Friday, March 22, 2013

The mind of an artist

An artist colleague once remarked that if I was to understand how artists think, I need to reverse roles in life. With a perplexed look, and a "huh? what does that mean," he suggested that I try working in the lab wearing my scuba suit. The next day I followed his suggestion ...

Showing up for a day's work, ready to experience the artist's mind.

Most of the day involves paperwork (sigh).

But occasionally I get to use fancy equipment, like this low voltage scanning electron microscope ...
... or the Albany high-voltage transmission electron microscope ...
It was hard to see anything through a fogged scuba mask.
Dejected and less inspired about understanding artists, I return to the lab. Sorry, Jan, it's better to collaborate with artists than it is to think like one ...

(Thanks to Amanda Andreas for taking these photos and tolerating my humor)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Palms and incongruent connections

I've been reading Edward Heron-Allen's book The Language of the Hand, which was published in the late 1800's -- a time when palmistry, phrenology, and other pseudosciences were popular. Although such practices have been falsified by modern science, this rational biologist shamelessly admits to getting a thrill each time he cracks open a fortune cookie. Imagine how I would feel if this legendary foraminiferologist read my palm?

Mental sparks fly while reading Heron-Allen's text, and wildly incongruous connections are made. If afforded the opportunity to talk with him today, it seems likely that the discussion would center on how he reconciled his early years as a palm reader with his later years as a scientist. If he defended palmistry as a science to the end, then I would have to point out that the body is riddled with lines and patterns. Why restrict psychoanalysis and fortune-telling to those of the hand?

I'm curious: Notice the lines around the eyes of a young Sam Bowser:

These lines are physically closer to his spirit center; they should, by such proximity, be more revealing than those on his palm. (As I explore methods of meditation and related healing approaches, I've noticed that this sort of logic has been employed throughout the ages.)
  • Did they predict the years he would spend squinting in Antarctic summer sun?
  • Did they predict the chiseled grimaces of trigeminal neuralgia (TGN)?
  • Did they predict years of billowing mad-scientist laughter?
Perhaps these lines are simply the consequence of his genetic stock. (Some say he has his granny's eyes. Should this also be true for the lines of his hands?)
Those lines around his eyes have become more exaggerated over the years, and are now seen to possess certain bird-like attributes. Further curiosity: What do these crow's feet foretell?
  • More squinting in the Antarctic sun?
  • More episodes of TGN?
  • More unbridled laughter?

Eye lines revealed using highly sophisticated imaging algorithms, from images obtained while: (1) smiling, (2) resting, (3) experiencing unbearable pain, (4) laughing like a madman. Notice that the contrast of the eye lines accurately reflects emotional status. Note also that eye lines deflect at different angles relative to their resting position. I'm sure that all of this can be formulated into a new, highly "scientific" way to interpret the psyche and predict the future. Let me know if it's already been done - I don't want to waste my time!

These lines also mirror the patterns made by pseudopodia extended by foraminiferan protists. Perhaps this means that I will be a benthic foraminiferan in my next life? (No, I've made other plans.) Or perhaps I was simply destined to study these organisms...

Pseudopodia extended by the foraminiferan protist Allogromia laticollaris, initially photographed using differential interference optics, but then subjected to the same imaging algorithms used for enhancing eye lines. As can be seen by the concordance of pseudopodial patterns with my crow's feet, it's clear that I was destined to be a foraminiferologist!

This exercise proves to me that curiosity can lead to some strange connections. When depicted with skill, some might even call these connections art. In my hands, however, they seem more of a time sink. That is, until this Doctor of Philosophy improves his social status and makes some money by interpreting eyelines of the elite, as his hero Heron-Allen did so many years ago.

Imagine Dr. Bowser telling wealthy, curious souls their fortunes while they wink at him!(?)

Monday, March 18, 2013

The sheer joy of Antarctic Subaquatic Garbage Collecting

Sometimes things fall into holes and are presumed lost forever. Over the years, people working at Explorers Cove have dropped coins (for luck?), hand tools, cameras, nails, screws -- all sorts of things -- into dive holes. As divers, we enjoy discovering and recovering these "lost" items. It gives us a sense of satisfaction being Antarctic Subaquatic Garbage Collectors.

One time I found a penny on the seafloor (it was heads up) and gleefully handed it to Werner Herzog upon surfacing. Another time, Doug Coons and I recovered a 15-ft Jiffy Drill flight. (See this post on how they sometimes get hopelessly stuck in the ice and ultimately drop to the seafloor.)

Nothing can express the joy of Antarctic Subaquatic Garbage Collecting more than this picture of Cecil recovering a "lost" shovel. We used it for the rest of the field season, too!