From: (Doug Yanega)
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: FTSD: Visions of Sugarplums
Date: Wed, 01 Dec 1999 20:01:10 -0800
Organization: Univ.  California - Riverside
Lines: 136
Message-ID: <>
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   The audience of scientists and doctors sat in stony silence as a blurry
image of Bugs Bunny cavorted on the screen to "The Marriage of Figaro".
Major Jimmy Thomson was the only person in the room with his eyes closed,
but the images dancing behind his lids were one and the same. It had taken
almost three years for him and The Imaging Team to get to this point, but
the recent breakthroughs with hypnosis had finally made it possible for
him to get through an imaging session of more than a matter of seconds
without breaking into chaos, and the assembled folks were deadly serious
about this opportunity to examine what the fuss had been about.

   Deadly serious. They were all that way, all the years Jimmy had known
them, from the day he'd awakened from what had seemed like just another
bad migraine-induced blackout. They'd explained about the tumor they'd
found, about the paralysis - even the piddling little dead nerve endings
in his head and face that would probably never recover - about the kind of
surgery they had in mind to eliminate the tumor for good, all deadly
serious all the while. He never doubted that there were doctors in the
military somewhere that had cheerful bedside manner, but he'd either never
met one, or something about his situation led them all to just cut to the
point. It didn't help that he was still a ranking Major, he supposed, as
it tended to induce false politeness. Even the few jokes made the day the
frame was bolted to his skull were forced and hollow, a transparent
attempt to alleviate fears that Jimmy had conquered well in advance. He
was ready for it. HE was deadly serious, too, ultimately.
   Things might have gone differently if he'd been allowed to recover
normally from the surgery - once they were certain the tumor had really
been obliterated, they and he might have relaxed a bit - but his falling
into the hands of The Imaging Team only sent him headlong into another
very serious situation.
   The various types of cerebral scans The Imaging Team had been using
were only slightly more sophisticated than those in use in the nation's
best hospitals, many of them for years. The computers that the military
had at their disposal made the difference. Jimmy had offered yet another
opportunity, that fit in nicely with some of the ideas they'd been having,
in that the whole reason he'd needed to have the frame bolted on initially
was to offer near-perfect stability and resolution while they mapped the
tumor so it could be destroyed non-invasively with ultrasonics. That
ability to get perfect resolution, and - moreover - get it time and time
again, made him the perfect subject for their tests, which were impossible
without precise replicability. Would he mind having the frame bolted on as
long as the experiments took? Well, it didn't hurt, he couldn't move
anyway, and it was naturally explained to him how important the work could
be, and he hadn't gotten where he was without a strong sense of duty and
patriotism. Of course he wouldn't mind.
   There were a few weeks of calibration, and the need for recuperation
was minimal, but the real work began all too soon after the surgery. It
started with the music. They found that pure tones generated easily
replicable and interpretable results, so that phase was brief. The first
actual piece, for whatever reason, was a recording of the Antal Dorati and
the Detriot Symphony playing Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra". They
moved on to other things - "The Marriage of Figaro" was the second, at
*his* urging, because it was one of his personal favorites, even if it
always reminded him of Bugs Bunny in "The Rabbit of Seville". After that
came Beethoven's Ninth, and then Rossini's "The Thieving Magpie", another
personal request, and "The Nutcracker Suite". Jimmy was always kept in a
soundproof room, with the headphones on, illuminated by a deep blue light.
Everything was controlled, to minimize interference.
   The Imaging Team found that after a few clean sessions, they could
distinguish which piece of music Jimmy was listening to, solely from the
patterns on the cerebral scans. After a few months more, they eventually
began to find the patterns within the patterns, the telltale signs that
distinguished certain tones from others, the footprints of each instrument
emerging from the noise, as they played and replayed the same piece, or
variants of that piece played at different pitches, or by different
orchestras. This was an arduous process, but it actually went smoother as
Jimmy got more bored with the repetitions. It really wasn't long before
they had the first crude feedback recordings - playing a randomly-selected
piece of music for Jimmy, recording the scans, analyzing them, and using
them to reproduce whatever music it had been. It was far from perfect, but
it was *recognizable*. They had succeeded in listening in to the music in
a man's head. Jimmy's head.
