Great fiction reveals the inner world of characters

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Photo by Georgeann Sack

I have been re-reading Middlemarch in an effort to understand what makes George Eliot’s writing great. My conclusion is that she regularly follows dialog with a sweeping sentiment. These gems are what I crave when I am reading, which is to consider a new way of thinking. In order to consider a character’s way of thinking, the subjective experiences and judgments of the character must be presented to the reader. Eliot is a master of presenting these internal experiences to us.

I get to be in the character’s head as they project themselves into past and future or make connections between what is happening in front of them and something previously learned or experienced. We do this all the time in our own heads. …


A guide to getting it done

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Author photo by Michael Poole

Self-publishing gives you complete creative control. In return, you have to do ALL THE WORK. What exactly does that look like? Read on to get an overview of the process: Editing, Design, Identifiers, Distribution, and Marketing.

I wrote my first book as part of the Writing Cooperative’s recent finish your book challenge. The winner was to receive a self-publishing package from BookBaby, so I wrote a non-fiction book that was ideal for self-publishing. I didn’t win. I decided to self-publish anyway. …


What exactly is the pelvic floor anyway?

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Photo by PeopleImages/iStock/standard license

The female pelvis is as complex as it is beautiful. There are many demands placed on this region of our bodies. It needs to be strong and elastic. It needs to be closed to support our organs and open wide enough to give birth.

As I did the research to write my book on pelvic floor disorders, learning the anatomy was the hardest part. All the descriptions I found were either too detailed or not detailed enough. None of them integrated all the aspects of the pelvis I know to be important for function. Our sphincters, pelvic floor muscles, and connective tissues act in concert to support the organs of our pelvis. …


Decision making, with and without consciousness

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All images by plant_microverse

These images reveal the structures of plants. A talented plant cell biologist from Charles University in Prague has taken optical cross sections of these plants using a confocal microscope, then colorized the resulting image files to create works of art. You can view them in more detail here.

Plants are alien to us. We have placed them into an entirely separate category of life because they use different cellular machinery to generate energy. In spite of clear differences, plants and animals have similar goals. Primary among them is to survive and reproduce.

In the gorgeous image below, the anther of a plant (red) is opening to release the pollen grains inside (green). More interesting than the image is the accompanying text, which states, “This process is strictly regulated by the plant, which is actively pumping the water out from the anther, only when the surrounding weather conditions are optimal for the release of the pollen grains.” …


Emotion plays a powerful role in information seeking and problem solving

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Photo: brightstars/iStock/standard license

I had the privilege of listening to a talk by Jacqueline Gottlieb at the (virtual) UC Davis Exploring the Mind speaker series last Friday. Gottlieb is Professor of Neuroscience at Columbia University where she is a member of The Kavli Institute for Brain Science and The Zuckerman Institute for Mind Brain and Behavior.

Her talk focused on an aspect of decision making I had not spent much time thinking about before. When we are making a decision, we want to gather as much relevant information as possible. Or, as Gottlieb put it, “animals have a biological imperative to minimize uncertainty.”

In a laboratory setting, researchers often simplify decision making scenarios by presenting a human or animal subject with only the information needed to make the relevant decision. These are the types of studies I have read about before. In the real world, we are constantly bombarded with information and must decide what is most relevant to our current objective. …


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Photo by Georgeann Sack

Arnold Lobel’s stories about Frog and Toad portray an endearing friendship between two individuals you might think would be incompatible. Reading them, I can’t help but to question what kind of friend I am.

I will reveal my answer below, but first, what kind of friend are you? Take the following quiz to find out if you are a Frog or a Toad.

Quiz

  1. You are having a bad day. Do you
    a) Seek the company of your closest friend.
    b) Cover your head with a blanket and go to sleep.
  2. Your friend’s parent died. Do you
    a) Spend the day thinking about what to say and coming up empty, then call to apologize so they end up comforting you.
    b) Show up at your friend’s house and help where you see it is needed. …


Outstanding professional science writers and editors share their wisdom

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Photo: fotandy/iStock/standard license

I arrived in the dry, oxygen poor environment of Santa Fe sleep deprived and uncertain what to expect. That first night we sat in a circle as the instructors and 52 students took turns introducing ourselves. It took a long time. The room was warm and I felt loopy. I loved every minute of it. I found myself surrounded by an incredible group of people who shared my sense of urgency that science needs to be shared with the public in an interesting and accessible way.

This was the 18th annual Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop, directed by George Johnson and Sandra Blakeslee. What I learned there could fill an entire book, and already has. Here are the five most surprising and useful ideas I took away from the workshop. …


An area ripe for study

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Photo by gjohnstonphoto

In “Neuroscience Can Model Consciousness,” Jussi Jylkkä and Henry Railo asserted that consciousness has causal effects. I have been thinking about that a lot since. What are the purported causal effects of consciousness, and how might we measure them?

Many studies of consciousness are focused on the mechanisms that generate it, but that is only part of the story. I am interested in the effects of consciousness. Perhaps a better understanding of the effects will help us answer the question of why we are conscious at all.

What survival advantages does consciousness grant us, if any? I think a strong argument can be made that consciousness gives us more behavioral options, beyond choosing what is best for our survival. We often make bad choices from an individual survival standpoint. For example, we can choose to engage in painful acts or to put our bodies in danger, if we believe it is important to do so. …


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By GeorgePeters

In “The Diverse Mechanisms of Sensory Experience,” I described how each of our senses is encoded in the brain as organized mental maps of sensory space. The story doesn’t end there. For us to make sense of the world, our brain must integrate sensory inputs into a coherent whole. How the brain does this is a major open question in neuroscience.

In a recent review, enticingly titled “Secondary somatosensory cortex of primates: beyond body maps, toward conscious self-in-the-world maps,” Bretas et al. argue for one such site of sensory integration —the secondary somatosensory cortex, or SII. …


Show your lungs some love in the time of COVID-19

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Modified from CSA Images, “Anatomy of Veins and Arteries”

A month ago I had major surgery. In the weeks leading up to it I had panic attack level anxiety. Thanks to a recent post by Ben L. Callif, I found relief with Wim Hof breathing.

Now that I have recovered I find myself in a new world. People everywhere are isolated and afraid. What we fear is viral pneumonia that has no cure. We could all use some relief from anxiety right now. And we could all benefit from a simple exercise to improve lung health.

Our lungs have far greater capacity than we typically use, and that is easy to feel for yourself. With daily effort, you will increase the strength and efficiency of your lungs, and that can only be a good thing. …

About

Georgeann Sack

Exploring human experience through science and stories. My first book, “Kegels Are Not Going to Fix This,” available now. georgeannsack.com

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