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The Common Vein: Anatomy of Structure – Units and Connections

Structure – The First Step

Structure is a material unit or object, composed of smaller parts that are connected and organized so that it can stand alone but also  be part of a larger and more complex whole


The Units That Make the Whole – The Brick and the Brick Principle

The brick is the unit that is the basis of the brick building.


The Brick – An Individual Unit That Needs to Connect In Order to Function and Be Valuable

The brick by itself has no function and no value to the world.  In order to have value it needs to connect with other bricks.  When the brick, a structural unit,  connects with other bricks and they organize, a wall is built. The wall as a structural unit, connects with other walls and they organize to form a room, and eventually a building is built.  Although the brick is nothing by itself – a weak brick can bring the whole wall and the whole building down.


The Power of the Brick

It is Nothing by Itself  

However the Whole is Only as Strong as the Weakest Brick

The Units That Make the Body – The Cell and the Brick Principle

I am like a brick. Amrish Puri

The cell is the unit that is the basis of biology.

cell, cells, liver, process, physiology, function, receive, process, produce, export, principles, nucleus, cytoplasm, cytology, anatomy, art, the common vein, art in anatomy, Ashley Davidoff MD

The cell by itself has no function nor value, unless it is a unicellular organism.  In order to have value it needs to connect with other cells.  When the cell, a structural unit,  connects with other cells and they organize, a tissue is built. The tissue as a structural unit, connects with other tissues and they organize to form an organ, and eventually a body is built.  Although the cell is nothing by itself – a weak cell can bring the tissue and the whole body down.


When the 37.2 trillion cells in the human body connect and organize, they create a spark of life housed in the body and gifted with a mind.

The difference between the brick building and the person is really the life that biology brings.  It is truly a miracle and the secret of how this happens still eludes human endeavour.  This secret may never be unlocked.


Subtract The Bricks From the Cells.  What is the Result?

What is very clear, is that as human biologic units build, the  result is larger and more powerful than the individual parts.  At a critical number a spark of life emerges within the body, and a mind emerges from both of them.  When and how that happens remains a mystery.

Our first project is not to delve into the yet unanswerable “hows” of life, but rather into the “hows” of structure.  Structure is complex, but the pattern of units connecting and organizing is universal and permeates structure from the  subcellular level to the whole body and even beyond into our communities.

Some Quotes About the Brick Principle

 “A great building will never stand if you neglect the small bricks.”

Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha

“Love is like a brick. You can build a house, or you can sink a dead body.” Lady Gaga

Brick and blood built Astapor, and brick and blood her people.”
George R R Martin – A Storm of Swords

14. “Genius too does nothing but learn first how to lay bricks then how to build, and continually seek for material and continually form itself around it.Every activity of man is amazingly complicated, not only that of the genius: but none is a ‘miracle.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

“I fear that in this thing many rich people deceive themselves. They go on accumulating the means but never using them; making bricks, but never building.”
George Eliot

“Faith. Trust. They don’t come naturally, but as we lay those first bricks, we notice that little by little, a foundation is forming. Eventually we can end up building the most beautiful things with faith and trust.”
José N. Harris

Bricks without straw are more easily made than imagination without memories.”
Author: Lord Dunsany

“It takes a thousand bricks to build a wall, but only one to tear it down.”
Markus W. Lunner

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The Common Vein: Clarity in Complexity


The Common Vein (TCV) is a learning process that clarifies the complexities of biology and medicine.


Complexity is the prodigy of the world.

Simplicity is the sensation of the universe.

Behind complexity, there is always simplicity to be revealed.

Inside simplicity, there is always complexity to be discovered

                                                                                                                        Gang Yu

The Common Vein is a tree of knowledge that brings simplicity to the complexity of human biology and medicine.  Its arborized organization enables a stepwise, progressive approach to self learning.  Any student who can read, and who is motivated, will advance through this rich network of material. Most principles begin with a simple word or concept, within which resides encyclopedic complexity.  The root elements of that word can be explained in a sentence, which then progresses in volume and complexity to a paragraph, then a chapter, then a book, and beyond.

Imagine a library with all of its books strewn over the floor.  It would be nearly impossible to navigate the available information. Efficient organization of information is the key to understanding it. This concept holds true in any field of education.

