Mirror neurons

I found this dozen-year-old report in my files, and thought I’d share it.



Cells That Can READ Minds!

Mirror Neuron Cells Shake Up Science World!



By Sandra Blakeslee, N Y Times Staff Writer, Tuesday, January 10, 2006

On a hot summer day 15 years ago in Parma, Italy, a monkey sat in a special laboratory chair waiting for researchers to return from lunch. Thin wires had been implanted in the region of its brain involved in planning and carrying out movements.

Every time the monkey grasped and moved an object, some cells in that brain region would fire, and a monitor would register a sound: brrrrrip, brrrrrip, brrrrrip. A graduate student entered the lab with an ice cream cone in his hand. The monkey stared at him.

Then, something amazing happened: when the student raised the cone to his lips, the monitor sounded — brrrrrip, brrrrrip, brrrrrip – even though the monkey had not moved but had simply observed the student grasping the cone and moving it to his mouth.

The researchers, led by Giacomo Rizzolatti, a neuroscientist at the University of Parma, had earlier noticed the same strange phenomenon with peanuts. The same brain cells fired when the monkey watched humans or other monkeys bring peanuts to their mouths as when the monkey itself brought a peanut to its mouth.

Later, the scientists found cells that fired when the monkey broke open a peanut or heard someone break a peanut. The same thing happened with bananas, raisins and all kinds of other objects.

“It took us several years to believe what we were seeing,” Dr. Rizzolatti said in a recent interview. The monkey brain contains a special class of cells, called MIRROR NEURONS, that fire when the animal sees or hears an action and when the animal carries out the same action on its own.

But if the findings, published in 1996, surprised most scientists, recent research has left them flabbergasted. Humans, it turns out, HAVE MIRROR NEURONS THAT ARE FAR SMARTER, more flexible and more highly evolved than any of those found in monkeys, a fact that scientists say reflects the evolution of humans’ sophisticated social abilities.

The human brain has multiple mirror neuron systems that specialize in carrying out and understanding not just the actions of others but their intentions, the social meaning of their behavior and their emotions.

“We are exquisitely social creatures,” Dr. Rizzolatti said. “Our survival depends on understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others.”

He continued, “Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by thinking.”

THE DISCOVERY IS SHAKING UP NUMEROUS SCIENTIFIC DISCIPLINES, shifting the understanding of culture, empathy, philosophy, language, imitation, autism and psychotherapy. Everyday experiences are also being viewed in a new light. Mirror neurons reveal how children learn, why people respond to certain types of sports, dance, music and art, why watching media violence may be harmful and why many men like pornography.

How can a single mirror neuron or system of mirror neurons be so incredibly smart?

Most nerve cells in the brain are comparatively pedestrian. Many specialize in detecting ordinary features of the outside world. Some fire when they encounter a horizontal line while others are dedicated to vertical lines. Others detect a single frequency of sound or a direction of movement.

Moving to higher levels of the brain, scientists find groups of neurons that detect far more complex features like faces, hands or expressive body language. Still other neurons help the body plan movements and assume complex postures.

Mirror neurons make these complex cells look like numbskulls. Found in several areas of the brain — including the premotor cortex, the posterior parietal lobe, the superior temporal sulcus and the insula — they fire in response to chains of actions linked to intentions.

Studies show that some mirror neurons fire when a person reaches for a glass or watches someone else reach for a glass; others fire when the person puts the glass down and still others fire when the person reaches for a toothbrush and so on. They respond when someone kicks a ball, sees a ball being kicked, hears a ball being kicked and says or hears the word “kick.”

“When you see me perform an action — such as picking up a baseball — you automatically simulate the action in your own brain,” said Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies mirror neurons.

“Circuits in your brain, which we do not yet entirely understand, inhibit you from moving while you simulate,” he said. “But you understand my action because you have in your brain a template for that action based on your own movements.

“When you see me pull my arm back, as if to throw the ball, you also have in your brain a copy of what I am doing and it helps you understand my goal. Because of mirror neurons, you can read my intentions. You know what I am going to do next.”

