A Logic Problem Involving Marvel Super-Heroes

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Iron Man, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine each have a favorite food, a favorite beverage, own one pet, and have a single hobby. Based on the clues which follow, find out these things:

  • Which hero’s favorite food is (A) pizza, (B) green eggs and ham, (C) apple pie, (D) Chinese take-out, and (E) caviar?
  • Which hero’s favorite beverage is (A) beer, (B) vodka, (C) Coca-Cola, (D) water, and (E) chocolate milkshakes?
  • Which hero owns (A) a black cat, (B) a porcupine, (C) a robot dog, (D) an iguana, and (E) a real dog?
  • Which hero’s hobby is (A) coin collecting, (B) stamp collecting, (C) collecting comic books, (D) collecting seashells, and (E) collecting rocks?

Here are the clues. Answers will be revealed in the comments, but only after someone solves the puzzle (to avoid spoiling anyone’s fun).

  1. Wolverine drinks beer.
  2. Daredevil is blind. The other four heroes can all see.
  3. Spider-Man eats pizza.
  4. Wolverine has a mutant healing factor that allows him to rapidly heal from injuries.
  5. Iron Man is the only one of these five heroes who wears a suit of armor.
  6. The hero whose favorite food is apple pie always eats it with his favorite drink, Coca-Cola.
  7. Iron Man drinks vodka.
  8. All of the heroes who can see refuse to eat green eggs and ham.
  9. Of these five heroes, no one without either a mutant healing factor or a suit of armor would be dumb enough to keep a porcupine as a pet.
  10. Iron Man, an accomplished inventor, refuses to own a pet which he did not build himself.
  11. The hero who eats apple pie doesn’t like chocolate, nor chocolate-flavored anything.
  12. Iron Man has more money than all the other heroes combined.
  13. The hero whose favorite food is pizza does not own a dog.
  14. The seashell-collector is blind.
  15. The owner of a real dog also collects stamps. 
  16. The porcupine-owner doesn’t like apple pie.
  17. Spider-Man likes the black cat, but has to visit the cat’s owner in order to see her.
  18. The richest hero eats caviar.
  19. The coin collector doesn’t like pizza, nor porcupines.
  20. The comic-book collector hates drinking water. He also doesn’t like milkshakes of any kind.
  21. The owner of the black cat is lactose-intolerant, and, for this reason, doesn’t drink milkshakes.

The first person to leave the solutions in the comments wins bragging rights.

[Source of image: http://www.hdwallpaperpc.com/show-wallpaper/Spider_man_DareDevil_Iron_Man_Captain_America_Wolverine_Black_43340.html].

How the Homunculus War Begins: A Short Story

crime scene

Detective Bruce Kelley put out his cigarette, took a sip of his nasty-tasting, long-cold coffee, made a face of disgust, swallowed the sip of old coffee anyway, and took his time lighting a second cigarette, carefully watching the suspect every moment, as he did each of these things, without saying a word. After taking a long drag from his latest cigarette, he broke the silence. “Murdock. Mr. Peter Murdock. The crimes in which you are the prime suspect are serious, but I don’t think you’re taking this investigation seriously — at all — and I want to know why.”

“Detective, I haven’t committed any crimes. I have only been accused of killing two people, whose names I don’t even know, but as I have told you, repeatedly, I’ve never killed anyone, and never would. I’m not that kind of person.”

Kelley snorted. “Let’s talk about something else, then. Do you enjoy reading comic books, Mr. Murdock?”

“As a matter of fact, I do. Why do you ask?”

“I used to read them myself, when I was a kid. Spider-Man was my favorite, but I also liked Daredevil. And, I gotta tell you, of all the fake names I’ve ever been given by people with obviously fake IDs, ‘Peter Murdock’ has got to be the most pathetic fake name I’ve ever seen or heard . . . but maybe that’s just because we’ve both read a lot of Daredevil and Spider-Man comic books. So, here’s my next question: what’s your real name?”

“What? I don’t understand. Are you sure that isn’t my name? Hold on a second — I’ll consult my homunculus.”

“Your what?”

“You know — the little guy inside your head. The one who sees through your eyes. The dude behind the steering wheel, and at the control panel. You know, the one who decides what you do. Don’t you ever talk to yours? I wouldn’t know what to do with my life without the help of my homunculus.” He then gave the detective a huge, childlike smile.

Image source: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8844

A Man, and His Homunculus

The detective said nothing, and was still processing these words when the suspect spoke again, roughly a full minute later. “My apologies, detective. My homunculus was apparently playing tricks on us both, but I don’t know why. He now tells me my real name is Reed Stark.”

Detective Kelley put his unfinished cigarette out, right into the cup of swill which, two hours ago, had been half-way decent coffee. The cigarette hissed, as the lit end hit the liquid. “Reed . . . Stark. Of course he did. Are you quite sure about that name, though? Why not ask him if he meant to say ‘Tony Richards,’ instead? I thought we had already established that we’ve read the same &%$#ing comic books, you lunatic!”

“No, he says he’s sure it’s Reed Stark. Absolutely certain. If you can’t trust your own homunculus, detective, well, then, whom can you trust?”

“Well, ‘Mr. X,’ you’ve already been thoroughly searched, so there’s no point in asking for ID that says your name is Reed Stark. Look, Mr. Stark, Murdock, Richards, Stan Lee, or whatever your name is, I think we’re done here — at least for now.”

