Sunday, June 04, 2006

Recognition

Hail,

Sorry for intermittent nature of posts, much going on. In unrelated news I am back on what is for me the max dose of the mood stabiliser and the miserybegone tablets, the first real trial of this radical "take the tablets before you get sick" approach I have been recommending to everyone else for the last five or six years and am now forced to employ myself.

If this does not work and things worsen, the next step is the antipsychotics again. It will be interesting to see which of my friends disappear once I start taking the tablets. My money's on Chad.

Anyway, this will be quick as I have to get to bed because I work tomorrow. I went and saw the kids, and since today was my youngest's confirmation I went to a church service, which was, I kid you not, forty five minutes of why my religious faith is shit, why lukewarm hypocrites such as myself will be spat out of Christ's mouth in the coming End Times, and why I, me specifically and personally*, am going to Hell.

And the foyer (rather than the fire, as it should have been), filled with pamphlets showing cavemen riding dinosaurs and reports of evolutionists recanting on their deathbeds.

Give me that old time religion... and a truck full of fertiliser and fuel oil.

Tomorrow I would dearly love to have what they call a "doona day", but no such luck - I have no sick days left, plus every time I take time off the clinic seems to fall to shit, and there's no point taking time off if you're the one who has to catch up the next day.

Anyway, been thinking about deja vu and jamais vu, and two weird psychiatric syndromes, and wondering if there could be a connection.

Tell me if this makes any sense.

First off, some definitions. Deja vu ('already seen') is an inappropriate feeling of familiarity, a sense of recognition for something never seen before and thus unknown, literally a re-cognition where there should by rights have been no initial cognition. It's a common enough thing, and in a particular kind of epilepsy (right temporal lobe, I think) it can be a sign of a seizure - or even the seizure itself.

Jamais vu (I think it means 'never seen') is the mirror condition. It is an inappropriate lack of familiarity, a failure to recognise something one has seen many times before. It is distinct from things like the 'face blindness' people with prosopagnosia get, where the ability to read and recognise faces is impaired (and therefore secondarily the ability to recognise faces is also impaired), I think it presents as a feeling of being lost in places where you should be at home, a feeling that one has not been here before even though one has.

These are fairly well known. Maybe less well known are two of the weirder delusional states, called Capgras Syndrome and Fregolis Syndrome. Capgras syndrome is the belief that people familiar to you have been replaced by impostors - that your loved ones are not the people they look and sound and act like, but are actors, or aliens, or androids. I actually met a woman with this at one time (her children had been replaced by robots), and remember leading her out of her completely normal three bedroom brick suburban house to the waiting ambulance. Capgras is, by the way, a potentially lethal delusion - mothers have killed their sons, believing them to be other than what they were.

And Fregoli Syndrome - which I have not seen - is almost an opposite of this. In Fregoli Syndrome the sufferer (and this is an appropriate term) believes that the many people he or she meets who seem to be different - different sex, different size, different mode of speech or colour of hair - these seeming several people are actually one person. One human chameleon, who is both willing and able to change his appearence many times a day so as to fool all but the most careful observer - the sufferer of the disease**.

Weirdly enough, there is a report of someone suffering from both Capgras and Fregoli at the same time. Women and blacks seem to get diagnosed with Capgras' more frequently than would otherwise be expected, and there is also a variant of Capgras involving inanimate objects - the sufferer believes that his/her possessions have been replaced by inferior copies by someone who is in some way out to get them***.

Anyway - what's the similarity?

In each case these delusions have something to do with recognition. You either recognise something that you shouldn't (deja vu, where you "recognise" strange places, or Fregoli Syndrome, where you "recognise" separate people as one), or you fail to recognise something you should (jamais vu, where you don't recognise a place you've been a hundred times before, or Capgras, where you don't "recognise" those familiar to you). The failure of recognition means something subtly different in, say, jamais vu and Capgras, but in ieach case you are not getting that "Ah, this is such and such" feeling, that identification/recognition/knowing that you would normally get.

