New Foreigner Book!


a few hardcovers and pbs available from Closed Circle, signed. Latest: Moonlover and the Fountain of Blood, Jane Fancher short story. Chernevog, part 2 of the Rusalka trilogy co-written by CJ and Jane; and Orion's Children, a tetralogy from Lynn.

Weirdness continued—or, welcome to an hour in my thought-patterns…

Re color being in the eye of the beholder: definitely. That’s indeed the point…that I think the road to our color-perception began in the sea, at depth, very, very early. That it was somewhat accidental—caused by thin-skinned creatures who have hemoglobin, the red pigment in blood…and who, circulating it through that skin, became red. Blushing. The redder they were, my theory runs, the safer they were from the very primitive eyesight of very primitive predators. So being ‘red’ was survival positive.  ‘Blue’ parts of the solar spectrum can go deeper in the water than ‘red’, —physics: length of the light waves: the energy of blue long waves goes deeper into the sea—
This means that the reflected color our eyes read as ‘red’ in sunlight (red flowers, blood, roserock, etc) is nearly impossible to see in the ocean depths. These ‘red’ creatures never surface—the vampire squid and its ilk are deepwater dwellers.

My point is that the survival advantage of prey BEING red in the depths may have helped the survival of red color in creatures that eventually made it to the upper reaches of the ocean, and ultimately onto land. The survival advantage of a predator being able to SEE red may have started where actual sunlight reaches. No more invisibility cloak—the prey that is invisible at depth is not invisible to a certain predator who can perceive that color, ergo eats better, breeds more often, and survives.

Of course perception in hunters could be pressure-sensitivity: ie, feeling the waves of the prey swimming. But that dissipates over distance. Limited usefulness. Could be what we call ‘hearing’ —sensitivity to pressure waves hitting little bones in the skull — the ears…has a longer range, but is subject to fading with distance and likewise echoes; or the ‘stellar-magnitude’ problem—is that a bright star, or a near star? Is that the vibration of a big thing far off or a little thing real close?

Elephants have been talking for ages—and we’ve only recently heard it. Those big feet are picking up vibrations in the earth made by what we call subsonics. Their rumbling can communicate over great distances. And it’s too low for our ears. We have to use instruments to pick it up.

And speed. Birdsong, if played at very slow speeds, has a lot more content than we can sort out with our hearing. Scientist have also found a lot of compression in dolphin squeals.

Scent? Disperses over distance, but dogs have developed it marvelously. To follow an air scent hours old is far more than we can do. We cannot easily imagine the texture of the world of a dog.

The fact that hemoglobin, which gets its color from iron, is the distinguishing feature of a rich food source AND the source of the first color would make a certain sense. Color was not important per se, but color as camouflage might begin there—and color as a predator sense might begin there. The red things are the richest. We who can be prey didn’t grow a thicker skin until our distant ancestors rose out of the ocean depths into the sunlight: then we had to hide that hemoglobin, because it tempted predators.

If you’ll recall, I had the majat seeing colors humans can’t, seeing patterns imperceptible to human eyes. Their recognition of these patterns matters to them. That’s why the Kontrin graft majat jewels into their skin.

We humans have a very highly refined ‘color sight’ and it has come to take up a lot of neural circuits. But trying to determine whether animals perceive certain ranges of the solar spectrum is harder. Clearly bees don’t have rods and cones, yet they see something we can’t see well: we have to enhance it. How do you tell whether the neural network IS perceiving a color? You can map electrochemical changes going on…you can say…it’s reacting. But when the electrochemical changes get to the brain…and trigger something…what is the nature of that reaction? And do we call it color?

Synaesthesia is the evocation of, say, blue, by a smell. Certain psychoactive drugs can do that—hence the ‘trip’ in which the senses are scrambled and the brain is trying frantically to get its normal input. We intellectually know blue isn’t a smell. When you get into the soft tissue of the brain—we have an organization, a normal routing, that discriminates and orders our universe.

