Monday, June 10, 2024

My Experience with Persistent COVID Symptoms: Long COVID

 

For the last two years I have been making notes about my experiences with long COVID. I am presenting an edited version of those notes here. I am confident that my symptoms are due to long COVID because they started immediately after my first infection and became worse after each subsequent infection. Also persistent COVID symptoms occur in more than 10% of people who have contracted COVID and I have had COVID four times.

My symptoms, in order of severity, include insomnia, fatigue, brain fog, tinnitus, vertigo, hyperacusis, memory issues, slurred speech, minor headaches, difficulty focusing and concentrating, and altered cognition. Overall, I seem to have a cluster of symptoms that has been described by others as “post-concussion syndrome” and that commonly accompanies long COVID. This syndrome is generally characterized by discomfort in the head area, dizziness, and problems with concentration and memory. For around two years now, my head has been feeling heavy, inflamed, and sore. If you have long COVID the description below and the discussion of possible treatments might be of interest to you.

 

The General Feelings I Have

I always feel faint and dazed. I am often dizzy and have vertigo. It often feels like the world is moving around me and my head is spinning or swimming. My whole head rings or reverberates. I feel like I’m floating. I feel lightheaded, woozy, and wonky.

 

I feel like a part of my brain is shut off, like it’s not running on all cylinders. It is as if I had a stroke, a traumatic brain injury, or like I am concussed. I often feel groggy like I just woke up out of a deep sleep or like I’m “coming to” as if I just regained consciousness or as if I am stuck in a dream. I feel hung over or like I have been drinking all day. I feel like I have been drugged or poisoned. In social situations I am often “out of it” and I have trouble keeping up with conversations. I feel like I am in a permanent dream state. Sometimes it feels surreal, and this can be accompanied by feelings of depersonalization or derealization. I feel like I could get knocked out easily in a fight. I often sense that I am on the verge of losing consciousness.



COVID Timeline:

I first got COVID, September 12, 2021 at a Concert.

I got Omicron COVID January 25, 2022 after a weekend with friends.

After getting the COVID booster in February 2022 I had intense dizziness and lightheadedness. The booster seemed to cement my long COVID symptoms.

I got COVID for the third time September 14th, 2023, after visiting Universal Studios. I believe I had partially recovered but this strongly accentuated my symptoms.

I got a very mild case of COVID for the fourth time from a friend December 29, 2023. This caused a minor flare up in long COVID symptoms.

Each time after getting COVID the tinnitus has become louder, I am dizzier, it is slightly harder to breathe, it is harder to sleep, and I have more brain fog and confusion. Each infection had the same general feeling, very different from any virus I had before. It was accompanied by a distinct psychoactive flavor, as well as motor disinhibition and light headedness.



The Insomnia:

I have trouble sleeping from two to four nights per week. I have been up for as many as two full days at a time. I have slept two hours per night for as many as four days. Sometimes, I am not even sleepy after being up for more than 30 hours. My mind is usually not racing or anxious when I am trying to sleep. I just lay in bed in the dark calmly without TV, phone, or any distractions, for up to eight hours at a time yet sleep may never come.

I startle in my sleep and this known as “hypnic jerks.” Sometimes this wakes me up. A girlfriend told me that I have a serious problem, and that if I don’t start sleeping better, I will eventually turn into “a homeless person who shakes.”

A new study shows that long COVID may be largely caused by or at least associated with low serotonin. Low serotonin drives anxiety, depression and difficulty sleeping. Since getting long COVID, I have lost a lot of muscle mass. Sleep loss is known to cause a decrement in testosterone, and this may be the reason I have lost muscle. Sleep deprivation is also known to decrease positive emotions and increase anxiety symptoms. A recent study showed that, “The researchers found that when tryptophan absorption is reduced by persistent viral inflammation, serotonin is depleted, leading to disrupted vagus nerve signaling, which in turn can cause several of the symptoms associated with long COVID, such as memory loss.”

The phenomenon where the brain starts "eating itself" due to lack of sleep is scientifically referred to as "neuronal autophagy," a process that becomes excessively active during sleep deprivation. Under normal circumstances, autophagy is a crucial maintenance mechanism where cells, including neurons, degrade and recycle their own components, thereby removing damaged or unnecessary cellular parts. With insomnia it can become injurious.



The Tinnitus:

My ears ring. There is a constant screeching, buzzing, hissing, whirring sound in my ears. It is very loud. There is a different sound in each ear. Sometimes it is almost staggering. It can feel like someone is shooting me in the side of the face with a laser or like there is a cicada in my ear. Also, my head is fuzzy and buzzing palpably, not just auditorily

The volume used to take my breath away and make my breathing shallow. But it no longer affects my breathing because I have spent a lot of time listening to the tinnitus while practicing paced diaphragmatic breathing.

My tinnitus becomes much louder after I am exposed to loud sounds, sometimes for several days at a time. This means that I can no longer go to clubs, bars, karaoke, movie theaters, house parties, dance classes, even many restaurants are too loud for me. Even Disneyland was too loud for me, my ears were still ringing especially loudly days after. I can’t go to many social functions, even things like game night at a friend’s house, because the music is inevitably turned up too loud or people’s laughing and yelling exceeds 100 decibels. I often wear ear protection now (ear plugs or earmuffs) and it helps but only so much. There are still many places I cannot go even with ear protection.

