Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Insanity: One Reason I Like Horror

Though my tastes are migrating, for a very long time I have been extremely interested in fiction that explores epistemic uncertainty. Epistemology is the philosophy of how we get knowledge of the world. It basically started with Descartes, who tried to get down to what he could know for sure. He eliminated everything except himself through a thought experiment that boils down to: you can't be sure that you're not dreaming.

You can't be sure you're not in a coma. You can't be sure that you're not in a computer simulation of the past. So you can't be sure of anything.

I love horror where a person loses the ability to trust their senses and their logic. The world starts going weird, and all of a sudden you're frozen, because you no longer know how to interact when cause-and-effect goes out the window. We get a pathetic amount of information from our senses, and consciousness is basically a self-checking program attached to a cause-and-effect processor, and if you've read abnormal psychology books, you know how easily it can go haywire.

Lots of people enjoy this type of horror and scifi, but I think I like it extra super much because of a weird disorder that I have: night terrors.

There are two types of night terrors. There's panic attacks at night that awaken people with a big adrenaline rush and the feeling that they're being attacked. A lot of the time this is caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood that creates a primal, reflexive response to drowning. I don't have this type.

I have the type where, for the first hour of the night, my body isn't always paralyzed. I have nightmares with my eyes open. I see spiders and snakes and attackers lurking in corners. I often fear that something is going to stab me through my mattress.

So I take a small dose of klonopin every night to dull my thoughts during that dangerous first hour. I first got medicated after nearly breaking my foot on my metal bedframe when I caught it with my heel while trying to stomp snakes. It's good that I'm medicated. Men have accidentally killed spouses and children while having a night terror. I got this condition from my mom, who is a small woman. My dad has funny stories about her charging him. I, however, am a 6'6 heavyweight kickboxer, and it would be very easy for my stories to not be funny. I once couldn't figure out how to open the bedroom door when I was convinced I was being attacked, so I knocked through it. The door stayed closed, and I pushed the entire frame out of the wall in one piece.

Anyway, it's a weird feeling, not being able to trust your senses. I can often remember the night terrors if I'm woken up out of them, and so it goes contiguously into my "sane" consciousness. It's like a short taste of severe schizophrenia.

Luckily, between the medication, keeping my stress low, and not playing video games or watching spider documentaries right before bed, I don't have night terrors too often anymore. I used to go through long stretches of having night terrors every night.

Ummm...and that's one reason I like horror.


  1. Really interesting post. I too love that kind of horror (or sci-fi - Philip K Dick for example) where your sense of the world tilts. I've never had those kind of night terrors though - Jesus.

    Not only was Descarte right that we don't know we're not dreaming, but a philosopher recently has come up with logical proof that there's far more likely to be more Matrix-style false realities in computers than real ones (once technology reaches a certain level, there seems no reason there couldn't create X false realities) so far more likely that *we* are in a false reality than a real one. I'm sure there's a flaw in his logic but not found it yet... Sleep well!

    (This post also sheds some light on why you like some of my stories too...)

  2. I remember when that theory hit. I liked it a lot. Cool new twist on the Descartian demon.

    Yeah, I definitely saw and enjoyed that sort of uncertainty in your work.

  3. ...and one reason I like klonopin.

  4. While I have never suffered from night terrors, I do have issues with sleep paralysis...and that crap is no fun, either. It is, (he admits embarrassed) the reason I thought I was an alien abductee until the age of 17 or so.

  5. I suspect you'd like the book 'Labyrinths of Reason' by William Poundstone, if you've not already ready it...

  6. @blood routes - My dad used to suffer from sleep paralysis. So I guess it was a tossup as to which one I'd get. Sounds very creepy.

    @Mr. Everington - I haven't read that. I'll have to check it ouououout

  7. IIIIIII'mmmmm baaaaaaaaaaaccccckkkkk! (From vacation.)

    I am sure your wife is a big fan of the klonopin as well. Night terrors sounds absolutely hideous. I prefer my brain anomaly to yours, vastly.

    Does the klonopin completely suppress the terrors, or just your ability to act on them? Egads, I hope it's the former. The latter sounds horrible.

  8. When the klonopin works, it suppresses the nightmares during that time when I'm able to act on them (the first hour or so of sleep). That would suck to be lying there hallucinating and unable to react!

    I do think I have a lot of nightmares though.