He continued: “And if you see me choke up, in emotional distress from striking out at home plate, mirror neurons in your brain simulate my distress. You automatically have empathy for me. You know how I feel because you literally feel what I am feeling.”

Mirror neurons seem to analyzed scenes and to read minds. If you see someone reach toward a bookshelf and his hand is out of sight, you have little doubt that he is going to pick up a book because your mirror neurons tell you so.

In a study published in March 2005 in Public Library of Science, Dr. Iacoboni and his colleagues reported that mirror neurons could discern if another person who was picking up a cup of tea planned to drink from it or clear it from the table.

“Mirror neurons provide a powerful biological foundation for the evolution of culture,” said Patricia Greenfield, a psychologist at the U.C.L.A. who studies human development.

Until now, scholars have treated culture as fundamentally separate from biology, she said. “But now we see that mirror neurons absorb culture directly, with each generation teaching the next by social sharing, imitation and observation.”

Other animals — monkeys, probably apes and possibly elephants, dolphins and dogs — have rudimentary mirror neurons, several mirror neuron experts said. But humans, with their huge working memory, carry out far more sophisticated imitations.

Language is based on mirror neurons, according to Michael Arbib, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California. One such system, found in the front of the brain, contains overlapping circuitry for spoken language and sign language.

In an article published in Trends in Neuroscience in March 1998, Dr. Arbib described how complex hand gestures and the complex tongue and lip movements used in making sentences use the same machinery.

Autism, some researchers believe, may involve broken mirror neurons. A study published in the Jan. 6 issue of Nature Neuroscience by Mirella Dapretto, a neuroscientist at U.C.L.A., found that while many people with autism can identify an emotional expression, like sadness, on another person’s face, or imitate sad looks with their own faces, they do not feel the emotional significance of the imitated emotion. From observing other people, they do not know what it feels like to be sad, angry, disgusted or surprised.

Mirror neurons provide clues to how children learn: they kick in at birth. Dr. Andrew Meltzoff at the University of Washington has published studies showing that infants a few minutes old will stick out their tongues at adults doing the same thing. More than other primates, human children are hard-wired for imitation, he said, their mirror neurons involved in observing what others do and practicing doing the same things.

Still, there is one caveat, Dr. Iacoboni said. Mirror neurons work best in real life, when people are face to face. Virtual reality and videos are shadowy substitutes.

Nevertheless, a study in the January 2006 issue of Media Psychology found that when children watched violent television programs, mirror neurons, as well as several brain regions involved in aggression were activated, increasing the probability that the children would behave violently.

The ability to share the emotions of others appears to be intimately linked to the functioning of mirror neurons, said Dr. Christian Keysers, who studies the neural basis of empathy at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and who has published several recent articles on the topic in Neuron.

When you see someone touched in a painful way, your own pain areas are activated, he said. When you see a spider crawl up someone’s leg, you feel a creepy sensation because your mirror neurons are firing.  People who rank high on a scale measuring empathy have particularly active mirror neurons systems, Dr. Keysers said.

Social emotions like guilt, shame, pride, embarrassment, disgust and lust are based on a uniquely human mirror neuron system found in a part of the brain called the insula, Dr. Keysers said. In a study not yet published, he found that when people watched a hand go forward to caress someone and then saw another hand push it away rudely, the insula registered the social pain of rejection. Humiliation appears to be mapped in the brain by the same mechanisms that encode real physical pain, he said.

Psychotherapists are understandably enthralled by the discovery of mirror neurons, said Dr. Daniel Siegel, the director of the Center for Human Development in Los Angeles and the author of “Parenting From the Inside Out,” because they provide a possible neurobiological basis for the psychological mechanisms known as transference and countertransference.

In transference, clients “transfer” feelings about important figures in their lives onto a therapist. Similarly, in countertransference, a therapist’s reactions to a client are shaped by the therapist’s own earlier relationships.

Therapists can use their own mirror system to understand a client’s problems and to generate empathy, he said. And they can help clients understand that many of their experiences stem from what other people have said or done to them in the past.

Art exploits mirror neurons, said Dr. Vittorio Gallese, a neuroscientist at Parma University. When you see the Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s hand of divinity grasping marble, you see the hand as if it were grasping flesh, he said. Experiments show that when you read a novel, you memorize positions of objects from the narrator’s point of view.

