Survival mode

I spent 20 minutes under general anesthesia this morning, and had an odd memory afterwards.

It was nothing serious – my first screening colonoscopy, things looked OK, come back in five years – but I hadn’t been under general anesthesia in 40 years (since having molars removed as a teen) and I was self-monitoring carefully.

When I came out of it, I brought with me two memories. One was that I had been aware of people talking around me. The anesthesiologist had told me that might happen, and I wouldn’t have been surprised by it anyway; I’ve read of that effect.

This tells you human beings are really social animals – so much so that we’re partially alert to people-talk even when we’re knocked out. After all (gasp!) our status might change…

The odd thing I surfaced with was memory of some mental processing I’d been doing while unconscious. It appears my brain was running in a sort of survival-alert loop, constantly evaluating whether it could hear or feel or smell danger cues sufficient to wake me up. What I remembered was the operating noise of that loop running.

Of course it makes complete evolutionary sense that we’d have a mechanism like that. And we behave like we do, too; unfamiliar noises wake us up from sleep, familiar ones don’t. There’s got to be some neural processing going on evaluating familiarity.

What is odd is that I’ve never heard or read of anyone else remembering that operating noise. I know of no term of art for it in science, nor any match to it in the literature of mystical introspection. It’s not the free-associative (“drunken monkey”) chatter beneath normal consciousness, but something much leaner and more task-focused: “Wake the boss? Wake the boss? Wake the boss?…”

I suppose it’s just barely possible I’m the first to both keep the memory and write about it – not many people have been experimental mystics for forty years and have my ability to self-monitor, and maybe there’s something about particular kinds of anesthesia that makes it easier not to lose continuity of consciousness than waking from normal sleep.

Still, this seems unlikely. One would think there’d been enough mystics in auto accidents by now to collect reports on post-operative recovery that would include memories like this.

Can any of my readers point at something relevant?

76 thoughts on “Survival mode

  1. Something I considered mentioning on the “hearing voices” post but never did: Sometimes in hypnogogic (or maybe hypnopompic) states I get verbal material that’s tagged as external. But it’s not spoken; it’s written. It tends to ape the style and thematic content of writers I read a lot (sometimes it’s you, Eric!) and while it probably wouldn’t make logical sense if analysed with a waking mind, it’s definitely semantically coherent (i.e. not just babble / word salad). Occasionally it’s fiction — quite a few times I’ve wished I had pen and paper handy on waking and could jot down some details before I forget it all, on the off-chance that it’s not trash.

    Do you ever get coherent written hallucinations like this, or is it only ever auditory?

    • >Do you ever get coherent written hallucinations like this, or is it only ever auditory?

      Auditory or visual. Written is not a mode I have experienced. It is not unprecedented in world mysticism. There are reports of that sort of thing from the Merkaba and Kabbala traditions in mystical Judaism.

    • On more than one occasion, during a hypnagogic or hypnopompic state I would hear a sudden sound, like a clang from a nearby radiator, and the sound itself would explode synaesthetically, like fireworks, into words (often single words like “POTATO”), that lingered, glowing, in my field of vision for a few seconds.

  2. Well, for the whole post I was waiting for a sentence admiting this mind alert mode was processing question “to draw a gun or not draw”

    • >Well, for the whole post I was waiting for a sentence admiting this mind alert mode was processing question “to draw a gun or not draw”

      It obviously doesn’t work that way. The survival loop knows nothing of weapons; its only job is to decide when to invoke waking consciousness, which is actually equipped to make a decision about drawing a gun.

  3. Sounds like “consciousness” isn’t a binary state, and I guess I’ll hang on to one of my favorite sayings, “It’s more complicated than that…”

  4. “…since having molars removed as a teen”

    That was actually one of my fondest memories visiting the dentist.

    I was under local anesthetic( a LOT of local anesthetic – my brothers had told me to keep asking for more) and he was no spring chicken. He would grab a tooth with a pliers and wrench and wrench and wrench. Then stop, take a few moments of huffing and puffing to get his breath back then get back to it.

