Blogging While Impaired, Day 156: Lost on the Neural Pathways

March 5th, 2011

I’m sick today, which means cognitive misfires, so you might want to give up right here and go read something else.

Normally, which is to say when I’m not sick, the sequence of neural events during the blogging process runs like this:

1.  Commitment. Put fingers on keyboard, take deep breath, look at screen.

2.  Ransack. Realize I have nothing to say and go through everything I’ve heard, thought, seen, or read in the past year or two.

3. Compare. Let’s say the ransack produced three possible themes – let’s call them “stubs,” which is the eloquent term Wikipedia uses for insufficiently developed articles. I compare the stubs and choose one.  I’m looking, in order of desirability, for:

Stub number one (let’s call them “Charlie Sheens”): something I can steal with almost no additional effort. Stub number two (“Lion Feuchtwangers” on some days and “Wumsys” on others): relates closely to something I’ve been thinking about, so all the pieces I’ll have to assemble are at least in the same box.  Stub number three (“What?”) is something that surfaces during the ransack in the way that the lone piece of wood accidentally dropped into a beef stew will eventually be brought to the top when the stew is at full boil and then disappear again.

When I’m sick, I’m much more likely to get Stub number three, an isolated and oddly shaped fragment of information, mostly gristle, with no connective tissue at all, nothing to lead me into a broad and pleasant meadow of meaning where I can wander around without thinking for twenty minutes and then press PUBLISH.

Instead, it’s like being in a dark room holding onto some sort of exotic electrical connection — let’s say, the ones they use in Burma — with four prongs of different shapes, and knowing that the outlet isn’t even necessarily on a wall.  And even when I find it, that’s only the first connection. Then I have to find the switch to turn it on. And then . . .

When I get Stubs numbers one and two, I move onto the enoyable (or “enyoyable,” as they say in Sweden) part of the process, which is:

Neural branching: I allow the little neurons compete with each other to point me in various directions.  These directions comprise a genuine tree structure, in that choosing any single pathway closes off lots of other pathways and opens up new ones.  The neurons cheer and wave little flags and wear eye-catching outfits to persuade me to take their pathways, and then gleefully slam the doors shut behind me and leave me to fend for myself until the next batch of competitors appears, jumping up and down and yelling at me in falsetto, like microscopic paparazzi.

Eventually, I get to a point at which I can persuade myself it will be acceptable to tie the whole thing off with some little rhetorical  flourish intended to make a reader think I knew where I was going all along.

This is, by the way, how it feels to me when I write fiction.

But today, I got Stub number three, and it said, FRED HOYLE.  I mentioned him a couple of days ago in a response, and he’s the bit of wood that floated to the top of today’s stew.

So you’re getting Fred Hoyle.

Hoyle was a brilliant British physicist and cosmologist remembered today, if at all, for two things: First, he coined the term, “Big Bang” to describe the singularity most scientists believe to be the event that brought the universe into being and accounts for its expansion; and second, he rejected the idea that it ever took place.  Many scientists (Einstein among them) had problems with the expansion of the universe until it was proved observationally by Edwin Hubble at Mount Wilson.

Hoyle accepted the principle of expansion — he accepted, in other words, that everything in the universe is moving away from everything else — but rejected the Big Bang. He felt that the Big Bang marked a “beginning” and a “cause” for what he believed to be an eternal and Deity-free entity.

To explain the fact that the universe is expanding he proposed instead what he called the “Steady-State” theory of the universe: that nature not only abhors a vacuum, but abhors it so much it fills it. In short, he suggested that atoms pop into being in empty space over time and eventually form galaxies and star systems and that all this new matter makes the universe expand.

The proposal was pretty well hooted down on philosophical grounds (“nothing comes from nothing” is a central tenet of most Western thought and science) but finally bit the dust with the accidental discovery of the long-predicted cosmic microwave background radiation — the directionless universal sizzle that’s the remnant of the Big Bang.

So there. I’m finished. No rhetorical flourish.  This is where I wound up.  Fred Hoyle.

I told you to read something else.

12 Responses to “Blogging While Impaired, Day 156: Lost on the Neural Pathways”

  1. Suzanna Says:

    Hahahaha you still make more sense feeling under the weather and reaching for Stub Number Three than I could on my best day.

