Wednesday, April 8

Miracle by the nanosecond

Serotonin floods the postsynaptic neuron, binding with receptors and depolarizing the cell. An electrochemical signal races along motor neurons into the ventral roots of the spine. It splinters off at the brachial plexus and into the median and ulnar nerves, on through to their superficial and deep branches.

His hand grasps the cup and lifts the tea to his lips.

Chemoreceptors are activated. Sensation erupts along the tongue. Impulses burst into the gustatory area of the cerebral cortex.

It tastes good.

* * * *

Two definite inspirations for this one. The first is Tobias Wolff's short story "Bullet in the Brain." Halfway through his story, he takes a break from this tense hostage situation to describe in complex, precise medical terminology exactly what happens when a bullet enters the brain. That he could use language so unorthodox at such a violent moment and still create one of the best short stories I have ever read impressed me.

The second inspiration is this idea, I don't know whether it's a quote or what, that if we were to really pay attention to life and the world and stop taking them for granted, we would be absolutely floored by their beauty and intricacy. I'm not just talking about a sunset or coral reef or smoking hot woman but the most basic and fundamental biological processes. That taste and digestion and basic muscle coordination work at all should leave us open-mouthed astounded. Then again, this human ability to ignore the miraculousness of the common may not be such a terrible thing. If we spent all of our time celebrating the mundane, we wouldn't get very far in our other endeavors.

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