The detective picked up the handset-part of the old-style, land-line phone on the desk between them, in this small room which was so barren that the suspect had, until the detective picked up part of it, and talked into it, thought of this shiny black telephone as the room’s sole piece of ornamentation. Speaking into the phone, Kelley said, “Yeah, have the guard take Mr. ‘Murdock,’ here, back to his cell. We’re not getting anywhere with this, and there’s no point in my wasting any more of my time questioning him.”

“Um, detective, that’s not ‘Murdock.’ I told you, my name is Stark. Reed Stark. I don’t know why my homunculus –”

“Shut up. Just — just shut up.”

The suspect did not argue, and the guard arrived quickly, removed the restraints holding the suspect to his chair, but did not take off his handcuffs. As the guard left with the suspect, Kelley spoke once more. “Guard — don’t take him back to the same cell. Put this man in isolation.”

“Yes, sir.” They left. The door closed behind them. Detective Kelley picked up the phone again.

“This is about the murder suspect with the obviously-fake ID — the one who claimed his name was Peter Murdock, and had poor-quality fake ID to match. Change the name on his intake records to ‘John Doe.’ Run his fingerprints again, just in case the system missed a match last time. Also, get in touch with the psychiatric unit at the state hospital. Tell them we’ve got a dangerous head case coming their way, and to be ready to receive him — and warn them that he is the prime suspect in a double homicide — which he claims not to remember . . . . What was that? Yes, actually, I do believe him — the part about him not remembering killing those two men in that blind alley, anyway — that much I believe. This guy thinks there’s a little man in his head who tells him what to do — a ‘homunculus,’ he called it. I’m about to go google that word right now. No, I’ve never heard that term, but I know a psych case when I see one, and this guy’s definitely nuts.”

Once locked in his isolation-chamber, the suspect asked his homunculus what to do next, but heard no answer — so, instead of just asking silently, he asked again, aloud. To that, he heard a response, sort of: snoring. His homunculus was, apparently, asleep.

“I guess I’m supposed to sleep, too, then,” he said aloud, to no one in particular, and with that, he stretched out flat, right on the floor (ignoring the small, hard bed which was attached to the far wall), and instantly fell asleep.

Soon, the suspect was dreaming. He heard the voice of his homunculus, and it sounded oddly, subtly different than normal — and familiar, also. He finally recognized it, for he had heard it in multiple superhero movies: it was the voice of Stan Lee.

Trans-dimensional portal now open for transfer of both powers and equipment. Begin transfer immediately. Matt Murdock, code-named “Daredevil,” with two billy clubs — complete. Peter Parker, code-named “Spider-Man,” with web-shooters, and extra cartridges of web-fluid — complete. Reed Richards, code-named “Mr. Fantastic,” with unstable molecules for uniform-purposes — complete. Tony Stark, code-named “Iron Man,” with latest version of Extremis-augmented, body-integrated bio-armor — complete. Files containing knowledge regarding the use of new abilities, and equipment, now being transferred through trans-dimensional portal — complete. Begin extraction and installation of all files . . . wait . . . processing . . . processing . . . complete. Peter Reed Murdock Stark, it’s time to wake up now. You have important work to do.

The suspect woke up. He spent a few minutes using his newly-enhanced hearing to listen to conversations going on in every room in the building, until he was certain no one was nearby, except for those locked behind bars. He smelled for the distinctive smells of gun oil, ammunition, and gunpowder — and again, found none that were too close. His homunculus then told him, silently “This may seem a little strange, at least the first time,” and then flipped the newly-installed ‘armor’ switch, at which point the suspect saw his body and jail-inmate-uniform quickly covered with red-and-gold armor familiar to many fans of comic books, around the globe, although those same fans would have found the presence of billy clubs and web-shooters unusual, attached to Iron Man armor. “The unstable molecules will let the armor stretch with the rest of your body, so don’t bend the bars to escape — just stretch between them, instead, for that will make much less noise.”

As always, he did as he was told by his homunculus, without question, nor hesitation. His armored and elastic form slipped through the bars easily. Once out, though, his amplified hearing and enhanced sense of smell warned him that someone, probably a guard, was approaching. Spider-sense then confirmed imminent danger, so he jumped to the high ceiling — and stuck there. He held his breath as the guard strolled casually down the corridor. The guard was nearing the end of his shift, and was sleepy — but he would have noticed bent or broken bars to a cell. Due to his fatigue, however, he did not notice that the number of empty cells in this particular corridor was one more than it should have been — and he had no reason to look up.

Once this guard exited the far side of the corridor, the escaped prisoner crawled along the ceiling, and then noticed a ventilation shaft. It was covered by a metal grille, but the elastic powers of Reed Richards nullified that obstacle, as he simply oozed through the small holes in the grille, web-shooters and all — thanks to those unstable molecules from which the Fantastic Four’s uniforms are made. Within seconds, he was completely inside the ventilation shaft.

From inside his head, he heard the next instructions from his homunculus: “Head for the roof.” He did so, soon finding his way completely out of the ventilation system, and on the roof of a police station, in a small city in a world without superheroes. On this particular Earth, superheroes existed only as copyrighted characters in comic books, movies, television shows, and the like.

He spoke quietly: “Homunculus? What should I do now?”

“You need do nothing but accept our gratitude. Your mission is now complete.” The homunculus flipped the armor-switch back to the ‘off’ position, and the red-and-gold armor retreated from view. He then flipped another switch, and the escaped murder-suspect fell to the ground, able to see and hear, but unable to move. He heard four separate voices in his head say, “Thank you,” one after another. During his escape, the homunculus had reproduced by fission, splitting in half once, then each half splitting into two parts again — a new means of reproduction their species’ scientists had only just developed, and was only being used by experimental prototypes, such as these four particular homunculi.

