December 25, 2014 by libroshombre
“Water is the driving force of all nature,” observed Leonardo da Vinci, and earth’s water predates the sun, according to several recent ScienceDaily.com articles. It was derived from both plate-tectonics releasing water trapped deep underground, and from water-bearing comets colliding with Earth. Water’s present in the giant gas clouds that collapse to form stars, and it was abundant in the “solar nebula,” a disk that once circled the sun and contained all the materials that eventually coalesced into our solar system’s planets.
Water’s a necessary ingredient of tears, too, but they differ according to what stimulates them. Basal tears are the eye’s basic lubricant, reflex tears are caused by irritants, like onions, while emotions like grief and joy bring on psychic tears. Besides H2o, all tears contain oils, salts, antibodies, and various enzymes, and reflex and psychic tears also contain hormones. A 2013 Smithsonianmag.com article by Joseph Stronberg showed how photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher used electron microscopes to make photos that seem like landscapes taken from a high-flying plane for her “Topography of Tears” project.
Conversely, NY Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote an intriguing opinion piece titled “Why Elders Smile.” Researchers have found that people are pretty happy in their twenties, Brooks wrote, but that drops steeply during our thirties and forties. Around age 50 things begin improving, and “then happiness levels shoot up, so that old people are happier than young people. The people who rate themselves most highly are those ages 82 to 85.”
We grow more relaxed as we ripen. Older people aren’t as concerned about careers, establishing homes, and raising families. “They are spared some of the burden of thinking about the future,” Brooks noted. “As a result they get more pleasure out of present, ordinary activities. He cites a study that found that “when you show people a crowd of faces, young people unconsciously tend to look at the threatening faces, but old people’s attention gravitates toward the happy ones.”
Brooks questioned the sort of research that “treats the aging of the emotional life the way you might treat the aging of the body: as this biological, chemical, and evolutionary process that happens to people. I’d rather think that elder happiness is an accomplishment, not a condition, that people get better at living through effort mastering specific skills.”
Speaking of which, author Neil Gaiman made some important applicable observations last year in a speech titled “Face Facts: We Need Fiction.” Nearly every pursuit in life can be honed through reading effectively. Gaiman pointed out that fiction “is a gateway drug to reading,” and “it forces you to learn new words … We need our children to get on to the reading ladder: anything they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy … Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been.”
Gaiman cited a 2007 visit to “the first party-approved science-fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history.” The Chinese communists began promoting the reading of sci-fi and fantasy by young people after studying why China can duplicate others’ inventions extremely well, but is terrible at innovation. They found that workers at Apple, Microsoft, Google, and similar game-changing U.S. companies, read science fiction and fantasy as youngsters, thereby igniting their imaginations and honing their imaginative powers.
A 2013 Emory University study confirmed another point made by Gaiman: fiction readers are more empathetic. The Emory researchers found the brains of fiction readers had “showed more activity in certain areas of the brain than those who didn’t read.” One of these areas is the central sulcus, “the primary sensory region, which helps the brain visualize movement.” Reading about someone running stimulates the parts of the reader’s body associated with the physical act of running. “A similar process happens when you visualize yourself as a character in a book. You can take on the emotions they are feeling.” And another study found that literary fiction readers are ten percent more empathetically oriented than light fiction readers.
Promoting reading is a prime mission of public libraries, and they’re good at it. As Norman Cousins put it, “A library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas.”