   There was no party, at least none that Jimmy was told about. There was
also no press conference, despite the significance of the event. Things
abruptly changed gear, though, as The Imaging Team started trying to get
scans of Jimmy just *thinking* music - the headphones were off. It was
another several months before they were able to get anything even
marginally decipherable from these sessions, and a lot of software
refinement was needed to get even that far. It didn't help that during
this time Jimmy had begun to regain some use of his arms, because it was a
distraction, and he needed a completely clear mind to get the best
results. The Imaging Team took this as a sign to move on to a different
thing altogether, or rather, split into two groups, one to explore ways to
refine the "free-thinking brain" scans, and another to work on another
dimension: speech.
   The progress here was amazingly fast, not solely because of the
refinements in the software since the first phase, but also perhaps
because everyone involved knew what to do and what to expect. In just a
few months, Jimmy could dictate letters without speaking. It was at this
point that he was interviewed - again without uttering a sound - by
General Benton and the foremost of the military's neuroscientists, Dr.
Froeschner. The level of interest in the project, and the security
surrounding it, had maxed out.
   Within a week of the interview, Jimmy and another sub-group of The
Imaging Team started in on visual images - Jimmy's eyes were open, but his
ears were plugged. Progress here was slow, not helped at all by the
physical strain on Jimmy's eyes, but when they added back the music at one
point (the first sub-group had never stopped, after all), they had
encouraging improvements. They naturally built on their strengths, using
footage from "2001", "A Clockwork Orange", "Fantasia", and even "The
Rabbit of Seville". Things were taking shape on the video screen used to
interpret the scans of the manifold laters of Jimmy's visual cortex,
things that became more and more recognizable as the months wore on. There
were so many blobs and flashes and other visual "noises", though, that it
was still difficult to make sense of things. That problem was tackled to a
fair degree by the hypnotist, who was brought in by the head of the first
sub-group, almost in desperation. Once in a trance, Jimmy's concentration
was dramatically improved, though, and the results were easy to see.
   After two years and seven months, Jimmy gave his first free-brain
audio-visual performance, recreating "The Rabbit of Seville", followed by
brief vignettes from "Fantasia", and then - wonder of wonders -
improvisational mental video and a short "Thanks for coming" speech,
showing Jimmy as he saw himself, an Army Major in full dress uniform,
straight and proud. None of the attendees would ever forget it.
   Two weeks later, The Imaging Team hooked Jimmy up as he went to bed, in
an attempt to see, for the first time after all this careful, controlled
experimentation, what a dream looked and sounded like. Jimmy woke the
following morning with only the vaguest traces of what he'd been dreaming.
He was more nervous than he had ever been through all the myriad tests of
the past few years, and, almost shaking with anticipation, rolled his
wheelchair into the main lab with the entire Imaging Team to watch. It was
not long before it became clear to Jimmy that this was a bad idea. The
images, as they began to come clearer, went beyond disturbing, into
horrifying, distorted spasms of pain, brutality, grotesquerie, and
perversity, often involving members of The Imaging Team, and soon had
people averting their eyes and leaving the room, until someone stopped the
show. Tears of absolute shame and humiliation streamed down Jimmy's face,
and he was wheeled, weeping, back to his room.
   That night, Major Jimmy Thomson crawled to his window, managed to get
it open, and plummeted like a steel-tipped dart to the concrete below.

Doug Yanega                              Dept. of Entomology
Entomology Research Museum               Univ. of California
Riverside, CA 92521  909-787-4315 (opinions are mine, not UCR's)
"There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is
    the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick