System reboot, error log updated.
The human mind is wondrous. I’m hesitant to use the term brain over mind because I’m starting to see the brain as hardware and what I’m really interested in currently is definitely a software consideration.
I recently had cause to reflect on my health. I’m no olympian for sure but I do consider myself relatively fit, I can run a 5km pretty easily all be it without the risk of any broken records, I can ride a bike 50 or even 100 miles without fear of a guaranteed coronary event (subsequent non life threatening chaffing considerations aside), I watch what I eat staying toward the natural and organic over the colourful and chemically enhanced and I’m blessed with enough intelligence to conduct a fairly successful life and thus far blessed with good health and a joyously healthy family. All of those lucky ingredients offer no preparation at all for the need to consider that you may be facing a sinister ailment.
I think there is a latent hypochondriac in all of us. A new freckle, a strange tweak of a muscle, the unexpected twist of the stomach offer all of us the nanosecond of questioning. And to use our hardware/software analogy thats what I believe it to be. Neuro circuits processing software choices to arrive at conclusions, am I sick: yes/no? The embedded operating system that is the human mind refers to million of years of conditional algorithms and delivers its negative conclusion and we move on to other diagnostics. In my case usually ending in resolution by Coffee, cake or the glorious combination of both.
So what happens when a nano second becomes a human processable period of time? When that muscle tweak or groan in the guts stays longer than the required diagnostic period? Apparently the core operating platform hands over to the process management applications of forward planning and emotional management but as with all good processes, with all well measured mechanisms, there has to be a by-product. There has to be a result of the nanosecond response and I found it to be the most surprising of things. Honesty.
So here I am with a symptom that core diagnostics has failed to resolve. Coffee, cake and indeed more coffee and cake (just in case) couldn’t seem to resolve this one and the big guns of planning and management are kicking in. My hard earned health conscience whirring through enigma machine like probability considerations. Statistical likelihood’s of a 40 year old non smoking, light drinking, physically active male having the type of sinister illness the symptoms (on occasion) suggest. Management processes taking control of each instance of symptomatic discomfort, reminding you of the unlikely hood of serious implications, of the raft of other more common ailments that could be suggested by just such bodily misdemeanours. Pointing out when the symptoms are reduced and looking for links and patterns to support inherent well being. Millenia of evolution resulting in the best operating systems and management applications ever created. And they almost work.
I know the statistics, I know the alternative causes. I even know that capitalism and politics are as likely a part of the fear as the physical symptoms themselves. After all the stats support the unlikely hood of a cancerous presence and the potential risk of anaesthesia and (mildly) invasive diagnostic procedures would in other generations, I suspect, have sent me home with nothing more than a note to ‘take it easy’ and a suggestion of watching my diet and the occasional paracetamol as required. But todays politics require me to be diagnosed as early as possible with that tricky ailment lest the stats look wrong for all involved in the industry of cancer care/cure/prevention and charity and nice (and hopefully talented) though he is the surgeon involved is both self employed and paid by a corporate insurer on a procedure by procedure basis. The stats might be on my side but economics and social pressure will ensure we’re certain.
And thus the wait. The pause for (to be celebrated) certainty leaves plenty of time for the sub systems of drama and panic to complete a multitude of process cycles in the grey computer of my head. It could well be serious this time feller, the stats say even early diagnosed patients seldom make it past five years and late ones push the envelope at twelve months. Was I quick or slow in recognising the issue (how much I would love a chart to show exactly what constitutes a speedy search for help)? If its bad how will the treatment leave me? As a person whos life, livelihood and passions revolve around the ability to be physically able is it better to live as long as possible strong and go quickly Verses the preemptive wasting of aggressive treatments? Etc, etc, etc, hour after hour, day after day. made worse by the modern corporate travellers life. Alone in the car with no company but messers panic and concern. Hours in airports and planes with only the baggage of self doubt for company. Its a lonely experience for sure.
Each time management and planning storm in to sweep the wrong doers away, but each time fragments of the doubts remain lodged like the fluff in the dip around the edge of a fitted carpet, removable but only with a proper, considered attack with Mr. Vacuum cleaner. And so I sit here in a hospital room today waiting for the man with the plan (and the P60) to come do the vacuuming. Terror and relief (sub system applications usually seen running together as a mismatched pair a bit like a predictable Oxbridge boat race) are playing kick the can in the grey matter and wondering why on earth a drink of water is apparently so potentially deadly to a pre-operative patient?
But with all the competing mental software occurrences I’m drawn back to the by-product. The honesty. When I first had to contemplate the slim chance of serious illness there was this fleeting, pure and un-tainted honesty. Before panic, management, preparation or planning could fire up and log in it was there. If I’m actually ill I don’t want it to effect my family. In the time a single pulse of emotion took to cover the cortex I saw it, how do I tell my girls, how do I hide any weight loss, how do I maximise the moments I’m with them? What does this mean to my family? All the images, without exception were of them and straight after I learned a valuable lesson.
All these clever processes, the emotional management, the panic, the planning and relief alter that true state almost instantly. Within seconds the drama had set in, I’m planning funeral music lists, working out the financial implications of long term illness, wondering just how painful this will be and its not pure. I’m looking at the perceptions of others and realising I both relish the possibility of sharing the mental burden and dread the implications of telling people of my possible weakness. And its all tainted. That complete and totally uncontrollable clarity, blink and you miss it, showed me my reality. I want to live to be with my family. Other dreams and desires may exist for others. Money, success, pleasure (pain I suppose if you’re that way inclined?) could be on the menu but it takes a proper system error to draw it out and now that I have, now that its been filed in the system log of my mind I want to do all I can to remember it, to evolve from it and make sure that the next release of my mental software is using algorithms centered on it.
The message to this lonely process is now stunningly clear. For all our debates about artificial intelligence, the fears of its power the hopes for its strengths, we’ve missed a crucial trick. We’re living it. Each external element alters our perception and our performance. How we see others, how they see us, the cause and effect of social interaction and financial need and dependancy all conspire to block honesty. Scary though it is all systems need a reboot. All systems need recovering to a safe point and just like the best (and worst) in IT that generally only happens due to system error. I wouldn’t wish (potential) illness on anyone, but I can’t deny the benefits of its threat.