Monthly Archives: March 2012

Should I stop my heart?

I’ve always had an interest in the relationship between the conscious mind and the remainder of the subconsciou mind and body. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the conscious control of autonomic systems, and because of my apnea problems, this has been on my mind a great deal. I have never lost the ability to consciously control my breathing but I do at times lose the ability to control it autonomicly. Anyway, when I was a kid, at about age twelve, I discovered I was able to hold my breath for five minutes or more without any training beyond doing it to pass the time on the long school bus rides that I had as a kid in the country. I don’t feel like it was a particularly unique ability, even though I suspect breath-holds of over five minutes for a modern industrialized child is extremely unusual now that I think about it.

Anyway, about five years ago (you may remember the first time I wrote about it on this blog in 2007), I discovered that I can, at least for short periods of maybe five seconds, completely stop my heartbeat. I do it simply by extreme relaxation and have no training in any related yogic or meditation practices. I don’t have any reason to believe that this is a special ability although I suppose it is possible that it’s related to the genetic damage to my autonomic nervous system. But I don’t think so. After I discovered I was able to do this I started researching it, and I came across a similar individual written up by a Dr. C. M. McClure in the June 1959 California Medicine in an article titled “Cardiac Arrest Through Volition“. Here’s a relevant quote from it, and a picture of the guy’s EKG (the top shows his heart stoppage, the bottom is his normal reading).

A 44-year-old aircraft mechanic of Danish descent was admitted to Lindsay Municipal Hospital, April 24, 1958, because of a cold with cough of two weeks’ duration. He said that in the previous 20 years he had had six episodes of upper respiratory tract infection, and that during these periods he had found that by sitting quietly, relaxing completely and “allowing everything to stop,” he could induce progressive slowing of the pulse until cessation of heart action would occur, then a feeling of impending loss of consciousness. After a few seconds of this sensation, he would take a deep breath and normal heart action would resume. These occurrences resulted in the patient’s developing a fear of sleeping, lest his heart stop and not start again. In 1953 and several times afterward the author verified this story by auscultating the heart and palpating the radial pulse while the patient induced several seconds of cardiac arrest. At these times his color would become the ashen grey of sudden circulatory failure, and partial loss of consciousness would ensue. However, no cardiac irregularities were ever observed during either normal sleep or general anesthesia. Cardiac arrest occurred only when the patient deliberately induced it.

This is my experience exactly. I also spent a while extremely paranoid that I was going to accidentally stop my heart and not have it start again (I think I even hinted at this when I first wrote about it). Reading about this case was very reassuring, both to show me I probably didn’t need to worry, and to give me a little evidence that I hadn’t imagined the whole thing. I suspect there are many people reading this who don’t believe me, and that does bug me a bit more than it probably should. Maybe someone reading this will describe a similar experience and it will turn out that it’s actually not that uncommon.

One of the reasons it’s on my mind is that in two weeks I have an appointment for a detailed and lengthy EEG/EKG related to the possible brain damage occurring due to my genetic abnormality. I’ve been giving serious thought to stopping my heart while I’m being monitored. I figure that means that I’ll have hard proof that no one can deny, and also that since I’ll be in a hospital, if anything goes wrong, it should be possible to revive me. That said, I’m not convinced it’s advisable both because it’s hard to convince myself that it’s fundamentally a good idea to be stopping ones own heart, and because I don’t know how my doctors will respond, even with this blog entry sitting as proof that it’s premeditated and not a “real” cardiac arrest. But yeah, if I do it, I will send them to this blog I suppose.

I have tried to find other research on voluntary control of the heart, and to be honest, I haven’t found as much as I’d like. Of course almost everyone can speed up or slow down their heart just by thinking about it, but stopping — or “pausing” — it is a different matter. And of course I’m not talking about the trick that magicians do where they squeeze the right muscles to control blood flow and make it seem to people that their pulse has stopped where it’s being measured — here’s a YouTube video explaining how to fake stopping your heart but of course that won’t fool an EKG since you’re not actually stopping your heart. I found quite a few articles and studies on Indian Yogis stopping their hearts but the stories are so remarkable — claims of stopping the heart for as long as five days, under “Western scientific observation” — that I have a great deal of trouble believing the majority are anything other than illusion. I paid $11.95 to read a 1973 article in Psychological Bulletin by Edward Blanchard and Larry Young called “Self-control of cardiac functioning” that referred to some hilarious studies in which they trained people to slow down their heart rates slightly (by at most 10%) by giving them electric shocks as punishment for not doing so!!! I’m impressed their heart rates didn’t skyrocket from the stress! But for my specific interest, all this paper did was cite McClure and mention a yogi that was able to drop his heartrate in half using a similar relaxation technique, so it was a wasted purchase overall.