A pair of small, green-skinned homunculi then crawled out of each of the murder-suspect’s ears, causing red blood to pool under his head, on the roof. “Ugh, human blood is so nasty,” one of them said. “Red is such a sickening color for blood!”

“Get used to it,” said another, “for I’m sure we will be seeing a lot more of it in the next few weeks.”

“Weeks? More like just a few days,” said a third of the green-skinned quartet. “In this universe our scientists recently discovered, no super-powered humans exist at all, except in what the humans call ‘fiction’ — stories about things which never actually happened, at least not here. The problems we have repeatedly encountered with these super-powered humans, every time we try to take over the Earth, will not exist here, with this Earth, at all. No one here will have the power to oppose us!”

The green homunculi were now marching, in a triumphant circle, around the paralyzed human. Although he could not move, their walking finally brought one of their faces into plain view, so he could see the strangely-shaped, green chin of his homunculus — and then he knew his planet was as doomed as he was, as he slowly bled out, unseen by any other human, on the rooftop of a police-headquarters building.

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A Skrull. Four tiny Skrulls, in fact. They didn’t even see the need to kill him before they activated tiny versions of Iron Man’s armor, and flew off, in four different directions . . . each to become someone else’s new homunculus, no doubt.

His last thought was relief, for he was blacking out, and knew he would not personally have to witness the destruction of his world’s civilization, and the enslavement of its people . . . but he saw no way either one could be avoided. Right now was, he thought, a much better time to die.

# # #

[Image credit — the “homunculus” image, above, was found at this website: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8844, and the picture of the head of a Skrull was found at http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Skrulls.]

[Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. No similarity to any living nor dead person, nor institution, is intended, nor should it be inferred. This story is not being sold for a profit, but is a work of fan-fiction available on the Internet, for anyone to read, for free. No copyright infringement involving characters owned by Marvel Comics is taking place, since this work is not being sold for a profit. If a representative of Marvel Comics requests it, this blog-post will be deleted, but it is expected that having this story available on the Internet will only increase, not decrease, that company’s sales and profits.]

The Reason Why My Current Profile Picture on Facebook Is of Matt Murdock / Daredevil

In September, I noticed that friends of mine started suddenly having superheroes appear as their Facebook profile-pictures. After learning that this was being done to support the efforts to find cures for pediatric cancer, I decided to join them. However, I also have adult friends and relatives who are battling cancer, so I cannot limit this to only pediatric cancer. I’m also not changing my profile picture back, just because it is no longer September. Of course, I chose my favorite comic book character. This is what I now “look” like, on Facebook:

Michael-C.-Hall-Daredevil-Rumors

Other animated characters I have seen, as profile pictures of friends of mine who are also participating in this effort, include (in alphabetical order) Batman, Cyclops, She-Hulk, Snoopy, Stan Marsh (of South Park), Susan Storm (the Invisible Woman), and the new, female Thor, as well as others.

To those also participating: thank you. To those not yet participating, I invite you to join us.

Daredevil Fan-Fiction: Why Did Matt Murdock’s Mother Leave His Father?

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I will start with an introduction, to set the context of this story.

In the issue of Superior Iron Man shown above (#4, published in 2015), Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man (having had a “moral inversion,” or good/evil reversal), is the villain of the story, while Matt Murdock, also known as Daredevil, is the hero. It isn’t a typical comic book, for, in this story, the bad guy wins. Stark uses advanced technology to overpower Murdock, and then this happens, near the end of the issue.

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In the next panel, Matt wakes up, in a hospital, with no memories of the conflict with Stark.

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It is important to note that, earlier in this multi-issue story, which begins in Superior Iron Man #1, Stark restores Murdock’s ability to see. Realizing that the price of this is far too high, Murdock deliberately shuns this “gift” from Stark, and voluntarily allows his blindness to return.

Now that the stage is set, on to the fan-fiction, which takes place, mostly, in the mind of Matthew Murdock, who is also an attorney, in-between the two panels shown above.

~~~

Matt Murdock was blinded in a childhood accident, so he is used to darkness — but the darkness now enveloping him is far emptier than usual. His enhanced senses are gone. Hearing nothing, smelling nothing, tasting nothing, feeling nothing, and his “radar-sense” gone, he is now blind — really blind. Deprived of all sensory input, he also has no idea what is going on. However, he can think, and can also remember.

The first thing he remembers is a single name: STARK!

That name triggers a recent memory: the brief, recent period where one of Tony Stark’s inventions restored his sight. For a time — an unknown amount of time — he simply watches, as if watching a TV show, the things he saw during this short time. The show plays itself out, as if on a large screen. His anger at Stark forgotten, Matt watches the show of his recent memories, as one might passively watch a movie. He feels he is floating, in a void, as he watches. As this “movie” plays, there is a sudden freeze-frame: the pictures stop moving. Context is immediately forgotten. All he sees is a single image, which is what he happened to be looking at when the “movie” of his recent memories was suddenly, and unexpectedly, put on “pause.”

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A jar of peanut butter? Why did the images freeze at this spot? What’s going on? Did I see this in a store? Did I see it in my home? Where did I . . . ?

Daredevil is popularly-known as “The Man Without Fear,” but he’s always known that this description is inaccurate. For example, he fears the possibility of those he loves getting injured, or killed, by any of his numerous enemies, because of his exploits as a costumed hero — for that has already happened to him, more than once. He also realizes that he fears something else, but only if he sees it: peanut butter.

Peanut butter? Why that, of all things?

An earlier, strongly-repressed, memory then surfaces, and a great many things fall painfully into place for Matthew Murdock.

Oh, no . . . anything but this . . . . 

He is no longer seeing recalled memories from a few days ago, but from early childhood — before the accident that blinded him. He was very young, had a bad head cold, and could smell nothing, explaining why the smell of peanut butter never triggered this memory before.

Young Matthew looks around. He sees the kitchen of his childhood home. His parents, Jack and Margaret Murdock, are still together. He is wearing the clothes of a toddler, because that is what he was at this time. He’s on top of a counter in the kitchen, having climbed up there, using chairs to make a crude “staircase.” And there, on the floor, is a five-pound jar of peanut butter, surrounded by shards of broken glass. 

Matt, as a toddler, had only been looking for some cookies. He had not meant to knock his father’s gigantic glass jar of peanut butter off the counter, but the deed was done. The jar was broken, and could not be unbroken. There was broken glass in the peanut butter now; it could not safely be eaten. His family didn’t have much money, for his father’s career as a professional boxer was going nowhere, and his mother only made a little money, at the elementary school down the street, working as a substitute teacher. “Battlin’ Jack” Murdock, whom the adult Matt Murdock had idolized for years, was eating as much peanut butter as he could, simply to gain weight, and protein, in the hopes that this would, somehow, make him a better boxer.

The crash of the glass jar hitting the floor echoed throughout the family’s small Hell’s Kitchen apartment. With his earliest memories now unlocked, he knew what was coming next. Matt tried desperately to stop the memory-playback.

He failed, and his mind filled with fear.

Loud footsteps . . . Dad? No! Please, please don’t . . . I don’t need to see this happen again . . . not again . . . . never again . . . .

“MATT!” His father had just burst into the room, having heard the crash. He saw the broken jar of peanut butter on the floor. His son started to cry, afraid of what he knew, in hindsight, was about to happen. “You clumsy little %$#@! Do you have any idea how much that jar COST me?” An incoherent, deep-voiced, roar of rage followed — and the noise from his father seemed louder than anything the adult Murdock had ever heard, even from his arch-enemy, Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime, and even with his enhanced senses taken into account.

Matt’s father, already drunk, in the middle of the afternoon, kept yelling at his son: “I’ll KILL you for this, you worthless little son of a &*%$#!!”

And, with that, the enraged “Battlin’ Jack” Murdock grabbed his only son, by both shoulders, with his son facing him, and started shaking him as hard as he could. Young Matt’s head flopped back and forth, rapidly, just like a worn-out rag doll. Matt heard a sharp “crack!” sound from one of the bones in his neck. The shaking continued.

The adult Matt Murdock then remembered a legal case he had refused to take, over ten years earlier, defending a man who was then put on trial for murdering his son via shaken baby syndrome, which can kill children up to the age of three. Later, he learned the man had not only been convicted, but eventually put to death — the last legal execution in the state of New York, for killing his 2½-year-old son . He remembered smiling when he learned of this, but had not known, at the time, why this news had made him happy.

Now, all at once, he knew.

Luckily for Matt, the toddler, help was on the way. School had been dismissed, and his mother, Margaret Murdock, was just arriving home. She walked in on the most horrible scene she had ever witnessed: her husband attacking their only child.

She didn’t hesitate, and had, fortunately for her young son, entered the apartment unseen by “Battlin’ Jack.” She ran at her husband, a trained boxer, jumped onto his back, and began clawing at her husband’s face with every ounce of strength she could find, screaming as she did so. Not only that, but it worked — she saved her son’s life. 

“You rotten little %$#@*! This is all YOUR fault!” She had saved Matt, but only by getting her husband to redirect his fury at the only other target available — herself. This was not the first time Jack Murdock had beaten his wife, but it was the worst beating she ever took from him, and it was also the last such beating.

This was the last time Matt Murdock ever saw his mother — and, until many years later, as an adult, this was also the last time Matt heard her voice. Unknown to her son, or her monster of a husband, she escaped, to a shelter for battered women at a nearby church, but was unable to take young Matthew with her — her husband changed the locks after she left, and she was not able to gain access to him, in order to rescue him. She did, however, make contact with a friend who worked with New York’s Child Protective Services agency, and begged her friend for her help. She was (incorrectly, she later found out) told that, with no hard evidence available, there was no point in calling the police: an arrest of Jack Murdock would be, she was informed, impossible. However, she did convince her friend to have CPS keep an eye on the situation, for years, in order to ensure her son’s safety.

