Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Reality Tunnel, Our Filtered World

squirrel running across road
After riding our motorcycles through canyons and up and down mountains, I've had friends ask me if I saw that squirrel run out in front of me during a turn, or that deer grazing by the side of the road.

And often I'll shake my head, "no".

"I was too busy watching the road", I might answer.

The eyes, of course, don't actually see. They simply capture the light. It's the brain that assembles the information into an image.

It turns out, the light passes through a curtain of blood vessels across our retinas. But we never see the blood vessels because our brain has learned to filter out redundant information. Our ears also pick up the sound of our heartbeats and the rush of blood in our bodies, but our brains filter that out too. Ever wonder why you eventually get used to a bad odor in the room? It's because the brain filters that out also.

So the question is, what more are our brains filtering out?

The "reality tunnel" is the removed layers of reality necessary to our survival. It's what helps us recognize that lion crouching in the grasses.  But in a civilized society, what we perceive as dangerous varies from person to person.

It's why there are still white people who are afraid of black people.  It's why we call someone an "idiot" for not seeing obvious dangers.  One person suffering from PTSD will panic over something that his friends can't understand.

Filtering is a defense mechanism.  The more comfortable you are with your surroundings, the harder your brain tries to find something dangerous. One person talks at a quiet volume because his brain is filtering a lot of ambient noise.  Another person speaks at a higher volume because his brain isn't.

The "reality tunnel", as it was coined by Timothy Leary, is the world each of us perceives. Our life's experiences shapes what we perceive as dangerous or insignificant, and our brains filter out layers of reality from there.  Introverts might filter more reality, becoming too oblivious to their surroundings.  Extroverts might filter less reality, becoming too obsessed with their surroundings.

Maybe why I didn't see that squirrel run out in front of me while I was leaning into the curve is because my brain has learned to filter out objects that would put me into panic during critical moments. Maybe the reason why other riders go slower into curves is because they're perceiving dangers that I'm not perceiving.

Some would call me a lunatic for riding the way I do, but I like to think of it as being evolved.

Which make better motorcycle riders, introverts or extroverts?

Is it correct to assume that one who lives the longest and happiest life, filtered out reality effectively?

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

What Makes a Motorcycle Rider?

The year was 1971, and Americans couldn't soak up enough science fiction television. Series such as "UFO", "Star Trek", and "Land of the Giants", sparked the idea that we were not alone.

I remember one evening that year, standing in the backyard with my dad.

"That's the Big Dipper!", he pointed out to me. I was five years old then. "It takes a million years to travel there."

A million years away, and yet I could see it with my own eyes! I was fascinated.

It's a father's job to fill their child's mind with wonder. Inspiring them to do something great, by showing them how vast the Universe is, and how endless the possibilities, is what a boy or girl needs to build talents from their natural born tools.

I'm traveling at a high rate of speed down a long, straight highway through the New Mexico prairie. The wind in my face and the vibration in the handlebars are a constant reminder that I'm covering miles of territory at a great speed. The sun is shining on me, I see pronghorn in the distance, and I'm hundreds of miles from home. I may not ever ride in a spaceship, but this motorcycle is all I need to explore the world.

Through towns full of strangers and wilderness full of animals, I trekked into far reaches of our country. I saw trees I had never seen before and eaten food I had never tried. Through Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, until I reached the shores of Ocean City, MD and dipped my toes into the water, I realize I had just done something many riders hope to do.

"I just wanted to get away from the snow and the trees", my father said to me when I was in my 20s as he explained why he decided to join the Navy. He joined in 1959, before Vietnam and before the draft. He didn't have to join, but he did anyway. "That was the only way I'd get out of Seattle".

I realize that I grew up with more opportunities than he. But I hadn't realized that the sense of wonder is what drove me. Just the dreaming alone is what made me give up my home, my things, and ride my motorcycle across the country for six months. The question of "what if" is the seed he planted into my brain, and I've been asking that question ever since.

When I came back to my home town of San Diego, I spent nine months trying to settle down, but I couldn't set aside the urge to leave it all behind again. Wanting to ride my motorcycle on a never-ending road trip seemed like my destiny. Now here I am, doing just that, with no plan to return. It's as if there are too many "what ifs" I need to explore. Somehow I find security in not putting down roots.

father and son photo
"I just wanted to travel", my father told me about a year before he died. "That's all I ever wanted to do".

And travel he did, across North America, the Pacific, and Asia. Now he's free to go wherever he wants. Perhaps he's hanging out by the Big Dipper now.

If I inherited anything from him, it's the need to keep going and keep running. As long as there's a road, I have to see where it goes. Maybe that's part of what makes a motorcycle rider.

Happy Father's Day, Dad, wherever you are.

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Standing on the Backs of Turtles

stacked turtles
Oddly enough, the famous theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, is also best known for his statement on turtles. When a woman argued that the Earth is actually flat, and it's resting on the back of a turtle, he asked her what the turtle is standing on.

"It's turtles all the way down", she replied.

From a scientific standpoint, it must have been comical for Hawking.  But from a philosophical stand point, it highlights a related concept...

"We all stand on the shoulders of giants."

Doing a coast-to-coast and back again motorcycle tour is hardly an amazing feat these days, considering it's been done by tens of thousands of other motorcycle riders. But there was a time, a century ago, when it would've been a pretty tough feat to accomplish, with muddy roads, scarcity of fuel, and very uncomfortable seating.

But since then, we have the Interstate system, credit cards, gasoline stations, and a more comfortable ride. We even have smartphones too. We're able to do things now because of the hard work laid down by others before us.  And everything we're able to do is that way.

So I wonder, will people one day stand on my shoulders?

What groundwork have I laid for others to follow?

Last night, Sash and I attended the Installation Dinner for the Menifee Valley Chamber of Commerce. She and I used to be members of the Chamber a few years ago, when we ran Menifee 24/7, a local news publication. I started the publication in 2004 to provide the community of Menifee with some kind of news source, being that we didn't have any at all. In January 2013, I sold it to a group of four people, Doug, Kristin, Shelli, and David, so that Sash and I could leave Menifee and do our six month motorcycle tour across the country.

We were all pleased to hear last night that the Chamber awarded Menifee 24/7 with "Small Business of the Year", with certificates signed by officials at the federal, state, county, and city levels.

menifee 247
Sash and I in the middle, with Doug & Kristin (right) and David & Shelli (left), accepting the Small Business of the Year
Award at the Menifee Valley Chamber of Commerce Installation Dinner last night.

For many people, it may not mean much. To me, it's the acknowledgement that means most. I started it and put in all the work to build a readership and a credibility. Sash came in and took it to the next level, marketing the publication and building trust with advertisers. She laid the foundation with the business community that made Menifee 24/7 one of the most profitable hyperlocal websites in the United States. While hundreds of other hyperlocals across the country started and failed, Menifee 24/7 grew and thrived.

Today, Doug, Kristin, Shelli, and David rely on Menifee 24/7 for their incomes. They've also created jobs for other writers. There are businesses in Menifee that rely on them for advertising. Not only is it cool to know that Sash and I created something good, getting the acknowledgement from the business community means a lot.

But I'm just one of the turtles. Others before me created the content management systems, and before them the Internet, and before them computers...

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About Steve

San Diego, CA-based motorcycle rider who likes long road trips, old rustic bars, craft beer, and tough women. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, writing about the mysteries of life. (Read more...)