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2nd Covid Jab, My Multiple Sclerosis, and Qualia

2nd Covid Jab, My Multiple Sclerosis, and Qualia April 26, 2021

This is what I just wrote on Facebook with regard to having my second covid jab yesterday and how it interacted with my multiple sclerosis:

Wow. Oof. I had my second Astra Zeneca vaccine yesterday at about midday. That was a wild night. I thought I’d share my experiences with you in case some of you also have MS and whatnot. Just interesting for such analysis.

So up until about four in the morning, my body was completely unable to regulate its temperature. I was freezing and shaking. My feet were absolute ice blocks. I just couldn’t get warm even though my bed was lovely and warm. On the other hand, most of the rest of my body felt freezing subjectively but when I touched those parts they were boiling. This was quite a mental experience. Total constant tremors.
Then I thought I would try to go to the loo at about four. Holy cow. The vaccine seemed to have brought my MS symptoms on massively. I was basically unable to walk, only just able to drag my feet. Every muscle in my body was like a lead and they wouldn’t do what my brain asked them. A 5-second walk to the toilet took me a couple of minutes and I had to use the walls and furniture to drag myself around. It’s a horrible feeling when your whole body doesn’t work. It was a glimpse into my future… The most I could lift my feet was a couple of millimetres.
The other random thing was my right glute/butt cheek. It was like an international rugby player had kneed it. No idea why but man, that was my only (very) painful thing (though my right arm also really aches: quite why I chose my right arm…). This made sleeping tough.

So, all things told, on the mend now and will probably be okay by midday but a mental delirious night. I’m groggy and very stiff still but should be fine.

What I didn’t bore people with on Facebook is my philosophical introspection during my more delirious moments! Basically, I really felt a strong sense of the mental supervening on the physical. The hard problem of consciousness still remains a very contentious issue in philosophy: given physicalism, what could explain mental, subjective experiences (qualia)? Some people (eliminativists or reductionists such as Daniel Dennett) say that the problem is a non-problem, others suggest it can be solved, or that qualia emerge from particular brain states, others state that qualia are physical in the same way they suggest consciousness is physical, and so on. Broadly speaking, physicalists can be split into reductionists (qualia can be reduced to physical explanations or eliminated such that the explanatory gap doesn’t exist) and nonreductionists (such that the gap exists, but can be explained in other ways). See this Scholarpedia article for a pretty good round-up.

Whatever your position is, my position is that the mental definitely supervenes on the physical. If you don’t believe me, go stick a fork in your eye socket and see if your consciousness and qualia are affected.

So, what about last night? Well, I had some pretty mental experiences when in my delirious state, and I was thinking a lot about the effect that the vaccine was having on my conscious, subjective experiences. My feet felt like ice blocks, subjectively and consciously. When I felt them with my hands, they were also freezing. And yet, with all the shivers and tremors, the rest of my body felt really cold, but when I felt my thighs and arms and legs with my hands, they felt warm. My subjective experience in my mind of them was that they were really cold, yet the subjective experience of sensing them with my touch was that they were warm.

This all reminded me of another phenomenon that defends the mind-body/mental-physical supervenience: pain asymbolia. This is where, due to a medical condition (i.e., a physical phenomenon), a patient can “feel” pain without feeling pain. Which is to say that the qualia of the patient are determined by physical properties. I could also talk about synaesthesia here.

The point being that I could really feel my subjective experiences getting properly messed up in lots of ways last night, and it was all down to a vaccine and the way it probably raised my temperature to screw around in the short term with my multiple sclerosis symptoms. A quarter of a degree change in body temperature can really mess with MS symptoms (which is why getting regular illness can be much more of a challenge for people with MS).

Whatever explains qualia has always seemed of secondary importance to me, philosophically, to the simple notion that the mental supervenes on the physical.


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