Archive | February 2021

The Eight Ball

No one replies. No one cares. John finally decides that he is alone in the universe. After all, is there a difference between not responding and not existing? No one exists but him, this moment is his entire life, not much to live for, getting on the subway for a short trip to the next stop. He glances at his inert phone, wondering if the internet has suddenly stopped.

He doesn’t know if it’s him or the world, so John smiles at the faces confronting him as he exits the car at his stop. Hundreds of other people join him and the dozens waiting for the next train, creating a maelstrom of humanity. John hated the subway because it was so confusing, suddenly standing on a concrete platform, surrounded by strangers, blinded by the shadows, unable to see the dimly lit exit signs. It is always the same.

Finally getting onto the brightly lit street, he reorients himself. His destination isn’t easy to find. Google didn’t know about it. John stumbles through the crowd, his iridescent, hazel eyes focused on the dim screen of his cellphone. He follows his phone’s directions, eventually finding himself standing in front of a pool hall…

Puzzled, he walks in. Was this shabby pool hall really the destination? John stopped,confused, glaring at the cell phone as its screen blinked into a new text message.
Before he could muster the towering outrage such a message deserves, John felt a sudden rush, a rude shove at his back and he plunged headlong, face first, into the pool table.
No, not into the table.
John had plunged into the 8 ball.
All of him.
John was one with the 8 ball now.
John felt the quick jab of the stick, then felt himself roll helplessly, haplessly, whirling and tumbling, his thoughts a mad jumble when with a sharp Clack! he felt himself bump and scatter the other balls on the table. He heard screams from two of the balls as they rolled into pockets on the table, and laughter, giddy relief, bubbling from the remaining four balls. 
With horror, John realized that each of the balls held trapped souls like himself.

8 Ball in the side pocket, rolling and slamming into the other balls, waiting in line in a darkened table. The clack of the cue ball slamming another ball above him drove his senses into overdrive. He could smell the beer-stale air from underneath the Pennsylvania slate table-top. The larcenous, unfeeling laughter of men, as John, expecting to be rear-ended by another unfortunate soul in ball form, cringed.

The next thing he knew, John smelled cold, open air.
A massive wall, like that of a church, rose at his feet. His eyes adjusted to the winking light and sounds of traffic, the vibrations of cars and trains. In Manhattan, his memory said, back in human form. He wheeled around looking for a clue, his body tensing for an altercation to come. He was alone, nearby, the farrago of the darkened river, by the tower of the Brooklyn Bridge

Standing on the wall, he remembered what had happened, at least what had happened before the hallucination had begun. He’d been unable to reach anyone during his recent depression attack and had come out to the roof of his run-down apartment building to jump in the river.

How had he not fallen after what he’d just experienced? Had his subconscious been aware of his every movement, leading him along the edge?

After his vision, he wasn’t sure he wanted to end it like this, drowned in the East River. He was climbing down from the wall when Sandra appeared from the door. “I just got your message, John. Are you okay?”

John sheepishly smiled and said, “Sure, but I got a great idea for that short film we’ve been talking about.”

Real-Time Anomalous Qualia

If thinking clearly is possible then it must also be likely that thinking irrationally occurs as well and is just as normal, even if we wish it didn’t occur. This is addressed in DDJ 2:

“All the world knows beauty…thus not being beautiful exists. All know good…so not being good exists. Being and not being arise together. Hard and easy complete each other. Long and short shape each other…Before and after form a sequence. This is why people of Wisdom dwell on matters of non-designing action…

The myriad beings [qualia] are active but do not undertake [to act], produce but do not take possession, function but do not depend [on design and control]. Gains are accomplished…Because there is no laying claim, [gains] are not lost.”

This verse has been interpreted many ways, which is always the case with ancient texts, but I think it has a down-to-earth meaning hidden in the paradoxical words. Rather than the more traditional interpretation, applied to the personal and societal action spheres, this can also be interpreted to mean that our perceptions and thoughts (i.e. qualia) occur both as positive and negative manifestations of neural activity.

We can and should work to reduce these anomalous qualia (i.e., non-designing myriad beings from DDJ 2) while accepting that they occur; although often leading to negative consequences, such as hasty decisions and real problems, sometimes they can lead to neutral or even positive outcomes. That is, they introduce an element of randomness into our perceptions of and interaction with the world; these erroneous qualia can help us think outside the box.

I don’t mean to imply that they are good, only that they are to some extent unavoidable. Rather than berating ourselves when they occur, we should try to integrate them into our cognitive processes. This is a part of being human and as such should be accepted without complaint.

It’s important to understand that our body and subconscious take no part in our conscious reaction to these anomalous qualia, as stated in DDJ 5:

“Heaven and Earth [body and subconscious] are impartial. To them the myriad beings [qualia] are straw dogs…Between Heaven and Earth is it not like a bellows, empty but not caving in, moving and supplying still more…”

In other words, never expect your body or subconscious to think for you. All they do is generate and/or react to qualia in a completely automatic way. This includes both real perceptions and useful thoughts as well as anomalous ones.

A final word from DDJ 21:

“The visible aspect of great attainment is just going along with the Way. How the Way becomes things is vague and elusive…within it are forms…within it are physical things. Hidden and obscure within it are seeds…Within them there is promise…”

The Way is how we find a balance between the three aspects of our Being (body, subconscious mind and consciousness). This is difficult but has real consequences in our lives and is worth the effort.


The Original Wisdom or the Dao De Jing, P. J. Laska, ECCS Books, 2012.

Review of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

I’ve been reading books about people with mental problems and this was a perfect choice. This book was published in 1962 and made into a movie in 1975. The movie won five oscars, so I was curious to see if it was faithful to the novel and watched it too.

This book delivers on getting inside the mind of a man who is one of the “Chronic” patients in a mental hospital. Chronics are long-term patients who are never getting out. The story is told in the first person by Chief Bromden, a half-Indian. The story never says why he’s in the hospital but he has serious problems with reality. He pretends to be deaf and dumb to avoid human contact, and he’s been there so long that nobody knows otherwise. The story is really about him.

The person we all know from the movie is a one-dimensional character introduced to change the environment in which Bromden lives, to wake him up. This happens over a period of months and to be honest, the author kind of fails to smoothly portray Bromden’s change in mental capacity. He’s suddenly a regular guy, although there are a few of his schizophrenic behaviors lingering throughout the book. As well as his paranoid fear of the Combine, the system of institutions, rules, etc that run the world.

The story is eccentric, with more than half the book devoted to Bromden’s life, especially his early life on the Columbia Indian reservation. However, he is not involved in the conflict, which is 100% centered on McMurphy and Nurse Ratched.

I don’t recall reading another book where a first-person narrator shared so much of their life while remaining mostly out of the plot.

The book is easy to read and very interesting. I would note that it got easier after the first few chapters, however, because the author had difficulty maintaining the narrator’s poor grammar and slang. That’s another inconsistency. If you start a character out speaking with a very specific accent, you’re stuck until the end.

The movie is a subset of the book, with a lot of action thrown in like a kaleidoscope.  Some scenes were completely rewritten. I can understand why it was done this way and it doesn’t lose much from the book. However, it seems at times to be based on the book rather than an adaptation of the book.

A good book and a great movie.

Stop Talking

When I googled “how effective is verbal communication,” all I got were people telling me how to improve my verbal communication skills.

I think verbal communication is better than a dog barking, a bird or a whale singing, frogs clamoring for attention, but it doesn’t work well, certainly not well enough to sustain a complex society

I’m not a fan of evolutionary psychology because I think it’s an academic game designed to get tenure and publish papers (i.e., get more money). Thus, I’m going to avoid the anthropocentric viewpoint that “evolution” made us perfect, while admitting that some cognitive functions make sense because they are similar to those of animals. For example, the suggestion that a large prefrontal cortex allows more effective tracking of other members of a social group is reasonable.  Primates form the largest groups and we are the primate with the largest PFC and the largest group size, about 150 for humans and 50 for chimpanzees.

Being able to cope with more members of our group does not mean that humans have been transformed into amazing communicators. It just means that we can communicate poorly with more people. That might sound unfair; after all, we use symbolic representations to communicate complex ideas like plans and wishes, something other primates can’t do.

