Danke. :3 I’m not in a band. I did surround myself with extremely talented musicians while in SoCal, yes, but I haven’t socialized in years (I’ve also yet to work up the courage to meet with and potentially jam with someone whose father was in the original line-up of Frank Zappa’s backing band, The Mothers of Invention, even though they live riiiight down the street.
That doesn’t imply I won’t make my own music, though. I have some greats sounds from many genres just waiting to come out. It’s just a matter of obtaining more instruments and building my own hackintosh at this point.
Scientists have long suspected that corvids – the family of birds including ravens, crows and magpies – are highly intelligent. Now, Tübingen neurobiologists Lena Veit und Professor Andreas Nieder have demonstrated how the brains of crows produce intelligent behavior when the birds have to make strategic decisions. Their results are published in the latest edition of Nature Communications.
Crows are no bird-brains. Behavioral biologists have even called them “feathered primates” because the birds make and use tools, are able to remember large numbers of feeding sites, and plan their social behavior according to what other members of their group do. This high level of intelligence might seem surprising because birds’ brains are constructed in a fundamentally different way from those of mammals, including primates – which are usually used to investigate these behaviors.
The Tübingen researchers are the first to investigate the brain physiology of crows’ intelligent behavior. They trained crows to carry out memory tests on a computer. The crows were shown an image and had to remember it. Shortly afterwards, they had to select one of two test images on a touchscreen with their beaks based on a switching behavioral rules. One of the test images was identical to the first image, the other different. Sometimes the rule of the game was to select the same image, and sometimes it was to select the different one. The crows were able to carry out both tasks and to switch between them as appropriate. That demonstrates a high level of concentration and mental flexibility which few animal species can manage – and which is an effort even for humans.
The crows were quickly able to carry out these tasks even when given new sets of images. The researchers observed neuronal activity in the nidopallium caudolaterale, a brain region associated with the highest levels of cognition in birds. One group of nerve cells responded exclusively when the crows had to choose the same image – while another group of cells always responded when they were operating on the “different image” rule. By observing this cell activity, the researchers were often able to predict which rule the crow was following even before it made its choice.
The study published in Nature Communications provides valuable insights into the parallel evolution of intelligent behavior. “Many functions are realized differently in birds because a long evolutionary history separates us from these direct descendants of the dinosaurs,” says Lena Veit. “This means that bird brains can show us an alternative solution out of how intelligent behavior is produced with a different anatomy.” Crows and primates have different brains, but the cells regulating decision-making are very similar. They represent a general principle which has re-emerged throughout the history of evolution. “Just as we can draw valid conclusions on aerodynamics from a comparison of the very differently constructed wings of birds and bats, here we are able to draw conclusions about how the brain works by investigating the functional similarities and differences of the relevant brain areas in avian and mammalian brains,” says Professor Andreas Nieder.
Snow Ghosts | Time Listens
— A Small Murmuration (2013)
I hadn’t told them about you,
but they saw you bathing in my eyes.
I hadn’t told them about you,
but they saw you in my written words.
The perfume of love
cannot be concealed.
Sir David Frederick Attenborough
Okay. I’m going to do something rather unorthodox:
I’m not going to tell you to keep living.
But I’m also not going to tell you to stop living.
I’m not privy to the details of your life and I am not going to blow sunshine up your ass and tell you it’s all gonna be rainbows and unicorns if you just try to smile a little more. I can only tell you what I’ve found based on my own experience. Here, in brief, are the highlights of my philosophy on situations such as yours:
1.) In almost all cases, life can get better with your effort. This means taking steps to get counseling from a psychologist or psychiatrist or social worker, make healthy choices (counseling being one of them!) and fill your life with better humans, avoiding the shittier ones where possible (and it ain’t always possible). You may need to cut some ties. You may need to do things you don’t want to do, like admit to your own mistakes and missteps. But I promise you it can be done. And if you put in a ton of effort and it fails, so what? You tried. Better to attempt to make your life better than just ending it without even trying. Because what’s the fucking point of that?
