Essay thursday: San Valentino

…settimana di San Valentino. Ci vuole un pizzico di fortuna per trovare l’amore, o un’amore, della tua vita, a volte. Dipende chi sei. Vivere la vita del amore invece dipende di piu su cosa fai, la cultura che porti dentro. E piu raro. Spesso sembra di richiedere tanto coraggio. Ma non e vero. Richiede solo un pizzico. Peccato per il mondo che in genere quel pizzico manca, quasi sempre dopo un certo punto della vita, e prima di un altro.

Perche il primo raramente inganna, quello che sei. L’amore, quello vero, ti porta li, a scoprire ed esprimere quello che eri gia ma non lo sapevi. Con qualcun altro, a volte qualcosa. Ti chiede solo di lasciare cio’ che non sei. Il secondo, la cultura che porti dentro, quello che in genere ti fai fare il solito – specialmente dopo un certo punto della vita, e prima di un altro – non ti chiede niente. Percio sembra piu ovvio, piu facile, cosi piu reale che non te ne accorgi pienamente neanche quando sei gia su quella strada. E ti puo portare anche su una via molto felice, con un po’ di fortuna. A volte trascini perfino l’amore della vita su quella strada.

Ma li su quella via c’e poco pausa, poco spazio per l’amore, quello vero, quello che non chiedera mai un sacrificio da te perche fa gia parte e fai gia parte. Non e quello che vedi dentro uno sguardo che inganna, il tuo stesso desiderio, il tuo stesso bisogno, ma quella cultura che non si rivela, la paura di perderla, la volonta’ di mantenere il presente, di contenere. Non te lo dice prima della partenza che quello che sei non fara parte di te, non durante il percorso. Forse alla fine, se sei sfortunato, o fortunato. Perche allora si vede quello eri e sei ancora, di la, dove non ci sei mai stato. In genere fa … maluccio. Non e mai troppo tardi pero, finche non lo e’. Basta un po’ di fortuna, e quel pizzico. Il bello e anche li. Quello che sei rimane, in attesa che entri. It doesn’t fade. E l’amore, niente meno, che aspetta solo d’essere acceso.


Valentine: – My Father’s Last Love Letter

My Father’s Last Love Letter (…valentine)

2012 – a note


I have a letter to deliver. At least try my best to, anyway. It isn’t mine.  My father wrote the words. Probably the last if not the last before that capacity, as others, left him.


There’s no address. I don’t know what’s written – I haven’t opened the envelope, and won’t. I’m not that way, and that’s not the point of it. But I now who it’s for. The words are for the two them. I merely have to carry something from one place, one time, to another. Connect them. You might consider it the other way around though, that the two places and times are the same, and all I have to do is ignore the space between. Depends on your point of view. What’s space, anyway?  Or time, for that matter.

There’s a woman’s name on top of the envelope. Not my mother’s. Tina. The true love of my father’s life.  I suspect the feeling is mutual.

I met Tina once, years and years ago. I hope she’s still alive. Neither she nor my father know that I discovered their story decades ago, long before I met her and long before the mitochondria in my father’s brain began breaking down, his mind fading dark.

  1. After high school graduation I travelled to Italy after a 7 year or so absence. I stayed in my grandparent’s apartment in Pescara, an ugly town on the Adriatic coast and the economic center of Abruzzo. The region is lovely and green and it was summer, ‘the beautiful season’ they call it, all those unforgotten scents, sweet salt breezes from the sea nearby, fried bell peppers, espresso. The waves.  I went dancing with a friend on whom I had had a big crush. It’s not the same, that feeling, as love but it goes in a similar direction. It lacks that surprise, that moment or the story that begins in that instant, that one look – eyes are often the path through which everything leaves and enters. Time disappears. And you see paradise walk in – right through that door, in that room, in that photo… Alas it leaves though, after. You don’t see its leaving clearly, usually. You feel it. Anyway. We would get back around 5 in the morning or so, maybe later. By happy coincidence there was a good bar-pastry shop on the ground floor of my grandparent’s apartment building. My friend would drop me off and I would knock on the window, the baker would see me, he would grab a ‘bomba’, a bomb – a round, thin, fried sack of pastry covered in sugar that they make in Abruzzo. They look like Golgi apparati – with one hand and fill it with fresh cream with his other. Then up the stairs to sleep for a few hours before heading back down and eating another two for breakfast.



After hours of sea and sea and fish and sea, or a long ride on a delicious road bike that I bought – when bicycles were still bicycles and not fiber carbon feathers you can lift with a finger. You could see the hands of the bike maker in the little things, the holes beneath to lighten, the gracious curves of the welds, Columbus and Campagnolo, the artisan’s name (Rochetti) proudly on top not because of a brand or marketing but because he belonged to that last generation that identified themselves in what they did and made with their own hands. Honor. – sometimes after lunch I’d hop to the roof terrace and read or listen to someone practicing piano in a building nearby, the notes fluttering freely in the mid-afternoon silence of August. Sun. Dry air. Shade. Old things…

I found the box full of letters in those old things. I don’t remember if the box was made of wood o cardboard. Hundreds, beneath some layers of salty dust. From Tina. On every single one she began ‘tesoro amore mio per sempre’, (my treasured love, always.) They met soon after my father had gone to Rome to study medicine, their first time hidden behind a hedge row, in the open. At least it was written so in the letters. (some poems my father had written made more sense, then.) He and one of his elder brothers slept in the hospital at the time in unused beds – they were penniless, and she as well didn’t have any place they could be alone to hold one another.

And then in one envelope, pictures of them together, Lelio, my father – though always with a trace of sadness like Cesare Pavese, his favorite poet (bottom-up minds that  always carry a bit of the fatigue of living, sometimes more than a bit in context – happy, in those photos. She, an Italian version, a little, of my mother. Pretty, maybe not on a par with my mom but…she had a more open gaze. Like water. Seeing them made me happy. I wished that my mother might also have such a thing in her past. Together, my parents were never…well, were. Never. They hadn’t touched each other since about 9 months before me, let alone anything resembling affection. Neither love nor desire was ever displayed. Add a first child afflicted with an unending motivation to feel affective social domination, a Donald Trump but dumber still and more pronouncedly psychopathic… I think the primary reason for my family’s not returning to Abruzzo came from my father also belonging to that generation filled with pride. He likely wanted to avoid admitting to his brothers that the family with his name on it was a… lemon. So, what happened between them, My father and Tina?


The usual. Nothing normal. A dinner with friends, food, wine, talk and laughs, an accident, my father in the back seat, bam!, woke up 2 months later. It was before MRI’s. He didn’t know he’d lost the majority of his left pre-frontal cortex, a part of the brain involved in cognitive control and updating information, in the impact. And for the little but an important little he really could be have been called a ‘bottom-up’ person, big intellect – we call it mind, what’s beneath intelligence – massively connected non-self representations, internal mechanisms of inference facilitated. So from the outside everything seemed normal. Kind of like Martini or what’s his name, I’m not sure, the jazz guitarist who was able to recuperate and play pretty much as he had before losing much of his brain. Comprehension and its expression need and contain more information than mere articulation. Time. But something had changed.

…ah, culture. Not my father’s. But the not uncommon narrowness springing from poverty’s resentment. My uncle, another short ambitious physician but reeealy short. (Like a smurf, for which he has no blame of course. Not much animal protein in the house as they grew. Still, Lord help us. Ah, not the brother who also had to use the hospital as a dorm for awhile. That other brother was short to but proud, as in intrepid, bold, satisfied with how he lived and who he was. Macho in a warm way, like that super-strong flea in an old Looney Tune cartoon. My father… stood just over my chest, more or less, and he was the tallest of the bunch. His spinal tuberculosis in adolescence guaranteed that when there was any meat to eat, he got the largest helping.) Whether it was my uncle or his resentment that slammed the door in Tina’s face during those months doesn’t matter. She’d come at least twice from Rome to visit her sleeping love – back then the trip took most of a day – only to be turned away. Which would have caused doubt as it was. (My father was very attached to family.)  But it was likely less any closed door than all that unpleasant non-verbal and verbal communication that certain men like my uncle use all the time, stuff tied to dominance, command… irritating – maybe more so coming from a smurf. Sigh. All of us live in one equivocation or another.