True enough, but we do most of those information transfers using written language. Human society didn’t make much progress until writing was invented, not so with language. I’m all for writing our thoughts down and discussing them with others. Oral communications has a  lot of problems that don’t occur with written language.

For one thing we don’t have time to listen to a speaker because most of us can’t remember what they’re saying long enough to formulate a reasonable response. So, we do one of several things: (1) try to keep up and forget everything, then respond based on past experience (i.e. memory); (2) focus on one thing, usually either the first or last statement; or (3) try to grasp the key point, if there even is one, and thus misunderstand most of what was said. This last is different from (1) in that it results not from trying the impossible (following in detail), but from trying to compile a summary as we listen, maybe one sentence. It’s different from (2) in that we don’t focus on ideas but on words.

The only time we can successfully listen is when the speaker is talking about something with which we are familiar enough to use any one of these three strategies with moderate success. This is what happens at workshops and conferences, where coincidentally a personal response isn’t necessarily required or expected.

Unfortunately that isn’t how daily communications operate. When we speak to someone, or they talk to us, a response is usually necessary. The thoughtful silence referred to in fiction is more like an awkward silence in reality.

Thus, we’re always thinking of our response, missing what’s being said, screwing up our understanding, and doing a poor job of responding because we used one of the listening strategies listed above. How poor a job we do depends on our unfamiliarity with the topic and how complex it is. Often, strategy (1) works fine because nothing new is being said, as is often the case with family or friends.

There are techniques that can be used to improve random communications; simple methods like listening carefully, noting key points, asking for clarification. But as we all know, a conversation is a two-way street, and our partner doesn’t always cooperate. They don’t understand why we didn’t understand what they said. Weren’t we listening?

Everybody gets flustered, and listening strategy (2) takes over; unfortunately, we each focus on a phrase or concept we didn’t understand, talk at cross purposes, and the proverbial apples and oranges problem results. How many conversations rapidly deteriorate when a simple question leads to an argument about semantics?  Having dictionaries and encyclopedias at our fingertips only makes matters worse, because we forget what we were talking about to begin with. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

My final point is more controversial. There are basically two kinds of people in the world: those who talk to themselves and those who don’t. Neither has an advantage when it comes to oral communication. The self-talkers are so accustomed to hearing nonsense rattling around inside their heads, that they are adept at tuning out spoken words. The non-self-talkers don’t practice enough and have to think to respond, which leads to the awkward silence I referred to above, giving plenty of time for any number of misunderstandings to arise.

Here’s the bottom line: spoken language is a natural extension of the communications systems used by animals. We have extended it a bit but it doesn’t work very well. Writing was invented to accurately communicate abstract concepts.

If you have something important to share, stop talking and write it down.


Kangaroo Point

This post didn’t require driving anywhere to collect our field data. We just looked out the window of our hotel room. Kangaroo Point is a famous rock-climbing spot, where climbers come to hone their skills; the city even put in powerful spotlights for night climbing. It’s also a fascinating rock exposure, revealed in a meander of the Brisbane River (Fig. 1).

 Fig. 1

Figure 1 is the attention getter because it is so massive (60 feet high), but it isn’t completely uniform. Towards the left of the photo collage the rock is more massive and the cliff higher, although it is also set back a little with buildings along the river. It abruptly drops. The slope is less to the right. This may mean nothing, but I also noted that there is more visible structure in the exposure to the right. I had to get closer.

Our investigation began where the hill began to rise, about 200 yards to the right of Fig. 1. Here we find a possibly thin bedded, highly weathered grayish rock (Fig. 2), that does not support a ledge.

 Fig. 2

The square block in the center of the photo is ~12 inches across. There are no sedimentary structures and no visible grains. However, it is highly weathered and no fresh surfaces were available for examination. The character of the exposed rock changes within 100 yards to a nodular form (Fig. 3).

 Fig. 3

The angular faces are rounded here, some into nodular forms. Without bedding it is impossible to be certain, but I get the feeling that these “beds” are approximately horizontal. There is no evidence of original texture. A few hundred yards further and the rock was forming ledges (Fig. 4).

