Category Archives: Dimensions of Reality

Through the Autism Glass

16498894786_4b8279777b_bphoto credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/92796360@N05/16498894786″>Looking Up</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Update: I previously published this a couple weeks ago and am re-posting in honor of autism awareness day. In the past weeks I have been learning to accept this revelation while remembering that nothing really has changed. I am still me; the same me I have always been and I still have the power to define myself and not allow some label to do it for me. It has helped me to identify areas in which I need work, and I have some ideas on how to go about creating more structure in my life.

Original post: I came across this article a few weeks ago called “The Invisible Women with Autism.” It struck a chord and I recognized myself instantly. I have known about autism for many years and even identified with some of the traits, but it never really fit. This article did. Apparently most models of autism are based on observations of boys and men. Women on the spectrum don’t fit that profile. The traits are similar, but they appear differently in women and girls because we are socialized differently and may learn to blend into the dominant society better whereas it may go unnoticed or misdiagnosed.

I am not officially diagnosed, nor do I think it is necessary for me. It completely fits; I feel like it explains my entire life. In the past week or so, I’ve bought 10 or more books on the subject, taken online Aspergers tests. It all fits. And I could not have realized it at a better time.

24650425056_bdee52a73a_b.jpgphoto credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/46122506@N05/24650425056″>Time</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

For the past couple months, I have been in danger of becoming completely isolated. For most of my life, I have kept myself insanely busy, so busy that I didn’t have time for, nor need a social life. About 5 months ago, I graduated with my M.A. degree. I had been working two jobs and going to school full time so all I had time for was work, school, homework, sleep. And suddenly, I didn’t have school anymore, I was down to one job which I work 3 nights a week, leaving me with my days essentially free and unstructured. The first couple months I was excited to have free time, started working on two books a memoir about my quest to understand dreams and the nature of reality and a fiction story involving lucid dreams. But then the lack of structure and my odd sleeping schedule merged to the point where I didn’t feel it necessary to get up during the day. At all. My sleep cycle shifted and I became almost entirely nocturnal, sleeping until 5 or 6 pm, going to bed at 10 or 11 in the morning. I had no idea how to stop this. At least before, I would go to bed at 3 or 4 am and wake up at 11 or 12. I was not happy with this at all, but as long as I had nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no one to do it with, I had no reason to get out of bed. I was obsessively shopping on eBay, collecting more gadgets that I don’t need, but I didn’t know how to stop. I tried coming up with things to do, but as long as they don’t involve other people, I couldn’t make myself do them. I bought a bike, thinking I would learn how to ride again (pretty sure I have forgotten). It is still sitting in my living room because I don’t know how to put it together and haven’t figured out who can help. (Yes I know I can take it to a bike shop.)

At least for now, I’ve had my research on autism to keep me busy and have managed my sleep to one full day of recovery after work and have been able to be awake during the day otherwise. I also joined a co-working space, autism support group, and am working on adding more structure to my life.

Apparently some of us on the spectrum have what is sometimes known as executive dysfunction. It could be why I cannot seem to function without some sort of structure in my life, or why when I’m absorbed in a book or a project, it doesn’t occur to me to eat and my cat has to remind me, or why I can’t seem to keep my apartment organized unless I live with someone else, etc.

Since I’ve figured this out about myself, it has caused me to review my entire life experiences through this new lens, and it’s such a relief to finally have an explanation for while I’ve often felt like an alien, like I’m on the outside looking in, observing the ways and customs of this world. So many other Aspies feel as if they were born on the wrong planet, it’s nice to finally know I’m not alone in this.

Being on the autism spectrum generally means that our brains process information differently from those who are not; and those differences give us certain benefits or gifts as well as disadvantages due to trying to fit into a world that was not designed for us and is not particularly friendly to those who are different.

25330985390_56fb35e5c9_bphoto credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/30243036@N05/25330985390″>Cableado cerebral</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

What has been the most difficult in coming to terms with this is what people usually think when we hear autism or autistic. Everyone on the autism spectrum is different, we are individuals, we cope with the difficulties of fitting into a society that isn’t designed for us differently. Some of us have delayed speech and language processing, some of us don’t, some are extremely intelligent, some are able to successfully cope with our differences and some struggle more. What we have in common is that we all seem to view the world differently than other people. Differently, but in similar ways. It is thought to be a combination of genetics and behavioral factors.

I’ve also noticed that I find myself now wondering in social situations how much I am missing out on, and whether other people find me completely socially awkward. But then I realize that I am still me. I will always be me, and nothing has changed. The only thing that is different is that I now identify with this label, but I don’t have to let it define me. At the very least, it has given me an explanation for what I have been searching for my entire life, for why I have always felt different, why people always see me as different, and that no, there is nothing wrong with me. I am exactly how I am supposed to be, just not how this society expects me to be.

22439551969_9b294a6ab6_b.jpgphoto credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/84236606@N02/22439551969″>White peacock display</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

I often have difficulty making decisions, especially if it’s in answer to an open-ended question such as “What would you like to do/eat?” For me, there are so many variables to take into consideration that I usually go with what the other person wants, because most likely, they care more than I do anyway. Even supposedly simple questions like “what’s your favorite color?” or “what is your favorite music/song?” These are usually asked as small talk in order to get to know someone, but I usually don’t see what they have to do with actually getting to know me. I’m a person, I can’t be summed up in whatever answer I give to these questions. I wonder what people think they’re learning about me when they ask, and I don’t know how to answer.

Alexythymia is a condition common among autistic people as well. It is characterized by a difficulty in identifying and expressing emotions. I can usually identify basic emotions such as happy and sad, but it is difficult for me to identify and my own emotions in the moment. There are many times when I review a situation and realized I should have been upset about something, but of course by that time, the moment has passed. I think because of this, I am very good at dealing with people who are difficult because I am able to stay calm and not fall prey to their emotional whirlwinds.

I also do not make eye contact naturally. I have learned to do it because it seems to be valued in this society, but it is something I have to force myself and remember to do.

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One of the criteria for Aspergers or autism is self-soothing behaviors, sometimes called stimming. (I really don’t like this word). At first I couldn’t think of many, sometimes I tap my fingers, or especially when I’m nervous I fidget or play with my hair or jewelry. But I realized another one…

I may not talk to anyone else, but I talk to myself. A lot. And for as long as I can remember. I still do. It helps me to process social situations. If it went well, I will sometimes replay it, speaking softly to myself (when I think no one is around) or if it didn’t go well, I say to myself what I should have said. I rehearse future conversations, especially telephone calls. I know now that I can’t predict the other person’s responses, but I need to have an idea of what I want out of the call so that I won’t get lost and forget. When I was little, I used to rehearse entire conversations such as “I will say this, and she will say that, and I will say this, etc… Of course it would never go according to plan because people are unpredictable.

