Sunday, February 10, 2008

"Spirit and Mind" -> The Music Has Changed

I listened a lot to Woody Guthrie yesterday. When you cut to the early years of the twentieth century, Woody Guthrie is called out as capturing the common man.

Guthrie was a folk singer, and not necessarily one that could ever make it in today's world. If you listen to his recording you are listening to a man and a guitar and not much else.

If, in your mind's eye, listen to his music as if it was recorded today, it would be clearer with better dynamics, but the performance would still be consider not impressive.

I've played around with a web community called GarageBand. In this web community, you upload a song to the community and have other people grade it. So, let us pretend that we upload one of his songs that we had recorded with modern equipment. I can imagine what they would say.

The would make comments like the following:

1. Singer has problem with intonation (pitch)
2. Song structure is too simplistic
3. Voice is very unpleasing
4. Guitar skills are poor

Of course, they never listen to the lyrics in this web community, because none of us listen to lyrics any more.

When you don't have a beautiful voice or great instrument skills, it forces you to listen to the lyrics. And the lyrics is what Woodie was all about.

His most recognized song is "This Is Your Land." The words carry the song. It calls out our connection to this country and the physical attribute of this great land. If you listen closely, you'll hear his call. Guthrie had seen pain. He had lived through the great dust bowls. He understood the great depression. The man was disenfranchised, and he was tracked by our government as a socialist.

Despite this Guthrie had sen much of this land, and he sought the common bond of all Americans.

"This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless skyway
I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me

This land was made for you and me"

Today, we have forgotten what is means to have words is our songs. Many of our popular sonqs are vapid and milquetoast. This is the plague of the 21st century. Our praise songs rarely have tough theological concepts embedded, and they can be equally sung in an Evangelical Church service, a Mormon church service, or a Jehovah Witness.

Guthrie had a tough life. He got divorced. He got divorced twice. He was a non-father to eight of his children. He died of Huntington's Disease. He was an alleged communist, but, in reality, the communists wouldn't have him.

And he had a great respect for his Christianity. A troubled man, but a man that knew Jesus none-the-less. He was a Christian and a Socialist.

He was a burning light and wrote thousands of poems and hundreds of songs.

He had a philosophy, and it was all summed up in his song "Jesus Christ."

They nailed Him there to die on a cross in the sky,
In the lightning, the thunder and the rain.
Judas Iscariot committed suicide
When they laid poor Jesus Christ in his grave.

When the love of the poor shall one day turn to hate,
When the patience of the workers gives away;
"Would be better for you rich if you never had been born",
So they laid Jesus Christ in His grave.

This song was written in New York City,
Of rich man, preachers, and slaves;
Yes, if Jesus was to preach like He preached in Galillee [sic],
They would lay Jesus Christ in His grave.

Monday, February 04, 2008

"Mind" -> The Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Perhaps you saw this movie, staring Jim Carrey. It won the Oscar for writing in 2005, and it was well received by the critics.

The heart of the movie has to do with memory erasure, and the fictional firm Lacuna. The thought is that memories are simply fragments in our mind, and these fragments can be spotted and erased. From the previous section on mind, body, and spirit, you will know that I believe that memories are kept in the physical mind. The question is "will be ever be able to erase memories similar to this movie?"

It may be a surprise to you, but science has just done this.

Protein kinase M zeta is a building block in the brain. It seems that it is especially important in the formation of long term memory. If we give a protein kinase M zeta inhibitor into the cortex of rats brains, and it causes the rats long term memory to go away. It is as if we formatted your hard drive. The data is gone. As a matter of fact, some people think that protein kinase M zeta problems and Alzheimer's disease might be related. The general thought of losing all your long term memory isn't all that interesting, as I forget enough stuff as it is.

What is even more intriguing to me is that we seem to be on the verge of erasing single memories. Work done by Joseph LeDoux, out of NYU, shows a rather interesting implication of using U0126, a protein inhibitor, to kill single memory. The test is rather ingenious.

A rat was taught to fear an electrical shock whenever one of two tones were played. Now, both tones would cause a shock, and the rats would freeze up anytime they heard either tone. The scientist played a tone, and while the rats was in the middle of worrying about a shock, they injected the rat with U0126.

Next day, the previously trained rat didn't remember to worry when the tone was played. However, the truly interesting thing was when the "non-erased" tone was played, the rat froze. In other words, only memory that was erased was the memory going on when the rat was given U0126.

The structure of memories are bound up in synaptic connections inside of the brain. The nature of these synaptic connections are based in proteins. If you disrupt the normal course of these proteins, literally the memory goes away. Think about what you want to forget, and while thinking about this, take U0126.

Boom. Memory gone.

However, it isn't approved for human use. Yet.