Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Woman with the Scowling Lip

She seemed to have a lower lip that was somewhat larger than her upper lip; the lower lip appeared to protrude ungracefully outwards. The lips seemed ready to pull itself into an easy scowl or frown; on a whole, it was a face that lent itself to unhappiness.

Perhaps her scowling lips were not born of a natural asymmetry, but rather acquired by dour habit. After all, one's moods affect one's looks, and vice versa.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Shirley Williams. Age 23. Previous occupation, secretary, currently self-employed. Therapy sessions, 7 to date, weekly intervals.

"Shirley?", the psychiatrist inquired, eyes peering from his clipboard as a smallish figure entered the room. Dressed in a maroon sleeveless long blouse, the woman confirmed her identity as Shirley Williams.

"You seem well today, Shirley. I would like to complement you on your choice of dressing, it is quite stylish. But let's move on to discuss your, condition, shall we? How is it?"

There was a hesitant pause before she spoke.

"I-I think it has become worse. I-I can't even recognize myself in the mirror anymore. Everything's become generic, eyes, nose, mouth, even my hair- do you know what it's like to not even have a clue about what hairstyle you're wearing, even if you staring right at it in the mirror? Sometimes I'm even startled by my own reflection, and I need more than a moment to realize it's me."

The psychiatrist took some time to jot down the conversation, something he always did slowly to gain time for a meaningful response.

"Yes, it appears that your condition, which was previously limited to your perceptions of other people, has now worsened and affected even your perceptions of yourself. Let me state that I do emphasize very much with your predicament, which must be absolutely horrible. You must learn to cope with it! It'll not be easy, and you'll need to make certain adjustments to your lifestyle. But I digress, and let us return to the topic at hand. You have discussed your condition in visual terms. How about your auditory perception? Has it too degraded?"

"I can still recognize my own voice, thankfully, it's perhaps the only thing that's keeping me sane. Rooted to my identity, even. But I can feel it s-slipping- I'm feeling quite scared that one day, or even tomorrow, I'll lose even this. It might be soon- I think it was only about two weeks after I first started seeing everyone as having the same face that I started hearing everyone with the same voice. And that leaves about one, one and a half, weeks?"

Then she started to cry. It was a while before the psychiatrist managed to calm her down.

"I have not told you this previously, Shirley, but you must steel yourself for the eventualities. In fact you are not my only client with such a condition, nor even the first or the most advanced in progression. From what I have seen, the progression of the disorder parallels your own- one day, you start seeing similarities in the faces of people, then slowly, you lose the ability to differentiate between their faces, even the specifics of hairstyle beyond the length of it. Next is a loss of auditory differentiation, and all people start to, in your own words, have the same voice, which is not monotonous, but nonetheless indistinct. Then, perhaps the final stage of the disorder is a loss of ability to even perceive one's features, ending with your perceived loss of distinctiveness of your voice.

I don't wish to scare you, but from what I know of this condition in the medical circles, there is no known prescription or procedure that is able to reverse, or even slow the progression of, this disorder. To be truthful, we're unable to even pin down the cause or origin. We all have our hypotheses, of course. The leading hypothesis is that it is caused by limited brain damage, possibly to some parts of the brain that governs perception. Now, there are prior medical cases where individuals have suffered brain damage and have similar symptoms to those experienced by yourself, but the question is why there is an considerable increase in the number of cases seen recently. And they propose certain as yet undetected viral or bacterial agents that cause the brain degradation. Surely a horrific hypothesis, and a chilling thought, but it is as yet unproven. I have, however, my own thoughts on the matter."

It was at this moment when the psychiatrist's eyes seemed to light up for a moment, and when his voice seemed to take on a more energetic quality.

"Have you, perhaps, heard of the term, "memetic virus"? A meme is simply an idea that can be transmitted from one person to another, say by writing, speech, song, or by any means of communication. And there are some memes that are, once transmitted, nearly impossible to eradicate from the mind, for example a catchy tune. One might suppose that such an hardy and infectious meme has the qualities of a virus, hence the term, memetic virus.

But that is only half of my hypothesis. How is this related to the shift in one's perceptions? My argument is this: One usually believes that one's perceptions are complete, and hence stable. But it is not the case! Often what we perceive is but filtered to the barest essence of things! Consider what you are hearing now. You may perceive only my voice, but if I direct your attention to the sound of the ventilation vent, you will realize that your perceptions are incomplete. Now, what if there were some perceptions that had the properties of a memetic virus? In fact there are some optical illusions that appear random and structureless, but once you perceive the object it is impossible to revert to the initial perception of randomness. It is the same thing here, that once you perceive the true indistinctness of things it is impossible to change back."

The voluminous explanation did not go well with Shirley, who was squirming uncomfortably in her recliner. The psychiatrist noticed this, and noted to himself that he had to end things quickly.

"Don't worry too much. You're coping well, and I see that you've changed jobs so that you needn't face quite so many people. It's a good beginning to things, though you'll need to do more to deal with people. For starters, try to recognize people though other means, such as their dressing, height and build, and their mannerisms. These cues will give you some limited means of differentiating between people. After that you'll need to practice so that you condition is not immediately obvious to others. You'll get the hang of it, eventually.

Finally, though this may be small comfort, know that even in the worst of cases, you'll still be able to recognize faces, and by extension yourself, in photographs. It's a strange exception to the disease and one that we can't explain, but I suppose you'll have to be grateful for the small things."

The session ended shortly after. The psychiatrist pushed a button on his phone, which connected to the reception desk outside. A voice greeted him.

"The next appointment is Ms. Heather. I'm sending her in."

"Hi, is this Jenny or Colleen? Please get me a jug of water, thanks."

Someone entered the room. Short skirt, tight blouse, longish hair. Colleen, thought the psychiatrist.

"Where's the water, Colleen?" asked the psychiatrist in a slightly annoyed tone.

The psychiatrist realized his mistake when another figure entered the room moments later, carrying a jug of water.

Damn. Almost gave up the game. Next time, I should get clients who dress less coquettishly.

Thursday, September 02, 2010


Perhaps the worst thing about gambling is that it is quite so easy to condemn those who gamble, and to then wash our hands off their affairs. Those who have acquired gambling debts are often viewed with contempt, for their situation is almost entirely of their doing. After all, the choice to gamble, and often the intent to continue, was entirely theirs; oft it is mentioned that "nobody forced them to continue gambling!".

I might agree, but I also feel that there is something quite so subtly wrong.

It might be said that there is some element of addiction in gambling, but perhaps I am too harsh, for it might be more accurately be desired as a form of tunnel vision acquired in the pursuit of gains, or recovery of losses. Decisions taken by one in such states of mind are different from those taken in a normal state of mind. If so, we cannot fully blame the victim for his choices, for those choices are affected. Part of the moral responsibility must lie elsewhere.