Professional athletes and coaches, who often use mental practice and imagery, have long exploited the brain’s mirror properties perhaps without knowing their biological basis, Dr. Iacoboni said.

Observation directly improves muscle performance via mirror neurons. Similarly, millions of fans who watch their favorite sports on television are hooked by mirror neuron activation. In someone who has never played a sport — say tennis — the mirror neurons involved in running, swaying and swinging the arms will be activated, Dr. Iacoboni said.

But in someone who plays tennis, the mirror systems will be highly activated when an overhead smash is observed. Watching a game, that person will be better able to predict what will happen next, he said.

In yet another realm, mirror neurons are powerfully activated by pornography, several scientists said. For example, when a man watches another man have sexual intercourse with a woman, the observer’s mirror neurons spring into action. The vicarious thrill of watching sex, it turns out, is not so vicarious after all.


© Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company


Angels to each other

[In the course of going through old journal files, I came across this from October, 2004, which may be of interest. It looks like I sent it to friends. Can’t remember now who. I could equally well title this entry “God’s hands.” I am well aware of what a blessing friends are in our lives.]


Over the weekend, a reminder of how we are angels to each other.

Last weekend I was scheduled to do the Universal Life Expo in Columbus Ohio, sharing a booth with Books Etc. (an Orrville, Ohio bookstore owned by my friends Charles Sides and Jenny Horner) and, on Saturday, speaking and doing a workshop.

The trouble was, I got sick  the week before, a cold that developed into asthma. It kept getting worse, even at the airport waiting for my flight out. Flew out, and on Saturday gave the talk, gave the workshop, and had a fun supper with Richard and Tara Sutphen (but felt myself getting sicker as the night went on).

Sunday by pre-arrangement I slept late, hit the show about noon, toughed it out through the afternoon. (First time I ever did a trade show sitting down.) Got back to Charles and Jenny’s in Orrville, had kind of a hard night, coughing up phlegm – or trying to – for most of the time. Even sicker Monday morning, but had just one thought in mind: Get back home.

I have been dealing with asthma for more than half a century. It has been a continuing challenge to my self-reliance and independence. Many of my friends think I am far too resistant to getting medical assistance, perhaps not fully realizing what my life looks like from inside. It is often hard to be sure that independence and self-reliance have not passed into pig-headedness, and I have to make the judgment call one incident at a time. When in doubt, I usually have erred on the side of independence, regardless of discomfort.

Monday became decision-time, in a big way.

Charles and Jenny drove me to the airport. I was stopped by security (turned out to be my inhaler causing the beeping) and could scarcely stand unassisted during the wanding. Had to sit and rest before and after putting my shoes back on. It was hard getting to the plane; the few steps down and then up wore me out. The stewardess saw me sitting white-faced and rigid in seat 1A, smiled and asked if I were nervous! All I could gasp out was “asthma.”

It is only a short flight to Pittsburgh but by the time I’d gotten into the terminal, totally breathless, I had to grab a couple of seatbacks, and wait to be able to continue. I had an hour between planes, but didn’t think I could get to the other gate. I flagged a cart and asked for a ride, which represented a first crack in the do-it-yourself-at-all-costs philosophy. Asked if I could pre-board. Second crack. When the plane arrived in Charlottesville, I thought about how far away my car was, and asked the stewardess if they could get me a wheelchair and wheel me there. Third — major — crack in the structure. They did, and as they wheeled me out to the car the guy persuaded me that we should have the guys from Pegasus – a sort of air-rescue unit – check me out. I thought about it and said okay.

The Pegasus guys gave me oxygen and a nebulizer treatment, took blood pressure, pulse, etc., and strongly suggested that I go to the hospital via ambulance. I fought the idea, figuring I could drive home (driving isn’t actually much physical exertion; nowhere near as much as walking, for instance) and then see my doctor. I had just about decided to do that, but then thought that it would be muddle-headed to overrule so much strong advice from so many experienced men — at least half a dozen by then – who were there to help me. And the ambulance was already sitting there. So I gave in, and the rest of the day, and the next day, was a luxury of being cared for by others instead of having to struggle through it by myself.

