Lolita And The Elusive I
I am being sexually harassed by one of the patient's on my ward. Bad, eh? Want to know what's worse - she's only 16 years old!
It's a bit sad really. According to her family, just a few months ago Lolita was a happy, normal 16 year old girl. One day she complained she felt a bit unwell. She stayed at home and slept for 48 hours. When she awoke her personality had been altered completely. Gone was any trace of inhibition; in its place a mind focused only on the pursuit of 'fit men' and her newly found habit of smoking rollies.
It looks likely that Lolita may have had encephalitis - a infection of the brain tissue itself. Though it seems to have resolved spontaneously, it has left its mark on her brain. The damage it has caused is too subtle to see on even the most detailed scans, but we can pick it up as changes in the electrical noise from parts of her brain. This damage has also left its mark on Lolita's personality: she no longer has any appreciation of what is socially appropriate.
She has taken a bit of a shine to me and has decided that we are to get married. She sees nothing wrong with walking in while I am speaking to another patient, introducing herself and explaining that I am her husband to be and that the honeymoon will be in Spain. "Only joking", she winks at me coquettishly as I usher her out of the room. Once I've gone, Lolita is always the first to meet and greet the new patients.
Mainly she wants to know about their love life: are they single? do they have a fit boyfriend? are they gay? do they wanna go for a smoke? To the uninitiated this barrage can be a little bewildering; to the experienced, a lot annoying.
The real problem, of course, lies in what will happen when she is outside of the safety of the ward. Whereas I normally greet her screeches of "nice arse, doc!" with a roll of my eyes and flush of the cheeks (on my face, that is - you dirty bastards!), how will your typical sex-starved teenager react? How will they respond to her flirting? Will they stop if she changes her mind? I often see her as I arrive in the morning talking with random (male) passers-by as she smokes her rollies outside the hospital gates and she likes nothing better to go trawling the hospital in searh of 'fit men'. Alas, the only real threat that Lolita poses is to herself. With her new disinhibited, forward personality, there is a strong chance that she will quickly fall into sex and drugs and out of education.
So much for the soul as the seat of our essence. Everything that we are resides solely in the organic structure of our brain and nowhere else. An organ more complicated than anything we have ever dreamt of. Some 100 billion neurones forming an estimated 500 trillion connections with each other, suspended in a web of around 1 trillion glia: these are the building blocks of the brain.
And "I" is the more that emerges from the sum of these parts.
When a kidney is removed or a liver damaged, "I" remains essentially unchanged. Yet, even with relatively mild damage to the brain, the meaning of "I" may be profoundly altered. For Lolita, whereas "I" once embodied a happy, stable child, it now describes an oversexed, irresponsible and socially-inept stranger. At times it is funny to watch, but mostly it's just terribly, terribly sad.