I talk to myself when I’m home alone, when I’m driving, sometimes when I’m walking down the street, or in a store. I sometimes laugh or smile if someone catches me, but I know I’m not crazy.

Most of us also have sensory issues…

When I was little I couldn’t deal with loud noises. My parents took me to see E.T. in the movie theater when I was 2, and they didn’t understand why I screamed and cried. It was the noise. Movie theaters very are loud. So as I got older, I would purposely go to sleep whenever we went to see a movie so I wouldn’t have to hear the loud noise of it or disturb everyone by crying.

I identify very strongly with characters in movies or books. To me, they are real, and what happens to them is happening to me. This is why I cannot watch horror movies.

I have issues with touch. I don’t particularly like other people touching me, especially strangers. I can’t imagine paying for someone to give me a massage. My skin is very sensitive and just a light touch tickles. But surprisingly, I do enjoy intimate touch. I have learned to deal with hugs from people I know somewhat, but anything more than that I find uncomfortable.

Certain patterns are visually jarring to me. I remember when I was little there was a mug in our pantry that I couldn’t look at. It had an array of white lines in a particular pattern that seemed to hurt my eyes when I looked at it and I would have to look away. Another is if you have ever seen a group of little tree frogs together…That pattern hurts my eyes as well.

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I have always been a very picky eater. I have been told that when I was a baby I would only eat ice cream and Jello. My mom was worried there was something wrong with me because I wouldn’t eat. The doctors only said I would eat when I was hungry. They used to try to force me to eat, putting food in my mouth, but it only ended up messing up my teeth because I would just hold it there and not swallow it. I used to take my lunch to school, and I would eat the same things for weeks at a time until I couldn’t eat it anymore whether it was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or tuna sandwiches. To this day I still won’t eat tuna anymore. Some of it has to do with texture, I don’t like pulp or seeds in liquid or things that should be smooth. I don’t like bits and pieces of things in my ice cream, ice cream should be smooth and I shouldn’t have to chew it. I don’t like chunky peanut butter or chunks of tomatoes, although I like smooth tomato sauce and smooth peanut butter. The list goes on… but you see my point. I will still sometimes eat the same things over and over… (currently its banana bagels)

I have been called shy for as long as I can remember. To me, it was a derogatory term. I am an introvert and am naturally quiet, but social issues created some anxiety as well since I didn’t know the rules for social interaction. One memory comes to mind. I was around 5 or 6 and I was at school with my best (and probably only) friend when a boy asked her a question. She answered him and then he asked me the same question. I repeated her response, thinking it was an acceptable answer. I didn’t know I was supposed to answer differently. I thought questions had a right or a wrong answer and since her answer was okay, it must have been the right one.

9025560542_64236b5aa7_b.jpgphoto credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/49225855@N07/9025560542″>Mачка- Waiting for the Sun</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

I have always been an observer. When I was in preschool or kindergarten, my mom would ask me what I did in school and I would describe in detail what everyone else did. And she would ask “But what did you do?”

I watch everyone and everything around me, learning how to copy their behavior in order not to draw attention to myself. It is what I do especially when I am in a new situation. I avoided many social faux pas because I simply didn’t talk to too many people or seek out social interaction. I don’t normally think to share things with others, it usually just doesn’t even occur to me.

They say we sometimes have obsessions, or obscure interests…

I have loved books and words for all of my life. According to my parents, I could read by the time I was 2 years old (hyperlexia), and was reading Jane Austen and all the classics when I was in  1st grade. Books have always been my escape, and I could remember details from every book I read.

For a while I was obsessed with Victorian times, I wished I could have gone back in time and lived there. I thought I had been born in the wrong century. I wore long skirts and dresses until about 5th grade when kids at school began to talk. I started dressing more like them in an attempt to fit in which was (of course) unsuccessful.

Throughout grade school I had at least 1 or 2 friends, mostly other outsiders whom the other kids made fun of. I convinced myself I didn’t care. We would read together at recess or play ESP games (I really wanted to have Extra Sensory Perception). I read all the time, even at lunch. I remember once, one girl I had been good friends with, got upset because I was reading at the lunch table. I didn’t understand why that was a problem. We were not friends for much longer.

24447254613_ebac7b92b7photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/70521654@N00/24447254613″>#8/100 Reading</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

By middle school, I didn’t understand other girls obsession and interest in celebrity boys and I have never been good at faking an interest in something I couldn’t care less about. And so I drifted away from them because I couldn’t relate.

Once I got to high school, it was harder to make friends. I was at a new school and I didn’t really know anyone. The one girl I did know, had been one of the popular ones, and we weren’t exactly friends. I wasn’t socially rejected, more like ignored. I became invisible. I wasn’t interested in the things they were, I felt like there was no connection. It was an arts high school where I studied music, played violin. But it wasn’t my passion. It wasn’t typical because we were all mostly outcasts from normal schools. I didn’t hate it, but I still didn’t feel like I belonged. I don’t really remember much from that time.

I became depressed after all those years of not knowing what was wrong with me, not knowing why I am the way I am. I was in hidden emotional pain. By them time I got to high school, I started to cut myself in order to make the pain I was feeling tangible, physical, more real. It didn’t last long because my mom found out and because I didn’t want to hurt her, I stopped. I remember crying, not really wanting to die, but not knowing how to live. I still battle with depression constantly. I don’t always notice whether or not I’m sad, but after a while I will notice that I am not eating or am sleeping more than I should.

I was always the good girl, the innocent one, the one who never got in trouble, the one who never participated in class. I recently came across notes from my teachers when I was in grade school. I was in the special reading class briefly, even though I could read better than all of my classmates, they were concerned because I wouldn’t talk, at least not to them. They wanted to hold me back a year, they thought I should see a psychologist because I wouldn’t talk or participate. My parents refused. And at the time, I was glad they didn’t. It wouldn’t have done any good; I told myself if they made me go I just wouldn’t talk to them.

They called me difficult, stubborn, hard-headed, picky, as well as extremely patient, creative, intelligent.

I have never known exactly how friendships and relationships are supposed to work. I watched the other kids date and “go together” and it seemed like a complete mystery to me how they got together. I still don’t understand subtle signs, the nonverbal ones, and flirting. I will often have no idea if someone is trying to flirt with me, or if they even like me at all unless they say it outright.

