Monday, December 17, 2012

The Day I Became a Killer

When I was thirteen, I went to 4-H camp. We were there for a week and I was given a rifle and taught to shoot. It was nothing unusual. All kids where I lived, Idaho, were taught to shoot.

It turned out I was a very good shot. I still have the target that won me a ribbon in the 4-H competition in 1968. I found it in my scrapbook along with the blue ribbon I received for my banana nut bread that year. I actually have several target sheets in my collection, accumulated over a couple of years of 4-H camps.

I was praised by the adults around me for my shooting abilities and encouraged to practice. I loved hitting the bulls-eye of the target, so I eagerly agreed.

My award winning 4-H target
One day, my parents took me to the shooting range just outside of town. It was not a fancy place. The targets were metal cans set on a fence rail, all of them rusted, punctured multiple times by bullets.

I shot a few cans off the rail, each shell making a satisfying ping as it found its target. I was firing a shotgun that day. I didn't really like it because it was big and kicked me in the shoulder when I pulled the trigger. We were about to leave when my dad pointed to a dark spot on the hillside. It was much further away than the cans on the fence, but he said he thought I could hit it. He said I was a great shot.

I loved being praised for my shooting ability. I don't remember even wondering what the dark spot was. All I remember is lifting the gun, peering through the sight at the spot, and firing. The dark spot disappeared.

My dad suggested we go see what it was. I didn't much care, as I was ready to go home, but I trudged up the dry hill after him, navigating around sagebrush and cactus. When we reached the location where the dark spot had been, I saw them: feathers. Brown and black and white feathers, spread across the hillside.

It was an owl, he said. Its body had probably been blown apart, he said, by the shell exploding inside the bird. I didn't hear anything after that, since my stomach was twisting and I turned and ran, overcome with guilt.

I had killed. I had not intended to kill, but that seemed beside the point. I had done it.

It had never occurred to me that all these shooting lessons were training to be a hunter. I hadn't wanted to be a hunter. What I wanted was the praise of my father and my 4-H leader.

I never picked up a gun after that. In less than a second I had gone from shooting paper targets and cans to being a killer. I could not change what I had done, or who I had become, but I could vow to walk away from the gun culture, the one that glorifies shooting and hunting and vigorously defends our "right" to bear arms.

Advocates of "gun rights" talk about a slippery slope that will ensue if we begin banning certain classes of weapons or types of ammunition. Our right to bear arms will be taken away, they say. The "sport" of hunting will be threatened, they say.

Very little hunting that occurs in our country is undertaken for the purpose of putting food on the table. We need to be honest about the true purpose of this "sport," and ask those who defend hunting why they find it is necessary to kill other living creatures in order to have fun. There is another slippery slope, the one we begin sliding down when we confuse hunting for food with killing for pleasure. This is the truly dangerous slippery slope.

It is true that we, homo sapiens, are predators. Our place in the food chain is at the top and we must kill living things, either plant or animal or both, to survive. Joseph Campbell has said that the one, horrible truth of the cycle of existence that we all must embrace is that other living things must die so that we may live. When we take the life of another living thing for food, in order that we can live, we must do it in a humane and reverent way.

In these few days since the horrific killings in Newtown, Connecticut, many have called for action. Where to draw the line between guns we don't need and those we supposedly do need is being debated. I personally see no use for guns of any kind in our society, except in the hands of the police. A total ban on weapons would be fine with me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Simplifying Complexity

I started this blog four years ago today. I had a somewhat vague idea about what a blog was, and why I wanted one, but it was only through the actual writing of posts that I discovered what this blog is about. 

I'm not going to say what that is just yet, because I've had a sense, for some time now, that the focus of the blog has been changing. It was just a vague feeling for awhile, a sense that the blog was holding me back, was no longer what I wanted to spend time on or write about. Now that I've done a bit of analysis, I can see what that feeling is due to. I can see what has changed.

Take a look at this graph. It shows the number of posts per year on topics from two broad categories: (1) complexity science (the blue bars); and (2) writing (red). The data confirm the vague sense I had that I was no longer posting much about science. I hadn't realized, though, that posts about my writing life had actually crept in to take their place. In fact, the average number of posts per year (around 40) has not changed since 2010. What has changed is the content.

Number of blog posts per year in two broad categories - science and writing

Although I have had this vague sense for quite some time that my blog's purpose and focus has changed, I didn't want to confront it. I thought I "ought to" be writing about science. After all, I'm still interested in science -- I think about it, talk about it, read about it -- I just don't do it anymore. That has been true for a long time, actually. I gave up my lab almost ten years ago, published my last science paper nearly that long ago, and made a successful transition to what I considered a "second career" in science funding administration and, then, science writing.

I find it rather ironic and maybe even a bit amusing that I've figured out what's going on by taking a look at the data and analyzing it. Maybe I'm still more of a scientist than I'm ready to admit! This is just the way I think, though, and I can't seem to stop myself from looking at the world this way.

Anyhow, the upshot of this analysis is clear: this blog is no longer primarily about science. It probably never was, actually. It has been about all those things which interest me, one of which is science. In recent years, especially the last couple, I have been much more interested in writing and publishing than I have been in science. Anybody who is around me would not be surprised to hear this -- writing is what I do now. It is my full-time "job" (the quotes mean that while I consider it my job, very few people have ever paid me to do it) and it is what's on my mind. Hence, it's what I want to write blog posts about.

So, in the new year, I'm going to be doing some updating to the blog, primarily in the tagline area and description box for the blog. You won't see a lot of changes in the posts, although I hope this attempt to simplify the complexity of my life by writing about what I'm actually thinking about, will free me up to post more often. Only time will tell, I suppose -- and next year, at this time, I'll do another analysis of the posting data and we'll all see how well I succeeded.

