Friday, April 28, 2006

For the record

It's a well-established fact that calories consumed on a post-call day don't count. As a corollary to this theorem, I would like to introduce the Free Alcohol Rule as well. Alcohol consumed at the end of a night-float week (night float meaning working 14 hour night shifts, for the enlightenent of the uninitiated) has no effect on one's liver, cerebellum, or psyche. It's just free alcohol. In my case it's almost all of the single malt scotch remaining in my paltry collection in the cabinet, with an effete little apple martini thrown in for completion of the inebriation at hand.

For the purists out there, yes, I admit, the adulterative effect of the apple martini could in fact negate the free alcohol corollary. However, I hold that consumption of two drams of aqua vitae in advance of the apple martini does, in fact, prevent the vitiation of the soul that would otherwise be attendant with consuming such a shameful beverage. Even if it is Isle of Jura Superstition, which is probably the one of the worst single malts I've ever had.

I have a small stash of Laphroaig still in the cabinet, but I'm saving it for a rainy day.

P.S. I feel it incumbent upon me as a neurosurgeon in training to cultivate certain refined tastes, such as an appreciation for scotch. Certainly a significant portion of my mental energy during the remainder of my training shall be devoted to recalling the color, nose, body, taste, and finish of various single malts. And as for whether or not one would want his brain surgeon drinking whisky, I remind you that alcohol steadies the hand.


At 11:59 PM, Blogger NickAntosca said...

Being a non-drinker, I am not qualified to discuss the actual content of this post.

Moving it's true that fish feel pain in a manner at least somewhat comparable to humans? Would it be ignorant to argue that the radical differences in cognitive ability between a fish and, say, a pig indicate that the pig actually experiences a greater degree of what we think of as "suffering" when it is killed?

At 12:29 AM, Blogger Ian said...

Tough question. I think suffering is a wholly personal phenomenon. For instance, one woman might give birth without any sort of local or general anesthetic, gritting her teeth and toughing it out. No real problem, minimal suffering. On the other hand, another woman might have an epidural block and IV morphine and still scream bloody murder while birthing a tiny little baby. Apparently she suffered more -- but not because she has a more complex nervous system; rather, she has less control over her emotions and the synergistic effect they have with pain in producing what we call "suffering."

I'm not sure whether higher cognitive function actually allows an organism to mitigate or worsen, by and large, the "suffering" experienced with a given painful stimulus. Personally I can take a painful stimulus, say, running a mile in six minutes (a substantial task for my fat ass these days) and concentrate on proceeding smoothly and efficiently, thereby minimizing my suffering. Or I can just let go and allow myself to be the big slobbish whale that I am, trudging my way painstakingly to that same six minute mile with a maximum of suffering. Nothing changed but my mindset, and yet the difference in suffering was immense.

So I guess the question is, what is the default? Does the baseline pain stimulus receive incrementing or decrementing modulation from higher cortex? Possibly this question is not pertinent. It could be that organisms simply suffer in proportion to their need to avoid pain in order to survive (historically/ evolutionarily) in their respective environments. In general the more active a creature, the more important painful stimuli become in protecting them from sustaining harm from the environment. Hence I would think that, if anything, it would more greatly behoove the fish -- evolutionarily -- to "suffer" from pain, insofar as the fish has more to gain (as a highly motile species that typically rests at the center of ecological webs) from being motivated to avoid pain, and assuming that pain + suffering is a greater motivator than pain alone. Of course, the latter is a major assumption, as pain and the avoidant behavoir it elicits could perhaps be reduced to a simple reflex arc, devoid of real cognitive involvement.

Otherwise we can just assume that suffering, anguish, etc. are distinctly existential phenomena that are experienced in proportion to the degree of cortical development. Under this explanation pigs would suffer more than fish, but less than chimpanzees. One could make direct comparisons of relative cortical size to determine a "suffering scale" across species. This is probably the most rational approach, and allows the conscience to bear less weight when we eat Nemo than when we eat Babe.

At 3:57 AM, Blogger Binty McShae said...

Superstition is a bullsh*t drink made for the whisky tourists who put Jura down as not being peaty enough. It is artificially infused with a peat flavour.

The nicest Jura was the limited edition 1984 (a 19 year old released in 2003 to commemorate George Orwells birth-centenary), but it's not easy to get. The 16 year old is generally recommended, the 21 year old is over-hyped. But the standard 10 year old is pretty decent enough...

I'm a Diurach, by the way... (person of Jura)

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Ian said...

Just noticed the comments on Superstition. Thanks for offering your expertise!



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