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How do You Know What’s REAL?


In the Star Trek:TNG episode, Remember Me, Dr. Beverly Crusher meets an old friend, Dr. Dalen Quaice when he beams on board the Enterprise. Chief O’Brien is there at his usual spot in the transporter room and greets them both.

When Beverly goes to meet Dr. Quaice for breakfast, she finds his quarters deserted, with no sign that Dr. Quiace had everย  been there. There is no record of Dalen Quiace in the databanks and Chief O’Brien doesn’t recall beaming the old doctor on board. As the show progresses, various people on the ship disappear and only Beverly remembers who they are. Before she knows it, she is the only doctor on the ship and only a few hundred people on a ship that is supposed to carry over a thousand. No one thinks anything of it and begin to wonder if Beverly is going crazy. Before long, she is the last remaining person on the Enterprise, trying to figure out what the hell has happened to everyone she has served with for the last three years. By the end of the episode, we learn that she is trapped inside a warp bubble (created by her son of course) and her thoughts shaped the reality inside the bubble. She escapes, in the nick of time of course, and things go back to normal.

The ending totally reminds me of Poltergeist! ๐Ÿ™‚

So much of who we are is wrapped up in the memories we create from the moment we can first remember to the present. We rely on these memories and the interactions of those around us to ground us in the real world.

But what happens when things go awry?

Patients with Alzheimer’s disease suffer memory problems that enable them to hold onto long-term memories yet lose the short-term ones. They often know they have children, but in their mind, their kids are much younger. Patients often become agitated when they are told that the grown person before them is their son or daughter. To them, he or she is a complete stranger. I couldn’t imagine what this must be like. I suppose it would be a lot like what Beverly goes through in Remember Me. She knows there are supposed to be 1014 people on the Enterprise and she knows her friend beamed aboard the ship.

And yet everyone else has a very different set of memories and therefore a very different reality.

This is also similar to what happens to patients with mental illness. They are told that they are not “normal” and that their thought processes need changing, or even drugs so they can be more normal or so they won’t endanger themselves or others. But put yourself in their shoes for a moment. In their reality, it’s the rest of us that are malfunctioning, much like Beverly sees things. She’s the only one that remembers people and events.

I’m not saying that people with mental illness are living in the “right” reality. I’m just offering a different perspective so that perhaps we can better understand their condition.

The next time you and a friend or a sibling recall the same event very differently, ask yourself this: how do you know what’s REAL?

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8 Comments on “How do You Know What’s REAL?”

  1. S. M. Nonnemacher March 29, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    Great post, Shay! I have been going to school one an d off the past few years, pursuing a Psych degree. I took Abnormal Psych last semester, and that was one of the things that was stressed–trying to but yourself, as the professional, in the shoes of the patient. It really does help to be more empathetic.
    I have to say, I’m really not a fan of sci-fi. I could just never get into it (I have never seen Star Wars all the way through. I tried in HS, but I fell asleep.) But, I did watch Star Trek: TNG regularly. It was the only sci-fi show I have ever truly gotten into. (OK, I’ll be honest, I was a teen with a bit of a crush on Wil Wheton.) ๐Ÿ™‚ But, even in the seasons where he wasn’t there, it did manage to suck me in. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • shayfabbro March 29, 2012 at 10:55 am #

      I think everyone has a little scifi in them ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. jlgentry March 29, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    A thought provoking post. Kind of sideways is how a normal event can trigger a mind like yours down a path of creative work as you’ve shown in your writing. Those ideas for your sci-fi, I will bet, all started with a flash of something in reality on which you built your context. How does not being able to anchor in reality differ from the ability to fantasize? They are different, but both end up in something unreal. Now I’m wondering what reality I’m really in…

    • shayfabbro March 29, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

      Are you even IN a reality? what if we are in unreality…*shakes head* It is a neat topic of conversation, isn’t it? I bring up stuff like this in my anatomy lectures when we get to the brain stuff ๐Ÿ˜€

      • jlgentry March 30, 2012 at 10:53 am #

        I’d love to sit in on that lecture! You might not want me to, though ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

        • shayfabbro March 30, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

          I’m sure it would be super fun!!!!!! ๐Ÿ˜€ Come on down to Grand Jct ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Sara Walpert Foster April 1, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Really interesting perspective on our perception of reality. I constantly come up against my perception of an event being different from somebody else who was there and have questioned both my memory and my mental capacity, especially when disagreeing with somebody whom I perceive as intelligent. I guess this is partly what drives me to write: the need to share ideas, situations, concepts from my philosophic perspective. Great post.

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