Heightened Senses

Hello. I'm Imraan. This is the only thing I own outright; I write from time to time, in the hopes that free-association might save a trip to a sanatorium.

Category: Science

Breath of Life and Navel Gazing


…”what is in their child’s best interests.” That’s the only bit with which I have a difficulty. That doesn’t seem to be an inherently medical question but seems more loaded with moral urgency than anything; to let someone die (as in, switching off whatever support is keeping said child alive) does indeed go to the heart of medical ethics. I find it troubling that the courts have a remit over what inherent ‘dignity’ is, and that physicians can have a say in it if they simultaneously, essentially, argue in favour of death. Sure, there are fates worse than death, so we believe, but could they scientifically make that case, or give an account for the phenomenology of what occurs when the eyes close permanently… ? I don’t see how medical professionals or the court systems can.

…There has to be a change to the system; whilst these parents will have had to accept a treacherous fate for their son and their family, it seems to me that the system is essentially mechanised to sever the link between parent and child based purely on the knowledge of the day; either the bond and the decision of parents in favour of life has to be acknowledged, or we get to that point in our history where we decide that that particular line is an arbitrary construct. That someone is irrational if going against medical advice for the sheer glimmer of hope of some experimental therapy….

Lord knows I’ve been told by at least three doctors that I ‘may as well be dead’ (or words to that effect) – and my conditions are chronic but not terminal, mind you – when their treatments or approaches haven’t worked on me – and Lord knows, with all cards on the table, that I have for short periods begged for death in the moments I have suffered extreme pain before it could be controlled- and I worry that such cynicism prevails to the extent that the void of death (which is the only thing they can assume) is better than a very difficult life, that the marginal hope that these parents might have is not worth the investment, and that death is an actual solution to a particularly complex problem. Close to two-thousand years of religious, particularly Christian, history in the ‘West’ doesn’t seem to strike me as believing in that, in fact the Resurrection is the Triumph over death in a fallen world – is the problem that it’s a post-metaphysical world? And what of the place of the family and the parent, and marriage as a union open precisely to life, not death?

Obviously I’m not a doctor so will not necessarily see it from that vantage – trying to mitigate harm and construing the Hippocratic Oath in such a way as to insist that a procedure may do more harm still strikes me as going against the spirit of such an Oath, or an oath to that effect.

I reckon that there are broader philosophical problems here that navel-gazers may have to thrash out.

Fear, Pain, Death

(Edit – I was on a heck of a lot of medication when I wrote this, so I apologise for all manner of errors found in this piece, but I hope the sentiments come across as I had intended them.)

I don’t know how they do it. Honestly. Hospital workers, nursing-staff in particular as opposed to doctors who are, by design it would seem, colder and more clinical. Anyhow, this is the second time in four days I’ve been ambulanced (sic) off to the Emergency Room to deal with pain issues that I thought were akin to Satan straddling upon my chest. Satan, and an elegant the size of Satan, too.

Of course, when you have Severe ME, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Neuro-Lyme Disease, and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, no doctor really know what to do with you.

This post isn’t so much about what happened -and not much – the fact that I was writhing around in so much pain despite the fact that I was on enough painkillers to stun one of The Rolling Stones at least twice over was suggestive that there is something going on beneath the surface. But they couldn’t find it, and so here I am, back at home, somewhat tranquilliser and utterly exhausted.

An increasing sensation upon entering a hospital these days, however is one that really does grip me to the core. The impending sense of my mortality, and by extension, Doom. Sure, the Almighty proclaims His Mercy supersedes His Justice, according to Scripture, but yet there is so much for which I need to atone, still. My body is increasingly breaking, the doctors know-not what to do, and the ever increasing chances of a life lived with any sense of normality without battling symptom after symptom after symptom – well the negative possibilities multiply as we speak, to borrow from our friend Griffin, the Fifth-Dimesnional being.

What I cannot get to the root of, however, is my utter sadness every time the ambulance staff decide to take me into hospital. Pure and utter grief. On laughing gas today to help with the pain (the second canister I used-up this week), I was on the verge of tears. Both in resignation that I could not get a transfer to the right hospital nor have anyone manage my pain levels for me, alas, is that the world seems to cave in around me just a bit every time I’m admitted, or offered a new diagnosis. This is what is so utterly heartbreaking. My fear of the Afterlife is rather profound, I admit, but what about the fear I suffer of a life not-yet lived. Ten years have gone by, and we’re closer to no-answers, but umpteen diagnosis. What happens at the next crisis of pain, or the one after that? What happens as I watch the cycle of life and death all around me in a sterile, artificial environment where most professionals have to be detached from the patient in order to survive? Aside from my own sins, why do I fear death so much, when  I have so many friends who have systematically tried to end their own lives?

Why he utter dread upon entering the hospital, a place where I expect to be helped, where most people expect help, too? Is it because I’ve been let-down too many times and am seeing the fires of Doom ahead? Or because dismissive doctors insist that there is no other pain-type medication available to me to take, whilst I writhe around in unholy discomfort begging for them to make it stop?

Anyway, there is something about pain that is so humanising. It’s almost primal. It forces you to interact with a form of yourself so both physical and psychic that has no necessary root cause, nor one that can be treated with any simple solution. But the humanising aspect of it is that you find yourself begging for death during such an episode, or praying, or doing both…desperate for some release, sick to your stomach that you’ve wasted an evening of a relative accompanying you to the hospital to almost no avail, and finally praying that there was ‘something’ that could be done. I ramble here, but I’m trying to get to the root of why this pain has the habit of making me face-down mortality in ways not imaginable.