 Fig. 4

At this time I’m certain that I’m looking at a Paleozoic metamorphosed sandstone because we’ve seen several examples on the previous day. So I keep looking for evidence of depositional texture.

By the time I made my way to the halfway point of Fig. 1, the only visible texture was fractures and differential weathering (Fig. 5).

Figure 5

 A   B

Figure 5A is dominated by vertical fractures delineating blocks of solid rock where’s Fig. 5B is dominated by what appear to be vertical bedding, weathered to a rounded appearance. I was convinced by what I’d already seen that these were not images of vertical beds, but rather fractures that weathered at different rates due to differences in mineralogy and water infiltration.

This interpretation is supported by examining the exposure another hundred yards further (estimate only), as seen in Fig. 6, which shows low-angle joints, angling down to the right.

 Fig. 6

I can’t make sense of this exposure, which should have given me the answer to what type of rock I was examining. Unfortunately, I have a terrible memory. Thus, I kept looking for bedding features and found a continuous, undulating fissile layer that could pass for a layer of fine-grained sediment (Fig. 7).

Figure 7

 A  B


These three photos were taken within 12 feet. Figure 7A suggests crossbedding of an ephemeral nature, like during a flood, some mud that was buried quickly and forgotten. The layering thinned but was continuous with Fig. 7B, which suggests a pinching and swelling process (i.e., nodule formation). This hypothesis was consistent with the multiple, fissile layers seen in Fig. 7C.

The deposition of a single layer of mud in a nearshore bar (marine environment of massive sandstone) or point bar (fluvial depositional environment) is nil, so that should have been the end of it. Sufficient pressure and heat to destroy primary fabric would have recrystallized any clays that somehow found their way into these sediments. I had originally thought this was a sequence of metasedimentary rocks, but this hypothesis is contradicted by the layers seen in Fig. 7 and the lack of visible grains anywhere. This is a very fine-grained rock.

Of course, in the field, I hadn’t thought of all of these factors yet, so I found another piece of inconsistent evidence (Fig. 8).

 Fig. 8

A feature like the juxtaposition of unaltered, leucocratic rock and highly weathered, dark rock in this image is not associated with sedimentary rocks. This is the kind of relationship associated with hydrothermal processes in isolated pockets, like along fracture zones. There is no evidence of quartz injection into veins in these rocks, as we saw in metasediments from a previous post. There is no sign of magmatism or the proximity of a major fault, which would produce a range of fine-grained minerals as products of hydrothermal alteration.

We can never rule out slippage along fractures (see Figs. 5 and 6), lubricated by surface water, however, so Figs. 7 and 8 are probably the result of weathering along fracture zones.

The conclusion of this analysis of the field data should have leapt to mind immediately because I have seen rocks just like these many times. These are not sedimentary rocks and they never were. They are not metamorphic. They are not plutonic. We’ve run out of rock types, but one.

I admit that I cheated.

Kangaroo Point is famous and even has a Wikipedia page. The Brisbane Tuff was deposited during the Triassic Period (~230 MYA). The rock doesn’t show fine lamination or phenocrysts like we saw in much younger rhyolite (23-16 MYA) because it was created when melting-hot pieces of ash fell to the earth and formed what is called a welded tuff, not quite volcanic glass.

This outing was a wild goose chase in that I was “expecting” to find sedimentary rocks from the Paleozoic. It was only field work, which contradicted my expectations, and the hard work of previous geologists, that revealed the depth of my ignorance. This should have been a no-brainer and here’s why:

  • Figure 1 shows no overwhelming structure. Nothing shouts out, “Sedimentary” or “Metamorphic” or “Plutonic.”
  • Figures 2 and 3 are ambiguous; such close-up analysis of an unknown stratigraphic unit is problematic, jumping the gun so to speak. These could be older rocks on which the tuff was deposited. They do resemble some of the poor exposures from our trip to the caldera.
  • Figures 4 through 6 should have sealed it because they “suggest” bedding going every way – coincidentally, just like the fracture patterns.
  • Figures 7 and 8 nailed the coffin shut because the geological requirements to create such juxtapositions have never been reported (to my knowledge).

