Archive for December, 2009
So, about 2 minutes after taking this photo;
I slipped on the paraffin-laden solid granite pavement, everything went flying, and I ended up getting a very different kind of photo entirely;
That’s my right arm, and somewhere in there a minimally-deforming radial fracture that I don’t remotely have the training to actually see. Though I definitely don’t like the look of that suspiciously lumpy bit of bone. Here’s another look;
As fractures go, I think I got the best kind. It’s now 3 weeks later and I’m almost back to a full range of movement and strength is starting to return. I can write, type, take photos and most importantly, play music once again. The people at St. James’s Hospital have been very good, and if you ever plan to break anything I can recommend doing it near them.
Science is really really cool. Randomised control trials have shown that a simple millennia-old sling (not a cast) is the best treatment, so that’s what I got. About a century of rigourous bio-chemical engineering has led to little pills I could buy in a pharmacy that magically suppress complex sources of pain with minimal side-effects.
Over that same century we’ve progressed from a naive understanding of “Röntgen radiation” as mysterious emanations from a vacuum tube, to a complex quantum-mechanical model of X-Ray interactions that allows us to record these highly-ionising photon jet-streams on a semi-conductor, convert the impression into a digital image and then have it pop up on my clinicians desktop. Right now, reading a random blog on the internet, you can see inside my body – as easily as you might look out the window.
And social science is used too. Because people frequently forget their appointments, there are text message reminders; a few days, and one day before anything that’s scheduled. Again, a trial has shown that this is both cost-effective and clinically beneficial. And when I go to the physio-therapy clinic, I get given a simple set of tried and tested exercises that have been shown to lead to improvements.
Cooler still is that despite all of the science, and care and attention involved in the whole process – really it’s the body doing the work. Through some magic – mostly unknown – system of DNA signaling, controlled protein unfolding, stem-cells and “stuff”, tiny microscopic organic “bits” somehow communicate and coordinate the building of whole new bone, mostly in the right place. So without having to do all that much, I can play Fussball and write dumb blog entries again.
It’s almost worth doing just for the experience.
I’m sitting on a train, the Enterprise, moving along at about 140 kilometers per hour between Drogheda and Dublin. Something is causing practically every particle in my body to spark into a new life at a different position in space one instant to the next.
For each one of those particles, there’s some chance it could just pop into life on the far side of the moon, or even the universe. But something, I guess “motion” is averaging everything out and look, there the sum of me pops, every tiny instant getting slightly closer to Dublin.
If the train was in the vaccuum of space – or somehow free from the effects of friction – it wouldn’t even take anything to keep this atomic leap-frogging going. Each small micro-part of me would just keep on dancing. And somehow at the same time, it’s exactly as if I were staying still all along – there’s no real difference. This has been tested.
But if for any reason a change of tempo was required, to move from a waltz to a samba, something intangible and ephemeral – mysteriously lumped into the word “energy” – is required. It’s weird and mystical and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it can be measured and described – and relied upon.
And as I sit here and write, using the word “I” like that, it feels like there’s a “me”. It seems as if there’s a real sense of ownership over my thinking, I can’t tell where my thoughts come from, but they are mine.
I feel like I’m free to choose things, when I get off of the train I could get straight into a taxi or walk to a tram. I don’t know which I’ll do yet, there are a lot of factors to consider, but neither choice seems pre-ordained, and once it happens it will feel like “I” owned that choice.
“Free will” seems as real to me as the forward motion of this train, it’s an inexplicable dance, but it’s my tune. And that makes less sense. Reality is describable by all of these symbols and equations, and we can make predictions with them. This has been tested.
There are even divisions between what is predictable in detail, and what is predictable only in the aggregate, random and unknowable at the finer grain.
Here in my head, it doesn’t seem like my thoughts are predictable, or could be. If they are just an inevitable cadence, then that “I” is merely an illusion. It also doesn’t seem like thoughts are random or unknowable, to me anyway. I have patterns of thinking, recurring themes, and a detectable personality. It can’t be the same dance.
How many miracles are there on this train? Motion is miraculous enough, that “I” can think, that the universe even exists seems miraculous too. But most astonishing, is that these simple realities are seemingly contradictory.
I’m still on that train, I haven’t gone anywhere, there haven’t been any angels visiting me, or deitious interventions. These thoughts haven’t led anyone to complicated dogmas, wars or ceremonies. Some say science is cold. Maybe the dance is a myth.
And if this mental dance should one day just end, where are the real love-songs? Songs that speak to the real meaning, the genuine warmth, of spending a fleeting, passing, bittersweet whirl around the floor with someone. Not an infinitesimal slice of eternity living in hope of a better dance; that’s cold. This has been tested.