2.) Every major improvement is the result of many tiny steps. For example, let’s take your general unhappiness. You want to be happy. I’d wager you will at least feel better if you have someone to talk to. I think a counselor is a great option because that person is (hopefully) unbiased. But to get into the counseling session, you’re going to need to do a few things. You’re going to need to get on the computer and Google counselors in your area. You’re gonna need to make some phone calls or emails to find out who provides free or low-cost care (sometimes they will say they have a “sliding scale” fee. That’s what you’re looking for.) You’re gonna need to make the appointments and write down the appointments and remember the appointments and show up to the appointments. See what I mean by “many tiny steps?” It ain’t gonna happen overnight. This may seem overwhelming, but just focus on mapping out the steps to your goal (feeling less shitty). Then take just one of those steps today. Just one. Then if you’re feeling motivated, you can take the next step. Saving your own life takes some planning and it’s the most important thing you can possibly do, so it’s worth putting in some effort.
3.) EVERYTHING LOOKS SHITTY WHEN YOU’RE STANDING INSIDE A GIANT GLASS PRISON SMEARED WITH SHIT — shit job, shit family, shit love life. That’s how depression works. The rest of the world is so obscured that you can’t see the beautiful and amazing things and opportunities just waiting for you right outside. Killing yourself is not the only way out of this prison. There’s a door. There’s a window. There’s a hole in the roof that’s just your size, and there’s a ladder to help you down from the roof to the ground below. And remember that you can always smash your way out. It’s a glass prison — it’s impermanent and ultimately can’t stand up to the force of your desire to lead a better life. It’s going to be tough and it’s going to hurt sometimes, but it’s going to be the best decision you ever made.
4.) We have some agency in that we are able to determine our own path to a certain degree. You can’t choose whether an anvil drops on your head while you are walking down the street. You CAN choose to keep your eyes open, be aware of your surroundings, get enough sleep at night, eat good food, drink water, and stay sober enough to notice this “DO NOT WALK HERE. CONSTRUCTION IN PROGRESS.” sign. To a certain extent, your life is in your own hands. Recognize that you have some power in this situation.
5.) Blood relation is not an obligation. Your family fucking sucks and they treated you like shit. They still do. I assume you’re an adult. This means you get to leave. You get to make your own choices. You get to take care of the kid inside you who couldn’t leave or make his/her own choices. Ask friends for help. Ask your counselor (remember, the psychologist or psychiatrist or social worker you’re going to seek out!) Ask a pastor for help if God is your thing or if you know a decent clergy member. Tell your story. Keep telling it until somebody listens. Keep telling it until you feel better
6.) Do not waste time on either guilt or self-pity. Neither will do you any good. Focus on forward momentum. Guilt and self-pity will only serve to hold you back. I have wasted far too much time on both these things and I would like to save you the time.
8.) I’ve wanted to kill myself and I never went through with it, and thank God for that, because I’ve gotten to experience an amazing life. If God or fate or science or a speeding bus end it all for me tomorrow, I’ll know I had a great adventure on earth. Or maybe I won’t know it, because I’ll be fucking dead, and who can say what happens? Who can say if death is better, or worse, or just a fat load of nothingness? I figure it’s better to deal with the devil I know (this life) than the devil I don’t (the afterlife — if such a thing exists).
9.) If you can do nothing else — just keep breathing for as long as you can. One breath after the other after the other. Put them all together and you’ve got a lifetime.
I hope you keep living. I trust that you will. You wrote to me, after all. You wouldn’t have done that if you didn’t retain some hope and some understanding that life has better things in store for you. I think you ought to stick around to see what those things are. Sometimes they’re shiny and taste like chocolate. It’s worth it.
I wish you good luck. But more than that, I wish you good effort.
And thanks for reminding me of the things I sometimes forget.
I’m going to go call my shrink now.
Author and comedian Sara Benincasa responded to an anonymous question on her blog Friday with this wonderful, funny, compassionate, important answer. I thought it was well-worth posting here as well.
(Benincasa is the author of Agorafabulous!, a memoir about her past struggles with anxiety, panic attacks, and agorophobia)
Sending you the biggest e-hugs imaginable, Sara. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Some afternoons were made for lonely walks with your past
To lead it to down a river
Drown it in broad day light
It after all doesn’t mind reminding you how broken you are every 4 a.m