Some of us find other methods more helpful

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Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

You may know the routine. A guide tells you in a soothing voice, “Sit comfortably in your chair, with your feet on the floor … . Relax and settle in … . Feel your breathing, in … and out … , in … and out … .” You settle into a semi-hypnotic trance as the guide takes you further, for 10 minutes, 20 minutes, maybe longer. That works well for relaxation and restoration for many people. So I don’t disparage it, but for me it just leads to gentle sleep.

Or maybe…


Can you see it?

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I used to think that everyone thought of the months of the calendar year the same way. To me it has always been “obvious” that they were arranged in a circle — 12 hours, 12 months. Furthermore, we go through them clockwise, “of course”. And for me, living in the northern hemisphere, summer is at the top and winter is at the bottom. …


How the language tools in our long-term memory use our short-term memory, and vice versa

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Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Long-term memory and meaning

Ideas are networks of nerve cells in our brains, sensory organs, and muscles. They constitute our long-term memory. Our “lexicon” of words and phrases consists of ideas along with connections to other ideas in our nervous systems. Our “grammar” of how words and phrases can combine into larger expressions also consists of elaborate nerve networks.

Thoughts and actions are activations of ideas in our nervous systems (connected to our muscles, in the case of action ideas). Those activations are continually changing…


Familiar experiences keep us rooted; new ones help us grow

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Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

In an earlier essay I observed how similar the nerve networks in our brains and bodies are to the mycelium networks of mushrooms. From that observation it follows that our sensory and nutritional experiences are the “soil” in which our nerve networks live and grow.

We all know how important and comforting it is to have our places of refuge — the rooms in which we usually sleep and eat. …


Too many of us don’t understand or are forgetting our natural foundations

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

We humans are animals. No matter how important our technologies may make us feel, our existence depends on air, water, food, clothing, shelter, and energy. The germ theory of contagious diseases still applies. We think with our brains, not with abstract minds, or with the melanin in our skins. We are social animals. and our communications through language and other media are powerful but faulty.

An economy driven by money alone cannot sustain our human needs. It must deal with the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, and…


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Photo by Marcel Strauß on Unsplash

Ordinarily I’m a confirmed philosophical naturalist. I am very skeptical of supernatural explanations. But in one area my skepticism has occasionally but repeatedly been tested. It’s when household objects mysteriously disappear and then reappear sometime later.

That recently happened again to my wife, Linda, and me. (By the way, that’s two of us, not a list of three of us with an Oxford comma — linguist joke.) In the recent event, a common kitchen utensil that we use every day just couldn’t be found when we wanted to use it. We searched literally high and low for it, sometimes repeating…


How we all try to assess our personal risks and rewards

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Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

We all face dangers and opportunities in our lives, but it’s hard for us to assess the actual probabilities involved. Our imagination of the amounts of potential damage or payoff from an action we may take distorts our judgment of the likelihood of that damage or payoff. If the result is potentially life-changing, we often assess that outcome as much more likely than it actually is. So how do we make decisions in uncertainty, and how can we make good ones?

For air travel, it’s pretty clear to most of us. The rewards can be large — swift travel to…


They die when one of the hosts dies

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Photo by Goran Ivos on Unsplash

I have used and taught many programming languages over sixty years, and I have used them to build many interesting, working pieces of computer software. Some of those programs are still very useful tools, if I can keep them working, but as computers and operating systems change it can become difficult to keep them “alive”. Their life seems to depend on multiple “hosts”.

The first host is, of course, computer hardware. Software doesn’t run without physical hardware to run on. And, of course, people are required to build and maintain the hardware…


Another example of the absurdity of modern life

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Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash

Some people like to give me gift cards to bookstores or other retailers. Probably you get them, too. I assume the givers think they are being thoughtful about my tastes, and I do appreciate that thought.

But givers should know that gift cards are a scam in at least three ways:

  1. They are worse than cash for us, but better than cash for the card-selling company. It’s almost impossible to spend the exact amount on the card. Either I don’t quite spend it all, in which case the buyer of the card loses, or I have to spend a bit…

Jim Mason

Studies language, cognition, and humans as social animals

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