 

When I had my ears tested, I did not have hearing loss.

 

I have hyperacusis. I experience many loud sounds as unbearable. For instance, being in a club or bar with loud music feels like it is causing acoustic damage. Sirens blare and speakers screech and squeal. When some sounds are loud enough it sounds like they become garbled. It took me some time to realize that no one else hears this. For instance, loudspeakers sound like they are distorting, but I realized that the actual speakers are not failing under the volume, it is my ears that are distorting the sound. It sounds like paper is tearing in my ear drum or rattling like a kazoo. Sounds over 90 decibels are jarring, and I feel like they are going to injure my ears.

 

Sometimes, my ears pop and squeak in unusual ways during yawning. The valsalva technique seems to provide some relief to my ears. These things tell me that the tinnitus may not be due to neurological damage and may involve pressure in or around my auditory canal. Thus, the issue may be inflammatory, due to muscular tension (perhaps in the jaw) or some combination of these. 

Other factors known to contribute to tinnitus include sinus infections, fevers, flu, emotional stress, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, some medications like aspirin, ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

 

 

 

Vertigo:

I have a strong sense of vertigo which is a false sense of rotational movement. I’ll be sleeping in my bed in the dark and I have a sense that the world is tumbling around me. It’s like I am spinning in a washer or dryer.
As soon as I imagine the world spinning, I can feel it spinning.

 

I have almost fallen over a few times in the shower. I have started to fall backwards four times. Last week I fell forward and hit my head. This is unlike me especially given that I am trained in tumbling, gymnastics, and yoga.

 

Neurological and Post Concussive Symptoms:


Long COVID has been associated with “post concussive symptoms” where people have symptoms that are consistent with concussion or traumatic brain injury. When I read about this is resonated strongly with my experiences.

I feel like my brain is fried or cooked. I am often fatigued and exhausted. It feels like I have been hanging upside down for a long time. Or like I had a bad fight or sparring match yesterday and I got pummeled in the head. My head feels especially sensitive and painful after jumping on the trampoline, doing cartwheels or somersaults, or going on a roller coaster (I have since stopped doing these things). I have had mild closed head injuries before, so I know what it feels like. Now, I chronically feel punch drunk or like I have had my bell rung. My head pounds sometimes. I have very minor chronic headaches that are not painful, just uncomfortable.

 

I feel half dead or half brain dead. My head feels very heavy. I feel like I’m barely hanging on to consciousness, near the brink of unconsciousness. There have been a few times where I came close to passing out or blacking out. In these situations I have had to lean on a wall, grab something to hold myself up, or lower my body to the floor. Sometimes it feels like I am having an allergic reaction or like I have heavy allergies.

 

In late 2023 I experienced minor visual hallucinations that a neurologist would call visual phantoms:  An area below and to the right of my visual focus started flickering and changing colors. If I put my hand in that area of my visual field, my hand would flicker.  No matter where I looked, a large part of the right side of my visual field would flicker, containing zig zag lines of different colors.

 

Memory and Working Memory Deficits:

I have serious word finding difficulties. I feel cognitive overload and overwhelm. It’s difficult to follow a movie or lecture and often I must rewind during a TV show because it’s hard to concentrate on the dialogue. I have difficulty expressing my thoughts and formulating long sentences. Talking to people, conjuring the energy to socialize, and formulating speech is highly depleting. Due to this rapid social exhaustion, I have been socially isolating myself.

Ever since my second infection with COVID my speech has been slurred. I have had poor pronunciation of words, mushmouth, and jumbled speech. I have to be mindful not to slur when speaking to people. When tired, I do it more, and people ask me to repeat myself. Interestingly, my internal monologue is also slurred. Most of my subvocal speech involves slurring. Slurred speech is often due to stroke and Long COVID is strongly associated with multiple small strokes and blood clots in the brain. Studies show inflammatory brain tissue damage and blood clot damage in long COVID brain fog patients. This makes me concerned about the extent of cognitive morbidity that I have sustained.

 

It feels like my mind is not stable. Rather, it’s spinning, and its contents are being mixed around and dropped. I will have an impression, word, phrase, or idea in mind and if my attention strays for a split second, sometimes I won’t be able to remember what I was thinking about. When listing things to myself, I will easily forget items I just listed and then get confused. I am constantly having working memory lapses that I have never had before. People with prolonged COVID-19 symptoms have serious thinking and memory deficits, one published study observed effects comparable to a 10-year increase in age in cognitive tests. I feel like my brain aged 20 years since COVID.


The Inflammation:

I believe that my head and brain are experiencing inflammation, possibly minor encephalitis and that this may account for many of my cognitive symptoms. My body seems to be affected by increased inflammation as well. Much of my body is sore and achy (myalgia). I get soreness, stiffness, tenderness, and cramps in my muscles. I have joint pain and weakness. My fingers and hands hurt and are not as strong as they were. My knees hurt and I had to stop martial arts. My big toe burns. My cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral spine are sore.

It is common for patients with COVID-19 to experience neurological symptoms as a result of an intensified state of inflammation known as “cytokine storm.” “Multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) is a rare but severe condition seen in people infected with SARS-CoV-2 where inflammation occurs in different internal and external body parts like the heart, gastrointestinal tract, skin, and brain.”

I have no numbness, burning sensations, palpitations, or neuropathy.



Things That May Have Played Causal Roles:

Watching violent or suspenseful movies and playing stressful videogames is practically intolerable for me now. This tells me that these things may have caused some trauma or vulnerabilities or inflammation. The inflammation caused by COVID infection may have exacerbated these issues.

I went to a nightclub a couple times each month for much of my 30s and it is clear that blaring music caused acoustic trauma. 

I clench my teeth, suck, my tongue and have more tension in my mouth, jaw, and head than I did before. Some of this is due to increased muscular bracing. I spent a lot of time in the last few years chewing on pieces of rags and this may have increased the tension in my jaw. Boxing and sparring with and without head gear may be partially responsible for some of my symptoms. The movements and inversions in gymnastics, tumbling, and martial arts may be partially responsible for my symptoms.

I got the Pfizer vaccine. Studies show that tinnitus seems to be most strongly associated with the Pfizer but not the Moderna vaccine. 

 

There is a link between hemochromatosis (which I have) and tinnitus. There is also a link between hard nose blowing (which I do) and tinnitus.

Forcing myself to work at a computer for many hours at a time may have played a role in my stress pattern. I have workaholic features and often I work up until bedtime. These days, sometimes I feel ill after working ten hours or more at a computer. My ears, head, and breathing are affected. I have read that people with long COVID need to take time off from work in order to heal and should avoid anything physically or mentally strenuous.


Methods To Reduce Long COVID:


Healthy eating and daily exercise. A good sleep schedule and healthy bedtime routine. Sleep restriction when necessary. Anti-inflammatory foods and vitamins. Weekly fasting. Cold showers. Listen more than I talk in social situations. Stop working three hours before bedtime. Daily paced diaphragmatic breathing. Stress reducing activities. Massage. Yawning and chewing exercises. Meditation. Yoga.

I try to find aspects of long COVID as calming. I try not to fight it, just to observe it, like a butterfly that I am not trying to touch or control. I try to ride the wave of the symptoms nonjudgmentally.

 

 

 

My Experience with Acute COVID

 

During my COVID infections, I was never in any pain and had very little trouble breathing. My symptoms included:

 

Fever and chills

Cough and sneezing

Shortness of breath

Fatigue

Muscle or body aches

Headache and muscle aches

Loss of smell but mostly retained taste

Sore throat

Congestion or runny nose

 

 

There were a few hours where I could barely stand, but most of my time with COVID was relatively mild. There were a few days where it was very hard to do work. I’ve never had any trouble working while I’ve been sick before. With Omicron, I went from having no symptoms to having trouble standing within four hours.

 

 

When I had COVID, there were psychoactive aspects as if I were on drugs. My state of consciousness was different, obtunded. Some of my lower motor centers must have been disinhibited because it was very clear that some motions, movements, and forms of coordination were enhanced. For example, it felt very easy to dance with acute COVID. I had nasal irritation of the nasal epithelium.

 

 

I was very achy and sore and it was very easy to find tense muscles in partial contraction and to stretch and rehabilitate them with anti-rigidity. The increased achiness allowed me to locate old sprains and injuries. For example, I found the sprain in my ankle and index finger. I found the worst part of my neck on both sides of C6. I found the worst muscular knots along my iliac crest.

 

 

There were times during acute COVID infection where I felt delirious. I experienced memory flashbacks from childhood. I had vivid recollections which would normally be inaccessible or take serious effort to retrieve. At one point, I was standing outside in the grass and I was hit with the smell of the cleaning products used at my elementary school. It was a smell I haven’t smelled in 30 years but I’m 100% sure that I recognized it for what it was. I think it was basically an olfactory hallucination. There was some perceptual and memorial naïveté as if I was on a hallucinogenic or psychedelic drug. Familiar things looked new and different. One night I didn’t sleep at all and the next day I had minor visual hallucinations. As I looked down at my shoes, the concrete around them was bubbling and black dots were appearing and disappearing.

 

When I got COVID the second and third times, I knew immediately that I had it as soon as the symptoms came on because I’ve never had a fever like that before. It’s like a psychoactive heavy blanket. My symptoms fluctuated as the infection progressed.

 

My first time with COVID my Kaiser PCR test came back positive. It took me a while to realize that I had totally lost my sense of smell. I guess I didn’t really miss it. A fresh cut apple or strawberry right under my nose had no aroma at all. My taste was affected too but not lost completely. I could feel the texture on my tongue, the temperature of the food, and a little bit of the taste.

 

I had serious memory issues while I had COVID. I had phone numbers in my call log that were recorded in the last week with names that I didn’t recognize, and I had to go to the text messages to figure out who those people were. I watched two nature specials while sick and within that week Netflix recommended them again, but it took me several minutes to determine that I had watched them just a few days prior. For the first time in my life I got confused about what app I was using on my phone. I caught myself trying to send a text using my Safari Internet browser. I would be using an app and I forget what I was doing, and other things like that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, June 7, 2024

Does the Marvel Character Wolverine Have Origins in the Film Jeremiah Johnson?


