Braak Is Losing His Mind

Posted: October 25, 2010 in Braak
Tags: , ,

It’s what happens when I don’t have regular work, or a regular schedule, or any kind of enforced regularity.  I react by just letting my crazy brain and perpetually-malfunctioning body do whatever they want.

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve repeatedly forgotten to eat, haven’t gotten more than four or five hours of sleep a night, and haven’t really been drinking anything but coffee and rum.

I am, incidentally, totally looking forward to a future in which this meaty shell can be replaced by a robot body.

Anyway, one of the peculiar effects of this routine — a form of self-abnegation that really borders on the shamanic, I think — is that it’s been doing weird things to my proprioception.

Proprioception, in case you were wondering, is the part of your nervous sensorium that tells your brain where your body parts are.  Like, I can recognize that my hands are my hands, because there is a set of nerves that run signals up to my brain telling me where they are.

All kinds of interesting things happen when this starts to go wrong.  In the first place, it’s what many scientists suspect is at the root of “astral projection” experiences — the body’s proprioception system misfires, telling the brain that the “sensed self” and the “physical self” are in two different locations.  In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks relates the story of a man whose brain lost touch with his leg — and so the man became convinced that there was an extra, phantom leg in his bed, which he kept trying to throw out.  Of course, since it was his actual leg, when he threw it out of the bed it took him along with it.  Schizophrenics often experience something similar, when their proprioception system locates another body in the room with them, despite there being nothing there (and, in fact, Science has recently been able to replicate the phenomenon in non-schizophrenics).

There’s another story that I always bring up, though my sourcing for it is paltry enough that you’d be excused for believing it to be fictional; I usually talk about it when I’m trying to illustrate how unreliable shared experience can be.  I THOUGHT it was about Shackleton and his voyage in the Antarctic, and how he and some of his buddies had to hike across the mountains in Africa or some such.  I don’t remember anymore.

Anyway, they claimed that, while they were hiking through the mountains, desperately cold and on the verge of death, they all became aware of a spectral presence along with them, that encouraged them to survive.  A fellow wrote a book about this (I didn’t read it, I don’t know where I heard this story from), phenomenon called The Third Man Factor.

What I think is interesting about the story is that if two people each suffer the schizophrenic’s “shadow man” experience — that is, they both recognize an additional body out on the mountain with them — and then they talked to each other about it later on, they’d have to conclude that there was one, verified presence along with them.  This is because neither could sense the other’s “shadow” — each perceives only their own, and this experience causes them to corroborate the other’s.  Two idiosyncratic psychologies produce the idea of a single additional entity.

Anyway, something like that is happening to me now.  My hands aren’t numb, precisely, but it feels like I’m not fully attached to them.  Like the idea of my hands is sort of floating about them, and the hands are working on their own.

Brains are weird.

  1. Moff says:

    I have a pain in my stomach that is either a small lesion caused from an overabundance of gastric acid or TERRIBLE CANCER, and when I eat or drink certain things, I get a sharp, painful twinge in my left wrist. I was convinced that the gastric acid was somehow eating its way from my digestive system through to the artery that powers my left-hand pulse, but the doctor assured me that no, that couldn’t happen, and it was just some nerve sensors getting their wires crossed.

    So weird.

  2. braak says:

    I also have a thing that happens when I clean my ears — apparently, there is a spot in my ear canal that when I press it, it makes me cough.


  3. Jefferson Robbins says:

    “Gil discovers that he has a psi power. His brain, still remembering the ‘image’ of his lost arm, can use it much as he did his own arm. He can feel and manipulate objects via ESP and telekinesis, respectively. … Gil finds his ‘imaginary arm,’ though not strong, to be an asset, as he can reach through walls, and accomplish tasks beyond the ability of a normal person.”

  4. dagocutey says:

    @braak: Weird? Annoying? Foul? Yes to all of these, at times. But stupid? Not usually. Nor are you usually so negative, so I’m chalking up your attitude to the nutrition and sleep deprived altered state you’ve gotten yourself into. Careful with that, laddy — you can mess up your bad self.
    And the reason why you cough when you stick a q-tip too far into your ear (NOTE: Although your hygenic efforts are admirable, one should never, EVER stick anything into the ear canal smaller than one’s elbow. NEVER.)* is because the body is a delicate, amazing cooperative universe, armed to the hilt with built-in security, in the form of defensive organisms and reflexes. If you stick something far enough into your outer ear canal, you’ll trigger a muscular reflex that travels down your eustachian tube and into the back of your throat, resulting in a ticklish sensation, causing you to cough. The reason for the reflex is that nothing is ever supposed to get that far into your ear *(see above note, read it again and live by it).
    “But what’s all the fuss about? It’s not hurting anything!” It’s about survival — the body is saying, “I need to hear predators and prey — don’t even think about fucking with my ears!” (my body loves profanity) So the reflex exists to protect our delicate ear drums from harm. And coughing causes a tension and an outward push (can you say “male physical exam”?), that facilitates the expulsion of whatever’s in your ear canal. Or crotch. It’s really beyond amazing, when you think about it — how the ear drum appears defenseless but if threatened, is hard-wired to utilize the explosive power of the upper respiratory system, delivered by the locked-brake muscles of the neck and throat. Blows the freaking mind.
    Now drink a bunch of water and get your bony ass in bed. I mean it young man, I don’t want to hear a peep out of you until tomorrow morning!!

    @moff: I don’t have a clue — are these foods/drinks especially heavy?

  5. braak says:

    All right, smartypants–so why does it only happen in my LEFT ear?

  6. V.I.P. Referee says:

    …because you’re dehydrated and probably have swollen glands. Or scurvy. Like sailors from the early 1800’s. Mix water with your rum (Grog) and take a thimble of lime juice in the morning. Report back if you’re still seeing mermaids.

  7. braak says:

    I had scurvy once. In college I went for months only eating white rice and ginger ale.

  8. dagocutey says:

    After reading your posts, I can’t get Tom Petty’s “Refugee” out of my head.

    And good god, please say you’re joking about the scurvy. If not, what was it like?

    Re: smartypants — it only happens in you left ear because of the natural asymmetry of the body. Your left canal must be curved in a manner that allows greater, um, penetration, thus making your “tickle spot” more easily accessble than it is on your right side. Now, stop sticking things in there! (Although you’re obviously not very concerned with health and safety, it’s really not recommended.)

    @V.I.P.: You’re prescription is excellent — sounds like you speak from experience. Re: mermaids — our boy has got me wondering if he’s lost his — would explain the voluntary vacation in the shitter.

  9. braak says:

    Well, I didn’t have it for very long before I went to the doctor and they were like, “Yeah. Get some orange juice in that.” (I was anemic at that time, too. The reasons for this were more complicated than my usual neuroses, but I won’t get into that here.) It mostly consisted of headaches and bleeding gums.

    Anyway, I don’t usually stick things in my ears, but I didn’t know what else to do. I was having sharp pains in my eustachian tubes, and when I want to the doctor, he said that probably some kind of fluid or mucous was getting backed up in there, and I should clean them out. So he gave me this ear-dropper stuff that I was supposed to squirt in there that would clean out all my ear wax.

    Only it didn’t; I’d squirt it in there and it would just slosh around in my head for two days, and it was driving me nuts. I tried the squirting stuff for a week before I gave up and just took a q-tip to it. Ear drums remain intact, ear wax was cleaned out in about thirty seconds.

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