    He earned his money that day. :P

  5. Which anaesthetic were you given? I was given ketamine for my first colonoscopy earlier this year and found it very enjoyable. It acted as a visual psychedelic that telescoped 40 minutes down to a perceived 5 minutes or so. I could hear and understand and see the conversation in the room, or at least had the perception of understanding. Seeing the conversation as in the spoken words giving life to a landscape around me. Throughout the trip I was consciously trying to remember the sights and sounds, and monitoring & reviewing that work. It left a quiet flow of peace and “completion” for the next few days. After that first psychedelic experience I’d love to do ketamine more often.

      • > >Which anaesthetic were you given?

        > Dammit, I forgot to ask.

        > No hallucinations or anything, just lights off and lights on.

        Very likely propofol

        Apparently it’s a slightly milky whitish liquid in the normal dispensing vial.
        (It’s then injected IV for effect.) My sister-in-law and another brother, both nurses, say that the slang name for it in the trade is “Milk of Amnesia”.

        Very fast acting, fast clearing, very little “hangover”, fairly safe. (It was what was being (ab-)used by Michael Jackson’s personal physician as a sleeping aid (!!) without appropriate monitoring, with fatal results.)

        • The anesthesiologist called it Pina colada.

          It was amazing. Like a dial turned from 100 to 0 in what seemed 5 seconds. Then the other end where the opposite, becoming aware of being surrounded by lovely women. Not a hallucination, just the post op crew. No drowsiness.

          I don’t remember anything from when i was out.

  6. I’ve not had a colonoscopy myself, but my understanding is that you aren’t put all the way under as you’d be for major surgery. They apparently need you awake enough to respond to commands (which side to lie on, etc.), but not enough to be concerned about the discomfort of a length of fiber-optic cable moving around in your abdomen.

    I think similar considerations apply to tooth extractions: I remember sounds and feelings, and visual hallucinations of the inside of my mouth, from when I had my wisdom teeth removed, but absolutely nothing of the two other surgeries I’ve had, where they just needed the patient to lie still.

    • There are doctors who do colonoscopy under general, but you’re right, it’s not common in my experience.

      Both times I’ve been under a general, they made a big deal of telling me about it in advance. (One even said, “You hear horror stories about people not waking up, but that’s not really a serious concern.”) If the doctor told Eric he was getting a general, he probably was.

  7. I’ve been under propofol two times. Once to have my upper eyelids corrected (they started to infringe on my field of vision), the other time for a colonoscopy.
    The colonoscopy anesthesia was a really thorough one. After the dose, I turned to the side, and the next thing I know of are the sounds of the nurse clearing up after the procedure.
    When the eyelids were being done, I was some kind of “very relaxed half-awake” throughout the operation. I could detect the cuts, but felt no pain. I could hear the people talking, and I could sense pain returning during the last stitches; I told them so, which must have startled them, as they thought I was still out stone cold. Then they just told me they were on the final stretch, so they’d be done before it turned painful. All in all a quite interesting and in no way disturbing experience.

  8. I had colonoscopy already twice (family genetics). The first time they put me under a light anesthesia. They explained that I would not really be unconscious, but I would forget what happened. The forgetting part was right. I had absolutely no memories of the procedure.

    The second time they did not bother (nor did I). So I got to watch the whole tour around my colon. Was an interesting experience. The only thing I massively dislike about the whole procedure is having to drink 2 liters of obnoxious laxative fluid. The first half a liter is not not that bad. But the rest is positively repulsive.

    • I’ve had a couple dozen colonoscopies over the last 3 decades due to Crohn’s so have learned some tricks to making the prep tolerable some of which were on my most recent instructions sheet though I’ve used them for years.

      1 for a day ahead of the prep have a “clear liquid diet”. No pulp juice, broth, jello, soda, etc. If there isn’t as much to wash out in your gi track it’s easier. It also helps your pre hydration because the prep will draw water out of your system as part of the flush.

      2 after you mix up the prep chill it for hours before use. It is more tolerable when cold. I fact I often add an ice cube to my glass to keep it cold while drinking once I get to the stage where mentally I can’t chug it in one go anymore

      3 chug not sip when you can.