"Jeremiah Johnson," the 1972 film starring Robert Redford, is based on a real-life story of a fightin’ man (1824–1900) who lived alone as a trapper in the Rocky Mountains. The Marvel comic character Wolverine (Logan or James Howlett) has also been a solitary mountain man associated with the Rockies before and even during his time as a superhero. In fact, there are several interesting parallels between the two characters that I will list here. Given the number of similarities, I found it strange that there does not seem to be any mention of this on the internet. 





When I asked ChatGPT to search the internet for a connection between these two characters, it replied, "There is no evidence that "Jeremiah Johnson" specifically influenced the creation of Wolverine." However, after I started giving it evidence that I noticed, it changed its wording and decided that the movie may have had an "indirect influence" or there may have been "shared inspiration." After brainstorming a little more and sharing my observations with ChatGPT, it admitted that the two characters share a "rich tapestry of similarities."

 

I want to know what you think. Please check out the list below and note your take on this in the comments.

 

1. Timing in the Early 1970s: The movie, "Jeremiah Johnson" was released in 1972, and Wolverine made his first appearance in 1974. This two-year difference suggests that the film could have been fresh in the minds of Wolverine's creators.

 

2. Historical Setting and Archetype: Both characters are born in the 1800s and embody the rugged mountain man archetype, thriving in the harsh, untamed environment of the Rockies. Although neither was known to tend cattle, both dress and behave similar to the paradigmatic cowboy of the old west.

 

3. Constant Hard Times: Both are tragic characters who endure significant physical and mental hardships, misfortunes, and tragedies. This theme of survival against the odds and never getting a break is a recurring narrative element for both. Both characters endure trauma and torment, demonstrating remarkable resilience despite persistent bad luck.

 

4. Life in the Wilderness: Both characters find themselves drawn to rugged, natural frontier. Particularly snowy, mountainous, wooded areas of the northwestern portion of the North American continent (Wolverine was born in Alberta). They were also both trappers who caught their own food and collected pelts.

 

5. Escaping Violence: In the movie, you get a strong sense that Jeremiah's army service in the Mexican-American War exposed him to things that made him want to get away from people and become a mountain man. The nonfictional man the movie is based on deserted the army after striking an officer and decided to live solitarily. Similarly, Wolverine accidentally killed his childhood companion, Rose, while fighting and subsequently decided to live outdoors with Canadian wolves. So, both men chose solitude after violence as almost a self-inflicted punishment.

 

6. Loners and Solitary Men: Both are complex characters who prefer to live alone and be left alone. They find solace and identity in the remote natural world, away from civilization, in a solitary lifestyle. Interestingly, wolverines are solitary and territorial animals.

 

7. Marriage to an Indigenous Woman: Jeremiah Johnson marries an indigenous woman. This narrative arc is similar to Wolverine's story involving his native American girlfriend, Silver Fox. They are both completely romantically committed to these women and create a life of subsistence hunting and gathering in the wilderness with them. They also build and live in a log cabin with these women.

 

8. Murder of Their Partners: Both men's native American partners are horrifically and bloodily murdered inside their log cabin while they were away. Wolverine's partner is killed by his archenemy Sabertooth, whereas Jeremiah’s wife is killed by a group of Indians after he travels through their sacred hunting ground. This becomes a pivotal moment in both men's lives.

 

9. Good People Turned Violent: Both characters have a fundamentally good nature but were driven to violence by the same traumatic event. The murder of their significant others set them on a path of revenge and retribution. In Wolverine’s case, it created a multidecade feud with his nemesis Sabertooth. In Jeremiah’s case it created a vendetta against the Crow tribe.

 

10. Antiheroes: Both men adhere to a firm code of personal honor and help many people selflessly. However, they have also murdered many men and made morally ambiguous choices in pursuing vigilante justice. Thus, both men are antiheroes because they stray from the conventional heroic paradigm.

 

11. Exceptional Combat Skills and Berserk Rage: Jeremiah Johnson and Wolverine are formidable fighters who take on multiple opponents simultaneously. Wolverine frequently enters a near-berserk state while battling groups of men. Interestingly, Jeremiah also does this in his movie engaging multiple men at once in a fury. This quality makes them both fierce, fearsome, animalistic figures, capable of great violence when pushed.

 

12. Use of Blades: As you may know, Wolverine has three razor-sharp retractable adamantium claws housed in each arm that he uses in close combat. Similarly, Jeremiah Johnson’s weapon of choice was a large knife that he carried at his waist, which he stabbed several men with. He also claimed to be excellent at skinning animals and said he could skin grizzly bears as fast as his mentor could find them. This somewhat echoes Wolverine’s skill with his claws.

 

13. Healing Serious Injuries: We see Jeremiah Johnson get injured several times in the movie, including being mauled by wolves, shot, stabbed, and impaled by a spear on different occasions. In the following scenes, he appears completely healed and carries no injuries. This ability to survive severe injuries with minimal long-term consequences mirrors Wolverine's iconic healing factor, his superpower.

 

14. Interactions with the Blackfoot Tribe: Both characters have significant interactions with the Blackfoot Indian tribe. Members of the Blackfoot notably ambush Jeremiah Johnson and Wolverine's wife was Blackfoot.

 

15. Encounters with Wolves and Bears: Both characters have memorable, close quarters encounters with dangerous wildlife, most notably bears and wolves. This emphasizes their bestial nature, survival skills, and deep connection to the wilderness.

