November 12, 2021
I was here 20 years ago. I don’t think I have mentioned this before but I used to live in Bangkok; I was living and making a living in Thailand. But twenty years is a long time these days. Things change fast, towns and cities grow and transform themselves. I have vague recollections, sensations, odors, images that come to my mind and give me the impression of having been here. But I don’t recognize anything really. I might as well be the first time I am visiting this country. And it is not that my memory is not working properly. Twenty years ago I was a very different person and whatever I experienced must have happened in a state of stupor; not at the highest level of consciousness.
Which brings me to the book I started reading a couple of days ago: Being You by Anil Seth. It is about the science of consciousness. Researchers trying to figure out how this piece of meat you have under your skull is able to create the feeling of being you, the feeling of self.
According to the book I have ceased to exist four times in my life: the three times I had surgery under general anesthesia + a colonoscopy. It is a very different experience from normal sleep. When you wake up in the middle of the night or in the morning you have a sense of time, you can tell, more or less, for how long you were asleep. Not with anesthesia. You could have been under for a couple of hours or several years; you can’t tell. You were literally unconscious; you didn’t exist.
It seems that these days scientists can measure the level of consciousness; consciousness it is not a binary thing. They read and decode the level of complexity of communication patterns/signals between certain parts of the brain and come up with a single number (using the same algorithm used to Zip, compress, files). You can be fully awake (wakefulness), but not fully conscious. And it seems that consciousness is not a state that only adult humans can experience. Any life form that has a brain can experience some level of consciousness. The author argues that consciousness emerges as our brains, trying to make sense of our surroundings, simulate the world we live in. It is nothing else than a “controlled hallucination.”
One more thing that I found interesting. Using the consciousness thermometer scientists have been able to figure out that some 20% of people who suffer brain damage and are declared to be in a vegetative state are actually conscious! They are about to be disconnected from life-support and they know it. They know they are about to be killed and there is nothing they can do. Though I assume that many in that state would want just that, to exist no more.
I am typing this in my new Mac BookPro. The one I had was four years old and the keyboard was falling apart. The letter E was particularly problematic. So, Tuesday I went to a local Apple Store and got this computer. Same thing as the old-one, just a different processor M1 (not M1Pro which is the latest but more expensive). It is supposed to be faster but I don’t feel any difference. Maybe if you’re running a complex simulation of the world economy or the brain but for what I do the old processor was good enough.
I was also able to get airplane tickets. Bangkok-Abu Dhabi, Abu-Dhabi-DC, DC-St. Georges Grenada. We depart on December 10. This time it might actually happen and we spend Christmas in Antares. Just hope that by then I will have recovered from my hand surgery. It is scheduled to happen this coming Wednesday at noon. Apparently, no general anesthesia will be used so I won’t cease to exist.
I should have started by saying that Natalia and I flew to Krabi this morning because she wanted to give me a surprise for my birthday which is Sunday. Most of us celebrate birthdays based on a calendar, and that I think doesn’t have much meaning. One more calendar year of life. Who cares, unless you’re reaching the end and are conscious about it (meaning no dementia yet). I prefer to think that I have or will soon completed 52 rotations around the sun. That has meaning: fifthly one times around the sun. Webb Chiles just completed or is about to complete his 80th Tour du Soleil. Add to that 6 circumnavigations of our planet. That is an accomplishment.
I am going to stop here and enjoy the rest of the weekend. I expect it to be a weekend of decadence.