      4 rinse your mouth out with water after each 8 oz glass of prep so you don’t live with the taste in your mouth. Some Dr’s let you rinse with clear liquid like ginger ale.

      5 walking around the house in between doses of prep helps get things moving. There are neurological connections between the muscles in charge of the peristalsis and walking.

      If you have a later colonoscopy start time they might give you an alternative prep process. I did half the prep the the evening before, clear liquids overnight, then the other half 6 hours before my afternoon start time. That worked wonderfully by giving my body a rest in the middle and time to rehydrate instead of being really dehydrated by morning. Enough so I’m asking for a later slot in the future!

        • In one of Dave Barry’s columns he talked about his first colonosopy, and that one of the techs had mentioned mixing the laxative with vodka would make it less disgusting.

          Barry said he gave that serious consideration, but then considered the results of being too drunk to get to the bathroom in a timely fashion…

      • >some tricks to making the prep tolerable

        That is all extremely sensible advice which my wife and I intend to take next time we go through this.

        I found 3 and 4 myself because the taste of the prep was so nasty.

        • The prep used to be worse tasting! Modern food chemistry helped improve it but only so much they can do.

          The best prep got pulled off the market though because people couldn’t follow directions. It had the salts and other solids in pill form. Take I think it was 4 big pills every 15 minutes washed down with 8+ oz of clear liquid. 4th dose they said to wash down with ginger ale to settle the stomach. 4 hours later 4 more doses. Much nicer than the liquid prep but people wouldn’t drink enough liquid with it and would get horrible dehydration and electrolyte inbalance. So it got pulled off the market.

          • Yes, I miss that one. I only got to try it once, when I moved and had to change gastros. Was a breeze, comparatively speaking.

            The next time in, I asked for that prep. They said it was no longer available. Apparently the FDA had ‘dis-recommended it’.

            And you’re not kidding about finding the line between when you can chug and when you must sip. I crossed that line, knew I’d done it, and sat without drinking anything for 2.5 hours.

            Thought the crisis had passed. Took one sip…made a valiant effort to hold it down…and then suddenly, I was talking to Ralph on the big white phone.

            After it was all over, I lay on the bathroom floor and giggled. I’d heard about talking to Ralph. And that’s just what it sounded like. Every time.

            Oh, by the way, if you do cross that line, don’t try to hold it down. The effluvia was pink. Apparently I had ruptured part of my esophagus trying to hold it down.

        • One alternative people might consider to a colonoscopy is the Cologuard test. Not invasive at all; might be worth asking one’s doctor about.

      • One other caveat from multiple experiences.

        Whatever you do, don’t mix a clear drink of something you like with the colonoscopy prep liquid. It will give you an aversion to it that lasts a very long time.

        I used to like white grape juice. Now when I try to drink it, my tongue retreats and my gorge rises. (Shudder)

  9. I think it’s a mistake to assume what you take to be memories of your time under anasthesia really were such. It’s equally possible that the mechanisms for storing and retrieving memories are interfered with during the process of going under and reawakening,

    • >It’s equally possible that the mechanisms for storing and retrieving memories are interfered with during the process of going under and reawakening,

      This is not just possible, it’s certain. People who haven’t carefully self-trained for it have difficulty retaining memory of their dreams long into normal consciousness.

      I trust this memory to be reporting something interesting because the “interference” seems to take the form of deletion, not fabulation.

  10. Once I had a somewhat more serious surgery, where the pill given half an hour before made me seriously mellow and happy. I was told it is more about making the patient relaxed and easier to handle. I think it was an opiod and it made me understand why opiods are dangerous. It was really too good. General anesthesia afterwards was a total 100% knockout though, no special effects or memories, just blackout.

    For the post-op pains, I was given https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metamizole (also called dipyrone), a non-opiod, non-addictive, basically not mind-altering painkiller. I understand that in the US it tends to be opiods prescribed for post-op pains, which is probably one of the reasons of the opiod epidemic. My first internet searches suggested metamizole was banned in the US in 1977: http://www.rateadrug.com/Metamizole-information.aspx but apparently the toxicity was way overstated. I think it should be approved as the addictive effects of opiods seem worse to me than the tiny chance of a toxic reaction.

