Back stateside…

Have been back here in Indiana now for about 3 months or so… my wonderful sojourn in Paris seems like a dream now. That said, it is terrific to catch up with spouse, colleagues & good friends again – I missed everyone a lot. The creatures have also been cuddled many times over – missed them immensely also while I was away…

It is time to give thanks for the wonderful connections & interactions one makes as a scientist. I was also fortunate to catch up with old colleagues & friends while I was in Europe. Also, I have got to know so many young scientists as well in my travels over the last 6 months. Many of them I had already made contact with on science Twitter, but now was a chance to meet them in person! That was a lot of fun – whether visiting them in their home cities [Helsinki, Paris, Ghent or Singapore] or meeting them face-to-face at a conference. I look forward to doing more of this in future as I expand my contacts on science Twitter. I am enjoying regular Skype meetings with colleagues across the pond, as we continue to discuss ongoing projects.

As to what I have actually come back to, that is an interesting question. I left at the start of January 2018 & returned mid-July 2018. I had originally decided to do a post on what was different between 2 cultures on my return, but I have contemplated that for about 3 months now & have come to the conclusion that that no longer is viable. Why? Because it no longer feels like it is the same country here. I am not really sure what the culture really is about now, so I guess I will have to do a lot of navel gazing so I can figure that one out.

What to do? Instead I will share with you a couple of photos – the ‘then’ and ‘now’ of Paris, if you will. I went back to a couple of spots that I had taken some pics that I liked years earlier – in one case almost 20 years ago. I tried to take the same shot – same perspective etc. But there are different seasons, different times of day… The camera is different: the ‘then’ was an SLR, either digital or film, and the ‘now’ was my iPhone 8 with its 2 excellent little cameras. I also wonder how much my eye has changed over the years?

What you think of the images – do you like the old or the new best? [The ‘old’ is on the left & the ‘new is on the ‘right’.]

And for those of you who need data, here are the two original [& uncropped] new shots straight out of the iPhone. The old shots were taken with the explicit purpose of shooting in black & white – a medium that I absolutely adore. The new shots were taken with the aim of converting them to black & white.

Back to the other reality… albeit fleetingly…

This week I had to return briefly to the USA – 2 of my students successfully defended their doctoral dissertations – a very important occasion for them & for me as the Chair of their respective Dissertation Committees. It is also a testament to the wonders of modern technology – our regular Skype meetings in the lead up to the defenses made the long distance across the Atlantic almost non-existent. The scientific world will have two newly minted PhDs in cognitive science & social neuroscience! But those events, although very positive ones, are not the subject of this post.

It seems to me that right now I am living in 2 very wonderful realities – my Paris one & my Indiana one. There are some interesting bridges between the 2 realities. Here is one of them: a great espresso!

With respect to my Indiana reality, obviously I have sorely missed my significant other & the cats [a.k.a. the editorial assistants]. So there was a lot of cat-ching up to do 🙂


But I also realized how much I missed the faculty & staff at IU in the USA when I was back at work for the week  – it was great to see everyone & catch up with so many people. Indeed, it was hard to get work done with constant knocks on the door & people coming in to my office to say hello. I also got a kick out of the double looks I got when walking in the corridors of our building – clearly I was an unexpected sight! I also tried to check in at some of my local haunts in B’town [FARMbloomington; Feast Cellar & Market; C3] to connect with special people there also.

In one relatively quick moment I was in my Parisian reality & the next day in my Indiana one – indeed my last post was sent from Chicago O’Hare while I was waiting for a delayed flight home after my significant other had joined me in Paris for Spring Break.

The funny thing is that now I was back in the USA, I also started thinking about missing people in my neighborhood in Paris & my colleagues at work there. The sensation was augmented by the continuing emails crossing the Atlantic related to the research project we are doing together. It is a strange feeling – being ecstatic to see people that I have not seen for a few months [in one reality], but also thinking about people close to me in the other reality.