24641937989_c73c60a623_b.jpgphoto credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/57527070@N06/24641937989″>Aurora Borealis</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

Other people have always been a problem for me. I never know what they are thinking, and because I know that since I can think of anything I want, so can they. So in certain social situations, especially in large groups, there’s a million things going through my mind as to what they could possibly be thinking, and since most non-verbal clues are meaningless to me, it is a complete mystery. So I become anxious, terrified if called upon to speak. Who know’s what all these people are thinking of me. They may laugh at me, or think what I say is stupid, or a million other things. Or I may make some social faux pas, and they will think “What is wrong with her?”, etc. And so I may freeze, becoming selectively mute, and I may or may not recover in a timely fashion. Recently I have learned to say that I pass, or some other phrase to release me from my terror.

The first time I remember this happening was when I had to interview to get into a particular college prep high school. I was 13 and they asked me a lot of questions that I wasn’t prepared for; it being my first interview and all. I am not good at speaking under pressure, especially when I am not prepared. I tend to stumble over words, unable to choose the correct ones. It is as if there is a disconnect between what I am thinking and my ability to translate my thoughts into speech. They asked why I wanted to go there, I answered “Because my friends are going here.” I didn’t have an appropriate answer prepared. I’m not sure what else they asked me, but what I do remember is that I froze. A million thoughts jumbled around and I couldn’t focus on anything or think of anything to say, and the longer I was silent, I worried about not saying anything and got stuck in a loop. “On no, I don’t know what to say, try to think of something to say, still haven’t said anything, this is awkward, what do I do now?” And instead of being able to answer the question, I fell into a feedback loop with no way out. Needless to say, I didn’t get into that school. Cynthia Kim describes this really well in her book “Nerdy, Shy, & Socially Inappropriate.”

People are always surprised that I can express myself very clearly in writing, but when it comes to speaking, I can’t seem to get my thoughts together. I stumble over words and probably come across as a little inept.

In college, my friends were my classmates, mostly the ones in my major. We shared many classes and spent lots of time together. I didn’t entirely feel like an outsider for once. I was included most of the time and I would always make sure I could leave whenever I wanted. I have a tendency to leave parties earlier than most.

Now as an adult, I am realizing more and more that my social skills are lacking. Most likely due to avoidance – I didn’t get to make too many mistakes and learn from them. And also because I think I miss out on subtle clues that others pick up on. I have many acquaintances whom I may call friends, but most likely they don’t know me very well. I will usually have no idea if someone likes me or not unless they say it outright. So even if I were to initiate activities with people, I usually have literally no idea if it will go over well. Which means I usually only talk to people in the venue where we meet, such as school, or work and rarely see or talk to them  outside of those areas.

It is no longer a complete mystery to me how people get together romantically. As I’ve gotten older, people seem to be more direct (well they have to be to get my attention) and I haven’t had problems finding people who are interested, but I still feel like I don’t really know how they really work.

24525721329_b127a71792.jpgphoto credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/76813793@N08/24525721329″>Mermaid’s lair</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

All of this is why I think the particular master’s program I chose was extremely difficult for me. The classes were primarily based on the sharing of experiences & reactions in a group setting, as well as identifying and processing emotions and feelings. All things that I have difficulties with. I am much better with facts and in situations where there is a right and a wrong answer. Ask me to share my thoughts and opinions and I’m lost. No wonder it felt like a miracle I got through it.

I am writing this because it helps me process everything, so that I can remember, and learn my strengths and weaknesses. So that I can learn new ways to be in the world. I know now that my former adherence to lists and structure is necessary for me, and that I need to try to learn the subtle cues, to make friends and become the person that I know I can be.


My Search for the Temple of Love

One day in June of 2015, I found myself in Paris, after having spent two days in London and a week in Helsinki. This was my first trip to Europe and I was both excited and exhausted since I was nearing the end of my trip. The flight to Paris was uneventful and I was surprised to not have to pass through customs upon entry. My funds were low so I had to figure out how to take the subway to my hotel. On the train, a young woman is speaking to her boyfriend in English, then turns to me and asks me a question in French. I respond in English, and they get on the train. I watch them briefly, wondering if they are on their honeymoon, they seem so into each other. We get off at the same stop and take the elevator together.
“Where are you from” she asks.
“I live in California right now” I said.
“Oh wow, I’m from Seattle, but I’ve been here for about a month. I met him here,” she says, referring to the the man she was with. “Where are you staying, maybe we could meet for coffee sometime,” she says.
I tell her that I will only be there for two days.
“Well it was nice to meet you, enjoy your trip.”
When I finally arrive at my stop

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it is close to midnight in the city of light, and I struggle to carry my heavy suitcase up and down the dozens of staircases that make up the Paris subway. A stranger helps me carry it up the final staircase, “Merci beaucoup” I say.
I was supposed to stay at a Hotel Excelsior, but when I arrived I found out they had cancelled my reservation, because they had tried to charge my credit card a couple days before and I was low on funds. They had given away my room and had none left. The concierge was very nice and found me a room in the same price range at a hotel down the street. This concierge was very nice as well and gave me a larger room at no extra charge.
I could finally relax. In theory. But with only one full day in Paris, I needed to have a plan.
Salvador Dali Museum
Bois de Vincennes
Chateau de Vincennes
Louvre
Eiffel Tower

300px-Bois_de_Vincennes_20060816_16I came across this picture when researching my trip. It was used in an Airbnb ad that said it was close to the Bois de Vincennes. My French is not the best, but for some reason I never thought to look up the meaning of bois… it means woods. I thought it referred to the structure itself. I wanted to go there.

So the following day, when I woke and got dressed I headed towards Monmartre to find the Salvador Dali museum. The closest subway stop was Sacre Coeur. I hadn’t intended to go there but I had to stop and take a few pictures. I rode the lift to the top and ended up going inside; bought a book from the gift shop. Afterwards, I found the Salvador Dali museum and admired his portrayal of Alice in Wonderland, as well as his series of melting clocks. I explored Monmartre and passed the artists doing portraits. I did not have the time or money to sit for one.

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Next on my list was the Louvre. On exiting the subway, I found myself in a very modern shopping mall attached to the museum. I bought a ticket and entered, searching for a few pieces in the short time I had before they closed. I wanted to see the Mona Lisa, of course, and the Nike of Samothrace as well as the Venus de Milo. I wandered around in awe, still in disbelief that I was in Paris in the Louvre. The Mona Lisa is so much smaller than I had imagined. I had thought it would be much larger due to its fame. People were crowded up next to the rope preventing us from getting too close. Everyone was taking selfies. Myself included :-).

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In the Louvre shopping center, I ordered from a McDonald’s machine, since I had not taken the time to eat. A man came up to me and asked me if I knew where he could get halal food. He asked if I wanted to help him find some. Seemed like it would have been an interesting adventure, but I still had places to see and not much time, so I politely declined.