    • Your pre-surgery dose was probably a benzodiazepene, like diazepam (Valium) or midazolam (Versed). Opioids would interfere with subsequent anesthetics much more than benzos would.

      Benzos are less addictive than opioids, and have a wider safe dosage range– but yes, you’re correct, they aren’t by any stretch 100% safe, particularly if you’ve got a history (or family history) of substance abuse. I know two people who have died of overdose on benzos; both were mixing alcohol with the pills.

      • I think that is another thing in favor of metamizol, it is okay with moderate alcohol consumption for 1-2 weeks, not in the long term though as both substances stress the liver.

  11. Keeping a dream journal as a morning ritual has really increased my recall/awareness of semi conscious states. (Writing it down seems to trigger your subconscious into thinking these are things the conscious would prefer not get filtered/forgotten)

    Sometimes in hotels but almost always while camping in the woods I’ve been aware of the loop you’re describing.

  12. “The odd thing I surfaced with was memory of some mental processing I’d been doing while unconscious. It appears my brain was running in a sort of survival-alert loop, constantly evaluating whether it could hear or feel or smell danger cues sufficient to wake me up. What I remembered was the operating noise of that loop running.”

    How are you determining that this is what you were experiencing? Can you give me some more phenomenological details?

    • >How are you determining that this is what you were experiencing? Can you give me some more phenomenological details?

      I already have, though I wasn’t clear enough about it. The memory was a sense as if something was asking over and over “Wake the boss? Wake the boss? Wake the boss?…” It wasn’t in language, though, and not personalized. More like a mechanism ticking.

      • Was it you who mentioned taking some sort of cognitive modifier a while back? If so, are you still taking them?

        They might have had an effect on the anaesthetic reaction.

        • >Was it you who mentioned taking some sort of cognitive modifier a while back? If so, are you still taking them?

          I take modafinil occasionally. Hadn’t had one for a week before the prep.

      • There is a passage in one of Nietzsche’s books where he describes a dream in which two courtiers were planning the king’s day, and discussing when to wake him and what to tell him about in what order. And then he woke up and realized that he himself was “the king” and he had overheard part of his mind doing its background job. That sounds oddly like what you describe.

    • >Have you tried something like that, for instance?

      Seems like a good set of instructions for what I think of as zero-point meditation (that is, as opposed to one-point). Yes, I have done similar things. I think this is how sitting zazen is supposed to work.

      • I went to a zazen group once and they took care to make my posture truly 100% perfect, and the meditation had a mind-altering effect nearly immediately. Later on visiting other groups who were less focused on posture but had stuff like mantras worked far less well. I don’t know why my brain cares so much about taking the curve out of my lower back (that is what putting the tailbone on the edge of a thick pillow and putting the legs in half lotus does). It can be a very weird byproduct of evolution at best, as the position itself is ridiculously useless for everything else.

  13. Once upon my youth, I made a 22 hour drive home for the holidays and collapsed in bed upon arrival. At some point of my recovery sleep, I entered a dream state in which I imagined being awakened suddenly (unfamiliar sound?) and then attempted to sit up in bed. Only I couldn’t move, and after what seemed like several minutes of failed effort, I became convinced (terrified) that I was paralyzed. In this state of acute stress, my senses of hearing, touch, and smell here hyper-activated but my eyes remained closed. The workings of the brain/mind are indeed mysterious.

    • >Only I couldn’t move, and after what seemed like several minutes of failed effort, I became convinced (terrified) that I was paralyzed.

      This happens often enough to have a name in the medical literature, but I’ve forgotten what it is.

      • Sleep paralysis. But it’s also thought that it’s the original meaning of the expressions “nightmare” and “incubus.” That is, it’s probably been recognized for a long time in folk phenomenology.


      • Well I guess you’re ready for an additional step.

        You literally were paralyzed.

