(Main blog, daily posts)


Heart Butte School, Montana (Non-fiction, the school and its community.)

Robert Macfie Scriver and Art: An archive. Books by Mary Scriver

ON AMAZON: "Bronze Inside and Out: a biographical memoir of Bob Scriver" and "Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke: sermons for the prairie."

Saturday, February 06, 2016


The earliest days of gestation

This is a quote from the website of TransOva, which moves the little conception starts of a new creature at the 7th day of development, out of one womb into another.  “Embryo Transfer (ET) is an advanced reproductive technology and a progressive tool that can help you produce more offspring from an elite cow and can extend the impact of outstanding cattle genetics. . .

“Conventional (in vivo) ET involves specific hormonal treatment (with follicle stimulating hormone) of donor cows and heifers to cause multiple follicles to ovulate. The donors are bred using artificial insemination (AI) following this superovulation regime and estrus or standing heat.  Approximately seven days after insemination, embryos are non-surgically collected or “flushed” from the donor’s uterus and transferred fresh into synchronous recipients who will serve as surrogate mothers. The embryos may also be cryopreserved or frozen to be transferred at a later point in time.  The frozen embryos will be maintained in liquid nitrogen storage vessels until they are thawed and transferred.” 
Fisting a cow to transfer an embryo

The process is the same for all mammals.  The relevant practice for humans is called surrogate pregnancy.  It’s quite common for humans and very ordinary on modern ranches.  A ranch here in Valier ships frozen cattle embryos around the planet.    

In the natural world, no one knows how many morulas and blastocysts don’t survive.  It turns out that the uterus is not very pleased to shelter a new being of a different genome. Some morning sickness is partly the result of the uterus thinking there’s a germ or foreign object to get rid of, while the developing embryo claims its right to exist and grow into a real baby.  There’s a certain amount of grappling that goes on and sometimes the embryo loses.  This kind of loss is usually early in the first trimester.

The eight cell stage

Recent thinking about humans is that there are three trimesters IN the uterus and a “fourth trimester” of development, actual gestation, OUTSIDE the mother but as close as possible to the mother (or a clever imitation of her, an incubator).  It is during this fourth three-month trimester that the most human parts of “human” are completed.  None of the great apes have a fourth trimester, because they don’t need it.  Their heads never get that big.  (Go ahead, make a joke.)
Beginning the fourth trimester.

I’ve ordered this book since it hints at how all the mind-boggling bits come together.  How New Humans Are Made: Cells and Embryos, Twins and Chimeras, Left and Right, Mind/self, Soul, Sex, and Schizophrenia  By Charles E. Boklage.  The tiniest dropped stitch, misfolded molecule, varied isotope of an element, and the consequences could be death, malfunction for life, or something new that opens up potential.  Like a gene that confers immunity or at least resistance to HIV.  Pygmies have several of these immunities because over the aeons they’ve endured waves of different strains of HIV.  Many deaths mean tough survivors.

Genetic instructions and their consequences must always grapple with the circumstances of the moment, physical, emotional, geographical, situational.  The mother is a buffer until the “fourth trimester” when the world outside her body, possibly outside her control, get access to the infant at the most vulnerable time of its life.  Many die.  At that point men may be saviors or killers or merely torturers.  Hard to think about.  Often in the newspaper.

Benjamin C. Campbell

A professor requested an article of mine published on paper in the Journal of Pastoral Care and Counselling, which made me curious about his work.  His name is Benjamin C. Campbell and he works at the University of Wisconsin.  His specialty is “The 7R Polymorphism in the Dopamine Receptor D4 Gene (DRD4)” and its consequences in terms of the behavior of men, particularly financial risk-taking, impulsivity, sensation seeking, and some others.  The idea is that particular variations of this gene set produce more testosterone than the average and that the increase endows them with more boldness, willingness to move away and explore, aversion to child-raising, and so on.  All the things we associate with testosterone because it is a politicized hormone, accused of violence.  Many are interested in which components of sexuality can be inherited.

I got these papers off of “Researchgate,” one of several websites that publish academic papers.  They are not easy to read.  Campbell’s studies are very specific about what tests they used: simple “buccal swabbing” which is the q-tip to the inside of the cheek seen on crime shows that reveals DNA, plus a test for testosterone in saliva, which is a fairly stable indicator of testosterone in the whole system.  They (there are several authors for each paper) never make definitive declarations about what testosterone does — it is not established in terms of personality, but that’s why they’re doing the research.  It’s a reality check.  What they found was not either/or results, but rather subtle tilts of a scale.

This is my hand.  What do you think?

