Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Neurological Mechanisms for Visual Distortions/Perceptions

Spanish researcher Jose Caravaca has been working on a "distortion" theory with regards to individual close encounters with the UFO phenomena.  Mr. Caravaca has shown that external agents (stimuli?) may be an important component of the perceived experience.  The external factors that could influence the experience could range from food ingested prior to the experience to what the individual read or saw (books, magazines, advertisement, radio, television).  What appears to still be elusive is a (the) trigger mechanism.

Before a trigger mechanism(s) can be identified, I believe that looking at neurological mechanisms, from a physiological and pathological point of view, could be beneficial.  Studying cognitive models based on neurological deficits brought about by pathological issues such as neuro-disorders and illnesses can be of help as certain disorders precipitate various states of visual distortion or illusionary misidentification - delusional misidentification.

This is not to imply that all individuals that have experienced what is perceived as a UFO close encounter (visual or abduction) have neurological/psychiatric disorders.  To the contrary, most of these individuals are psychologically healthy and fully functional in our society.  It's the mechanism of perception in the healthy individual that is of interests.

In my line of work (inpatient psychiatric care), I deal with a good percentage of patients that have various forms of dementia (Alzheimer's, Frontal Temporal, Lewy-body, vascular, etc.).  Most, if not all, experience a form of agnosia, that is, they demonstrate the loss of ability to recognize objects, persons, sounds, shapes or smells, yet the specific senses remain intact.  In certain cases, agnosia may be present without any appreciable memory loss.

Agnosia is generally associated with brain injury and neurological illness effecting the brain's occipital - temporal border (ventral stream).  Of interest for this discussion is associative agnosia which the individual can describe visual scenes and objects but still fail to recognize them.  A good example would be attempting to describe a fork versus that of a spoon.

A few months back, I had an 83 year old female patient who consistently mistook me for a long ago (50 years past) friend.  When out in the day room, she was agitated and restless, often yelling out obscenities worried that her parents would be upset that she was not home.  Yet, alone with me in her room her entire demeanor changed.  The hospital room now became her apartment in the North end of Boston back in the late 1940s.  Her mannerisms and speech content was that of someone living back in that time period.  I was "transformed", in her image, to that of a long lost suitor.  Despite her perceptions, I had no personal history with her and we were in San Diego, California.  Yet, the setting was how she visually perceived it.

With  progressive cognitive and functional impairment, executive functioning is degraded.  The individual lacks to ability to appropriately be attentive to his/her's environment.  Planning, judgment, abstract thinking and semantic memory are degraded or totally absent. In reviewing the various memory models.  Short term memory is unable to be consolidated into long term memory.  This consolidation pathway is effectively severed. In using my "pathological" model in an attempt to define Jose Caravaca's external distortion agent, could the "severed" memory pathway provide clues?

In healthy individuals, complex visual information binds with present memories and stored emotional attributes that produce stable and real images of the world.  What of the individual that presents with agnosia?  Stable and real images tend to be distorted in an altered perception of reality.  And what of the stored emotional attributes?  Agnosia could be linked to a dysfunction of the limbic area. (J. Neurospsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 2008)

The limbic system is the part of the brain (sub-cortical) that is sometimes referred to as the "emotional" brain.  It's major components are the Amygdala, Hippocampus, Hypothalamus, and Thalamus.  Since the limbic system deals with the formulation of our various emotions, how does this have any relevance to agnosia or visual distortions?  Perhaps the functions of the amygdala can shed some light.

The amygdala tends to link sensory experiences into emotional relevance.  What happens when the amygdala is damaged or destroyed?  Hayman, et al, looked at amygdala dysfunction caused by Kluver-Bucy Syndrome (KBS). (Hayman, et al, 1998)   KBS is a cluster of behavior changes linked to bilateral amygdala ablation (destruction).  It can be caused secondary to herpes encephalitis, head trauma, hypoxia and various central nervous system diseases.  KBS interupts visual input to the limbic system.  In animal studies, bilateral lesions in the amygdala caused visual agnosia.  In human studies, removal of the amygdala caused dysfunctional facial recognition.  Lesions in the temporal cortex and superior temporal polysensory area mimic the deficits after amygdala ablation.  Hayman believed this to implicate the two cerebral regions supplying the amygdala with information that identifies objects in visual context.

