t grow on trees and if wishes were horses beggars would ride.  If wants come f rom wishes I was pretty much horseless.  So to drag out the metaphor I became a foot soldier, one of those Roman Legionaries that just march along, do as they are told (because their lives depended on doing that) and took pride in wanting next to nothing.  Sure I needed a few things, that was a matter of survival; but wanting things, well, that was a damn luxury I could live without.

So when my shrink said Neek, what do you want, the question struck right at the heart of who I am—a person that might need some things, but want nothing.  I would rant and rave about how wanting stuff just got you screwed anyway.  Want stuff and you are going to have to live with the pain of not getting it.  You were going to fail.  And then I would go all Buddha on her and talk about how desire or want was just the road to suffering.   Or maybe existentialist and talk about how our beings are contingent and how wanting just led to increased anxiety in the face of a fluid and unpredictable future.

I was a tough nut to crack alright.  Fact was, while she was plenty smart, I was smarter and could pretty well thrown up an effective road block to anything she might say in this vexed area of Neek, what do you want?  But all unconsciously my brain went to work on the problem and finally I copped to the idea that maybe she wasn’t asking me about what I wanted in the future but what I wanted right now, at this instant.  I didn’t know what that was either, but gradually it dawned on me that maybe she wasn’t asking me what I wanted in some big way, like whether I wanted to live in the USA or Canada, but like, “right now I want to scratch my ass.” 

Time was I would go on this semi-rant with my students—to make some sort of point I guess—that we had all become such unnatural creatures that we no longer knew even when we wanted to sleep or when we wanted to eat or what we wanted to eat.  We ate by the clock, we slept by the clock, we move and breathe by the clock.  So all this thinking on wanting led me to the conclusion, that much of what I did was not the consequence of my wanting something but was the product of compulsion.

I was driven, but I did not drive.

Drug Enhancement

I am sort of sad about the Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens thing.  How could Barry jump up and down like that when he hit that dinger that beat out Hammering Hank knowing he had gotten to the place where he could jump up and down like that because he had been using “performance enhancement drugs.”  As for Roger Clemens I never liked him much; seemed like a pretty surly number to me.

But maybe it’s not the guys so much as the system we live in these days.  Hell, you think you are the best and everybody is getting ahead of you and you know they are using those drugs, so why not use them yourself.  It’s the competition thing.

The LA Times re: the steroid scandal ran an article on brain enhancement drugs, all the things people are using these days to enhance the brain.  Corporate guys are using them, academics, guys who work a lot with computers, and of course students.  The favorite these days among students seems to be Adderall.  This is generally described as a sort of super compound of amphetamine salts.

The article in the LA Times says that these drugs make you smarter and, hey, who wants to be dumb?  So take the pills, I guess.  Certainly they do something, but I don’t think they increase intelligence, though they do help with concentration, whatever that might be.  They allow you to take whatever brains you have and use them more effectively and efficiently.  So you can do what you need to do without all those interior distractions that pop up and you can stay awake longer doing whatever it is you need to do.

So students take them all the time, especially getting prepped for finals.  They stay up a couple of days at a time, but I don’t think that means they learn anything exactly.  Back in 1968, the health center where I went to college, was just handing out Dexedrine because the guys were having a hard time, getting depressed and all about the idea of being drafted.  I went in and got some.

I had this class in modern philosophy; a whole hunk of the final was going to be about Wittgenstein’s Tractatus.  Honestly, I didn’t understand this at all; it was sort of mathematic philosophy related to symbolic logic and what later became known as analytic philosophy.  Because I couldn’t understand it, I just decided to memorize, and the Dexedrine helped along with the fact that the whole thing was mathematical, with one axiom leading to another and so on.  So when I got to the test I just looked inside my head and wrote down what was there—it was almost as if I were reading from pages engraved in my head.  As soon as I stepped out the door—I aced the test—the pages disappeared as if all the pages had been broken like glass.

Conclusion:  I didn’t learn a thing.  Extra added conclusion: when students use brain enhancement drugs—given that most of what they are tested on is stuff they have to memorize—they don’t learn anything either.  They just pass the test.  That’s part of the competition thing.