Some tests were physical.  It’s proposed that a test for exposure to testosterone in the womb, mostly coming from the mother being under stress and therefore producing adrenaline which converts to testosterone, is that the infant’s index finger will be shorter than the ring finger.  It’s still controversial — far from being a fact — but I’m interested because this is true of my fingers.  My mother is dead, but I think it was probably true of her as well.  And one aunt.  But the three of us had quite different lives, depending on the circumstances, opportunities, educations, and vicissitudes of our times.  None of us had mothers who were safely protected.  My aunt was an army nurse in WWII in London and Rheims.  My mother lived in a neighborhood that became a ghetto.

Among the other tests, which were physical, was one paper and pencil instrument, a Sensation Seeking Survey.  You can take a sample test at  It’s speculative.  You might like Myers-Briggs or even a Tarot deck better.  But it’s a good conversation starter. Another test was for markers of masculinity on a full-frontal scan of the face: heaviness of bone around the eyes, size of jaw, beard and so on.   The more like Arnold Schwartzenegger, the more testosterone.

Arnold Schwartzenegger

There was no test for being gay.  Gay includes a broad span of types of men.  There IS no genetic test for desire.  What arouses desire, what the dimensions and intensity of it might be, what kind of person — not just what gender — triggers attachment and loyalty, all of that is ground for exploration.  Simple lust, the kind of thing testosterone is supposed to impel, can make a person with a penis fuck a watermelon, regardless of its gender.  But this is not the kind of desire that leads to love attachment.

What Campbell was testing was “the 7 R (I think that means there are 7 repeats — genes often repeat) Polymorphism" (that means many forms) in the "Dopamine Receptor D4 Gene (DRD4)."  We have to pause to say that dopamine is a molecule that carries messages through the neurological system.  It works, like most of the loops in the body, by going and coming, rising and falling, and in reciprocity with an opposite, and affecting other molecular pathways.  As with the familiar phenomenon of diabetes when a cell's receptors won't let insulin into the cell, what Campbell et al are studying is not testosterone itself, but the number of receptors in the cells.  I don't quite get this, but I think they are not looking at the generation of testosterone, but rather the ability to use it in cells.  This is something like measuring antibodies (a response) to determine infection.  

Dopamine is one of the most important circuits, but more than that, it has been implicated in reward and motivation, sexual and pair-bonding behavior.  Long alleles (an allele is a section of genes along the chromosome) of these specific genes that seem to affect behavior are DRD4 and DRD2.  (I haven’t decoded them yet.  They’re about location.)  They seem to influence the desire for sexual novelty, early first intercourse, and some confusing variations in the number of children produced: fewer for some ethnic groups and more for others.

Prairie Voles in Love

We’ve all been fascinated by the two kinds of prairie voles which are either faithful to one partner for their whole lives and dependably help to raise the children if they live on the flats and the opposite if they live in the mountains.  It is genetically controlled: the epigenome is has shut off genes in one or the other.  But so far the experiments I’ve seen only deal with vasopressin and oxytocin rather than dopamine.  The idea is that the difference arose because of different chemical systems, like the testosterone tilts that make some people more up for adventure and exploring.  Those voles went uphill and in the process lost the loop for loving family.  Some suggest that American pioneers did that as well, making them poor husbands and fathers, even dangerous for fourth trimester infants.

These dopamine alleles might have originated -- and been positively selected for -- between 40 and 50 thousand years ago, about the time Neanderthals began to die out.  These alleles might key into the great migrations of people across the Eurasian and African continents, but would also be affected by the climate of the times — temperature, water levels, and so on.  I’ll keep thinking about it.  I think some boys who are now discarded by our society as too rowdy, too inclined to trouble, too sexy, might be exactly the people we need and who will survive the terrifying migrations we are witnessing in our own times.

 Homo ergaster boy found at Koobi Fora (died at 12)

Friday, February 05, 2016


I’ve never forgotten the trepidation — but also driving curiosity — of learning to read.  With no idea of what happens in a brain to allow such a thing, I simply did what I thought was trying:  staring hard while running my eyes along the lines of print.  Something like trying to ride a bicycle.  You push off and pedal.   At some point something happens and you’re doing it.  So that’s how I’m trying to understand discussions of genetics and the influence of certain molecules.  I just run my eyes over the sentences, which are full of mysterious stuff, in hopes that I’ll suddenly understand.  It’s not the same as taking a class.  Far more disorderly.

So far, I’ve got this:  “Humans normally have 46 chromosomes in each cell, divided into 23 pairs. Two copies of chromosome 8, one copy inherited from each parent, form one of the pairs. Chromosome 8 spans about 146 million DNA building blocks (base pairs) and represents between 4.5 percent and 5 percent of the total DNA in cells.