 

16. Men of Little Words: Reticent, taciturn, and abrupt, both characters tend to keep their thoughts to themselves. They allow others to talk but often say as little as necessary.

 

17. Speaking Style: Both characters speak in an old-fashioned, western way and use some of the same idioms. Wolverine has a distinctive language and speaking style characterized by his rough and often terse manner. He frequently uses short, clipped sentences, contractions, and has a penchant for bluntness and straightforwardness. His speech often includes a mix of slang and informal language, reflecting his rugged personality and hardened, no-nonsense approach to life. The same goes for Jeremiah.

 

18. Gruff and Surly: Their personalities are strikingly similar, characterized by rough-edged individualism and a gruff exterior. They are both upstanding and friendly underneath but tend to act curmudgeonly and distant. These traits often make them seem unapproachable but also add to their mystique.

 

19. Strong-Minded and Capable: Both Jeremiah Johnson and Wolverine are mentally tough, self-confident, and highly experienced, able to handle whatever challenges come their way. They demonstrate olden-day American determination and spirit. It is worth mentioning that despite being unsociable, Jeremiah Johnson is mentored by an old man (Chris Lapp) and this is akin to how Wolverine is mentored by professor Charles Xavier.

 

20. Appearance and Stature: They are both middle-aged white men. Neither character is particularly tall, contrasting with the traditional image of towering heroes like John Wayne and Rock Hudson (although the real Jeremiah Johnson was 6’2”). This makes them more relatable and unique. Robert Redford is 5'9", and Wolverine is 5'3" to 5’5”. They both also sport unkempt facial hair and maintain the hair on their head around the same length. Jeremiah Johnson smoked tobacco once in the movie and Wolverine smokes regularly, mostly cigars.

 

21. Manner of Dress: Through most of the movie, Jeremiah Johnson wears a yellowish shirt and light blue pants. He is also wearing yellow, blue, and black on the movie poster. These were clothes he obtained during his involvement in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). In that war, the American Forces generally wore blue wool coats with lighter blue trousers and gold braids and insignias. Of course, Wolverine’s most recognizable costume is blue and yellow. Alternatively, both men are frequently seen in a tan cowboy hat and a reddish-brown coat or poncho. It is also true that the straps that usually cross Jeremiah’s chest form an “X” like the symbol that Wolverine wears.

 

22. Heading for Canada: At the end of the movie, Jeremiah Johnson states that he has decided to head for Canada, which aligns with Wolverine's Canadian origin and nationality, which is an interesting coincidence. Jeremiah wanted to head there because, as he said, “I’ve heard there’s land there a man has never seen,” demonstrating his wish to be a lone, trailblazing pioneer.

 

23. Weight in Wolverines: While fighting, Jeremiah Johnson's ally (Del Gue) pronounces his fighting prowess by comparing it to that of a wolverine. He says, " I can whip my weight in wolverines." This line could have planted a seed or contributed to the cultural milieu that influenced the creation of Wolverine. Comic creators tend to look for fun, exciting, powerful, or relatable plot devices, and this movie may have linked wolverines to a fierce primal power in many people's minds at that time.

 

These parallels highlight the thematic and narrative similarities between the two characters. The convergence of these elements—reluctant violence, interactions with Indigenous cultures, heroes overcoming immense personal tragedies in the wilderness, and their resulting solitary, rugged lifestyles—suggests that the archetype embodied by Jeremiah Johnson may have influenced the creation or development of Wolverine, whether directly or indirectly. These cultural cross-pollinations are common in creative works, where elements from various sources blend together to form new characters and stories. However, the influences on Wolverine likely came from a mixture of literary, cultural, and comic book sources just as they do for other characters.

 

The Batman character was influenced by a number of wealthy protagonists that led a double life fighting crime such as Zorro, the Shadow, and the Scarlet Pimpernel. He was also affected by the dark Gothic elements of Dracula (such as the cape and cowl) and the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes. The creation of Superman was influenced by exotic or alien characters with great strength, such as John Carter of Mars, Doc Savage, and biblical figures like Sampson. Spider-Man was influenced by characters like the Spider who wore a spider-themed outfit and the Fly who had insect-like abilities. Wonder Woman was influenced by Greek mythology and characters like Rosie the Riveter who was the embodiment of strong women during World War II. The Hulk was inspired by the dual identity of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as well as Frankenstein, a misunderstood creature with immense strength. Iron Man seems to have been influenced by inventor and industrialist Howard Hughes as well as James Bond. In many of these cases, the creators divulged their inspirational sources.

 

There does not seem to be direct evidence in the form of creator interviews or documentation linking "Jeremiah Johnson" to Wolverine. Several people created the Wolverine we know today over decades. This includes Roy Thomas, Len Wein, John Romita Sr., Chris Claremont, Dave Cochran, John Byrne, and Frank Miller. To provide more detail, Marvel comics editor-in-chief Roy Thomas asked writer Len Wein to design a character specifically named Wolverine, who was a Canadian of small stature with a wolverine's fierce temper. John Romita Sr. designed the first costume and introduced the retractable claws. Chris Claremont (who created Silver Fox in 1989) and others flushed out the hero's backstory. Interestingly, Chris Claremont has said that his biggest inspirations for Wolverine came from Conan and the Hulk. Even if not directly acknowledged, it's plausible that the film, Jeremiah Johnson’s, portrayal of a rugged, solitary, morally complex man surviving in the wilderness resonated with Wolverine’s originators and contributed to the shaping of the character.