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I took the train again, this time to Vincennes and saw the castle, the château de Vincennes. I walked around briefly and studied my map because now I needed to find the Bois de Vincennes, and that structure I had seen from the picture. Back to the subway and even though my feet were killing me from walking all day (I wasn’t wearing the right shoes, as usual) I continued on my quest because I had somehow gotten it into my head that I had to find it.

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I get off of the train again and am now at an entrance to the Bois de Vincennes. There is a map, but no picture of what I am searching for. I begin to walk. And walk. Until I feel like I can’t walk anymore so I stop and sit on a bench. And then walk some more. I come across a lake, which I walk around.10649695_10153429476596468_7108053272051725308_n 11214161_10153429475496468_6965881254747377735_n 11059399_10153429475446468_7861102299742160233_o 11148394_10153429475536468_5395456302352892279_n 11023886_10153429476176468_7443010433097942035_o 10697226_10153429475596468_2875909797987623995_o 1978389_10153429476831468_3233204900807404668_o I see signs for a Buddhist temple and I continue to walk. Still no signs of the structure. There are families, people on bikes, people walking. It is still light out, by now it is about 7 or 8 pm. I continue to walk, watching, observing, searching, for something. For this piece of architecture that reminds me of a castle, that I have come all this way to find. That I am not even sure how to find. There are swans in the lake. I decide to call it swan lake. It’s real name is Lac Daumesnil. 11050114_10153429476076468_4488579393472060302_o11222660_10153429475806468_6348178945818265324_o 11393347_10153429475606468_1739619876451423740_o 11406695_10153429476056468_2073484379929849129_o 11537887_10153429476046468_2384708909635221514_o 11429957_10153429475881468_5381022177799691094_oI continue on, now exhausted. I decide to go down a street, leaving the park and the woods behind. I pass theVincennes Zoo, and sit down again.905829_10153429476346468_7344084611674106473_o 1549483_10153429476531468_7222081015445665775_n 10440666_10153429476476468_6241963458453712599_n 10629566_10153429476466468_8680297295170606745_n 11042684_10153429476646468_353770605686121526_n 11227638_10153429476326468_6731253519406310307_n

It is definitely close to 9:00 by now, and still no sign of the structure, and I am almost completely lost. All I can do is continue walking, so I do, slowly because it is all I can manage with my aching feet. A little later I come across a bus stop which has a map, it seems that if I keep going straight I will eventually run into a subway stop. Now, with a plan, I keep going, deciding to give up on my quest and just try to find my way home (back to the hotel). A bus passes, but I am nowhere near the stop anymore and it passes me by. I continue my journey now just to find my way out of this maze, this labyrinth. Just a little farther, I keep telling my feet, don’t let me down now. And soon I see the lake again, and suddenly there, in the distance, I see it, what I now know is the Temple of Love. I had finally found it at the end of my journey. It was beautiful, and definitely worth the hours I spent looking for it. I took a few pictures and finally continued on. It was time to find my way home because I still had one more place on my list.

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Back at the hotel, I searched for the best place to go to see the Eiffel Tower. Turned out I just had to take the subway to Trocadero. I left around 11:30 pm. The directions had said to walk straight upon exiting the subway, so I did. As the building ended, I looked to the left and there is was, as if it had just appeared out of thin air. Much larger than I had expected. I follow the sounds of the crowd of tourists taking pictures and make my way to the front so I can join them. A few minutes later, the lights begin to flash. I had come just in time for the light show. I stayed after most people had gone, somehow unable to bring myself to leave quite yet. I had to go closer, though the courtyard, past the Seine because I couldn’t believe this was real, that I was actually in Paris, standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. I found myself wishing my mom could have been there with me, felt the tears begin to form behind my eyes as I tried not to let them fall. I don’t know how long I was there, an hour maybe. I finally said goodbye, not wanting to miss the last train and be forced to take a cab like I had in London. (I stayed out late in Picadilly Circus and people kept trying to lure me into unmarked taxis…)

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The next day, I made my way to the Charles de Gaulle and boarded the 13 hour flight to San Francisco. My vacation was over, time to re-enter the life I once knew.


A Dream/Poem of Distortion

5539913049_ecbcbcdf7b_bImage Credit: Time Distortion by Mario in arte Akeu. License found here

I leave the room for a minute, and when I return, someone has taken my seat

My brother gives me my plate, not much food on it anyway.

I go into the other room which has mirrors – I see myself, and I look normal

There is a man named Jessie who is eating with us.

I don’t know him. I suspect that he is there with me, but we don’t speak.

He feels like a stranger. But I think he is supposed to be my boyfriend.

I realize I am in a Criminal Minds episode, one that I remember

I am part of the team. We are searching for an unsub, and we have to clear out the room with the mirrors.

But before that, I am back in that room looking at myself in the mirrors and find that my image is distorted.

It keeps changing, like I’m in a house of mirrors where one second my face is huge and distorted,

another my body is super skinny,

then fat,

every time I look

a new distortion.

I find my friend with the long blond hair. It appears she is an extra on the set.

We look at ourselves in the mirror.

I ask her if everything looks normal. She does not notice anything unusual.

I am afraid/know I am losing my mind. I feel myself spiraling into that black hole/hold.

I don’t tell her what I see.

We are now cleaning out a small room which seems to be attached to a garage.

I see a commotion and it looks like the unsub escaped through the sliding garage door.

In the dream, I remember seeing this episode.

I watch as Reid chases after him.

I remember feeling it was strange to be in the episode instead of watching it, only experiencing part of it.

Filming is over and they tell me it’s time to say goodbye to my friend.

I find her in the checkout line in a supermarket and she gives me a post-it note with her contact information.

I remember wondering, being confused about a time loop:

how could this be happening now, if the episode had already aired…

but this hadn’t happened before, so it has to be happening now

I find myself trying to get on to an escalator, but instead of working like usual, it rose straight up instead,

leaving an empty space where the bottom step should have been

I follow another cast member up the stairs/ladder to the right

and when I get to the top, there is nowhere to get off

I feel that someone else is controlling the motion now and I continue up, past people on exercise bikes

the ceiling is getting closer and closer and I have to almost lie down so I don’t get squished

I am now horizontal in a normal sized room, but find that I am strapped into this machine that is pulling me around

I’m trying to escape, only one leg is strapped in

Finally a guard comes over and releases me

I remember almost losing my shoe

I walk around and find that there is a checkout counter where we can buy food/drinks.

I look at the drinks in the case, there is apple juice, orange juice, etc. All only half full, all stale.

There are people crowding around everywhere.I don’t know what’s going on.

I hear people whispering “should we tell her?” I ask someone and she says that there will be an execution.