The entire stay was interesting and I may write about it, but all this is merely leading up to this. There is an old saying that God has no hands to work through but ours. Regardless of your theology, surely you can see that the saying is not only true but obvious. It is never more obvious than when your life is in another person’s hands, which is more often than we usually realize. I watched the functioning of the emergency room for several hours, and what it amounted to was that all these people – doctors, nurses, orderlies, various technical types – are there every day, waiting to help whoever comes in needing help. I woke up early today and put into the form of a cinquain.


No breath.

Resource’s end.

Surrendering control

To these calm strangers, knowing them

God’s hands.


Be well, my friends. I send you my love.


John Anthony West

I learned today that John Anthony West is dying. When I began this blog in March, 2007, he was the subject of only my second post: http://ofmyownknowledge.com/2007/03/13/john-anthony-west/

It is worth re-reading today. Perhaps these few quotations from his amazing book will tempt you to do so.


“In a world of hydrogen bombs, bacteriological warfare and other progressive horrors, it is self-evident that knowledge is dangerous. It is also self-evident that the ancients possessed no technology capable of unleashing such brutal power. However, if we look more closely at the manner in which we are emotionally and psychologically influenced — which in turn makes predictable the manner in which we will react to given situations — we will see that dangerous knowledge lies behind this curious Pythagorean number symbolism.”


“In the cathedrals and sacred art and architecture of the past, we see the knowledge of harmony and proportion employed rightly, provoking in all men who have not had their emotions too permanently crippled or destroyed by modern education a sense of the sacred. It therefore takes no great leap in imagination to conceive of the same knowledge but to an opposite use by the unscrupulous…. This is but one valid reason for keeping certain types of mathematical knowledge secret.”


“But logic and reason will not account for everyday experience: even logicians fall in love.”


“From time immemorial, scholars, philosophers and thinkers have stubbed their brains against the problem of time and space, seldom realizing that the language in which they hoped to solve the problem was itself ordered in such a way as to support the evidence of the senses.”


“When men were less dependent upon their intellects, and in all likelihood had more highly developed intuitional and emotional faculties, they were more susceptible to experiences that transcend time and space, and were able to accept the provisional evidence of the senses at its true value.”

The cow as antidepressant

An interesting find on Facebook, given this morning’s message from Nathaniel.


Steiner on bringing forth what is within us

I continue to be impressed by the level of awareness demonstrated in these Steiner quotations, even though the way he says things doesn’t always immediately resonate with me.

A Moral Duty, not a Selfish Yearning


Chasing Smallwood — .22. We Didn’t Expect the War

Chasing Smallwood

[A book with four interlocking themes:

  • how to communicate with the dead;
  • the life of a 19th-century American;
  • the massive task facing us today, and
  • the physical world’s place in the scheme of things.]

.22. We Didn’t Expect the War

[Saturday, January 28, 2006]

(8:10 p.m.) All right. Set pieces? I can hear a few of them. Gettysburg, Fredericksburg. Shiloh and the west, to Chattanooga? Slow-trot Thomas and Hood? The march to the sea? North Carolina? Or do you have other things in mind?

Other things, mostly. How could I give you a description of battles? You’d die of nerve strain, wondering if the detail would check out. But I can give you other things of value, and I will.

I told you, we didn’t expect the war. We looked at it as a conspiracy – a long-running conspiracy but still, nothing much more than a plot – among the few families that ran southern society. You’ve learned what a jumble Virginian genealogy is, with cross-connection on cross-connection. That’s what the other southern states would have been, only they didn’t stay together long enough. Virginia was 250 years old when the war came, just as Mr. Lincoln said, “the bondsman’s 250 years of unrequited toil.” But Mississippi and Alabama, say, weren’t but 50 years old at the most! Their old and venerable traditions weren’t much older than the generation that saw it crumble – or, say, their parents, anyway. They talk about the Old South and they like to make out that it is the oldest part of the country and the northwest the latecomers. But that’s about as accurate as anything else they said, trying to find any straw anywhere to prop themselves up, and slavery with them.

