I Sing the Body Electric

In the 1990 film Awakenings, based on Oliver Sacks’s memoir of the same name, a patient named Lucy Fishman (Alice Drummond), although in a semi-catatonic state, suddenly catches a ball when it’s thrown to her.

It’s a wonderful scene. But, according to this model, it isn’t the “will” of the ball that Lucy is borrowing; it’s its time signature. Lucy’s experience of time is askew. Her time c (core metabolic rate) is so fast it’s frozen, and her light c (pH) is so slow it’s frozen. (Zero is a special number that can signify itself or infinity.) In other words, her basal metabolism is in acidosis, forcing her pH into alkalosis. She is metabolically trapped. For Lucy, time is standing still.

Lucy is with us in this universe. She’s achieving our M/E—but her c’s are severely deranged.

Her derangement is similar to that of Parkinson’s—another illness, like encephalitis lethargica, that responds, temporarily, to L-Dopa. Another illness in which the sufferer is too far backward in time.

To be too far backward in time means we’re toggling too quickly between the Alpha and the Omega state. To be too far forward in time means we’re toggling too slowly between them. When we toggle too swiftly, ultimately, time is so fast that it’s frozen (Parkinson’s). When we toggle too slowly, ultimately, time is so slow that it’s frozen (Lou Gehrig’s disease). With encephalitis lethargica, because time is too fast, light has to be too slow. Moments in time become like alternating images that whir past us so swiftly, we are blind to them. They are like the bars the panther passes in Rilke’s poem. Dr. Malcolm Sayer is pointed toward Rilke’s poem, wordlessly and strenuously, by Leonard Lowe as he desperately tries to communicate his circumstances.

Later on in the film, in a heartbreaking scene, Leonard Lowe (Robert De Niro) stares into the camera as his tremors return. The drugs are wearing off, as the drugs always seem to do, and time is speeding up for him again. Dr. Sayer (a fictional Sacks, played by Robin Williams) wants to put the camera away, but Lowe won’t let him.

“Watch watch watch watch watch,” he implores, barely able to speak. “Learn learn learn learn learn—Learn from me.”

I am one of tens of thousands of people who have endeavored to study the body human on my own after falling through the cracks of the current medical system. But although I feel I am “on my own,” I know I am not. We might feel as if we’re alone, researching in the dark, the pillows propped at our backs and our laptops aglow at 4 am. But, in truth, we’re all doing this together.

Leonard Lowe, more than forty years after your death (1981), there is something I want you to know:

We didn’t give up on you; we never gave up. We watched, we studied, and we learned. We refused to look away, though our eyes failed and our muscles burned. We were not cowed by power. We were not intimidated by public opinion. We kept the camera rolling. We studied our own pain, Leonard—just as we studied, never stopped studying, yours.


Ever since I was a child, I have taken the phrase “we are the light of the world” as a kind of metaphor. But when I got sick in a way that defied diagnosis, and had to investigate human health on my own, I encountered a shocking possibility: Could we actually be light? By assuming speed c for the visible universe, possible core etiologies for cancer, Parkinson’s, ALS, ME/CFS, and Autism can be derived from the way the body relates to time.

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