Google could not tell me the difference between paired chromosomes and the double helix (paired) genes.  I think many people confuse the two.  But chromosomes are much bigger than genes which are molecular.  Genes are on the helixes, not on the chromosomes.  This is where one needs a teacher.  But my conception is that the helixes on which the genes spell out formulas must be curled tightly as yarn strands to amount to chromosomes.  Uncurled, they stretch tremendous distances.

“Identifying genes on each chromosome is an active area of genetic research. Because researchers use different approaches to predict the number of genes on each chromosome, the estimated number of genes varies. Genes on chromosome 8 are among the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 total genes in the human genome.  Some of these genes appear to be the difference between human and chimp.

“Chromosome 8 likely contains between 700 and 1,100 genes.

“Chromosome 9 likely contains between 800 and 1,300 genes. 

“Chromosome 14 likely contains between 800 and 1,300 genes. “

As nearly as I can tell from Google, the pair of sex determining chromosomes is the 23rd pair.  The two chromosomes of the pair are mismatched: one is X and the other may be Y, which is much smaller.  Some suggest it is an X with an "arm" or "leg" torn off. If there are two XX chromosomes in the pair, the result is female.  If it is XY, then the result is male.  The number of genes would be unequal between the two chromosomes.  Presumably, what is missing is the instructions for the egg, which is much bigger than the little halves of code with a tail called sperm.  The egg needs directions for all the machinery of the cell.

The criteria for a species is whether the creature can reproduce within that group.  It's not about size or shape of genitals -- it's about molecules.  Even though human beings, chimps, and bonobos (our closest relatives) share 98.8 of their genes, we can only overlap, not be fertile inter-breeders, because we have been evolving separately for a very very long time.  In fact, the genes are arranged into a different number of chromosomes.  BUT humans carry neanderthal genes and we did overlap in time.  So are neanderthals the same species as we are?

“If human and chimp DNA is 98.8 percent the same, why are we so different? Numbers tell part of the story. Each human cell contains roughly three billion base pairs, or bits of information. Just 1.2 percent of that equals about 35 million differences. Some of these have a big impact, others don't. And even two identical stretches of DNA can work differently -- they can be "turned on" in different amounts, in different places or at different times.”  DNA instructs the construction of molecules — it is the MOLECULES that matter.

Human v. chimp

Brains, just like the rest of the body, evolve.  By slightly different timing, sequencing, and combining of molecule production, all human organs and cells work a little differently from those of each other and more differently from other species.  All humans of every "race" can produce children together.  African, Chinese, Swedish, whatever.  So far.  More and more humans are struggling to make babies. Our molecule management systems are having to adapt to molecules that never existed before.  We made them in a lab.  The body doesn't know what to do with them. Infertility is becoming a problem.  Fishes are getting scrambled about who is the female.

Scientists can compensate in many ways, which offers very expensive experiments. For instance, in a recent lab experiment, the short section of genes containing the molecular instructions for fertilizing an ovum were separated from their Y chromosome (male) and were used to make “sperm” which did indeed fertilize ovum and start them growing.  This is not parthenogenesis, which is an ovum that just starts growing without a sperm, maybe because of some kind of shock or special condition, like PH.  In some lower orders of creature, this is not problematic. Just another way of doing business. 

I don’t know whether the lab-made “sperm,” which would normally be half of a set of double helix human instructions,  were conveyed right into the ovum with a pipette or were actually cells with tails and the proper “sonar” for seeking and penetrating an ovum.  A condition of being allowed to do the experiment was that the scientists destroy the resulting “morula” before it could develop further, maybe to the next stage: “blastocyst.”

“A morula is distinct from a blastocyst in that a morula (3-4 days post fertilization) is an 16 cell mass in a spherical shape whereas a blastocyst (4-5 days post fertilization) has a cavity inside the zona pellucida along with an inner cell mass. A morula, if untouched and allowed to remain implanted, will eventually develop into a blastocyst.” 

In these experiments, the scientists are required to destroy the blastocyst to keep it from developing into a monster, but something in the body must check what’s going on at this stage, because even naturally many of these little beginnings are lost. Part of the experimentation is to find out why.  Clearly for many there was a glitch in the code that prevented further development.  

But what drives the funding of such experiments is cultural -- long-standing convictions that to many people are real. They become obsessed with the idea that they MUST have a baby with their own genetics, which was only situational and emotional — nothing to do with science or human tissues.  We are hypnotized by these convictions, which are driven by the inheritance of wealth and power down through centuries.

