Martin Allen was early, so he happily took some time to gab a bit with Angelica, the finest receptionist the club had ever been blessed to have. Late 20s, with thick blond hair, Angelica was not only a goddess to look at but, perhaps even better, had an infectious personality that lightened everyone’s mood when they were around her. Her deep blue eyes twinkled and her deep-set dimples beckoned. The ladies of the club, who by all rights should have been jealous of Angelica’s gifted physique, instead found themselves smiling back at her as much as did the men. There was mystery surrounding Angelica, because as much as guys like Martin flirted with her, often shamelessly, Angelica never took up anyone’s offer to take her out, and indeed no one seemed to know if she was going out with anyone or not.
Martin tried, and though Angelica chatted warmly with him and even complimented him on his snazzy new suit, he still was unable to figure out the enduring puzzle of Angelica. Many had tried, and all had failed. The carrot was out there dangling in front of their salivating heads, but no one had succeeded in taking a bite. But the trying was worth the effort.
Martin moved on from the reception desk, scanning the entrance to the club and nodding at a few familiar faces. The club’s 6 singles squash courts were all busy, and it looked like the doubles court was switching off one foursome for another. Down the corridor and to the left were changing rooms and 3 badminton courts, 2 of which were busy, and downstairs were a nicely sized fitness area, a pool, a restaurant and a bar, the latter of which was already filling up with patrons exercising not with their muscles but their livers. The South City Squash and Badminton Club was already rocking this Thursday night.
Martin went to his locker and changed, noting as he did that his racket grip was looking haggard and would need to be replaced soon. Martin then went to take his ceremonial pre-match piss, during which he chatted with a pisser just to his left about the wonder of the newly installed flushless toilets. No water! How does it work? Martin didn’t have a clue, nor did the other man. “What will they think of next?” asked the man, not expecting an answer. “Flushless crappers!” Martin said as he washed his hands.
He noticed with a start that the other man didn’t wash his hands. Just walked out to go to the gym. Where his piss-stained hands will shortly grab ahold of the exercise equipment and soil the experience for everyone. That’s disturbing, thought Martin, that’s really goddamn disturbing…
With a shrug, Martin ambled out to the courts and went over to court 3 where, to his surprise, he found his opponent Jake Alexandersson, already waiting, sitting on the carpeted steps that ran along the wall in front of the court.
“Doctor, what the hell are you doing here? I didn’t see you come in.”
“I left the hospital a little early, so instead of going home I just decided to come here. I worked out a bit, then just came down to watch some squash. How are you, Martin?”
Martin eyed Jake. With his Nordic roots, Jake was big, and he had made it a point to stay in shape. Martin didn’t like the fact that he had worked out beforehand, which meant Jake would be especially tough to beat today. “I’m fine, Jake. I got here a little early myself. I spent a very pleasant 10 minutes luxuriating in the presence of Angelica.”
“Yes, indeed, and who can blame you. However, may I remind you you are married, as am I, so lets both just stop acting like horny teenagers and let the woman live in peace, shall we? It’s sad, though, because I do believe I am the only one who could really satisfy her, and yet some other woman got to me first, and so my wife and not Angelica is therefore living her life in, well, to be frank, ecstasy.”
“Yeah, Jake, right. You are the greatest lover in the western world, I’m sure. In fact, your name and number are plastered all over the men’s room down at the train station. You get very high marks, apparently.”
“Martin, please, don’t be jealous.”
“Nice shot!” said Martin, loud enough so the players on court could hear him. “That was a very sweet drop from the back of the court, did you see that?”
“Yes I did, and let me forewarn you that that is exactly what I’ll be doing when we get on the court.”
“So what’s up since Monday, how are your cases?”
“You know how I feel about my usual workload,” said Jake, “usually a congo line of neurotics coming through my office, weepy over perceived slights. However, I got a real doozy this week. Ever hear of Capgras or Cotard’s?”
“Hey, I’m the lawyer, you’re the psychiatrist. No, never heard of them.”
“Well, there is something called the Capgras delusion, which is quite unusual. The feeling is that it is caused by neuroanatomical damage, but precisely what and how is up for discussion. In any case, Capgras is a delusion in which the patient feels that a spouse or other close family member has been replaced by an imposter. The imposter looks exactly the same as the real thing, but may have evil intent, or is in some other way different from the true item. I’ve seen this a few times before in paranoid schizophrenics and patients with neurodegenerative disease leading to brain dementia, as in Alzheimer’s. Injury to the brain, like from a motor vehicle accident, can cause the same delusion. There is another similar though rarer delusion called reduplicative paramnesia, where a patient is convinced that a particular place has been duplicated, with both existing simultaneously. These are weird phenomena, and are all caused by wiring in the brain going astray.”
“That’s pretty funky stuff. I’m afraid my work in real estate law has nothing remotely as interesting.”
“Well, the interesting thing is trying to talk with these patients and nudge them forward, either to get them to recognize that the delusion is in error or at worse to get them to accept that there might be something wrong with their perception, even though they ultimately disagree. These people can be very stubborn, so you can imagine the conversations with a woman who is convinced her husband has been replaced by an imposter. She wants nothing to do with him, feels he is entirely evil, will certainly not sleep with him, and indeed panics when she is around him. And yet her husband is the only one she misidentifies. Everyone else in her family is fine—no problem with the sister, brother-in-law, son, etc. She gets very agitated when told that everyone else disagrees with her, and that her husband really is her husband.”
“That really is a doozy. So what are your plans for therapy?”
