Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ghost Feels, Angry Noises

Autonomus Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a peculiar condition in which a stimulus (a particular sound, for example) can produce an (often pleasurable) sensation along peripheral regions of the body (back, arms, scalp, etc).  It's on the edge of scientific inquiry right now, meaning it is difficult to confirm scientifically.  In this way, it's much like synesthesia (and I reckon it's a closely related phenomenon), although synesthesia is much easier to quantify since we've been studying it much more carefully for the past 20-30 years. 

So, to put it another way, have you ever been listening to something, and suddenly you get a 'tingling' sensation in your head?  Maybe you've heard a noise that sends 'shivers' down your spine.  Perhaps the last time someone whispered around you, it caused a similar reaction.  Are you able to create these sensations on your own, without the outside stimulus?  That's also part of this condition. 

I think, however, that this doesn't accurately sum up the entirety of the situation.  For example, has anyone ever pointed a pencil (or other pointed object, perhaps a finger) between your eyes, and you feel an actual presence against the bridge of your nose/forehead?  I think that this might be an easy test, as I know from experience that most people do indeed have some degree of this feeling.  I used to perform this experiment in school, asking people if I could point between their eyes and seeing what response it presented.  Not everyone seems to experience it, but most people do. 

Thinking back, I recall one other time that I can distinctly express as being this sort of experience.  Every day during a particular school period, I would have a class with a person.  This person one day decided to start chewing a new brand of gum.  The gum was some kind of mint (wintergreen mix perhaps), but the smell wasn't what got me.  Before my brain even registered the smell, my teeth would start to hurt for some reason.  It made absolutely no sense, as mint was (and still is) one of my favorite things in the world.  I don't chalk this up to simple coincidence either, as this was when I was certainly old enough to realize it.  I even asked for a stick of the gum, so I could smell it, and surely enough whatever specific smell it was releasing (perhaps there was an underlying smell produced by some other additive, I don't know - it's been over 10 years now) caused my teeth to ache fiercely. 

But as of yet, there is no known way to test for ASMR, because it's indicators appear to vary greatly between individuals.  As I've suggested above, I think a good method of test would involve things like the finger/eye association.  I propose further that, perhaps, ASMR is even a more basic function in general.  Have you ever felt like you were falling/moving as a video you were watching accelerated, causing that sensation in the pit of your gut like you're about to hit the ground really fast? 

This brings us to the other part of this tale, misophonia.  Misophonia can be thought of as noises (and it's almost exclusively noises) that can cause you to be as angry as if someone just punched you in the face, or ran over your dog twice.  If you've ever heard a noise that literally makes you want to hit something, or causes you a great deal of anger or distress, or makes you as uncomfortable as a splinter in your toe, then you've experienced misophonia. 

If you've ever heard nails on a chalkboard, and it's cause you to immediately want to stop it, but it also causes those chills to run down your spine (or through your skull, etc), then I think it's safe to say you've probably experienced both things.  I think this sort of thing could also provide another interesting test into the middle ground that probably links the two conditions. 

Unlike ASMR, the DSM now suggests diagnostic criteria for misophonia, although it's a really targeted list that probably doesn't include most of the triggers for misophonia.  I am going to say at this point that I think there's a milder form of misophonia, of which perhaps I am afflicted, whereby hearing a particular type of music for an extended period of time (and sometimes almost instantly) can cause me this sort of annoyance. 

Imagine for a moment that you haven't used the bathroom for a while, and you've been drinking a lot of water.  Suddenly, the urge hits and you need to pee.  However, you can't just yet for whatever reason.  Slowly, the discomfort builds up, but you tolerate it because you have to.  What started as a minor inconvenience/annoyance is now built into something you can no longer ignore.  The line for the bathroom is long, and you're getting more aggravated, and you simply can't go anywhere else.  It's not a great comparison, but I think it's adequate for illustrating the point. 

It's for a similar reason that I don't like the kinds of music I don't like, for example.  A song or two that I simply don't like is like that initial urge.  It's not a bad thing per se, barely even noticeable perhaps.  A few more songs go by, and you notice you just aren't in a good mood like you were an hour ago.  After eight hours on the shift, however, little things start to annoy you, things you hadn't so much as noticed before.  All these songs are one type of song, similar timing, major keys, similar tempo, all autotuned, whatever it is. It starts to dig at your mind like a splinter digs at your foot.  What was a minor irritation to begin with is now an inflamed thing. 

Leaving the annoyance is a relief exactly like that of removing a splinter, or using the bathroom, or stopping any kind of pain.  It can create the ASMR-like experience of pleasure, like a load lifted from one's shoulders.  In this way, I think misophonia works also, not just as an immediate response to a stimulus, but it can also build up over time.  Songs I normally wouldn't care about, or perhaps even enjoy to some extent, become like the thought of getting another splinter.  A glass of water can be refreshing by itself, but 8 hours of drinking water with no pee breaks might just make you angry at the water, and might just cause you pain.

If you enjoyed reading this, leave a comment below!  Even if you didn't enjoy it, let me know your thoughts. 


Friday, September 11, 2015


Have you ever noticed, perhaps while listening to music, that sometimes the music has colors, visible patterns, or textures?  Do you happen to see letters in color?  Does Pi look like a beautiful landscape?

Go visit Li's web comic, you won't be disappointed!