There is another bridge linking my two worlds right now: Late season snow! It snowed in Paris as we flew out & it has been snowing in B’town this week – happily this spring snow will quickly melt because it is not that cold outside. Our garden looked like a winter wonderland – I have to say I do like the snow: it covers the ugly brown deadness of everything in the yard right now. There is nothing really green in it yet – grass is brown, all the plants are dormant, although our first daffodil has just come out!


So it snowed Tuesday/Wednesday in B’town & Indianapolis. Today – Saturday we are having snow/sleet/hail/rain – yuk! Am going to take myself off to the YMCA to use the indoor track today… Thursday was a gorgeous, bright sunny day – a perfect window of opportunity to get the snow tires removed off my car! So it will be waiting for me with summer in mind when I drive it on my return after completing my sabbatical :).

Let’s hope that spring is just around the corner – just like in this image of the first crocus in the garden from a few springs ago…


… and so back to the other side of the Atlantic I go. The next post you will read will come from Paris.

On homeostasis, polar vortices & photography

I am reading Antonio Damasio’s new book: “The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures“. A central theme in the book is the evolution of human culture as a homeostatic phenomenon (see review in the Guardian newspaper: . Homeostasis more typically refers to the ability of an organism to maintain a balanced physiology during external challenges e.g. excessive heat or cold etc. This is timely, as we have dealt with some wild weather in Europe due to a polar vortex coming to us via Siberia at the end of February. This caught me off guard: I packed clothes for a regular Paris winter, not for a Moscovian one – all of my really warm clothing is back in Indiana. That said, when the cold came I layered up like a Babushka & took the Metro to work, so I have nothing to really complain about…


But this got me thinking about when I have been really cold in the past & most of the time it usually had something to do with my passion for photography. For example, there was a trip to the Jungfraujoch in Switzerland in mid-summer. An incredible place for the very short time I saw of it.


Literally 10 minutes after I took the above photo we were in a white out & this at the end of June. What to do? Turn back & make our way back to Basel via Interlaken…

One October I travelled to a meeting in Galway in Ireland (staying at the Glenlo Abbey, see The autumn chill was definitely in the air. I took the opportunity to drive to the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. Not a great day for it really – very blustery with a hard cold rain coming down sideways at one point because of the wind. I really enjoyed the Guinness at the pub at the end of that day…


After the OHBM meeting in Seattle I travelled to the Olympic Peninsula. It was mid-summer, but with chilly & wet weather – I had wet weather gear for me & my camera… It is a breathtaking place. I stayed at First Beach at La Push – courtesy of the Quileute people – a tribe of native Americans who have lived there for aeons ( The photo below was taken at around 9:45 pm from my cabin on the beach on the one day that we finally had some clearer weather.


Then there was a mid-summer 2 week trip to Iceland where there is snow on the peaks & almost perpetual daylight. This otherworldly place should be on everyone’s bucket list. The landscape is like none other & the bird/animal life is unforgettable.


There have been many other times when I lost the feeling in my fingers for a short period of time while trying to shoot pictures. Holding a cold tripod & camera in the cold tends to do that. But most recently, I froze my fingers here in Paris walking home from work during the snowstorm a few weeks ago, but this time it was because I was using my cell phone to shoot pictures & kept taking my glove off…

Ironically, of all the times when my fingers have been the numbest has probably been when I have been at home & have dashed out to shoot winter pictures in the yard. I still remember the stinging sensation in my fingers after coming inside from shooting pictures after a particularly impressive hoarfrost early one Sunday morning.


But turning back to the original theme of this post, homeostasis. Our personal wellbeing depends on it. But our collective wellbeing is tied to the homeostasis of our planet. By now it should be pretty apparent even to the climate change deniers that the Arctic region has been destabilized due to our irresponsibility as a species. Extreme weather events are now common as the consequences of our collective carelessness – last summer’s & this winter’s storms in the Northern Hemisphere show that well enough. These will probably become more severe and frequent as time goes on. Challenges accompany these extreme weather events – particularly the cold weather ones. For example, how do we ensure that the homeless have shelter & avoid freezing to death? So what are YOU personally doing to help your fellow humankind or your planet in response to these climactic challenges?