The toddler Matt, of course, knew none of this. In fact, even as an adult, he never did find out about the CPS-monitoring which his mother had arranged, for his protection.

As his mother was savagely beaten, young Matt laid limp, on the floor, his neck forming a very odd-looking angle, as the result of the trauma he had suffered. He could not move, nor could he speak, for he was in shock for over an hour. He could, however, see and hear. He heard his mother crying, and screaming, as her husband continued to beat her. He saw two of his mother’s bloody teeth fly across his field of vision. He heard some of her bones break, but could not turn his head to see which ones the monster of their lives had broken. He saw a calendar on the wall, and his adult self did the math, and figured out how old he had been when this happened: two and a half years old.

This was now Matt Murdock’s earliest memory — but not for long. The weapon Tony Stark had designed, built, and used against him was programmed to seek out (and record) a person’s most traumatic, but still repressed, memory, and then force them to relive it, vividly, and, next, allow that person to suppress the memory once again — and then keep going, wiping out all memories for several days before the device was activated. When Matt Murdock awoke in the hospital, he remembered nothing about either the conflict with Stark, or with his father. However, Tony Stark examined the recorded data about Murdock’s childhood, and filed it away, in case he ever decides to use it. And, of course, Matt Murdock’s earliest memory is not gone, but merely repressed. If Stark’s technology ever fails, which is certainly possible, these memories could always come back.

Tony Stark now understands Matt Murdock’s prime motivation for putting on a devil costume (despite the fact that he is Catholic), going out almost every night, and selectively beating only those people who seriously deserve to be beaten, and Stark enjoys knowing that he is the only person in the world with this information, to use however he sees fit, at any time.

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~~~

CREDITS

I took the picture of the jar of peanut butter myself. All other images in this post are from Superior Iron Man #4, published by Marvel Comics, written by Tom Taylor, penciled by Yildiray Cinar, and with cover art created by Mike Choi. For other credits, I refer you to this comic book.

The “fuzziness” of the comic book images is deliberate, and done with the intent of avoiding copyright infringement, while leaving the dialogue readable.

While writing this short story, I made every effort to keep it consistent with the decades-long story of Matt Murdock / Daredevil, a work which has involved dozens of talented people. Without their work to build on, I could not have written this story.

The information in this story regarding Shaken Baby Syndrome is factual, as of the date of publication. A search of medical sources with Google will reveal that it does kill large numbers of babies, as well as children up to age three. Everyone needs to know this: shaking can kill babies and children. In this story, Matt Murdock survived. In real life, the author of this story survived; it is my earliest clear memory. Not everyone lives: 25% of us die, and of those who survive, 80% have to deal with permanent damage.

Obviously, I’m among those who survived, but I’m also among the 80% of survivors with permanent damage. PTSD doesn’t just “wear off” once you get it, either . . . or at least, I haven’t found a cure for mine yet.

On Asperger’s Syndrome, Honesty, Lies, and My New, Sonic Lie-Detector

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The TV series House MD first aired in 2004. I quickly developed a fascination with both the title character, and the show, and watched the entire run of the show, until it ended in the Spring of 2012. The following Fall, I began to seriously suspect — at age 44 — something that had occurred to me only as a possibility for a few years before that: I’ve been an “Aspie” my whole life, a hypothesis which I could tell had great explanatory power to explain my numerous peculiarities, as you can tell in this early blog-post on the subject, not long after I came to WordPress. By the time 2013 arrived, shortly before I turned 45, I had begun the necessary tests of this idea, which included, of course, discussions of the possibility with a psychiatrist, as documented in another blog-post, here.

This was a breakthrough for me, for it helped with a long-term project I begun in my teens: development of the ability to reprogram my brain’s own software, which I became aware was happening at night. I first wrote about this sleep-reprogramming here, just over a year ago, almost two months after getting married — to another math teacher. Thanks to my wife, the critical error in that sleep-related post (that I was reprogramming in the deep parts of non-REM sleep) was later discovered, for she noticed that I frequently stopping breathing while asleep. Sometimes she would have to shake me awake, urging me to resume breathing; other times she would be awakened, herself, by my own gasping for air, which it turns out I had been doing for years. At her urging, I discussed the possibility with my primary care physician, who immediately referred me to a specialist for a sleep study. This resulted in a definitive diagnosis of sleep apnea, revealing that I was only getting stage 1 and 2 sleep, but no significant quantities of stage 3 sleep, nor stage 4 sleep, nor REM sleep. This ruled out my “deep-sleep reprogramming” hypothesis.

I’ve been a teacher for over twenty years, and have more experience teaching science than any other subject. I started learning science very early in life, simply by hanging around in the science building of a university, as a little kid, where I could avoid interacting with children my own age (whom I did not understand), and communicate exclusively with professors and their college students, as described, along with a 5th-grade “sequel” involving “show and tell,” here. For these reasons, I don’t have to consciously employ the scientific method when empirical evidence shows a hypothesis to be flawed — it is automatically what I jump to. My deep-sleep hypothesis did not have to be thrown out completely, but only modified. The evidence prior to the sleep study did indicate this auto-reprogramming was happening in my sleep, but the sleep study proved that it could not be happening during deep non-REM sleep. What was not ruled out, though, was the only type of sleep I had been getting before I got the CPAP machine I use now: Stage 1 and 2 sleep. It is my current position, subject to further testing, that I sleep-reprogram in the shallow parts of non-REM sleep, most likely Stage 1, or in the “twilight” regions between wakefulness and sleep, hypnagogia (the “going to sleep” transition period), and/or hypnopompia, the “waking up” transition period. With my CPAP machine, I have now had the better part of a year to recover from the negative effects of chronic sleep deprivation. I now get the REM, stage 3, and stage 4 sleep needed for good physical and mental health. Of course, I still get Stage 1 and Stage 2 sleep, so I can still sleep-reprogram — and, for the last few months, I have been using sleep-reprogramming to seek ways to reduce the social-interaction difficulties involved with Asperger’s, while retaining the advantages.

