Be Your Own Brain Experiment

[As today’s post testifies, the mask of relentless positivity must slip from time to time. Cheer a Stroke Bloke up, and sign up for alerts and bonus materials at]

Long-term apoplectics, apopostles and friendsoftheblog will no doubt be expecting to read a Doctor Who post today. But it turns out that after the madness on Saturday night, I’m going to have to let 400 years worth of regenerations pass while my thoughts steep like a good cup of tea. Then I’ll probably pop back to have something up for next Monday.

Ten: You look a bit rough. Did you have a stroke?
You used to have cool hair.
Eleven: You’ve made that joke before.

In the meantime, how about some hard science?

Last week, I read an interesting article in Scientific American (full text here). It discussed how

…we depend on the totality of our inner chatter, even the more banal bits, to construct something incredibly fundamental: our sense of self.

In an echo of last week’s post, about a stroke patient having to rebuild his identity in the aftermath of trauma, the piece finishes by discussing a clinical psychologist called Claude Moss who suffered a stroke and lost both audible and inner speech. Later, Moss wrote

I did not have the ability to think about the future — to worry, to anticipate or perceive it — at least not with words. Thus for the first four or five weeks after hospitalization I simply existed.

The writer, Ferris Jabr, asks, “How, then, do we watch a silent sentence unfurl in the mind without changing it?” and describes how scientists came up with a method pursuant to which beepers carried by the subjects of the test go off randomly, say, six times a day. Each subject writes down what she was thinking immediately before the beep. “Well,” I thought. “I’ve got to give this a go.”

I visited a random clock time generator, and generated six times during the day at which I would instruct my phone to give me a nudge. Over two days, in case it turned out there was nothing except an empty, bobbing expanse.

Not a good idea.

Brain! We’re being watched!

A friend once told me that the reason she loved pop music so much was that it drowned out the (regular, everyday) voice in her head. I recognised the idea. This has become less of an issue as the ability to switch off the voice pursuant to meditation practice, or direct it to positively develop self, has progressed.

On of the most exhausting things about the earliest stages of post-release recovery was watching my brain all the time, so that I might remember what was going on. Not say something crazy. Do something impulsive. Or dangerous. I still have to do that, but it’s a little more natural.

But what about the experiment?

I didn’t pay that much attention in science class, but I know, either from Stoppard’s Arcadia, or Frayn’s Copenhagen — or both — that the very act of observation can affect the result of an experiment. Research suggests that inner speech occupies one quarter of conscious experience. And I’m happy to accept that for me, what with the whole “attempt to build a positive narrative” thing, it might be a bit more than that.

Well, knowing that I would be recording the inner voice led to me looking at the thoughts in my head all day. For two days. Well, not all day, but close enough. And although they’re not all listed below, more of those thoughts related to stroke than I would have liked. And that made me sad.

Here are the results of my experiment. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but it pays to draw a line….

Friday, 1115: Crikey. Am I about to fall over? It’s probably safest just to grab onto that door handle. Yes. That was the right thing to do.
Said without panic, but much faster than I could articulate the thought.

1440: How does a gender neutral locker room help with that problem?
Listening to a podcast. No particular voice or intonation; like most of these, just sounds like me. Similar to my speaking voice, but subtly different. Which is why we tend to be weirded out by our own speaking voices. I guess.

1645: James Franco? What about James Franco? And why is this computer so slow, anyway?
Sound angry, but I’m not, really. Just amusing myself.

1800: No internal thought. Which is appropriate, given that I’m reading Wikipedia’s recounting of Alex Miller’s late managerial career to my father.

Come back, Ian Porterfield! All is forgiven!

1905: I  should show this to Beth.
Same voice as usual. Level.

2015: No internal speech. Listening to my father’s advice about airmail stamps to the US.

Saturday, 1115: Yes, I can do this, but nobody sees all the rests I have to take.
Exasperated, sad.

1440: Continue to begin test.
Reading psychological test, hearing words in head

1645Can’t believe my left foot’s still dragging. God, will this ever stop?
Thank goodness the alarm cuts that thought off. Chuck it in the Zen river.

1800: What the f— is that?
About a piece of debris on the floor. Goodness, you sound pissy.

1905: If real love doesn’t make the rest of your life look like a massive letdown then you’re not doing it right.
Words in a movie review.


Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

3 thoughts on “Be Your Own Brain Experiment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.