How does a person recognize a smell? It’s rather interesting: the olfactory bulb sits down at the brain stem…early, early architecture, and unlike the higher brain, it’s not bilaterally divided: it’s THAT old, and it’s absolute. If you’re exposed to a smell, certain neurons in it fire. It’s like a constellation. It’s unique. So if you smell it repeatedly, the receptors run out of energy and have to recharge; but the neurons of that pattern will fire again when those receptors are triggered in that pattern: it’s basically a hardwired, programmable chemistry-analyzer installed at the base of the brain, responsive to tissues in the nose and mouth (we do some smelling with the mouth). It’s why the first scent (or taste: the senses are linked) of things is strongest. We have the wiring to discriminate more than we do. But the intellect dismisses its importance. You smell nutmeg. You intellectually know what that is and how it tastes. A year later you have a pudding. And a lot of smell-taste neurons are firing at the base of the brain. You taste eggs. Cream/milk. Sugar. And the ‘nutmeg’ constellation has also fired. It shares some neurons with other things. But you start rummaging for associations that have to do not with damp wood and moss, but with spices. And the brain queries the olfactory bulb as the body takes another mouthful of pudding. Yep. Re-fire that. The conscious brain remembers, now, but the olfactory bulb never ‘forgot’. The pattern, chemically mediated, is always that pattern. We share that with the bloodhound, whose nose is amazingly convolute and who has far, far, far more tissue inside it. Its brain is constantly in touch with the olfactory bulb: it’s got that territory mapped. It lives in a constant bath of sensation and recognition. If the receptors didn’t get tired (run out of energy) the poor dogs would probably stand sniffing the same daisy lifelong. But those neurons give it up—and the dog moves on. We have our mouthful of pudding, and the experienced cook, used to accessing that area of the brain, says: “Nutmeg! That’s what it is!” and thinks he can probably, by the time he finishes this pudding, tell ‘in what proportion’ everything in it may be. He could go home and cook that recipe. And when he does, he’ll be tasting his work, accessing that old record in his olfactory bulb and saying, “Just a single shake more. That should do it.”

Smokers do lose so very much. I always wonder on those cooking-competition shows just how on earth these chain-smokers can possibly operate as chefs. And they usually DON’T win. A master chef’s brain has quite a library of tastes stored—and using that fabulous human frontal brain, he can assemble a construction of air and imagination, and ‘taste’ and ‘smell’ it in his head before he even reaches for the spice rack.

Senses are how we contact the universe. And yet we, and most matter, are stretched so very thin that atomic particles can pass through us constantly with the figurative room of a football field on all sides. We’re empty space, mostly, that can interact with other moving empty spaces and gather information into an architecture that is definitely ‘us’ as opposed to, say, Fido, or a table. We’re a constant wonder, protoplasm that ‘made good’ in our cosmic neighborhood.

24 comments to Weirdness continued—or, welcome to an hour in my thought-patterns…

  • WOL

    I have definitely got to get my office sorted out so I can get back into crochet, knitting and jewelry making — things that take up certain circuits, but leave the musing circuits free. I definitely need more musing time. So many things to muse about — like the relationship between spoken language and music. . . .

  • Sapphire

    Interesting. One of the greatest cooks (rather than chefs) of the last 50 years, Richard Olney, with whom I worked for some years a long time ago, probably had the best nose for wine, as well as the best-developed taste buds, of any one I’ve known. He had the talent of an artist with food, and was revered even in France.

    This was despite the fact that he smoked heavily – and not your ‘low tar/low nicotine’ fags, but the strong French cigarettes…

  • CJ

    Uukk! Les Galloises! It does amaze me how one could do it. But if you think AMERICANS smoke—there are spots in Europe over which a pall of cigarette smoke is, I swear, visible. I happen to be allergic, so that was a no-go for me. I was told once that if you smoked it would cure hayfever. Ha. Myth busted! The only thing it does is defend you from the other smokers in the bar, so you cannot smell the accumulated stale smoke in the seats and curtains. And it takes a couple of weeks to get the taste out of your mouth.

    • chakaal

      I would argue against an “allergy” when it comes to cigarette smoke, the stuff is outright toxic and therefore not an “innocuous” substance.

      I know birds have much better color perception than humans do, sometimes I wonder why I bother turning the TV on for mine, how do they see TV? Like we see a cartoon? I wonder if it hurts their little (extremely powerful for their size) brains?

  • I’d guess, then, that the hemoglobin-analog on the kif homeworld is black, so color vision never developed.

    • paul

      That is where imagination must bow to Science (in true SciFi, as opposed to Fantasy). It’s all about Chemistry.

