Connectomes and Hypochondriacs

After having trouble with frequent headaches for a couple of years, but never any neck problems I was aware of, I saw a headache specialist this week who suggested that when I had a concussion two years ago, I may have also injured my cervical spine, and that that spine injury may in part be the cause of my headaches. Ever since he suggested this just two days ago, but never before, whenever I move my neck, it always seems to hurt—making me the world’s biggest hypochondriac.  However, I don’t think I’m alone in the world of ultimate hypochondria. Everyone in our modern technological society seems to be Web MDing their symptoms and self-diagnosing all sorts of disorders, claiming and believing they have illnesses that are much worse than what they really have.  As far as I know, I don’t think this used to be a problem, or at least, I had never really heard about hypochondriacal self-diagnosis to this extent until recently.  I think this expansion of hypochondria can be related to the widespread availability of Internet and to the connectome.

According to Seung, the connectome is based on connections and correlations, and that is what “we are” (Seung 2012).  If this is the case, if we have a skin rash on our arm, and we look up the type of bumps or colors we see on our arm online, we are making an initial correlation between the rash and whatever the computer comes up with, whether it be deadly small pox or a bee sting.  If we continue to think and worry about the rash, by connecting it to what we saw on the Internet, we physically strengthen the correlation between the two in our brains, and eventually the two become so strongly associated with each other in our brains as to be almost indistinguishable. We can’t think about one without the other, similar to how thinking about your first kiss cannot be isolated from the environment in which it occurred, for example, the sounds that were heard, the smells that were smelled, or perhaps even the clothes that were worn (Seung 2012).

While I am still not completely sure that we are 100% our connectome and only our connectome, I have just found yet another example of a human function, the case of hypochondria, that can be explained with the connectome model.

Seung, S. (2012) Connectome: How the brain’s wiring makes us who we are. New York, NY: First Mariner Books.

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One thought on “Connectomes and Hypochondriacs

  1. I really like this connection Julie! It’s really very true. What starts out for some people as “oh…maybe its a flesh eating bacteria” often turns into “OH MY GOSH THEY’RE GOING TO HAVE TO AMPUTATE MY ARM!” While that might be a little extreme it is funny to watch the strengthening of these connections in peoples’ minds overtime. I think your connectome connection is a perfect way to explain this phenomenon.

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