This is The Contralateral

 

     You’ve never actually seen the world.

But you already knew that.

Everything you perceive is just a series of chemical reactions. Photons, reflected off objects around you, reach the rods and cones of your retinas, which translate those wavelengths of light energy into nerve signals that flow from your eye through the optic nerve, crisscross at the optic chiasm, and land in a small section of your occipital lobe—the primary visual cortex. A clump of cells that you never feel or control paints a picture for your frontal lobe, the part of your brain that you consider to be, well, you.eye image

From photon to perception, your world is just the fascinating tale of a flawed storyteller. And like every story, there is more than one side.

Of course, perception in medicine is no different.

But in our complex bubble, there are far greater confounders than a few faulty neurons. We have layered our little corner of the universe with traditions and superstitions, with ironclad confidence built on myth and falsehood. We have discovered a thousand biases just to cast them aside, truths too inconvenient to acknowledge. We have chosen reassurance over reality.

We live in a time where the discovery of power has outpaced the discussion of its purpose. We can do more to the human body than ever before, limited not by resources but by our own creativity. We have transformed medicine from a guiding hand to a booming industry. We steam toward the future without pause for revision.

This convoluted system whirls through a larger society that groans under the pains of its own adolescence. Ideas blast across social media before full gestation. Opinions and outrage rise and fall like emotional tides. Clickbait outflanks journalism. Every camera points back at its owner. Success hinges on followers and fleeting fame. It’s more profitable to be popular than principled. And easier, too.

There’s too much information—too much static and distraction—to consider it all and still function. So we create shortcuts, lop off corners and jump through wormholes, to get to our destinations. We cast aside the labyrinth of deep thought that might impede our next action.

But maybe in the process we’ve lost something important. Maybe we need the art of criticism. Maybe skepticism is a safeguard. Maybe self-doubt is a sign of strength.

Maybe there are no simple truths, and any quest for them is already doomed.

After all, the world we see doesn’t really exist, does it? Even the words you are reading right now are just light bounced off of this screen at funny angles. And if perception of reality represents just one combination of variables, then there must be others. For every idea, there must be a counter. Or a dozen.

There will always be places of convenient comfort and reassurance, of a dependable status quo and a paucity of challenges. But this is a place for those who want more. This is the other side.

This is The Contralateral.

 

 

Author: Harrison Reed

Harrison Reed is an emergency medicine and critical care physician assistant (PA-C) in Baltimore, MD. He is the Associate Editor of the Journal for the American Academy of PAs (JAAPA) and regularly contributes to the New England Journal of Medicine's In Practice blog. He is the creator and editor of The Contralateral.

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