In the meantime, take a look at my guest post over at the #amwriting blog -- today's post is my list of recommended books for writers. If you have a writer in your life and are looking for a gift idea, consider one of these great books. And if your favorite writing book didn't make it onto my list, please leave a comment with the details. Who knows, it may end up on my own wish list this year.

Thursday, November 29, 2012



I finished my NaNoWriMo manuscript night before last, coming in at just over 50,000 words. It feels really good to get to the end of this draft -- although I know I am far from having "completed" a novel. After a sufficient period of fermentation, maybe it will be ready for revisions. But, for now, I'm putting my feet up and taking a rest, and letting my manuscript sit over there, unlooked-at for awhile. Maybe a good long while!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

Two Weeks to This...Paperwhite Narcissus

Day 1
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Day 8
Day 9
Day 10
Day 11
Day 12
Day 13
Day 14
Day 15

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Entering the Home Stretch

Five days left in November and I am finally back on track with my NaNoWriMo project (see this post for an explanation of NaNo). I've done almost nothing but write this weekend and am now caught up to the word count goal for the day. (See above for my word count progress chart.) Hooray!

With less than 8000 words to go, now all (ha ha) I've gotta do is figure out how to end this story! I'll let you know in December (which is, by the way, this weekend) how I did.

And now, back to writing.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

NaNoWriMo Check-in

Yikes! It's November 15th, halfway through the month, which means I should be halfway to my goal of writing 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo. But I'm not. Here's my current progress chart:

As you can see, I'm about 4500 words short of today's target number of 25,000, so I've got more than a bit of work to do today. And that also means (obviously) that I shouldn't be fiddling around writing blog posts.

However, I know that I am motivated by graphs and charts and goal numbers, and even more motivated when others hold me accountable for what I said I wanted to do. And, I DID want to do this (still do) so I'm getting back to work.

Check out my other post on the #amwriting blog and let me know, either there or here, if you are also participating in NaNoWriMo. I would love to hear from other writers who are trying to do this crazy thing!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo Starts Today

National Novel Writing Month starts today, and I'm participating along with 300,000 of my closest friends. When I first heard about this event in which people pledge to write an entire novel in one month, I thought it was crazy. How could anything worthwhile come out of just 30 days of writing?

That was before I wrote my first novel. Now, I understand that NaNoWriMo is a way to provide writers support for dumping out that messy first draft. And I also understand that the successful NaNoite will have done a lot of thinking and planning for their book before the start day.

So, we are off and running and I'm happy to report that I've written a grand total of 496 words in my first half hour of the competition. If you're participating this year and looking for a writing buddy, you can find me here!

And now, back to work....

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Amwriting Blog Post

Hey there, Complexity Simplified readers! Just wanted to let you know that I've published a post over on the new and improved Amwriting group blog. Today, I am writing about short stories: how important it is to learn to write fiction through writing stories first, then what to do with all those stories you produce in the process. Please take a look and leave a comment. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

The fall/winter garden in full and glorious color...
Cherokee Heirlooms...grew these babies from seed!
Red hot Chili
Rainbow Chard
Bok Choi

Red Cabbage

Monday, October 1, 2012

Announcing My New Book

I'm very pleased to announce the publication of my new book, "The Gate of Heaven and Other Story Worlds," a collection of short stories available in both paperback form and as an e-book for Kindle. Nook version coming soon!

In this collection of short stories, different individuals from different worlds discover that the reality they thought they lived in is not reality at all. Anne discovers that she has a secret power to conjure a previously unseen world. A soldier in the Civil War encounters a mysterious hut where he can hide and heal from his wounds. Elaine is disturbed by the deafening silence of the city around her and discovers that conversation is going on--it's just that she can't hear it. Myra Owen goes to Kinko's one day, unaware she is about to come upon a divine and holy work. A young girl goes fishing and her life is changed forever. In other award-winning stories, a bird arrives, bearing an unexpected message and a train appears in the middle of the night.

This collection of seven short stories includes two new previously-unpublished works, and also an Author's Note, in which the origin of each tale and the process by which it was written is discussed.

Thanks for taking a look and for helping spread the word. If you are inclined to leave a review on the Amazon site or elsewhere, please do so. Thanks!

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

Well, it's happened again. A post of mind has elicited an attack from one who seems to be threatened by what I said and wants me to stop saying it. The first attack was a response  to my post on child sexual abuse. This person seems to believe that this should be treated as a private family matter instead of as the crime it is. To be honest, I was not surprised at all by this response. It, in fact, proved the point I was making in my post.

The second, much more baffling to me, was in response to my recent Nearly Wordless Wednesday post, a photo of a statue of a serene Buddha with the caption "Om Shanti," which is a common way to say farewell in the yoga community. It basically means "Peace be with you," so perhaps you will be as surprised as I was to read the alarmed reaction that this post induced.

It began when, in a moment of gratitude after a weekend meditation and chanting retreat, I posted this photo, then posted a link to it on Google+. This elicited the following exchange with somebody I've never heard of, but who apparently has me "circled," as they call it on Google+. I will use Q to identify that person's comments, and A to label my responses.

Q: What exactly motivates, at a personal level, your attraction to "complexity" as you have here collected and described it?