        I’ve had this described as an individually-tailored hormone acting as a muscle feedback-loop block to the “cholinergic nervous system”. I haven’t researched this in some time, so that description sounds off. I think this is the entrance to the rabbit hole if you’d like to pursue science on it:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cholinergic
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parasympathetic_nervous_system

        Terror (no, not fear.. Terror) is indeed common (probably guaranteed for first-timers). This happens, and is universal to (some?) humans enough to enter into mythology in a number of cultures (e.g. Newfoundland/Canada calls it “the hag” or “ag rog”).

        When awaking from sleep, parts of your brain are coming online at different times, and doing all kinds of fun things like interacting with one another in novel ways. Hence the vivid end-of-sleep dreams, and “inspiration” upon waking up. Well.. spoilers. Your post means you’re beginning to notice the mechanics of your watchdog. Pulling the curtain back, as it were. Anyway..

        If you’d like to experiment with the kind of terror probably stronger than substances and torture, then while in a good mood, already well-rested and on no substances: snack and nap. Don’t meditate or the like, just rest until you sleep without having been tired beforehand.

        The important thing I noticed is I have a strong heartbeat and fall asleep without being tired. This’ll likely take under 15 minutes from beginning to end.

        If you can sleep with your mouth open, please for the love of $deity pursue that. Yes you’ll be fine when breathing through only one nostril, but.. that’s not optimal.

        Be alone, because the last thing you want is to have someone else (or a cat) be associated with the terror enough to need to face the touch of phobia of them you might get.

        I’ve experienced it naturally, and have noticed that doing the above can trigger it. I’ve done so several times, and.. I’ve faced it. If you ever get there your posture will change.

        I could give you additional tips on mindset and such, but I expect you’ll glean that from this text or while you’re in there.

        For anyone else reading this — for fuck’s sake don’t do this unless you already have some shaman in you. There are good reasons this stuff is nightmarish myth and not the ghost stories of religion.

        • >You literally were paralyzed.

          No, not this time. I was able to move without real difficulty as soon as I came out of unconsciousness, though I did notice that my fine motor control seemed impaired for the first few minutes.

          >When awaking from sleep, parts of your brain are coming online at different times, and doing all kinds of fun things like interacting with one another in novel ways. Hence the vivid end-of-sleep dreams, and “inspiration” upon waking up.

          Not news. I’ve been attending to my hypnogogic and transition states carefully for a long, long time.

          >If you’d like to experiment with the kind of terror probably stronger than substances and torture

          Uh, what would the point be? If I’m going to pay for the ride in terror, I want some instrumental knowledge or capabilities out of it.

    • I had a similar experience of sleep paralysis as a teen, when I woke up from a nap on the couch. This was not my first time with sleep paralysis, so I didn’t panic, but since I heard my father and brother talking behind me I croaked out in an attempt to call for help. Realizing that my vocal chords must also be paralyzed, and knowing what to do from previous experience, I let myself dip back into sleep for a few seconds before trying to get up again.

      When I sat up, there was no one around me. I had completely hallucinated the conversation. Rather the opposite of the OP.

      I don’t know how similar this was to Eric’s experience, except that very time after my first experience of sleep paralysis, I became curious and self-observant when once I realized what was going on (It is not at all an unpleasant state once you realize you are not actually paralyzed. The hallucinated conversation was pleasant, like the sensation of falling asleep around friends and family after Thanksgiving dinner).

  14. I remember waking up once and being distinctly aware of a mind-daemon going through my memories and throwing out ones it thought I wouldn’t need anymore to free up brain space. There was a brief scene from the movie Inside Out that resembles this, and that I recognized immediately.

    Come to think of it, there’s a bit in Inside Out that resembles your scenario, too: the one left to monitor the console for unusual activity while Riley is sleeping is Fear. A subplot of the movie involves getting him to wake his host up.

    • > mind-daemon going through my memories and throwing out ones it thought I wouldn’t need anymore to free up brain space

      This is actually a thing; synaptic pruning

    • That’s nothing. I read about Baader-Meinhof phenomenon recently and now it’s popping up everywhere!