Hayman and his fellow researchers provided a case study to support their hypothesis.  The case study involved a 40-plus year old male diagnosed with liver cancer.  Prior to initiating chemotherapy, the patient's low blood serum sodium was rapidly treated over a 48 hour period.  After chemotherapy, the patient became severely cognitively impaired with symptoms consistent with KBS, he was not able to recognize his wife and son, attempted to eat a plastic cup.  He was unable to identify the use of a comb, simply referring to the comb as a "saw."  There was no evidence to support chemotoxicity.  MRI scans showed that the neurological issues were caused by lesions involving the amygdala and temporal lobe connections.  There was further evidence showing involvement of the Hippocampus and parahippocampus area.  Were the lesions a result of the patient's liver cancer spreading to the brain?  Oddly there was no indication that cancer had invaded the brain.  Hayman found that the neurons in the affected components of the amygdala and hippocampus showed demyelinization of the myelin sheath.  This was caused by the overly aggressive treatment of the patient's low sodium levels causing a condition know as myelinolysis - the destruction of the neuron's myelin sheath which protects nerve cell axons.  With no functional axon, then there is no way to release the various neurotransmitters needed to activate a pathway to the next neuron, thus a needed connectivity pathway is effectively severed. 

Does this mean that an over abundance of sodium in our bodies, even for a short duration of time can possibly illicit visual distortions momentarily disrupting amygdala functions?  By using extreme cases of neurological disorders, illnesses, and syndromes, I've shown what areas and components of the brain are identified with visual distortions and perceptions.  Perhaps a component of Jose Caravaca's Distortion Theory is a variation of agnosia.  In my next post, I'll look at the relationship of the neurotransmitter dopamine and the amygdala.

The reader may be wondering (I would) what this all means concerning perceived UFO close encounters and abductions.  I used a neuro-pathological model to identify mechanisms.  The question that I pose is this:  In a healthy individual, can visual distortions manifest due to abrupt and brief physiological stimuli (anxiety and stress) evoking a brief psychological response, and does this involve the brain's limbic system - amygdala?  My next posting will explore that question.


"A Squint of Brain:  A Capgras Syndrome Variant", Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, December 9, 2008.

Hayman et al:  Kluver-Bucy Syndrome After Bilateral Selective Damages of the Amygdala and its Cortical Connections, Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, August 1, 1998.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Key Words That Invite Government Scrutiny

Been feeling paranoid lately?  Take a breather!   This post is for all of those who hit the "government conspiracy" bong pipe on a daily basis.  Per the Daily Mail, here are the key words that will guarantee scrutiny from the "Men in Black":

"The Department of Homeland Security has been forced to release a list of keywords and phrases it uses to monitor social networking sites and online media for signs of terrorist or other threats against the U.S..."

"Department chiefs were forced to release the manual following a House hearing over documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit which revealed how analysts monitor social networks and media organisations for comments that 'reflect adversely' on the government..."

Notice, omitted from the "special key word" lexicon are:  UFOs, Roswell, Exopolitics, Disclosure, Aztec, Socorro and other mundane paranormal issues.  Take your pick, they're not there.  It appears that the U.S. government doesn't give a rat's ass about those phenomena...past or present.

You can, with confidence, continue to blog away with out the daily doses of Ativan, Valium, or Xanax...unless you've grown to like it.  Or, is this part of the government's effort to lure you into a false sense of security? 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Has the History Channel Slipped Into History?

I, and surely others, saw the metamorphosis occurring for some time now.  I used to regularly tune in to the History Channel for, well....history.  I don't anymore as I returned back to the tried and true printed book. 

What the hell happened to the History Channel?  It started out promising touching on all aspects of American and International history, now it's no different than watching episodes of "Jersey Shore" or "Survivor."  It's a damn shame and it appears there is no one willing to drive a stake into it's wretched heart. 

A case in point is the Ancient Aliens program.  Over the past few years, the History Channel has presented numerous editions of Ancient Aliens with a dose of Nostradamus to sweeten the pot.  

Yes, this is now our history.  I'm awaiting the next archaeological discovery revealing that Spartacus stumbled across a crashed alien saucer but was unable to reverse engineer the damn thing before being defeated by Crassus.

The following from a Smithsonian blog reveals the true diagnosis and the pitiful prognosis, "The Idiocy, Fabrications and Lies of Ancient Aliens."  I actually accessed this via UFO UpDates:

"Until now, I have assiduously avoided Ancient Aliens. I had a feeling that if I watched the show—which popularizes far-fetched, evidence-free idiocy about how human history has been molded by extra-terrestrial visitors—my brain would jostle its way out of my skull and stalk the earth in search of a kinder host. Or, at the very least, watching the show would kill about as many brain cells as a weekend bender in Las Vegas. But then I heard the History Channel’s slurry of pseudoscience had taken on dinosaurs. I steeled myself for the pain and watched the mind-melting madness unfold."