      Horseshoe crabs are the quintessential example of arthropods that rely on hemocyanin (which is blue when oxygenated, as the name implies) as an oxygen transport in their blood. The fact is, it’s just not terribly efficient, about 1/4 of hemoglobin. But it works for molluscs, arthropods, and other “low-energy” life forms, and it works better in low oxygenated environments.

      But if you’ve got to move, you need something different, more efficient. And the best we’ve got as a product of several hundreds of million years of evolution is hemoglobin–there’s nothing better. (If hundreds of millions of years isn’t impressive enough, it is dwarfed by the fact that every animal produced over those years was an individual experiment in trying something better or proving what we had was best.

      Spectroscopy has shown us the same laws of physics apply throughout the visible Universe. So if we find other CHOPNS (carbon, hydrogen, etc.) life anywhere in the Universe, and it moves around like we do, its red blood uses hemoglobin. Kif were as active as Tully! 😉

  • Huh, kif. Mercury vapor lights, sodium, ammonia, and poor or very different color vision, poor color vision in most human (and hani and mahen) visible spectra. A tendency to night activity, night hunting. I think she even has a reference about the kifish homeworld being dark somehow, a sun weak in the usual visible spectrum, or weaker than a nice yellow star like Sol? Memory says maybe even a brown dwarf or red star?

    I think that might be the key. Kifish lifeforms (kif, Dinner, etc.) might have iron-based blood with hemoglobin. Or maybe copper-based, which gives blue or green blood. (I think whatever it is might be mentioned; can’t recall offhand.) So this would argue that it’s something other than seeing hemoglobin’s redness (le sanguine).

    But hmm, good point. The kif are hunters and scavengers. They remind me of predatory rats writ large and rapacious and ultra-aggressive, conniving beasts. …And yet, [quote]gods, there was even a world on which kifish life made sense[/quote]. It’s hard to explain why an ultimate predator, one that developed sapience, would not have better color vision. However, both dogs and cats, two of the top predators on Earth, besides those hairless apes, do not have very good color vision, but have better night vision and motion detection by far.

    Very good point, JC. — BTW, the kif are great aliens. Hah, and the idea of a “moderate” kif, later, after we get to know just how alien and dangerous the kif are…brilliant bit, “moderate” kif. Heh.

    — BTW, yes, the sensory world of a dog or cat (smell, for instance) or bat (sonar) or dolphin (different sonar) must be very alien indeed, and yet they are all mammals, creatures we can mostly relate to / interrelate with. — Aside: The “future predator” bat-derived critters in the UK Primeval series, very clever idea.

    • Now that you remind me of what the text says about the kif world, a different explanation for colorless vision comes to mind:

      The kiffish plants’ chlorophyll-analog is almost definitely black to better absorb all available wavelengths of sunlight; with black foliage, prey animals’s protective coloration will be black as well, leaving little use for color vision. IIRC, the kif have better detail vision—more megapixels in their retinas—which they can optimize better for since they have no need for cones as well as rods.

      (But considering the chemical similarity between chlorophyll & hemoglobin on Earth, I’d guess that kif blood is black as well—unless there’s Word of God to the contrary? [Do not follow that link unless you’ve plenty of spare time to kill.])

    • paul

      Kif’s double jaws always reminded me of Moray Eels. And for rapaciousness, rats run far behind shrews!

  • Scott_VA

    Hi, all–I’m new here, but I’ve been reading our host’s books for, um, 30 years or so?

    Anyway–I had to laugh about “an hour in my thought patterns,” because just this morning I got off into a mental cul-de-sac about iron, hemoglobin, plants, and chlorophyll. For the life of me I can’t remember *why.*


    • weeble

      I have to laugh, last week I was ‘cul-de-sac-ing’ the day after some poor unfortunate SOB made a rather unthought argument that evolution was false because after all nobody had ever found any missing links! The room he happened to loudly mention this theory in was full of college graduates, including several of us die-hard science geek types. The look on his face was absolutely comical at the universal poopooing he got. I’ve known most of these people for years and I’ve never seen them jump anyone like that, but oh, it was classic! Anyway, my cul-de-sac-ing (snicker, cul-de-sack-ing) went through chlorophyll, chloroplasts, the development of organelles and the evolution of multi-cellular organisms. Strange, but worlds better than contemplating the process of refinishing a handrail and what colors to paint a garden statue. Definitely quantum entanglement!