      (HHOS ;)

  15. One of Spider Robinson’s characters went through stages of consciousness upon waking up. From memory, something like:

    I am alive.
    No enemies are near.
    I am a mammal.
    I am an adult male human being.

    This was described several times in the book. In at least one of them, “I am having sex” was in there, but I forget its position in the sequence.

  16. > It’s not the free-associative (“drunken monkey”) chatter beneath normal consciousness, but something much leaner and more task-focused: “Wake the boss? Wake the boss? Wake the boss?…”

    Why do you distinguish the two? I think both are the essentially the same processes but on a different level of consciousness i.e. the former is more unintelligent and non-critical than the latter.

    I’ve heard cases where people consuming too much marijuana at a time became acutely aware of the survival-alert loop and then suffered it immensely (obviously this was not how they worded it). I guess the loop just shifts from background to foreground in these cases consuming heavier amounts of computation power from brain.

    > Can any of my readers point at something relevant?

    Both of the occurrings brings two books to my mind – Brian Weiss’s Many Lives, Many Masters and Suzzane Segal’s Collision With the Infinite. Actually, only an instance from the first book: a patient under anesthesia hears/overhears a conversation between doctors specifically a part where (if my memory servers well) they said she might choke. Later when she wakes up she suffers the phobia until some therapy. You were warned that you too might hear conversations but the patient mentioned in the book, like you, was consciously/sub-consciously aware of the the operating noise of survival-alert loop (if not there could have been no phobia).

    While the second book completely talks about the survival-alert loop she suffered for the several years, though she was not under anesthesia. The experiences mentioned in this book are the result of the same process but with a different phrase “Boss? Boss? Boss? …”

    • >Why do you distinguish the two?

      Because the phenomenology is very different. Duh.

      I know what it’s like to relax one’s filters and become aware of the drunken-monkey chatter under normal consciousness. Now I know what it’s like to hear the survival-alert loop from sleep or anesthesia running. They can’t be “same” process in any meaningful sense, because both their phenomenology and their functional consequences are different.

      Why do you want to lump them together? Simply because they’re running on the same substrate?

      • > Why do you want to lump them together? Simply because they’re running on the same substrate?

        I have no intention to lump them. When I read the blog, I naturally, primarily and *consistently* perceive the substrate only in different posture/condition/arrangement/whatever.

        Both of them are chatter, whether the monkey is drunk or vigilant. One is much more general and much more closer to the surface (and so a bit non-senscial) and the other is a bit towards the core, concerned with more grave topic (and so a bit intelligent). Essentially, it is awareness but of different topics; the same process/function/formula with different input and output. Thus, the operating noises might be different but it emanates from the same machine (awareness).

        I don’t see them differently not only because of my different perception (which becomes apparent to me on reading the second para in your reply) but also because the event in itself seemed a bit obvious. Only that you are aware of it seem noticeable because it’s rarer. I do recall vague moments and dialogues where some reported a similar phenomenon.

  17. My uninformed guess would be that the process you experienced is one that is unique to you, and likely even unique to the time you were under anesthesia. Your experience of the process depended on an understanding of survival. It was probably influenced by thoughts you’ve had about the concept of survival. Although it was a process in your subconscious that you would not have been aware of when you are awake, it would be wrong to assume that it was a hardwired part of all human beings. I suspect that what goes on in the subconscious is a product of experience just as conscious thought is. Chimpanzees would not have an understanding of survival as an abstract concept and the kind of experience you had would not be a possibility for a chimpanzee, although the demand of survival would of course be consistent with whatever thoughts, emotions or desires a chimpanzee had.

    • >Chimpanzees would not have an understanding of survival as an abstract concept and the kind of experience you had would not be a possibility for a chimpanzee,

      Huh? What does an abstract concept of survival have to do with anything I reported? You seem to be confusing how I named the experience with its content.

      A chimpanzee had damn well better have its own version of a survival-alert loop running when it’s sleeping, or it will end up getting eaten by a predator. This is not an Eric-only nor a human-only problem and it would be surprising if the adaptive mechanism were novel to humans.