We are all being led outside, forced to watch. I push my way to the front to get out of there.

There is a man who may be after me.

Once I’m outside, I remember that this is a dream and I try to escape this scenery.

I feel myself start swirling and I find myself lying in some grass.

This place looks very strange. There are huge creatures, the colors are very vivid.

They look like huge stuffed animals come to life.

I look down and realize I am holding a small stuffed animal that I brought through the vortex with me.

I realize it is now alive as I feel its claws dig into me.

I am trying to escape from these giant creatures, and I see something that looks like tree branches coming towards me.

At first I think it is a giant spider, but then a kid pulls on its leash and I realize that is is a giant dragon.

I am thinking “Did I really just escape that prison, only to almost get eaten by a dragon?”

So as remember again that I am dreaming, I decide to walk through a tree.

As I get close, I wonder it if will work, but I truly believe it will.

As I enter the tree, I feel the depth of it, I feel its spirit welcoming me, enveloping me

I move through it slowly and as I exit on the other side, I realize I am on the other side of the house.

There are kids playing outside and when the door opens, I realize that I didn’t escape.

It’s the house of the man who imprisoned me. I want to run, but then think that since it is still a dream

Maybe I should face him.

So I walk inside the open door to the enclosed porch

It is dark outside and I see my reflection in the mirror

I look like a younger version of me

I am wearing a pink T-shirt with writing on it and jeans

A wide brim straw hat is on my head

I find the inside door

Knock

His very small wife answers. She is short and is wearing bright red lipstick. She seems like a caricature.

She recognizes me and says “Oh, it’s you…”

She says that before she lets me in, I have to apologize to her.

I apologize

For what, I am not sure.

Then walk through the kitchen. The woman is now nowhere in sight.

I see two cats playing, one of the looks like my cat. It seems that she used to live here.

I continue on to the living room and a see another cat.

There is a teenage girl coming down the stairs.

I tell her that I am here to see her father.

She says that she will go get him

and I sit down to wait.

I begin to feel myself losing the dream

begin to feel my physical body

I try to hold on, but it is already fading

already gone

and I am no longer there.

I know the man’s name in the dream

In the dream, I have known him before

now I cannot remember


Dream Research Project Update!

Due to interest from people in various areas, I have updated this research project to include meetings via phone or internet. I am hoping to have the first meeting within the next week or two, before 2/18/15. For more information on the project please see my previous post or visit my Dream Research Project page. I have also created a private facebook group where I will be uploading files and opening discussion for the design of the project. If you would like to join, please visit the groups facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/liminaldreamresearch/ and request to join. All updates will be posted on the group page. Also, if you are not on Facebook and want to participate, please email me at lday@email.jfku.edu and I will send you more information.


A Tale of Universal Relativity

index

This is a poem I wrote after reading the book shown above. I will post a review soon, but I really enjoyed it. I got it for my dad for Father’s day and we read it together.

A Tale of Universal Relativity

Can we, through the subtleties of poetry

discover the secrets of the universe?

of who we are and why we exist

if we even exist at all

If we look to the implications of modern physics

it seems to say that only nothing is real

that nothing

is real

that we live in an observer-dependent reality

negating the idea of of a True reality outside of us

not that we can’t observe it

but that it cannot exist

 

Who are we in the world of nothing

what then of our experiences

of life

of love

of hurt

and pain

and longing

and grief

of fear

and death

Is there a purpose behind the world of illusions

the world as we know it

according to each of us

 

There must be some sort of overlap

so that we can share a sense of understanding

of love

Maybe our emotions

or love

as Maya Angelou said

is what holds the stars in the sky

 

Maybe the world will end in fire

or possibly in ice

in the words of Robert Frost

 

Or maybe it will not end at all

if it never began

if it always has

and always will

exist

And what of life

and of consciousness

and sleep

and dreams

 

I go to sleep at night, or sometimes day

and visit a different world

one very different, it seems, from the one I usually see

where things seems to overlap

boundaries are non-existent

and nothing is distinct

a fluid universe of probabilities

only vaguely remembered upon waking

I try to create a story

out of the fragments of my memory

the fragments of my fading dreams

 

We start out as a mixture of DNA

a blueprint for a being

encoded in strings of molecules

giving birth to a cell

which grows to form a baby

who is born into this strange evanescent world

where we learn of love

of hate

of pain

and hurt

but also of joy

and empathy

we have experiences

interpret them

allow them to shape our world

 

Once upon a time

my mom told me

she thought she was an alien

I have often felt that way myself

as if I am an observer

learning human ways

And maybe that’s true

that we are all observers

observing the worlds

of everyone around us

 

It has sometimes been hard to tell the difference

between my dreams and this reality

I seem to have a memory

sometime when I was small

of there being a wall inside of our apartment

just high enough to reach the windows

of course I know

it was never there

but the memory is so clear

and maybe it was there

an internal wall

built around me

that only I could see

 

My childhood memories are vague

my memories in pieces

shards whose edges have been rounded by time

or is it distance whose disappearance

causes its velocity to be undefined

 

I look at the child I used to be

all those years ago

now as an observer

an impossibility

my memories shaped

by the person I have become

the one I seem to look at

being somewhat different

from the me I was then

the me that I felt

from the inside

 

We live our lives from the inside

with only occasional glimpses from others

who have a more objective view

we are only ever able to approximate how we seem to others

interpreted back to us

through their eyes

their perspectives

their biases

because maybe

there is no ultimately objective view

and due to incompleteness

we cannot measure ourselves

but only know ourselves

as completely as possible

from the inside

 

Some may call this intuition

some of us are good at following it

some of us have yet to listen

 

There was a time when it saved my mother’s life

she had a feeling and decided to listen

unable to explain why

until we made it home

to find the window shattered

a bullet hole in the wall

 

She told me stories of how she left her body

saw it lying there on the bed

and how if someone had tried to wake her

she would not have been able to get back in

 

There was the time she found her grandmother

knocking at her door

coming to see the baby

born the day she died

fulfilling her earthly promise

to tell her granddaughter

what death was like

and restore the baby’s health

for whom no earthly treatment could cure

 

I was afraid for her before it happened

I could see the signs

She told me to trust her

she knew how to handle it

And I suppose

since she was the adult

I listened

but I was still scared

I was sure he had tried to kill her once before

and was just waiting

for another opportunity

It came a few days later

a week maybe

and I knew

when she didn’t come home that night

when I didn’t sleep waiting for the sound of the gate

but knowing every time

that it wasn’t her

she would not come

 

The next day at the police station

they did not take us seriously

said maybe she just left

I told them they didn’t know her

they said there was nothing they could do

 