Organizing Information


From a Background of Complexity to an Organized Simplicity 

The above art-piece shows a background of extensive, pixellated, and seemingly inaccessible information. As it organizes into the central, conical figure, it begins to make sense. The word at the bottom of the cone becomes defined into its key elements (the 5 different colors of the circle).  A definition follows, which succinctly describes the essence of those principles. These elements advance to greater complexity at the next level: the paragraph.  Each elemental principle is further expanded in a chapter.  The ladder of organized information progresses, while remaining connected to its source. Roots and branches, origins and growth, are recurring themes in The Common Vein.

As we learn, we acquire new knowledge. At the same time, we modify and enhance preexisting knowledge. Education should therefore be viewed as a process, rather than a collection of facts (Learning Wikipedia). TCV’s cumulative approach reinforces previous knowledge as it advances existing knowledge. With the understanding that memory and its application are so key to the learning process, TCV encourages beginning with the roots (basics) and building to the branches (details) in a logical fashion.

The Tree of Knowledge

Below is a diagram of knowledge in its bare form. From the central trunk extends an arborising framework, from roots to branches, which represents advancement, or growth.


Roots and Branches: Sources and Growth


Roots and Branches: Sources and Growth – Advancing Complexity

The trunk reflects a single idea or concept (tree), which is part of a continuum belonging to something beyond it (branches) and something before it (roots).  The tree’s roots and branches again exemplify the concept of building upon previous knowledge.  The trunk’s extensions, in the form of roots and branches, are complex yet logical in their organization. A tree’s growth is multifaceted, yet progressive. The parts work together for the sake of the single element: the tree. In the tree, complexity and simplicity coexist.


A distinct focus on principles, especially as a starting point, provides a useful framework for learning. The Common Vein’s is founded upon principles that grow in complexity, which helps the student navigate the daunting mass of biological and medical information.

Principles of Human Biology

The image below diagrams human biology in its basic parts:


This diagram of human biology is structurally identical to the diagram above. This diagram shows that the roots of human biology lie in both the structural and functional sciences. Combined, those two sciences enable the miracles of the working body and working mind. This simple diagram captures the entirety of human biology. Beyond these base elements lies magical complexity, which we can never fully grasp.

Principles of Medicine

This diagram, again identical in structure to the two above, explains that the roots of human disease originate in the disorder of the structural and functional sciences. The branches of diagnosis and treatment have evolved in response to the need for order and health of the body and mind.


This tree illustrates The Common Vein’s central theme. Each biological part has both a structure and a function.  When they are in order and work cohesively, there is health.  With disorder, conversely, comes disease. The field of medicine attempts to bring order using two major disciplines: diagnosis and treatment.

Because roots and branches remain connected, a change in one element means a consequence in the others. The disciplines of diagnosis and treatment are founded upon the ability to identify and treat disordered structure and function. For example, an obstructed coronary artery causes a heart attack.  The clot in the artery causes a structural problem, with a the functional consequence (damaged heart muscle).   Coronary arteriography diagnoses the structural abnormality, and a cardiac echocardiogram diagnoses the functional consequence (decreased muscle contraction).  The treatment aims to reverse the structural abnormality by dissolving the clot, as it also aims to reverse the functional abnormality.

The Common Vein

The Common Vein finds clarity in complexity. It navigates the learner through complex information in order to understand, remember, and apply the knowledge.  Two major elements are used:

  1. Basic principles, which are connected and advanced through
  2. An arborised organization.

The “common” in the common vein refers to basic principles, while the “vein” represents the arborised connections creating a tree of knowledge.

Learning starts from the most basic element, and with careful progression, advances in detail.  Learning evolves over time, as it builds upon and enhances previous knowledge. The tree’s roots of knowledge reflect the learner’s existing knowledge. They are connected to the branches, which symbolize the paths of growth.

The Common Vein requires requires the ability to read, and passion for the subject material. With those, the whole field of biology and medicine opens up, and eventually, students learn to apply this network of knowledge as thoughtful thinkers and practitioners.

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Anatomy of the Hands in December

Anatomy of the Hands in Black and White of December

The hands have a story to tell of December! Here in the Northern hemisphere, winter has started to set in and it brings a sense of doom, darkness, and cold.

In its naked form, the doom translates into two opposing colors in their extreme: black and white. Nights are long and days are frequently adorned with the white of snow.  The vista is bleak.


