Sunday, January 6, 2013

Another book I'd like to get when Amazon.com lowers the price

Dr. Jill Bolt Taylor (another neuroscientist who has gained insight into consciousness following a massive brain injury) penned My Stroke Of Insight, which, for the moment, is cheaper on paper than on the Kindle. I would not half mind getting the book when the digital price dips. (I paid full price for Dr. Eben Alexander's book, something I try to avoid.)

For those wondering at this strange conflation of material neuroscience and mysticism in my posts (or even why I write at all), I guess that I can disclose that it's a form of self-therapy after a close family member was diagnosed with a severe mental illness. I am the primary caregiver, so I've had to navigate the American mental health system while providing what care that I can, all the while trying to juggle other responsibilities.

We don't normally think about consciousness. We are simply conscious, and we focus our awareness onto the world "out there." But I've thought a lot about consciousness in recent months as I've studied the myriad and endless ways this consciousness distorts when the brain breaks down. I've had to educate myself; in the U.S., you just can't drop someone off at the hospital and say, "I think that person is mentally ill; treat him." You have to be able to articulate why you think that a given individual is, in fact, ill, and needs treatment, and you have to use the correct combination of phrases, along with a few "magic words" (such as "suicidal") to move the process along. It is the price that we pay for living in a non-totalitarian society.

So what have I learned? Well, for one thing, I've learned that it's common for the mentally ill to blend into society and go untreated for years, or even a lifetime. As long as you can walk, talk, and appear somewhat oriented in time and place, society will not intervene. A person can, in fact, become completely dysfunctional, and the medical establishment still will not intervene to help until someone demands it, and only then after using the correct "magic words" as well as presenting the correct medical insurance cards.

I've learned that when the brain begins to break down, the distorted view of reality that follows is strangely reminiscent of some of the more extreme viewpoints articulated by religious extremists as well as any given guest on Coast To Coast. Many people, for instance, claim to see angels. Is such an experiencer, in fact, seeing a "real" angel? Or is the brain creating the illusion of an angel? Is there an undiagnosed psychosis that causes the person to see an angel? Or is there some breakdown in the language-processing part of the brain that causes a person to say that he's seen an angel when, in fact, he's seen only a bird? Or does brain incapacity cause the experiencer to glimpse realities that are both real and normally unperceived? I'm not pretending to know any of these answers. It's quite possible that all of these scenarios are valid at some level.We know so little about how the mind (or even the brain) interfaces with the material reality that it seems to perceive.

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