And the closing paragraph:

"Ancient Aliens is some of the most noxious sludge in television’s bottomless chum bucket. Actual experts are brought in to deliver sound bites that are twisted and taken out of context while fanatics are given free reign. Fiction is presented as fact, and real scientific research is so grossly misrepresented that I can only conclude that the program is actively lying to viewers. To present the show as a documentary, on a non-fiction network, is a loathsome move by the History Channel spinoff. (Technically, Ancient Aliens airs on an offshoot of the History Channel called H2.) If the network and the show’s creators want to present Ancient Aliens as a light survey of fringe ideas and make it clear that the ideas aren’t meant to be taken seriously, I can’t quarrel with that. But Ancient Aliens and shows like it winnow away at actual scientific understanding by promoting absolute dreck. Ancient Aliens is worse than bad television. The program shows a sheer contempt for science and what we really know about nature." 

The sad fact is that quite a few viewers will believe Ancient Aliens as thoroughly researched facts worthy of scholarly journal publication.  Funny, even Van Daniken doesn't believe the crap that he writes...another hidden secret of Ufology.

Yep, its back to the real history books for me.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Impaired Cognition: Does Visual Stimuli Trigger Distorted Perceptions of Reality?

I've recently (past couple of months) been in the process of considering a developing theory by Jose Caravaca.   Mr. Caravaca has been proposing what he has coined "Distortion Theory"  Basically, Mr. Caravaca has been proposing that some UFO encounters are forms of visual distortions that are triggered by an external agent.  Currently, he is homing in on the trigger be it physiological and/or neurological...and possibly other sources.  His work can be viewed at The Caravaca Files and on various postings at The UFO Iconoclasts.

With Caravaca's Distortion Theory in mind.  I have a case study to present that may have some (or not) components of the trigger mechanism.

Some two years ago, a female patient was admitted to our unit for the evaluation of agitation, maladaptive behaviors in the context of long standing dementia, probably of the Alzheimer's type.  The patient was an 87 years old female, married for 67 years (husband still living), scored 4/30 on the Mini Mental Status Exam.  Due to her anxiety and agitation we were unable to do a comprehensive Dementia Rating Scale.

I had initially interviewed the patient as she was sitting in an isolated location in the day room. (on the fringe)  My initial assessment showed that she was alert and confused being oriented to her name only.  She was not able to tell me her present location, city of location.  She was unable to state the correct date (day, month, year).

When asked where she was from, she initially stated "Buffalo", then later changed to "Brooklyn".  During this initial interview, she appeared somewhat restless and irritable.  Her mood was neutral (congruent), but with flat affect.  Initially there appeared no signs of active delusional thinking or hallucinations.

After a brief interlude, I sat down next to her (she was seated in a wheel chair) and re-introduced myself and asked the following line of questions:

"How old are you?"-18 years old

"Where do you live?"- Brooklyn

"Where is your father?"-At work with the newspapers.

"Does he work for one of the local papers?"- No, he just sells papers.

"What kind of a house do you live in?" -A beautiful house.

"What does your mother do?"- She stays at home.

"What is your father's name?"- Joseph.

"What is your mother's name?" - Pauline.

"Do you have any sisters?" - Yes, two...Dolores.

"How old is Dolores?"- 23.

"Do you have a brother?"- Yes, he is a doctor.

"What is the name of your high school?"- She names a high school located in Brooklyn.

When asking her last name, she provided her real maiden name based on her history and physical and family members.  She stated that she was not married.

"Where are we currently located?"- We are in a school.

This ended the interview for this particular evening.  Based on the above exchange, the patient obviously had placed her physical presence in a "school" and living in "Brooklyn".  For all practical purposes, she was mentally back 69 years in time.

Why did she place herself in a "school" and her age as being that of 18?  I can deduce that the hospital unit, with two hall ways and with numerous patient rooms off to the side would appear that she was in some sort of school setting.  The door ways to individual patient rooms would have appeared as entry ways to class rooms. (Our psychiatric unit does not resemble your typical hospital unit.)

Questions to ponder:  Did the fact that she believed that she was 18 years old (current thought content) trigger her perception that she was in a school setting?

Or, was it due to her visual perception that the hospital unit looked like a school, and if she was in school, then she had to be 18 years old?

Perception is how one sees, hears, tastes, touch and smells their environment...a sensory construct allowing one to interpret and interact within their version of reality.  This corresponds to the old adage that perception is reality.