“Colors of Winter” 

is a minimalist portrayal of the season.  The black reflects the long dark nights and the white reflects the snow.  Artistic portrayal of the season is in its most basic form.  Black has many attributes, and in this context, reflects loneliness, quiet, mystery, but also intimidation.  The absence of light prevents us from seeing things, and the inability to see things makes us nervous.  At its most extreme it reflects death.  On the other hand, black is a color of authority and power.  Night is the end of the day, but as soon as light appears, a new day awakens.  White also has many characteristics and is the confluence of all color, resulting in no color at all.  At its best it signifies purity.  On a cold winter morning after a snowfall there is a white silence as if the world is asleep.  


winter, black, white, night, snow, time,

“Reality of Black and White in Winter” 

Spring colors are long gone.  The greens of summer and the yellows of fall have disappeared. Skeletons of the large deciduous trees stand naked in the cold.

We have lived with the bleak and cold winters for centuries.  As a result, we have devised ways to counter this barren vista. Using our heads and hands, we have learned to bring light, color, and warmth to December.

Festivals of light have been created through both ancient and modern cultures including  Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Bodhi day, Malh festival, Mōdraniht, Saturnalia, Sol Invictus, Yule, Yolda, Sadeh, and Chahar Shanbeh Suri.  Universal among these cultural celebrations is the need to bring joy, warmth, and light to offset the dark’s gloom.

Hands play a large part in the December season.  In a literal sense, they reach out to friends and family, light candles and fires, and extend uplifting gestures by providing food, gifts, and hugs.  In a spiritual way, they extend in hope and prayer.

This post tells the story of the hands in December in symbolic and abstract ways by combining photography, radiology, and painting.

In this extreme rendering of the middle of a cold winter night, the heavens are black and the earth is white with snow.  Only the stars of the heaven provide glimpses of warmth and light.

hands, bones, cold night, tree, X-ray, winter

Cold Hands Looking for Light and Warmth 

shows x-rays of cold, skeletal hands in the adverse conditions of freezing winter among naked branches, in a field of snow. The nighttime scene with a full moon adds a mysterious and eerie ambience.  The art piece expresses a desperation of a group of people when they are suffering and searching for light and warmth.  The open hands are chilled to the bone, pleading for special empathy.  The moon provides neither warmth nor light, but offers a glimmer of hope, however small.  The X-rays are used to strip the flesh down to the bones and the common suffering of a community is rendered real and deeply palpable.  This piece has a surreal character, since the x-rays are taken out of context and placed into snow white fields.  The hands have been brought together to look like a tree.

The limited warmth and light provided by the moon is temporary. Since the cycle of time brings a new day and new vista, there is an honored promise for a new beginning, accompanied by the sun which is brighter and warmer than the moon.

hands, hand, bones, phalanges, X-ray. radiology, winter, cold, sunrise, sun, warmth

Cold Hands – Warmth and Light with Tincture of Time  

shows x-rays of the skeleton of hands warmed by the light and heat of sunrise. The hands greet the sun with open arms. In this early morning scene, the whole tree of hands lays open like a flower to the newfound warmth.  The piece expresses relief after an arduous night, and a promise by the light of the moon of better things to come. 

winter, snow, cold, trees, hands, bones, xrays

Giving Hands in the Snow” 

shows x-rays of hands in the adverse conditions of the cold winter among naked branches of the trees, in a field of snow.  With the warmth of the sun, the hands are bold enough to face the winter. The foreground (recent past) is shaded and dark while the future is bright, light, and blue. The hands are chilled to the bone but their upward and upright position reflect strength, a “high 5”, a wave, or a handshake.  As the hands assume boldness, light emerges and projects into the future.

During the cold month of December hands also reach out to others.

hands, charity, bones, light, candle, charity, giving, receiving

You Get What You Give 

shows hands that give and receive.  This gesture relates to moral justice. There is a balance in our actions.  This balance is not always evident nor provided in material currency.  The teacher receives this satisfaction from a look in the eye of a student who suddenly understands. The policeman or fireman receives the same grateful look that words cannot replace. It is given and received in love and compassion and is the essence of bonding. This feeling occurs between both people and animals.  The art piece shows “giving” hands and “receiving” hands.  The receiving hands are tipped to both receive and to give in the continuing cycle.  The X-rays are used to strip the flesh down to the bones and make the charity tangible.  The candle is the light and warmth that results from the the interaction of giving and receiving.  The message is particularly poignant in the winter season when we are driven indoors in dark, cold and often lonely days.  We need the light and the bonds to help us survive the dark days.