One MUST have children to inherit one’s wealth and status.

One OWNS those children, because they are an extension of oneself through time.

Sons are JUST LIKE FATHERS and will manage wealth and reputation just as their fathers did, which is good for everyone.

If those children get out of control or are a source of disgrace, they should be killed. Like a lab morula. 

An honor killing victim.

In the Middle East, men legally kill daughters, wives, and sisters, in a set of laws called “honor killing.”  Women are captive, sequestered, and cloaked because resources are scarce and the guarantee of biological origin is of extreme importance.  Motherhood can be witnessed, but until we figured out the genome, fatherhood was never provable.  Women could claim to have been impregnated by God to avoid being punished or killed for unfaithfulness.  It worked for Jesus' mother, didn't it?

These rules are good for the group, and in a situation where one is dependent on group support in order to survive, individualists are identified and driven out or just killed.  This is biological, sub-human, almost insectoid.  It persists because in places where there is not enough, it works. Evolution is about what works, even when the context is behavior rather than what cells and inheritance do.  If we have the technology to intervene, what should we do with it? What do we do about imitation inserted non-complete "code dads" when we still haven't figured out what to do about donor dads who sold their sperm?

Behavior that tends to break up the group consensus and identity will put the individual at risk.  Some groups will simply pull away, some will incarcerate, some will kill, and some will ignore to the point of death, as with troublesome children.   Social evolution happens when there are enough ignored, starved, troublesome individuals that they band together to support each other.  Those who have been resourceful and clever enough to survive into adulthood may remember and reach back to help younger versions of themselves.

If they only duplicate the behaviour of the original group, the tragedy will repeat itself.  If they can find new values and strategies that make both groups “richer” by adding new ecological niches, then they can co-exist and both groups thrive.  Killing is no longer helpful to the group.  Protecting everyone’s children creates wealth.

A petrel flying in a storm

Even in my nuclear family I’ve been an oddball, obstinate, defiant — what one ministerial supervisor called “a stormy petrel.”  This gives me a special sympathy for the rest of my outcast flock of friends even if I insist on flying into the teeth of a storm alone.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

THE TRUNK: (fiction)

The old-fashioned trunk wasn’t delivered until months after her former student’s  death.  He was a gifted writer.  She had been his English teacher but that was a long time ago.  She was retired now.  She had known about the trunk, even wondered about it, but hadn’t expected it. 

She let the trunk just sit in the garage for a while, though the garage was not the modern kind with drywall, a near-room, but rather an ancient lean-to built to shelter a Model T.   Out there she sometimes sorted papers, alongside her little woodstove, meant mostly for disposing of windfall branches from her yard trees, but handy for flammable things she wanted to discard.  As she grew older, there were more of those.  It always gave her a pleasantly tribal feeling to be by a fire, though she was only a standard old white childless woman, a whitebread type.  Over-educated.  Never married.  Full of notions and the confidences of children, even if they were adolescent.  Make that “because.” 

So she knew whose trunk this was but was partly constrained by knowing that there are some things she really did NOT want to know and partly by not knowing what she was meant to do with it.  She was well-aware that the writing was molten lava.  It was almost remarkable that the trunk didn’t burst into flames.  This had been a student who wrote all the time and who had finally become very famous, the toast of the town, and then was thrown down, mocked and humiliated.  Not because he pretended to be an Indian — he WAS an Indian.  His offence was pretending to be white — “passing,” Blacks called it.  It had nothing to do with writing -- it was politics, "hate" politics.

At some point his writing had not been his anymore, but had become a football used by others who were barely literate.  Not because of the beauty, skill, accuracy or sheer energy of his writing.  Few ever read the famous books, which were famous because a lot of copies were sold, going up the best-seller lists, making a lot of money for the small group of industry employees at the publishing house.  The writer made the smallest percentage because “expenses” were billed to his advance account.  That included the high salary of the publisher.

What percentage of the books were actually read?  5% she would guess and call it generous.  Nice covers though: horses and powwows, feathers and “peace pipes” — none of which were in the books.  Once he was established as being indigenous, he was assaulted from all sides for supposedly destroying his own heritage by ignoring his culture, promoting assimilation, being an "apple."

He went back to the rez, moved in with his old auntie (who was actually a great-aunt since his mother’s generation was the one when rez women had begun to drink) and then he himself began to drink.  But he didn’t stop writing.  He just stopped writing for anyone but himself.  The paper piled up in his trunk, neatly tied with ribbon and stacked in chronological order.  At least that’s what she’d heard, and when she finally opened the trunk it turned out to be true.  The ribbon was typewriter ribbon, the kind divided between black and red.  That was a comment.  There’s no such thing as white typewriter ribbon, though later typewriters had correction tape.

