Monday, 12 March 2007

Aliens, Neurology & Consciousness

Currently I am undergoing a project, a short fact-based experimental video (post-postmodern term for documentary, fyi) for my course.

We could chose any topic we wanted, as long as it vaguely focused around the concept of memory / flashback.

You could tell my delight (irony alert) at being told this. I think perhaps the lecturers get off on giving us painfully vague assignments - sometimes I wish for a viciously regulated set of objectives, like Lars von Trier meets Satan. No blue colours, all cuts must be no more then 57 frames, you must build a set, all actors must face left while reading their lines and somehow a banana must be involved.

But actually maybe it's me that's taking the piss. I love memory, because I love the mind. Cognitive psychology & neuroscience (especially neurochemistry) have delighted me on a daily basis since I was about 18 and read Wired's report on Matt Nagle, the paralysed ya-dood from Boston who has a brain implant that controls a robotic arm, in March of '05.

Before then I was too stoned and too stupid to care much about anything save video games, Bronte novels, anything in the National Gallery and of course my own eventual and upcoming death. Oh, and communism. When I was <18, I was big into Marxism, then deconstructing Marxism, then seeing the interpretations of Marxism throughout the ages. Then once I did that I got to stand back in horror as I saw what seemed like such a cool concept turn into literal Pandæmonium in practice. (Dude, dude, do I get extra points for æ?)

Uuh, where was I.

Documentary! Memory! Right, so with my group of peers, we brainstormed and we thought about things and our thought train went like this:

wolves (memory, folklore, symbolic meaning to general consciousness) --> werewolves (folklore, symbolism, supernatural) --> aliens (symbolism, supernatural, memory.)

And we settled with aliens. And we researched. And researched more. Then we found the contact details of a very interesting man (whose name I will not give you at this point in time, to protect the integrity of my project) who lives in the South of England and has, from the ages of 5 to 18, said to experience visitations from aliens on a regular basis.

We spent all day on Saturday with this man. He was terribly charming and I really enjoyed his company and listening to his stories as we interviewed him for our documentary. It's odd because he is an intelligent, insightful and altogether normal human being; who truly and a hundred percent honestly believes he's been visited by three different types of aliens on a semi-regular basis when he was younger.

A lot of what he had to say in the way consciousness and human evolution I agreed with, on some level (and I'll talk about some other day), so it made it difficult for me to deal with the alien thing. See I don't believe in aliens - although I don't want to - so my rational mind has to justify different ways of why he could experience those experiences and honestly believe them as true.

He told us during our interview that the predecessor for the experiences with the aliens was, and I'm paraphrasing here (haven't transcribed the tapes yet), the following:

I would get a slight buzzing in my ears, like an electrical hum, kind of like tinnitus, which was accompanied with a feeling of 'something is going to happen'. Then later on, something would happen.

So I've been mulling those words over, and finally I started doing some research. My first look was to try and find symptoms of aural buzzing followed by hallucinations and I got a intriguing looking link from the Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing who actually really suck because they want me to be a member before I can read any of their published works. Yeah, okay, thanks assholes -- I didn't want your Freudian wank anyway. *sniffle*

Then, continuing my research, I found this interesting thesis (PDF link) by some unnamed academic from the University of Groningen.

It goes on to describe Ménière’s disease, which is a disorder of the inner ear characterised by vertigo and aural disturbances.

What's most interesting is it's account of Van Gogh's personal account (Not to mention Martin Luthers; eee!) of what historians & specialists have presumed to be Epilepsy and this paper describes would be more accurately placed as Ménière’s.

(It's said in the paper that Van Gogh had written numerous notes on his ''disabling & recurrent vertigo, nausea, & visual/aural disturbances which have been described as hallucinations.'', akin with Ménière sufferers I presume.)

Quick note: If you were a man living in Holland in the 19th century with poor medical support and you suffered frequent and debilitating attacks of vertigo and loud buzzing in your ears, wouldn't you cut one off? Damn. Poor Vincent is looking a lot less insane to me now. And I'm telling you, his sketch of a knee is perhaps the best sketch of a knee ever to be sketched. One has to see it in print; 75dpi resolution does nothing for it. I hope for the day I can see it in Amsterdam... Uh, anyway.

So yeah, okay - I don't think my interviewed human being (Can we call him Ed? Ed.) I don't think Ed suffers from Ménière’s disease, but that paper lead me to another point: what about epilepsy? This is how far I have to go, as a flightily sceptical rational human being to disprove potential for things that bother me, i.e. alien visitation, with things that bother me on a whole other level, i.e. neurological disorders.

Recently I saw a program on sleep epilepsy. I like sleep disorders -- well, like like people 'like' parasites. I don't want one (although I think I have one; a sleep disorder that is - not parasites) and I don't think they're necessarily an awesome thing, but they are something that exists and because of that I do think, yes, they are cool. I like knowing the way the brain works, I think consciousness and the relationship of mind & body is more amazing then anything else.