  • CJ

    Lol—quantum entanglement, I’m telling you.

  • Scott

    🙂 I may use that term as the explanation the next time I’m deeply confused.

  • CJ

    Well, it would seem logical that the solar system likes to hang on to its material—and while there’s every chance that a paired electron could be off at Betelgeuse — who knows? Maybe the entanglement just kind of drags these partners in from wherever, until after halfway through the lifespan of the universe, we’ve got our partnered electrons showing up. Maybe that’s what’s driving the expansion of the universe, all them lost lil’ particles trying to catch up, wherever their other halves are. Of course when the Milky Way rams the Andromeda Galaxy in a few billion years, we’re just going to get all scrambled again, theirs and ours.

    I tell you, I am in an odd mood the last two days.

    I think it’s getting the taxes in.

    I heard the other day it’s someone’s theory we’re currently IN collision with another galaxy, BTW, on the far side of the Milky Way, but that it’s a small one, and we’ll probably just kind of absorb it, as we may have done before…

    And they WONDER that the Oort Cloud suddenly sends us junk…who knows what sort of speed bumps get left in our path…


    • paul

      Well, there are are something like a dozen small satellite galaxies around the Milky Way, with evidence that we have already collided with them and stripped off many of their stars in our star clusters. I wouldn’t argue with the statement that we’re “in collision” with another galaxy either. It’s all a matter of definition of terms and ones’ time scale. The Milky Way and Andromeda are destined to collide! No, not in our lifetimes. Is that important?

  • GreenWyvern

    “Re color being in the eye of the beholder:”

    Color words in different languages and cultures are very interesting. See, for example,

    Do people see the world in the same way if they don’t have the same range of color words to describe it?

  • paul

    In all this discussion of the names and distinctions of colors, I couldn’t help thinking of numbers! There are peoples with only words for one, two and many.

  • Numbers. Most human cultures, from what I’ve read, have either a base ten counting system or a base twenty counting system, barring the more learned/constructed sixty in specialized use by the Babylonians, and whatever else the Maya had. The base twenty may or may not be an extension of the base ten, and both may use five as a special marker. That’s readily explainable: five fingers or toes, two hands, two feet, the normal number of convenient counting digits for nearly all humans. But octal (base 8) and hexadecimal (base 16) might be a similar role for an alien species. I think CJC uses that for at least one species. I seem to recall one theory that a species might use a base 12.

    Colors: When my grandmother had cataract surgery, the doctor said that after, she’d perceive colors slightly differently, because we *can* see a little into the UV range, but apparently, the lens itself filters out a portion of UV light, and the lens used in cataract surgery doesn’t match the natural one’s properties perfectly enough.

    I have noticed in the past few years that my color vision has changed. I’m going to have to talk to my eye doctor about it, as it’s significant enough to have me worried. I seem to be now less sensitive in the orange-to-magenta range, and in the blue-to-green range. Why that would happen, I don’t know. Whether it can be fixed/cured or helped, I don’t know. But…I’ve recently noticed times when I had a hard time telling if something was orange or toward pink/purple, and that is…troubling, when I used to have perfect color vision. My acuity (close up and distance) has always been bad, but not my color vision.

    This, though, has made me wonder about genetic and dietary factors in color vision. Apparently, both the Japanese and Chinese had less distinguishing words between “blue” and “green,” such that the Japanese had “ao” as the basic color name, encompassing blue or green, a sort of blue-green / cyan / turquoise, I guess, such that ripe green vegetables or fruits are “ao” and “ao” is the sense for green in the sense of youth…as well as a word for love, interestingly. The articles on Japanese color usage say “midori” was the other “blue-green” color, before increased Western contact meant they needed to distinguish further, and so now there are “ao, midori,” and other color names, with a difficulty translating back and forth to English for things blue or green, such as the green “go” traffic light.

    Then there is the change of “green” traffic lights in the US toward a more bluish-green, because people with red-green color-blindness had too much trouble telling the red and green apart.

