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Rifts in Time

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 Kate Gould

Professor Grobstein


27 April 2010

Rifts in Time

For this webpaper I’ve decided to explore Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, a type of epilepsy characterized by unusual sensations or feelings like déjà vu, “out-of-body” feelings, dysphoric or euphoric waves of emotion, and sensations of a taste, smell, or a sound that is not physically present at that time (sensory illusions) (4). For our purposes, I’ll be focusing on Simple Partial Seizures, which only affect a small portion of the brain (in this case the temporal lobe). People who experience these seizures retain consciousness and the seizures are very sudden and brief, unlike Complex Partial Seizures which impair consciousness to some degree, making it difficult to interact with one’s environment, or Tonic-Clonic seizures (grand mal seizures) that affect the entire brain and cause the convulsions commonly associated with seizures or epilepsy (2).

Temporal Lobe Epilepsy is of interest to me because, not only does it create a unique way of viewing the world (a piece of the “Crack” that makes loopy science), but it is also related to my last webpaper on dissociative events: depersonalization and derealization. These dissociative events, rarely occurring on their own but rather as symptoms of some wider reaching illness or syndrome, can be instigated by seizures in the temporal lobe of the brain.

It is important to distinguish what a seizure actually is. A seizure is caused by abnormal excessive or synchronous neuronal activity in the brain. That is, it is uncontrolled electricity that is neither intentionally caused by nor organized by the nervous system (3). Seizures can be caused by a number of things, although they do not always need to have a cause. Illnesses that deteriorate the brain, infections, brain injury, high fevers, drug use, and organ failure are only some of the reported causes of epilepsy (1). But epilepsy does not always have to originate from some underlying illness or disease; instances of epilepsy can be idiopathic, meaning that they have no identifiable cause.

Temporal lobe epilepsy, at least in the form of simple partial seizures that we’re talking about, are interesting because those affected retain consciousness. It is their perception of the world around them that changes. This is particularly interesting for “loopy science” and “the Crack” because it is personal perspective that dictates how one will react to and understand the world around them.

I get the strangest feeling—most of it can't be put into words. The whole world suddenly seems more real at first. It's as though everything becomes crystal clear. Then I feel as if I'm here but not here, kind of like being in a dream. It's as if I've lived through this exact moment many times before. I hear what people say, but they don't make sense. I know not to talk during the episode, since I just say foolish things. Sometimes I think I'm talking but later people tell me that I didn't say anything. The whole thing lasts a minute or two (4).

During that minute, those affected by temporal lobe epilepsy are experiencing a view of reality uncommon to the rest of us. While this is not to glamorize temporal lobe seizures or advocate a continued experience of them, it does grant us an interesting viewpoint when it comes to considering other people’s observations.

Just because we are unable to experience what they are feeling does not make their perspective any less real for them. And therein lies the purpose of this paper and of our course. It is only by synthesizing and collecting a large range of observations that we can ever hope to truly understand the world and the human experience of it. By examining instances like these, of temporal lobe epilepsy, we are able to understand better the structures of the brain, how they function, and what happens when they dysfunction. Clinical neuropsychologists, like Dr. Oliver Sacks and Dr. V. Ramachandran, work with individuals with “interesting perspectives,” those who have experienced strokes, brain damage, or other situations that have given them new perspectives on the world around them. By looking at the region of the brain affected and the reported symptoms, that new perspective, they are able to determine exactly how the brain functions.

I guess what I want to say is this: we all have unique perspectives shaped by our histories, our experiences, our personalities. To dismiss someone else’s perspective out of hand, because we ourselves have not experienced it, does not make it any less real for the person who views the world that way. And it is only through careful consideration and experimentation with those other perspectives that we can ever hope to truly gain new understanding about the brain, the mind, and the world that is filtered through it.