Sunday, December 10, 2006

Stars in the mind

On Friday, Bean - who knows my feminist interests well and knows everything I need to know about all things science - told me all about Henrietta Swan Leavitt, an astronomer who lived in the 1800's and who Bean described as the enabler of cosmology.

Leavitt volunteered at the Harvard Observatory for 7 years before they offered her a permanent post in 1907. She was tasked with determining the brightness of all measurable stars, and her work enabled later astronomers to accurately calculate the distance between stars, and thus provided a significant contrinution to cosmology as we know it today. You can find out all about Leavitt here.

Yesterday, I was seeing stars of a slightly different kind, as G and I braved the insanity that is Palmerston Road to attempt some Christmas shopping. At first, I thought I was just in a bit of a shoddy mood. There were too many people around, being all kinds of moody and non-goodwillish to all men, for a start. Then I made the mistake of trying to do some clothes shopping at the same time - not my favourite of all things in any case - and the day was finished off. Tears in the changing room are not a happy sight.

Poor G suffered my craziness with her usual calm distance. I turned into even more of a mood Nazi. By the time we returned to the Heights, we had both had more than enough of me and the Universe rightly handed out some karma by smacking the top of my spine across the fireplace. I cannot describe to you how painful that was, both physically and spiritually. I cried like a small chimp separated from its mother.

G departed to visit my brother round the corner (and probably to search out a human being who could actually smile) and I collapsed into more confused tears on the couch. When I called G about half an hour later to apologise, she asked immediately, "Sarah, what have you eaten today?"

It was five o'clock in the evening and I realised I hadn't had anything to eat since the morning, when I'd had some cornflakes. Apparently, you can really mess with your blood sugar levels this way and your blood sugar levels can really mess with your mind, and by proxy the minds of everyone else around you. We had a lovely dinner (basically pig and potatoes) and I felt much better, mood over.

All of which provides further proof that if at any point I seem unhappy, I should be instantly handed a bar of Dairy Milk. I've been trying to convince many people of this for a long time.

It's hard for me to deal with the fact that I am a brain in a body and that the sense of me as an individual originates in the fact that my brain - whilst being aware of every single part of my body, from the tiniest nerve endings to the entirety of my skin - has no awareness of its own existence. Because of this fundamental fact, we perceive the world as an 'I', rather than perceiving the world as a series of operations being carried out by the brain.

But I explain all this very badly. Should you require further proof of the power of the brain and the body, please read some Oliver Sacks (available at your local library, of course). Start with his neurological adventures in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat

Quote du Jour

A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people's patience.
- John Updike

Last thing today, for those of you who have taken my advice and customised their Google, can I please recommend mysteries of the day. If you're not sure if you'd like it, check out a sample story - this one reminds me of experiments where scientists have created the conditions under which people report feeling spooked with electro-magnetic fields, which was of some comfort to me last week when I went into the spooky collections store at the RN Museum and was repeatedly convinced someone was in there staring at me.

Have you experienced any spookiness lately? I had a very weird dream about a lunatic asylum last night, if that counts. It involved my friend Howard, a large group of people I don't know, the Chief and a cat called Ashantee. I know, not all of my madness is caused by blood sugar.

1 comment:

Dill said...

I am convinced my work place is haunted and i have named the ghost Andrea after andrea Dowrkin. Last week i wouldn't come out of the toilet because i was convinced she was on the other side!

read your last comment for another spooky thing!