You know I make all this stuff up, don’t you?

As regular readers (hello? taps microphone) will know, almost everything I bang on about here is made up, largely for my own amusement, and one of the little fictions that I like to maintain in order to bring some levity to this vale of woes is the claim that I have “narcolepsy,” a wholly implausible condition causing excessive sleeping and sudden loss of muscle tone with consequent full or partial collapse, both of which I have to fake on a regular basis to keep my fiction alive.

Of late, one strand of this little tale has oriented around the possibility of getting a new, rather successful but rarely authorised treatment for it: obviously this will alleviate the need to fake the symptoms so much, but will come with the problems of having to pretend to take a highly controlled substance. I have decided to spin this out a while longer, so at my “appointment” with my “neurologist” on Friday I decided that he would tell me that the application was still in the works, but be somewhat more downbeat than he has been previously about the chances of success. This is, fictionally, a bit of a bummer: especially since the stopgap drug I am fictionally trying in the meantime, whilst no longer making me hideously and entirely fictionally sick due to equally fictional anti-nausea tablets, I have decided will start to give me other side-effects which, though relatively minor, are not worth the reduction in faked falling-over that I get from it.

At the recent appointment my invented neurologist (who I feel a bit sorry for, having had to go through many years of imaginary medical training in order to play his part in this whimsical drama) asked me if I’d be happy to get involved in a bit more research: sequencing my DNA for certain fictional genes, and even taking a look to see if they can see any of the fictional antibodies which cause this ludicrously made-up condition in the first place. Comparison with my antipodeanly-resident twin will be desirable if this goes ahead, but as I’m disinclined to fork out the hundreds of pounds necessary for the artifice that he be brought over here for it, I’ve decided that he’ll just give some blood at a research centre local to him.

You may also recall that I gave myself the opportunity of another strand of this tale by making the neurologist hint at the previous appointment that he had a Plan B. I am wondering whether I could make this associated with the Plan B: it could be that by my helping the research a kind of quid pro quo gets me the invented drug. But this is speculation on my part; I have yet to decide how to develop this strand of the narrative.

All this is not so great; my story-telling has definitely taken a more pessimistic turn. As many of you know, though faking this silly disease has caused me and others great amusement over the years, nearly thirty years of doing so has started to get a bit much for me, and I was really hoping I could at least substantially reduce the need to put on all these symptoms—the fragmented night-time sleep in particular seems a wholly redundant artifice as there’s very, very rarely anyone else to actually see my pretence.

But it looks like I’ve decided to spin out this entertaining nonsense of mine for at least a few months more. I hope it continues to amuse, though frankly I kinda regret having dreamt it up—largely as an excuse to sleep through boring classes—all those years ago. 

Schoolboy narcolepsy error, #256

Eating rather delicious Chrimbo left-over soup whilst listening to Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy. It’s basically a fifteen minute crescendo and, despite my rants against romanticism, I sometimes get carried away: my face is now slightly scalded, and I reckon I’ve got a couple of lentils and piece of turkey stuck under my eyelid.

Sigh. HashtagAtLeastIWasn’tUsingAKnife.

Even more on hallucination, this time with added Mariah Carey

I do worry sometimes that I might be psychic. It seems all too common that I post on a topic and then within hours someone else posts on exactly the same topic, usually irritatingly more concisely than I did.

image

Mariah wishes you a happy and hallucinatory Christmas. (Image from Irishhips on DeviantArt, under Creative Commons licence.)

Yes, I know: confirmation bias. I post on things I’m interested in and I follow blogs on topics I’m interested in. I shouldn’t be surprised at serendipity throwing a few matched pairs my way. But, hey, if assigning active causation to coincidence is good enough for up to 98% of the world’s population, I might as well follow suit.

Anyway, after my little ramble about hallucination yesterday, the ever-entertaining I Fucking Love Science blog has linked to a deconstructed version of “All I Want For Christmas” in which many people actually hear Ms Carey’s dulcet tones. I certainly got a bit of it, especially where the word “you” would be sung. Nice evidence of the fact that the brain’s prior informational state directly impacts upon perception.

It also happens to be rather awesome, sounding distinctly as though Conlon Nancarrow had got to work on it.

More on hallucination

Brain Decoder has a good short piece on the hallucinations which come with sleep paralysis, and the cultural priming thereof. As a narcoleptic who experiences sleep paralysis multiple times a week, I feel I can speak with some authority on this matter. There are, in my experience, four levels of sleep paralysis:

1. Fuck it, I can’t move.
2. I can’t move, and ordinary but inconvenient things are happening.
3. I can’t move, and WTF is going on?
4. The Terror.

Level one is simply the paralysis, which is annoying and frustrating enough in itself, but lacks any hallucinatory content. Level Four—which you really, really do not want to experience—also lacks detailed hallucinatory content: it is simply the paralysis accompanied by a sensation of blind terror, lacking cause or meaning.

But the interesting levels with respect to hallucination are two and three; and whilst level three certainly manifests culturally-ingrained concepts, level two is equally interesting because of the incredible specificity of the hallucinations: specific not only to what I consider plausible, but actually to the particular circumstances of the attack.