She took one manuscript from the bottom and another from the top — the oldest and the most recent.  The oldest, which was hard to get out of the bottom, was the most grammatical, but also the most conventional.  The newest was almost unreadable, stamped with rings of coffee and booze, but it was hair-raising to read — once it was deciphered — and deciphered was literally the word because he had developed a code system of his own, mostly abbreviations of the phrases he used like refrains from a song.  Some she recognized as being from actual songs but mostly she didn’t.  They were too tied to a culture she didn’t know — not Indians, but rural, saloon-music, blue enough to make a hound moan with sympathy.

Beyond that, his old auntie had been a Blackfeet speaker and he had begun to pick up vocabulary from her.  Some of her words stood for things that non-Indians didn’t know.  There ARE dictionaries of the roots and grammar, but it’s a difficult language to learn.  Blackfeet, like all the North American indigenous languages, was oral, NOT written, and included sounds not represented in an English alphabet. The spoken words were inflected like Chinese so that by changing the emPHAsis a bit, they meant something else.  It was also cumulative like German, so that one word was several combined.  

Then there was the element of signtalk, which added gestures to words and phrases so as to made them clear and complete.  And, of course, it’s tough to recognize sarcasms and kidding without knowing the actual life among the people.  And since the tribe was bi-national, the spelling of words was different on one side of the border than on the other.

More than anything else, language arises from the ecology, the land and relationship to it, and to achieve an understanding of that, one had to live there a long time.  The academics that produced dictionaries usually left in winter, so they never learned the words for intense blizzard or paralyzing cold, let alone the euphoria of a Chinook wind in January.

Ask Gyasi Ross -- he knows

Giving this trunk to a youngster of the tribe who had writing skills would have made more sense.  But none of them spoke Blackfeet, much less wrote it, and none of them that she knew of wanted to write anything but white man’s best sellers.  They had caught the greed disease.  As soon as they made enough money, they would move to the city.  She didn’t dare say that to anyone, but she thought it.  None of them was mature enough yet to focus and stick with the task.

The early manuscripts told about hard winters and idyllic summers with an indulgent and competent grandfather.  They didn’t have much, but what they had was well-managed and anyway, in those days if you had family you had everything.  Part of the reason the youngsters thought like white people was that their indigenous families had disappeared, broken.  Even the land was broken, fractured deep underground, scythed by windmills high above ground.

She had been sitting still long enough to be cold, so she roused to put more sticks in the stove.  The most recent manuscript was written after his old auntie had died.  It was incoherent, hallucinatory, and yet full of intense poetry, metaphors of reach and power.  Much of the writing was accusatory, paranoid, and yet it could not be refuted — it was true — and it could not be explained.  Nor could it be cured.  It would cure itself or the tribe, the species, the life of the planet, would simply implode and be no more — not even someone to care about it.  Many people were already gone.  Even places were gone.

There she sat, in an old wicker chair with a faded and torn cushion she couldn’t bear to toss into the stove because she loved the bright pattern of the fabric so much and had already kept it so long.  She held the two manuscripts, a beginning and an ending, and what was she going to do about it?  Join the hordes of young lemmings with glittering eyes who didn’t realize they were running hard in a hamster wheel meant to preserve the domains of publishers?  There were no more commentators to warn them, no more reviewers who weren’t burnt out or bought out, no more in-house advocate editors because they had all been laid off to become agents scratching at the edges.  There were no more authorities; no one was in charge.

But what was the difference between these valuable, hair-raising and often beautiful writings and some rare flower — just as transient.  Surely there had been writings in the past, just as remarkable, that had simply vanished — possibly unread.   First of all, you can’t publish a trunkful of paper.  It would take a lot of winnowing and organizing.  

Suppose she could write a grant that would pay for the printing and binding of some of these pieces.  Then she would need another one to pay for publicity, distribution and book reps who visited stores — that was the real meaning of publishing.  People thought it was an honor, a certification, a diploma, only received by the worthy.  But it was no such thing.  It was just ink on paper.  Meant to make a profit. 

Maybe she should just chuck it all into the woodstove.  Maybe she should go get her own writing and chuck that in, too.  But she didn’t.  It was like having some ghastly disease and hoping that a cure would be invented soon enough to save this body of work.  But even if some reckless publisher took it on, who would read it?  Who was teaching people how to read?

