Daydreaming for a smarter world

This is Clinic 6, Royal Jubilee Hospital. It’s a human repair-shop. I’m waiting for a plastic lens that the surgeon will implant in the right eye, to replace the clouded natural lens.

The “one eye at a time” cataract-surgery rule spares a working eye in case something goes wrong (a remote possibility), and it allows a patient four weeks between surgeries to gather daydream distractions. But the daydreams always wander back to the eyes.

Keeping eyes shut, I remember the words of chess master Jose Raul Capablanca, cited by Clifford Nass and Corina Yen in their 2010 book, The Man Who Lied to His Laptop.

Capablanca did a poor job of teaching chess. People asked why. “Because I see only one move ahead,” he answered. “The right one.”

This dodgy explanation switches on a light within the torpor induced by a sedative, local anaesthetic, warm blanket and kind care from nurses and technicians. Nass and Yen saw Capablanca as a high achiever who couldn’t communicate the formula for his success.

In my drowsy state I realize that I, among others, am unteachable. How could a chess master make us tangled-brain dunces understand that he has the ability to call up pictures of dozens of possible moves and counter-moves of king, queen, knights, bishops and pawns?

How could he describe the images, strategic reasoning and intuition that he mobilized for his “right move?” He couldn’t train us to follow his example, since we don’t have the mental machinery.

But in a Clinic 6 daydream, a new computer-aided brain seems within reach. I’m haunted by Edgar Allan Poe’s story about a whole-body transplant, The Man Who Was Used Up.

The narrator visits an old soldier and finds only a bundle of rags on the floor, which transforms itself with the aid of a manservant into the semblance of a tall, sturdy human as it adds artificial arms, legs, torso and head — all of which are replacements for parts cut off in battle.

The publication date sticks in my mind: 1839. Wooden legs and non-seeing glass eyes were the only common prosthetics then.

In Clinic 6, Poe’s vision — two centuries ahead of its time — feels uncomfortably close.

So I hypnotize myself with words — the commercial names of five kinds of eye-drop. I had to administer them in the correct sequence pre-op, post-op and as a remedy for glaucoma.

Alphagan, Lotemax, Nevanac, Xalatan and Zymar. I imagine a party of pharmacists playing modified Scrabble with the names of drugs.

My inner drug recital stirs respect for the skill of the surgeon who prescribed the drops (Dr. Michele Jones) and her team members who combine mass-production healing with individual care.

The Alphagan-Zymar incantation reminds me that I am in a human machine-shop, ready to advance further toward being a cyborg — part flesh, part artificial gadget. (Blending syllables from “cybernetic” and “organism.”)

I call up the memory of the journey down the cyborg road that British scientist Kevin Warwick took in 2002 when he had 100 electrodes fired into his nervous system and remotely manipulated a robotic hand by impulses sent through the Internet.

I tap into thoughts of the hardware and software imagined by computer-engineer Michael Chislenko, whose brilliant 40-year life in the second half of the 20th century paralled Poe’s in the first half of the 19th. Chislenko’s systems could let us see X-rays and hear dog-level ultrasonic sounds.

The technology could join together Capablanca and 100 chess-capable students — and translate the B.C. Liberal family-enrichment program into fast action through the Tobin-plus tax on paper money-wrangling, now favoured in Europe.

In the middle of that daydream, the operation is over. I didn’t feel a thing.

—G.E. Mortimore is a Langford-based writer. Think About It runs every second week in the Gazette.



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