Science Fiction Challenge/Mnemtronium
Video teaser for Mnemtronium. Help with ogg video play. Details about the video teaser. Davuk Canadist pressed himself into the corner of the elevator and imagined that he was alone on a high ridge in the Adynyamas. Davuk fixed his gaze on featureless region of the elevator door and allowed a calming blanket of blue to dominate his visual cortex. He imagined a dry wind and the cries of a Wedge-tail as it hunted.
The door slid open and the elevator said, "Floor 45. Neurosurgical rehabilitation." An orderly pushed her patient's wheel chair out of the elevator and looked back over her shoulder at Davuk. Davuk was very familiar with "that look". Half of his ancestors were indigenous Australians and half were northern Europeans. His features were an unusual mix of the two and he often drew double takes from strangers. For a moment he let himself sink into her dark eyes. Davik imagined that she despised him for the way he had recoiled at the sight of the patient in the wheel chair.
As the elevator doors closed he watched her guide the wheel chair down the hallway. Davik forced himself to think of something other than his shame at his deep dislike for any hint of deformity and illness. The orderly's name came back to his thoughts. He had seen it on her ID: Katelin Escobar. He thought again of the girl he had grown up with, a brown eyed waif who was named Katyin. She had come to town to live with foster parents, then had left after a year. That girl had been the first person besides his uncle with whom Davuk had felt an immediate and natural connection. As a boy Davuk had taken his close relationship with his uncle for granted, but it was Katyin who had first opened his awareness to the idea that there might be a whole group of people who were on his "wavelength". When Katyin moved away, Davuk had learned that their connection, once established, was not disrupted by distance.
Davuk was knocked from his childhood memories and noticed that the elevator was lecturing him. "Attention! This is floor 64. You selected this floor. Please exit or make another selection. Do you need assistance? Are you lost? Floor 64, Memory Recovery Unit." Davuk silently cursed the person who had programmed this system to get rude and pushy when people did not quickly enter and exit the elevator.
Davuk grumbled, "Open door." After the door slid open he walked out of the elevator and was greeted by the receptionist for the Memory Recovery Unit. "Welcome to the DeMoore Memory Recovery Unit." The machine asked, "Do you have an appointment?"
Davuk replied, "You made my appointment with Dr. Morrisen. I'm Davuk Canadist." Davuk leaned over the top of the receptionist and saw the details of his appointment flash up on the data surface. The receptionist made him insert his ID into a slot and then it took his palm scan. The receptionist then rolled into a waiting room. Davuk followed the machine and made himself comfortable in a chair to wait until the scheduled appointment time.
The 64th floor seemed essentially deserted, and the receptionist waited near Davuk, trying to make small talk. Davuk was not one to adopt practices like making meaningless chit chat with machines. He ordered the receptionist to go away. He let his biofeedback controls come online and immersed himself in the internet. He was just starting an online search for Katyin, but Dr. Morrisen walked into the waiting room. Davuk guessed that she was about 50, dark hair starting to gray. She wore a stylish lab coat with plastic data screens on each forearm. Her "uniform" presented an interesting mix of messages, half a proclamation of, "I'm 24/7 on call," and half a reminder of, "I'm human, too".
"Davuk? Davuk Canadist? I'm Dr. Morrisen." She took his hand as soon as he rose from his seat and kept hold of it, warmly gripping it with both of her hands.
Rising to his feet, Davuk was surprised to see that she was as tall as he was. As his data feeds cleared from his glasses, Davuk found himself looking straight into her calm blue eyes. "Hello, Dr. Morrisen."
Davuk endured the strange sensation of Dr. Morrisen making perfectly polite small talk while she closely examined his features. He then replied to a string of questions: his trip to Faridabad had been uneventful, he had slept well and was ready to get to work on the research project, and no, he did not have a fear of needles.
While they talked, she had led him by the hand through one door, down a short hallway and into her office through another door that had her name on it. Once they were in her office she finally released his hand so that she could examine and then picked up a folder off of her desk. She turned back towards him and handed him the folder. "There are two versions of the consent form. One for oral and one for intramuscular administration of the tepfromedrapine."
Davuk was very much aware of the fact that his participation in this clinical research project would involve use of the drug tepfromedrapine. He was not comfortable with the idea of altering his brain's activity with drugs, but he had decided that participation in this research project was more important than protecting the pristine environment of his synapses.
