1641: Nikolaas Tulp, Dutch Anatomist

Self is going back and forth between Caliban’s War (which is all action, which is perfect because reading action is a nice balance to her current state of total inactivity) and Mama’s Last Hug.

Trigger Warning: If the mere notion of dissection makes you ill, do not read. It’s not graphic, but it did make self a tad queasy.

Mama’s Last Hug, p. 66:

  • When a team of behavioral scientists and anthropologists finally tested the idea by carefully dissecting the faces of two dead chimpanzees, they found the exact same number of mimetic muscles as in the human face — and surprisingly few differences. We could have predicted this, of course, because Nikolaas Tulp, the Dutch anatomist immortalized in Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson, had long ago reached a similar conclusion. In 1641, Tulp was the first to dissect an ape cadaver and found that it resembled the human body so closely in its structural details, musculature, organs, and so on, that the species looked like two drops of water.

Also, did you know that there is a type of human smile called the Duchenne smile? The Duchenne smile is “a sincere expression of joy and positive feeling,” and involves a crinkling/narrowing of the eyes.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Beginning CALIBAN’S WAR (Book 2 of The Expanse)

What self absolutely loves about The Expanse (she’s talking just about the book series, not the show: she’s watched all of Season 4 and a few episodes of Season 1 but stopped watching when she got into the books) is how good the authors are at describing the technology in a way that doesn’t seem clunky, that makes it seem like a natural, evolutionary thing. And then, all the things that go wrong — when things go wrong, they go wrong spectacularly. And you have to fall right back on human ingenuity. Decision-making is always key.

p. 12:

… just as her squad got to the firing line, her suit squealed a jamming warning at her. The top-down vanished as she lost contact with the satellite. Her team’s life signs and equipment status reports went dead as her link to their suits was cut off. The faint static of the open comm channel disappeared, leaving an even more unsettling silence.

This particular marine eventually locates her CO:

She ran up and placed her helmet against his. “What the fuck is going on, El Tee?” she shouted.

The economy of the language is so very efficient. Of course, with technology going on the blink, the marine has to put her helmet against her CO’s helmet and shout in order to be heard at all: yet the gesture feels so very intimate. It also feels true.

It is details such as this that have made of self a convert to this series. She’s seriously considering ordering Book # 4, which she has never done in her life — she has never before wanted to rip through all the books of a series (there are nine), in one go.

Stay tuned.

Emotions: Language Descriptors For

Mama’s Last Hug is fascinating, how well it points out the limits of human understanding (i.e., Man is always front and center and human emotional behavior is always the benchmark for analyzing other species)

Self can’t help continuously drawing comparisons with . . . never mind.

p. 54:

  • If it is true that the environment shapes facial expressions, then children who are born blind and deaf should show no expressions at all, or only strange ones, because they’ve never seen the faces of people around them. Yet in studies of these children, they laugh, smile, and cry in the same way and under the same circumstances as any typical child. Since their situation excludes learning from models, how could anyone doubt that emotional expressions are part of biology?

Stay tuned.


Perhaps it’s this damn covid-19, but self is feeling mighty melancholy today.

To match her mood, today’s excerpt from Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves is from a section called Finality and Grief:

  • It remains unknown how widespread the sense of finality is and how much it relies on a mental projection into the future. But members of at least some species, after assuring themselves by smell, touch, and revival attempts that a loved one is gone, seem to realize that their relationship has permanently moved from present to past . . . It also reminds us that all emotions are mixed with knowledge — they wouldn’t exist otherwise . . . Life goes on, as it should, but individuals are unique.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.




Current Reading, First Friday in May 2020

The things self learns! Her house is a mess. Stacks of books piled everywhere.


Mama’s Last Hug, p. 41:

  • People who have just fallen in love have more oxytocin in their blood than do singles, and their high concentration lasts if their relationship lasts. But oxytocin also shields pair-bonds from sexual adventures with outsiders. When married men are given this hormone in a nasal spray, they feel uncomfortable around attractive women and prefer to keep their distance.




Self never thought she’d be as engrossed as she is. She’s just emerged from the fantastic space opera that is Leviathan Wakes, she didn’t think that her mind would be able to adjust easily to a subject like primates and their emotions. That would be quite a shwitcheroo. Surprisingly, however, self found it very easy to get ‘into’ this book.

From the Prologue:

Emotions may be slippery, but they are also by far the most salient aspect of our lives. They give meaning to everything. In experiments, people remember emotionally charged pictures and stories far better than neutral ones. We like to describe almost everything we have done or are about to do in emotional terms . . . That’s another thing about emotions: they make us take sides.