Is she cognizant and conscious?  Her cognition is severely impaired secondary to the dementia.  Impaired cognition has no appreciable effect on consciousness.   That she is conscious is evident that she is alert and aware of "an" environment, and thus interacting with the environment even though her perceptions of reality did not conform to my, or the other staff member's perceptions.  Yet we, including this patient, were all interacting in the same physical environment subjected to our interpretations via sight, sound, smell and touch.

Day 2

On the following day, I re-interviewed the patient in our day room.  She appeared restless and irritable.  Periodically telling me, "I want to be left alone."  Using the same questions asked previously, she was able to relate the following:

She is 21 years old and single.  She lives in Chicago.  She does not recall her parents.  She does not know where she is locally.  She denies having any brothers or sisters.  She complains that there is too much noise in the day room. (cause of her restlessness and irritable demeanor).

I waited an hour, then took the patient to a secluded room.  I had piped in classical music at a low volume.  I had the patient facing the room's window which over looked the hospital's surrounding neighborhood and the San Diego city skyline.  With the patient seemingly calm.  I commenced with the interview.

She was able to relay that she 21 years of age living in Brooklyn.  Her parents are Pauline and Joseph and both are doing well.  Her father sells newspapers.  She has hopes of attending college.  She has brothers and sisters but she cannot recall their names.  She is able to make out houses and buildings while looking out the room's window.  She specifically narrows in on an airplane making its' approach to the airport.  When I point out that the city skyline is that of San Diego, she states, "It can't be...its too far west."

Two hours later, after patient had finished with her dinner, I again re-introduced myself and took her back to  the same room mentioned above.  I re-asked the same questions.

She is 18 years old and single.  She has a sister named Deloris.  Her parents are Joe and Pauline.  She likes to read, swim and ski.  She may have gone to Japan on a ski trip.

Day 3

The patient is alert and oriented to her name only.  She appears less anxious and less restless.  She is able to smile at me, but generally she is apathetic, flat affect.  Spontaneity varies to my questions with some noted pausing and word searching.  I duplicated the setting of yesterday for today's interview session.  And again, asked the same formatted questions.

She is 22 years old.  She is able to tell me her full name (gives maiden name for her last).  She is single and going to college in Brooklyn.  Her parents are Pauline and Joe.  Her father sells newspapers.  She has a dog named "Ginger".  When asked what kind of do is Ginger, she replies that she is a "Mutt."

During the last two days, the patient never made reference to being in a school.  Recall that I had taken her to a secluded room away from the milieu that was increasing her restlessness and agitation.  The only visual trigger was during the Day 2 interview when she mentioned that the sight of the city skyline could not have been that of San Diego because it was too far west. (Her mental location was Brooklyn)  Prior to this statement, she had already told me that she was 21 years of age living in Brooklyn, so the proposed visual trigger had nothing to do with setting her mental time frame.  Day 3 interview had no visual trigger components.

What I was able to "loosely" conclude was that in the "busy" setting of the day room and the unit's appearance, she visually interpreted the unit to be that of a school with numerous classrooms off to the side. This had no effect on her perception of age (18-24 years of age).

In the secluded setting, away from the day room stimuli, her thought content was basically the same regarding her self-perceived age, location, and family dynamics.  There was no evidence that she thought she was in a "school" setting due to the lack of a visual source or cue.

Granted, I'm dealing with an individual who has a neurological disorder that has basically destroyed her short term memory leaving only her long term memory intact.  Yet her ability to access long term memory information is limited to only those memories of when she was 18 to 24 years old.

How does all of the above information pertain to Mr. Caravaca's Distortion Theory and the search for an external source enhancing UFO sightings, close encounters, and possibly the abduction phenomena?  Components of stress can alter our perceptions of reality.  In the above case study, under certain circumstances/conditions, visual interpretation of the surrounding environment can be altered causing the distortion of reality.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Was the Invitation Lost in the Mail?

James Carlson authored a nice piece on Realityuncovered, "How to Demand Redress By Shooting Yourself in the Foot."  James formulates a rebuttal to Robert Hastings' recent article hosted on Frank Warren's UFO Chronicles and does an outstanding job of taking Hastings to task. 

Robert's piece,"Science and UFOs: Part 4 – Sincere but Uninformed Skeptics Have Been Duped by Skeptical Inquirer Magazine", is predominantly an attack on Skeptical Inquirer and it's staff.  I suspect his animosity towards the magazine goes back some years when Kingston George authored a rebuttal article against Hasting's "Big Sur UFO" write up supporting the claims that a UFO had intercepted a 1964 Atlas ICBM test launch out of Vandenberg AFB.