“Oh, that’s not the doozy! Wow, did you see that, a backwall boast that ended up unhittable at the front corner—the ball just stuck tight to the sidewall.”
“Lucky! That shot would have just pissed me off. So that’s not the doozy?”
“No, Capgras is strange but I’ve had a few cases. No, the doozy is Cotard’s, which is a similar phenomenon but incredibly eerie. I now have my first case, and I find it very unsettling to talk to these people! Cotard’s syndrome is simply this: the patient believes that they are dead. They themselves are the imposters. The patient’s delusional psychosis is so extreme that they can no longer recognize themselves, becoming convinced that they are dead or parts of them are rotting away, or perhaps they never existed. The problem lies in the fusiform and amygdala areas of the brain, which recognize faces and supply emotions to that recognition. These delusions are all related somewhat, but Cotard’s is just strange, over-the-top stuff. It’s like I’m giving therapy to a zombie.”
“So what can you do?”
“You can’t do anything about the physical problem, you just have to deal with the symptoms. And in these cases its fistfuls of antidepressants and antipsychotics, hoping that the delusion breaks. This case I just got is a woman, late middle age, crazy as a hoot owl in heat. I have no clue how to help her.”
“I can imagine how weird that must be; very strange. Well, that’s why I’m a lawyer. You notice that the guy in the blue shorts is pretty damn deceptive, it seems every shot he makes he holds at least a little. He’s good, that one.”
“Yes, but I argue if you hold that much you lose the surprise factor. Your opponent is never going to trust his eyes until he sees the ball off the racket, so the hold deception loses its value. I say hold the shot from time to time, just to mess with them, but do it selectively.”
“Okay, point well taken. By the way, I also know a thing or two about brain anatomy and how it affects one’s perceptions. Some studies that have been done have found variations in the structure of the brain in people with differing political views. I was turned on to this by my good friend Mark Falwell on the Democratic committee, you remember him? He’s a neurologist. So he says that studies using MRI scans on people who self-identified their political views found that the more conservative subjects had larger amygdalae, which as you point out helps process emotions. Liberal subjects, on the other hand, had larger gray matter in something called the ACC….”
“That’s the anterior cingulate cortex, which is the part of the brain that monitors uncertainty and conflicts of information.”
“Yes, exactly. Anyway, my Democratic friend interprets those results to mean conservatives tend to be emotional nutjobs whereas liberals are careful discerners of fact. Perhaps a biased interpretation, I realize…. Another study on political differences asked subjects to tap a keyboard when the letter M appeared on the screen, which it did most of the time. However, occasionally the letter W appeared, for which the correct response would be to not tap on the keyboard. Turns out the liberals made significantly fewer mistakes than the conservatives, which meant that the liberals were better at discerning conflicts in established patterns and were not as impulsive as those crazy conservatives. What do you think about that, doctor?”
“You are not going to sucker me into another political discussion, Martin. I know your liberal credentials are impeccable, but I’m no right-wing crazy, despite your attempts to characterize me as such. I’m moderate on pretty much every issue.”
“That was a nice point, and that’s it, they’re coming off now. I see the one in blue shorts won, just by looking at his body language. He’s damn good, I have to admit. One more thing, and that is that the conclusion some have got from looking at the two studies I mentioned, and several others that are out there, is that conservatives want to avoid self-harm, that’s of fundamental importance to their world view. Liberals, on the other hand, want to avoid harm to the group. They take that stance when looking at any given political problem. The result: two separate ways of viewing life’s challenges and two camps of people, forever at odds.”
“Those studies are interesting, Martin, but let’s put aside the political angle and look at subtypes of people and how they are different from ordinary people. I’m talking odious people. What about the pederast, for example, a repeat offender, the lowest, vilest criminal, whose actions rightly generate repugnance and disgust, and plenty of anger. What about him? We may find out quite soon that the pederast has some heretofore unseen brain anomaly, or some genetic variation, that predisposes him to do the things he does. What if he is hardwired to do the things he does?
Those types of revelations are coming, and how do we as a society deal with them? It will test us, these revelations. Perhaps these people are living through what their genes, and their brains, have demanded of them. Just like the person with Cotard’s, who has a brain anomaly, or the conservative who is hypervigilant about his own welfare, who is preprogrammed to act a certain way based on his brain structure.
In the end we may be talking about someone who is considered abnormal physically—not mentally—through no fault of their own, but yet medical ethicists and society as a whole will have decided, you know what, that’s too bad, because the derangement that is in these people’s bodies leads them to do despicable things but we as a society don’t care why they do it. We care that they’ve done it. And they will pay accordingly.”
“I think a just society is asked to do a lot of things that perhaps individual people would have a hard time doing, but no society would be able to look the other way and excuse such evil. Science only goes so far, Jake, after which emotions must take over.”
“I’m not disagreeing with you, by any means, it’s just that science will increasingly paint society into a difficult corner, for reasons like this and many other reasons. Some long-held beliefs will be questioned, and the answers may not be pretty. They will lead to disruptions. But it’s time for you now to shut up.”
“I beg your pardon!”
“Look, the court, they left over 5 minutes ago. What the hell are we doing up here gabbing? Let’s get on the fucking court!”
“I can’t disagree with you on that score, doctor. It is time to kick your ass. That’s a physical phenomenon that is a lot less interesting than what we just talked about, but a lot more satisfying.”
Later, on court 3, someone’s ass was kicked.
Author’s note: The medical terms and studies discussed in this story are factual.
The Squashist (at thesquashist.blogspot.com) is a squash nut. Sorry, he can’t help himself.