Wednesday, February 03, 2016


Browning and Cut Bank cheerleaders

Yesterday I ran a few errands in beautiful downtown Valier (two blocks away — I’m in the "suburbs" down the street) and saw that everything was more deserted than usual.  In fact, my neighbors are missing.  Finally I got the idea: it’s the state high school basketball championship playoffs.  It’s something like a religion and everyone who is able will attend.  In spite of concussions, exploded knees, lost class time and stigmatized mascots, it is obsessive and key to the identity of Montana towns.

In terms of planetary culture, it sure beats a killing war.  In terms of urban contemporary technological culture, it is relevant to tragic forced transitions from one cultural group to another and to our dispiriting attempt to find meaning as individuals, “bowling alone”.  So here I am, reaching back to seminary basics to figure it out and find terminology.  I just found a reference in the Jared Diamond book I’m slowly reading.  He speaks of “effervescence,” which I creatively decided means the liveliness, the joy, the freely released energy of a group.  

I wasn’t too far wrong, but at first I didn’t connect it to Emile Durkheim, who supplied an alternative explanation of religion that isn’t a matter of pretending the reality of a big humanoid in the sky.  Here’s the unidentified author in Wikipedia, who frankly admitted he (it’s always a he) needs some help from a sociologist.  A few tags are all we need for now.

Tribal effervescence

Collective effervescence is the basis for Émile Durkheim's theory of religion as laid out in his 1912 volume Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Durkheim argues that the universal religious dichotomy of profane and sacred results from the lives of these tribe members: most of their life is spent performing menial tasks such as hunting and gathering. These tasks are profane. The rare occasions on which the entire tribe gathers together becomes sacred, and the high energy level associated with these events gets directed onto physical objects or people which then become sacred.
The force is thus associated with the totem which is the symbol of the clan, mentioned by Durkheim in his study of "elementary forms" of religion in Aboriginal societies. Because it provides the tribe's name, the symbol is present during the gathering of the clan. Its presence during these scenes, the totem comes to represent both the scene and the strong emotional felt, thus becoming a collective representation of the group.

In some cultures, men dance solo in the context of a group.

For Durkheim, religion is a fundamentally social phenomenon. The beliefs and practices of the sacred are a method of social organization.” 

And now “Wiki-Anonymous” links this to thoughts that neurological research would support.  “Recent research has operationalized collective effervescence as the alignment of physiological states, showing that exciting collective rituals can lead to the synchronization of heartbeats between practitioners as well as spectators.”  So when the couch potato's team wins, he leaps in the air, shouting. It's even better in the grandstand where they're synchronized.  This phenomenon is called by physiologists, “limbic resonance.”

Limbic resonance is the theory that the capacity for sharing deep emotional states arises from the limbic system of the brain.  These states include the dopamine circuit promoted feelings of empathic harmony, and the norepinephrine circuit originated emotional states of fear, anxiety and anger.”

The concept was advanced in the book A General Theory of Love (2000) [3 authors: Lewis, Amini and Lannon], and is one of three interrelated concepts central to the book's premise: that our brain chemistry and nervous systems are measurably affected by those closest to us (limbic resonance); that our systems synchronize with one another in a way that has profound implications for personality and lifelong emotional health (limbic regulation); and that these set patterns can be modified through therapeutic practice (limbic revision).”

“In other words, it refers to the capacity for empathy and non-verbal connection that is present in mammals, and that forms the basis of our social connections as well as the foundation for various modes of therapy and healing. . . our nervous systems are not self-contained, but rather demonstrably attuned to those around us with whom we share a close connection." . . . "Within the effulgence of their new brain, mammals developed a capacity we call 'limbic resonance' — a symphony of mutual exchange and internal adaptation whereby two mammals become attuned to each other's inner states.”  

Just in time for Valentine’s Day!  And if there were any rodents out there running around on the prairie on Ground Hog’s Day, they didn’t give a rip about the sun.  They were looking for “limbic resonance” so they can screw and then go back to the burrow to gestate for six weeks.

Limbic resonance is sorta Dionysian.

Limbic resonance is also referred to as "empathic resonance”. . .Other studies cited examine the link between mirror neurons (activated during such mimicking activity) and the limbic system" . . . : "Mirror neurone areas seem to monitor this interdependence, this intimacy, this sense of collective agency that comes out of social interactions and that is tightly linked to the ability to form empathic resonance.”