Just look at the history of it! When we got freedom from England, what of the future confederacy was there? Virginia. The Carolinas. Georgia. Mary land if you want to count it too.

There wasn’t any other Old South! Kentucky was a county of Virginia with a few thousand people. Tennessee, the same in connection with North Carolina. Where were the other states? Florida was Spanish. Mississippi, Alabama, was Indian. Louisiana was French and then Spanish. Arkansas [ARE-Kansas] and Texas were empty and didn’t belong to us anyway. Missouri was Spanish. So where was your old south? I’ll tell you where – it was Virginia, mostly, and Charleston, South Carolina. You find me any more old south, anywhere. North Carolina didn’t have any harbors to amount to anything, so its piedmont country got filled in, by way of Pennsylvania and the Shenandoah Valley, long before the rest of it. Georgia was a howling wilderness, and Maryland was up next to Pennsylvania, which meant it had cross-currents in its society and its economy, that Charleston never did.

That’s why it was so important for these upstarts that they get Virginia! That, and Tredegar Iron Works. But mostly if Virginia had stayed in the union – if it had been a model of a slave-holding state staying loyal, with the prestige that only Virginia had – well, the confederacy’d have fallen in a heap, quicker than Jack Frost. That’s one thing Mr. Lincoln was playing for, I think – trying to find a way to keep Virginia in. If he’d succeeded at that – well, hell, if he’d kept Virginia in, he’d have had Bobby Lee at the head of the army, for one thing! – I don’t think the rebellion would have lasted the year. But if it had stayed in, there’s no way the country could have abolished slavery. It just couldn’t have happened, so maybe it all came out for the best after all. Sure spilled a lot of blood this way, though.

But I was saying, we didn’t expect an actual war. We thought we were going to assemble a very big posse and round up some influential trouble-makers and that would be the end of the military aspect and then it would be a matter of dealing with the political aftermath. In the spring of 1861, I think you could say a lot of us were thinking this was going to be another Shay’s Rebellion. We never dreamed it was going to be – as one of your historians said – our 1848.

That’s why all that “on to Richmond” stuff before Bull Run, and all the suspicion of the army, and the political interferences with it afterwards. We were still thinking, “what’s the hold-up?” as you say. We didn’t see it as a conflict between two armies, but between our army, that we had always known, and this jacked-up comic opera army representing the slave power that had a stranglehold on the south’s politics and its economy. We couldn’t quite picture people that weren’t slave owners fighting for the right of these very same slave owners to continue to run everything the way they pleased, for their own benefit and nobody else’s. We didn’t understand yet what forces we were playing with. We didn’t realize, for one thing, what 50 years of lies had done to people’s ideas about the rest of the country and about what the world thought of slavery, and what the outside world was becoming in the age of steam.

Well, so we had Bull Run and we got whipped, and it was a terrific shock. We – the army! – got whipped by a bunch of rebels! How could that be? Treason within our army? Maybe – God knows we’d seen enough to it, years and years of it bearing fruit all in one bitter winter and spring. But Bull Run wasn’t so bad in the long run. One of the rebs said later that they’d been worse demoralized by the victory than the north was by the defeat, and there’s probably something to that: There ain’t anything concentrates your mind like a good whipping, and nothing makes you more lazy and stupid than a big win that you think is just the natural result of your own superiority. Anyway, we got whipped at Bull Run, but anybody could see, once they got the whole story, that as much as anything it was that our boys were green. So were the rebs, but there wasn’t any Bobby Lee legend to make them especially fearsome, and they hadn’t yet built up their reputation as A1 fighting men. What I’m saying is, we could see we were going to have to build up and do it again, and maybe take it all a little more serious, but what wasn’t clear and didn’t get made clear by Bull Run is that this was going to be a stiff fight and a long one.

Shiloh showed us that.