What does this mean? I have no idea. Despite my interest in the subject I suck at neurology, it took me weeks to grasp the basics. But say there is "a" part of the brain (it may well be several, like in vision, so we can call it a recognition network. Important parts may well be in the right temporal lobe) that fires in recognition, that lights up when you have that "Ah, this is so and so" moment.

In deja vu and Fregoli's it fires up when it shouldn't. Inappropriate feelings of recognition, the idea that you know someone or something even when you don't. Maybe the difference between the two has to do with the subset of the recognition network that deals with people, as opposed to places.

In jamais vu and Capgras, it fails to fire when it should. Inappropriate lack of recognition, the idea that you don't know someone or something even when you do.

Anyway. There is an article in this month's Fortean Times that got me thinking about this - it started out with a description of some of the difficulties faced by someone who was experiencing what sounds like constant deja vu. There was great difficulty convincing the man of the usefulness of coming to see the doctor, for example, because he was convinced beyond reasonable doubt that he had done so many many times already.

Fascinating stuff. The problem with speculating on this kind of stuff is you come up with an idea that you think of as original, like snarfling, and it turns out that the 30th International Conference on the Recent History of Snarfling is being held that year in your city. Ask me one time about my "cure" for hepatitis C.

Thanks for listening,
John

*I have read that paranoia is not commonly a symptom of the downward arc of bipolar. Perhaps that's just what THEY want me to think....

**In some way, obviously, you could tie some of these syndromes together with paranoia and mania. At the core of each of them is the belief that you are in some way important enough to justify what must be an incredible amount of effort.

***Then again, perhaps my car was shit before I took it to the mechanic's.

2 Comments:

Blogger Benedict 16th said...

If our brains were simple enough to understand, we would be too simple to understand them, maybe that has already happened?

Benedict

PS With Apologies to Isaac Azimov and Douglas Adams
PPS When are we gunna catch up?

9:19 PM  
Anonymous Nigel said...

I was interested to read your mention of prosopagnosia. I had not heard of that term before. I experience something along those lines. I have great difficulty 'seeing' faces. It generally takes repetition and effort for me to fix a person's face into mind. Generally, I need some other sort of pattern to use as an association key. The particular curve of a cheek, shape/texture of an eyebrow, or the like. The emotional association works too. There has to be something else other than just the face. I'll recognise a particular fabric or piece of clothing before I recognise the person wearing it.

The funny part about it though is that I can remember a photo of a person's face with great ease. If I look back through my memories, I cannot easily see people in those memories. Just ghostly blurs where faces should be. And yet my memory of physical shapes and textures are very detailed and accurate. If I have seen a photo of a person, the memory of that photo stands out very easily. So my memories of people are actually memories of photos of those people.

Most of the time, I manage to disguise this inability. It is a little bit difficult sometimes when casually interacting with a person regularly. They obviously expect me to know who they are and I might not. By their actions and body language, I know that I am supposed to know them. So I have to try to fake it for a while until I can get a clue as to who they are. It is kind of hard to say to someone that you have no idea who they are when clearly they think that you should do. It is a bit like forgetting someone's name, except in my case it is their face. I might remember the name well, but not sure who in a group of faces it belongs to.

It also varies a little between people. Some people I just cannot fix into my mind. There are people I have met every day for a year or more, yet I still had trouble recognising their face. It also varies with age. The closer to my own age a person is, the more difficult it is for me to remember their face. Younger and older folk are much easier. And the peer blindness flows back through my memories. My memories as a child, do not have other children in them. For example, the crowded school yards of my memories are empty except for vague grey blurs where all the children should be. Every other aspect is almost photographic in its detail.

It also works the other way. I create faces based on perceived personality. In the past I have often worked with a wide range of disabled people. I have frequently been able to clearly remember the person but not the disability. For example, I may be talking about a particular person I know well. The other person may respond with a question like, "Oh, you mean the young girl in the wheelchair?" I then have to think long and carefully as to whether she was in a wheelchair. I can't see the wheelchair easily. Or the Down's Sydrome face, or the facial deformity etc etc.

Weird huh !? I didn't realise this condition had a name until reading your post. It is not something I discuss with others as nobody ever gets what I am talking about, or thinks I am making it up. Thanks for the word.

7:41 PM  

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