They sat down on a couch and spent the next hour and a half going through every line of the consent form for the research study. Dr. Morrisen explained in detail the role of the drug. "Tepfromedrapine blocks the natural inhibitors of one of our key memory systems. Holmes and Nygn won the Nobel prize in '85 for their work showing that tepfromedrapine enhances the brain's ability to bring the activity of our hibaton receptors into conscious awareness."
Davuk had never studied neurobiology or particle physics and only knew as much as the average "man on the street" about brain function and dark matter. He was vaguely aware that it had been discovered that the human brain has receptor cells that can interact with and detect the hibaton form of dark matter. He asked, "Why do our brains have this ability to sense hibatons and yet not make use of it?"
Dr. Morrisen chuckled and tossed the consent form down on the coffee table next to the couch. She leaned back and stared off across the room. "That's one of the hardest things to believe about the brain. Our consciousness is trapped in a tiny part of our brain's neural circuits. Consciousness is to the unconscious part of brain activity like conventional matter is to dark matter. Just as most matter is dark matter, most brain activity takes place outside of our conscious awareness. If we were conscious of everything in our brains we would be hopelessly confused and baffled by what our brains are doing. When we grow up, we learn to ignore and filter out the parts of our brain activity that do not closely match the contents of our physical environment. As soon as babies start playing with their rattles, their brains are sorting out what to pay attention to. Our brains decide to keep information about their hibaton receptors out of our conscious awareness because none of our other senses can confirm that hibatons exist."
Davuk was impressed by the sense of wonder in Dr. Morrisen's voice as she described the brain and discussed the miracle of how it creates conscious experience. It was clear that she was pasionate about her studies of the brain. "But saying we have these hibaton receptors that we are unaware of is like.....well, it seems as absurd as it would be to have eyes but not be conscious of what we can see."
Dr. Morrisen nodded. "Yes, exactly." She looked back at Davuk and smiled. "Most of what our eyes tell our brain never enters into our conscious awareness. Some people who "go blind" retain some of their unconscious vision and have what is called "blind sight". We can demonstrate that they can "see", they can respond to visual stimuli, but they are not aware of what they see."
Davuk found that hard to believe. "That's spooky."
Dr. Morrisen agreed. "The human mind is very spooky; it fools us into thinking we know what is going on. Our brains produce a virtual reality for us to live in and we never question that reality. Well, almost never. You could say that the history of neuroscience is the story of discovering how to escape from our dependence on our brains. Our instruments and probes are now allowing us to objectively measure what our brains are capable of....we no longer have to accept the misleading story that our brains tell us."
"And this drug, tepfromedrapine, it is one of these probes?"
"Yes, a very useful probe of the activity of our hibaton receptors. The reports of research subjects such as yourself are allowing us to make correlations between patterns of brain activity and conscious perception of hibatons. We can now map the neural networks that function as the hibaton sensory system."
Davuk was dubious. If everyone in the world only had blind sight, would biologists be able to make sense of the visual system? "It seems like you need to also know something about the source of the hibatons."
Dr. Morrisen smiled broadly. Most patients did not make that conceptual leap. "Yes, that is absolutely correct. And that is why this research project is in collaboration with the physics department. We depend on their ability to generate controlled hibaton signals."
Davuk asked, "But aren't the dark matter generators gigantic devices on the Moon?"
Dr. Morrisen replied, "The original ones were. The one we use is the largest one yet operational, and it is located at the asteroid 4239 Blaise. Of course, it does not matter where the hibaton source is located. Distance does not have much meaning for dark matter."
Davuk nodded. "So they say. So you have said. Still, it seems magical. Now, let me try to put this into my own words so we know that I understand. You will be using my brain as a detector of the hibaton signal coming from that asteroid. And my ability to consciously experience that signal will be induced by the tepfromedrapine. And I have to sign this release saying that I know there is a chance that the tepfromedrapine might have side effects such as hallucinations and mental illness."