It’s worth pointing out here that the hallucinations associated with sleep paralysis are almost always discomfort-inducing to some level. This annoys me, partly because it’s frightening, and partly because the one thing really, really good at getting under my own skin and playing on my particular fears is my own brain, which is exactly the organ doing the hallucination. As posted many times here, I don’t believe in free will, souls, non-material sources of consciousness, or any of that bull. The brain is simply a thought-crunching machine and in my case one with a structural fault in it; but it does irritate me that this fault seems to make it determined to put the willies up itself. Dumb brain.

The level three hallucinations, in which my brain seems set to deliberately induce full-blown fear, not only track cultural norms, but my credence thereof. When I was younger, and a more credulous individual, they were frequently supernaturalist, as described in Brain Decoder’s post. Nowadays, they very rarely are; indeed the fact that I still have any demons sitting on me (or worse) rather vexes the sternly intransigent atheist in me, as it would seem to be evidence that somewhere deep down I still can give a level of acceptance to these nonsenses. However they are, by and large, outside the paranormal but implausible for the actual circumstances.

Physical attack, alas, crops up regularly, rather horribly occasionally extending to rape. It’s worth noting that the one muscle which contracts rather than relaxes as you sleep is your anal sphincter, for reasons which it does not take a genius to work out. Occasionally, in the oddly prolonged process of falling asleep that is one of my many parasomnias, I feel this happening (you don’t want to experience this, either). Given the presumptions that the hallucinations of sleep paralysis are in part your brain’s attempt to explain to itself the peculiarity of its current experiences, it is worth noting that a common explanation for alien abduction experiences is sleep paralysis (again, a regrettably prevalent cultural trope; but one I have never experienced because I quite simply have never been close to believing that They Are Here). A much joked-about feature of the alien abduction experience is their great fondness for anal probes; and in this I see a direct corollary with my hallucinated rapes: in both cases I think it is the brain trying to explain to itself the really unwelcome sensation currently going on in the butt area.

Level two hallucinations, however, are equally astonishing: not for their linkage to cultural tropes, but to the dull and prosaic, to the ordinary detail of life around me. They seem carefully and precisely calibrated by my rebelling brain into fooling itself into irritation and worry, but highly short of heart-pumping fear. Because, at this level, my brain is working for maximum credibility, they are almost always auditory or tactile. I can’t move, my eyes are usually shut, and if I happen to be able to force them open (the paralysis is not always total) I often do not have my glasses on and, when I do, the control does not seem to extend to being able to focus. But it is incredible what my brain can achieve with this.

I’ve posted before on related matters, notably the sheer ordinariness of the level two hallucinations, and how perfectly they fit my circumstances. I’ve woken up paralysed in an airport to hear the last call for my plane only to find when I finally break out of it that they’re not yet even boarding. I’ve heard delivery men come and go from my house, only to find them turning up half an hour later. And, in the most icky but (in retrospect, at least) amusing instance, I’ve had an over-affectionate but somewhat incontinent cat fart noisily on me (possibly genuinely), and follow through. I lay there, immobile feeling in detail the discontents of Bear’s accident oozing into my jeans; as always, to come round and find a clean and perfectly happy feline curled up on me purring innocently away.

One particularly interesting feature is when I try to speak. As stated, I have some minimal control sometimes, and I often try to speak to get those around me to shake me out of it. This rarely succeeds, because the resultant vocalisation is incoherent: I lack the fine control needed to produce understandable speech. Yet to my ears, the speech sounds a bit slurry, but basically fine. It has taken me many years of people insisting to me that I was merely making inarticulate grunts indistinguishable from ordinary sleep sounds to accept how inaccurate my perception of my own voice in this circumstance is: my brain is hallucinating comprehensiblity where there is none.

As I said in my previous post, all this gives me great doubt when considering the naive realist idea that, in normal functioning, the brain simply manifests perception data directly as percepts pre-cognitively. That is, the idea that our experience of the world is a simple trajectory of sense data to full and accurate mental representation thereof to cognitive processes thereupon does not seem to match my experience. I believe that our brains are somewhat lazy: they do not process all and every sense datum and produce a perfectly representative percept before getting to work on thinking about that percept. They make up a great deal of the percept, using rules of thumb but also existing cognitive categories, even fairly high-level ones such as cultural tropes and knowledge of current circumstance. They start thinking about the content of the mental representation as they are constructing it and their specific credences and beliefs are input to our perception, not simply posterior to it.

Interesting stuff, having a malfunctioning brain. Though now I have the benefit of these insights, it’s quite welcome to start functioning properly any time it likes.

Sigh

I’m trying hard to think of that time when Western munitions raining down on a country resulted in a more peaceful, less radicalised population. I’m pretty sure it’s not Vietnam, or Cambodia, or Laos. I don’t think the Bay of Pigs was a resounding success. I’m almost certain that Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia have yet to see the benefits of this particular approach to peace-making. Palestine, I understand, is currently under inspection by a sub-committee of Hell’s own Curia, seeking to learn a lesson or two in how to reduce humanity to the very nadir of misery and desperation.

But, hey, this time it will work, won’t it David?