One night, and I suspect it was last night, I used sleep-reprogramming to prepare myself to learn to do something I have not been able to do before: detect lies, and employ certain specific, related social skills, using alternative methods than those used by most non-Aspies. The program required watching House MD to activate it, however, as I discovered while watching it today, after a couple of episodes, while resting last night, before going to sleep — the first time I have watched the show in months. The changes that happened while I watched a single episode (season one, episode four, “Maternity”) were both rapid and dramatic; it was quite clear to me that an already-prepared unconscious subroutine was being activated.

Before this lie-detecting subroutine was activated, these had been long-term statements which accurately described me:

  • I was rarely able to detect sarcasm in others — but could dish it out in large quantities.
  • Although I sometimes made jokes (linguistic wordplay; made-up words, etc.), or even pulled pranks, I rarely recognized the same behavior for what it was when it was turned around, and aimed in my direction, by others, leading to numerous serious misunderstandings, in both childhood and adulthood.
  • I could not “read” other people’s emotional states, and, for most of my life, would not even acknowledge that the ability to do so was a useful skill. Most people do this by analyzing such things as facial expressions and body language; analysis of sound is, for most people, secondary to this.
  • I found it nearly impossible to detect dishonesty, and, while I can lie, I learned (as a teenager) that I could not do so effectively. If I try to lie, I figured out decades ago, there is a very good chance that another person will know I am lying. Under these conditions, having lies detected (and then experiencing the consequences of this) led me to consciously make the choice to be honest.
  • I have often behaved in ways which unintentionally offended, angered, or irritated people, simply due to my lack of awareness of any emotions which are not my own, and, 99+% of the time, I was not even aware that I had done so, until later, when informed that I had. My usual reaction has been surprise and confusion, for my emotions are not like those of non-Aspies. When younger, I spent absurd amounts of time stuck in intensely angry states, for reasons connected to another condition I have, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I recognize anger; early exposure to far too much of it was involved in creating my PTSD in the first place. However, as I have recently learned, anger is not binary — most people experience a whole range of “shades of grey” related to, but less intense than, white-hot fury, such as simply being annoyed, or irritated. It was only recently that I became aware that other people experience such intermediate states between “angry” and “not angry,” although I know of no other person who made such a “discovery” in their 40s . . . and, without help from my wife, I might never have made it at all.

There is an important subgroup of the general population who form an exception to one of the common-among-Aspies characteristics above: not reading facial expressions or body language well. This group is the blind, and, to a lesser degree, the visually impaired. I wear glasses at work, and while driving, for mild-to-moderate myopia, but do not need them to function indoors, especially in familiar settings, such as home. Lately, I have simply stopped wearing my glasses while home. However, I certainly use my vision a lot, and think visually; the sheer volume of geometry (with apologies for the pun) on this blog is evidence enough of that. I have more familiarity with blindness than most sighted people, though, for three reasons: (1) I have read comic books since I was a kid (sometimes while hanging out in some science lab, although I was more likely to be found playing with a some dangerous chemical when very young), and my favorite title for most of my life has been Daredevil, the source of the lower-left part of the image above, (2) I have had close friends who were blind, and (3) I learned to read and write Braille as a college undergraduate, so that I could communicate with these friends by mail, and have not forgotten this skill, although it has lost speed — but I made the Braille lettering in the image above, which simply reads “everybody lies,” a line made famous by House MD.

There is also a fourth reason, unrelated to blindness, which is a common characteristic of those with Aspergers: periods of time when my senses become painfully over-sensitive, so that the sun, indoor lighting, etc., appear to be turned up extra-bright, everything is incredibly loud, etc. — except for my sense of smell, weakened by allergies, and exposure to chemical fumes. This used to happen during migraine headaches; now, I no longer get this state with headaches, but the amplified sensory perceptions are now so intense, at times, that this state is actually worse than a migraine headache, for at least those had pain to distract me, at least somewhat, from overwhelming sensory overload. When this happens, I blindfold myself to eliminate the visual overload, but I cannot silence the world, and you can read a description of what it sounds like, when I am in “Matt Murdock mode,” as I call it, in this blog-post. My perceptions don’t become so acute that I can hear the heartbeats of those around me (as the fictional Murdock can), and I’m fine with that; I don’t need, nor want, to have the volume turned up any further.

When House MD was airing new episodes, as I remember the show,  Dr. Gregory House would be an incredible jerk to people at least six to ten times per episode, sometimes more, and I found it hilarious. Only tonight, while watching the episode mentioned above, “Maternity,” did I realize (after nearly everyone else on the planet who has seen even one episode of this show), that House is incredibly rude at a rate far closer to six to ten times per minute. I had no idea!

This made me quite surprised. I then suddenly noticed something else: Dr. Allison Cameron — lying. Next, Chase lied. Later, Foreman lied. A patient lied, but of course they always do — “everybody lies” is a recurring theme of the show, and the consequences of lying are the show’s most-used plot-device. While thinking about this, I caught House lying. And I knew about each and every one of these lies before House revealed them, as lies, later in the episode. How was I noticing these lies I had never heard, as lies, before?