After coming out of the coma and returning to Rome, seeing how corrupt the health care system was already back then, political, nepotistic… he decided to take a trip to the US before starting in, with the intent of returning and marrying Tina but Tina… was pretty. And small. And not rich. She wasn’t Penelope and Lelio wasn’t Odysseus – even if in his way, he wasn’t so far from that. Then, like any couple let alone the impact of what must have been going on in his brain – they likely had problems. No one knew. She said yes to someone else. The obliterated look on my father when I asked him years later ‘why didn’t you ask her to marry you before you left?’ He: ‘It didn’t come to mind.’ Sigh. If weren’t for so many other examples that might have been hard to believe but for my father…it was pretty much par for the course. Only he could have taken a ship emigrating back to Italy instead of the other way around. He wanted to return a champion, instead…


Sigh again. Decades later I met Tina, just an hello in her entranceway before going out with her daughter. My father had asked me to meet her. He couldn’t have known that I, to, was making a similar ridiculous mistake. And that mine, to, would the usual. Nothing normal.

But I have to deliver a letter.


…a few years later. What was left of my father had passed on (2014):


…. I met her, Tina. Strange – it was like we knew each other for a lifetime.  A little maybe because my father had spoken to her about me – I didn’t know that they’d met and spoken regularly over the years. Her house, that I’d never seen in daylight… looked as if my father lived there. Outside in back – fig trees where, knowing that’s where he would have stepped to, I went over…to touch.


After she sat me down at the kitchen table in same chair my father sat in in from time to time. Wine, fruit and small pastry. She in not a bit of physical pain, severe arthritis, but sweet, kind eyes, a lively Roman sense of humor, smart. Small. And a little tired of living.

O didn’t know that she was only 15 when they’d met, that he’d been her first and maybe vice versa, that it was exactly as my father had written in his poems. And she, to, had made a mistake, maybe, a choice years after the accident, after her husband passed away and my father had asked if she would want them to get back together after such a long pause – long? – She said no. Because of me and my brother and mother. The right thing to do. Blind morality, not having any idea what a disaster my family’s house was. What heartbreak, to loose each other uselessly twice in one lifetime. Still, what love, and what beauty.


She took the letters, the last written by my father, with her oddly bent fingers and when the sun began to set, time for me to leave, kissed them, tears in her eyes.

We are so foolish…

It’s Not The Moon

San Valentino: L’ultima lettera d’amore di mio padre…

L’ultima lettera d’amore di mio padre…


Devo consegnare una lettera. Almeno cercare al meglio di farlo. Non e mia, la lettera. E di mio padre, tra le ultime se non proprio l’ ultima che avra scritto prima di perdere quella capacita. Non c’e l’indirizzo. Non so cosa c’e scritto – non l’ho aperto. Ma so per chi e. Il nome e sulla busta. Una donna, spero che sia ancora viva. Si chiama Tina, se mi ricordo bene. Era l’amore della vita, di mio padre. E sospetto che il sentimento era ricambiato.


Un po’ l’avevo conosciuto prima, lei, e anche la loro storia, anche se ne lei ne mio padre sapeva. L’estate dopo la diploma sono tornato in Italia. Erano passati 7-8 anni. Pescara, casa dei nonni. Bella stagione, gli odori il sale l’aria dolce del Adriatico tutto famigliare. Fritto misto. Il caffe. Le onde. Andavo a ballare con un’amica per cui avevo anche preso una cotta. Non e la stessa cosa, quel sentimento, anche se va nella stessa direzione. Manca quella sorpresa, quello sguardo, ovvero il proseguimento di quel momento, quel istante li – gli occhi sono spesso, almeno per i vedenti, il canale da dove esce e entra tutto. Il tempo ferma. E vedi paradiso entrare – proprio da quella porta, in quella stanza, in quel foto… Pero esce in genere, ahime, dopo. Non si vedi mai con chiarezza il suo uscire. Quasi. Lo senti. Comunque. Tornavo verso le 5 piu o …piu, che meno. Per una coincidenza felice nel pian terreno del palazzetto c’era una buona pasticceria. Busso alla finestra, il pasticciera mi vede, piglia una bomba – quei sottili sacchetti abruzzese fritti e ricoperti di zucchero. Sembrano apparati di Golgi – con una mano e con l’altro la riempie con crema appena fatto. Poi su a dormire qualche ora prima di tornare e mangiarmene ancora due per colazione.

