Twenty Minutes of First-Hand Knowledge

The human brain is incredible. Somewhere among the multiple layers of tissue and discrete clusters of specialty cells are answers to every question ever asked and more that have yet to be posed. The brain is an intricate, elaborate, impossibly complex factory where magic takes place. It is the equivalent to a piece of meat; but one in which there exists an impossibly large storage cavern where all knowledge, thought, experience, and memory resides.  Despite the fact that large bands of my memory have hidden themselves behind opaque walls in my head, I am confident the memories remain. Occasionally, a long-hidden recollection will free itself of the cables that lash it down to forgotten thoughts and experiences. That snippet of memory, though a surprise, is evidence that everything I have ever experienced has been recorded in some fashion. Perhaps, though, the processes that recorded experiences did not begin to fully function until I reached a certain young age. Maybe that is why I do not recall emerging from my mother’s womb, Perhaps that explains the fact that I do not remember the trip home from the hospital where I was born.

The brain consists of 60% fat. The remaining 40% consists of water, protein, carbohydrates, and salts. The organ contains blood vessels and nerves, including neurons and glial cells. Glial cells provide physical and chemical support to neurons. Some people refer to glial cells as the glue of the nervous system, the matter that holds it all together.  More important than the brain’s makeup is the vast array of its functions. And as important as its role in breathing, blood flow, and hundreds of other functions vital to life, its magical ability to record actions, images, odors, and emotions, among other aspects of the life experience is what captivates me. I am convinced that, with the right prompts, my brain could reproduce for me that “aha!” moment when I understood the concept of translating precisely-ordered letters of the alphabet into words. And words into sentences. And sentences into ideas. And ideas into understanding. I would like to know how the brain processes vision so that, when looking at a two-dimensional image of a cheetah, I know what that image is supposed to represent and I know something about the feline’s ability to run fast and about its carnivorous habits and diet and about the strength of its jaws and its claws. Magic. The impossible or utterly illogical taking place in a reality not designed to translate illusion into the mundane.  Hmm. I cannot keep trying to understand all this, lest my head explode. Not this morning, anyway.


Twenty minutes. Twenty minutes to explore thoughts and wishes and dreams. Twenty minutes to search for that illusive understanding, that knowledge that produces satisfaction. Twenty minutes to express emotions previously shielded from the wider world. Twenty minutes to overcome inhibitions forced into one’s psyche by a culture that disapproves of the ability to experience unfettered emotional freedom. Twenty minutes of unrestrained openness. Ecstasy that transcends the intellectual or emotional or physical, melding all three into a pulsating sphere of energy and light. Just twenty minutes dedicated to exploring reality, unencumbered by petty constraints imposed by rules, judgments, or fear. Completely blocking external influence or observation for twenty minutes could yield experience and understanding far beyond that tiny investment of time. Meditation. Daydreaming. Exploration. A covert, invisible, parallel universe that cannot be shared more widely; it is a secret, an everlasting private mystery.


The weather forecasters were wrong. I doubt the streets are as treacherous as they predicted. I do not see thick coatings of ice on the street. I see no evidence that a monstrous ice storm swept through the Village overnight, holding us captive for the duration of the thaw. But what I see is hyper-local. Maybe I am unaware of massive sheets of slick ice that make travel an exercise in insanity. Perhaps the danger is hidden from me; intentionally protecting me from an overactive imagination. Or maybe not. Maybe it was all a big buildup to a complete dud. I do not know. But one day I will know. And, then, I will be glad I know.


The coffee cup is long since empty. I must go now. I must find a way to replace the dark, dark liquid that coaxed me into thinking thoughts that make me seem thoroughly out of my mind. Experiencing early morning madness is a good way to entertain oneself. I know this first hand.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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