Uhm, moving on - so I see this program, and I did some studies -- before interviewing Ed -- and I learn some stuff about epilepsy. I interviewed Ed, then after re-reading these papers and chatting with an humanoid I know, I start thinking, mm, yes, what if Ed had a form of epilepsy which caused him to experience these events, and have his brain rationalise them as alien phenomena? Yes that would make sense. My brain has done things that were weird (sleep disorder thing; for another post) and I rationalised them by automatically pointing towards aliens/ghosts/soul issues because scientifically I had no idea what was going on.

But that leads to the second issue: if he had these experiences from the age of 5 to 18, then they've stopped (he's 27 now), how the hell did they stop and why haven't they returned? We... Didn't actually ask him why the aliens stopped visiting him in our interview - I was kicking myself as to that issue after we got back home - I might email him about it - but uh... Yes, so why -- if they are not aliens but in fact a form of epilepsy, hasn't Ed suffered from an experience in nearly ten years?

Well at 18, Ed started to meditate. Daily. He was meditating before that, as he told us, but at 18 he started to really get into it and practice a form of Tibetan meditation I do believe. He told us that he went to a study at one of the Oxbridge universities which focused on meditation. It was a month long or something. He had his brain scanned with an EEG at the start of the meditation regime (before he had instruction and started meditating every day) and then an EEG scan at the end of the meditation regime (he had meditated numerous times a day for ten-twenty minutes each time for a month).

He told is the woman who was conducting the experiment was shocked and amazed at his scan. His initial EEG scan was apparently hectic as hell, both sides of the brain frantic and jumpy and whatever. The last EEG scan results were apparently astonishing. Both left and right sides of the brain were in perfect sync, causing a casual even arch that marked the start and end of the scanned meditation session.

Now why the hell am I talking about aliens, epilepsy and meditation? Well there is a debate in the neurological/medical field about the effects of meditation on epilepsy as illustrated in this article from '06 which is a brief introduction to the subject. I've been reading more on the subject, but the general PR line that is being fed to me so far is a big 'uh, we're not sure - it does sometimes maybe - really we have no idea'.

So I conclude with... Ed is a wonderful person. I think he's very cool - although I do not necessarily believe what he experienced was aliens. I think it might all be in his head.

But let me give you an analogy that 'Ed' gave me when describing how people react to his stories and call him insane. Again I paraphrase:

Let's say that you've got a ball, and behind you there's a net and a person. Everytime you throw that ball, the person says 'to the left' or 'to the right' and tries to help you put that ball in the net. Eventually you start getting shots, and the person behind you encourages you to continue and says 'ah you're doing a good job' and all that. That allows you to continue existing and getting things done; even if you don't get the shot every time. But if another person shows up for a few seconds and starts saying you're missing, that the person behind you is wrong, then you start to second guess yourself. You aren't listening to the person behind you telling you what to do so you have less of a chance to get shots, because you can't see the net, and you're not trusting in that person behind you. If you give in and start to believe the person behind you isn't telling you the truth about the location of the net, you will become less apt at ever getting the net in the ball, because you'll be too sceptical of your own ability. You have to listen and trust in what you're told by yourself.

So I may have butchered what he said to me, but it all boils down to this: Ed, no matter what has happened to him - whether it's aliens or epilepsy - has only his own consciousness to help him along in life. What he sees/feels/experiences is his own, and if he listened to people who said 'you're fucking crazy, alien abductee' then he would never be able to tie his own shoes, because he'd always be second guessing himself. 'Are my shoes really there? Did I already tie them? Do I even exist? Where is my proof? Who can prove any of this, if not me and my own consciousness?'

And down that road of doubt lies pain.

I note here, that Hildegard von Bingen was a long-time sufferer of migraines -- who refereed to them as visions. Through her illness she was able to write some of the most beautiful, beautiful works of music and become one, if not the, most powerful women in 12th century Europe -- all in the name of God, saying God was giving her those visions.

Personally I don't believe in an active God (i.e. a guy in a robe coming down via angels and going 'Yo, baby, here's a prophecy/baby/cupon for pizza hut') anymore then I believe in aliens -- but I do believe in consciousness, and energy, and symbolism or events triggering self realisation and 'epiphanies' which effect humanity.

I really respect Ed, because whatever has happened to him - and I honestly do not know - he is high functioning and has through his own self awareness brought about control in his own life. He isn't afraid, or doesn't seem to be, and he wants to help people who've shared similar experiences to his own -- people who don't necessarily know how to deal with them, or rely too heavily on what other people believe they should believe.


We review, cut and edit the documentary on Ed over the next coming weeks. I hope I can do his story justice.


madame said...

so looking forward to this and hearing about this project, ese. now this is what you and i was talkin about.

i seem to remember some 8 year old writing a short biography on nellie someone... have you any memory of what her name might have been?

discover invent remember said...

Nellie Bly!

I fucking loved Nellie Bly.

I -still- love Nellie Bly.

She's so going in my Historical Hotties blog when it's birthed.


Wait. Why did you bring that up?
I've lot your context in my joy.

fp said...

Looks a lot like an elbow to me...