A: Good question! I've been asking myself that for a long time. I was a practicing scientist for years and my interest in complex systems goes way back, to my PhD thesis, which was on developing a physical/chemical understanding of morphogenesis (the development of form and structure in embryos.) We didn't call it complexity in those days, but that's what it was. My research evolved from that early project into studies of self-organizing biochemical reactions and then to more complicated systems, such as the brain. The constant theme throughout has been a search for the complexity that is US - our bodies, our selves, our societies, etc. For me, it has been, in some ways, a spiritual quest.

Q: "spiritual quest" That is what I suspected – and why I asked. "Complexity" as it is often referenced by those seeking spiritual answers to existential philosophical questions is very different than complexity as a measure of an an attribute of information and the cost of processing at a causal level. The universe isn't concerned with (wasn't shaped by) how it feels to experience the universe. Cause and effect are an ordered affair. Cause first, effect later. It is this sort of self-centered seeking that so gets between humans and understanding the universe (any universe) for what it actually is (as opposed to what we want it to be). 

A: What I meant by "spiritual quest" is that the desire to know "what's what" in the deepest way possible is what drew me into science and toward this field of study. It really has nothing to do with complex systems science per se, but with the drive to study the universe using whatever tools I can get my hands on. You're welcome to your own opinion and beliefs, of course, but my experience is that meditation and other spiritual practices have not gotten between me and my understanding of the universe at all. I don't consider this part of my "studies" in complexity, but it might explain this particular post. I think it's okay to be a full person and both do science and have a spiritual practice as long as you keep it straight how you came to know what's what. Oh, and BTW, Om Shanti is basically a prayer for peace - so, peace be with you!

Q: Ok, tell me what you "believe" and how it has nothing to do with, and in no way contredicts empirical causal reality. What I try very hard not to do is "believe". I accept measurement and theory that doesn't contredict measurement. Period. I try very very hard to keep my personal emotional and survival needs seporate from the development of an elegant and robust abstraction of what is in the larger causal sense – to know the hierarchical difference between "want" and "is". 

That was the state of the "discussion" as of first thing this morning, but it's likely to be the end of it since I'm not going to continue to engage. I've copied his comments verbatim, misspellings and all, as an example of why I have not engaged in "discussion" of religion or spirituality "vs" science on this blog. It's the "vs" part of this I want to avoid - I see no conflict between these two parts of my life.

And, yes, the commenter is a "he" although I'm not identifying him out of some probably misguided sense of protecting the ignorant. One way to look at this exchange is as yet another example of the mansplaining phenomenon. Notice how he begins by explaining to me what the "correct" definition of complexity is. As one of the people who helped define this field, and spent much time in thought and discussion about what it should be called and what the concepts mean, I had to laugh at this patronizing swipe.

I'm not sure this is just one of those things men do, though. This seems to me to be an example of the approach used by the tribe of proselytizing atheists who don't even understand that they operate out of a belief structure. They do, of course, but the main problem is that proselytizing atheists do a great deal of damage to science. Those who cruise the web looking for what they consider unallowed mixing of science with religious and spiritual ideas are trying to convert people to their view with the same lack of subtlety, and lack of effectiveness, we see in any fundamentalist sect.

What was most surprising to me is that a photo of a serenely meditating Buddha was the trigger that brought this one on. I've come to expect attacks on open displays of Christianity but this is a first for me. I let the swipe at "self-centered seeking that so gets between humans and understanding the universe" pass in my response, although I completely understood it as an attack on the spiritual practice of meditation. Instead of asking, what would Jesus do (he would turn the other cheek, of course), I might ask, what would the Dalai Lama do?

Well, this is what the Dalai Lama has done: he has embraced science as fully as he embraces his meditation practice. He has investigated, encouraged and participated in neuroscientific investigations of the power of meditation. He does not see spirituality, religion and science as at odds and neither do I.


*Another common way to say farewell in the yoga community. It literally means "the divine in me bows to the divine in you."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Nearly-Wordless Wednesday

The View from Mars
Photo taken by NASA's Curiosity Rover on Aug 23, 2012 

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Power of Words

I have been fascinated by images of exposed roots for years now. Here is just one of dozens of photos I've taken in the last couple of decades of partially-exposed tree roots. This root system belongs to a large tree growing near a stream in the neighborhood I lived in a couple of years ago.

I've been wanting to write a follow-up to last month's post The Untold Story for some time now, but every time I sit down to start, I have a different thing to say. To cut through the chaos of too many things to write and say, I often start with an image. Somehow, a visual image, rather than words, will tell me what it is I most need to write about. Today, this image of a tree's exposed roots was the obvious choice.

To understand why that is, you need to see that my collection of exposed-root photos goes back only a couple of decades. The first example in my collection is actually not a photo at all, but a drawing I made when I came home from one of my very first counseling sessions to deal with the effects of the sexual abuse I'd experienced as a child. I wish I could find it (and I'll post a scan of it if I do--it's here somewhere!) so instead, I'll try to describe it in words.

The drawing I made is not a work of art, by any stretch of the imagination, but it, like many other drawings I made in the early years when I was new to counseling, was often the way I expressed my feelings. I could not, initially, put words on anything I felt. I also could not put my memories into words. I had not forgotten what happened, but I was terrified to speak about it. The spoken word held a kind of power that was extremely frightening to me. The written word has seemed even more powerful to me, a writer, so speaking about it came first, while writing is only now becoming possible.

The drawing I made that day so many years ago looks a lot like this photo: a tall strong tree below which is a horizontal line. The line marks the location of the ground, the place where our image of the tree is usually blocked. Beneath that line in my drawing an extensive root system stretched downward and branched out in my directions, just like this photo. The difference between the photo and my drawing is that the roots in the drawing are red. Those furthest down from the tree have red droplets dripping from them. And, yes, those droplets are blood.