    Hope you feel better and thanks for the cosmology lesson.

  2. Phil Hanson Says:

    “I told you to read something else.”

    You did, and I’m glad I didn’t. This is the paragraph that did it for me:

    “To explain the fact that the universe is expanding he proposed instead what he called the “Steady-State” theory of the universe: that nature not only abhors a vacuum, but abhors it so much it fills it. In short, he suggested that atoms pop into being in empty space over time and eventually form galaxies and star systems and that all this new matter makes the universe expand.”

    This suggests that dark matter and dark energy might actually serve useful purposes other than giving scientists something to argue about. Thank you for that; I’ll add it to the list of other things I’m trying to wrap my head around. (My theory is that when all the dots are connected, everything will make sense.)

    Make a hasty recovery, Tim. Tomorrow is a new day, and not all aspects of it need be as onerous and troublesome as they are today. If physicians can heal themselves, then surely writers can, too–just write a new script for your life and live it.

  3. Tom Logan Says:

    Sorry you are not well. Hope it is fleeting. Here is a stub for you when you are feeling better: Why, when your president and other politicians and pundits talk about skyrocketing gas prices, do they not mention the word “GREED”?

  4. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    I’m with Suzanna-you make more sense on a bad day than many ever do. Back in the day when I was starved for information, and learning, I read “The Tao Of Physics,” and was flabbergasted at how so many things and processes were reflected in so many other things. So, even if you aren’t feeling well, you still come with these random thoughts that are meaningful, even if you don’t think so. Have you written something wonderful while experimenting? (ahem). Bet you did. I hope you get better soon. I’m not bored yet.

  5. EverettK Says:

    Fred Hoyle was also a writer of science fiction (though not a major author). So he fits right into this neighborhood.

    And quit yer whining, Tim. I’m sick. Po’ po’ me. Sheesh, you’d think nobody’d ever been sick before. Suck it up and git to work, ya baby. (Munyin’s the one I feel sorry for!)

  6. Gary Says:

    Yeah, I’m with Everett – quit your whining.

    I never get sick, and if I do it’s something worth making a real fuss about. Like maybe a heavy cold.

    [So sorry. Get well soon. You write better when you’re sick than most people do when they’re sober.]

  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Everett, you’re just lucky you got the neural-damage blog here instead of the when-I-get-sick-I’m-vicious blog I put up at Murder is Everywhere. (Will go up around midnight tonight, New York Time.) If you’d read that one, you never would have upbraided me for whining because you’d have known that it was a fatal mistake. And I know Hoyle wrote sci-fi but didn’t regard it as being interesting for most people. So there.

    Gary, thanks for going all nice at the end there; you saved me from buying a ticket to Australia to wipe you and everyone you like off the face of the earth. (If you doubt this, read that other blog, mentioned above.) Would “just kidding” relieve the sting of those words?

    Now, Suzanna and Phil and Tom and Lil, thanks for being so nice on a day when I really need it. I have zero tolerance (remember how much trouble that caused?) for opposition when I’m sick and it’s a good thing that I never got the laser eyeballs I wanted when I was ten, or the block I live on would be dotted with smoldering piles of ash where once stood people who were insufficiently kind to me.

    Phil, if you’re looking to connect the dots, you should be aware that the dot marked FRED HOYLE is on a completely different piece of paper than most of the others. Rarely has a theory been more extensively and contemptuously disproved. Remarkable, actually, considering how collegial scientists usually are.

  8. Debbi Says:

    Did you know that you can rearrange the letters of FRED HOYLE around to spell DEHF LEROY? Yeah.

  9. Laren Bright Says:

    With all that he did with physics & all, I think it’s amazing he got around to writing up all the rules for those card games.

  10. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Debbi and Laren — you’ve got the spirit. That’s exactly the tone to take with someone who’s feeling sorry for himself.

    Oh, and I’m feeling better today and thanks for asking,

  11. Howard Marder Says:

    According to Hoyle according to Hallinan?

  12. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Howard, I’m actually ashamed of myself for roping Fred Hoyle in like that, as a desperation move on a day when I didn’t know what to write, and then focusing on his most eccentric accomplishment. He was a contrarian, and these days I think we need all of those we can get.

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