I knew I had to find her

had to go back to that apartment

find out if the neighbors heard something

My brother went, since he had not been

but I found that I

could not sit idly by and wait

so I put on a disguise, changed my clothes, my hair

and went to join him

in our little escapade

a ruse to get inside

 

we knocked on every door

to no avail

no one wanted to talk to strangers

no one would come to their door

not until after we broke down the door

and found out what I had known all along

somehow now they opened their doors

for us to call 911

 

I remember the first few words of a note he left

I was not allowed to see the rest

I remember being afraid

that he would come after us too

they found him after a week

as he was about to be released

from the hospital after claiming to be hearing voices

 

Once upon a time

I kept my secrets to myself

kept my heart locked in a castle

only rarely allowing entry

to those I had given a key

never allowing them to see me

barely daring to enter myself

 

But maybe sometimes

it’s okay to open the door

to show you around

maybe it doesn’t have to be

a pandora’s box

where hope is the only thing

that cannot escape

 

As Emily Dickenson says

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words-

And never stops – at all


More Lucid Dream Strangeness….a singsong voice said “You’re still dreaming…”

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Just had more lucid dream strangeness. I was on a balcony where I had just been, but the street had changed and I realized I was dreaming so I jumped off the balcony and started to fly. I asked the dream to take me somewhere and I ended up in this room with red/burgundy couches and all the doors were closed. I opened one and there were about 5 or 6 people sitting in chairs, kind of like a classroom. They all stood up when I came in. I recognized my mom as one of them. It was when she was younger maybe still in school. I think it was around the time that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. So I went up to her and told her that I was her daughter, her future daughter and she hugged me. I told her I hadn’t seen her in 17 years. She looked at me and told her friends “she does look kind of like me doesn’t she?” Then the dream ended and I woke up. I looked at my cell phone and started to look at my messages, and noticed that they seemed strange, I couldn’t remember half of them, and then I found a picture on my phone of the room with the red couches from my dream. I heard this strange almost twilight zone type music and a singsong voice said “you’re still dreaming…” and I was whisked away again, this time to the apartment where I grew up. As I walked by my parents bedroom I saw two shadowy figures look at me, one of them waved. I continued to walk down the hallway, looked in the other bedroom, then the dining room and kitchen. I tried to look at the clock but it was kind of blurry. As my attention would shift from one room to the next, each room would change, the furniture, the decor, so that every time I looked at each room it looked different. I think I decided to take a picture of one, and this man appeared, he said he wanted to make it look believable for the picture. I asked “Who are you” and he said “The director”. I followed him thorough this hidden doorway to what looked like a movie set, but he would not say more. I then remember my attention shifting back to my body in bed which I could feel, but felt as if I was in a deep meditative state. It felt as if I was just awake meditating and thinking, I was aware of my breathing, my cat sleeping on the pillow above my head, I felt her tail brush against my face. I started to wonder if maybe lucid dreaming isn’t really sleeping at all, maybe it’s something in between dreaming and meditating. In this dream state, I felt it was less fragile than lucid dreams I have had in the past. I wonder if it is possible that I could have traveled back in time in my dream and visited her…


Adventures in Book Shopping

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I got these books last night after spending about an hour in the science section of Dimple books (http://www.dimple.com)…Yes I know I have an addiction. At least I wasn’t at the free bookstore (http://www.bayareafreebookexchange.com), I would have had 3 times this amount. So here’s my story: it’s about 10 minutes before they close, and I want to look at the philosophy section briefly, so I’m trying to carry all these books in my hands, I have them in a stack when I see a book I want to look at. I don’t really want to put the ones I’m carrying down so I kind of lean them against the shelf so I can pick up the book. As I’m doing this two guys come into the store. One of them says he wants to show the other one a book. As they walk by me one of them speaks, so I say hi. He asks why I’m holding the books like that and if I work there. I explain that I’m just trying to carry them so I can pay for them. He picks up an astrology book, opens it, and asks what my sign is:

Me: Scorpio

Him: Oh well we’re a perfect match!

Me: What is your sign?

Him: Libra

Me: Okay… (thinking: Right…not sure Libras and Scorpios go well together…but ok)

Him: I bet you have more books than friends.

Me: (gives him confused look while trying to read the back of the book I had picked up) Why do you say that?….What’s that supposed to mean? (I should have said: While that may be true, I have found they are much better company than most people.)

Him: (awkward silence) So you should give me your number. (He pulls out his phone.)

Me: (Seriously? shaking head) No, sorry.

He (thankfully) walks away.

So yeah, weird encounter aside, I’m excited about my new books :) Especially Bride of Science by Benjamin Wooley and Nature’s Numbers by Ian Stewart. The books I found seem to have certain themes. For a lot of the day yesterday, I was doing some research on genealogy and am very interested in learning my history and where my ancestors came from and then I find the National Geographic book on Deep Ancestry by Spencer Wells and Before the Dawn by Nicholas Wade. Also, the nautilus symbol seems to keep reappearing for me: 1. We recently talked about it in one of my classes. 2. I recently discovered this magazine and blog called Nautilus (http://nautil.us) 3. It’s on the cover of the Nature’s Numbers book and a Sacred Geometry book I found. So maybe there is some significance to it for me. The other theme I saw was the intersection of art and science which has always inspired me, but even more so after having re-read the book that sparked my interest in science (see last post) Properties of Light by Rebecca Goldstein. So definitely excited to get started. Now all I need is lots of time…

 

 

 


My Story So Far

So, I want to tell you a story…

Actually sort of a recap of my life for the past year and a half since moving to California.

I remember how when I told people I was moving, they were always more excited than I was. I had no interest in moving here, it wasn’t really something I even wanted at all, it was something I felt I had to do, some unknown force. (Especially since I avoided California when applying to schools as an undergrad due to fear of earthquakes.) But this graduate program felt like something I needed to do. What I was excited about was going back to school (too bad it’s not quite what I had expected). And in hindsight, I realize I should have done a little (a lot) more research, and a little (a lot) more preparation. It’s hard to know what to expect when moving across the country on your own without family/ friends (although for me, it’s not the first time…I was seventeen then, an undergrad-with very few things…but I digress) to one of the most expensive areas (SF Bay area) in the country when you’re broke and dependent on an unknown (at the time) amount of student loan income, in a recession with unrealistic expectations of the length of time it will take to find a job in your field…