The one legitimate error I would have made is the age. Without knowledge of stratigraphic relationships between this unit and those above and beneath it (structurally and chronologically), I probably would have guessed it was age equivalent to the rhyolite we saw at Purling Brook Falls.

The bottom line is that this area received ~150 feet of ash over an unknown period of time about 200 MYA, but not from the caldera we visited before. The source of this volcanic rock is buried beneath the ash it produced. It was a tumultuous time.


The Gold Coast

After driving through the mountains and seeing 400 million years of the history of Queensland in the last post, we finished the day on the beach in a tourist area known as The Gold Coast (Fig. 1).

 Fig. 1

As can be seen in Fig. 1, this is a wide beach, called dissipative. We saw a similar beach form on a low-energy beach in Tasmania, but that was not in equilibrium with wave conditions. This beach has the appropriate morphology for the unrelenting surf impacting the fine sand (Fig. 2).

 Fig. 2

Breakers on such beaches are 6-9 feet in height and construct several bars parallel to the beach. The small sand grains are easily moved and result in a relatively flat beach profile.

We noted the evidence for storms in Tasmania and potential evidence of the beaches not recovering. That is a problem here as well. Figure 2 was taken from the top of a continuous dune that faced the beach. It was about ~10 feet high in this location but varied along the beach. For example, less than 1/4 mile along the beach, it was only 6 feet (Fig. 3).

 Fig. 3

Note the erosion at the toe of the dune and the exposed roots of the small tree. Thick grasses are partially armoring the dune face but there are still signs of permanent sand loss. How severe depends on when the damage occurred. The vegetation advancing towards the beach suggests that it has been a couple of years at least. If so, this beach is eroding because sand blown off the swash zone should heal any damage within a year.

Some locations seemed to be recovering whereas others reveal scarps (Fig. 4).

 Fig. 4

Note the scarp in the foreground of Fig. 4 and the lower slope in the middle part of the photo. This apparent recovery is probably due to slumping from higher up the slope, as indicated by erosion runnels perpendicular to the beach. Further along the beach, in an undeveloped area where human impacts are minimum, the dune is high but shows evidence of multiple erosion events (Fig. 5).

 Fig. 5

Not the flatter area halfway up the dune (right side of photo), covered with grass. This location appears to have recorded a large event long before a more recent one. There is no appreciable recovery from either.

It would seem that beautiful, sandy beaches fed by multiple rivers carrying sediment from eroding mountains isn’t enough to maintain equilibrium with rising sea level. The world’s coast lines are sediment starved and cannot fight against existing sea level, much less further increases.


Best of All Lookouts

This is the photo I couldn’t take.

As part of an ongoing series, we have been exploring the geology of Victoria in several posts, and recently spent some time on describing the geological history of Tasmania. This post explores the geology of Queensland, focusing on the southeast part of the state, near the city of Brisbane (pin marker in Fig. 1).

 Fig. 1

Eastern Australia’s geology is dominated by collision and orogeny from the late Proterozoic through the Paleozoic, followed by extension tectonics and volcanism during the Mesozoic. We’ve seen this from our travels through Tasmania and  Victoria. So we won’t be surprised to see similar rocks in Queensland. Our first day’s travel was from the Brisbane Airport to Springbrook National Park, ending up at the Gold Coast (Fig. 2).


We didn’t stop to look at the rocks around Brisbane, so this post begins in Area 1 (see Fig. 2). We’ll get to Brisbane next time. The black rectangle outlines the approximate area contained in Fig. 3, a geologic map from the Rock-D app.

 Fig. 3

Location 1 is at the upper-left (NW) corner of Fig. 3. It was a rainy day, we were on a narrow road with few opportunities to pull over, and there was heavy Sunday traffic with many people from Brisbane heading to the country for the day, despite the miserable weather. Nevertheless, we got some photos of exposures of sedimentary rocks. Note that the rocks in Fig. 4 are wet, so color isn’t as useful because hues change in subtle ways. Rocks are like that.

