“Not all who wander are lost.”
In an age of certitude and moral high ground, our society ironically rests its haunches on platitudes among pedestals and simultaneously manages to embrace its collective and individual limitations as a cherished fact of life.
Amid the noise and haste, I have spent my existence trying to find out what life looks like on the other side of the status quo and the static archetype that society sentences and labels its people with due to its own short-sightedness. Unintentionally, this has landed me among the rebels, the misfit toys, the outlaws, and completely at ease with the characters within, but without, a crowd.
It is this relentless, involuntary urge to find out what it means to be alive that my childhood sweetheart and I packed our bags in our early twenties and sought the seeker’s life — and in doing so, ended up in Amsterdam for a short while, overcoming adversity with electricity.
(You can read more about that here.)
Much like many who came before us, we found exactly what we didn’t know we were looking for and everything we could have never begun to dream of when we set out on the path all those years ago — and continue to find ourselves with as many new questions as the answers we’ve found.
As it has a tendency of doing, on those travels, life has taken her moments to humble us — and in doing so, has given us space to wonder aloud below the stars.
On those treasured nights in our chairs under the Milky Way, our talks have taught me that in this one life we get, we all have the ability to recognize that there is more than one way to interpret the solution to a problem, to discover that our initial response or opinion can evolve, to entertain another’s thoughts or opinions without need for munitions, and when necessary, to fight valiantly only for what sets fire to our souls.
I call these sentiments Ambiguous Afterthoughts.
When Abraham Lincoln first ran for office at the age of 23, during his campaign, he promised his audiences that if any of his opinions turned out to be wrong, he was “ready to renounce them.” As Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in her book, Leadership in Turbulent Times, this became a quality that would remain with him and define his leadership style throughout the rest of his life: “A willingness to acknowledge errors and learn from his mistakes.”
This is something lacking in not only our political atmosphere today, but also within us. It is now seen as a sign of weakness to alter a previously held view, as well as to show decency to those holding an opposing one.
Before moving ahead, it is important that we make a distinction between an idea and a fact.
Ideas are a matter of our ability to perceive them; they are ambiguous and malleable. They aren’t always measured with tools, formulas, or calculations — though sometimes, they can be. Generally, they are pure, philosophical, debatable entities that can be fleeting or everlasting.
When presented with new facts, ideas can change.
If I told you that the sky is blue, that would only be an idea. It is my perception that the sky is blue, and it is my perception because that is only what my eyes are able to see. You see, the sky is actually violet. When the light from the sun enters our atmosphere, the rays hit nitrogen and oxygen molecules, and when that happens, the light scatters. Some of the light wavelengths are long and some are short; violet is the shortest, and blue is the second shortest.
Our eyes perceive blue more than they do violet because of the cones in our eyes. Humans have one rod and three single cones, which affect our perception of color.
Turkeys, on the other hand, have one rod, four single cones, and two double cones. They can see a broader spectrum of colors and even UVA light.
So what color is the sky? Well, it depends on who’s looking.
I didn’t know any of this until one night under the stars, when my husband, the connoisseur of natural sciences, explained it to me when I said that a person I know would find a way to argue with me about the sky being blue. He laughed and said, “Well, then they’d be right — it’s not blue. It’s actually violet.”
Facts are measurable and founded in evidence. Ideas can sometimes become facts, but only through rigorous study and evaluation of collected evidence — and sometimes, those ideas not only can become a fact, but a theory. The true meaning of a “theory” is something that began as a hypothesis (an idea), was tested rigorously using the scientific method, and was validated with evidence.
Think the “Theory of Evolution,” the “Theory of Plate Tectonics,” the “Theory of Special Relativity” — or the latter general relativity (both Einstein) — or “Quantum Theory” — among others. (Or my personal favorite — “The Cytokine Theory of Disease” — shout out to the one and only KJT!).👊
These are all scientific theories that were rigorously tested, measured, and evaluated.
(And — facts can change when presented with new facts that alter the previous know-ables. I know, isn’t that annoying sometimes?)
Theories aren’t just something we think about and can therefore label a “theory” — that would just qualify as a “thought.”
And thoughts — ideas — are also a pretty great thing to be. But when the general population decides that their thoughts are valid theories, we have a serious problem (and a bipartisan one, at that).
Here are three facts and an idea. The sky is violet. Atoms are the building blocks of existence. The earth is 4.543 billion years old. And Bruce Springsteen is the best thing that ever happened to it.
In a free society, the civil exchange of ideas and the grappling of facts are necessary for us to continue to build, as our founders sought, a more perfect union.
In this age of turbulence, we must do the work ourselves to see our way through. Our leaders don’t have a magic wand to fix society’s ills — or to rid the world of everyone you disagree with (and why would you want to do that anyway?) — it is the culture that must create change. Our leaders and government — and what it spends our tax dollars on — are a direct result of who we are as a people, what we value, and how we choose to interact with each other in order to accomplish what it is that our common principles seek.
Because that is so, I find it more necessary than ever to revisit our ambiguities in order to allow ourselves to, once again, be humbled by the unknowns and the newly-known, and count upon those common principles that unite us beyond any of our tribal divides, and that is, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, JRR Tolkein wrote, “Not all who wander are lost.” The word vagus is Latin for wandering, and the vagus nerve is known as the wandering nerve because it wanders throughout the body to all of the major organs — which works out perfectly, because it turns out I’m a bit of a wanderer myself.
In this Substack, my essays will examine everything from the literary muses who inspire me, the world events of our era, the necessity of art to forge meaning in life, and of course — the science of bioelectronic medicine, its impact on changing the paradigm of healthcare and economy, and the crucial role of patient advocacy to accelerate its progress — and everything in-between.
The topics will be vast — ahem, wandering, you could say.
I am not defined by one facet of existence, nor are any of you — so why pretend to be?
Feel free to enjoy, or don’t, but how sad would it be to go through your entire life and not know how many different ways there are to look at the sky?
This newsletter is free to all, but if you are inclined to subscribe for $5/month, you will kindly make it possible for me to focus more on this endeavor. Think of it as a tip jar. If you can swing it, it is appreciated. If not, it’s so good to see you, and I am so glad you are here.
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
To read my memoir ‘The Road to Vagus,’ click here.
To read more about the research of bioelectronic medicine and my clinical trial experience, click here.
STAY TUNED: Wandering Nerve Radio podcast coming soon.
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For all vagus nerve stimulation clinical trials currently available, click here.