Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The Headache Machine


The idea that the brain is a kind of quantum machine, that a neuron’s smallest scale involves more than just inconsequential random fluctuations, was initially met with skepticism, which gradually mutated into derision and ridicule around the turn of the 21st century. So, when one of the main components of the hypothesis was finally, unexpectedly confirmed, it was with a general sense of reluctant surprise; not one member of the DaMaFi theoretical team that put the last pieces together had ever been anything but an opponent of anything smacking of ‘quantum consciousness’. While it is still debated whether or not the quantum nature of the human brain has any meaningful computational implications, the fact that it is capable of interacting, at the quantum level, with the dark matter field is no longer disputed.

The discovery resolved two problems at once, problems that up to that time had never been seriously considered to have any relationship at all. The dark matter field permeates and passes through everything, an invisible and, mostly, actionless scaffold with a complex structure that is still poorly understood on a very local scale, but the real problem in those days was that it was largely just a theoretical consequence, impossible to measure except in the most extreme and expensive artificial conditions. Meanwhile, two centuries of continuous advances in neuroscience had failed to determine conclusively the base cause of migraine, beyond the neurophysiological level – although this had been considered a sufficient level of understanding as it enabled an effective cure for the disease. But what could headaches ever have to do with dark matter?

There was an idly noticed correlation amongst the hundreds working in the DaMaFi installation: it seemed that activating the collider, anchoring to the Higgs, grabbing the field and pulling it into the action space was guaranteed to provoke stumbles, or distracted complaints about an unexpected aura, or a conversation derailed by gibberish, or gasps at sudden nauseating pain - all of this, despite the total absence of any measurable effects of the experiments in the control spaces. Every workgroup had at least one sufferer, and it took six sessions, over eight months, before what was essentially cafeteria gossip sparked a serious discussion: how can grabbing the dark matter field be causing headaches in migraineurs?

A symposium was set up, and a few of the best neurophysicists even came moonside to attend in person. The new connections made there were earth shattering. Two weeks after DaMaFi-Neuro, a detailed theoretical proposal was put forward: that the physical characteristics of the human neocortex enable it, in some specific entanglement conditions, to interact weakly with the dark matter field. The interaction, depending on how sustained it is, sets off a complex neurovascular cascade - the migraine - which then resets the entanglement state, allowing the process to start over again. In essence, some parts of some brains have a tendency to brush up against, catch on, and sometimes to bang into and bounce off of, the otherwise non-interacting substrate of the universe. One science popularizer made an enduring analogy between the entanglement state of a migraine-prone neocortex and a head of well-combed hair with a stubborn cowlick.

There were immediate consequences. The mechanism had to be elucidated precisely, and unprecedented collaborations were initiated between theoretical physics and neuroscience departments all over the globe; some physicists rushed out to have sections of their neocortices genetically modified so that they, too, could make physical contact with the object of their fascination; the quantum consciousness people – more than anyone would ever have guessed existed – streamed out of the woodwork; new theories – most of them wild and unfounded – began to develop that attempted to explain a wide range of human phenomena as being caused by interaction with the dark matter field; unmodified migraineurs all over Earth began to be tracked as part of a massive new project to map out the large-scale structure of the field; hobbyist brain modders got together with dark matter theorists to create new neural structures to enhance the interaction, just because they could; ‘cured’ migraineurs had their cortices reverted to their original states so that they could experience their misery in a new light of quantum birthright – although, most of them opted for a less intense interactability than they had previously had.

In an ironic twist, public funding for DaMaFi dwindled rapidly in direct proportion to the growth of the new paradigm, and the facility was eventually abandoned to lunar desolation. New facilities were set up Earthside, mini-colliders surrounded by rings of modified human brains stacked in tubes, connected to external recording equipment in a massive network of dark matter detecting migraine: DMDMs, in the lingo of the new neurocosmologists. The public, and some of the scientists too, just called them ‘headache machines’. Arrays of DMDMs would eventually be launched into space, mapping out the invisible architecture of the solar system in scintillating points of nausea, latent photophobia, and pain.

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