I usually find comfort in knowing how things work. Sometimes analogies help my understanding. Take flying, for example. During the flight itself, I like to watch the wings. I’m familiar with the language of lift from my physics background. But, lift was always a little illusory to me. I pondered if we should call it “up-suck” rather than lift.
One day I hit on the analogy that really helped my understanding: skipping a rock on the lake. That’s basically lift. The rock skips on the more dense water and flies up into the less dense air. Crude, but useful. Especially during those moments when you wonder (and don’t tell me you haven’t wondered), what actually keeps this huge, obscenely heavy thing from plummeting straight into the ground with me on board clutching one final cup of coffee; clutching that cup primarily because the coffee was free.
My real-world job is in trying to ensure eyes work together as much as possible. Understanding by analogy helps here, too. A lot of people understand we actually perceive sight (we “see”) in the brain. The message of sight travels from the eye to the brain in two primary nerve bundles: one sees detail and color, the other sees motion. It is the interplay of those two nerve bundles (“pathways”) that, when operating properly, give us the stable bilateral sight (binocularity) that gives our brains the best three-dimensional visual information possible.
My understanding of the interplay of those pathways and my communication with patients and colleagues about those pathways was aided by my second analogy from my everyday world: that of the mouse and the computer. When you move the mouse, the computer screen stays awake; when you stop moving the mouse, the screen switches to screen-saver. The computer starts to go to sleep.
That analogy allows a surprisingly in-depth discussion of the visual neurology without people covering their ears and screaming “TMI, too much information.”
The computer mouse keeps the computer screen awake by sending the message to the computer that the mouse is moving. Motion is the support needed for a stable-over-time image on the computer screen.
That is how the visual pathways operate. The motion-carrying visual pathway must have a high enough activity level from detecting motion at the retinal level to provide the support needed to keep the detail-and-color pathway awake (in the central vision), just like the computer mouse (or the keyboard) has to be in motion for the screen to stay awake.
So, who cares? Pretty esoteric. What does this have to do with anything in our currently completely goofed-up world?
Brownstone Institute received a heart-wrenching email from a son whose mother was recently admitted into a hospital for surgery. The mother has late-stage dementia. Her son is the only person she recognizes, and he was thrown out of the hospital for not wearing a mask. Still looking for the link to the computer mouse?
In Alzheimer’s (I don’t have the precise diagnosis of the mom with dementia), that disease selectively damages the visual neurology carrying motion. So, the support to keep detail-and-color (the computer screen, if you will) awake is eroded over time with the progression of the disease.
Think again about the mouse and the computer screen. Imagine, for ease of analogy, that we’re using a wired mouse with a plug-in attachment to the computer. Now imagine that we make the connector to the computer a little dirty. Then a little dirtier. Then a little dirtier. The dirt will hold the metal connections a little further apart with each layer of dirt.
Would you expect the electrical signal from the mouse to get sketchier since electricity moves through dirt a lot less efficiently than it moves through metal? And if the electrical signal from the motion of the mouse gets sketchier, what would you expect to happen to the computer screen?
It will probably be balkier at responding to the ever-balkier, ever more erratic “stay awake” signal from the mouse. So, the screen will likely go to sleep even as you (ineffectively) move the mouse since the signal doesn’t get through consistently. When the screen is awake, the mouse won’t keep the screen awake and it will go back to sleep even though you keep the mouse moving. The stability of the screen image gets sketchier and sketchier – less consistent through time and increasingly so over time – with more layers of dirt.
Now back to Alzheimer’s. As the motion-detecting visual pathway is progressively more injured, the support signal to keep detailed vision awake gets sketchier, and the stability of vision progressively gets more and more fractured over time.
Add into that picture the fact that brains calculate the visual world we see from the available, increasingly variable visual information, that information then probably adjusted by memory. Anxiety, which happens frequently in Alzheimer’s, decreases attention, further compromising the brain’s calculation ability.
The vision research suggests, and the Alzheimer’s research agrees, that as the disease progresses and vision becomes more fractured, the ability to detect faces is injured – probably variably so. Suddenly, instead of discussing memory issues, we have a picture of a mom with memory problems, whose vision is unstable through time, probably getting more anxious, and less and less able to attend to her more and more fractured visual world.
And in this hospital, the one face the mom could recognize – which would probably decrease her anxiety thereby decreasing attentional compromises, perhaps scaling back some of her brain-calculated-visual-world challenges – is to be either covered, compromising recognition or, as happened, is thrown out of the hospital entirely.
In our town, Alzheimer’s residents of memory care were separated from the people they love and might recognize by forcing loved ones to stand outside and wave at their impaired family member through an outside window.
What is the problem public health officials have with human faces? We already worry that surrounding infants with essentially non-faces – faces with the bottom halves covered – may impair face detection development. If development of face detection ability is impaired, it may be irreparable.
These same public health officials also demand family members of Alzheimer’s patients keep those patient-recognizable faces away or unrecognizably covered.
Just in these examples, public health officials demonstrate no caring for humans beyond direct effects of a virus. Apparently there are no other effects possible in any of this in humans. Viruses affect people, lockdown policies do not, in the public health view.
This mandated lack of caring targets perhaps two of the most vulnerable ends of the human spectrum: infants and the elderly afflicted by Alzheimer’s. Public health apparently has no interest in the ability to detect and appreciate faces, and what that means to being human.
Ayn Rand wrote in The Fountainhead, “There’s nothing as significant as a human face. Nor as eloquent. We can never really know another person, except by our first glance at him. Because, in that glance, we know everything. Even though we’re not always wise enough to unravel the knowledge.”
Why are these officials picking on kids and the elderly? Is it ignorance? Stupidity? If so, my prior suggestion that public health officials in this country and world have missed their calling to write instruction manuals for ice cube trays seems spot on.
Or is it something more nefarious like desire for power that is comfortable with dehumanization as a tool? A lust for power so strong that it approaches a desire to injure, or at least allows for no real degree of empathy while it dehumanizes. Maybe the ever-present desire to project and protect power demands there be absolutely no questioning of the newly self-established “science.”
It sort of reminds me of the era of bloodletting, at one time “the science.” Drain the deadly cardinal humours out of the body in the hope that will create overall health. If that is insufficient to heal and restore health, brand (yes, brand) the bottom of the feet. And George Washington died trying to feel his pulse. The trigger for all this accepted-as-cutting-edge medical care of the man King George described as “the greatest man in the world,” was a sore throat – sort of like an upper respiratory infection.
Pick your reason for the current outrage: stupidity, ignorance, or craving for power. Any of those should disqualify these people from serving in any capacity related to or associated with public health. Consideration should also be given to firing those who put these people into positions to cause suffering in those they were ostensibly hired to protect.
The unanswered question is: when will the person or persons who made these abysmal public health decisions admit error?
Why would we expect that to happen? Infants and Alzheimer’s sufferers can’t speak for themselves. They can’t complain. Game over.
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