01 June 2016

a working day

It has rained most of the night and the basement smells of the river. Or at least that's what I try to imagine. In any case, it's a very damp and wet first of June. The kind of weather that makes my hair all frizzy. The kind of weather that with a bit more heat could remind me of paradise, sticky and dripping green forest. Almost. 
In between showers I run out into the garden to save the fattest peonies from obliteration by rain and grab a handful of strawberries right from under the watchful eyes of the blackbirds.

Of course I put the bowl of strawberries there just for show. Forgive me, Martha Stewart. 

Afterwards, I brought the bowl to my desk and ate the lot and spent the next hour reading and editing a paper on social synchrony, ("the temporal concordance of behavioral and physiological processes among individuals") which in recent years has caught the attention of neuroscience research.  I think this research is so positive and enlightening for a change. Maybe because I can actually understand some of it as opposed to all that intricate DNA sequencing stuff.
Admittedly, I could snigger at these guys (in this case and in previous ones I edited, the cast of experts is all male) in their lab coats examining brains and saliva samples with and without oxytocin, testing their hypotheses about why and where humans show romantic feelings and what brain section rewards trust or why and after which stimuli we actually behave in a social manner. 

My sarcastic mind wants to suggest that all this research is simply due to the development of new imaging methods (the latest versions of functional MRI) which must be fun to play with. And that social synchrony is such hot news because it can be used to show yet another evolutionary advantage of our infallible species. 

". . .groups of insects, birds, and fish synchronize their moves and speeds, a social phenomenon called swarming, flocking, schooling, or herding (Xuan & Filkov, Synchrony in Social Groups and Its Benefits, in: Handbook of Human Computation, Springer 2013). In humans, social synchrony has been documented across a wide range of settings and contexts, ranging from choir singing  . . . to the concerted behavior of stock market traders (Xuan & Filkov 2013)."

See what I mean? From swarming gnats to the wolves of Wall Street in just two sentences. We are the pinnacle of creation after all. 
(Don't copy that quote up there, the paper hasn't even been published.)  

A bit further on in the text there is more exciting stuff about collective intelligence and various dull experiments involving video images and facial expressions and more tiny applications of oxytocin or placebo via nasal sprays and the usual endless bits on methods and statistics but I keep coming back to the choir singing and later on, I find this perfect and beautiful example of wonderfully inspiring human collective intelligence: 

"Recorded on May 31st at Clinton's Tavern in Toronto by Choir! Choir! Choir! featuring Aaron Comeau on mandolin. C!C!C! meets twice weekly to learn original arrangements of songs we love. There are no auditions - singers show up only knowing what the song is and, over the course of a couple hours, parts are learned and then we record a video. Check us out at choirchoirchoir.com/@choirchoirchoir on socials."


  1. Beautiful, as always.
    My friend Kathleen always said that we are not descended from the apes but from sheep. I look around me and I see more evidence of this daily.

  2. I had to get to grips with some of the recent neuroscience during my last years at work - so much explained why traumatized children couldn't create coherent stories, and their challenge with secure attachments. It was all very exciting - science proving what those of us working in the field already knew!

  3. You always write so beautifully. I'm afraid that neuroscience -- while terribly interesting -- makes my head spin. I am missing some link that helps me to understand it intricately. I understand it on a day to day basis, though, through taking care of my daughter.

  4. I love this post. And, I love what Ms. Moon's friend says about us descended from sheep. I wondered out loud to Roger the other day about why we need TV commercials to remind parents to read, sing, and talk to their children. We are the most successful failed species around.

  5. Anonymous03 June, 2016

    I used to live in a house where the basement filled up knee-deep when it rained. It always smelled like a wet field.

    From time to time we get fantastic "murmurations" of starlings here.

    I was reading in our garden yesterday. A tiny fly landed on the page and sat there for a while. We tend to think that we're the bee's knees because we can make engines and write blogs but it may be that the potential to be conscious simply goes with the fabric of the universe. What we associate with our ingenious brains may be ubiquitous.