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The neurology of inaction - Greg Gelpi

A sharp succession of freeze-frame images.

Mundane highway pavement mixes into a gray blurry haze as we dash along, Dave Matthews' little red and black ants marching.

Without even a blink, an SUV topples forward, smoke envelopes the roadway and the scurrying traffic creeps to a crawl.

Just as quickly in another instant, another frame, myriad strangers, befriended by fate's forces, abandon cars along the shoulder, streaming toward the accident.

With nothing in common until that moment, the bond of the sudden impulse to help a stranger sent them into action without a thought.

The day prior, I trudged down the road, the heavy heat coating the area. Hunkered down in my compact car, the vents pump chilled air into my vacuum, safe from the world outside.

Waddling behind the unwieldy shape and size of an overshadowing poster, a woman peddled air-conditioned goods stacked neatly inside as she walked along an un-air-conditioned street.

Weary from the heat and her face revealing obvious signs of physical and mental exhaustion, she paced along the road, earning her wage.

As my mind pondered how nice it would be to ease her labors with an ice-cold bottle of water I found myself blocks past her as she shrank in my rearview mirror.

The same, but not the same. The same biological chemicals and electric relays firing in their brains fire off in my brain, yet the results aren't the same.

Neurology, how that gushy gray matter in the noggin actually works, has always fascinated me.

What makes one person act, while another only thinks about acting?

Delving into the inner workings of the brain, though, I venture to guess won't provide a glimpse into the workings of the human mind.

Something, more likely than not, an intangible something, is beyond mere science.

The thoughts circle and swirl through my head as I pass up another opportunity to act.

I've lived a thousand lifetimes in my head and not a day in the real world. The one thing I regret most is my continual string of regrets.

When it comes down to it, I think people are generally good people. What's the stuff, the matter, the whatever that drives and compels one person to do one thing and another person to do another thing?

Neurological receptors and too much of this chemical and not enough of that chemical may explain knee-jerk reactions to pain and how the brain tells muscles to act, but what tells the body when to act? Some actions and the such can be reduced to mere animal reflexes, but what about the more deliberate intentional actions of when to help and when not to help?

Breaking the chain of ants marching, a select few travel outside the line, break the chain of mundane marching without thinking, marching without straying from the path of the ones in front of them.

I'm in desperate need of a neurosurgeon to demystify the ins and outs, the whys and why nots of not only actions, but also inactions.

Or, maybe my brain is just a little out of whack.

Greg Gelpi covers education for the News Daily. He can be reached at ggelpi@news-daily.com or (770) 478-5753 Ext. 247.