Dopo mare e mare e mare e pesce e mare…o una gita su quella delizia di una bici – quando le bici erano ancora bici e non piume. Si vedeva le mani del fabbricante sulle piccole cose, i bucchetti sotto, le forme dei saldi dei tubi, columbus e campagnolo, nome del artigiano con orgoglio su (Rochetti) perche appartenevano a quel ultimo generazione dov’era cosi diffuso l’identificazione di se stesso nel prodotto fatto con le proprie mani. Guai se una cosa scarsa o comunque non ‘mio’ porta il mio nome. L’onore… – avvolte dopo pranzo sulla terrazza in cima a leggere o sentire il piano che qualcuno suonava da un palazzo vicino, le note ondeggiavano libere nel silenzio di mezz’agosto. Il sole. L’aria secca. L’ombra. Vecchie cose…


Giusto nelle vecchie cose ho trovato la scatola piena di lettere per mio padre. Non mi ricordo se era di legno o cartone, la scatola. Centinai, sotto la polvere salata. Da Tina, ‘tesoro amore mio per sempre,’ su tutte. Si sono conosciuti mentre mio padre studiava medicina a Roma. La prima volta…indietro le cespugli, al aperto. Cosi c’era scritto. (Certe poesie che lui scriveva hanno preso un certo senso.) Abitavano in ospedale, mio padre e suo fratello. Erano morte di fame. E neanche lei aveva un posto discrete dove sentirsi.

E poi in una busta, le foto, lui – sempre pero con un po’ quella faccia tracciato alla Pavese, sua poeta preferito (I menti ‘bottom-up’ che fanno un pizzico di fatica ad esistere. A volte piu di un pizzico in contesto…) – felice, in quelle foto. E lei…la versione Italiana di mia madre, un po’. Bella ragazza, forse non alla pari di mia madre pero… aveva uno squadro…piu aperta. Come l’aqua. Mi ha fatto felice. Avrei voluto che anche mia madre avesse qualcosa simile nella sua di vita. Assieme, lei e mio padre, non erano mai felice. Non si erano toccati da nove mesi prima di me. Circostanza poco gradevole. Aggiunge un primo figlio afflitto dal esigenza di sempre sentire la dominanza sociale affettiva, un Donald Trump ma piu scemo e piu pronunciatamente psicopatico…mi sa che non eravamo tornati in Abruzzo perche anche mio padre apparteneva a quell’ultima generazione orgoglioso. Non poteva ammettere ai suoi di fratelli che la famiglia con la sua firma era una tale ciofegata. Allora che e successo, tra lui e Tina?

Il solito. Non solito. Una cenetta fuori con amici, l’incidente, lui seduto indietro, bam!, svegliato due mesi dopo. Non c’erano gli MRI allora. Non sapeva che aveva perso la maggiore parte della coccia prefrontale sinistra. E per poi quel poco ma un poco importante, era davvero bottom-up con un ottimo intelletto, rappresentazioni senza di se ben connessi, strategie di ricupero o ricompenso ben facilitate. E da fuori…tutto sembra simile a prima. Come quel …Martini, o qualcosa non mi ricordo, la ghitarrista jazz che e riuscito a ricuperare e suonare presocche come prima i suoi di danni ‘ncoccia. La comprensione e la sua espressione richiedono e contengano molto di piu del solo articolazione. Il tempo. Ma qualcosa era cambiata.


E poi la coltura. Non suo, di mio padre, per niente. Ma quella grettezza dei poveri risentiti, che aveva un mio zio, un’altro medico ambizioso e basso ma mooolto basso. (Tipo un puffo. Non ha colpa. Poco carne e latte. Pero…che Dio ci salvi. Ah, non quello che abitava in ospedale, anche lui corto ma fiero. Mio padre arrivava al mio petto circa ed era il gigante dei fratelli. La sua tuborcolosi in adolescenza garantiva che la carne quando c’era andava prima a lui.) Aveva sbattuto la porta in faccia alla povera Tina, non lasciandola nemmeno entrare in stanza. Si era venuto piu di una volta da Roma a Pescara. In quei tempi ci si metteva mezza giornata in autobus. Non era lo sbattimento, mi sa, ma tutto quella comunicazione non-verbale e verbale che certi uomini usano sempre, quella legata alla dominanza, al comando, che irritava. Sigh. Viviamo tutti in un equivoco o un altro.