“Limbic resonance and limbic regulation are also referred to as "mood contagion" or "emotional contagion" . . . Jack Kornfield echoes the musical metaphor of the original definition of "limbic resonance" . . . correlates these findings of Western psychology with the tenets of Buddhism: "Each time we meet another human being and honor their dignity, we help those around us. Their hearts resonate with ours in exactly the same way the strings of an unplucked violin vibrate with the sounds of a violin played nearby. Western psychology has documented this phenomenon of 'mood contagion' or limbic resonance. If a person filled with panic or hatred walks into a room, we feel it immediately, and unless we are very mindful, that person's negative state will begin to overtake our own. When a joyfully expressive person walks into a room, we can feel that state as well.”  “

Enough with the quotes, though every politician with any charisma knows these ideas and is using them, esp. Trump.  Everyone enjoys an absurd and enraged party animal millionaire, even if he has a toupee instead of a lampshade on his head.  Let’s hope they don’t want him for president.

Originally I was looking for an explanation of social effervescence because I had been banned from a social group I love -- on grounds that I “took all the air out of the room.”  Flat beer.  I finally understood the reason I wasn’t any fun because I started explaining everything and that I was way too serious about everything and that I didn’t really fit in the first place.  My report card said “conscientious” but it might as well have said “non-carbonated.”  Not very sugary either.  These are supposed to be good for you, but who cares?

Well, I do, if they are grounds for dismissal.  And I do recognize them — I have left groups myself on grounds that their conscientiousness became bullying and their lack of fun and wit made them grinding.  Too much virtue can kill love.  Passion is effervescent — uplifting — but devotion can be a trap.

At the heart of oppression is the conviction that there is only one way, one focus, and every individual must pledge allegiance to it for the good of the group which, if you don’t put the group’s beliefs ahead of your own, will at least exclude you and maybe kill you.  The bullying and suicide problems of today’s youngsters in the USA come from the return of forced dependence on the group fostered by today’s school, government, insurance, and media dictates.  

It is a loss of effervescence.  Love is replaced by force.  No one can force you to actually be a Valentine who has personal limbic resonance.  They can just psych you into buying stuff.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016


Alvina Krause, the legendary Method acting teacher, used as a teaching tool Malvina Hoffman's Hall of Man, sculptures of examples of human groups, life-size.  Our assignment in 1957 was to go look at the bronzes, think about them and research them until we understood each of them as unique, thinking and moving individuals.  It was one of the few times in my undergrad life when it was not assumed that all people were like the campus people, and that didn’t mean the janitor.  But then, acting means accepting the idea that one might need to portray any one of the planet’s humans, including janitors.

This is about Malvina, not Alvina.  Malvina Hoffman was a privileged woman in a high-culture context married to a violinist tuned so tightly that he spent much of his life in hospitals.  She wrote three books: one about traveling around the world creating these portraits, one about how to create and cast bronze sculptures, and one that was a memoir. In 1961, when I came to Browning, MT, to teach high school English on this Blackfeet Reservation, I met Bob Scriver, a major sculptor of Western subjects.  In our first conversation we discovered that Malvina Hoffman was an object of intense admiration from us both.

In the Fifties Bob had earned a Master’s Degree at Vandercook School of Music on the south side of Chicago.  He was just transitioning from teaching music to running a taxidermy business and went to the Field Museum to visit their master taxidermist, who was from Billings, MT.  Of course he explored the rest of the museum and was stunned by the beauty and understanding presented in the Hall of Man. 
The Blackfoot Man was Canadian, so we didn't know him.

In the Sixties Bob’s work attracted the attention of Major Eric Harvey at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary and we went up to tour their growing collection, still being curated in warehouses.  Staggered by the amount of material for exhibits, we went up and down ramps, through doorways, through hallways.  Bob was ahead of me.  Suddenly he disappeared around a corner and then came back to grab me by the shoulders, thrust me around the corner for a few seconds, then pull me back.  “What did you see?” he demanded.  In that flash I saw the complete collection of Malvina Hoffman’s sculptures — not the Hall of Man, but portraits, maquettes for monuments, and so on.  Hundreds.

Semang Pygmy -- Bob bought a casting of this from Malvina.

We didn’t see them again until 1965 when Bob was on “To Tell the Truth” and we went to New York City.  We had the address to Hoffman’s studio, which was in a mews, a place where horses were once kept in big spaces with strong floors.  Sniffen Court had become famous for its community of prestigious sculptors.  We made an appointment and arrived with our arms full of flowers as tribute.  The entrance was into the studio space, dim and huge, with the small sculptures on tables, but we hardly had time to linger.

Upstairs Hoffman, dying of emphysema from stone dust, was on her “lit de repose,” and Guldie, her companion and guardian, took us to her side.  Bob had brought red roses, the classic, and I brought anemones.  We were dizzy with the reality of a figure that had been with each of us for so long and so intensely.  We visited a little while and Bob showed her photos of his work, which she praised, saying he was particularly good at fetlocks on horses which so many get wrong.  But then she was gasping and we had to leave.