Up until Shiloh, things was going pretty good in the West. In fact, they weren’t going so bad anywhere if you look just at the facts and not at our own expectations. Kentucky was ours, Mary land was ours, Missouri was mostly ours. They’d all been saved from the wreckage. Grant had been clearing the Tennessee River, and it looked like he’d be down in Mississippi and Alabama before too long. It looked pretty much like the army in Virginia was the main thing we had to worry about. And if we could clear the boards around it, Virginia couldn’t stand alone very long. In a way that’s what finally happened, as you know. We cleared out the Mississippi valley, went down through Georgia and started up at her from the south. But that was a whole mountain of corpses later. In 1861 nobody – nobody, even old far-seeing Sherman – was imagining anything like the number of men were going to get killed over this. Sherman said we’d need 300,000 men to end the rebellion and everybody thought he was crazy. Even he didn’t guess that twice that many men were going to get killed before it was over. And that by the way is what he figured he was doing in Georgia three years later, something you don’t generally understand. He said he was going to give ‘em memories that would stop them from thinking rebellion a good long way into the future.

Grant was proceeding down through Tennessee, moving up the Tennessee River that more or less paralleled the Mississippi but as you know had the advantage of flowing north, so that any gunboats that might get put out of action by gunfire or mechanical accident would drift back behind our own lines, not over to the enemy’s territory. Plus, once he’d got past Forts Henry and Donelson, he had the river pretty well cleared: It wasn’t like the Mississippi where they were going to have to clear out post after post, although as it turned out that was just a matter of time, being as we had a navy and we had the navy men, and the rebels didn’t.

You know the story of Shiloh. Grant was maybe a little overconfident, and maybe the troops weren’t as careful as they should have been. I can’t say; I wasn’t there. But there was a terrific hell of a battle, and if it wasn’t for those cool old boys, Sherman and Grant, we could have lost big. But you know the story of Uncle Billy coming up on Grant that night and saying, “Grant, we’ve had a hell of a time today,” and Grant saying, “Yep. Whip ‘em tomorrow, though.” And sure enough they did – with the help of Don Carlos Buell’s last-minute-Charlie appearance in the middle of the night, coming upriver just in time. My point here though is that Grant himself later said, Shiloh is when he knew we were in for a long fight. Them southern boys just came in like thunder, and they kept coming on all day, and if anybody after that day thought that southerners that didn’t own slaves weren’t liable to fight like the devil anyway, they just weren’t wanting to know. Anybody wanted to know, knew.

Here’s what I’m going to do, Joseph. I’ll find some short history, and study up on the way it went and you can continue without my worrying about is the order of things right, and all.

Wrong way to go about it. It’s bad enough what you already know – though, come to think about it, I suppose it is like my showing you on the map so you could get the lay of the land and have one thing less to worry over. But don’t do more than get the sequence. If you do that, set it down for your possible readers too so we’re all at the same place when I start in again.

Chasing Smallwood — .21. How to work your way backwards

Chasing Smallwood

[A book with four interlocking themes:

  • how to communicate with the dead;
  • the life of a 19th-century American;
  • the massive task facing us today, and
  • the physical world’s place in the scheme of things.]

.21. How to work your way backwards

After a long few weeks exploring various aspects of guidance, I felt ready to return to Joseph, resolved not to let the problems around verification prevent me from receiving the material.

[Saturday, January 28, 2006] 4:10 p.m.

– Joseph, I sure would like to hear your Civil War experiences, and if you will tell me I will listen and won’t try to correct you.

Well, that’s better. You take a lot on when you set out to follow someone else’s story, and don’t think I don’t know it. And for you who hates to be wrong and hates to mislead people, it’s a lot, and I know it.

You liked what I said about old Mr. A Lincoln, but if you stop a bit and think about it, there were plenty of facts within my opinions that might have been as wrong as anything. What we though of him might have anachronisms, you know. So it isn’t like you haven‘t been sailing into the wind all along, just that you didn’t quite see it.

I think it will be easier to tell it out of order and you maybe won’t get so fussed. I can hear you wondering where the story should go, what to make up if I don’t, so to speak! Just relax and let me make up a story.