As Carlson points out, Hastings can't seem to help himself by his interjecting the 2010 Washington DC press conference.  Robert reminds his readers that 7 former Air Force officers were in attendance providing credible evidence of UFO activity in and around ICBM sites.  Simply old news for myself and others interested in this worn out UFO lore.

The thing that caught my attention, yet again, was Hastings referring that Walter Figel had "chose" not to attend the conference.  I've already posted on this blog Robert's being on record that Figel's noted absence was by design.  Since Hastings decided to keep to the script, I posted a comment on Warren's site:
Robert states in his article, "Although I have roughly three hours of audio taped comments by Figel, he chose not to participate in the press conference. 
I've asked Robert on at least two occasions to provide the reasons of Walter Figel's absence and he has stated to me that Figel "chose" not to attend.
How then does this published comment from Robert on the Marine Times (3-20-12) square with Figel's lack of participation:
Robert Hastings: "Figel, after accusing Salas of making up the UFO-related events at Oscar, as you mention above, never acknowledged that he had been wrong when he said that Salas’ statements were fiction, never called Col. Meiwald (whose number I provided to him) to verify the authenticity of Meiwald’s tape recorded comments in support of Salas—which contradicted his own uninformed opinions entirely—and frankly, never had the decency to apologize to Salas, even after Col. Meiwald supported Salas without reservation.
 Figel’s tendency to talk out of both sides of his mouth is one of the reasons he was not initially invited to participate in my press conference—where seven USAF veterans *with backbone* stuck to their stories and talked in detail about multiple UFO encounters at ICBM sites, including the Echo and Oscar shutdowns.
With this caliber of witness (seven of them, actually) at the press conference, why would I include Figel, who told me on tape that he didn’t want to get caught up in the debate between you and me and fan the controversy further? That kind of wishy-washy attitude didn’t make the cut." 
So which version is correct?
The following was Robert Hastings' reply:
Tim Hebert didn't read my statement on the Marine Times blog carefully. Here it is again, with the key word highlighted in all caps:
"Figel’s tendency to talk out of both sides of his mouth is one of the reasons he was not INITIALLY invited to participate in my press conference—where seven USAF veterans *with backbone* stuck to their stories and talked in detail about multiple UFO encounters at ICBM sites, including the Echo and Oscar shutdowns."
Actually, Mr. Hebert, after debunker James Carlson wrote to Figel, informing him of the press conference and copying me on the message, I emailed Figel and asked him to come, if he wished to participate. He was already working near Washington so I would not have to pay to fly him in, put him up in a hotel, etc., as I did with the other participants.
So, Tim, Figel was indeed invited, eventually, so there is no discrepancy with what I have written online. He chose not to participate, just I have said.
I further told Figel that the other participants had lots of questions for him about his wishy-washy stance on the Echo Flight incident--telling me in detail about the UFO presence on tape, on the one hand, but downplaying it to Carlson on the other. If one listens to the taped conversations I had with Figel, he clearly attempted to do the same thing with me--wriggle out of acknowledging the serious UFO reports he got from his missile guards, which he had already confirmed to Bob Salas on tape in 1996--but I didn't let him get away with it. The audiotapes speak for themselves and verify all of this.

I thought this to be an unsatisfactory answer and wanted to see if Hastings would provide a little more background info on the key paragraph:
Actually Robert I did indeed noticed that you stated "initially" Figel was invited, but it was the last section of your reply to Carlson that caused me to take notice:
RH: "With this caliber of witness (seven of them, actually) at the press conference, why would I include Figel, who told me on tape that he didn’t want to get caught up in the debate between you and me and fan the controversy further? That kind of wishy-washy attitude didn’t make the cut."
This leads me to conclude that you really did not want his participation to begin with. Was Fred Meiwald invited? Or, did he fit in Figel's category as potentially unreliable? Meiwald, like Figel never toe'd the party line, did he? Well, Meiwald could not 100 percent corroborate Salas' receiving a report from the FSC.
 After all these years, has anyone come forward to say that they had actually *seen* something in Echo's flight area or at Oscar?

For those interested, James Carlson has posted a detailed history of Walter
Figel's seemingly missing invitation here.
As of this posting, Hastings has yet to reply.  One wonders if he would be willing to address my last question concerning eye witnesses?  Hastings, quite frankly, shouldn't have to concern himself with answering...I already know the answer.