Mon. Dec 6th, 2021


A young man Sitting quietly at a table in front of a featureless black box in a gray flannel cloak. She is wearing a cap that looks like it’s made of gauze bandage. A bundle of wire came out of the back of his head. She is waiting for something.

A Researcher He walks to the table in a white lab coat and stands silently for a while. The man is looking at the box. For the moment, nothing happens. Then the man blinks his eyes and looks a little insulted. The researcher asked what happened.

“Just for the first second,” he said, “I saw an eye – an eye and a face.”

The researcher swapped the box for a different object. This time it’s an orange football ball. A blow, and again it is clear that something has happened inside the man’s head. “How do I explain this?” He said. “Just like before, I can see one eye – one eye and one face, next to it.”

Strictly speaking, this guy is a cyborg. Its fusiform gills, the mending ridges running down each side of the brain, are crammed with electrodes. Her doctors implanted them because they thought they would help find the cause of the man’s convulsions. But electrodes also offer a rare opportunity not just to read signals from the brain but to write them down. A team of neuroscientists led by Nancy Kanwisher of MIT is investigating the so-called Fusiform Face Area, which is activated when a person sees a face. Their question is, what will happen if the pumps are overturned? Deliberately activate that area – what will the person see?

You don’t have to be a cyborg to know that your lying mind should never be trusted. It hides from you, for example, all your perceptions are delayed. Turning photons into visuals, into the sound of air-pressure fluctuations, into aerosolic molecules into odors – all of which cells take as much time as they take to receive signals from your imperfectly sensitive organs, transmit them to the language of the brain, and transmit them to networks like nerve bushes. The process is not instantaneous, but you may not be aware of the millions of synaptic japs, the electrochemical fizzes that make up your mind. The truth is, it’s a stagecraft – and you’re both a director and an audience.

You realize, or feel that you are realizing, something that is not always “really there” – that is nowhere but inside your head. That is the dream. Psychedelic drugs do just that. This is what happens when you imagine your aunt’s mouth, the smell of your first car, the taste of a strawberry.

From this point of view, it is not really difficult to get a sensitive experience – a perception – into one’s head. I did it for you for the first few paragraphs of this story. I described how the cyborgs were dressed, I hinted at what the house was like, I told you the soccer ball was orange. You see it in your mind, or at least some version of it. You hear in your mind’s ear, the subject of the research is talking to scientists (although in real life they were speaking Japanese). All that fine and literature. But it would be better to have a more direct route. The brain is the saline glope that converts sensitive information into the mind; You just have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people.

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