Sunday, 11 July 2010

Ain't No Dancer

He felt like he'd been woken from a deep sleep, his mind still groggy and his body stiff, unmoving. He tried to recall what he had done the last night, the last few days, to end up in this sutation, but he couldn't remember. His thoughts were caught up as if in a fog, moving around his brain slowly, feeling their way around. He tried to open his eyes, but hey refused to respond to his thoughts. It struck him that he might be in a dream, that his body was stil lasleep but his mind was somehow conscious. And as that thought seemed to gain a foothold in his mind, the fog again seemed to get thicker, darker, until what little consciousness he had drifted away, leaving behind a dull numbness.

The numbness slowly gave way to a dull pain, then a sharp, prickly sort of sensation as he perceived what seemed to be a bright light, though he realized that his eyes were still shut. It was as if the light bypassed his eyes entirely and projected directly onto some point in his head. He tried to move, to make some noise, shout for help, but he couldn't hear anything. And then the light went out.

He sensed a throbbing somewhere in his head, and slowly he discerned that it was as if he was hearing a sound, or a series of sounds. And as he became more conscious of it, he realized that there was a pattern, a tune to it. He could almost recognize the song. And as the recollection of the song slowly started coming back to him, it also brought with it memories. The music stopped, then started off again, a different tune this time, loud, raucous, building up to a frenzy. He recognized the song, could even piece together some of the lyrics, and found himself anticipating the shout at the end of it with a sense of buried anger. And as it came, it brought with it memories of who he was, of what he'd done.

Watching the scans, the RA immediately sensed he was onto something out of the ordinary. He'd been doing cryonic reanimation research, or thawing-out psychos as they called it in the cafeteria as a wry nod to the typical test subjects, for a year now, and this was beginning to look like the real deal.
"Well?", his supervisor asked.
"The scans show some activity around the amygdala and the insula, it's a bit like when we did those scans for the god project. It's like our test subject here's experienced some kind of epiphany, but it seems to have made him angry. Like, real mad. Though I'll need to analyze the scans in more detail to see what exactly happened."
"OK. I guess I'd be cheesed off too if I woke up 10 years later and found that my brain had been cut out and frozen. What set it off?"
"So I was running through the standard sensory stimulation tests, only this time I thought I'd try more appropriate cultural references to see if they rang a bell, so to speak. The profile they gave us said he was born in the first half of the 20th century, so I figured I'd try playing him video and music from around the time he'd have grown up."
"Interesting", and then, looking at the heads-up display, "so the subject seems to dislike the, umm, Beatles, huh?"
"Well the real jump in activity seems to have been kicked off with just one track, actually."
"Yeah? Which one?"
"Something called 'Helter Skelter'".


I'm strangely embarrassed to have written this, but also quite tickled by the idea.
Thought it up while sitting through yet another power cut (thanks, BESCOM). It was inspired in part by this NYT article. Incidentally, I remember a Roald Dahl story that was somewhat similar, of a prof whose brain gets preserved along with one eye, and his wife takes him home. Anyone remember the name of that story?


  1. I'd have to say that that particular track does sound angry, unlike most of the heavier music it doubtless inspired.

    The Rolling Stones too in their best days had this air of quiet menace (Jumping Jack Flash, Gimme Shelter) which, again, the heavier music following it never really did. I always wonder how they did it.

    Despite all the writing about it, heavy rock music never really sounds angry or pissed off; either it's an annoying whine or just some people having fun.

  2. The Roald Dahl story is 'William and Mary'. It scared the living daylights out of me when I first read it.

    Why embarrassed? I thought it was excellent.

  3. @baaju thanks for both, the Dahl story and the compliment. The vague embarrassment is related to the fact that I have very little idea of how the brain works, so I half-expect someone like Han to pop up and say that I've got it all wrong. Also, the Manson reference is based off wikipedia and quizzing references. I have no idea how he would actually react these days to 'Helter Skelter'. Bit of artistic license-taking, that.

    @K I don't find Helter Skelter to be particularly angry. It was more about what it meant to the particular subject.

  4. No? Why would the particular subject feel that way then?

    The Roald Dahl story that screwed with me was "Pig" (I think that's the name). This story explains why I cannot ever really enjoy pork.

  5. That was a somewhat-pretentious, somewhat-tenuous pop-culture/contemporary history twist in the tale.

    Basically, the idea is that if cryonics needs to work, they need to be able to bring those frozen brains back to life. In which case, the cryonics people would need to conduct research on human brains at some point to confirm that the brains are actually regaining consciousness, before they apply the process to all their paying customers (hence the cryonic reanimation research bit). And since most people would probably not consent to having their brains cut out and frozen in the interests of science, they'd probably need to find alternative test subjects - like, say, prisoners. Hence the thawing-out-psychos bit.
    Which leads to the reference to 'Helter-Skelter' which is explained here.
    Once I actually explain the whole thing it does seem a little too cute. Hence the mild embarrassment. Maybe I should have just told you to look up Wikipedia on your own.

  6. Nicely done! Nothing to be embarrassed about. The story works even without getting the psycho/Manson reference.

    As far as the brain is concerned, the amygdala works just fine for your purposes.

  7. Thanks, Han. I got the amygdala reference from 'Buy-ology', that book about neuro-marketing that I'd tweeted about.
    The psycho/Manson reference was just to take the idea of testing for 'reanimation' to a slightly absurd point.

  8. Neuroscience and marketing. Treating management as a human science. Innovation. Building a smarter planet. Life's good. Oil spills. Wiki leaks. And above all, the Indian bowling attack. You go down to the bottom...

    They're making films about dreams.

    They're selling postcards of the hanging.

    I'm sitting in our IT center. Basketball game at 10 pm. Rain started at 8. Really the wrong time to visit old blogs, but at least its a start. And at least it was worth it.

  9. Salil! What's been up? Where in the world are you these days?