In years past, when I was healthier, I could easily visit the sick an the frail in hospitals, show something akin to love and make the m comfortable in my own capacity. Now, in severe discomfort and paramedics not knowing what to do with me other than “well we can’t keep giving you gas and air every time”, suddenly my comfort has taken precedent, and my own self has become the locus of my own being – that selfish part of me that only sees me and my immediate pain.

I long to see transcendence and patience, the state of riḍā, yet on the other hand how do you got about it when your immediate physical experience is only competing you to sink into the swamp of despair. Sure, you truly feel helpless, and God Almighty before you with prayers, but otherwise, where is the real semblance, even, of gnosis? Why are there days in such situation when you beg for death so you might not burden those around you, or feel guilty for having called a paramedic to you when there are genuine people dying? Sure, no one knows this for a fact, but equally pain and humility don’t seem to go hand-in-hand for me these days, for all I see is death every time I try to get some help.

Allah is Greater, and I guess I have to make peace with his will. But my life seems so lost to me, direction and purposeless, only battling symptoms and not realising how insular the conditions have made me. Maybe it is a part of a Plan, though to be let in on it might be a pleasure, too…

Pictures of the World – Between Method and Zeitgeist?

“One of the most disagreeable present consequences of the failure to understand what method is, and hence what the limits of any method must be, is our current fashion in respectable pseudo-science. Every scientific epoch has been hospitable to charlatanry and hermetic nonsense, admittedly; but these days our shared faith in the limitless power of scientific method has become so pervasive and irrational that, as a culture, we have become shamefully tolerant of all those lush efflorescences of wild conjecture that grow up continuously at the margins of the hard sciences and thrive on a stolen credibility. This is especially true at the fertile purlieus of Darwinian theory, which enjoys the unfortunate distinction of being the school of scientific thought most regularly invoked to justify spurious theories about precisely everything. Evolutionary biology, properly speaking, concerns the development of physical organisms by way of replication, random mutation, and natural selection, and nothing else. The further the tropes of Darwinian theory drift from this very precise field of inquiry, the more willfully speculative, metaphysically unmoored, and empirically useless they become. Yet texts purporting to provide Darwinian explanations of phenomena it has no demonstrable power to describe pour in ceaseless torrents from the presses and inexhaustible wellsprings of the Internet. There are now even whole academic disciplines, like evolutionary psychology, that promote themselves as forms of science but that are little more than morasses of metaphor. (Evolutionary psychologists often become quite indignant when one says this, but a ‘science’ that can explain every possible form of human behavior and organization, however universal or idiosyncratic, and no matter how contradictory of other behaviors, as some kind of practical evolutionary adaptation of the modular brain, clearly has nothing to offer but fabulous narratives – Just So Stories, as it were – disguised as scientific propositions.) As for the even more daringly speculative application of Darwinian language to spheres entirely beyond the physiological, like economics, politics, ethics, social organization, religion, aesthetics, and so on, it may seem a plausible practice at first glance, and it has quite in keeping with our cultural intuition that evolutionary imperatives somehow lie at the origin of everything (an intuition, incidentally, impossible to prove either as a premise or as a conclusion), but it is a purely analogical, not empirical, approach to things: pictoral, not analytic. It produces only theories that are neither true nor false, entertainingly novel metaphors, some more winsome folklore to add to the charming mythopoeia of materialism; and there is no way in which it could ever do any more than this. As soon as one moves from the realm of physiological processes to that of human consciousness and culture, one has taken leave of the world where evolutionary language can be tested or controlled. There are no longer any physical interactions and replications to be measured, and no discrete units of selection that can be identified (assuming one is not so gullible as to take the logically incoherent and empirically vacuous concept of ‘memes’ seriously). Even if one believes that human consciousness and culture are the results solely of evolutionary forces, one still cannot prove that they function only in a Darwinian fashion, and any attempt to do so soon dissolves into a rosy mist of picturesque similes.

“No doubt it says something about the extraordinarily high esteem in which the sciences are held today, after so many remarkable advances over so sustained a period, that there is scarcely a field of inquiry in the academic world that would not like a share of their glamor. It also goes some way toward explaining the propensity of some in the sciences to imagine that their disciplines endow them with a sort of miraculous aptitude for making significant pronouncements in fields in which they actually have received no tutelage. It is perfectly understandable, for example, but also painfully embarrassing, when Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow casually and pompously declare that philosophy is dead (as they recently have). They might even conceivably be right, but they certainly would not be competent to know if they are (as the fairly elementary philosophical errors in their book show). Every bit as silly are the pronouncements of, say, Richard Feynman or Steven Weinberg regarding the apparent “meaninglessness” of the universe revealed by modern physics (as if any purely physical inventory of reality could possibly have anything to tell us about the meaning of things). High accomplishment in one field – even genius in that field – does not necessarily translate into so much as the barest competence in any other. There is no such thing, at least among finite minds, as intelligence at large; no mind not constrained by its own special proficiencies and formation, no privileged vantage that allows any of us a comprehensive insight into the essence of all things, no expertise or wealth of experience that endows any of us with the wisdom or power to judge what we do not have the training or perhaps the temperament to understand. To imagine otherwise is a delusion, no less in the case of a physicist that in the case of a barber – more so, perhaps, as the barber, not having been indoctrinated with the very peremptory professional dogmas regarding the nature of reality, would no doubt be far easier to disabuse of his confidence of the limitless capacities of tonsorial method.”

David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss (Yale, New Haven: 2013), pp 72-74. Okay it has been a while since I’ve had to cite anything properly, but that ought to suffice, one hopes! Typos are most-definitely mine.

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