These are all forms of a rather abnormal thing known as Synesthesia.  Strictly speaking, Synesthesia is when a stimulus that wouldn't normally produce a given sensation produces said sensation.  Any of the above are fair examples, as are many others. 

Maybe you've thought this was a completely normal occurrence that everyone experiences.  It's not, and according to some studies, it could be pretty rare.  Then again, it's not commonly tested for, so that's definitely throwing the curve off.  It's also pretty hard to quantify these sorts of things. 

Which is why I'm going to speak from anecdote here, since it's what I have to work with.  I believe I have a rather mild form of synesthesia, typically relating to music/noise producing patterns/colors/feelings in my head. 
Angel Vivaldi's 'A Mercurian Summer' basically sounds like
this album cover feels, in an over-simplified example.
I'm not sure there's a much better way to explain it, so I've taken the liberty of drawing you fine folks a picture, which I drew over a couple days, listening to all sorts of music.  But first, the hard work.  I sharpened the colored pencils I used by hand, into a paper plate.  The shavings kinda reminded me of music, and looked kinda cool in general, so I thought I'd also take a picture of that.  Again, synesthesia is odd.  Looking at this plate of shavings, I get a similar feeling in my head as I do
 listening to some kinds of music. 

Look at those colorful shavings on that round plate with those round designs.
It kinda reminds me of a song. Well, more than one actually, but something like that.

For example, that paper plate, with those colorfully confetti-like attributes, spotting the surface like the simple shavings they are, have a wonderfully staccato feel.  Although, they're not entirely staccato, the colors also kinda correlate to various heights in this sense, where yellow feels much higher in elevation than red, and the black feels abstract, and the circles feel like orbits.  Or something like that.  The circles are pulled in by the valleys and crests that the tiny little flakes of flow create.  It's a colorful feeling, but the feeling isn't as colorful in my head.  Each color has a direction, a flow, much like segments of music. 

Basically, that music feels like that paper plate looks, in a way.  It doesn't tell the whole story, but it gives a snapshot.  Sometimes the colors form waves, or lines of color move in certain directions, or various sensations of distance, all in beautiful neon maelstroms, chaotic but structured.

This leads me to the final picture.  Again, as stated, I drew this over the course of a few days.  First I drew the plain pencil parts, while listening to all the various sorts of music I enjoy.  This particular sort of line drawing was a habit I picked up in middle school or so, and I think it's been related since then or before.  The lines represent the directions my mind feels, the overall shape of a given area therefore dictated by the force directions, creating neat patterns.  Then I colored it in, truest to the color I could find in the box of 12 (hey, for a dollar, I'm not complaining).  Sometimes completely different pieces of music have a very similar color feel or direction feel or space feel.  In summary, this is mostly my impression of music I like.
How music feels to me, in a snapshot. 

See how it originates from the outside, and is absorbed and congealed into a mass, inside my head.  Often times the outside colors are really quite different from how they mingle inside.  This is how the music I enjoy feels, agglomerated into one picture.  The beats set the spacing, in some cases.  In other cases the lyricism (verbal and instrumental) sets the tone.  Sometimes a particular melody sounds especially interesting, and creates a long pathway of meandering wanderlust. 

This also gets into why I don't like a lot of the music I don't like, but perhaps that's a conversation for next time, when I plan to discuss two things related to this: Misophonia and ASMR.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

On the nature of the law

Recently, a county clerk in Virginia was refusing to issue (and to allow to be issued) marriage licenses.  She refused so far as to end up in prison for contempt.  Some people think she was justified because of her religious beliefs (although she kinda missed the one where women aren't supposed to make these kinds of decisions, because women aren't supposed to hold offices). 

I'm not going to comment on the actions further, except to provide a parallelism.

Hey, I wonder if this photo is relevant to this discussion?
No, I don't wonder.  It's relevant.
So let's imagine, you go into the DMV (BMV, license office, whatever they call it now) because you need to get your license renewed, or perhaps you need tags on that new car you bought, or maybe you simply need a new copy because you lost your old one.

Cars.  Aren't they lovely things?
You happen to notice a bearded man standing behind the clerks.  Maybe he's Amish, maybe he's Jewish, perhaps a Quaker or Mennonite, maybe he's of a sect of Buddhism.  Maybe, just maybe, he's worships Thor, or perhaps Apollo.  You walk up to take care of your business, but the clerks inform you that they can't help you.  You see, this religious fellow who's running the lines decides that it's his religion that technology is an abomination before his religion, and he cannot in good faith issue a car license/tag/et cetera.


Being rightfully concerned, you demand this fellow do his job.  He turns you and everyone who wants to get a license away, because his thousand-year-old book says he can't do it.  Never mind that it's the law, and he has to let people get licenses, he's not going to go for it.

But you don't understand, I love my car.  We have a good relationship.
We aren't hurting anyone. It's a legal relationship.  Why can't I get my license?
Where would you stand on this issue?  Would you take the clerk's side on either issue?  I should hope this brings some clarity to the issue at hand.  Of course, I don't expect many Amish or Jewish folk to hold a public office with the sole intent of enforcing their religion, because they actually follow the part of their religion that tells them to respect the laws of the land, whether they like them or not.  It's really a reasonable thing, and it's part of that other county clerk's religion, too.

See you all next time!