    This makes me wonder what genetic and dietary influences there are, and to what degree color sensitivity might be changeable over a person’s lifetime, or in a population. If you and your neighbors (and tribe and nation-like grouping) have no particular word to separate two colors, or if you all have trouble telling two such colors apart, even if there were two words, then what’s likely to happen is you’d drop or merge color names. One might be a more specific “flavor” of a color.

    For those thinking it’s odd the Japanese would have only “ao” and not blue and green both, apparently the Old English (Anglo-Saxons) didn’t have a separate word for “orange,” which was borrowed from the Norman French, who borrowed it from the Persians, if my memory has it right. An article (American Heritage Dictionary? Encyclopedia Brittanica?) I’d read some years ago claimed the Anglo-Saxons would have called it yellow-red. (I should remember the OE word, gealwe-read, or close to it, I think.) I wonder if they had another word that disappeared from common usage or became something else, though. (Tenné? Tawny? …Ginger?)

    The wiki article on color names points out things like red, rose versus pink, purple versus violet, and blue versus indigo, azure versus blue, and so on.

    Just to be completist, the medieval heralds had “murrey” (mulberry) and “sanguine” (blood red) and “tenné” (tawny or burnt orange) along with other colors: gules (red), azure (blue), vert (green), purpure (purple/violet), sable (black), or (gold/yellow), and argent (silver/white). They did use a word for brown, but I can’t recall it, and it wasn’t one of the major, accepted colors.

    Evidently, Asians preferred a wider range of colors for flags and house/national symbols.

  • TabCat2

    Fascinating thought-provoking ideas. It seems to me that our senses are excellent for our purposes, but they allow us to see/hear/taste/smell/feel only part of what’s out there. Because this is all we are aware of, we are inclined to think this is all there is — but it isn’t.

    It’s always possible that the bannik is in fact a perfectly normal ordinary resident of a part of reality we mostly can’t see; he overlaps our reality a little, and so can make contact with some of our people whose senses overlap his reality a little.

    Anyway it makes a good story!

  • Folks in the Pagan and Wiccan side of things believe things like banniks (and other beings / phenomena) are quite real.

    A friend who moved a while back had finally told me he was a Pagan, after we’d had several discussions, me somewhat skeptical but admitting there’s much we can’t explain or don’t fully understand out there, him giving his take on some such things. Very bright guy, too, well read.

    Though I’m not Pagan, I know nearly every human culture has its share of unexplained things, alternate reality beings / occurrences, and stories / beliefs attempting to explain such. So I enjoy talking with him about whatever subjects.

    His contention is basically that there are all sorts of things we don’t understand or know about, because they’re outside our normal range of senses, and some of us are occasionally more sensitive to them, or the realities sometimes intersect. His contention also had to do with the power of belief and imagination to shape reality or sense reality.

    I have run into a few experiences / happenings I can’t explain by any conventional means, so I’ll grant there’s some possibility there.

    However, that tends to go on a tangent or intersection with the idea that there are things we don’t have the sensory perception or acuity to notice, even though they are just as real and tangible as we are. (Well, assuming we’re all real and tangible. That’s another existentialist argument altogether. LOL, better quit while I’m ahead! Or afoot. Or a-tale?)

    • brennan

      Once one starts digging into anecdotal evidence of paranormal occurences, especially within family traditions, it becomes very clear that the intellectually honest observer is presented with only two choices: impeach all of the sources or, accept that, under certain conditions at least, people can perform or perceive things beyond the limits of known physical laws. In my family for instance, my mother could induce her mother to call her within hours by just thinking about her, back in the days when interstate calling was a luxury. At least twice that I know of, my son experienced phantom pain at school at the same moment his maternal grandmother was hurt when she was somewhere else. I don’t doubt that this sort of thing is found in many families.

  • paul

    On the subject of synesthesia, composer Michael Torke is a synesthete. Perhaps one of his best known works is “Bright Blue Music”.

  • Ruadhan

    This seemed apropos (snurched from Gurney Journey, artist James Gurney’s blog):

    That’s a link to an online color test. It gives blocks of gradated hues, and you line them up in order. There is a score for how well you do.

    I have perfect color vision according to this test, which isn’t surprising. I do wonder, looking at it, though, if the colors I see are the same as the colors someone with one form or another of color blindness sees. Or even if I see what someone else with perfect color vision sees…

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