I am grateful to the many friends and readers who took the time to comment on my blog post, either here or in another venue. The vast majority of these comments were supportive and understanding of my motivation for writing the post, which was to shed light on a crime that happens to way too many kids. Those few comments that were not supportive, that accused me of wanting only to hurt the perpetrator or to seek vengeance, served mainly to prove, one more sad time, the main point of my post: kids (or adults) who speak out about their abuse are often ignored or even attacked for telling the truth about what happened to them.

I understood when I drew that tree so many years ago, I was drawing an image of myself, at least the way I saw myself then. Perhaps I should try drawing it again. I think the tree would look different now. She is still tall and strong and supported by an extensive root system. There are surely some new roots, branching out from the old ones--new people and groups and activities that have come to form my support system. The bleeding in those original roots has stopped and the wounds have mostly healed. Maybe not entirely healed, but I wonder if anybody ever completely heals from a trauma as deep as the one sexually abused children suffer.

Near the end of my first post were these words: "I felt alone before I told. I felt even more alone afterward." One of the things I have wanted to write about in the last month, is how that sense of being alone in this thing has changed for me. Although it took many years of "telling" before I finally found someone who knew how to help me, it did eventually happen. I am still plagued by occasional bouts of feeling horribly alone, but most of the time that happens, I soon realize it's because I am the one who is ignoring me now.

A final thought: I have been wondering for some time if the topic and focus of my blog has changed. What started out as a blog largely about complex systems science (that's still the tag line up there at the top) has branched out and covered an enormous amount of topics that concern me. It's a personal blog, of course, not a magazine or newspaper, but I wonder if I need to split the science stuff out and put it in another blog. Or maybe just change the tag line! As I approach the four-year anniversary of this blog (in early December this year) I'm going to be giving this issue more thought. I will let you all know when I figure it out - thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

Amber Waves of Grain

For more Wordless Wednesday, visit the main site.
For more of my photos, see Flickr.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Prayer for Aurora

A prayer attributed to St Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, union.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that I might not so much seek to be consoled, as to console.
To be understood, as to understand.
To be loved, as to love.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Untold Story

