Health, Minds, Personal

Truthiness & COVID denial by the dying

Enough people believe enough odd things that I was not surprised when I learned of COVID deniers; not just because the same happened a century ago with Influenza, but also my own former (as a teenager, now embarrassing) sincere belief in the occult.

Indeed, even when it comes to people denying the existence of COVID even in their dying breath (and despite claims that these reports are, if not incorrect, then exaggerated), I find this scenario very plausible thanks to the unfortunate path of my father’s bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer, as you might guess, can require a colectomy and the subsequent use of a colostomy bag. As one function of the colon is to absorb water, skipping it means you must increase your consumption to compensate. My father did not drink more water, and therefore suffered kidney failure just as I arrived for that year’s family Christmas — so I got to listen to his nurse telling my father all of the things I’ve just written about in order to explain to him why he now had an emergency hydration drip going in one arm and an emergency kidney rescue drug going in the other. Despite this, my father absolutely denied there was anything was wrong with how much water he was drinking.

He died two months later.

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Health, Personal

Ohne Kaffee

As anyone who has spent any significant time with me will know, I have a genuinely problematic relationship with coffee. If I don’t watch myself I can drink nothing but coffee all day, sometimes even double strength — 4 cups is one thing, 2 litres of double strength is too much.

Because of this, every so often I try to cut it out entirely. This time, I’m trying to keep a diary.

Day 1, Saturday

A bit tired, nothing special.

Day 2, Sunday

Really tired, bad headache, took ibuprofen.

Day 3, Monday

A bit tired, occasionally tempted to grab a coffee from the machine at work.

Day 4, Tuesday

Working from home along with everyone else because of Coronavirus. A bit tired, very unfocused. Not sure if the loss of focus is from the switch to home office or from the withdrawal. Definitely feeling like a coffee would help.

Leg ache developed in the evening, feeling like I’d run 5 km.

Day 5, Wednesday

Arm and leg muscles ache.

Day 6, Thursday

No issues.

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Health, Minds, Psychology

Attention ec — ooh, a squirrel

List of my current YouTube subscriptions. It's very long.

I think the zeitgeist seems to be moving away from filling all our time with things and being hyper-connected, and towards rarer more meaningful connections.

It’s… disturbing and interesting at the same time, to realise that the attention-grabbing nature of all the things I enjoy has been designed to perfectly fit me, and all of us, by the same survival-of-the-fittest logic that causes natural evolution.

That which best grabs the attention, thrives. That which isn’t so powerful, doesn’t.

And when we develop strategies to defend ourselves against certain attention-grabbers, the attention-grabbers which use different approaches that we have not yet defended against take the place of those we have protected ourselves from.

A memetic arms race, between mental hygiene and thought germs.

I’ve done stuff in the last three months, but that stuff hasn’t included “finish editing next draft of my novel”. I could’ve, if only I’d made time for that instead of drinking from the (effectively) bottomless well of high quality YouTube content (see side-image for my active subscriptions; I also have to make a conscious effort to not click on the interesting clips from TV shows that probably shouldn’t even be on YouTube in the first place). Even though I watch most content sped up to a factor of 1.5 or 2, I can barely find time for all the new YouTube content I care about and do my online language courses and make time for the other things like finding a job.

Editing my novel? It’s right there, on my task list… but I barely touch it, even though it’s fulfilling to work on it, and fun to re-read. I don’t know if this is ego depletion or akrasia or addiction, but whatever it is, it’s an undesirable state.

I’m vulnerable to comments sections, too. Of course, I can do something about those — when I notice myself falling into a trap, I can block a relevant domain name in my hosts file. I have a lot of stuff in that file these days, and even then I slip up a bit because I can’t edit my iPhones hosts file.

Now that I know there’s a problem, I’m working on it… just like everyone else. The irony is, by disconnecting from the hyper-connected always-on parts of the internet, we’re not around to help each other when we slip up.

CGPGrey: Thinking About Attention — Walk with Me — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wf2VxeIm1no

CGPGrey: This Video Will Make You Angry — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE3j_RHkqJc

Elsewhere on this blog: Hyperinflation in the attention economy: what succeeds adverts?

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Health, Psychology

Alzheimer’s

It’s as fascinating as it is sad to watch a relative fall, piece by piece, to Alzheimer’s. I had always thought it was just anterograde- and progressive retrograde amnesia of episodic memory, but its worse. It’s affecting:

  • Her skills (e.g. how to get dressed, or how much you need to chew in order to swallow).
  • Her semantic knowledge (e.g. [it is dark outside] ⇒ [it is night], or what a bath is for).
  • Her working memory (seems to be reduced to about 4 items: she can draw triangles and squares, but not higher polygons unless you walk her through it; and if you draw ◯◯▢◯▢▢ then ask her to count the circles, she says “one (pointing at the second circle), two (pointing at the third circle), that’s a square (pointing at the third square), three (pointing at the second circle again), four (pointing at the third circle again), that’s a pentagon (pointing at the pentagon I walked her through drawing); and if she is looking at a group of five cars, she’ll call it “lots of cars” rather than instantly seeing it’s five).
  • The general concept of things existing on the left side as looked at. (I always thought this was an urban legend or a misunderstanding of hemianopsia, but she will look at a plate half-covered in food and declare it finished, and rotating that plate 180° will enable her to eat more; if I ask her to draw a picture of me, she’ll stop at the nose and miss my right side (her left); if we get her to draw a clock she’ll usually miss all the numbers, but if prompted to add them will only put them on the side that should be clockwise from 12 to 6).
  • Connected-ness of objects, such as drawing the handle of a mug connected directly to the rim.
  • Object permanence — if she can’t see a thing, sometimes she forgets the thing exists. Fortunately not all the time, but she has asserted non-existence separately to “I’ve lost $thing”.
  • Vocabulary. I’m sure everyone has a fine example of word soup they can think of (I have examples, both of things I’ve said and also of frustratingly bad communications from a client), but this is high and increasing frequency — last night’s example was “this apple juice is much better than the apple juice”.

I know vision doesn’t work the way we subjectively feel it works. I hypothesise that it is roughly:

  1. Eyes →
  2. Object and feature detection, similar to current machine vision →
  3. Something that maps detected objects and features into a model of reality →
  4. “Awareness” is of that model

It fits with the way she’s losing her mind. Bit by bit, it seems like her vision is diminishing from a world full of objects, to a TV static with a few objects floating freely in that noise.

An artistic impression of her vision. The image is mostly hidden by noise, but a red British-style telephone box is visible, along with a shadow, and a flag. The 'telephone' sign is floating freely, away from the box.

How might she see the world?

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