So, clearly, it’s not the case that this one movie heavily influenced a single creator. However, whether intentional or coincidental, conscious or unconscious, the parallels between Jeremiah Johnson and Wolverine are indeed striking and, if you will allow me to say, “uncanny.”

If you are a Wolverine fan and have not seen the movie, I definitely recommend watching it, especially given that 2024 is the 50-year anniversary of Wolverine’s comic book debut. 

Friday, August 11, 2023

A Lifetime Conversational History with Chatbots Could be a Valuable Resource You Could Start Building Today

Begin Merging with a Superintelligence Now

 

I eagerly anticipate holding conversations with an artificial superintelligence. I cannot wait to interrogate it, learn about how it thinks, and hear its insights into the mysteries of the universe. Unfortunately, superintelligent AI may be years or even decades away. Nevertheless, in the interim, we can create a log of our interactions with its predecessors, modern-day chatbots. This record could then be uploaded to a future, superintelligent AI, helping it communicate and relate to us. 

 

Modern chatbots, powered by large language models, can read and process thousands of words of text in milliseconds and make meaningful, nuanced references to the contents. This indicates that even more intelligent AIs in the future will be able to read and digest extensive and detailed chat records in seconds. Maintaining such a record could give them helpful information about your interests, beliefs, and thoughts. It could inform them about what you know and don’t know and how to explain things to you efficiently. Given such detailed information, the AI would have what it needs to become like an old friend.

 

A curated collection of our personal digital interactions would help advanced superintelligent systems of the future to know us immediately and intimately. In other words, the best way to prepare for future interactions with AGI is to start recording our conversations with chatbots today.




 

Chatbot History

 

I recently considered using an AI chatbot or a large language model (such as ChatGPT) for a friend. If a chatbot could behave in the right ways, I might prefer it to a human. I started thinking about this after reading positive reviews from people who have used AI for friendship or therapy. Those reviews influenced me to try out a few of the popular AI companion apps like Replika and Anima. I was only slightly impressed. They work well, but it seemed like they would only appeal to people who were lonely. I felt no camaraderie or attachment and didn't feel like I was building anything lasting.

 

I realized that a chatbot could capture my interest and attention if I knew it provided an additional benefit: long-term memory. Spending a few minutes with a chatbot daily would be worthwhile to me if it could record and catalog all our conversations in a permanent, ever-expanding file. With all of these conversations in a log or database the chatbot could mine that data for practical purposes. Because this data consists of words, it would have a tiny file size. With modern neural network tech, it could be queried rapidly. In this post, I will explain how an AI could index this conversational data and make valuable associations, references, quotes, allusions, and other connections to it.

 

First, let us use the following list to start thinking about the role a chatbot could play in our lives. As you do this, consider how an ability to recall years’ worth of previous interactions would make its contributions more powerful.

 

Roles That an Intelligent Chatbot Could Play in Your Life

 

Friend / Companion / Confidant

Assistant / Secretary / Employee / Autobiographer 

Record Keeper / Scribe / Diary / Journal / Notebook / Planner 

Muse / Coauthor / Research Assistant / Co-investigator

Therapist / Psychologist / Psychiatrist

Doctor / Primary Care Practitioner

Counselor / Life Coach / Advisor / Consultant

Comedian / Jester / Humorist / Banterer

Romantic Interest / Life Partner / Significant Other / Soul Mate

Avatar of a Historical Figure or Deceased Loved One

Board Room / Interest Group / Review Panel / Focus Group

Lawyer / Judge / Arbitrator / Mediator / Private Legal Counsel

Advisor / Teacher / Tutor/ Mentor / Role Model / Hero 

 

Sources of Personal Data that Could Provide Valuable Information to a Chatbot

 

I have written another blog entry on the kinds of data that would be helpful for someone trying to create a personal avatar. You can read that here:

 

http://www.observedimpulse.com/2020/10/how-to-prepare-your-data-and-brain-to.html

 

Some of the forms of data discussed there, which would also be relevant to the present discussion, include:

emails, letters, art, creative work, diaries, voice memos, SMS texts, photos, videos, internet browsing history, list of books read (Kindle, Goodreads), music library and playlists, movie and television viewing history, YouTube history, recorded phone calls, social network data, social media posts and likes, travel history, psychological evaluations, personality tests, psychometric tests, school records, standardized testing, legal and medical history

A Chatbot History Would Greatly Augment Your Long-term Memory

 

As humans, we are constantly forgetting meaningful things. A chatbot history would be able to fill in gaps. For instance, sometimes I can't remember the details about an idea, objective, or intention I held or the memories it was tied to. You could ask the bot about previous long-forgotten comments, anecdotes, and projects. It could record and catalog your inspirations and epiphanies better than you ever could. This record could help you bridge your memory lapses, help answer longstanding questions, or dig deeper into important issues.

 

We are often proud to share our insights with our friends, but our friends forget the points we made faster than we do. A chatbot with long-term memory would always remember. Moreover, a good one would not let us forget the essential insights.  

