Monday, November 16, 2009

A Memoir of How I Developed the Concept of Psychiatric Symptoms as Navigational Tools

Arguably the single most important finding of my human magnetoreception research project is the concept of psychiatric symptoms as navigational tools. Negative symptoms (i.e. depressed mood) tell me that (magnetic) home is south of my current location, and positive symptoms (i.e. tics) tell me that (magnetic) home is north. In my site and research paper, I don’t give many anecdotes related to my development of this idea. I intend to fill in this gap in this post.

One of the strangest things about psychiatric disorders is that although they are considered to be diseases, they don’t share many of the characteristics of diseases. For one thing, there’s no obvious pathophysiology, i.e. physiological changes associated with the disease. This is not the case for some other well-known brain diseases. Multiple Sclerosis is characterized by plaques in the white matter of the brain. Parkinson’s Disease is characterized by loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra. Both of these diseases are degenerative—i.e. the patient gets worse over time. Psychiatric disorders, on the other hand, are not degenerative. Take as an example John Nash, the subject of the book and movie “A Beautiful Mind.” His schizophrenia gradually improved over time, so that by his mid-fifties he could function reasonably well.

While psychiatric disorders are not typical diseases, I don’t agree with Szasz’s infamous 1961 book that mental illness is a myth. As someone who suffered from mental illness for over 20 years, and having seen how mental illness has wrecked lives and destroyed relationships in my own family, I know how dysfunctional it is. It’s just not in the same category as other diseases.

My concept of psychiatric symptoms as navigational tools helps explain this puzzle of mental illness. Psychiatric symptoms are the human equivalent of the animal instinctual response to being north or south of home. Long ago during human evolution, our ancestors probably utilized these symptoms for navigation. Since our primitive ancestors never ventured far from their birthplace, didn’t live very long, and had no exposure to artificial magnetic fields, their symptoms were never too intense. They were strong enough to guide them north or south toward home, but not strong enough to incapacitate them.

At some point, the knowledge of psychiatric symptoms as navigational tools was lost. This probably occurred well before the advent of civilization and written language. Some cultures and tribes considered these symptoms to be the result of evil spirits or demons. Others, like the ancient Greeks, took a more naturalistic approach. Today, the dominant theory is that psychiatric disorders are a result of a chemical imbalance. This imbalance is brought on by a combination of genes and environment. Both the genes causing mental illness and the environment trigger or triggers are unknown (as of 2009).

I accept the premise that genes are part of the cause of mental illness. My human magnetoreception hypothesis explains the environmental trigger. People with psychiatric disorders are unwitting navigators, whose symptoms are guiding them to their (magnetic) home. Since knowledge of the navigational function of psychiatric symptoms has been lost, the navigators (and everyone else) attribute their symptoms to some type of biochemical disease process.

How did I arrive at the startling conclusion that the symptoms of my psychiatric disorder were navigational tools? Before embarking on my geomagnetism research project in late 2007, I had studied psychology, and had gotten a second bachelor’s degree in this subject (my first was in physics). From my study of psychology, I knew about positive and negative symptoms, primarily as they applied to schizophrenia. I thought that I had negative symptoms, in the sense of a chronic mild depression (i.e. dysthymia) and lack of motivation. I also had positive symptoms, in the sense of tics, hypomania, and anxiety. But I had no idea that these symptoms were navigational tools until late 2007, when I began to drive around Utah and surrounding states, paying attention to how I felt differently in different places.

Since many of my readers may not be familiar with the geography of the Western U.S., I’m including a map with some key places I visited coded with letters. Here’s what happened at each of these places.

A) Salt Lake City, Utah (SLC). This was my home during this initial stage of my research project. I used how I felt here as a reference point, to compare to how I felt in the other places.

B) Rock Springs, Wyoming. This was the first place I drove to in search of a geomagnetic explanation of why I felt differently in different places. I drove here on September 20, 2007, because I knew that it was higher in total intensity and inclination than SLC, and I expected that being higher in these two magnetic factors would make me feel better. I stayed in a motel here, and felt in prepeak. I felt more focused and motivated than I did in SLC. At the time, I didn’t know that there was a peak, and that it was only one meter north-south distance. On hindsight, if I had known about the effects of circadian rhythm on peak location, I would have gone to bed an hour later, which would have pushed the peak far south of Rock Springs. I was phase advanced at the time, but didn’t know it.

C) My next trip was to Idaho Falls, Idaho, on September 26, 2007. I wanted to go north to see if even higher total intensity and inclination would make me feel better than I did in Rock Springs. What I found, however, was that in Idaho Falls I felt depressed, unmotivated, and unfocused. These are what I would later call “negative symptoms,” or symptoms of being in the Negative Zone, the area north of magnetic home.

D) Based on the negative symptoms I felt in Idaho Falls, I decided that I needed to drive south, to attempt to feel the way I did in Rock Springs. By using the magnetic model calculator, I found that Twin Falls, Idaho had similar total intensity and inclination to Rock Springs. I drove down to Twin Falls on September 27, but didn’t feel as well as I did as in Rock Springs. I stayed overnight a few nights in Twin Falls, driving to some of the small towns north and northeast of this city. I felt in prepeak in Rupert (about 75 km east/northeast of Twin Falls), but negative symptoms in Minidoka (about 23 km northeast of Rupert). On September 28, I distinguished between a “Northern Effect” and “Southern Effect,” which I would later change to “Negative Zone” and “Positive Zone.” I speculated on the implications of this for bipolar disorder. I also observed that the feelings go away temporarily while I’m driving (something I would later realize was applicable to sleeping near a cardinal bed angle {N-S or E-W}. The feelings don’t go away when driving if I sleep near a 45 degree bed angle).

The next day (September 29) I found the peak near Twin Falls. By making frequent stops while driving, I realized that the prepeak feelings occurred in a narrow north-south distance range, 2 to 3 kilometers.

E) Wanting to find the peak closer to Salt Lake City (A), I drew a line between Rock Springs (B) and Twin Falls (D), and predicted that the peak should be near Bear Lake. This high elevation, relatively undeveloped resort lake near the Utah/Idaho border had inspired me in September 2006 to write a mystery short story set there. See the pictures below.

In early October, 2007, Bear Lake inspired me to further develop my concept of the psychological magnetic map. It was near the Bear Lake Marina that I first walked the peak. I walked too fast, however, missing the most intense part of the peak (see video). At the time I estimated that the peak was between 30 and 60 meters north-south distance (later revised down to one meter). By walking east and west of the peak, and holding a compass, I realized that the peak extended approximately along a line of magnetic east-west.

By stopping in Laketown and Round Valley, two towns just south of the lake, and then stopping in Logan, which is a further distance southwest of the lake, I began to conceptualize the distinction between the Happy Zone and the Positive Zone. Just south of the peak is the Happy Zone, in which I’m largely free of symptoms, but if I go further south I run into the Positive Zone, in which I feel positive symptoms (i.e. tics and involuntary body movements).

I returned to Bear Lake on October 11, eight days after my previous visit. I found that the peak had moved south 0.9 km in the eight days. This was before I controlled for bed angle, and was likely due to a combination of Bed Angle Drift (BAD) and secular change. Much of my later research involved doing quantitative analysis of the various factors that were associated with peak movement north or south.

The above description covers the initial stages of my research project, in which I identified that my symptoms were navigational tools, leading me to magnetic home. I also found that there was a peak, a short distance of intense feeling that was a north-south transition between different symptom clusters. In future posts I’ll discuss some other anecdotes associated with this project.

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