After two months, I put all of my things in storage and left my ridiculously expensive shared apartment and my jerk of a roommate whom I found on craigslist and chose as being the better of two unappealing living situations (the other having been less expensive but with four other people who didn’t seem to get along very well), having had only 1 week to find a place to live for me and my cat… (not to mention how pet-unfriendly most places in the area are…) and went back home (Chicago) for a month, where I subsequently lost, and found said cat, and decided to give California another try. This time with a little more insight (still nowhere near enough). But at least I was able to find a slightly better living situation (month-to-month lease, my own bedroom/bathroom/yard, but still shared, and still way too expensive for a struggling unemployed grad student with too many bills.) While I was home, I had told myself I would find my cat, find an apartment, and find a job. And within 2 months I had done all three. Although in hindsight, I should have been a little more specific…

I got a job tutoring high school students in math and science part time, which was cool for the most part…the kids were great….but it would have been nice if they paid me on a regular basis…

So at this point, I was ready to leave, move back to Chicago, Philadelphia, anywhere at all. And if I hadn’t gotten my current job, I would have…but apparently it seems to be in the cards that I stay, at least for now. And even though my grad program isn’t quite what I thought it would be, I have learned a lot (mostly about myself, which I guess is why they call it Consciousness and Transformative Studies). I’m still not sure if I will finish it, but I’m taking it one quarter at a time…

Even with my job, I couldn’t sustain life in the Bay area, so I moved to Sacramento and am definitely much happier there, even with the commute. I really don’ t mind the drive, but for me an hour commute isn’t terrible…(in Chicago, it usually takes about a half hour to get anywhere anyway so I’m used to that). I’ve noticed that most people seem to love San Francisco and the Bay area. I am not one of them. They’re definitely great places to visit, but not places I want to live…(SF = expensive tiny apartments, multiple roommates…I like my privacy too much, even Oakland and Berkeley are not much better); so now I have my own studio apartment in Sacramento and I feel much more at home :). It’s more suburban than I’m used to, and I may move to midtown when my lease ends, but my rent is affordable and no roommates (Yay!)

So I made another vow; to stop focusing on the problems in my life and know that everything will be okay. I have food to eat, a place to live, a job…that’s all I really need. Every problem, I think, has a solution and life is about finding them. The solution may not be obvious and you may have to be creative, but it’s there.

A couple of months ago, I started a full time temporary day job thinking it could be a solution. Because, although my rent is now affordable, my total expenses have not decreased much (the law of conservation of expenses has converted it into gas for my commute). Well it definitely helped, but not in the way I had hoped. I worked there for a week and a half before I quit. I found that I could not work a full time day job, part time (30 hour/week) night job and go to school. The work was boring, tedious, and I was so exhausted I could barely function. But in that week and a half, I learned something. It was because I hated it so much, that it made me realize everything I love about my current job (never having to set alarms and wake up early, not having supervisors monitoring my every move,  having free time during the day…)  It made the negatives mere annoyances (non-compete clause, ten hour shifts (as opposed to twelve), etc.). It helped me truly understand that I am lucky to have a job, especially one that I enjoy and that allows me to go to school. And I am definitely grateful, because a lot of the people I worked with there don’t have the luxury to quit.

So now I look forward to going to work (I work as a sleep tech). And I started taking math classes at another school as well during my free time during the day. I’m currently taking a Linear Algebra class (which is where I quit math as an undergrad) here’s to hoping I can get through it this time around…first math class I have ever had difficulty with and I took Calculus through Differential Equations…conceptually I love it (vector spaces, etc.) but I can’t seem to finish the exams… This summer, I’m taking Discrete Structures and a few courses in my other grad program probably on psychology of consciousness and starting my research project. I’m also working on writing a sort of fictional memoir as well as  starting a science literary project and preparing to apply for PhD programs… I think I have finally figured out that I am a philosopher after all and am looking into programs in Philosophy of Science (neuroscience, physics, cognitive science, etc.) because I love to think about this stuff… (and if I got to do that all day, it wouldn’t be work).

A few weeks ago, I attended a conference on consciousness in Tucson, which was very interesting…I will post my thoughts on that very soon… So until next time…

Latasha Monique


The World as ‘I’ Know It

(a poetic interpretation of the Being Human Conference)

There once was a world
and in that world there was an ‘I’
‘I’ have a body and a brain and something called a mind
all of which ‘I’ use to interpret the signals that surround me
these signals tell me that ‘I’ am a human
and that there are millions of others like me
and that they, like me, are human too
and share my world
that they also have bodies, and brains and minds of their own
and that each of these bodies and brains and minds are different
that they interpret the signals around them differently than ‘I’ do
and perceive the world (that we share) differently
can ‘I’ be sure that they really exist
that they aren’t just my mind’s interpretation of the signals that surround me
so ‘I’ learn how to communicate with them
discover some similarities
some differences
share experiences
create bonds
they are as real to me as anything else ‘I’ know

‘I’ know that our bodies work in a similar way
the mirror neurons in my brain allow me to empathize
to see myself in them; to imagine their experiences as my own
to become their reflection
‘I’ am able to trick my brain, even though my mind knows better
to alleviate my phantom pain
my contextual reality, how easy it is to trick the brain
it still believes the illusion, even when the mind is freed

our thoughts and experiences shape our world
how we interpret the information we have been given
they comprise our chosen deception
they are the filters through which we perceive

‘I’ can essentially “see myself see”
which is awareness you see
but ‘I’ cannot see how ‘I’ see
that is the unconscious me
thus ‘I’ cannot see the unconscious me
due to oversimplicity
you see the conscious me
only knows the summary
to understand the full story
would require many more words
than are in my vocabulary
to understand the unconscious me
would require the entire dictionary

‘I’ have been informed that there is a sense of self
that exists within my brain
that ‘I’ project onto this body
but can also be transposed
onto a different body
to trick my brain
into thinking it is me
how is it that my brain
cannot see the holes in its own reality
these are just simple deceptions
that my mind can see through
but what about something more complex
something like my unconscious me
that my mind cannot fully understand
how do ‘I’ know
if what ‘I’ think ‘I’ know
is real
or is my ‘reality’ just a projection
of my unconscious me…?


The Uncertainty of Being Human

 

It is because Humanity has never known where it was going that it has been able to find its way.

~ Oscar Wilde

We are all human beings being human – a characteristic that all who are reading this share (as far as we know). But what does it mean, to be human? Is it the set of characteristics that set us apart from other beings? What does our ‘humanity’ consist of? Is it just our common biology; that we are not primates?, What is it that about us that makes us distinctively ‘human’ and not monsters (vampires, werewolves, ghosts, etc…) Does it have to do with our sense of self, our awareness, our consciousness? Could it be the space in between, the capacity to use these tools to create, to imagine alternative possibilities? Or our compassion, our ability to empathize and become a mirror for the experiences of others? The speakers at the Being Human conference sought to provide some insight into this .

