Wednesday, March 30, 2016
The Abuse of Use and Disuse
The Secular Spectrum: The Abuse of Use and Disuse
Keith and I have different memories of the incident I recount in The Abuse of Use and Disuse. He remembers it as him reading aloud to me the encyclopedia passage about how Lamarckism had displaced Darwinian natural selection. But I distinctly recall staying up until the wee hours of the morning, after deciding to thumb through the delightfully Art Deco Funk and Wagnalls volumes from 1934 he had just purchased. Before my coma, I had the bad habit of staying up late to read things when I should be getting ready for bed. And how could I resist finding out what they had to say about my favorite subject, evolution?
The next day--or should I say later in the day--I told him excitedly about what I had found. I remember struggling to find the relevant passages. Was it in evolution or natural selection? Where was that quote about Lamarckism?
When I mentioned the idea for the SecSpec post recently, we dug out the encyclopedias. I initially didn't remember thumbing through such small volumes. But as I looked through them again in preparation for writing the post, the memories flooded back. My eyesight had deteriorated enough for me to require a magnifying glass to read the tiny print.
Who was right? Well, obviously, I think I am. My memory of the incident is more detailed and defined, and I have a better long-term memory than Keith has. That afternoon, we read through all the relevant entries, reading aloud the juiciest bits. That could be what Keith is remembering.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
- In July of 2013, I fell into a six-week coma and nearly died. When I awoke from the coma, I could barely lift my head. It has been a hard road to recovery. The doctors advised my loved ones to give up all hope for my full recovery, but while they were shining lights in my eyes to gauge my level of consciousness, I was telling them grumpily to leave me alone because I was trying to get back to sleep...in my coma-dream. I was experiencing covert cognition, and the coma-dream was my version of a near-death experience. I'm a skeptic, so I saw surreal images instead of spirits or dead loved ones. According to my research, as many as one in five people with consciousness disorders have covert cognition.
Not a miracle recovery, but a miracle of modern medicine
In 2013 I fell into a six-week coma and nearly died after I contracted legionella. The Legionnaire's disease was in turn triggered by immunosuppression caused by the prednisone I was taking for my rare autoimmune disease, dermatomyositis.
I suffered a series of strokes on both sides of my brain when the sepsis caused my blood pressure to plummet. I fell into a deep coma. My kidneys and lungs began to fail, as my body was began dying one organ at a time. My doctors told my loved ones to give up hope for my full recovery. They expected me to die, and even if I somehow lived, I would remain a vegetable or at best left so hopelessly brain-damaged that I would never be same. But unbeknownst to them, while they were shining lights in my eyes and shaking their heads, I was telling them in my coma-dream--my secular version of a near-death experience--to leave me alone because I was trying to get back to sleep. I was experiencing what is known as covert cognition, the subject of my Skeptical Inquirer article "Covert Cognition: My So-Called Near-Death Experience," which appeared in their July/August issue.
But it wasn't a miracle--despite what so many continue to believe--that I recovered so fully. I owe my life not to God, but the miracles of modern medicine, as well as the nature of the watershed-area brain damage I suffered, as I detailed in my article and in this blog.