Sunday, September 14, 2008

Biking the Back Roads of My Mind

The account of perception that’s starting to emerge is what we might call the “brain’s best guess” theory of perception: perception is the brain’s best guess about what is happening in the outside world.
Atul Gawande One time I was riding my bike to work in Ithaca, New York, by a slightly different route than usual, and decided to cut across a parking lot. I got distracted, looking off to the side and remembering something about the last time I was there, and, all of sudden, was lying face down on the pavement. My bike, meanwhile, was tangled in the chain that, as it turned out, was across the entrance to the parking lot. Picking myself up, I realized that blood was pouring down my face. It wasn’t, however, until after a brief conversation with a passerby who had a cell phone and offered to call 911 that I saw the strikingly unnatural direction my left middle finger was pointing, and, like Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff but not falling until he looked down, felt a sudden, overwhelming rush of agony. Two fingers turned out to be dislocated, and my first and second metacarpals broken badly enough that, in order to hold the bone parts together until they healed, the orthopedist needed to insert four “pins”—called that because nobody’d show up for surgery if they called them nails, though that’s what they were. So, for a month and a half, I had four metal hooks sticking out between my knuckles—kinda like Wolverine, except, rather than being able to hold my own against evil mutants, I couldn’t even button my pants.

But that’s not my point. What I meant to write about here has to do with the part I don’t remember, that period of a second or two when a number of really unpleasant things happened. What those things were can be inferred from the above, but they’re not my point either. My point is that I didn’t lose consciousness, but all that happened seems to have been instantaneously forgotten, as if it never happened, except for the obvious and painful consequences. It’s as if my unconscious said “you don’t need to see this” and pulled a dark curtain, and that was that. The mind, in other words, didn’t simply receive outside reality, but edited it.

Speaking of biking, right now I’m preparing for a two-day 150 mile ride, benefiting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, on September 27-28, from Cherry Hill, New Jersey (near Philly) to Ocean City, NJ (right on—you guessed it—the ocean) and back—except that, being a masochist, I’m planning on doing 175 miles—a “century” the first day, 75 the second. The photo at the top of this post shows me pre-training, pre-yoga, and here I am now:
For more info, check out:


Anonymous said...

"I’m planning on doing 175 miles"

You must be in great shape to take that on. I'll surely be cheering you on from command central here at my keyboard. :) Best wishes for a smooth and safe ride.

BTW you have been awarded The Blog of the Week Award by acouticguitarist.

Anonymous said...

My therapist talked to me about that phenomena of seeming to forget stuff. And she said something similar - it is as if your brain decided you don't need to know. Or, you're already in shock in those split seconds as the bad things are happening that the "closed for business" sign is flipped on for that time. Its definitely enough dealing with the after effects.

And as we've talked about, I can commiserate on the sports related injuries (well, cycling is a sport!).

Congrats on entering the ride. I really enjoy fun runs/fun rides for the very 'fun' factor mentioned. And nothing like getting outside. Doing it for charity is always nice too!

Glad to see the yoga and training has also given you something of a tan. ;)

But you really need some snazzy cycling clothes I'm thinking! LOL!

Kim said...

You've been tagged by's a privilege. You can thank me later. :)

RiverPoet said...

Hi Jay -

Thanks for stopping by my blog yesterday. Looks like you have a pretty cool one going here yourself! I'm envious of your stamina on the bike. I haven't even taken mine out this year, which I can't believe. A crazy little thing called "migraine" keeps showing up - damn!

By the way, I just love this line from your profile: "(the kind of doctor who, in case of emergency, can explain Faulkner while you die)." I think your blog just my satisfy my elitist taste!

Peace - D

Anonymous said...

Having sufferred a biking injury a few years ago, I know EXACTLY what you're talking about with the blanketing out. Though I did, in fact, knock myself out. I was doing bunny hops over speed bumps at top speeds and the front wheel just turned and I DO remember having a split second in which to jump off my bike but I figured, there's grass on the footpath, I'll be fine.
BAM! ran into a parking meter or a stop sign (can't really remember) with my left knee cap. It shatterred and my head came down on the sign, cracking my helmet and knocking me out. At least that's how I reconstruct the events based on my injuries. The kneecap was shatterred into several small pieces - the doctors were very impressed, they'
d never seen such a perfect break.
I really have no recollection of the moments before impact (its true I was heavily inebriated but still I remember most of the evening). I had a split second to react and then I was waking up on the footpath.
If the mind could only blank out the things that broke your heart then that would be something else.
"From the things you can't remember, tell the things you can't forget.
History puts a saint in every dream."
Tom Waits' Time

Lana Gramlich said...

Kudos to you on the ride! Comparing photos, I see you've taken to wearing a helmet these days AND you're now in color! ;)
"...kinda like Wolverine, except, rather than being able to hold my own against evil mutants, I couldn’t even button my pants." You'll forgive me if I had a good chuckle at this. It wasn't that you were suffering, it was the brilliance of your juxtaposition. Wonderful!

Janet said...

This was great...I am so enjoying your randomness:-) As to your greatest transformation has come from a a daily dedication to the 5 Tibetan Rites yoga practice. But biking inspires much of my blogging. Good luck in your training!

Anonymous said...

Yes kudos on the bike challenge for a good cause. I am very interested these days in this whole idea of perception vs "naked reality," whatever that could possibly be deemed to be considering that all of us trying to define it own the same organ with which to perceive it: the human brain with its--as you point out--best guesses. Somewhere in here science meets Buddhism and I get a huge sense of relief from the notion that nothing my mind creates for me is really the real thing. So I don't have to take it so seriously and let it make me anxious or depressed. Very cool on days that I can grasp it...or quit trying to grasp anything.

Roxanne said...

I think it's fascinating how the mind does that - pulling the curtain down. Shows you how much the brain really does for us.

The same happened to me when I was in a car accident. And when a guy on a bike hit me (a pedestrian).

p.s. (my blog address changed, so just click on my name if you are dropping by!)

Wonder Man said...

ouch, that didn't sound fun at all

Lydia said...

I have a distant cousin who lives in Cherry City. If I was in touch with her, which I'm not, I'd send her out with a water bottle. Maybe she'll find out about this on her own. If you see her say hi for me... ;)

Anonymous said...

I just want to say that i am happy your ok. This is a very interesting observation, and i have seen this in action. Over here in Iraq when we get a really bad attack, i've found that some soldiers have trouble remembering the details of the incident, it comes down to how your able to handle certain situations. Great post and congrats on the Blogger Award, you certainly deserve it!

RBV said...

Amazing transformation indeed!...from an old white scientist to a strapping Black man. Amazing how no one in the comments seemed to notice that.

I read somewhere that a way to exercise the brain is to take a different route to and/or from work (or some other usual stop). I think I'll avoid this type of exercise though because I prefer to imagine being like wolverine rather than actually taking on the persona.

Anonymous said...

Great site you have...very entertaining. Sorry I laughed a little at your expense but the post was too good. Have a fun, safe ride next week!