Thursday, April 5, 2007

Mind Control and the Friendly Mouse

Half of the human population is infected with a mind altering parasite.

Last summer a curious incident occurred on my front porch between my cats and a friendly, portly mouse. It was strange enough that I spent some time puzzled by what I had seen. I was delighted to discover recently that what I had witnessed was nothing less than mind control exerted by a small parasite in the mouse’s brain that was trying to make passage from the mouse to my cats and ultimately into my own brain.

It was one of those summer days in which there were enough thunderstorm cells moving through our valley that the sky had been an unearthly purple color for hours. Between admiring the wind, the driving rain, and the exceptional shades of light and shadow I realize both of my cats were outside in the storm. My front porch is protected from the elements, and so that’s where I went to find them. Once outside I was surprised to see not two, but three pairs of eyes staring up at me. My cats had a visitor, a friend it seemed. He was a healthy looking field mouse with thick brown fur and a calm, almost sedate demeanor. If you’ve ever seen a mouse in the wild, or even in a pet store, you probably saw a lot of scurrying and nervous hiding. This mouse just sat next to my cats as if that was the most natural place in the world for him to be. Truth be told, I was a little disappointed and bit a put out. One of the primary reasons I’d bought the cats in the first place was to hunt mice and voles – they’d made a mess of my yard the year before. And yet, here were the cats with prey close at hand, docile prey at that, and there was no action. I asked my tomcat “Mario” to attack the mouse a couple of times but he showed no interest, not even when I picked him up and put him nose to nose with his adversary. The mouse didn’t even flinch, and Mario showed as much interest as if I’d been pointing him at a rock. In the end I picked up the mouse, wrapped in a rag to protect my fingers from sharp teeth, and I threw him out into the open field behind my house. I didn’t have the heart to do anything worse by him and I was starting to admire his pluck. The last memory I have of him is his stout little body, shaped like a brown, furry racquetball with legs sticking out, flying through the air.

I eventually chalked up the strange behavior to the storm, figuring that even predator and prey will make temporary peace in the face of a larger danger. It turns out that the answer may have been much more interesting. I recently read an article on LiveScience.com about a parasite called Toxoplasma that can control the behavior of rats in order to gain entry into a cat host. A rat infected with Taxoplasma will lose its natural fear of cats and is instead attracted to them. Like the mouse I saw, the infected rat will purposefully place its life in danger in ways that make it more likely to be eaten by a cat. The Taxoplasma parasite is surprisingly precise in its manipulation of the rodent mind. The only attribute it modifies is the fear of cats, in all other ways the rat appears normal.

Half the human population is infected with Toxoplasma. Anyone who has been in close proximity to a cat, especially if you’ve cleaned a litter box, is in danger of infection. The parasite will move to your brain and slowly change your personality. You will feel more anxiety, self doubt, and guilt. Worst case, you will develop schizophrenia – this is especially dangerous if your mother had Toxoplasma while she was pregnant. Beyond that, the impact on men and women diverge. Men are more likely to become anti-social, fight and get in car accidents. Reaction times slow, concern with personal appearances decrease and people will find you less attractive. Conversely, and quite unfairly I think, women get a more positive effect. They become more warm-hearted, keep up their appearances, connect with friends, and are found more attractive by others. Once infected, you cannot be cured and the parasite population grows inside your body over the years. The infection rates are not consistent from country to country. For instance, France and Germany have a nearly 90% infection rate while other countries have 20% or lower. This variation in infection rates has the surprising side effect of impacting national character and improving diversity!

Reflecting back on the mouse, who I imagine has a whole neighborhood full of cat friends at this point, has made me realize how fragile my ideas of personality are. My sense of me is a collection of memories and personality. I’ve long realized that memories can be destroyed by time, accident, or disease. However, I’ve always felt that my personality was what truly gave me my sense of self. It turns out personality is just as fragile as memory and can also be altered by time, accident, or disease.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Don't trust mice
  2. Don't trust cats - I've always suspected they secretly want to eat me for dinner
  3. Men should never scoop the litter box!

You can find the LiveScience.com article here: http://www.livescience.com/scienceoffiction/060210_technovelgy.html

To learn more about Toxoplasma's effect on personality and national character, see the UK Times article "Dangerrrr: cats could alter your personality": http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1161270.ece

4 comments:

radi said...

I think I finally got the visual for it. :)

http://antonia.del.bg/2007/04/18/forsale

Anonymous said...

Jeeez. It sounds a bit like some form of long term rabies maybe.

Bliss Chick said...

Creepy. I wonder how many other parasites like this are out there, not from a fear-based perspective, but just to know how many immune system assaults humans deal with each day.

Viagra Online said...

interesting and a little scary I must say. There are many bacterias and parasites that we don't know out there in everywhere. I sound a little paranoiac, but that's why I wash my hands every 30 minutes.