      • I doubt that you would be aware of a “survival loop” any more than you would be aware of the part of the brain that kept your heart beating. While there were may be a survival loop as you describe in your brain, what you experienced during anesthesia is very likely not it. My guess is that it was a cognitive construct that is completely separate from any mechanism that is common to all humans or all animals.

        I had an experience about 15 years ago that is maybe somewhat similar. I was going to sleep one night and I realised that I had a “dream body” that I could now move without moving my real body. I thought I had discovered how dreams work and I was proud to tell others of my discovery. One or two people said to me, “that was just part of your dream” and I was still convinced at the time, although later I came to agree with them. I never had the same kind of awareness of acquiring a “dream body” again so I think it was specific to that one dream I had.

        • >I doubt that you would be aware of a “survival loop” any more than you would be aware of the part of the brain that kept your heart beating.

          Doubt all you want. Becoming aware of aspects of mind that are normally hidden from consciousness is what mystics do.

          You are partially excused for not knowing this by the fact that mystics themselves are often only dimly aware that that is what they are doing, having accepted supernaturalist bullshit pseudo-explanations for their experiences.

  18. It’s the sleeping-in-a-train phenomenon. I remember this taking the “Auto Train” down to Florida many years back. I felt like I slept for twenty years without ever really falling asleep (being constantly jostled awake before the REM kicked in).

  19. What part of the brain do you (or other readers) think is engaging this “wake the boss?” circuit? Could it be broken in certain cases? What part of the brain emulates a “drunken monkey” by contrast? What physical substrates, I mean. Are they the same part? The medulla, for instance? Could one be trained to engage in the other?

    Suppose we had no ethical restraints. What part of a brain could we manipulate to turn off, enhance, or otherwise alter the “wake the boss?” mechanism?

    (If I posted this on SSC, it’s possible Scott A. would have some insight on this.)

  20. Just ran across this post; I’m going in for a c-scope in a little less than 2 hours.

    The prep was wretched; it was a full gallon (4 liters, actually), though I did get to break it into two parts (last night and this morning). True confession: I dumped the last liter down the sink. By that point, I was passing nearly-clear liquid from my anus, and I was _this_ close to vomiting back up the last few cups of prep that I had downed. On the other hand, I feel remarkably good, even though I haven’t eaten since Tuesday afternoon.

    This will be the first time in my entire life that I’ve been under anesthesia (nope, not even for dental work). Should be interesting; I’ll look for some of the phenomena that esr and others talk about above.

    • My experience (the sedative was propofol):

      step 1: the nurse/tech holds up a large plastic syringe and says “this is the sedative we’re going to give you.”

      step 2: I wake up in the recovery room with my wife sitting nearby.

      Zero memory of anything in-between. Oh, and my colon was clean as a whistle: no polyps, nothing. I’ll do it again in another 10 years (at age 75), and if that’s clean as well, then I’m done for good (as the doc put it, after that the risk of the procedure outweighs the risk of something developing in my colon).

  21. Eric – Awareness during anesthesia (and memories) is not at all uncommon. Surgeons are trained to say “There!” instead of, for instance, “Shit!” when stuff goes wrong. Many, many patients recall the music that’s played in the OR, and snippets of conversation, particularly when it’s derogatory and concerning the patient (something a good OR crew is also trained not to do).
    Here’s a scholarly article: http://anesthesiology.pubs.asahq.org/article.aspx?articleid=1946321
    I worked for The Ohio State University Department of Anesthesiology developing medical monitoring systems early on in my career, and had the satisfaction of seeing a number of the user interface metaphors we invented adopted into widespread use. (On a particularly quiet Marcon morning, I gave a tour of our research to a bunch of our fellow GT folks.)

    • >Eric – Awareness during anesthesia (and memories) is not at all uncommon.

      I knew this, and wouldn’t have bothered to report it if that had been all that went on. The interesting part of the experience was remembering the “Wake the boss?” loop running.

        • >At few places in the article and in the comments[1][2] on this blog entry you use the term “mystics”? Can you mention few of them you think of when you use this term?

