Mapping the Wilds of Mortality and Fatherhood

The Inward Empire

Christian Donlan

 

            Christian Donlan becomes a father at the same time that he develops multiple sclerosis. The power of the book is his ability to express his feelings, especially about his disease. While his particular disease is MS, there are commonalities of symptoms and reactions to other, non-curable neurologic diseases. His reactions and his writing make the book an intriguing read. The following passages are those that I either found particularly interesting or I was struck by the communication.

An idea of where the illness stops and I begin is often problematic.

I would argue that neurological diseases are ultimately an attack on individuality.

“The Disembodied Lady” (a case description from Oliver Sacks) exists within the strange spook country of proprioception, the means – along with vision and the balance organs of the vestibular system – by which the body creates a sense of itself in space. Proprioception is a deeply physical business, and yet, it’s simultaneously a largely intangible one. It is not just the brain’s idea of where the body is from moment to moment. It is part of what makes a person’s physical experiences feel real and personal in the first place.

A proprioceptive deficit is therefore an intellectual deficit: it means that the messages being sent back to the brain are not being properly understood.

Proprioception is a guiding hand so deft and considerate that you might never come close to spotting it, and this is the tragedy of the body’s most elegant systems. You only learn how clever they are when the break – and when it becomes a matter of how clever they once were.

Proprioception was my introduction to the world of neurological disarray. I suspect that proprioception is an ideal introduction: a gentle indicator that there is always a level of mediation between the world and our experience of it.

It is hard to spot the things that happen when your brain starts to go wrong, because your brain is the last thing that is going to be able to tell you about it.

That is memory. Remembering something is an act of destruction, covered up by an almost instantaneous act of creation.

The problem for me was largely mechanical. The likely culprits were not the visual processing pathways leading to the occipital lobe, which houses the visual cortex, but rather the nerves that supply the muscles which operate the eyes like pulleys. My eyes were no longer perfectly aligned, and this meant that the images the visual cortex was trying to put together had ceased to overlap as cleanly as they usually did. My perceptions were becoming harder to mesh.

It is not that my eyes were exhausted. It’s more that there was an angry congestion building somewhere behind them, in the parts of the brain that had to deal with the chaos my eyes were suddenly delivering. So much trouble, and all this from a shift in one eye – a shift, most likely less that a millimeter. A shift so tiny that my eyeballs, viewed in the Ikea bathroom mirrors, seemed perfectly normal as they tracked up and down, from right to left.

Elsewhere, it seemed that my ability to deal with the subtext was diminished. In the evenings, or if I was particularly tired, I found that I could no longer peer beneath the surface of what people were saying as easily as I had before. I was stuck in the literal.

Some symptoms are part of what I feared at first and then forgot to fear – that MS could be such a wonderful, powerful all-purpose excuse I might invoke it a little too often.

Assessment of Silent Reading Efficiency

 

“The Decline of Comprehension-Based Silent Reading Efficiency in the United States: A Comparison of Current Data with Performance in 1960” appeared in Reading Research Quarterly in 2016. While there are endless debates about reading pedagogy, there is consensus that the best way to assess silent reading efficiency is by measuring eye movements. Continue reading

Patient H69 The Story of My Second Sight

 

Vanessa Potter

Vanessa Potter experienced a brain injury from a sudden inflammatory response triggered by a rare autoimmune disease. Within two days she went completely blind and lost much of her feeling and motor skills. She regained her sensation and motor abilities and partially regained her sight during an extended period of recovery. Continue reading

Plasticity in Sensory Systems

2011 International Conference on Plastic Vision

Edited by Jennifer K. E. Steeves and Laurence R. Harris

The term “plasticity” in neuroscience means that the brain can change and discoveries over the last couple of decades have proven that we retain a degree of neuroplasticity into old age. This volume is a collection of papers from the presentations at the meeting. None of the scientists are optometrists but all of their research relates to vision development and vision therapy. Visual skills and the processing of visual information develop through experience and can be modified through directed, intensive rehearsal. This happens as people improve at a craft, hobby, music, art, job, or sport. Visual skills and visual processing can also be developed through vision therapy. The following excerpts are taken directly from the scientific papers. Continue reading

