Monday, October 29, 2018

Makes me feel lazy, but also sane (Part 2)

I have often linked to Bee Hossenfelder's Backreaction blog on physics.  She's a good writer, if presenting as somewhat eccentric in her music video hobby, and I should read her book and the current serious problems within theoretical physics.

She has made reference in the past to some mental health issues, but in this post, I'm surprise to read about her how bad her dissociative fugue problem when she was younger.   Quite remarkable, and actually something that sounds very suitable as a basis for a movie plot:

Horgan’s book “The End of Science” was originally published 1996. I never read it because after attempting to read Stuart Kauffman’s 1995 book “At Home In the Universe” I didn’t touch a popular science book for a decade. This had very little to do with Kauffman (who I’d meet many years later) and very much to do with a basic malfunction of my central processing unit. Asked to cope with large amounts of complex, new information, part of my brain will wave bye-bye and go fishing. The result is a memory blackout.

I started having this in my early 20s, as I was working on my bachelor’s degree. At the time I was living in Frankfurt where I shared an apartment with another student. As most students, I spent my days reading. Then one day I found myself in a street somewhere in the city center without any clue how I had gotten there. This happened again a few weeks later. Interestingly enough, in both cases I was looking at my own reflection in a window when my memory came back.

It’s known as dissociative fugue, and not entirely uncommon. According to estimates, it affects about one or two in a thousand people at least once in their life. The actual number may be higher because it can be hard to tell if you even had a fugue. If you stay in one place, the only thing you may notice is that the day seems rather short.

These incidents piled up for a while. Aside from sudden wake-ups in places I had no recollection of visiting, I was generally confused about what I had or had not done. Sometimes I’d go to take a shower only to find my towel wet and conclude I probably had already taken one earlier. Sometimes I’d stand in the stair case with my running shoes, not knowing whether I was just about to go running or had just come back. I made sure to eat at fixed times to not entirely screw up my calorie intake.

Every once in a while I would meet someone I know or answer the phone while my stupid brain wasn’t taking records. For what I’ve been told, I’m not any weirder off-the-record than on-the-record. So not like I have multiple personalities. I just sometimes don’t recall what I do.

The biggest problem with dissociative fugue isn’t the amnesia. The biggest problem is that you begin to doubt your own ability to reconstruct reality. I suspect the major reason I’m not a realist and have the occasional lapse into solipsism is that I know reality is fragile. A few wacky neurons are all it takes to screw it up.

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