Brains and Highways

Part of this blog project is to motivate me to continue writing fiction, a passion that slipped between the cracks of laziness and busyness. Here is a rough excerpt of a larger piece of writing I’m working on that I just wrote today:

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The brain is a curious thing. I always excepted neurology from my condescension towards the softer sciences. The stamp collecting sciences that didn’t involve much math. In biology, for instance, there are just too many variables to really know anything. And by “know” I mean “predict,” because that’s the Holy Grail of knowledge. That’s why there’s always uncertainty when you try to predict animal behavior – no math has been invented that is complex enough to account for the endless possibilities in such a sophisticated organism. Humans are even worse. Just try predicting your own behavior.

But the brain! Fascinating! So much so that I’m willing to overlook the flaws of its scientific wellspring. Sure, there are still too many variables to predict anything, but we know enough. We know that the brain physically changes with thought, molding to the connections most often repeated in our consciousness. It’s like the construction of an interstate system that adapts to the traffic, building more roads where there are more drivers. The generalities are clear, it’s just the specifics that are blurry; every highway is pretty much the same, it’s the offramps and avenues that can be different. That’s what makes us all unique individuals, the places where the highways end.

All cognition and sentience stems from the brain. It’s what makes us human. That’s why I always get a laugh when people say “follow your heart.” The heart is there to pump blood that carries oxygen to the brain, the most bloodthirsty part of your body in the truest sense of the word. So really, if you follow your heart, you’ll ultimately arrive at your brain. That’s why I don’t bother making decisions emotionally – they usually just end up becoming logical decisions. Or regrets.

“So what are you gonna do?”

My tea had stopped evaporating now. I drank black tea, because I liked the antioxidants and light caffeine, though it seemed like people thought I was making a poetic statement with it. But I had always drank black tea, and it was really closer to brown than black, anyway. I shook my head.

“I don’t know. Hey, do you think all highways are the same? In function I mean.”

Ben shot me an incredulous glare that spoke for him. He didn’t have to say anything.

“I don’t know, sorry. Just thinking about brains.”

“You know what you should do,” he leaned in, “you need to…”

From there his mouth gestured, but I only noticed peripherally. I fixated on a tree outside the window. It’s tall trunk and spiny branches stretched out like dendritic cul de sacs. Nervous dead-end streets. My eyes wandered back to meet Ben’s, but my head stayed locked in place. Still not really listening. But I knew what he was saying. After weeks of hearing people tell me what I could and should do, I was able to predict the prescription pretty accurately. I should take some time off to cherish our memories, or I should bury myself in work and try to move on. After all, I am young. I’ll get over it. I nodded in agreement with whatever it was Ben was saying.

That was the advice I hated the most. “You’ll be all right.” Great deduction. What divine synapse did you use to arrive at such a useless conclusion? Not only are you incapable of predicting the future, how are you operationally defining “all right?” I guess the death of my fiancee didn’t give me leprosy, or start an electrical fire that burned down my house, or cause me to spontaneously combust, so in a sense, yeah I’ll be “all right.” But what about the time, tears, energy, emotions, sleep, money, and countless other measurements of value? What’s “all right” about having all of those blow up in my face? Idiots.

“So. What do you think?”

Ben sat back in his chair. He was feeling good about himself, like he really helped me. I wasn’t sure if he did or not. But just like Ben’s mouth seemed to flap noiselessly when he was talking, I followed suit unexpectedly.

“I might as well, right? I have the time off, and Andriana and I always planned to travel. It was my plan to travel before I met her, too.”

Inattentional blindness; I guess I was listening. At least my brain was, to a certain degree. So fascinating! Even on autopilot, the highways of your sentience still direct you down the roads you’re meant to take. Like I said, all of those highways are essentially the same, but they take you to the offroad trails, the places where true discovery exists.

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