It’s not about football. And it’s not about scandal. It’s about children who were sexually assaulted. Despite the fact that these children “told,” nothing was done to stop what was happening to them.
The fact that the perpetrator in the Penn State case was a football coach and that one of the people who protected him was an even more highly-esteemed football coach has led to all sorts of speculation about whether the sport is somehow at fault.
It’s probably un-American to dislike football, but I despise the sound of football games on television. Despite my lack of affection for the sport, I feel compelled to defend it. As I said, this case is not about football.
The truth is that even if the perpetrator had been an unknown man with little or no power in his community, people still might not have acted on the information that he sexually assaulted a child. People will protect a perpetrator for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with that person’s fame or standing in the community. The needs of the child are rarely considered.
People say that victims should speak out, but I wonder if any of those who advise doing this have ever tried it. Kids can tell, but unless somebody responds with action, the child might be better off keeping quiet.
I know—because it happened to me. I was that child. I told, but things did not get better.
I told my mother about the assaults after a particularly frightening episode in which my assailant held me down in the woods, pulled off my clothes and molested me. It was not the only time he’d touched my private parts, but it was the first time I realized that he was not trying to make me feel good.
I was thirteen. The man who assaulted me was my father.
That day in the woods stands out in my mind not only for the level of fear I felt, but because of the epiphany it brought. The truth hit me between the eyes like a hand smacking me on the forehead: this had been going on for years, and I had been a willing participant.
I remember crawling onto the couch next to him as he watched football on TV. I was small, maybe around nine years old, maybe younger. My mother was somewhere, but I have no idea where—perhaps she was right there, dozing in the rocking chair. Perhaps she saw what he did and deliberately chose to not pay attention to what was happening to her little girl.
As we sat, the roar of a game blaring from the television set, his hand would gradually make its way under my nightgown and into my underpants. He would probe and fiddle with my genitals and I remember wondering what he was trying to find—it always felt to me like he was looking for something there. I sometimes got bored or tried to pull away, but I think I also liked the way it felt.
When he grabbed me in the woods that day when I was thirteen and held me down, I suddenly realized my part in it. I had liked it to some extent. I wasn’t sure if I’d sought it out, but I hadn’t struggled very hard to make him stop. The feeling that hit me between the eyes was guilt, pure and simple—I had asked for it, just like my mother would say, later.
That day in the woods was different. Whatever he was up to this time, I didn’t want it. I squirmed and flailed around, trying to free myself from his grip. He was a lot bigger and stronger than I was. I began to panic. I don’t remember screaming or making any noise. I also don’t remember how it all ended. My memory stops mid-event, and still, forty-four years later, I do not know how I got away or even the full extent of what happened.
I’ve asked him, but he only admits to the parts I remember. He has never denied that he did it, but he’s also never tried to help me fill in the missing details in my memory. He continues to maintain that it didn’t hurt me, and I should let it go and quit talking about it.
After I told my mother what he was doing, she promised to “talk to him,” but the assaults continued. I went back to her, begging her to make him stop. She said, “He told me that he stopped. Are you sure he’s still doing it? Besides, you’re sitting too close to him on the couch. You’re too old to do that now.”
It was my fault. That’s what she said, but that’s also what I thought. I believed I had caused this to happen, so I had no right to complain about it now.
Apparently, I planned to run away. She said she stopped me as I was leaving the house—I don’t know why she wanted me to stay there, since he continued to molest me. He eventually stopped touching me, or perhaps I learned to stay out of situations where he would have the opportunity to do that.
The pattern changed. When I got a little older, he started exposing himself to me. I would be standing in the kitchen at the stove or the sink and would glance down the hall to where his bedroom door was wide open. He would be standing there, stark naked, full frontal, looking at me.
I was sixteen.
That year I met a boy at school. We began to date and, soon, were “going steady.” Kissing led to light petting led to heavy petting, but I never wanted to go much further than that. I said I was afraid of getting pregnant, but the truth was I didn’t want to feel the things his touches were making me feel. I see now that I was already learning how to shut down my sexual response, to avoid ever getting into another frightening situation like the one in the woods.
I knew something was wrong, though, and I talked to my mother again. She encouraged me to go to the minister of our church, Rev. Martin. I suppose that he was the closest thing to a “therapist” one might encounter in 1973.
I stayed after church one day and asked to see him. He said he would give me a ride home and I could talk to him while we drove. I told him what had happened and when we got to my house, he parked the car, shut off the engine and said, “I have to think about this a little more.”
Then, he asked me specific questions about the abuse. He wanted to know if my father had “just” touched me, or had he raped me or tried to rape me. I said I had no recollection of any rape or attempted rape. Rev. Martin’s response was, “Okay, I guess it wasn’t technically incest, then.”
I was dismissed. The relationship with my boyfriend did not improve. I graduated and left for college. I never intended to return.
Rev. Martin died soon after I left home. I have no idea if he ever reported anything to the authorities. If he didn’t, I don’t know why, since clearly what I had told him about was a crime, whatever it was called.
The laws were different in 1973. Perhaps Rev. Martin broke no laws by not reporting what I had told him. Or, maybe he did report it, and lacking any physical evidence, nothing was done. I have no idea, since nobody ever talked to me about it after that.
My parents acted like it had never happened. I tried to put it out of my mind and focused my attention on school and my own life. I never doubted that the abuse had occurred, but I wanted to believe that I had not been hurt by it. I wanted to prove, to myself and to the world, that I was okay—that I was better than okay.
I met a man who shared my interests in science and encouraged me in my studies. I graduated with a degree in Chemistry and, with his encouragement, went off to graduate school. We got married and, soon, had two kids. I got my PhD and, then, a job. I had a life. And, from the outside, I looked better than okay.
I never forgot what had happened with my father, but I began to believe that it had not affected me, despite the fact that sex was difficult. I often ended up in tears and when asked why I was crying, I never had an answer. I never had orgasms, a fact that left me feeling greatly ashamed, as if I was deeply defective. I didn’t see either of these things, nor the fact that I’d been suicidal more than once, as related to my history of abuse.
I had almost convinced myself that I’d emerged from childhood undamaged until a book saved me. Its title, “The Courage to Heal,” and subtitle, “A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse,” made me simultaneously want the book but fear buying it in front of anybody I knew. A few days later, I went to the bookstore alone and sandwiched it, upside down, in a stack of other books, hoping to hide the title from the cashier.
That book finally got me to see that I had, in fact, been hurt by what happened. I suffered from obvious sexual dysfunction, but I also had lots of trouble trusting people and I had been depressed for years. I started therapy, joined an incest survivor’s group and began to get the help I needed. I was told that it was important to talk about what had happened, so I practiced doing that with my therapist and support group, then moved on to my family and friends.
People who counsel survivors of child sexual abuse seem to think that talking about it will solve everything, but the truth is it creates more problems. My news was never welcomed. I was told that what I was saying was going to “kill” my grandmother, although it turned out that she lived to be 99 years old, and died for reasons that had nothing to do with what I said about her son.
I told my sisters early on, since both of them had young daughters. I told other relatives, thinking that everybody who might potentially bring young children into contact with him should know. I continue to do that, but my news is never welcomed. I felt alone before I told. I felt even more alone afterward.
More than forty years after the events that launched my own sad story, I watched the situation at Penn State unfold. Child molesters still attack children and the people who surround them continue to do nothing to stop it. The kids talked, but nobody listened.
I still hate the sound of football games on television. But, like I said, it’s not about the football.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Turing Patterns - Another Contribution by a Great Scientist

Turing Patterns in Biology and Chemistry
If Alan Turing had lived, he would have been 100 years old today. While best known for his work in the theoretical foundations of computing and in developing methods for breaking the German's enigma code, he made another contribution to science--one that had a direct impact on my life as a young scientist.

In 1954, Turing published a paper entitled "On the Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis," in which he suggested that patterns in biological systems might arise from chemical patterns that form when activator and inhibitor species interact.

An example, found decades after Turing published this work, is shown above and to the left. A photo of a patterned fish is compared to a petri dish containing a chemically-reacting system that produces similar patterns that arise from the interplay of chemical reaction kinetics and diffusion. Thanks to my friend Irv Epstein at Brandeis University for this photo from his excellent website.

Turing and some examples of Turing patterns, via Wired
I was pleased to see an article in Wired magazine last year about this less-well-known contribution of Turing's to the scientific enterprise. Although he did not live to see the experimental confirmation of his theoretical prediction, Turing's ideas guided the search for these patterns in biology and beyond.

As a young graduate student, I was presented with a possible dissertation topic involving the chemical basis of morphogenesis. At the time, I didn't even know what morphogenesis was, but I soon learned that it was the study of the development of form and pattern, specifically in embryos.

It didn't take me long to find my way to Turing's paper and to begin the process of trying to extend his work to systems where the patterns were formed by ions, electrically charged species. Because the chemical species had a charge, the resultant pattern had a non-uniform electric field that, we found, could guide the transport of other charged species to particular places in the embryo. My PhD thesis, submitted oh-so-many-moons ago, was a direct extension of Turing's work to the development of patterned electric fields in developing embryos.

Much has been written about Turing's personal life, his possible death by suicide and his work during the war, but I am glad to see at least some attention now being given to his far-ranging and influential ideas in theoretical science. These ideas provided the foundation for much of what we now understand about complex systems.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Unleashing Science On Society and its Unexpected Effects

Today's guest post is by Lisa Markley. Lisa is a freelance writer based in London, England who has always had a fascination with technology and travel, spending much of her youth in the Far East before finally settling down to start her writing career five years ago.

Science is intrinsically linked to society. As time passes we rely on it more and more as it advances. From sundials to smart phones, science has been influencing the way we live for an incredibly long time. Society as a whole is now based on it and continuously pushed forward by it.

As the famous quote from Isaac Asimov goes, “There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere.” So, as our life spans continue to increase, our computers become more powerful and the world shrinks, the influence of science grows stronger and stronger. Of course, just because we as people are exposed to continuously more advanced technology does not mean we get any better at understanding it.

Asking the layman how a VCR works will often illicit the same response as asking them how WIFI works; a vague understanding of the concept, but without the knowledge to describe or know how the concept is implemented.

Barnsley's Fern - A Natural Fractal
The mind, it seems, is much harder to permeate with science than the physical world, but when it does get through it can have a profound effect. Sometimes stray theories manage to transcend the scientific world and enter into the general consciousness and this, more often than not, brings about a knock-on effect wherein other disciplines feel the shock waves of the discovery.

Even the most basic of systems, such as one used for publishing new media, delivering pallets to a factory or searching for business insurance, may be redesigned in the light of a new discovery. It does not happen frequently, but when it does it can be big news.

What is most interesting is that these knock-on effects are usually unpredictable. Einstein's theory of relativity helped to encourage the spread of moral relativism, Nikola Tesla's discovery of alternating current should have advanced electronic technology but instead did nothing in the face of Edison's stubbornness and the drive to reach the moon became a symbol of the Cold War rather than one of man's achievements as a whole. This unpredictability can often cause unease in people, so what might the idea of that being an inherent part of the universe that we'll never be able to change do to the human mind?
The Lorenz Attractor

Chaos theory presents to us a challenge to the growing view that science brings order, predictability and an increasing safety to the world. We are meant to be gaining more control over things that even 50 years ago we had no way to yield. The world began to be seen as a machine and one, that with enough equations, could be ultimately predicted and therefore controlled.    

Chaos theory instead instils us with the idea that results once referred to as imprecision and “noise” are in fact full components of any given system. The world it seems is beyond our control. No matter how much knowledge we have and data we collect, complete predictability will always be beyond our grasp.

So what are the implications? It is hard to say, but if the exposure of this theory to the public increases (already the film “The Butterfly Effect” has made the title a common phrase) we could be in for an overhaul of how we see the world. It would not be hard for people to make the jump to purposefully losing focus in trying to better the world.

If we cannot control it, then what is the point in trying? People may begin to actively withdraw themselves from society as a positive force and take a more fatalistic view of how to live their lives. It could threaten the people's general belief in science in that if even the most basic scientific laws could be influenced by chaos, why should we trust it at all?

It could even have an influence on religion. For anyone who believes that God created the universe and its laws, how can they accept that they include chaos? Or it could go the other way and lead people to think that clearly science can not prove anything and that this “chaos” is simply the manifestation of God as an unexplainable factor within science.

This may all sound like hyperbole, but it is a genuine issue. By the logic of chaos theory itself, it is impossible to truly predict what effect this theory could have on society in the near future. Especially as time goes on. Science becomes more complicated and abstract as time goes on and with difficult explanations comes confused conclusions which could only exacerbate the problem. What must always be considered is that science acts further afield than one might expect.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury on Telling the Truth

Ray Bradbury died yesterday at the age of 91. His work had a huge impact on my life, but it was the way he paid attention to the dreams and desires of young writers, always caring, always understanding what it is like, that made him my hero.

Here is a talk he gave several years ago, chock-full of advice for those who dream of following in his footsteps. RIP, Ray Bradbury. Some of us miss you already.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Belle's Blog

I've not been posting much on Complexity Simplified because I've been totally consumed by writing my latest book. It's a novel, a bit of historical fiction about a little-known event in US history: the invasion of Salt Lake City by the US Army.

I've just finished a draft of the book, tentatively titled "Belle o' the Waters," and while some kind folks are reading it for me, I've somehow managed to start a new blog. Actually, it's my main character in this novel, Belle Waters, who has started the blog. Apparently, she's a writer, too!

Belle's blog is actually taken from her journal, a little red notebook that her mother just gave her for her birthday. Belle turned fourteen on September 11, 1857 but something else happened that day, a horrible event in which many people died.

This horrible event, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, will change Belle's life forever. She is trying to get it all down in her red journal, so you can read about it now, 155 years later.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Called by the Universe

The Symphony of Science folks have just released another amazing video. Watch and listen, and know just how awesome you are.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Writing Advice

Today, I have a guest post up at the #amwriting blog. This is a great blog, with lots of advice for writers, about writing. It was created by Johanna Harness as an extension of the Twitter community of writers who check in with and encourage each other through the #amwriting hashtag.

Take a look and consider leaving a comment! And look for us on Twitter, where you'll probably find us engaged in a writing sprint.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Nearly-Wordless Wednesday

Spotted at the pool

For more Wordless Wednesday, see the main site.
For more of my photos, see Flickr.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

What Wondrous Love is This?

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
What wondrous love is this, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul,
To lay aside his crown for my soul?

A blessed Easter to all.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

Jupiter and Venus in Conjunction
Photo taken March 13, 2012

For more Wordless Wednesday, see the main site.
For more of my photos, see Flickr.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Why I Deleted My Pinterest Account

Less than three weeks after I set up a Pinterest account and began happily pinning up lots of cool images, I've deleted all my boards and my account as well. I wasn't happy to do either of these things, but it was necessary.

A Hubble image - public domain!
I loved Pinterest. It was basically electronic scrapbooking, a place to pin up all the colorful images I ran across, share and pass them around among friends, sometimes with commentary, sometimes not. For a visual person like myself, it was like being in a candy store. And I loved it.

A lot of Pinterest users set up boards about jewelry, clothing, home decor and food (pins to people's food boards seem to be especially popular around dinnertime) but I chose to use Pinterest to pin up cool images from science. I had a board on fractals, a board on spirals, a board full of astronomy images, largely Hubble photos, but others too, and was thinking about adding one on beautiful microscopic things we can't see with the naked eye, like crystals. They are all gone now.

So why did I delete all my beautiful boards? (I am still sobbing about the demise of my boards, especially the spiral board, but that's another story.) Simple: the Terms of Service (TOS) for Pinterest are set up in such a way that users are in danger of being sued by copyright owners of any images they may pin to their boards. Pinterest will not protect the users from this, so you're on your own if you get sued.

I didn't immediately realize this, even though I actually read the TOS for a change. I was only initially thinking about pinning up my own photos, and I was fine with releasing them into the public domain, so at first glance the TOS looked fine to me. I'm not a professional photographer and never expect to make any money on my photos, so I don't really care if people take my photos and post them on their own webpages. I'd like to get credit, but I'm not going to hassle people who forget to do that.

However, this past weekend I read two posts, here and here, that convinced me I should reconsider. One of these posts was written by a lawyer and is full of important information that we all should pay attention to. So, read it! Seriously, for your own good, if you are using Pinterest, read these two posts and see if it still seems worth it for you to stay with Pinterest.

Despite the fact that I'd initially meant to only pin my own photos, I quickly started including public domain photos from NASA and other government entities. Before long I was also including great photos of the moon, of gorgeous landscapes, of all sorts of images that were floating around Pinterest and I soon realized that I had no idea where these images had come from.

I don't know if I violated any copyright laws by posting the things I did, and while I personally believe that if you post an image on the internet (!) you ought to expect people to help themselves to copies of it, I know that others don't see it that way.

So, I started deleting photos that I thought might be in violation and before long, very little was left on my boards -- and I decided to pull the plug on the whole thing.

I'd been planning to write a post about the changing social media landscape in general, Google+ and Facebook and Twitter included, but that will have to wait for a later post. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

Crabapple Blossoms

For more Wordless Wednesday, visit the main site.
For more of my photos, see Flickr.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Wrinkle in Time

Fifty years ago today, on February 13, 1962, Madeline L'Engle's classic, "A Wrinkle in Time," was published. Despite having been rejected by scores of publishers who told her the science-laden plot was too difficult for children to understand, L'Engle persevered and for that many of us are grateful.

When the book later won the Newberry Medal, it came to my mother's attention, and she handed it to me, saying, "There's a little girl in here who reminds me of you."

Madeline L'Engle's book changed my life. I wrote about this a few years ago in a post entitled "Thankfully Reading," so I won't repeat the whole story here, but the upshot is that the little girl in the book really was a lot like me. Reading "Wrinkle" led me to reading a lot of other science fiction as was true for many other girls, and, eventually, to a discovery that even more amazing things could be found in the study of actual science.

So, this book was a sort of "gateway drug" for me, I suppose, introducing me to the wonders of scientific dreaming and even discovery.  I would love to thank Madeline L'Engle for this, for persevering with her own dream to see this book into reality, but she passed away a few years ago. 

I'm certain I'm not the only person whose life was changed by this book, and I hope she knew how grateful we all are that she was a writer who never gave up.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Emergence: Complexity From Simplicity

Today’s guest post is by Jochen Fromm, a scientist and software engineer from Berlin, who is the founder of the Complex Adaptive Systems, CAS, group blog. He holds a degree in theoretical physics and has interests in complex systems, emergence, self-organization and, especially, multi-agent systems.

As John H. Holland explains in the video that follows, emergence is one of the central principles that explain how complexity can arise from simplicity or how order comes out of chaos. It happens when large-scale order arises from small-scale interactions. In complex systems, simple rules can have complex results and small events can have great effects.

Classic examples are flocks of birds and shoals of fish. How they move as one is mysterious and fascinating. The first steps towards understanding this behavior was made by Craig Reynolds in 1986, who programmed the basic rules of bird motion into a computer. His agent-based model "Boids" shows how complex swarms can arise from simple interactions between agents following rules.

The Rules for swarms or flock of birds are simple: stay away from your neighbors, but stay close to the group. A swarm is a group of followers without leader. Global attraction (a move towards the group) is combined with local repulsion (stay away from individuals). Reynolds formulated three basic rules:

·            Separation: steer to avoid crowding local flockmates
·            Alignment: steer towards the average heading of local flockmates
·            Cohesion: steer to move toward the average position of local flockmates

Agent-based models like the boids model are key to understanding the principles of emergence and swarm intelligence (the collective intelligence of swarms). These principles in turn explain how simple rules can have complex results. 

Yet there is also a downside: although simple rules can lead to complex results, in most cases they do not. And not every group moving in synchronized ways is good.