I did find one last thing worth reading, a 1961 article by Wenger, Bagchi, and Anand in Circulation: Journal of the AHA titled “Experiments in India on “Voluntary” Control of the Heart and Pulse” that seemed more legitimate than most of the claims coming out of India at the time, using an 8-channel EKG to investigate yogic claims of the ability to stop the heart. That paper is free to view, and worth a read. I got the impression that most of the yogis were not using a relaxation method (vagal innervation) to “stop” the heart — the studies instead seemed to suggest that they were doing muscle tricks to mask the heart rate, analogous to the YouTube trick linked previously. This is impressive of course, but it’s quite different from what I am interested in. They also discuss a little about the yogi’s restrictions as to what the scientists could measure and what they couldn’t that strongly imply that there’s more illusion than anything medically unusual going on. Generally they could hide the pulse in the wrist, but not in the finger, let alone in the heart itself — big deal — which puts it in the rather obvious “trickery” category. Near the end of the article they discuss a yogi who claimed only to be able to slow his heart, and he’s the only one who I think is using the same method as McClure described, and there is even a 3-second period of disruption:

(I feel like my EKG would look more like the one McClure cites).

Anyway, it’s all quite fascinating to me. There is so little good information on the subject, and an unfortunate amount of deception on the part of yogis. Not that I’m surprised that Eastern mysticism fooled a bunch of Western doctors (it still happens all the time with homeopathy, acupuncture, reiki, and so on), but it’s extremely annoying. Maybe I will add some hard facts to the research when they hook me up to the machines. Or maybe I will chicken out. We shall see!!!

Go Fuck Yourself Records (Pendant Commission)

My neighbor, who at first I thought might be a problem neighbor because he heads up a local metal band called “Effigy” that also practised right next to our bedrooms, ended up being a solid guy that moved his jam space and became a friend that I could rely on. Anyway, he has a label called “Go Fuck Yourself Records” (the one in Toronto, not the one in Russia), and a while back he asked me to make a pendant for hit. He gave me a very rough drawing of the his idea for and I spent a couple days mulling it over and drawing rought sketches of my own. I mocked them up in photoshop and sent it to him with a nice bevel and a beat-up cracked and rusted metal texture. He asked if I could include that “aged” look in the final metal version, so when I sculpted it out of clay I tried to give it that surface. After getting the master plug perfect, I made a two part metal mold and cast a couple in metal. He’s happy with how it turned out (although at 3″ across, it’s quite heavy), and so am I. You can zoom in on the first picture.

The government is not the friend of body modification

On one of the “anti-scratcher” Facebook groups and around the net there’s recently been a bit of a huff about Sears selling tattoo kits. As a result well-intentioned busy-bodies were calling for boycotts of a wide range of companies and, much more worryingly, for the government to step in and make laws ensuring that only “reputable businesses” could purchase tattoo or piercing equipment. The whole thing made me sick, disappointed, and extremely nervous.

First of all, it’s important to point out that Sears was not selling tattoo kits. Sears, like Amazon and many other large online retailers, allows third party sellers to advertise — to place products — on their retail product search engine. This is good for the mega-retailer because it lets them expand their footprint even more, keeps customers on their site even when they don’t stock the product, and gets them a cut of the sales of smaller retailers. That’s all that this was. Sears simply had an advertiser using their platform to drive traffic to their business. It’s like saying that Google somehow endorses everyone who advertises with them, or even that Etsy endorses every storefront featured on their site. It’s completely silly to see that kind of a direct and incriminating relationship. And in any case, the tattoo kits were quickly removed, so for a wide range of reasons, the whole thing is irrelevant. Yay, the busy-body tattoo artists win their battle against free speech and open markets! Hooray?

But that didn’t stop people from continuing to shout out that the government needed to step in with new regulations to make sure that no one that didn’t work at a government-approved tattoo shop got their hands on ink or machines. Do these foolish people really think that the government is the friend of body modification? Have they forgotten the history of this art form, and how much of its history we have had to fight to keep the government from shutting us down? Now, I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be basic health and safety standards in place for tattoo shops. Of course there should be. And in nearly every jurisdiction there are, and that’s all we need. Beyond that, we do not need any more laws. We want the absolute minimum number of laws to protect the public and ourselves. Anything more is playing with fire and invites the government to regulate an industry that they neither understand nor approve of. Encouraging these types of laws will only hurt the tattoo industry.

Some people claimed that these laws were needed to protect their businesses from disreputable scratchers. The fact is that scratchers working out of their homes are not stealing your business, and government laws aren’t going to change that. First, because it’s not hard for those scratchers to go and pay $50 to get a government business license and take a meaningless test in the regions that have them. Any fool can do that. The government can’t regulate quality or talent. All they can do is force you to pay them some money and jump through some largely meaningless hoops. Most importantly, what protects good artists from scratchers is their portfolio. If your work isn’t good enough to keep people from going to basement scratchers, I have trouble working up a whole lot of sympathy for you. If you can’t convince the public, which these days is much better educated about what a good tattoo looks like, to come to you instead of some no-talent scratcher, and you think that the solution is to have the government force people to come to you instead, well, screw you. You’re part of the problem. The industry is doing a good job educating the public on how to recognize quality artists and reputable shops. We don’t need bureaucrats to come and mess it up. Those scratchers are scooping up foolish people who don’t know anything about tattooing. If you want those people to become your customers, educate them. A law making sure that scratcher pays $50 before buying more ink won’t change a damn thing other than making sure the government has its nose in your business even more.

