Sunday, May 19, 2013

Part 3: What do you know? I mean really?

1 + 1 = 2, or does it? Why can't 1 + 1 = 11 or I-don't-really-care?

Our brains are built for pattern recognition. It takes time and work to convince the brain that an arbitrary shape on a piece of paper has a specific meaning that will not change. It takes time for the brain to learn that a sound has a particular meaning. But once that connection is made, the brain will quickly latch on to other ideas, assigning meaning to just about anything it experiences.

That does not mean that these things actually have meaning, or that the pattern the brain recognizes is real. Or that the pattern is good for us.

A child draws a circle and some squiggly lines on a piece of paper. We may determine that the circle is a sun, or a flower. We may ask the child "Don't you want clouds in your picture?" and said child looks at us strangely because to the child that's not a sun, or a flower. It's a hand. A palm and fingers. We can see this if its pointed out to us, but our brains know that a hand isn't just a circle with squiggly lines, so that connection isn't immediately made.

As we grow (i.e., age) our minds form patterns from the world around us. Many of us get sick during the winter--how much of this is because of physical stimuli and how much is because the mind sees "sick in the winter" as a recognizable pattern? We sleep more easily at night than during the day. How much of that is pattern recognition on the part of the brain? Infants have to be taught that this pattern is more acceptable.

At some point it may be necessary to differentiate between what we know, and the patterns we have grown used to seeing. If I get ill every January, there's no real physical reason for it. The illness, yes, but that particular month? How much of that is the brain, running along a well developed pattern? When a marathon runner starts feeling tired at mile ten in spite of years of training, is that real exhaustion, or the brain trying to get her to stop?

Why can a singer hit higher notes when he isn't reading music? Because the brain has connected an arbitrary limit to that line on the page and determined the pattern?

In research when they talk of the placebo effect they're talking about the percentage of people who feel a real improvement in spite of the fact that the "medicine" they took was deliberately useless. But they believed it would help, and so it did.

There are so many of these. If you identify the patterns in your life, you may find that they are not patterns at all.

If you tell your brain to stop and the pattern stops...

Monday, May 6, 2013


Armoracia rusticana
Family: Cruciferae

If you are allergic to or sensitive to cabbage, broccoli, or brussels sprouts you may have that same sensitivity for horseradish.

Horseradish is generally used as a seasoning. In large amounts it can cause internal problems and/or irritation of the nose and throat lining rather like any other strong herb. That strong taste is a concentrated dose of natural chemicals that protect the plant from the depredations of herbivores, so eating the top (greens) is not recommended. Horseradish contains coumarins, phenols, volatile oils, ascorbic acid, asparagin, peroxidase enzymes and other chemicals as well. It prevents the breakdown and absorption of alcohol and some other substances. It stimulates digestion and blood circulation so it may be used in situations where people have circulation problems.

It is used for clearing the sinuses (for obvious reasons) which makes it useful for mild allergic reactions such as a pollen reaction when a stuffy nose is the main symptom. It is an expectorant with strong anti-biotic properties. It is also used to expel worms in pets (vermifuge) and for fevers. There are a number of different chemicals in horseradish, some of which interact and cancel each other out.

My drug interaction book says to avoid anticholinergic as well as cholinergic drugs when using horseradish, but I wasn't able to find any information as to whether it cancels out or enhances the effects of these drugs. It also should not be taken by anyone with an underactive thyroid.