Dr. Morrisen nodded. "Yes, that is the situation. Although there is no reason to suspect that the risk of induced mental illness is large. We suspect that the risk is greater than zero because drugs related to tepfromedrapine are now routinely used to treat some forms of mental illness. Those treatments use drugs that have the opposite effect on the brain compared to what tepfromedrapine does. In other words, some forms of mental illness seem to involve hyperactivity of the hibaton receptor system, and during this research project we will be inducing enhanced activity in that system."
Davuk asked, "And as far as you know, inducing hyperactivity of the hibaton receptor system is the only way to accomplish this research?"
"Yes, it is the only method we know of to make people consciously aware of the existence of their hibaton receptors. We rely on volunteers such as you to take this risk...a risk that we really have no way of estimating. Well, you could say that this research is our first chance to make such an estimate in humans. Of course, we have done similar work with laboratory animals and seen no problems."
Dr. Morrisen asked, "Are you ready to sign the consent form?"
Davuk shook his head. "I have one more question. What if there are some people who have an unusual reaction to tepfromedrapine. Or, rather, what if some people have an unusual hibaton receptor system and that means they will have an unusual reaction to the tepfromedrapine?"
Dr. Morrisen frowned. "I'm not sure what you are getting at."
Davuk tried to explain. "Dr. Morrisen, you seem to habitually talk about "the brain" as if it were a computer chip. I suspect each person has a unique brain. I like to imagine that I have a unique brain. What if my brain does not have the expected response to tepfromedrapine?"
Dr. Morrisen took a deep breath. "I assure you that you are correct: even genetically identical twins each have unique brains. It is possible that you will have an unusual reaction to the tepfromedrapine. Remember, we went through the list of known side effects-"
Davuk interrupted. "I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about something totally new. That is possible right? I might show a reaction to this drug that you have never seen before?"
Dr. Morrisen was startled by forcefulness with which Davuk asserted this possibility. "Of course. But you suggest this possibility almost as if you expect the unexpected."
Davuk nodded and held out one hand, palm side up. "Yes, Dr. Morrisen, that is the way I go into things. In my experience, I am not like other people."
Dr. Morrisen got up from the couch and went to her desk. She sat on the edge of the desk and studied the data display on her right arm. "I recall that your medical history mentions your past participation in ESP research. Is that what you are getting at?"
Davuk also got up, a bit stiff from sitting half-turned and hunched over the consent form for so long. "Well, don't you think that is relevant doctor? What if this hibaton sensory system you are trying to study is the basis for ESP? What if a person like myself is particularly sensitive to hibatons? What if that accounts for the feeling I have had all my life, a feeling that I am somehow connected to certain other people? Maybe we should expect the possibility that I will have an unusual response to tepfromedrapine."
Dr. Morrisen was now deeply involved with her data display and briefly held up a finger towards Davuk, silently requesting a short pause in their conversation. Without looking up she said, "I'm modifying my next appointment." Then, while still working at the controls of her personal communications system, she explained, "I'm meeting two of my collaborators for dinner this evening, and they would be interested in what you just told me. As would one of the other research subjects." She looked at Davuk and asked, "Are you available to join us for dinner? We will be able to continue this discussion about ESP and hibatons with Dr. Taloqua."
The name "Taloqua" seemed familiar to Davuk. He had carefully read about the research project, but did not remember a "Dr. Taloqua" as one of the investigators. "Is Dr. Taloqua a dark matter physicist?"
Dr. Morrisen chuckled. "No, no. Dr. Taloqua is a research subject. She is a doctor of psychiatry and had done research on memory recovery."
Davuk thought he could now understand why the name "Taloqua" had seemed familiar. He asked, "Is this the Dr. Taloqua who does past life research?"
Dr. Morrisen nodded. "Yes, do you know her?"
Davuk shook his head. "No, but I know a little about her work. I think she claims to be the most published past life debunker ever. How did she come to be in this study?"
Dr. Morrisen finished working the data console on her sleeve. She took off her lab coat and hung it on hook in the corner of her office. "I did her intake interview about a week ago, so I know that she comes to this project along a path not too different from that taken by yourself. However, I never asked her any personal questions beyond those of the study intake forms. Do join us for dinner and you can ask her."
Davuk rotated his shoulders and tried to gauge the depth of his fatigue. He had been planning to return to the hotel for dinner and try to get to bed early, but the dinner invitation seemed an intriguing opportunity. "Very well, I accept your invitation."
continue at: Mnemtronium/Part 2