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NEWSTROM – Reflections from an intellectual gypsy on growing up

HERE I AM, both the experiment and the experimenter. Look Mom, I have a callum and I don’t even know how to spell it.

That’s not to be confused with calumny. Calumny is when you start or repeat untrue gossip with the intention of harm. Most columnists try not to do that too much. Yet, when you are trying to bring up factual truth sometimes speculation is required. We see this in the dysfunctional brouhaha with our friends to the south.

But here’s the thing for me. As a child I sustained severe physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse. This resulted in very poor marks and bad ass behaviour in high school where I was strapped frequently. Teachers even asked my mother to take me out of school. She refused. For the teachers, I had too much ADD and too much testosterone. I wasn’t aware of either issue. For me it was a lark to bug teachers. After I left school they started drugging behaviour problems like me with Ritalin.

Having escaped the forced Ritalin, I graduated Grade 12, ventured out into the world, worked in the bush as a dirty old logger, slammed tongs on oil rigs and cowboyed around the Thompson Region.

Yet I couldn’t stay away from higher learning where I leaped from program to department like an intellectual gypsy because I enjoy my insatiable curiosity about almost everything. My faculty advisor even called me an intellectual gypsy. I never stayed in a program for long.

By grace I survived high school and never applied my talents to crime. It feels wonderful that my life has come to this experiment. It wasn’t always easy. I boozed and drugged for 25 years before I got clean and sober. I was 60 before I got a diagnosis for my Attention Deficit Disorder.  This ADD is not a completely debilitating mental illness so it can be tricky. That means you can still operate from day to day but you are continually forgetting and unable to focus on longer term tasks. It also means you know inwardly there is something wrong but you can’t figure out what it is. Hard to get a date.

I have received counselling from psychiatrists and psychologists all my life. These enormous amounts of help tell me now it is time for me to start giving back. So, this column.

So what does all this have to do with those two billion brain cells that are as good at holding thoughts and attitudes as they are at changing to a different point of view?

Exactly this: I could not have survived the effects of my abuse and alcoholic drug addiction, nor could I have balanced my ADD if I had not had the curiosity and fight-will to persist in my search for the Holy Grail of myself and now be studying my own brain plasticity. Even before I knew about the flexible brain I was constantly reforming my own.

Sounds selfish, doesn’t it? It’s not. This self interest leads directly to knowing oneself. Only then can I be helpful to those around me.

In last week’s column I speculated that when a bull moose bellows in the wilderness it is a signal in terms of Information Theory. If no cow moose is attracted that bellow could be interpreted as just noise. It is like static on your cell phone preventing you from hearing the information you want.

I wasn’t entirely confident about my application of Information Theory to the biology of the moose populations in our wilderness. I had read that biologists use the calculations of Information Theory to study how animals react to each other but I’m not a scientist, not yet anyway.

I got an opportunity to check my thinking when I saw Tom Dickinson, Dean of Science at TRU. He explained to me that the call of a bull moose is a very low frequency and that is why it has a low signal to noise ratio.

That is, the signal is clear and strong. There’s not much noise in it. That means that the moose are contented and the population is sustained.

About not being a scientist, maybe it’s time to declare myself in that program, stop this gypsy jumping about.

I have a long way to go yet. I think that this process of developing the flexibility of my brain and growing as both experiment and experimenter will take about five years. I have many math and physics courses ahead of me.

I have good start. I’m doing well in the math course I am now in. The semester is almost done and I am consistently achieving an 81 per cent average on my tests and the mid-term exam.

Next week I will write more about recent discoveries in brain flexibility. Until then enjoy lots of chess and Sudoku.

Elon Newstrom is a Kamloops resident and an occasional TRU student who is looking into his own brain and writing about it.

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About Mel Rothenburger (4443 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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