Festivals of light including Chanukah and Christmas are festivals when light and human bonds are needed and are abundant.


hands, light, warmth, candles, lighting, Chanukah

“Hand Lighting Chanukah Candles” 

shows a hand warmed by the light and heat created with the lighting of the Chanukah candles. The nighttime scene adds an ambience of spirituality.  The art piece expresses hope of enlightenment for the world.  In the candle lighting ritual, the primary candle is called the Shamash and it is lit first, and is then used to light the others starting from left to right.  Shamash was also the Sun God in Mesopotamiathe god of justice in Babylonia and Assyria and shemesh means sun in Hebrew.  All of these historical associations involve the casting of light and warmth, both physical and spiritual.  The candles are based in a simple chanukiah of stone and clay.


hand, hands, Christmas, Jesus Christ, nativity, Mary, moon, star, birth, body language

“Birth of Jesus – Welcoming Hands ” 

Christmas is the season of welcoming the birth of Jesus Christ to the world.  As the progenitor of the Christian faith he brought and continues to bring tolerance, compassion, and respect for life to the world.  Artistic portrayal of the event shows welcoming hands of the future Christian world.  Darkness for many was illuminated by the event. In this art piece, the bright moon (almost as bright as any sun) lights up the black of the night.  The star of Bethlehem has a mysterious and unique blue hue directing the 3 kings or wise men to the event.  Black and white are used liberally in this work.  Though opposites in many ways, they also compliment and need each other to reflect the contrast of moods.  

Acknowledgement:  The central component of “Birth of Jesus – Welcoming Hands” depicting Jesus and Mary was adapted from the public domain work of  Gerard van Honthorst  (1592-1656) entitled “Adoration of the Shepherds.”


Diverse Hands of Spirituality

shows hands progressing to a bonding position in prayer and contemplation.  At the pinnacle, a light is created and reflects on the water.  X-rays are used to project a feeling that goes deep into the bones.  The colors express our outside differences, but we are all made of the same flesh and bones.  A triangle with the apex reflects a direction and an upward focus to a heightened physical and spiritual  position.  This art piece is created for Christmas 2015 with a hope of mutual respect among all faiths.

During this season there should be time for contemplation.

hands, bones, fire, X-ray, warmth, winter

“Cold Hands Warmed by Fireside Chat” 

shows x-rays of skeletal hands warmed by the light and heat of the fire. This piece expresses relief after a trudge through the cold snowy night to find light and warmth.  The hands hold the warm fire at a distance but seem tender in the way they cherish the comfort and the fire, freeing the body from physical discomfort and allowing time for introspection.

And as a world … what do we see?

The  year of 2015 has turned humanity on its head, particularly concerning is the rise of extreme Muslim ideologies in which belief and faith are placed above human life.  The rise of antisemitism is palpable.  The immorality of double standards where political and economical bias reigns above the truth is shameful.

The next art piece is an appeal to our leaders to talk and put life and truth above all.



Bones of Many Hands Speaking to Each Other

“How can we hold each other rather than kill each other?”
they asked.
“We all seem to be made of the same stuff” they said as they looked inside themselves.

The AiA rendering is a collection of the diagnostic X-rays of many hands of people of various ages, in various positions of giving and taking and in health and disease.  The hand with the watch epitomizes the concept of time.  Cultural aspects are also suggested.  The hand with a wedding band provides a sense of trust and faith and the hand with the Claddagh ring represents love loyalty and friendship. The hands are oriented to give the sense that they are communicating with each other.

Since December also brings in the New Year, it is time to try and make changes for a brighter 2016.  We cannot predict, but we can hope:

hand, hands, hope, peace, body language,

“Hands of Hope for a Better New Year” 

shows hands held together with hope, warmed by the dim light and heat of the moonlight.  2015 was not an easy year and created a heavy heart for many who witnessed and experienced senseless killing. The nighttime scene lends a sense of spirituality but also of uncertainty.  The piece above shows hands scarred by the year’s events.  They are held not in prayer but in a gentle pose that reflects hope for the New Year of 2016. We hope that sanity and not hatred rules.  We pray for leadership that is free from double standards, and that is committed to common decency.

Hope is passive; the initiation of action should be a simple first step. The honest handshake between trusting partners is the least we should expect.

 hands, handshake, trust, bond

The Handshake

Let us agree that the right to live is above all other rights!

“In joined hands there is still some token of hope, in the clinched fist none.”
― Victor Hugo, The Toilers of the Sea

“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”
― Indira Gandhi