          I actually don’t think about individual mystics a lot – so few of them are reliable narrators, actually they’re often rendered insane by crazy beliefs that have accreted around their mystical experiences. But after reading enough accounts of the experiences themselves one starts to see patterns emerging through the noise. The thing to do is focus as hard as one can on what ever primary data – pseudosensations, emotional tone – they report, rather than the abstractions the mystics map them into when they analyze.

          The one that’s relevant here is that mystics learn to retain the memory of what it was like to be in non-ordinary states of consciousness after they have returned to their normal waking minds. For most people this is difficult – such memories are even slipperier than dreams upon awakening. One has to learn a particular kind of stillness, an accepting mode, to copy those memories into the normal stream of recollection before they fade.

          • I’m going to describe an angle to stretch the ideas to ask a question..

            Upon stubbing a toe, people report a similar sensation and some are sensitive enough to describe an emotional tone. Although few are reliable narrators, attributing it to karma or even aliens, … etc

            > … so few of them are reliable narrators, actually they’re often rendered insane by crazy beliefs that have accreted around their mystical experiences. But after reading enough accounts of the experiences themselves one starts to see patterns emerging through the noise. The thing to do is focus as hard as one can on what ever primary data – pseudosensations, emotional tone – they report, rather than the abstractions the mystics map them into when they analyze.

            > One has to learn a particular kind of stillness, an accepting mode …

            Any overlap in their description may be only from from their common biology. They use similar tools to perceive and report, and you’re using similar tools to pay attention and reproduce.

            I see a clear vulnerability to self-delusion and credulity. Since you already understand this, how do you have enough confidence to countenance the topic?

            I maintain my own version of, and reasons for, hesitant interest, and I wonder if yours will end up being similar.

            I also suspect you’ve addressed this and I forgot it or missed it.

            • >I see a clear vulnerability to self-delusion and credulity. Since you already understand this, how do you have enough confidence to countenance the topic?

              Because getting the practice right has consequences that can be checked in various ways, starting with an alpha-wave monitor.

              One consequence I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and trying to teach, is how to control adrenalization level while sparring. Fighting with an empty mind is not just New Age woo-woo, it has consequences in keeping your heart rate down and your breathing even so you continue to oxygenate properly, rather than flipping into anaerobic mode and gassing out.

              • > Because getting the practice right has consequences that can be checked in various ways…

                So as I understand it, one part of your exploration is to listen, examine patterns and reproduce measurably (or experientially). Do I understand that correctly?

                > Fighting with an empty mind…

                There are some interesting body-mind-spirit connections that I had explored. Something like progression from forms of physicality (strength, endurance) to mentality (tactics, style, confidence, calm) to what most would interpret as faith (something like acceptance or submission, though I never got close enough to understand it well enough).

                It sounds like you’re working on concrete progression from understanding the body to understanding the mind (or “mind”, or Mind, depending on how wet the concrete is).

                As an aside, I had learned some respect for good old western boxing. Taken as a martial art, it has reproducible efforts related to tactics and calm in the face of confrontation. I like that there’s a “western alternative”.

                Anyhow.. good on you for being down to earth on it all.

                • >So as I understand it, one part of your exploration is to listen, examine patterns and reproduce measurably (or experientially). Do I understand that correctly?

                  Yes, you do. This is exactly what I mean when I describe myself as an “experimental mystic”.

                  >It sounds like you’re working on concrete progression from understanding the body to understanding the mind

                  I think the direction of generative explanation can point in either direction. Depending in what experiments you can perform.

                  >As an aside, I had learned some respect for good old western boxing. Taken as a martial art, it has reproducible efforts related to tactics and calm in the face of confrontation.

                  Yeah, you’re talking about what I think of as “stress inoculation”. Boxing training does tend to be better about that than a lot of dojo arts. One of my sword schools was really good at that, too. I’m now campaigning to integrate more of that kind of training at my kung fu kwoon.

                  >I like that there’s a “western alternative”.

                  Analogously, HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) has developed into a respectable Western peer to Asian weapon arts since around 2000. It’s a sign of the times that my kwoon is going to start hosting HEMA classes in September – and I will be helping teach them.

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