Sunday, October 14, 2018

This post may be in eleven dimensions.

Maybe I'll make this brain month. Last week I talked about knitting my sugar skull cowl; the skull, of course, houses the brain. So today I'm going to peer inside the skull at the brain, or something very like it.

geralt | CC0 | Pixabay
I admit that I don't make an effort to stay up-to-date on scientific breakthroughs, so I wasn't  surprised to learn that this bit of news slipped through the cracks last year: A couple of experts in algebraic topology (who knew that was a thing?) published a paper in which they described the brain as being capable of thinking in eleven dimensions. These dimensions don't actually exist, mind you. What the researchers did was apply algebra to the firing of neurons in a rat's brain, and kept track of the number of neurons involved in a particular stimulation. The connection between two neurons, as between any two points, is a line, which is two-dimensional; when more become involved, in what researchers call a clique, the interaction becomes three- and four-dimensional (the fourth dimension being time). When cliques begin interacting with one another, though, they routinely operate in seven dimensions and even up to eleven. Mathematically, at least. It's not something tangible, and the clique connections dissolve when the information exchange is done. One of the researchers likened these virtual structures to sand castles that fall apart at the next high tide. Another thing: cliques form around empty space, and this researcher speculated whether those empty spaces are where memories are stored.

I'm no scientist, but I can't help but wonder whether those empty spaces are not so much storage pods for memories as crucibles for creativity. Sometimes when my brain catches hold of an idea and begins pinging it around inside my skull, making associations on the fly, it feels a little like I'm building something out of thin air. A virtual sand castle, maybe?

I wondered whether these eleven-dimensional structures had anything to do with neural networks, so I looked it up -- and they don't. A neural network is a set of algorithms that allows computers to make decisions based on evolving sets of data. Neural networks are supposed to mimic human brain activity -- but they're pretty clearly primitive compared to the sort of thing these researchers in algebraic topology have found.

Anyway, the mathematicians behind this are affiliated with the Blue Brain Project, which aims to create a digital simulation of the brain. It's been in operation since 2005 and it's headquarted at a university in Geneva, Switzerland. The organization plans to simulate a rat brain first, and then move on to simulating the human brain.

If rats can model eleven dimension in their tiny rat brains, it makes you wonder how many dimensions humans can do. Maybe more! Or maybe less. Time, I guess, will tell.

These moments of multi-dimensional blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Knitting skulls as relaxation.

I'm skipping past the opportunity to write a topical post this week. The Supreme Court nomination process has stressed me out so much that I've been knitting every evening. So I'm going to talk about my latest project -- which, if not topical, is at least seasonal.

Alert readers of hearth/myth have figured out by now that I have kind of a thing for sugar skulls. So last year, when a friend showed me a pattern for a Day of the Dead cowl that featured colorwork sugar skulls, I was determined to make it. And then I got busy with other stuff and never started it.

Last weekend, I got together for a knitting session with that friend and another one, and the cowl pattern came up. We decided it would be a perfect project for the three of us to work on at the same time, with the goal of finishing it by Halloween. A cowl out of worsted weight yarn does not take a long time to make -- even if it's not plain knitting. Plus it gave us an excuse to go to the yarn store.

You can click here to see what the project looks like. (I'm not posting the photo because I don't have the rights to it.) The rainbow-striped yarn used in the original has been discontinued, but we thought a variegated yarn would be a decent substitute. A knitting blogger used variegated yarns for both the main color and background color -- and then she swapped them and made the cowl a second time. That gave me an idea: What if I made my cowl reversible?

The technique is called double knitting, and I've been intrigued by it ever since Amy began using it to make things for her fellow Ingress players. Essentially you knit two fabrics -- one the negative image of the other -- at the same time. The resulting fabric is double the thickness, which is not a bad quality in a winter cowl.

Anyway, it's going pretty fast. I've already finished the bottom half of the skull, including the nose hole, and am about to start on the eye sockets. Here's the side with the dark background. There are plain stripes at the bottom and a flower-motif border under the skull.

And here's the reverse.

I'm really pleased with how it's going. In fact, I should have enough yarn left to make a hat to match. I'm not sure whether I'll finish the hat by Halloween, but we'll see.

I'll post photos when the cowl is done.

Publishing news: Speaking of Halloween, I'm pleased to announce that I have a story in Boo! Volume 5, a.k.a. A Fifth of Boo! My story is called "The Atherton Vampire" -- it's a prequel to the vampire novel I've been working on off and on. A bunch of other awesome writers also have stories in this volume, including Laurie Boris, JD Mader, and Mark Morris, and proceeds are going to cancer research.

These moments of double-knitted blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.