You remember you had half a memory of living in those half-earth half-timber buildings you were told were called “red-outs” – redoubts? And you recall you got a full sense of the grim year 1864? And you were moved by the Battle of Chickamauga – that you always called Chick-a-MAWG-wa? You know that you were greatly drawn to Sherman and Grant (and Mr. Lincoln, of course) and a few others like old Slow-Trot Thomas? You had lively sympathy with Burnside and Hooker – kind of wished for his sake that Fighting Joe had been killed instead of stunned at Chancellorsville – and nothing but contempt for McClellan? And your mixed feelings for Ben Butler, who wasn’t much as a general but was pretty good as a politician? Don’t you suppose all that meant something? Gettysburg was dammed important, but so was Vicksburg – but you don’t have any more feeling for Vicksburg than 50 other occasions, and for Gettysburg, well, you know.

Do you have any feeling at all for the Indian fighting? For the border ruffian kind of skirmishing? For, say, the little skirmishes in New Mexico or the Indian Territory – Oklahoma? Nothing for the naval battles except a sort of abstract appreciation.

Now reel all this in and what interests you most?

Grant, early on, and Sherman, in the west in the war’s very early days. Not McClellan in West Virginia as it became, and not McClellan organizing the army except, again, as an abstract achievement. Not McDowell or the other innocents of the first part of the war, and not the Peninsular campaign except as occasion to seethe over a lost opportunity! – except you see how it was the will of providence that we not win the war without finally ending slavery.

So – Grant and Sharman in ’61 and early ’62. Then what?

Chancellorsville and Gettysburg in ’63. That is, the east, not the Mississippi Valley. Fredericksburg, but not Sharpsburg (Antietam Creek).

And then the long brutal spring and mostly summer of 1864.

Not all that much interest in the siege and the extension of encampments and fortifications – ever wondered why? Not much interest in the complicated actions in the Mississippi valley – I should say the intricate and frustrating and unglamorous and not very attractive actions – except Grant’s campaign (conceptually) to the east of Vicksburg, his relief of Chattanooga, then Sherman’s chess-match with Johnston and his hammering of Hood, and not the capture of Atlanta but Atlanta to the sea, and then back north. “Uncle Billy seems to have hit this river longways.”

So let’s you and me play a little game here. If I was only at the places interested you – and noplace else – would that draw us a route map, do you think?

Here’s how I make it. Grand and Sherman to Shiloh – though not either of them right off, but more like coming in in the middle of the story, like coming in on the night of the first day at Shiloh.

In the east at least for Fredericksburg which was December ’62, Chancellorsville, May of ’63, Gettysburg July ’63 and some undefined time, then the winter – the hard winter of ’64 and what might have been, maybe should have been, the last year of the war. Maybe almost was. But then no more connection with the east after a time, why is that? Then Franklin and after the capture of Atlanta a joyride through Georgia and the expectation of some hard fighting in South Carolina – which they couldn’t give us, damn them! – and up into North Carolina and the end.

Doesn’t that seem to hang together to you? If you’d do the research to see what units were where, when, you’d be a long way easier in your mind. But if you don’t mind treating all this as fiction we can get the story told anyway. I won’t be able to bring in the level of detail that would convince you – because your level of anxiety makes it sure that I won’t! So we’ll do it round the barn.

Well, that is great and I look forward to it. I can’t do it now – got to get ready to go out to supper – but this does offer promise. And what an interesting approach to it! Start with what is vivid to me and see if it structures itself!

Remember though, life ain’t as tidy as theory. One man, any small unit, could have all sorts of experiences they shouldn’t have got, in theory. Just like Chamberlain said in the book you just read, The Passing of the Armies, you saw how this and that unit wound up fighting with this and that other command in the head of battle. So it happens on a larger scale, too: People wound up here and then there for reasons they sure didn’t know much about!

By the way, you notice how you were very interested in Chamberlain’s description of the days after Appomattox? And you notice in the description of the Grand Review it was the second day – Sherman’s men – that interested you? And you notice your disappointment in Grant over Gouvernor Warren, and your predisposition to be of two minds about Sheridan – kind of a horse’s ass but a great fighter? All that is more clues for you. Fix your attitude and work backwards, figure out for yourself who was likely to have those feelings and why. There’s your key. Hit the gong and see if it rings true. Terrible metaphor, let’s try it again. If you hit it and you hear “clunk” it ain’t bell-metal. Enough for now, go get ready and I’ll see you when you can spare the time next.