Of course, I have seen every episode of House MD, so memory is definitely a factor, but had not watched season one in years. I began to focus on this puzzle. About ten detected-lies later, I figured it out: I was hearing not an increased volume, but tiny changes in pitch, no more than a half-step on the musical scale. Lying is a risky activity, and liars know this, so it causes increased anxiety when people lie — and, due to this anxiety, I reasoned, their airways constrict, at least slightly, at the end of a lie, causing an increase in the pitch and frequency of the sound of their voices at the end of a lie. House was the ideal tool for teaching this, for it allowed me to “calibrate” my internal lie-detector, by focusing on the voices intently, while using long-stored memories of Dr. House revealing lies to help me catch what I had never caught before.

Of course, House is a TV show. This needed to be tested — with something which did not involve actors, nor writers. And so, I devised a way to test it. I asked a scientifically-minded person I know to help me test a hypothesis, by choosing a random order for a true statement and a lie, and then simply telling both to me, and then see if I could accurately identify the true statement, as well as the lie.

The pitch of this person’s voice unexpectedly went down, slightly, at the end of one of the statements, but did not change when speaking the other statement. What was going on, I wondered? I then figured it out: I had chosen a scientifically-minded person — who was trying to outsmart my experimental test! I then noticed that one statement of the two — the lie — concerned the number of items in a box, and was therefore testable. The other statement was not testable. The other person, who is quite intelligent, had taken a minute or two to formulate both the true statement, and the lie — and clearly intended me to fail the test, and then be able to prove it had failed, by simply opening the box. Using logical reasoning (an old skill) and my new, sonic lie-detector, together, I can now even detect a lie that a police polygraph might not have been able to detect!

I then realized I was detecting more subtle emotions . . . catching more jokes . . . and generally doing, by rapidly analyzing sound, what other people do by somehow “reading” body language and facial expressions.

It is a myth that Aspies can’t do such things as understanding emotions. It is not a myth that Aspies think in different ways, however. Sometimes, individual Aspies simply have to figure out their own methods for doing something which comes naturally to non-Aspies — and that’s exactly what I did.

I could, presumably, use this new frequency-sensitivity to train myself to lie convincingly, by deliberately avoiding the “tell” of a slight pitch-increase at the end of a lie. However, I choose not to do that. The first week I went without telling a single lie, in my teens, was difficult, but the second week was much easier, and the third was easier still. Not having to try to keep track of previous lies began to give me a persistent, liberated feeling that can only be enjoyed by those who are honest — and that feeling would, of course, vanish if I chose to invest time, energy, and thought into becoming a skilled liar. To do that would be to move backwards in my life, rather than forwards, and I see no reason to do that. In other words, I’m still me . . . just the latest version of me, that’s all.

The Five Fictional Characters Who Have Most Strongly Influenced My Life

These five fictional characters have strongly influenced me, and I will always be grateful to the brilliant people who created them. I am presenting them in chronological order — using the time when this influence started, rather than their date of creation.

#1: Snoopy

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When I was very young — before my memory-record begins, actually — I was given Peanuts books. They were simply left in my possession, as far as I know; no explanation was necessary. The antics of Snoopy, in particular, were extremely entertaining to the little-kid version of me. Since I could see Snoopy dancing around, playing baseball, typing, irritating Lucy, etc., I wanted to understand what was actually going on with all this activity — and this provided the necessary motivation for me to teach myself how to read. There wasn’t any other way for me to tell what was going on in these comic strips!

The fact that I learned to read in this manner led to some very funny moments, due to the fact that the number of words whose meaning I understood, generally from context, exceeded the number of words I knew how to pronounce — and, no doubt, still does. Once, in elementary school, I was laughed at by an entire class, after saying something about the “Eeffel Tower” (yes, that’s how I pronounced it). I also remember pronouncing the “b” in “doubt,” much to the amusement of my parents. Even in graduate school, I made a history professor groan in agony when I made a reference to the Weimar Republic — and pronounced the “W” as it is pronounced in English, rather than German.

#2: Mr. Spock

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A scientist aboard a starship, exploring the galaxy, who uses logic to try to understand two things:  the nature of the universe (much of which he understood), and the behavior of illogical humans (something which confuses me to this day, just as it often confounded him). The first person I remember seeing on television had pointed ears, and there were several of them in that episode, “Amok Time.” In other episodes, of course, few Vulcans other than Mr. Spock appeared, and I always found him, to use one of his favorite words, “fascinating.” He influenced me in several ways, and still does, to this day. I am grateful to the creators of this character for inspiring my passion for science, ability to use logic, appreciation of diversity, and strong desire to maintain control of my emotions.

#3: Matt Murdock / Daredevil

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I may not have red hair, but I share many other characteristics with Daredevil — and I mean the character from comic books, not that disappointing B-movie (which deserves no further mention). Other than amplified senses — which I experience (unpleasantly) when I get migraines — Daredevil has no superpowers, yet he faces, and does battle with, super-powered villains, and usually wins. He is also a study in contradictions: a lapsed Catholic, who spends a lot of time dressed in a devil costume; a lawyer, with a second “career” as a costumed vigilante; and a blind man, who nonetheless perceives the world around him more clearly than anyone else. Matt Murdock has inspired me to respect the concept of justice, has influenced me to study what laws I need to understand, and, most importantly, has shown me, by example, how to face down those who would do harm to those I care about — and do it, as Daredevil does, without fear. I have also developed my “never give up” attitude, toward my adversaries (bullies, mostly), with inspiration from this character.

Matt Murdock and I have also had very rocky histories when it comes to romantic relationships. I have (finally) found happiness in this aspect of life, and am writing this next to my beloved, sleeping wife. Unfortunately, the writers of Daredevil, while they will let Matt Murdock enjoy temporary happiness in relationships with women, will never allow him to keep it.

#4: Data

