m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

Dead Woman Walking

Besides the vampires, I loved the use of obscure neurological conditions (such as the titular one) in Peter Watt’s Blindsight. One that stuck with me especially was Cotard’s syndrome, in which one of the female characters believes that she is, in fact, dead. Understandably, she has a hard time convincing the other characters of this fact since, aside from her change in affect, she is very much alive.

I think of that unfortunate character with the voice of a prison guard in her head wherever she goes, announcing, “dead woman walking.” (Wikipedia has some background on the term “dead man walking”.)

I didn’t actually remember the name of the syndrome, but I was lucky enough to click on the right page of the ebook on my first try:

“You’re saying the brain’s got some kind of existence gauge?

“Brain’s got all kinds of gauges. You can know you’re blind even when you’re not; you can know you can see, even when you’re blind. And yeah, you can know you don’t exist even when you do. It’s a long list, commissar. Cotard’s, Anton’s, Damascus Disease. Just for starters.”

Anton’s blindness is the opposite of blindsight, and Damascus Disease appears to have been made up just to fill out the sentence.

The real Cotard’s syndrome is not as clean as the existence gauge from the book. It’s unclear what possible evolutionary use an existence gauge could have. It could be handy for playing dead, but the theory leans towards Cotard’s as an unusual form of Capgras syndrome, in which people believe that their acquaintances have been body-snatched. The logical difficulties in believing that one has been body-snatched oneself apparently surpass the logical difficulty in believing oneself dead.