Figure 4

 A  B

The geologic map (Fig. 3) indicates complex lithology in Area 1 (see Fig. 2 for location), including thick-bedded sandstone with finer grained sediments and high organic content (Fig. 4A). Road cuts also revealed interlayered thin beds of sandstone and shale (Fig. 4B). Between 237 and 201 MYA, this area was receiving mixed sand and mud while accumulating enough organic matter to create coal beds.

Still within Area 1, we move into a volcanic zone (yellow regions in Fig. 3) of much younger age (23 – 16 MYA) that includes basalt flows and rhyolite (Fig. 5).

Figure 5


 B  C

Some of these volcanic beds are quite thick, forming bluffs up to thirty feet or more in height (Fig. 5A). At this location, a few miles east of Fig. 4, a waterfall had formed. These rocks also displayed incipient columnar jointing (Fig. 5B) similar to that seen in a previous post. Where eroded, these rocks formed blocks that formed steep slopes and gathered in the bottom of canyons (Fig. 5C).

The next observation area (Area 2 from Fig. 2) took us back to the Late Devonian to Mississippian (383-323 MYA), where metamorphosed clastic sediments with some volcanics (Fig. 6) are exposed. This is distributed as a broad swath running from north to south on the entire eastern half of Fig. 3.

Figure 6

 A  B

These beds were tilted and there was evidence of faulting throughout the area. Figure 6A shows thicker beds of sandstone whereas Fig. 6B is dominated by fine-grained sediment. These photos were taken within a mile of each other. This is a complex sequence of metamorphosed rocks that doesn’t form cliffs so good exposures were hard to find. However, I did manage to examine some of the sandstones (Fig. 7).

 A  B

 C  D

There is no evidence of sedimentary texture (Fig. 7A) and examining the photo up close reveals that it looks more like an igneous rock than sedimentary. Recrystallization during cementation reveals quartz filling fractures (Fig. 7B) and partial melting (Fig. 7C). The rocks reveal fissile texture (Fig. 7D) similar to a schist.

We travelled through these rocks until reaching Area 3 (see Fig. 2 for location) and Purling Brook Falls (Fig. 8), a 300 foot drop over a rhyolite cliff.

 Fig. 8

These rocks are more of the Early Miocene (23-16 MYA) rocks we saw before (yellow in Fig. 3). The stream is retreating along the edge of the 300-foot-thick sequence, which quickly erodes so that there is no canyon downstream. Close observation shows fine flow and depositional features (Fig. 9A) and phenocrysts (the white grains in Fig. 9B).

Figure 9

 A  B

Let’s summarize what happened in SE Queensland over the last four-hundred-million years. We rambled across time during our drive, so we’ll put the rocks in chronological order.

The oldest rocks we saw were Devonian to Mississippian (383-323 MYA) sediments and volcanics (Figs. 6 and 7). At that time this was a shallow sea with volcanism occurring intermittently. Australia was a peninsula attached to Gondwana with SE Queensland an open-ocean margin. During the subsequent assembly of Pangea, more mountain building occurred, until the early Mesozoic. These oldest rocks were buried and metamorphosed, almost to the point of becoming high-grade metamorphic rocks.

During the early Mesozoic (237 and 201 MYA), a nearshore environment obtained, with the collection of sandy and muddy sediments, along with the accumulation of organic matter to later form coal beds (Fig.4). These rocks also probably contained some basalt but we couldn’t identify it from poor exposures and bad weather conditions. This was when Pangea was breaking up.

A global system of mountains eroded after this as the modern ocean basins formed. Here in Queensland, the next rocks we find are volcanics from Miocene (23-16 MYA). These are well preserved (Figs. 5, 8 and 9). They were erupted from a caldera that we reached at the southerly end of our trip today (Fig. 10). This was a period of volcanism throughout SE Australia, as we saw in a previous post.

 Fig. 10

I couldn’t take the photo myself because “Best of All Lookouts” is at 3800 feet and we were in the clouds. The floor of the caldera is ~500 feet, so it was a serious drop. There was a volcano in the center, as shown in Fig. 11.

 Fig. 11

Figure 11 shows about half the original caldera, the eastern margin having been eroded more, leaving a few mountains and the central volcano.

That does it for today. Considering the crummy weather, we were pretty successful.