Back when Beto was still running for Presient, he gave an interview in which he said that Trump was a “master of emotional language.” That, said Beto, was how he won in 2016.

In light of the book self is currently reading, in light of the fact that the emotions, according to Frans de Waal, “make us take sides,” no wonder America is polarized to such a degree.

Everything Trump says is pitched to target his listeners’ emotions. He never uses reason or logic, but he sure can manipulate this one thing. Just to show you how well this strategy works: Americans actually called into poison control centers last weekend, wondering whether ordinary household bleach could kill the corona virus.

Self thinks it’s dangerous for a politician to appeal to the emotions. That makes the politician a demagogue. Or a fascist. Someone like Hitler.

A mob is ruled by emotions, not by rationality.

We’re not a mob country, are we? ARE WE?

But we’re all so much more emotional now, as a result of this pandemic. Does that make us ripe pickings for the Grifter?

Stay tuned.

Language, Again

Leviathan Wakes, p. 482:

  • “Dieu! Dieu!” someone shouted. “Bombs son vamen roja! Going to fry it! Fry us toda!”

Self truly thinks there is nothing that can make this book any better. Her favorite read in 2020 so far, for sure.

Book 2, Caliban’s War, which she ordered almost two weeks ago, never arrived. What the heck, she paid extra for shipping, Books Inc.

So she’ll move to the next book on her list: Outlander (She has so far avoided watching a single episode of the TV series; she might begin after reading the book)

Stay tuned.


We Are All Complicit

James Holden, Earther Captain of the Rocinante to his crew (Leviathan Awakes, p. 372):

  • I still can’t believe that there are enough evil people all in one place to do it. This isn’t a one-man operation. This is the work of dozens, maybe hundreds, of very smart people.

In other words: it’s not all just Trump’s fault.

Aargh, did self just say that? She’ll be getting back to her book now. Rocinante “running at three-quarters of a g” for Tycho Station, whose “habitat rings spun serenely around the bloated zero-g factory globe in the center.”

Stay tuned.

Hard Vacuum

Self loves when Holden’s crew are exploring a new ship. Loves it. Absolutely her favorite parts of Leviathan Wakes.

She confesses she doesn’t find Miller’s POV that engaging, but Thomas Jane, now —

Apologies for the digression!

Holden’s crew are preparing to board the Scopuli, which is tethered to an asteroid circling a space station called Eros.

“It doesn’t look like there’s much to breathe over there.”

“Anything?” Holden asked.

“Nope. Hard vacuum,” Alex said. “Both her lock doors are open.”

She’ll probably finish reading by tomorrow. If Caliban’s War still hasn’t arrived (ordered from Books Inc.), she’ll start Outlander Book 1.

Stay tuned.

If You’re Going to Write a Battle Scene on a Space Ship

During shelter-in-place, a good book is worth its weight in gold.

Hyperbolic, much?

Anyhoo, not an hour goes by when self doesn’t thank her lucky stars that she found Leviathan Wakes (She’s waiting on Caliban’s War to arrive, and then she’ll order Book #3 of the series, Abbadon’s Gate)

What she appreciates most of all is the precision of the action scenes. Yeah, yeah, what’s to obsess about, it’s just starships exploding, right?

Newp! The scene has to have verisimilitude! It must put you in a character’s head! It’s not enough to say that a character goes through an airlock, you must describe what it feels like to go through an airlock! And don’t over-describe, because then everyone will know you’re just making it up.

She watched The Expanse Season 4, then backtracked to Season 1, and got about four episodes in. Then, Leviathan Wakes arrived in the mail, and she stopped watching the series because she wanted to experience the book. And self would just like to say: the battles and explosions on the series, which look great, are nothing compared to what’s actually on the page.

It is a fully lived experience, on the page. The main point of view — Jim Holden’s, though Miller’s is almost as good — is ace. The writing is very clean. If you’re going to do space opera and stuff, the writing better be precise. For example, this sentence, pp. 138-139:

  • The hatch behind them slammed shut, and the air in the corridor vanished in a soundless ripple of plastic flaps.

Self having experienced an airlock herself (in Durham Cathedral, of all places), she knows it is something like this. There is, for one thing, “the perfect quiet of vacuum.” (p. 140). The mind ceases to work in normal time.

But, enough of this blogging! She has to get back to the book.

Truly, there’s only one activity — well, maybe two — that stops her from devouring the contents of her refrigerator in one go (Food is love; food is comfort, etc). Right now, because it’s too hot to garden (Only April and it’s too hot to garden. This does not bode well), it’s reading.

Stay tuned.




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