Derealization / Dying

Derealization is a subjective alteration in one’s perception or experience of the outside world. The pervasive unreality of the external environment is a key feature, along with emotional blunting. The world loses its vividness, coloring, and tone.

I’ve spent much of the last year walking around in a fog, hazy, underwater, under glass, where nothing is real. This isn’t happening.

My partner has end-stage cancer, and was transferred from Acute Care to the Palliative Care Ward about 3 weeks ago. I was standing there, just staring at her while she slept in a hospital bed, knowing where we were and who I was and yet, the scene was surreal. Detached from my real life. Like flowing curtains.

Then her psychiatrist walked in, and suddenly everything was real. I started sobbing at the horrible reality of what was happening, and what will happen.

People speak, I’ve no reply
I’m empty inside
But for the incessant screaming
Which refuses to subside

–Single Gun Theory, I’ve Been Dying

Less than a week later, she was transferred to hospice.

 

 

I’ve been dying a long time
Down on my knees
There’s no way out of here
I’ve been dying a long time
Can’t seem to pick up the pieces of my life

–Single Gun Theory, I’ve Been Dying

Single Gun Theory were an Australian band who sampled from myriad sources, including Robert Oppenheimer, Natalie Wood, spoken word samples recorded in India, Turkey, and Southeast Asia (e.g., Islamic call to prayer, recitation of the Qur’an, Indian female vocals), and The Twilight Zone.

Twelve months ago to the moment you destroyed yourself
Much as I told you you would

{sampled from The Silence, Season 2, Episode 25 of The Twilight Zone}

Nearly a year ago, Sandra was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. I tried for 7 months to enroll her in a clinical trial, to no avail. I wrote about how hard that was, and what was wrong with the cancer clinical trials systems in both the US and Canada.

[That] post [was] my own personalized rant about the false promises of personalized medicine. … It [was] about oncology, for very personal reasons: misery, frustration, and grief. After seven months of research on immunotherapy clinical trials, I couldn’t find a single one in either Canada or the US that would enroll my partner with stage 4 cancer. For arbitrary reasons, for financial reasons, because it’s not the “right” kind of cancer, because the tumor’s too rare, because it’s too common, because of unlisted exclusionary criteria, because one trial will not accept the genomic testing done for another trial. Because of endless waiting and bureaucracy.

But somehow, I’ll have to go on without her. Sandra was very active in suicide prevention efforts on social media, as @unsuicide and with her Online Suicide Help wiki so there you go.

September 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day, and Dr. Erin Michalak of CREST.BD wrote a touching tribute to Sandra’s work.

Sandra Dawson’s Legacy

. . .
Most significantly, Sandra created the Unsuicide directory of online and mobile crisis supports, as well as a popular corresponding Twitter feed (@Unsuicide) with close to 25,000 followers. Her Unsuicide online supports are authentically grounded in her lived experience of bipolar disorder, but also unfailingly focused on helping people, regardless of their geography, to access credible and safe online and mobile support tools. In 2016, she was awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers from the Governor General of Canada in acknowledgement of the impact of her work as an advocate for people facing mental health challenges and in suicide prevention.

 

Samuel Beckett, The Unnameable

It will be I? It will be the silence, where I am? I don’t know, I’ll never know: in the silence you don’t know.

You must go on.

I can’t go on.

I’ll go on.

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Overcoming Consumerism Through Neuroscience

We’ve to widen the knowledge
of how our brain works to understand
Or nothing will, will ever change

–Stereolab, Margerine Melodie

stereolab-margerine-eclipse

The French pop / post-Krautrock English band Stereolab are known for their vintage synthesizers and socially conscious lyrics. Margerine Melodie, from their 2004 album Margerine Eclipse, suggests that neuroscience research will help us overcome a hyper-competitive world of struggle and domination.

Our brain makes us act
behave and react
A pulsion that drives us to stay alive

Need to satisfy our fundamental needs
The nervous system enables that drive

Through consumerism, escape and struggle
As well as inhibition

All these mechanisms that preserve balance
Biological well being

Seems that until now we have used our brain
Just to dominate, just to dominate

–Stereolab, Margerine Melodie

Demonstration of a Substitutional Reality System

A fascinating post by Mo Costandi summarizes a recent open access article by a group of Japanese researchers (Suzuki et al., 2012):

Inception helmet creates alternative reality

Substitutional Reality system could be used to study cognitive dysfunction in psychiatric patients
. . .

Most of us distinguish between real and imagined events using unconscious processes to monitor the accuracy of our experiences. But these processes can break down in some psychiatric conditions. Patients with schizophrenia, for example, can experience auditory and visual hallucinations that they believe are real, while some brain damaged and delusional patients live in a world of perpetual false memories. Japanese researchers have developed an “Inception helmet” that manipulates reality to simulate such experiences, and could be used to study cognitive dysfunction in psychiatric disorders.

 

The video below was included as Supplementary Material with the Scientific Reports open access article (Suzuki et al., 2012). It shows how the system manipulates the wearer’s reality by seamlessly switching between live and recorded scenes.

Demonstration movie of the SR system. The upper left panel shows the image stream
presented on the HMD screen. This is the subjective view watched by the participant.
Live scenes are bordered with orange and recorded scenes with green. Neither the
border nor the “live” caption was visible to the participant. The upper right panel
shows an objective view of the participant’s actual environment. The lower panel
indicates a conversation between an experimenter (captioned in white) and
participant (captioned in blue).

The movie began with a live scene but switched to a recorded scene at 00:34 (Normal
Question scene). The participant did not notice the switch. During the Normal
Question scene the participant carried on a natural conversation without doubting the
reality of the situation, although in actuality, the experimenter was not in front of him.
At 1:32, the Doppelgänger scene began. In this condition, the participant did not
initially notice the substitution, but became aware of it at 1:40 when he saw his own
image (Doppelgänger). After the details of the SR system were explained, the Fake
Live scene began at 2:07. He could not detect the scene is a recorded one.

After the experience of these scenes, some participants were confused about which
scenes were real (see episode after 2:45). They were less confident in discriminating
whether they were experiencing a recording or actual reality, even when they were
genuinely interacting with the experimenter.

Reference

Keisuke Suzuki, Sohei Wakisaka and Naotaka Fujii (2012). Substitutional Reality System: A Novel Experimental Platform for Experiencing Alternative Reality. Scientific Reports, 2: 459. DOI: 10.1038/srep00459