Emergence happens with all kinds of living things that live in groups. An army marching in formation is fascinating, too, but these forms of "forced swarms" are certainly more controversial. Einstein said "that a man can take pleasure in marching in formation to the strains of a band is enough to make me despise him," but people find marching armies fascinating for the same reason they like swarms. We admire the fascinating unity in diversity in moving crowds, flocks of birds or shoals of fish.

The essence of many agent-based models is a conflict. In the boids model, the problem is that the neighbors don’t have the right place or position. Each agent wants to be close to the group, but also wants to stay away from the other individuals. Many small conflicts about the right position in the neighborhood lead to large clusters of similar positions in the form of swarms.

Similar effects occur in models for human society, for example Thomas Schelling’s Segregation Model for ghetto formation and Robert Axelrod’s Dissemination Model for culture formation. In the first model, neighbors are of different races, while, in the latter, neighbors don’t have the same traits. Schelling showed that a small preference for one’s neighbors to be of the same race could lead to total segregation. Axelrod showed that a small preference for one’s neighbors’ traits could also lead to segregated cultures.

There are many other fascinating agent-based models and more complicated forms of emergence. What they all have in common is that the behavior emerges from actions controlled by the rules of the model. The behavior of the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

Emergence and swarm intelligence are not the only principles at work in these systems, however. Path dependence, lever points, frozen accidents and butterfly effects, all subjects for future posts, also help explain how small events can have great effects in complex adaptive systems.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Omega Upgrade

Several years ago, when bluetooth receivers for cell phones first started to appear, I stood in a grocery store listening to someone have a conversation with what seemed to be voices in his head.

Maybe we've gotten used to this phenomenon by now, but what if technology were to advance to the point where you couldn't see the bluetooth receiver? What if the conversations we have on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ began to dominate our world, drowning out face-to-face conversations?

What? It's already happening, you say? I think you might be right.

Today and tomorrow, February 5 - 6, my view of a not-too-futuristic world, "The Omega Upgrade," is available for the Amazon Kindle for FREE. Download it here now. If you don't have a Kindle, you can get a free app for your phone or computer.

And if all that isn't tempting enough, here's an excerpt!

The Omega Upgrade

A girl with purple hair and violet eyes was standing on the other side of the mango bin, talking into the air. “I don’t know why he wants to see you,” she said. “Can’t he just message you? For Pete’s sake, it’s 2019!”
Elaine was startled. It wasn’t so much what the girl said, it was that she was talking. Out loud.
“Maybe he wants to give you something. How should I know?” the purple-haired girl said.
Elaine shot looks around the fruit shop. Nobody but her and the girl were there, except for a short Indian woman over near the checkout turnstile. And she was out of earshot. Who was this girl talking to, anyway?
The fact that anybody was talking at all should have made Elaine happy, since the whole summer had seemed so quiet, everybody walking around in silence in what had once been a bustling Manhattan neighborhood.
Instead, the sound of a person’s voice filled her with an unexpected sense of dread, a foreboding that Elaine couldn’t quite place.
The girl, who looked to be about twenty, stared right through Elaine as she continued jabbering away at the air. Elaine retreated into a spot of shade cast by a large piece of tie-dyed fabric stretched over the fruit stand and pretended to get interested in the mangoes again.
It was clear the girl’s attention was somewhere else—somewhere far away, halfway around the world for all Elaine knew. She had never gotten used to this habit people had of staring at others when they were twittering with somebody. No, not twittering. Did they still do that? Maybe this girl was cogno-texting, or whatever they called it. Elaine sighed. She just could not keep up with this stuff.
Elaine stepped a little to the side to see if, maybe, the girl’s hair was simply hiding the plug. Nope, nothing there. She didn’t seem to have a web connector at all, but was somehow talking into the air like they all did when they were on line, or logged in, or whatever the hell they called it now.
She looked once more at the girl’s earrings, just ordinary glass beads dangling on wire hooks. What would a webplug earring look like anyway?
Elaine shook her head and turned back to the mangoes. She picked up one of the green fruits, a rosy blush spreading across one of its sides, and squeezed it gently, before lifting it to her nose. The unmistakable scent of ripe mango rising from the slightly soft fruit assured her this one was perfect. At least she could still pick out fruit the old fashioned way. Next thing you knew they’d be inventing a nose implant for the detection of ripening fruit.
Across from her, the purple haired girl plucked a mango from the large pile of green fruit and polished it on her overalls. Still talking, she took a bite straight through the mango’s soft green skin, revealing juicy orange flesh.
“Um hmmm…Um hm,” she said, chewing. Elaine stared. Mango juice dripped down the girl’s chin. Wiping at it and stamping a foot, she exploded: “Jeri! Listen to me!  This is getting way too complicated for talk. We have to switch to omega mode.”
The girl tipped her head sharply to one side, and seemed to go into some sort of trance. The mango, still held aloft in her right hand, one bite taken from the flesh, dripped orange juice onto the edge of the fruit stand. She looked like a statue, except for her violet eyes that flickered rapidly from side-to-side.
Was the girl having a seizure? Elaine watched in fascinated horror as a black fly approached the mango, hovered for a few moments, and then began to descend to the surface of the exposed flesh. At the very moment the fly planted its little feet on the orange fruit, the girl tipped her head sharply again, to the opposite side this time. She flinched, dislodging the fly, and took another bite of the mango.
“Feel better?” the girl asked, her violet eyes now steady and clear. “Good. I knew you would. Omega mode is so much better than the mindweb for these really emotional issues. I’m saving my debits so I can get the upgrade to Omega 2.0.”

Read the rest of the story here!