Svegliato dal coma e disgustato dal modo del DC/raccomdazione/sanita in Italia funzionava e partito per l’America. Aveva la piena intenzione di tornare e sposare Tina ma…Tina era bella. E non ricca. Non era Penepole e Lelio non era certo Odisseo- anche se lui forse pensavo cosi, circa. Poi, avranno avuto loro problemi – nessuno sapeva, capiva, che mio  padre qualcosa era cambiato. Lei accetto’ la proposta di un’altro. Lo sguardo obliterato quando l’ho chiesto anni dopo, a mio padre … ‘ma perche non l’hai chiesto di sposarti prima?’ Lui ‘Non mi e venuto in mente’. Sigh. Va’ be, solo mio padre avra potuto prendere la nave per tornare in Italia e non viceversa. Voleva fare la figura del
campione. E invece…


Va be, ancora. Tempo dopo ho conosciuto Tina e sua figlia. A mio padre teneva che le conoscessi. Non poteva sapere che anch’io stava compiendo una stronzata simile. Anche la mia sara stata il solito. Non solito.

Ma devo consegnare la lettera.



…ed ecco, qualche anno dopo:


….l’ho incontrato, Tina. Strano – era come ci conoscevamo da una vita. Un po’ perche mio padre avra parlato di me con lei – non sapevo che si erano visti e parlati piuttosto regolarmente nei corsi degli anni. La sua casa…sembra fatto anche per mio padre. Fuori ci sono anche degli alberi di ficchi, dove – sapendo che e quello che l’avrebbe fatto lui – mi sono subito diretto.

Dopo mi ha messo nella sedia dove, mi ha detto, sedeva mio padre quando visitava. Vino e frutto e pasticcini. Lei…in dolore fisica, artrite severa, ma occhi dolci e buoni, senso d’umorismo allegra e romana, intelligente. Piccola. E un po stanco di vivere.
Non sapevo che aveva solo 15 anni quando si sono conosciuti, che per tutti e due era ‘il primo amore’, e perfino la loro prima volta fu esattamente come mio padre aveva scritto in una delle sue poeme, fuori, nascosti indietro un cespuglio. E che anche lei ha fatto uno sbaglio, forse, una scelta anni dopo,  quando il suo marito mori e mio padre l’aveva chiesto se voleva tornare assieme – a causa mia e di mio fratello e mia madre, la moralita cieca, non sapendo che disastro era quella mia e nostra di casa. Struggente, perdersi due volte inutilmente.


Ha preso le lettere, le ultime scritte da lui, e le ha baciati arrivata la sera, – tempo per me di partire, gia con lacrime negli occhi.

Quanto siamo sciocchi…

It’s not the Moon …

essay: thursdays: A Detached Sense of Self Associated with Altered Neural Responses to Mirror Touch


comment: … something odd about words and expressions. Irrefutable they are, after all they’ve been expressed, written – you’re reading them now but I’m not. As you read – even if you were glancing over my shoulder in this caffe – for you they’re being integrated, recurred into meaning whereas for me at each moment I’m already gone, silent, at the moment my fingers have typed out whatever part of me seemed to intend. Error… by then is an incorrect concept. They’ll have no meaning, the words, the expressions. Later maybe I’ll go back and read and edit and create error, find all the mistakes, maybe change a line but I’m not sure. It depends on which context I want you to read, you being anyone outside of me in this moment, the me, then, included. Time. Systems. Entropy. Motivation.

Inevitably I’ll correct things from the past on this page. A little. But that doesn’t at all mean they were wrong, they were errors, then. It will only be the construct, my making a narrative, being consciously aware as defined, partially, in this article (the subjective sense of reality of the world and of the self within the world,) and inhibiting what that is motivated to determine as error, what shouldn’t be there in a different moment. Context. If I don’t know how to spell, I don’t so well actually,… many of those errors-not would remain even with a spell check. If I’m attentive to grammar rather than substance, that, to, will influence just what will be expressed in the final draft, and so on. That is… each me would perceive and alter the draft differently, and each me in turn has been influenced by a host of interactions, a lifetime, that has strengthened or changed the influence of all those systems leading to the end result, a final draft, or the draft of the present expressed. I’m drinking tea in the pause as I look over the first lines. Even the flavor, gunpowder, no sugar, has an influence tied to the past. To the point.


