Zeroes On Zeros

The entangling of simplicities into complexities is a baffling characteristic of human existence. Observers and students of the human existence, at least every once in a while, grow depressed, frustrated, that the charts and the graphs won’t translate into hearty application. In my circles of the interwebs, someone illustrated the point by making the case, obliquely, that some social policy or other which is, by any measure, currently working, would not, in theory, work.

Oliver Sacks observed this frustration in himself, a realization that compelled him to write his astounding Awakenings book. He was a pioneer in the application of L-Dopa, a drug which had the desired effect of awakening certain patients who were suffering from catatonia as a result of the encephalitis lethargica epidemic which had beset them in the 1920s. In the 1960s, he was given the freedom to experiment on them with the drug.

At first, it was terribly exciting. The patients would awaken to great joy and fervor, but then, one by one, they preferred not to be awakened, expressing to him that being awake caused far more pain than enduring the suffering of catatonia. Some no longer responded to the drug. Sacks at first reacted by trying to dial down the dosage of L-Dopa to a minimal amount, trying to bring the patient to without the invigoration. One night, as he was using a razor blade to shave off miniscule amounts of the drug (or something like this, I do not have the book in front of me), he came to realize that he was not dealing with a scaled effect within his patient; he was turning a switch on or off. The patient was either awake and invigorated, or he was not awake at all. One or zero.

Thus, with each patient, there was a threshold, the pressure at which the switch flipped, and there was no resistor to put in the pathway to attenuate the flow of neurons through the circuit. Sacks’ research changed dramatically at this point, and his observation in this regard had a quantifiable effect on this field of study.

One of the few actual jokes of One Day At A Time has stayed with me my entire life: men have more turn-ons than a 747. That’s about right. I suspect the same is true of women. And that’s just with regard to sex.

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