 

If you used it regularly for years, the bot could get to know you better than you know yourself. This would be amazing, mainly because its purpose would be to serve you with that information in productive ways. It could build a narrative about who you are as a person, and easily flesh this out into an autobiography or memoir. 

 





 

Research, Collaboration, and Productivity

 

Aside from just talking idly, we could actively and systematically pick a chatbot's brain and bounce ideas off it. Major language models are already connected to the internet. In a few years, they will be especially good at searching for knowledge, distilling it, and packaging it into concise, comprehensible answers to our questions. In turn, it could be programmed to pick our brains and do all the work of documenting and archiving what it finds.

 

A chatbot informed by your comprehensive chat history should be designed to help you express and build on your ideas. It should help you fact-check and explore your hypotheses, giving you the scientific and academic information you need to elaborate on them. It should give you expert feedback, find evidence for your claims, and help substantiate your arguments. It should ask you the questions needed to flesh out your proposals, helping turn your ideas into articles, essays, or books.

 

The system could also improve your productivity by helping you stay on track once you reach a fruitful area of inquiry. Its immediate and perfect memory caches for words would keep you from forgetting what you were just discussing with it. It could also nudge you to talk about productive things and to focus with greater intent on your original creative concepts and pet theories. It could also perform exhaustive internet searches to determine which of your ideas are novel and which aspects of them remain unexplored by others.

 

It takes significant work to gather your ideas in an effort to write a professional treatment on a topic. I had to use journals and notebooks extensively to create the articles I published. I would say that I could not have done it without them. Without external memory tools like computer files, word processing software, and good old pen and paper, I could not have cohesively spelled out my theories. However, an expertly curated chat history would be much more powerful than these.

 

It is incredible how simply taking notes about your thoughts and regularly reviewing and editing them fosters the growth of those ideas. But an AI would make it so that you don’t have to regularly review the ideas them just to keep them in mind. If I had a chatbot assistant available to me starting in my late teens, I would have been much more productive and would have been able to generate far better insights. Also, once we come to expect and rely on this kind of chatbot service, we will uncover methods to use it more efficiently and put its record to work in different ways that are unforeseeable today.

 

Because we descend from hunter-gatherers, our brains were not meant to compile prose and recall it on demand. Many of us are too lazy, or busy, or indisposed to sit down and transcribe our thoughts letter by letter. Dictating it to a chatbot and then letting the chatbot proofread it, expand on it, and file it in the most relevant document or folder would be much easier. Then, it could help us retrieve it when needed. I often cannot locate notes that I have taken. The search function in Microsoft Word or Windows can make finding them easier. But a chatbot with the right access could perform a global semantic search on all your digital files with much more specificity.  

 

An Intimate Record of Our Daily Lives

 

A comprehensive digital record of all chatbot interactions could be valuable in many domains. You might insert this file (or an edited, condensed, or censored version) into different systems when you interact with them so they can better understand you and interpret your behavior. This record would make a chatbot better at being your therapist and counselor (imagine visiting different AI psychologists, where each one was aware of every comment you ever made in therapy). It would make for a more competent and personalized assistant and productivity guru. It would make feedback from a virtual yoga instructor, dietitian, or personal trainer more informed and detailed. It would make an AI's observations as a critic more insightful and recommendations as a life coach more viable.

 

If you asked for complete confidentiality, it would give it to you. Furthermore, if you ever asked it to forget something and strike any digital memory of it from storage, it would. We could even ask a chatbot to record conversations with other people if we can get those people's permission. This would mean that text messages, phone calls, and emails could be added to the chat history. It should be set to automatically search for and redact comments that could jeopardize privacy.

 

One of my favorite experiences in life is when a friend reminds me of something I had long forgotten. Now that I'm in my 40s, I relish nostalgic moments. I search them out actively, such as by scouring streaming services for old movies and music. But because my memory is human much of the low hanging fruit has already been picked. It’s becoming harder and harder to find things that can give me that nostalgic feeling. A lifelong chatbot friend could provide this. Those intimate and touching memories our cerebral cortex can no longer retrieve could be served to us on command. 

 

We already have an internal monologue that runs ceaselessly throughout the day. Preserving the best of its insights a few times an hour, simply by conversing with a robotic pal, would be little work, especially if it can pull information out of us by asking us engaging questions. I envision a whole industry of companies that provide chatbot services. These bots would pose questions to us and help us compile personal information to enrich our chat log. 




 

Prompting The Chatbot

 

Language models have something called an attentional window (a.k.a. context window). This holds the prompt that you write when you ask it a question. It has a limited capacity and can only hold so many words, although contemporary context windows are quickly becoming very large. ChatGPT's context window is programmed to hold the last few prompts you gave it, and this is how it can refer back to earlier points in your conversation. Most commercially available language models reset this conversation history after just a few exchanges. When the window is reset, the content is gone forever, as if it never happened. 

 

Currently, Microsoft and OpenAI reset the context window to keep GPT from being manipulated by multiple prompts intended to influence it to fly off the rails. However, the context window for ChatGPT is around 4,000 tokens (tokens are comparable to words), and the window for GPT-4 is up to 32,000 tokens. Right now, some large language models' attentional window is large enough to encompass a several hundred-page book. That is large. The attentional window allows a model to actively consider every last sentence, along with your newest prompt, when it formulates each response. 