…dismissing the influence of later motivation resulting from development even for DPD is, well, incorrect, as the inverse. Contexts. Which you and which parts of you will decide what is error, will create it, and when. The you being expressed isn’t consistent at all. AIC hypo, top-down numbing… without emotion or its equivalent you would only have the present to refer to, fundamentally a meaningless narrative. But its creation isn’t refutable. You have to have motivation, something that violates narrative, to alter expression. Or more simply but implying much more pain in the ass complexity: there isn’t any one you, ever. Just one partial you at a time. Bayes(ian) is more useful as a directional concept than a model. It’s a word, not an expression. It always begins with the body.


And coffee. The tea just doesn’t cut it.


A Detached Sense of Self Associated with Altered Neural Responses to Mirror Touch

Our bodily sense of self contributes to our personal feelings of awareness as a conscious being. How we see our bodies and move through space and feel touched by loved ones are integral parts of our identity. What happens when this sense of self breaks down? One form of dissolution is Depersonalization Disorder (DPD).1 Individuals with DPD feel estranged or disconnected from themselves, as if their bodies belong to someone else, and “they” are merely a detached observer. Or the self feels absent entirely. Other symptoms of depersonalization include emotional blunting, out-of-body experiences, and autoscopy.

Autoscopy for dummies – Antonin De Bemels (cc licence)

Transient symptoms of depersonalization can occur due to stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation, or drugs such as ketamine (a dissociative anesthetic) and hallucinogens (e.g., LSD, psilocybin). These experiences are much more common than the official diagnosis of DPD, which occurs in only 1-2% of the population.

Research by Olaf Blanke and colleagues (reviewed in Blanke et al., 2015) has tied bodily self-consciousness to the integration of multi-sensory signals in fronto-parietal and temporo-parietal regions of the brain.

from Neuron 88(1):145-66.

The fragmentation or loss of an embodied self raises philosophically profound questions. Although the idea of “mind uploading” is preposterous in my view (whether via whole brain emulation or cryonics), proponents must seriously ask whether the uploaded consciousness will in any way resemble the living person from whom it arose.2 “Minds are not disembodied logical reasoning devices” (according to Andy Clark). And…

Increasing evidence suggests that the basic foundations of the self lie in the brain systems that represent the body (Lenggenhager et al., 2012).

Lenggenhager et al. asked whether the loss of sensorimotor function alters body ownership and the sense of self. Persons with spinal cord injuries scored higher on Cambridge Depersonalization Scale (CDS) items such as “I have to touch myself to make sure that I have a body or a real existence.” This suggests that disconnecting the brain from somatosensory input can change phenomenological aspects of self-consciousness.


The Stranger in the Mirror

Patients with depersonalization not only feel a change in perception concerning the outside world, but they also have clear-cut changes concerning their own body. … The patient sees his face in the mirror changed, rigid and distorted. His own voice seems strange and unfamiliar to him. … It is in this respect especially remarkable that the estrangement concerning the outside world is often an estrangement in the optic sphere (Schilder, 1935, p. 139).

Depersonalization can involve perceptual distortions of bodily experience in different sensory modalities (e.g., vision, hearing, touch, and pain). Recent research has examined interactions between visual and somatosensory representations of self in the tactile mirroring paradigm (also called visual remapping of touch). Here, the participant views images of a person being touched (or not) while they themselves are touched. Tactile perception is enhanced by simultaneously receiving and observing the same stimulation, especially when the image is of oneself.

Are the symptoms of depersonalization associated with reduced or absent responses in the tactile mirroring paradigm? If so, at what stage of processing (early or late) does this occur? A new study recorded EEG to look at somatosensory evoked potential (SEP) responses to tactile stimuli during mirroring (Adler et al., 2016). The participants scored high (n=14) or low (n=13) on the CDS.

One SEP of interest was the P45, which occurs shortly (25-50 msec) after tactile stimulation. Although the spatial resolution of EEG does not allow firm conclusions about the neural generators, we know from invasive studies in epilepsy patients and animals that P45 originates in the primary somatosensory cortex (S1).