We as humans are a conflux of seemingly conflicting dualities; we have the capacity for rationality, but still act irrationally,we have the capacity for logic, but are driven by emotions; we create complex machines to mimic ourselves, yet have little understanding of how our own machinery works, we have the capacity to build and the capacity to destroy, to love, to hate, for compassion and for intolerance, to become architects of greatness or destruction. We live in a world that isn’t exactly as it seems; a world where colors can appear different depending on context alone, where phantom limbs can cause real pain; where a lesion in a particular part of the brain can essentially change who you are; and our sense of self can be easily transposed to an avatar. How easy it is to trick ourselves, it comes as no surprise that we become complicit in our own deception.

We trust in our senses to transmit information, which is the basis for how we perceive the world. The information enters through our senses and is presented to the brain for interpretation. The brain looks for relationships in the information in order to provide meaning, giving it context. The brain relies on experience and history in creating these relationships. Without context, the information is meaningless. Through feedback from experiences, we adapt and create a sense of normalcy consistent with our worldview. The awareness that we have, the ability to ‘see ourselves see’ allows us to see the illusions; to see that our perceptions are dependent on context and experience. It also allows for us to see the possibility of other viewpoints, since other people’s perceptions are based on their experiences; to have compassion for their view of the world.

There are many ways in which we can trick the brain. Optical illusions are easy enough to see through once you know the truth behind them, but there are others. Perceptual sensory illusions aka phantom limbs are another. This phenomenon occurs when the loss of a limb is not acknowledged by the brain, so the brain still monitors the limb as if it is still there. One can consciously know that the limb is gone, but the conscious mind can’t communicate that information to the brain. There is a gap between the conscious and unconscious processes. One consequence of this is that these phantom limbs can cause real pain, which is very disconcerting since there is no limb which can be treated. It has been shown that one way to relieve this phantom pain is to hold up a mirror to the opposite limb and perform actions to relieve the pain while looking in the mirror. The brain accepts the sensory information as seen in the mirror as real even though one ‘knows’ it’s just a mirror. This is one example of the duality between the conscious mind and body.  Rama (V.S. Ramachandran) described a patient who had phantom pain in her thumb, but felt relief of her pain while watching her husband massage his corresponding thumb. One explanation for this could be due to the existence of mirror neurons – a cluster of neurons in the brain that fire in response to an action perceived to happen to anyone. For instance, if you see someone get stabbed with a needle, the same neurons fire in you as in them, the only difference is that your skin sends feedback to the brain telling you that it is fine and not to feel pain. In someone with a phantom limb, there is no feedback response, so you would feel as if it had actually happened to you. These cells mirror the cells in another and allow us to empathize, to see ourselves in others.

Thomas Metzinger posits that the self is not a thing but a process and that there exists, a global representation of the self in the brain. In a rubber hand experiment it has been shown that when one’s own hand is replaced by a rubber hand, the visual illusion is enough to convince your brain to think that it belongs to you. And in other experiments through work with a group called Virtual Embodiment and Robotic Re-Embodiment (VERE) in Israel, this sense of self has been shown to be able to be transposed into virtual avatars and perceiving robots where using an fMRI the avatars/robots were able to be controlled remotely by thought. He also talked about the element of transparency: how we don’t see the neurons firing but only what they represent for us; we are unaware of the medium through which information reaches us. The combination of the self model and transparency create a concept of selfhood. There is a kind of uncertainty as to how information gets to us, it’s as if we are looking through a window without actually seeing the window only what is outside of it.

As Beau Lotto stated, the brain is presented with uncertainty because we have no direct access to the physical world other than through our senses. The brain can only rely on experience to provide meaning. It is the awareness of perceiving that allows us to choose how to interpret the information that is presented to us; which experiences to use as filters what lens to use to view the world.

David Eagleman’s talk reminded us that everything we do is beyond the scope of conscious awareness. There is a gap between the conscious and unconscious mind. The conscious mind is just a summary of what the brain does; an abstract representation. It is in this conscious/unconscious gap where uncertainty lies. When we try to observe these unconscious processes, we find that we don’t quite get it right, that we don’t really know how we do the things we know how to do. We cannot observe ourselves accurately, the act of observation can change it/ruin it. The conscious mind cannot observe the unconscious, it does not have the tools, so the act of trying to make sense of it simplifies it to a point where it doesn’t work anymore – conscious interference.

When you think about the awareness that we have, the ability to ‘see ourselves see’ as Beau Lotto put it, it allows us to choose the ways in which we perceive. Allows for us to, in Richie Davidson’s words, ‘envision alternative possibilities’, which I think opens the doors to imagination and creativity. Each of us share a common biology, a common form, but have vastly different histories and experiences through which we view the world, thus creating many completely different worlds. Through our awareness of this process we are able to have compassion; our bodies are made with mirror circuitry built in, giving us the ability to empathize with others. Our conscious minds create an image of the self in our brains and along with our senses, through which we transmit information, allow us to develop a sense of selfhood and choose the world in which we live. The ultimate uncertainty is that life has no blueprint, no guide and in that uncertainty is freedom. Freedom in not knowing, freedom to to make our own choices and the capacity to envision alternative possibilities.

Richie Davidson is the Founder and Chair, Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison http://www.investigatinghealthyminds.org/

 

Beau Lotto is a Biologist and Performance Artist http://www.lottolab.org/
V.S. Ramachandran is the director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego http://cbc.ucsd.edu/ramabio.html
Thomas Metzinger is a professor of Theoretical Philosophy at Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz http://www.philosophie.uni-mainz.de/metzinger/
David Eagleman is a Professor of Neuroscience and Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine http://www.eagleman.com/

Make sure to check out my previous post which is a list of books by the presenters from the conference where you can find more information about some of the ideas presented here. http://www.ladylxa.com/archives/327

Click here to view the conference in it’s entirety. For more information on the Being Human conference visit http://www.beinghuman2012.org or http://www.beinghuman.org

On a related note, I just finished David Eagleman’s book of stories “Sum”. Very interesting and goes along with the idea of our ability to envision alternative possibilities. It is a series of 40 stories that imagine 40 different scenarios for what the afterlife is and provides context and meaning for the world as we know it. And each and every one could be a very real possibility!


Various Thoughts on Being Human Conference

culture is the shared interpretation of information.
what if no one person exists
all aspects of the mind of god
all parts of the hologram that contains the whole in each
one aspect of the whole,
we surround ourselves with ‘people’ who are similar to us, who share the same worldview, who interpret the world in a similar way to us
what if there are no people, there is no one else
maybe the purpose is creativity, to create our world
i think therefore i am – i cannot be sure about you
how do i know that you really exist, that you share my world
that you are not just in my mind
a trick, an illusion
how do i know if i see you as you really are
or is what i see only a projection, my interpretation of the information of you