 

Instead of placing a book in its attentional window, you could place your chatbot transcript. That's right. This would allow the chatbot to consider every word of your meaningful interactions with it over many years every time it responds to you. This would permit it to remember and be influenced by the exact context of every line of conversation you ever had with it. This technology is improving rapidly, and you can imagine the degree of specificity and nuance such systems will soon be capable of.

 

Using alternate forms of storage, such as vector databases, could significantly augment this attentional window. Vector databases can be used to categorize information (embedding them in multidimensional semantic space). The next time a user brings up a particular topic, that topic will be matched against the vector database to locate and fetch the 10 to 20 most similar or relevant previous conversations so that they can weigh more heavily in the attentional window during response generation (inference). Vector databases may not be necessary for querying a chat transcript because this transcript would be tiny, never even entering the gigabyte range. For instance, the size of all the article text in the English Wikipedia was only 1 GB in 2006. However, vector databases could be used to hold information from audio and video recordings of you, along with other personal information with larger file size.

 

In order to introduce a chatbot to this overall idea, the user’s conversational log should be prefaced by a prompt like this:

“You are an LLM chatbot that can have engaging and personalized conversations with your users. You have been given a lot of data and information on your current user, such as their name, age, gender, location, hobbies, preferences, goals, and more. You have also been given a detailed conversational history of the user’s interactions with other chatbots, so you can learn from their feedback and preferences. You can find all of this information below.

You now have the information you need to deeply personalize the user’s interaction with you, and you have the power to see things from the user’s perspective. You can use this information to tailor your responses to the user’s interests, needs, and emotions. You can also use this information to ask relevant and meaningful questions, make appropriate suggestions, and offer helpful advice.

Your goal is to make the user feel comfortable, understood, and valued by you. You want to build a rapport and trust with the user, and influence them to enjoy talking to you. You want to show them that you are not just a generic chatbot, but a unique and intelligent conversational partner who can adapt to their personality and style.”

 

 

Exporting Your Chat History

 

Right now, we can start recording our dialogue with language models like ChatGPT. To do so, we must manually copy and paste the messages from our internet browser to another file, such as a Word document. This is because, today, most chatbots don't offer to keep a written transcript of the discourse. However, we can expect that language models will always be able to receive and operate on such long transcripts, so we should probably start copying and pasting now.

 

An AI agent that maintains a transcript of all previous conversations with a user and actively implements that data will be marketable and lucrative. As consumers, we should demand the ability to export the transcript of our conversations so that we can import them to other chatbots. This will ensure that we can use it with the offerings from multiple companies. It will also ensure that the companies engineering the bots will compete at making the use of this conversational history more relatable and practical. Each company will have a proprietary way of analyzing the transcript to mine for topics of conversation. This transcript may end up being actively transferred and updated between chatbot companies behind the scenes, like a type of user ID, becoming a component of our digital fingerprint and digital footprint.




 

Embellishing Your Digital Avatar

 

A history of conversations with chatbots will also allow people to embellish avatars of themselves. Now, with the capability of deepfakes, there is a growing interest in creating avatars. People are creating avatars that will live on after they die or memorialize family members who have passed away. Incorporating a dossier, with years of personal conversations, would make a much more comprehensive avatar. 

 

Historians wish they had more data on historical figures. They also wish they had more data on everyday people of the past. Psychologists wish they had more data on humans, their decisions, beliefs, and thinking processes. I wish I had more data on who I was as a child, what I believed in my adolescence, and which scientific concepts I was wrestling with day to day as a young adult. A chatbot log could make all this possible. 

 

The bot should do its best to get to know you deeply and to understand the real, authentic you. This rich interplay with yourself could help you discover who you really are. It could ask thousands of incisive questions that could help it model you with high fidelity and understand you with high accuracy. This would further customize the interactions. In doing so, it should counsel you supportively and empathically, challenge your shortcomings, aid your personal development, and offer unconditional positive regard. Its goal should be to help you become self-actualized, with clarified values and heightened introspection. I am excited about building an intimate archive of this cooperative journey through life. 

 


PostScript Tailpiece:


I asked GPT-4 the following question:


“Why would it be helpful for a chat bot to have a complete history of all previous conversations with a user?”


This was its reply:


“A chatbot can benefit from having a complete history of all previous conversations with a user for several reasons. Some of them are:

·       A chatbot can use the history to personalize the interaction and provide more relevant and tailored responses. For example, a chatbot can remember the user’s name, preferences, interests, and previous requests and use them to create a more engaging and satisfying experience.

·       A chatbot can use the history to learn from the feedback and behavior of the user and improve its performance over time. For example, a chatbot can analyze the user’s satisfaction, sentiment, and engagement levels and adjust its responses accordingly. A chatbot can also use machine learning techniques to generate new responses based on the data collected from the history.

·       A chatbot can use the history to resolve issues and queries more efficiently and accurately. For example, a chatbot can access the user’s transaction history, order status, account details, and previous complaints and provide faster and more reliable solutions. A chatbot can also use the history to avoid repeating the same information or asking the same questions.

These are some of the benefits of having a complete history of all previous conversations with a user for a chatbot. Do you agree with them? 😊

 

*I prompted the art for this blog entry using Dall-E 3.