Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Consciousness is epiphenomenal..not!

Last weekend Kat and Barb drove up from Northampton, MA, for three rainy days in the treehouse. Kat works as a physical therapist at a nursing home there, and Barb is a researcher, studying the federal budget. A former tenure track prof with a PhD in cognitive neuropathy (specializing in memory), Barb contracted an illness that, ironically, attacked a part of her brain that stores memory. She’s not an amnesiac, however, and knew where she was all weekend—you can’t get lost in Lincoln with Mt. Abe hovering over you from every angle. But she wasn’t able to continue her teaching duties.

Fortunately, Barb seems to have a very large brain, judging from our conversations about consciousness and the rate of federal spending on useless trinkets, some of which she told us, but much of which I can’t remember. The only thing that has attacked my brain, it seems, is old age.

So, what does one do on a rainy Saturday in Addison County? Smart girls go to the Otter Creek Brewing Company for a free tour and free samples of the local brew. Smart girls also buy a case of their favorite brew and stash it in the trunk of their car for the trip back to Northampton. Then smart girls return to the treehouse for an afternoon nap.

H had cut down a couple trees and piled pieces of the thickest part of the trunks by the wood shed. In the afternoon he rented a splitter with a wedge on a hydraulic piston powered by a gasoline motor. The thing is loud, especially when one of the big logs emits an ear-splitting crack as it breaks open. We split and stacked wood for about three hours, and smart girls slept through most of it.

They came in from the treehouse just as H returned from Bristol with a Rockydale chicken and pineapple pizza. With no plans for supper, they agreed to share our large pie and some sparkling conversation. Here are the top ten highlights (from what tidbits managed not to escape my synapses):

  1. According to Barb consciousness is epiphenomenal.
  2. I looked up epiphenomenal consciousness and (from what I vaguely understand) am not a fan of epiphenomenalism.
  3. I am a fan of ‘pataphysics, however. Barb had not heard of ‘pataphysics and was amused by my faltering explanation. ‘Pataphysics may in fact dovetail ever so sightly with epiphenomenalism—or maybe I’m just imagining it.
  4. Science is just a way of measuring and categorizing what we think we know, even though what we think we know may not at all be accurate. (Sounds like ‘papaphysics to me.)
  5. If you made a million dollars a year, it would take more than a million years to equal the cost of the war in the Middle East since 2001.
  6. Barb is reading a book in which everyone always tells the truth, a concept that amuses her. I think it’s scary as hell.
  7. Zombies don’t hear their thoughts (I read that while trying to find an explanation of epiphenomenal consciousness).
  8. Kat can lift a 200-lb man (and often does).
  9. Because of Medicare corruption and cutbacks, nursing homes are understaffed with physical therapists, and Kat does the work of three (and is about the size of three-quarters of one).
  10. Barb’s brother owns a fuel oil company but heats his house with wood.
  11. (Sorry..can't count) Kat knits about as well as I do—which is to say, don’t look too closely at my scarf. But Barb doesn’t care as long as the scarf keeps her warm.

H remembers more than I do about our conversations, but he’s not writing this blog entry. Funny thing about memory, though—we each remember an experience a different way. I remember the noise of the wood splitter; H remembers the World Cup opening concert. Kat remembers soothing soaks in the hot tub spa. And Barb—well, let’s hope when she sips that Otter Creek brew, some pleasant memory of the weekend will come back to her. In any event, H and I hope these two smart girls will come back to Fern Forest for another round of conversation.

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