Sunday, February 21, 2010

Brain Cancer, Retardation, Coma Communications, and Hypnosis

I’m attending a fundraising event tonight (at which one of my neighbors is singing) for a group that gives gifts to kids with brain cancer, which, since I’m a compassionate guy, reminded me of two other brain-problem-related stories that struck me recently, one from the news, one from my own experience.

•First, I inadvertently found myself in a footrace with a short, seemingly developmentally disabled man last week.  He was walking rather slowly, but each time I moved to try and pass him, he would start speed-walking in a very panicky-seeming fashion until he was back in the lead and would then become calm again and slow down, eventually leading to me trying to make another dash around him.  At first I thought it might be a coincidence, but he kept doing it each time I moved as if to pass.  It was very important to him to stay in the lead, apparently (he seemed to make some exertion noises and was very warmly bundled up, looking a tad insecure).  I lost him at a stoplight, where he seemed transfixed for a time.  But in the end, no one really lost on that day.

(This in turn reminds me, as Michael Malice likes to do, of Rand’s comment in an interview that she admired the Charlie’s Angels TV series because she would prefer to watch beautiful women doing impossible things to watching the retard child who lives in the gutter.  On an unrelated note, here’s a story about a 500-pound fat woman doing something amazing, namely giving birth.)

•Second, that guy in a coma who was supposedly communicating via subtle finger movements — a claim of which James Randi was an early skeptical critic, as I noted back around Thanksgiving — has now been revealed by his doctors to be just a regular, uncommunicative guy in a coma.  His doctors now liken the “messages” that some people thought he was sending to the messages people believe they get from ouija boards, not realizing that they are subconsciously spelling out precisely the words they long to see.  That humans are so quick — eager, even — to engage in such self-deception is all the more reason that we have to be skeptical.  That which seems too good to be true — especially that which fits neatly into our preconceived expectations — may well be bunk, and there is no magic in pretending otherwise, only error.

Unless by magic one means stage magic, of course, which relies heavily on manipulating people’s expectations — just as stage hypnosis always relies heavily on weeding out the people who honestly admit that “nothing seems to be happening,” until the performer whittles his way down to the handful of people who can dupe themselves into thinking they must behave like chickens — or better yet, just the handful of dishonest people willing to play along and get some attention while up on stage.  There is no mind control — but there’s plenty of self-deception, conscious deceit, and just plain acting like a fool once given a handy social excuse.  Welcome to the human race.

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