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Data is amazing to me:  a sentient android, and an artificial person. He actually had to go on trial to assert his rights to personhood, and, with the aid of Captain Picard, won the case. He has a lightning-speed calculator, built right in to his positronic brain, which far exceeds the abilities of my own, not-too-shabby mental calculator. I have long had the ambition to gain the ability to reprogram my own brain’s “software,” and have written, on this blog, about how I finally gained that ability, after working on developing it for roughly thirty years. Data, of course, had this ability from the moment he was activated, but, unlike me, he does not have to sleep for it to work.

Despite his claim to experience no emotions, Data often expressed a feeling of being perpetually alone, for there was no one else like him anywhere — until he met his brother, another android, who turned out to be malicious. That feeling of being unlike everyone else is quite familiar to me.

Both Data, and Mr. Spock, display many characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome, and my study of these two characters helped me figure out that I am, myself, an “Aspie” — our nickname for ourselves.

#5: Calvin

Calvin_by_Watterson

When I am playing (and, yes, I play a lot, especially with mathematics), and someone asks me why I, an adult, am playing, I have a standard reply: “Because I’m six.” This is a reference to Calvin, who was six years old during the entire ten-year run of Calvin and Hobbes, the best comic strip ever created. I read it from the first day it appeared in newspapers, and have the boxed set of the complete collection of these comic strips only a meter away, as I write this. Calvin is a six-year old prodigy, as one can tell from his expansive vocabulary, but is prone to making social errors, due to a lack of understanding of social conventions — and both of these things mirror my own life. (I grew up, literally, in science laboratories, unsupervised for hours at a time, designing and conducting my own experiments, and that sort of thing simply doesn’t happen without having profound effects on a child’s development — but, then again, why would I want to be normal?) Calvin, like myself, found elementary school boring in the extreme, and so he slipped, frequently, into his own inner life of fantasy. The fact that, being socially isolated (no siblings, and no friends, other than his stuffed tiger), he is usually alone, never stopped Calvin from having fun. Just like Calvin, I can have unlimited fun, in solitude — because I choose to be this way. Some adults lose the child within them, but, thanks to Calvin’s inspiration, that will never happen to me. I’m actually 46 years old now — so I’m pretty sure that, if I was ever going to lose the ability to have fun, it would have happened already.

To those brilliant people who invented these five characters: thank you.

On Writing Treaties with Memory

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Writing a Treaty with Memory

At an age of four years or so, my favorite song was Simon & Garfunkel’s song “The Boxer,” which I had not listened to in a very long time, until this morning. I still remember the lyrics well, and was singing along with the song. If you’d like to hear it for yourself, here it is:

Everything was fine, until I found myself singing this part of the song: “In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down, or cut him ’till he cried out, in his anger and his shame — I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains.”

I made it to the words “his anger and his” — before literally choking on the word “shame.” Music is a powerful tool for evoking memories, I now realize, and sometimes that can be dangerous.

I choked because some horrific, repressed memory was brought close to the surface of my consciousness by this part of the song.

Despite the picture here of “The Man Without Fear,” fear is not something I lack. However, these days, I almost never fear that which is right in front of me. I can face down bullies, and other tyrants, in my present life, especially if people I care about are threatened, and now I have a better understanding of the reasons for this: such present threats are as nothing, when compared to the horrors I now only half-remember from when I was very young. The parts I do not remember at all are blank spaces for which I am grateful, for those are memories I do not need.

What exact memory did this song dredge up, from the depths of my own unconscious? I can’t tell you that, because I simply don’t know the details. I do know that this part of that song — or, rather, my reaction to it — instantly dropped me into a nearly-comatose state for the better part of an hour, and prompted me, in that state, to do an emergency-rewrite of the software installed in my brain, re-submerging the memories that had nearly surfaced. I then wrote, and proceeded to install — yes, I view my own brain as a computer, which it is — new safety protocols to protect myself from such problems in the future. This is by no means the only time something like this has happened, and I am tired of being temporarily disabled by such events.

These new safety subroutines were written to recognize repressed memories that are in the process of surfacing, before panic sets in, but they don’t simply push them back down, as previous versions have attempted, with limited success. Instead, they break off a small, invisible piece of mind which can operate independently of, and simultaneously with, my primary consciousness. Internally, it “sits down” with the dangerous memory in question, and has a conversation with it, calming myself down without medication, until the past can be safely left in the past, where it belongs. The process leaves me tired, and the scars of memory are, of course, still there, just as Matt Murdock’s/Daredevil’s scars are visible, in the picture above. These memory-scars will exist as long as I do. However, a scar is nothing but a wound that no longer hurts, and has been healed by the passage of time, to the point where it no longer has to be dangerous. The job of my newly-installed subroutine isn’t simply to repress memories, but to actually write treaties with them, something I had never attempted before today. It was necessary. I didn’t fully leave this semi-comatose state until a treaty with this particular memory had been both written and implemented.

After emerging back into full consciousness, I tested my new software-patch — by listening to, and singing along with, “The Boxer,” more than once. I was able to do this without incident, which tells me my efforts were successful.

My new self-programming will be further analyzed, and debugged, when I next sleep. If necessary, it will be re-written altogether. I do this every time I sleep, a technique which took me decades to develop, but which has increased my ability to adapt to whatever life demands of me — in the present, in the future, and when dealing with my memories of the past, whether those memories are fully accessible, or not.

Everyone may do this sort of thing, although few are aware of it. This might be an undiscovered purpose of sleep — or it might not. Whether all people do this, or not, I am aware that I do it, and know that these metacognitive techniques are helping me get better.

I like getting better.