The Most Human Human:What Talking with Computers Teaches us About

What it Means to be Alive

By, Brian Christian

This is truly an unusual book written by an author who could be considered a young Renaissance Man or polymath. Brian Christian has a dual degree from Brown University in computer science and philosophy. He also has a MFA in poetry from the University of Washington. Alan Turing stated in 1950, that computers would be thinking one day. The impetus for Christian’s research and the book is the Turing test in which judges are challenged to distinguish who is human and “who” is a computer. An annual competition commenced in 1991, and the computers almost won in 2008. Brian Christian was chosen to be one of the humans competing in 2009. In trying to prepare to prove that he is more human than the computers, his preparation takes him into the area of language and also into the question of what it is that makes us human. The book is informative, insightful, and entertaining. Continue reading

Is It All In Your Head?

 

Suzanne O’Sullivan, MD

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Suzanne O’Sullivan reveals the power of mind-body connections through the enigma of psychosomatic illness. She is a neurologist, and while the treatment of this condition falls under the purview of psychology and psychiatry, the neurologist must first prove that there is not an organic explanation for the illness, have the patient accept the diagnosis, and convince them to engage in cognitive behavioral therapy.  Pharmaceuticals are not effective. The patient has real symptoms which convince them that it is an organic disease. “It can be very difficult for a patient to accept that they suffer from a conversion disorder (a medically unexplained neurological symptom) when that assumption is based entirely on what is missing.” Psychosomatic illness threatens an individual’s image of themselves and they fear that they will be perceived as being weak.

Suzanne O’Sullivan introduces the book with a discussion of blushing. “Blushing is an instantaneous physical change seen on the surface but reflecting a feeling of embarrassment or happiness that is held inside. When it happens, I cannot control it.” This leveler helps us to be more open about psychosomatic illnesses and understand that; they are real; they are no more a weakness than is succumbing to an organic illness; the patient cannot control them; their conscious mind wants to get better; it can happen to any of us. Somatization (a bodily response to a psychological effect) is usually benign, of short duration, and does not become an illness. Examples are trembling hands, perspiration, butterflies, shortness of breath, and laughing. “A psychosomatic illness is the body’s physiological response to stress. They serve a purpose even if that purpose is not always obvious.” The stress is not recognized because the subconscious moves the stress to the body. The person feels that they have handled the stress or may not even have recognized the degree of stress.Image result for blushing

“Illness is not the same as disease. Illness is the human response to disease. It refers to the person’s subjective experience of how they feel but does not assume an underlying pathology. Illness can be either organic or psychological.” “Approximately 70% of the people referred to me with poorly controlled seizures were not responding to epilepsy treatment because they did not have epilepsy. Their seizures were occurring for purely psychosomatic reasons.” “The effect the psyche can have on the physical self has long been observed, but for all that time, scientists and doctors have also been trying and failing to understand how it occurs.”

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We cannot live without stress. Positive stress motivates us (see The Upside of Stress). It is stress that continues and that we are impotent to relieve that causes changes in our brains. To balance the stress in our lives, we must maintain our resilience. One concern that I have is that I see an increasing number of children who are anxious. We went from the extreme of everyone receiving a reward because they participated, to accelerated curricula and the majority of “play” being on organized teams. Children have little free time, supervised from afar, whose importance in development is overlooked. Children need time for unstructured play; to daydream, relax, and decompress; to solve problems of their own or with peers; to imagine; to figure out how to occupy themselves other than an addiction to electronics; to create; and to learn from errors of their own choosing. (see What If Everyone Understood Child Development and How to Raise an Adult)

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Worried Sick

Behavioral and Emotional Problems Associated With Convergence Insufficiency in Children: An Open Trial 

Welcome to Your Child’s Brain