When the participants viewed the other-face, P45 did not differ on touch vs. no-touch trials. But the later N80 component was enhanced for touch vs. no-touch, and the enhancement was similar for low and high depersonalization (DP) participants.

Modified from Figs. 3 and 4 (Adler et al. 2016). SEPs in response to tactile stimuli for low DP (top) and high DP (bottom) while observing touch (thick line) or no-touch (thin line) on another person’s face. SEPs are shown for components P45 and N80 at a cluster of central-parietal electrodes located over somatosensory cortex.

Results were different when subjects viewed images of themselves. P45 was enhanced in the low DP group when viewing themselves being touched (vs. no-touch trials). However, those with high DP scores did not show this P45 enhancement.

Modified from Figs. 3 and 4 (Adler et al. 2016). SEPs in response to tactile stimuli while observing touch (thick line) or no-touch (thin line) on the participant’s own face. Red arrow indicates no self-mirror enhancement of P45.

These results suggest a very early disturbance in sensory integration of the self in depersonalization:

Measurable effects of mirroring for tactile events on the observer’s own face may be absent over P45 because deficits in implicit self-related processing prevent the resulting visual enhancement of tactile processing from taking place in the context of self-related information. An alternative, or additional, explanation for the absence of P45 mirroring effects may be that seeing their own body causes depersonalised individuals to actively inhibit the processing of bodily stimulation via this pathway. This may cause feelings of disembodiment, and is akin to the suggestion that fronto-limbic inhibitory mechanisms acting on emotional processes cause the emotional numbing experienced in depersonalisation (Sierra and David, 2011).[Although I’m not so sure how much “active inhibition” can occur within 25 msec…]

A later component (P200) did not show the expected effect in the high DP group, either. While these results are intriguing, we must keep in mind that this was a small study that requires replication.3

Our Bodies, Our Selves

Predictive coding models hypothesize that the anterior insular cortex (AIC) provides top-down input to somatosensory, autonomic, and visceral regions and plays a critical role in integrating exteroceptive and interoceptive signals (Seth et al., 2012; Allen et al., 2016). DPD is associated with “pathologically imprecise interoceptive predictive signals,” leading to a disruption of conscious presence (the subjective sense of reality of the world and of the self within the world). Here’s the predictive coding model of conscious presence (Seth et al., 2012):

It has been suggested that DPD is associated with a suppressive mechanism grounded in fronto-limbic brain regions, notably the AIC, which “manifests subjectively as emotional numbing, and disables the process by which perception and cognition become emotionally colored, giving rise to a subjective feeling of unreality” (Sierra and David, 2011)…

In our model, DPD symptoms correspond to abnormal interoceptive predictive coding dynamics. … the imprecise interoceptive prediction signals associated with DPD may result in hypoactivation of AIC since there is an excessive but undifferentiated suppression of error signals.

In contrast, Adler et al. (2016) adopt a very different (Freudian) view:

We speculate that the abnormalities related to depersonalisation may be based on a lack of mirroring interactions in early childhood. Several recent papers culminated in the idea that mirroring experiences in early life – the process of moving and being moved by others, both physically and affectively – give rise to our sense of bodily self… This bodily self forms the core of other forms of self-consciousness, from body ownership to the sense of agency and the ability to mentalise (e.g.Fonagy et al., 2007; Gallese & Sinigaglia, 2010; Markova and Legerstee, 2006; Stern, 1995). … Depersonalisation could be a potential consequence of such developmental experiences.

I don’t buy it… none of the participants in their study had a clinical diagnosis, and we know nothing of their early childhood. In the end, any model of chronic DPD still has to account for the transient phenomena of disconnection and unreality experienced by so many of us.

Further Reading

Feeling Mighty Unreal: Derealization in Kleine-Levin Syndrome

Fright Week: The Stranger in the Mirror


1 In DSM-5, the syndrome is known as Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder. I wrote about the symptoms of derealization – a subjective alteration in one’s perception or experience of the outside world – in another blog post.

2 For a discussion of the relevant issues, see The False Science of Cryonics and Silicon soul: The vain dream of electronic immortality.

3 Given the requirements for specialized equipment and a specialized population, I don’t imagine this study is on the Many Labs or Replication Project lists.


