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.

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.

Brown, S. & Brown, G. (2015) A preliminary investigation into the gustatory pleasures of the “Tim‎‑‎Tam Slam”

Abstract

Anecdotal data suggest that the “Tim-Tam Slam,” a novel consumption method combining confection and heated beverages originating in the southern hemisphere, may be efficacious in bringing about a positive sensory response. Tests were conducted and recorded to assess these anecdotal claims.

Subjects

Subjects (n = 2) were matched for age (40;0), height (169±0.5cm), and DNA overlap (100%). Subjects originated from the northern hemisphere; one had been tranposed to the Tim-Tam’s native environment for a preliminary period of six months, and was undergoing habituation. The latter was transposed to the field specifically for the purposes of this experiment.

Materials

The materials used were:

  1. two Tim-Tam biscuits (variety: original); and
  2. a freshly-made cup of tea (variety: English Breakfast).

Some preliminary notes upon materials are required.

Tim-Tams

Tim-Tams are a biscuit confection originating in the southern hemisphere, though closely related to the northern hemisphere product Penguins. Both comprise a binary biscuitty structure (BBS), with the separate sections conjoined via a gooey inner bit (GIB). The gooey–biscuitty core is then entirely encased in a caramel exoskeleton.

Subjects independently assessed Tim-Tams prior to the experiment. They were found to compare favourably with their northern hemisphere relative, with the following noticeable differences:

  1. the Tim-Tam was observed to possess a pleasanter crunch in the BBS;
  2. the Tim-Tam additionally presented a higher caramelly quotient (CQ) than the Penguin, rendering initial appreciation higher, though leading to potential sickliness upon repeated consumption; and
  3. the Tim-Tam packaging was noted to be absent in euphonic verbal humour.

Tea

Tea is a hot infusion comprising “the taste of dried leaves in boiled water […] with milk squirted out of a cow” (Adams, 1980).

Subjects, though of English heritage, were correctly disposed to consider tea to be the very piss of the Devil.

Method

The method of performing the Tim-Tam Slam is widely attested in the grey literature. Opposing corners are exscinded from the exoskeletal portion to expose a small amount of the GIB. The subject places one amputated corner within the beverage and uses the Tim-Tam in the manner of a straw, drawing fluid up through the GIB until it is felt to enter the oral cavity. At this point, the subject withdraws the Tim-Tam, inverts it, and ingests it.

Results

Discussion

Subject 1 clearly demonstrated a conventional, though extreme, adverse response to the process. Subject reported that “It just takes like tea. Warm, mushy tea.”

Subject 2 demonstrated an equally adverse response, though somewhat less conventional as his neurons freaked the fuck out and put him into a state referred to in less rigorous literature than this as “cataplexy.” Whilst the cataplectic response may be triggered by pleasure, in this instance subject reported the trigger to be “mingingness.”

At this stage, both participants exercised their right to withdraw from the trial.

Mid-life carousal

mid-life carousal (phr.) the substitution of shameless hedonism for existential panic, occurring roughly at the forty-year mark.

I entered my fifth decade a couple of days ago, and this is traditionally considered a period during which I should be purchasing a fast car, leaving my wife, or undertaking an unnecessarily strenuous and counterproductive gym regime. Lacking a driving licence or spouse, and already spending far too much of my gym time dicking around with the weights when I should be burning calories, I would not be able to manifest the usual symptoms of mid-life crisisery were I thus inclined, but I find that I do not have these urges anyway. The inevitability of nothingness and consequent futility of all life notwithstanding, I am largely of a cheerful and optimistic disposition, and I see the trivial fact that we live with a base-ten counting system as a poor justification for existential panic. So forty has been an excuse for a party, and little more.

As the particular combination of nucleotides that first came into existence forty years and nine months ago‎—‎and with any luck will continue replicating themselves for another forty years or so‎—‎rather unusually produced two independent organisms, I came over to Australia, where the other half of my DNA’s biomass is busily self-replicating, with the express and simple purpose of enjoyably poisoning a few million of the rather more sophisticatedly-specialized of its replicatory protein factories.[1]

That is, we drank an awful lot of Grenache.

Did we take stock of our lives, compare our achievements and failures, evaluate our aspirations, and make plans for the future?

No, we drank some more Grenache.

Did we rake over the groundwork of our thorough-going atheism in attempt to find a chink through which we could convince ourselves of the possibility of eternity, or speculate on the moral status of our immortal souls?

No, but I think the next bottle was a Pinot.

It is true that we had a serious conversation about our responsibilities towards inter-generational justice, specifically around the nature of environmentally-responsible behaviour and issues concerning economic security and taxation, but this is geekily normal fare for us. We also had another bottle of Grenache.

I feel, though, it would be unreasonable of me to not take this moment to branch out, experience, try something new. And so, in honour of the country in which we have caroused ourselves into our respective second halves, I have bought today a packet of Tim-Tams and some teabags. We had a rather fine posh lunch with the first bottle of Grenache on Wednesday: but I understand that this is nothing compared with the gustatory revelation that we will be undergoing later today.

Watch this space for a report.


[1] This is actually a myth: alcohol does not kill your neurons, and only usage on a level that even I cannot endorse will cause permanent damage to them.