In addition, there are a great many reasons why a person might want to purchase tattoo or piercing equipment without having a government approved business. They may be a retired professional tattooing their friends. They may be a pervert working on themselves or their partner (and while that might gross you out, and you might think you can tattoo better panties on him than he can do himself, I hope you agree he has the fundamental civil right to do that to himself). Or the artist may not have legal status in their jurisdiction or otherwise be unable to apply. They may live in a region where tattooing is illegal and thus can not get government certification. And so on. There is a long list of good reasons. The fact that part of the tattoo industry is fighting to restrict civil rights and free expression is beyond disgusting.

Historically body modification is an underground, rebel industry. It has spent most of its history at odds with the government, and while it is now begrudgingly tolerated, the government are not our friends. There are better ways of making high quality tattoos available to the public safely than begging the government to legislate it. Every bit of history and every bit of experience we have had as an industry has taught us to be wary of the government. The less regulation the better. If the government gets it in their heads to regulate, get involved and make sure it’s good regulation, but don’t ask them for additional regulation. I realize that there are a lot of young people in this industry now that don’t remember its history or where it came from or how it evolved, but trust me… the government is not the friend of body modification!

Tiger-eye-eye-eye-eye-eye… no more

As you know my genetic disease is progressive and is spreading. My shoulders and upper arms (biceps/triceps) have been hurting badly for months, and it’s now enough that it’s unpleasant to get up using my arms for support like I’ve been doing since my legs degraded. Over the last month or so my forearms have been getting worse and worse, and functionally it’s extremely hard to do work with my hands that requires both strength (and I’m not even talking about a lot of strength) and precision. Most relevantly, it means that I basically can’t set gemstones or do engraving, and I know it won’t be long before I can’t do jewelry work at all. I had two rings on commission with faceted gemstones. I managed to get one made — and really I just got lucky because I underestimated the size of the stones, so it didn’t matter that I cut the sockets much larger than I was trying to — but after three days of abortive attempts gave up on the other one. I ended up dropping a pair of tiger-eye cabochons into the sockets since they’re a bit more forgiving.

Edit: I originally said this was tiger eye, oops, not at all — that’s striped cherry amber, sorry!

Even after just an hour (if that, and with many pauses) of light work with the dremel my forearms are throbbing. It is very hard having everything taken away from me like this, both my body and my brain, although when I think about it, I’m probably just being a big baby about it all. It’s not like everyone doesn’t go through some version of having their life slowly sucked out of them as they age… I just might be doing it a little more quickly and maybe a lot more painfully.

As I wrote this I’m watching a History Channel documentary on the restoration to flight-worthy status of an Avro Vulcan bomber… Definitely in my top twenty list of favorite airplanes, beautiful and deadly, arguably inspired by Lippisch’s supersonic delta-winged coal-fueled ramjets that he prototyped for the Nazis (most likely only the gliding prototype was flown before war’s end). Speaking of, I read a book a few days ago about advanced World War II weapons, and of course they mentioned the Komet, which is also on that list. Amid much interesting technical information, they included the offensive — to me at least — statement that it was an ugly, ungainly plane! What?!!? It’s a cute little killer! How could they say that? I kid not, but it really tarnished the writer for me because I couldn’t stop myself from seeing him as an aesthetic idiot.

And now to spend some time continuing to pull out photos for my grueling project of creating physical photoalbums from my digital archives. So far I have pulled my favorites from 21,307 photos, with 17,023 remaining to look through… and that’s just what’s on this computer! At least I’m solidly half done. I may also go through my boxes and boxes of physical pictures and scan some for inclusion as well, but I haven’t decided.

From the right angle it almost looks like…

I am thinking about doing a larger version of this idea in a wooden rig and much prettier paper with a rough tear rather than simple straight cuts… I think it could be very pretty if the right image was chosen (not just some old picture of Rasputin). Might even be a good idea to print it on some Spoonflower fabric now that I think about it.

On a completely unrelated note, I found this post on computer sonar using existing hardware — the speakers and microphone already in your computer. It sends out an inaudible audio ping and listens to the way the sound frequencies change as they bounce off your hands and figures out what gestures you’re using. Very simple idea with impressive results. It reminded me of an analogous project where the folks were recording the sounds of keystrokes and using just that audio to figure out what you were typing (passwords for example). Apparently it was quite simple to train neural net software to do this since each key resonates through the case of a computer a little differently. There are so many projects like this. I saw another one recently where they were videotaping people at bank machines from a distance and pulling out their PIN codes just by looking at the very subtle shifts in body position as they typed it in.

It’s remarkable how much data exists in this world that we never become of consciously, either because we don’t have the wetware to process it, or because our subconscious simply doesn’t decide to pass it on up to the conscious — at best we dream about it the next night. Speaking of the subconscious, giving subconscious credit where it’s due, I came up with the desire to do this art project after seeing Scott Hazard’s ripped up photo art.