February 1st, 2008

sideview, obamame_sideview

Hallucinations

For the past week or so, probably influenced by the after-effects of surgery and maybe the medications I'm on, I've been experiencing aural hallucinations, i.e. repeatedly hearing things that aren't there. I guess I would be quite unnerved by this except I've experienced such hallucinations all my life. As a kid I was constantly assaulted with eerie music that'd go on for ages. Back when Caleb and I had an apartment near a church with bells that rang on the half-hour, I'd be convinced the bells were ringing for hours on end. And this week I've heard all kinds of sounds, the most annoying of which is the ring tone of my mobile, which will be in my purse and seem to be ringing for ten minutes or more. The only way I can tell it's not ringing is either to go somewhere with no background noise -- such noise obscures reality and allows my brain to fill in the details -- or to take out the phone and check. Of course, I can also just concentrate hard and try to determine if it's a real sound I hear or just my head but it's awfully hard to tell. And then there are the earworms, which I get several times a day. This morning I woke up with Elvis doing "Here Comes Santa Claus" clear as day in my head.

By pure happenstance, I decided to listen to a couple of NPR podcasts by one of my favorite correspondents, Robert Krulwich, who covers science (often weird science) and one of his latest stories is about aural hallucinations. I learned several things from this, including the fact that they're often experienced by people who've either lost their hearing or are isolated, like out at sea or in the arctic, where there aren't many sounds. And it doesn't mean you're crazy, it means your brain is bored and has decided to stimulate itself. So apparently my brain gets bored easily because I hear music and sounds in my head on a very regular basis, plus I speak-write in my head (entire conversations, essays, LJ posts) so much it's like I've got a built-in iPod.

After I heard that podcast, I listened to a second one, about visual hallucinations, which can be experienced by the blind. And -- not making this up -- I've had those too, all my life. Part of the story talks about a study where people were blindfolded and within hours saw stuff. Well... DUH! I always always see stuff when I shut my eyes and even when my eyes are open, I can visualize stuff in incredible detail. My tantric meditation was all about visualization, lucid dreaming, which is after all about letting your mind see things and experience things out of normal reality. I didn't find it at all hard to pick up the basics of meditation or ritual work because it seems very natural for there to be a kind of TV in your head.

Tell me, don't both of these things just seem like very normal experiences among creative people?