Neurons, Synapses, Economics, and Life

January 24, 2009

Lots of places on the Web, people are blogging away about all sorts of things. Mostly we don’t get paid. We share ideas. We expand each other’s horizons. The world has never been like this. Or has it?

I read Ben Franklin’s autobiography a few years ago. He told me what it was like at the dawn of American history. A few weeks ago I also read A History of the American People, by British author Paul Johnson. He told me some very insightful things about the philosophical background of America, from a European perspective.

Barack Obama is our new president. This man’s greatest gift to us, from my perspective, is his motivational speaking. He pulls together all our collective angst and rekindles our faintly remembered hopes, and helps us to believe we just might, collectively, be able to make sense of life on earth, and order it in such a way that everyone gets what they need.

Because of some Book Reviews I recently read, I made a trip to one of our local libraries today. (Thank you, Ben Franklin, that we have public libraries in America.) Besides the books I went there to fetch, I discovered, by browsing, another book that I just started to read tonight: Mirroring People, by Marco Iacoboni. It’s a neuroscience book, published in 2008. It’s subtitle is, “The New Science of How We Connect With Others.” To me, it is fascinating and exciting to read. My own neurons are firing so rapidly as I read it … I am having so many “Eureka” moments as I process and connect all that has entered my stream of consciousness these past couple of months.

I am not sure that I am able, tonight, to write for you a full description of the path my thoughts have journeyed; but write I must nonetheless, because I’ve perceived some things that I just must share.

In our brains, our neurons fire, and we have billions of them. Synapses are the connections between the neurons. The more synapses, the more creative we are able to be. Currently the phrase often used for creativity is “thinking outside the box.” That phrase simply means being able to have a fresh perspective on an old problem, such that you might actually increase the likelihood of solving the problem. In other words, not being so wary of “reinventing the wheel” that you fail to consider that there may be an alternative to the wheel when it comes to efficient travel and/or portage.

I am coming back to the internet, and then moving on to the economy, so bear with me please.

This socio-political experiment called America was precipitated by intense exchange of ideas after the invention of the printing press. America has just this year shaken off some things that bogged us down, caused a civil war, in fact. We thought we were doomed to division because ideology was our only unity, and that ideology turned out to be diverse, and comprised of many cultures. What’s the same about Americans? Is anything the same on a genetic level (as it probably is for, say, Italians)?

I think something IS the same about us genetically. Be we Native Americans or any other cultural race by DNA, all of us here sprang from people who MIGRATED to a different place, BELIEVING LIFE COULD BE BETTER.

I postulate that some genetic marker remains in all Americans which gives us a propensity to believe that life can be better. We’ve got a gene, I think, that makes us people who will TRY, people who will SEARCH, people who will — dare I say it — HOPE.

In fact, history, I think, has shown, that the darker the days, the more likely Americans are to rise to the occasion. They used to call it “Yankee Ingenuity.” Whatever you call it, throw us into adversity and our genetic code kicks in, despite our present paradigms, and we work together and figure things out and end up better as a whole than even we think is possible.

So what have we here? A massive exchange of ideas on the world-wide-web! It was not thought spawned on American soil that spawned America, you know. We stood on the shoulders of giants (to loosely quote from a movie, and I don’t remember which one … maybe it was Jurassic Park). I think that what’s happening here does not affect just us, but our little experiment affects all of humanity.

For the most part, there is no money changing hands as we all blog our little hearts out, and read each other’s thoughts, and make our sundry neuro-connections, then go about our business. But we sure do spark each other, don’t we?

I just want to share with you my excitement about that fact. I think good stuff is gonna come of all this sparking, kids.

As an aside (but a brief one) a commentator on election night observed that we’d had two baby boom presidents — Bill Clinton and George W (now I thought George W was born during WWII, which makes him not technically a boomer, but I could be wrong about that). The commentator went on to remark how the boomers were supposed to “change the world,” and then he implied that they didn’t, and then he said that Barack is a subsequent generation.

I just want to say that the boomers did change the world. The paradigm shift that brought the seeds of an internet that is (at least presently) FREE, is Woodstock Generation through and through.

Okay, enough about that. Now the ECONOMY.

What has value? Well, what do we NEED? What is ESSENTIAL?

We must all eat and drink. We must all have coverings and shelters against the elements.

Because of those needs, certain things have REAL value. Food has real value. Food springs from the earth, because of the sun, and water. Land is called “real estate” because it has real value. The dollar equivalent of its value may change with so-called economic fluctuations, but even so, the land itself is what is truly of value — particularly if the land is fertile and well-watered and in a favorable climate for production of food. Or if the land contains other “natural resources” useful for the maintenance of life and health (timber, for instance, to name but one).

Another aside here — haven’t you noticed, kids, that the water we need FALLS FROM THE SKY, the food we need SPRINGS FROM THE GROUND … I could go on an on, but ISN’T THAT COOL? Was that by design? DESIGN? If you think not, I betcha you think a bunch of other goofy things too. But enough preaching. Back to the economy.

We are in a TERRIBLE recession. World-wide, no less. Why? Has the earth decreased it’s production of food? (No.) Has the land disappeared? (No.) Has the sun exploded? (No.) Has the rain stopped falling? (No.) Are there still sufficient resources to maintain life on this planet? Um, Yes.

Do we all still want to work to harvest the things that need harvesting and convert the things that need converting to make them more useful or pleasing? (Um, yes — we need MORE JOBS as a matter of fact.)

Do we all still want to BUY food and other stuff? ABSOLUTELY!

Are we willing to trade with each other? We sure are. Heck, we’ll even do the types of things that most interest us free-for-nothing, so long as our basic needs are met. (Like blog, for instance.) We’ll even share our food and other resources, expecting nothing in return but hoping only for respect or affection, on our more magnanimous days.

So what’s the matter with our economy? Oh, some of us (maybe a bunch of us) thought it might be fun to trade things that are not real. Let’s bet money on the future value of, oh, say “real estate.” Let’s buy land and sell it, just to make money on the increase in it’s perceived value (rather than to use it for the sustenance of life).

We built a house of cards, and eventually it collapsed. If we took high school economics, we should have seen this coming.

Okay, the inflated speculative value has collapsed, and it’s not going back up, either. Some gamblers lost a mess of money. Losses hurt. Okay. Get up and build something that’s real.

I think that’s what Barack Obama and our “leaders” are about to do with us. We’re going to provide “jobs” building some real and decent things that will benefit our children and grandchildren down the road, and pay the family grocery bills in the meantime. Every little household gets the chance (I hope) to say about unnecessary debt, “Whew! I won’t do THAT again. Too scary how it can bite you in the butt.” We might not get to do the jobs we thought were our birthright, but we will be productive again, and pretty soon our economy will have a positive “gross national PRODUCT,” and everyone who wants a job will be able to have a job, and since we’re basically a decent bunch of people, we’ll provide for the people who cannot work, and probably even for the people who simply will not work.

I wish I was more eloquent, but this may be the best I can do. I’m writing my ideas anyway, hoping I might “spark” a few of you who turn a phrase better than I do, or who are able to neuro-connect on a higher level than what I do. I’m adding my little spark to humanity, I hope; and I’m giving it free-for-nothing, and I do not care if anybody ever remembers my name. Since we are five degrees connected to each other (or whatever that idea was a few years ago … maybe it was eight … it doesn’t matter) I’m hoping that somewhere down the line enough common sense and realistic optimism shines from my little synapses that a bunch of families benefit for generations to come.

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