In 1978 when I returned to Chicago to attend the U of Chicago Div School and Meadville/Lombard Theological School, at the first chance I got, I  went to the Hall of Man.  It was gone. I was stunned.  In the cultural revolution of the Seventies it had been dispersed as racist.  The revolutionaries of the time were Levelers, trying to put aside all differences in order to assure equality.  Of course, that’s not what happened.  Like my undergrad profs, they were simply trying to make everyone agree with them.  As Malvina would say, which she DID say to us about some ridiculous edict we complained about,  “Tell it to the Marines!”

Powered by the fear of stigma and the inability to tolerate difference, it is only now that society has recovered enough to reinstate the Hall of Man for its original purpose of celebrating variousness and the unique individual wherever they might be.  Every acting student who did this exercise of empathy for Alvina Krause, still carries the strong memory of that portrayed body and the mind it carried through a space we could only imagine — but DID to the best of our ability.  Of course, by now Alvina and Malvina are dead, so are the models for the bronzes, so is Bob Scriver, and so are many of Alvina’s acting students, even many of my students on the Blackfeet Reservation — not from a holocaust unless you count the truly universal scythe of old age.  

Now that the sculptures have been brought up out of the Field Museum warehouse (where they might have been in danger of de-accessioning like so many fine artworks), people can again take into themselves the lives of people unlike themselves

The first book of Malvina Hoffman’s that both Bob and I had in our libraries when we met was “Sculpture Inside and Out.”  It was one of our guides when we created the Bighorn Foundry in the backyard and learned to cast bronzes by using the classic Roman block investment method, not the modern chicken-fried bronze (dipped in glass batter) created from a kit.  Those who know about my biography of Bob Scriver will understand the title:  “Bronze Inside and Out.”

The second book we had acquired separately was “Heads and Tales,” the story of the making of the Hall of Man (that word “man” probably needs to be modernized to Human), named since most of the portraits are busts.

The third book is entitled “Yesterday is Tomorrow: A Personal History”.  Besides carrying flowers to her “lit de repose,” we each carried a copy of this book and she signed both copies.  Nothing fancy:  “with cordial good wishes.”  When she died, Guldie let us know, but we never sent any acknowledgment.  There was no way writing could say what she meant to us.  Time has helped.

My seminary in Chicago sold its building which his now occupied by the Neubauer Collegium, a center for reflection — a place where indeed “Yesterday is Tomorrow.”  The following is quoted from their website.

Alaka Wali is curator and applied cultural research director at The Field Museum. She was the founding director of the Center for Cultural Understanding and Change from 1995-2010 and currently curates the sizeable North American collection which includes a contemporary urban collection. Her work concerns the relationship between art-making and the capacity for social resilience. She has curated over 10 exhibits for The Field Museum, with the most recent being  “Looking at Ourselves: Rethinking the Sculptures of Malvina Hoffman.” 

Recent shifts in legal, political, and ethical demands on natural history museums have compelled them to open their institutional logics to interventions informed by indigenous peoples’ self-understanding—an understanding that makes specific interpretive claims about the meaning of given cultural phenomena, ontological claims expressed by their religious commitments, and even aesthetic and epistemological claims about the contributions contemporary Native American artists might make to the articulation of a long-standing historical tradition. Our interest, in short, is to understand how these interventions are playing out in the everyday work of the Field Museum and its efforts to engage, educate, and encourage the interest of an increasingly diverse public, Native and otherwise.
We endeavor to undertake this project in collaboration with the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, the Field Museum, and a growing pool of indigenous leaders, museum specialists, advocates, and artists in two ways. First, through on-the-ground participant observation of Field Museum staff as they plan, produce, and execute a major exhibition already under way in Hall 8, the North America Collection. And second, by staging conversations among invited Native American artists and advocates, Field staff, and scholars with a view to exploring how the future possibilities of ethnographic museums can be addressed through the specific efforts being undertaken by the Field in its renovation project. From questions concerning the status of indigenous cultural property rights, material and intellectual, to the enduring problems of reification and the marginalization of Native Americans, ethnographic collections like those at the Field have long been the focal point of debates about the relationship between scientific ethics, religious commitments, and aesthetics.
With its plans for renovation and its willingness to be the site and subject of this inquiry, the Field Museum stands at the forward edge of these questions and how their answers might offer lessons for the future of natural history. 

I want to add that Malvina Hoffman would have loved to have portrayed Alaka Walli and her strong face.