Intoxicating tendencies

Photo by Flickr user Caesar Sebastian. Click for source.The latest edition of BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed is a special on ‘intoxication’ looking at the uses, abuses and social function of drugs through the ages.

It’s a fascinating programme in itself but it is peppered with vivid excerpts from how drugs, altered states and drug users have been described historically and are discussed currently.

One example is this wonderfully, painfully descriptive piece from writer Kingsley Amis who brilliantly captured the hangover:

Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eye-balls again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.

Oh, and Happy 2013.
 

Link to Thinking Allowed intoxication edition.
mp3 of podcast for same.

Fragments of identity

Photo by Flickr user  аrtofdreaming. Click for source.The Atlantic has a sublime article on identity, memory and amnesia – written as a reflection on meeting a friend who has lost much of his memory due to an advancing brain tumour.

The author is neuropsychologist Daniel Levitin who is better known for his work on the cognitive science of music, but here he writes beautifully about how theories of memory can blend uncomfortably with individual experience.

Once Tom and I were sitting next to each other when Pribram told the class about a colleague of his who had just died a few days earlier. Pribram paused to look out over the classroom and told us that his colleague had been one of the greatest neuropsychologists of all time. Pribram then lowered his head and stared at the floor for such a long time I thought he might have discovered something there. Without lifting his head, he told us that his colleague had been a close friend, and had telephoned a month earlier to say he had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor growing in his temporal lobe. The doctors said that he would gradually lose his memory — not his ability to form new memories, but his ability to retrieve old ones … in short, to understand who he was.

It’s a wonderfully written piece that is subtly recursive, like memory itself.
 

Link to Atlantic piece on memory and identity (via @edyong209)