Cell walls? I’m against them. Also, divisions between things. Between physical objects. Between people. The separations between things are, in some ways, working fictions. Yes, there are different ‘zones’, but I have this notion of everything being part of this huge protoplasmic unity. From galaxies to the insides of dogs and the undersides of sweatsocks. Air, our lungs, birds. Ash. Fire. Turnips. Do we really need cell walls? Don’t worry, scientists, and cellular creatures, I’m speaking mostly but not entirely metaphorically. Because don’t things morph into one another, if only eventually? The same is true of concepts and abstractions. One person’s manbun is another’s mantra. Is it true that someone’s pain is my pain and it is only the self and society which create reasons to keep them at a distance? I want my thinking and feeling to reflect the fundamental unipanrhizomatubiquity between/of things.


I often walk in the woods around Hamilton. There are surprisingly many trails, waterfalls, forests, cliffs, and winding paths. I love wandering, not knowing where I’m going. When I walk on a trail system and accidentally discover how it’s connected to another system, I’m a bit disappointed. Some of the mystery, the potential, is gone. Things seem a bit smaller, both conceptually, and physically. The possibility for association, for resonance, for imagination, is reduced. I want to discover a thousand thousand microcultures, microworlds. I don’t want to believe in base ten. I want to believe in base infinity. I like the opportunity to be a flaneur through a non-repeating labyrinth.


All connections are pataphysical. All categories. Even the number two is one.



Yesterday, I was walking through the woods listening to the poet Natalie Diaz speak about empathy in relation to sympathy.[1] She says that you can’t actually feel what someone

else is feeling. You can sympathize, you can find analogies in your own experience, but the particularity of their feeling in relation to their identity, experience, and the processes of their being are not something that you can truly actually feel. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t feel compassion and connection, but, she says, it is important to note the distinction.



Dolphins are "the second most encephalized beings on the planet,"[2] We are (add heraldic trumpets and showers of confetti here) the first. But their brains are not like ours—more folds and ridges, a smaller hippocampus. And ravens, crows and other corvids’ brains are even more different, yet show clear signs of intelligence. Recent papers in Science, show that crows “know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds, a manifestation of higher intelligence and analytical thought long believed the sole province of humans and a few other higher mammals.”[3] The scientists have found an “empirical marker of avian consciousness.”[4] It seems that consciousness and intelligence are more about patterns of connectivity and activity in the pallium, the most neuron-dense part of a bird’s brain. Neurobiologist Suzana Herculano-Houzel writes, “Brains can appear diverse, and at the same time share profound similarities.”[5]



It's been a long-standing thought experiment of mine to try to imagine the world from the perspective of a medieval person or a Neanderthal. This is called “writing” you might say. Not that the brains of people from other times are so different, but my main efforts are trying to feel their sense of self in relation to community, the individual, time and geography. In this regard, I often return to the Borges’ story, "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote." Like Menard, who ends up writing as if he were Cervantes, except that he is living in the 19th c., even if I could attain access to the minds of historical humans, there’d always be a kind of double consciousness (to brazenly appropriate W.E.B. Du Bois’s concept from The Souls of Black Folks.)  The thoughts or writing of another time have an entirely different meaning in their new context. Salt is entirely different when in pickles or in coffee. I’m aware of my 20th/21st century brain and its particular experiences and formations. How aware? You’d have to ask my therapist.



It's often said that a dog has the intelligence of a 2-year-old or that a dolphin has a seven-year-old’s brain, but the nature of their intelligence, their awareness and processing of the world is fundamentally different. Not only in terms of simple things like a dog’s vastly more sensitive sense of smell, or a dolphin’s echolocation (not to mention its life in liquid) but surely the nature of their thoughts, their experience of the world is profoundly different than the human. I imagine a shiny silver ball bouncing around a pinball machine—light flashing, flippers flipping, Charlie’s Angels and starburst images lurid and worn. That’s a thought. A thought implicitly has context. A different brain would have a different pinball machine. Two levels. Mr T. imagery. A square ball. Made of moss. Seven flippers and the entire thing filled with water. Can a thought exist independent of a mind, or other thoughts? Phewph. That’s long been high up on philosophers’ dance cards as their shadows lick cave walls. 

What would non-human thoughts be like? What is the awareness of a tree, listening through the chemicals of its roots, the actions of its leaves? A sap telegram? Can we have “tree thoughts” without a tree body, or at least a “tree mind” developed through the engagement of what the tree has physically engaged with? 

Ok and now to try to think like a triangle. Not the Flatland kind but to think of nothing but three sides, three angles, an inside and an out. Damn. I accidently considered depth. Ah well, we’ll always have hypotenuse.

8. The other is an infinite labyrinth, not a maze, though there have been those relationships. I want to connect but not know. Knowing, thus, is a collaboration. 

9. Can there be connection without identification? Aren’t we all stardust, anyway? Almost all of the elements were formed in stars. So yes…except some of our almost 10% hydrogen content may be even older than stars. 13-14 billion years ago, the Big Bang created helium, hydrogen and small amounts of lithium. (What is small when we’re talking the entire universe? Where on the breadbox to supercluster continuum is it?) These three LEGOs are the OG of elements. And eight track tapes. So, at an elemental level, we are connected, literally made from the same stuff. But the devil— in this case individual humans or groups of us—is in the details: there’s about 0.1 percent biochemical difference between humans but I still wouldn’t mistake Napoleon for Lupita Nyong'o. 

Can I feel what my sister or brothers feel? My children? (Just ask them: no.) I can care about, act with compassion, understanding, relate to and so on. However, on some non-trivial level, I can grasp that we have the same relation to the larger world, to many smaller worlds also. There aren’t the exact words to express this. I can “commiserate” without actually feeling the same thing. I can imagine standing in their shoes if they have shoes, if they have feet. I can imagine them standing in their own shoes and me in mine and both of us standing on the same road, in the same landscape, on the same planet. There is something profound in this fellow feeling. There is something profound in knowing we are different yet stand together. This love between us—how can it be anything else but love, whether we don’t know them, like them, kinda hate them or have “feelings” about them? We are here together. We are made of the same stuff and will return at the end of our lives to the same state, a whole mess of Big Bang-created energy and matter.  

10. Ok, it can feel like something other than love—coz I have this one neighbour….—but of course I’m talking about getting outside the daily view, seeing the big (or infinitesimally small) picture. I’m not here to minimize struggles for justice, or fairness, safety, sustenance, health, basic needs or security. Those are difficult shoes to stand in. Maybe this all sounds trite or like a truism, but the world is as the world is, the universe too. An incontrovertable fact. A quiddity—a thisness. What to feel in the face of this inherent entanglement, this betweenness? Gratitude, awareness, perspective, awe, fear, overwhelmedness? Equaminity, bitterness, unfairness? Love, triangularity, the electromagnetic force? 

11. But let’s talk birds. They exemplify betweenness. Cloud to cloud. Tree to sky. Wingtip to wingtip. Murmurations. They have hollow bones. Everyone knows it’s to help them fly. True, but it’s not to make the birds lighter. They need so much oxygen their bones are an extension of their lungs. There are air sacs in the hollows. And birds breathe in oxygen both during inhalation and exhalation. 

12. Birds fly in what they breathe, like fishes in water. But we humans—and I assume it is humans reading this—however else other creatures think, we can, we are uniquely able because of our particular brain, its cortex, its folds and ridges, imagine cohabitation and commonality with each particle and each force in the enbiggening universe of which we are made.




[4] https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abb1447