Adler, J., Schabinger, N., Michal, M., Beutel, M., & Gillmeister, H. (2016). Is that me in the mirror? Depersonalisation modulates tactile mirroring mechanisms. Neuropsychologia DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2016.03.009

Allen M, Fardo F, Dietz MJ, Hillebrandt H, Friston KJ, Rees G, Roepstorff A. (2016). Anterior insula coordinates hierarchical processing of tactile mismatch responses. Neuroimage 127:34-43.

Blanke O, Slater M, Serino A. (2015). Behavioral, Neural, and Computational Principlesof Bodily Self-Consciousness. Neuron88(1):145-66.

Lenggenhager, B., Pazzaglia, M., Scivoletto, G., Molinari, M., & Aglioti, S. (2012). The Sense of the Body in Individuals with Spinal Cord Injury. PLoS ONE, 7 (11) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050757

Schilder, P. (1935). The Image and Appearance of the Human Body. London: Kagan, Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.

Seth AK, Suzuki K, Critchley HD. (2012). An interoceptive predictive coding model of conscious presence. Front Psychol. 2:395.

The Divorce: introductory note: what is narrative?

note: introductory note – what is narrative?…/2016-01-stories-deepest-values-…

“Stories help us to organize information in a unique way,” he said.
To find relevant stories, the researchers sorted through 20 million blog posts using software developed at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies.
“We wanted to know how people tell stories in their daily lives. It was kind of like finding stories in their natural habitat,” said Kaplan, assistant research professor of psychology at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
That 20 million was pared down to 40 stories that each contained an example of a crisis involving a potentially protected value: cheating on a spouse, having an abortion, crossing a picket line, or getting in a fight.
Those stories were translated into Mandarin Chinese and Farsi, and then read by American, Chinese and Iranian participants in their native language while their brains were scanned by fMRI. They also answered general questions about the stories while being scanned. (link above for the article)

Comment: Motivation. In a sort of deep way, the development of how we think, of where we place ourselves in differing contexts, the direction of our understanding or representing relevant aspects of the world. Our individual grooves, so to speak.

Narrative is not the organizational way we organize experience and memory of human happenings. It is instead, I think, a dominant way of describing memories and experience extrinsically – which includes others, including self. Narrative also doesn’t have to be character-based but usually is, as a couple studies seem to point to, because cultural influence can trump other stuff, ie like what is a character. And emerges because of the diffusion of imitation, likely influenced by a network of mirror neuron ‘turbo-chargers’. Hence as a species we are able both to abstract ourselves from ourselves and place ourselves into something – most importantly someone – else, or a representation of the same. Hence we build representations on varying strata. Symbolic thinking was a necessary precursor.

Time, or better ‘t’, is likely quanta – but separate from meaning, even physiologically. It is a sort of emergent abstraction. Kind of like a field. Narrative needs to use that approach in order to convey, per force, by speaking to our corresponding abstractions and in turn to other representations top-down. And the unfortunate thing about real time, block time, and abstracted self or representations involving manipulations – they cannot afford contradiction. Only one possibility at a time. So: the necessary removal of information. Inhibition, which is a distinguishing aspect of our species, both the percent of and absolute amount of inhibition in our brains. Leading to a sort of narrative uniqueness – which may be representatively true only in narrative, but not beyond the particularity of the narrative.

It’s hard to keep the flavor, I realize, but principles of emergence and plurality (in systems of information) might run more deeply. Ironically more than purely hermeneutical, a story is successful more when it allows the emergence of time-less, non-hermeneutical aspects that come from (here it comes) BEYOND (nudge-nudge, wink-wink, without italics) the narrative, both of the conveyor and the conveyed to, more than ‘constituted’ or functions by the same. That is, it acts a bridge into larger integrative systems.

We often mix story and narrative as concepts, using contextual domain conceptually to distinguish the two. That’s perhaps not a great idea even if a bit inevitable. Stories are always created (constructed or inferred,) by the receiving. An author never tells a story – they present elements of narrative that might induce the creation of story by others. You know, from ‘in the beginning there was the verb,’ to ‘it was a dark and stormy night’. Or call me Ishmael. Or even… ‘deep down Louisiana close to New Orleans, there lived a country boy….’ Anyway.

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