Garrett (garote) wrote,

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A couple of years ago I was reading an essay about schizophrenia. It described how the language center of the brain is wired in such a way that we are always aware of the difference between words spoken by someone else, coming in through our ears, and the words of our own internal dialogue. This wiring is so precise, and the division it creates between external and internal words is so thorough, that most of us go through life never considering how arbitrary that division really is.

As you read these words from the page, a voice in your head is intoning them. But that voice could be mine instead. I could be standing right behind you, whispering in your ear. The only reason you know I'm not is because you'd be sensing other things too, like my body blocking the light, and my breath on the back of your neck. You'd probably have some memory of me entering the room.

But what if your wires got crossed the other way? What if you knew, just as surely as you know I'm not talking to you right now, that the voice you're hearing is not your own? Your internal monologue has no location, except what you imagine it to. It has no special timbre or identity, unless you imagine that it has one. And since the voice itself comes directly from your imagination, that means it could be anywhere, be anyone, and sound like anything. The only thing you would be sure of, is that something else was speaking.

That would be terrifying, and confusing. But that's just the starting point. From here we can ask a much more alarming question. When your inner voice speaks, who is choosing the words?

Sometimes when we're thinking, we have entire conversations in our heads. We divide a voice into two speaking roles, and the two make point and counterpoint as we figure something out. Sometimes one voice will become angry, while the other remains calm. They can bicker, complain, and even apologize to each other. Do we create these characters anew each time we have an internal debate, or are they always inside us, waiting to speak up? If they persist, just how much identity can the voice develop over time?

Anyway, I finished reading that essay about schizophrenia, and got distracted with the rest of the day. That night, I turned off the light, laid back on my pillow, and had a dream.

I was lying in a bed, in a dark room, looking up at the ceiling. I could feel my limbs, but I couldn't move them. I shouted, "Hello? Is anyone there? Can anyone hear me?" I heard my own voice, but my mouth had not opened. My jaw hadn't moved. My breathing hadn't even paused. Then, I felt my mouth move, I felt my jaw open, I felt my lungs take a breath.

A voice said, "Now you know what it feels like."

My conscious mind flailed in panic, like a jet pilot pounding at his console in search of an eject button, and I woke up staring at the ceiling, deeply afraid.

This fall, a vague feeling of detachment has crept up on me. Occasionally I feel like my entire world, including my body and all of my memories, drifts lazily before me like a seaweed forest, beyond a thick wall of polarized glass. Sometimes I wonder if my mind has turned inward beyond a point where it could be considered healthy introspection.

The classic figure of Death has appeared twice in my dreams, a featureless black cloud given shape by a heavy cloak, like an Ultima Shadowlord with no eyes. The first time I saw it I was preparing to wake up and emerge into consciousness. It rushed at me, filling my head with pain, and pinned me to a bed, where I lay paralyzed with my eyes open, until I exerted enough willpower to turn my head -- at which point I suddenly realized that I was already awake, and staring at the ceiling.

The second time, I crept around my dreamscape carefully avoiding it. My innate understanding was that the figure was a prison guard, and dreamlike paralysis was my prison.

Or perhaps this waking life is.

I've also been feeling fatigued at the end of the day, much more so than usual. It's as though I only have exactly enough energy to get through a day. Last week I had a followup visit with my doctor, and we examined the results of my blood test. My red blood cells look perfect. My cholesterol levels are excellent. My thyroid is very active. My blood pressure is on the low side of normal. My weight is the same it's been for ten years. I quizzed the doctor carefully about my vegan diet, and he said, "I've had dozens of patients who were also vegan. None of them have issues with energy level or fatigue."

The cause of my malady would have remained a mystery, except that the doctor then told me: "You need to exercise. Give your heart a workout, get it back in shape." Apparently I'm feeling cold and fatigued because my heart has relaxed. My posh environment has gotten the best of me, and I therefore suffer a "disease of kings". It's true, I have everything a body would want here: Hot water, a fine bed, great food, a delicious wife. Perhaps things are just too easy to hold my attention right now. Perhaps I need to put my mind and body to work.

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