Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Fears that Birds Have

I did a Google search of the neurobiology of birds yesterday. Didn’t spend much time on the subject, but learned that many other people have. There is a big program at Cornell University in NY. You can do a course at home. This covers not only the neuroscience, but just about every aspect of bird biology. You can get a copy of their handbook at Amazon. Some reviewers noted that the course, or the book, totally changed their attitude toward and their appreciation of birds. I have been regularly hearing the woodthrush, one of the most beautiful songs. Just about every day in the woods close by our house. That bird was gone from here, or at least I didn’t hear it, for two or three years. It was so wonderful hearing it in the early morning darkness, in the cool of springtime. I am glad it's back. Check it out at this link

Let me know what you think!! With that Google search noted above I learned that birds, just like humans, have 12 cranial nerves. They have been given the same names as ours. I need to know more about the functioning of those nerves. I want to know about the sympathetic and parasympathetic connections, anatomic and functional. The deeper issue is how birds know what to be afraid of. How does that play out neurobiologically and mentally? How much more integrated are they than we, who have been taught since Roman times that fear is a sign of weakness?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tell Us Your Story

This is my response to an Atlanta Track Club request for people running is the upcoming Peachtree RoadRace to "Tell Us Your Story."

I ran my first Peachtree in the Bicentennial Year 1976 waving a little American Flag, and have run and completed every one since. This year will be my 35th and possibly last. I will be 29 days short of 77 years old.

It all got started in June 1975 when my father-in-law, Bill Ashton, age 67, challenged me to race him around the block. I weighed well over 200 pounds and 5 feet 8 inches tall, smoking 3 to 4 packs of cigarettes a day. I was totally sedentary. Bill, who lived into his early 90’s was in “Full Cleveland,” meaning he was wearing white shoes and a white belt. I was totally shocked as he left me standing still, and I yet have a vivid picture of the white vinyl soles of his shoes, as he galloped up the hill. I made it as far as a telephone pole about fifty feet from the start, and hung on to one of the rungs.

That was the shock I needed. I learned about Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s book, Aerobics, which I read and found interesting and useful. I was not counting on running, because I could only run a few steps before having to walk. I was satisfied getting my ’30 points a week’ walking, which I did for a couple of months, then started running a little. By October I was running five laps around that block, about 2.5 miles. I also went backpacking with my son Darwin that month, without any cigarettes and haven’t smoked one since that excursion. I gradually increased my distance, all the while reading books by Jim Fixx, George Sheehan, Arthur Lydiard and Jeff Galloway, most of them after that first Peachtree in 1976. I believe there were about 1200 runners. The race started at where Sears was on Peachtree and finished I believe at Davison’s. My time was 54 minutes and some seconds but I didn’t get a T-shirt because there weren’t enough, and there were no chutes to control the finish line.

Since that time I have run the race many times with as many as many 9 family members. My youngest son Clay ran it when he was 7 years old in 1984. He didn’t train again for many years, but has picked up the healthy habit, and is also running road races, including Peachtree and the Marine Corps Marathon in DC where he lives.

I lost down to 148 pounds when I was my leanest shape, have been steady at about 165 pounds for many years. I qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon twice, and have run and completed 33 marathons altogether.

Now I enjoy running local races and the Snickers Marathon Energy Bar Marathon, which passes in front of my house in Albany. In 2009 I missed it because I had cardiac catheterization a week before the race. My wife Joy and I played Beetles’ and ABBA’s music and passed out orange slices to the runners of both the marathon and half marathon. I took pictures and got a great shot of the 3 Marathon leaders with all 6 feet off the ground!

Children and their spouses, nephews and grand children will finish this one way ahead of me, but I will totally enjoy every minute, including the regular spectators I will recognize, who, I think, have been hanging out on Peachtree Road July 4 morning as long as I have.

June 12, 2010 at 7:00 a.m. at 1205 Valley Road: I think that most of the revelations I have are when I am in a half awake state in the mornings sitting on the toilet or standing at the window looking outside at the birds in the trees and at the feeder. This morning I noticed that the blue jay has to work hard for the goody in a sunflower seed. No problem for a cardinal or house finch. Chickadee has same problem as blue jay. Both bang their beaks containing a single seed against their perch until it opens, either at the feeder or by taking their seed up to the “green room tree,” so named because it is where the birds usually await their turn to go onstage at the feeder. I think I might put out some gentler food for the non-finches, but will have to think about that. I wondered this morning how many cranial nerves birds have, and how much variation there is among species. Wonder now about dominance hierarchies, and how genetic and social factors make their contributions. How are they experienced and expressed through the contributions to the minds of various creatures? How does the neuroendocrine system of the boobies, albatrosses, frigate birds that evolved in the Galapagos compare with that of birds and other creatures that evolved to fear us predators in Southwest Georgia? If we fed birds Xanax, what would happen to their fear? Their judgment?

I would think, the same think that is already happening to human social judgment. It would disappear.

Another revelation this morning came in the form of a question: If everyone had a concept of ecology that included the sense of mind, in contrast to the dualistically based Cartesian sense that our culture--- including the psychiatric community---suffer, would there not be a much more harmonious acceptance of self and others, a Schweitzerian sense of reverence and awe, an aesthetic appreciation of the Mysterium Tremendum concept of Rudolph Otto? Everyone would be a self therapist and a therapist of others; moreover, another question: What would change in the need for psychotherapists, including psychiatrists? Wouldn’t the whole world become temporarily a grand Alcoholics Anonymous Community?