MB Reed

Author and mathematician


Footnotes for 'Conjecture', Chapters 1-6

Hospital Diary II

  1. “The anamnestic powers of L-Dopa…”: The passage quoted by Dr Jones is in footnote 136 of Awakenings by Oliver Sacks (see notes to Hospital Diary 2, below).

Chapter 1: Home from Dublin

  1. The airship service from Durban to Croydon: see a history of the Imperial Airship Programme, which includes a map of proposed routes spanning the British Empire.

  2. A smoking room was indeed a feature of large airships such as the Hindenburg. This video shows the interior of the Hindenburg airship, the promenade and the angled observation windows.

  3. “Twenty five thousand of us there were…”: The Seige of Tobruk lasted from April 10 until November 27 1941. In our world, Bob would probably have been one of the 6,000 casualties among the British, Australian and Polish defenders. When the garrison finally surrendered, over 2,500 men were taken prisoner. The commander reported back to London that it was ‘situation shambles’.

Chapter 2: Arrival

  1. The Aerodrome Hotel, Croydon is now a member of the Hallmark Hotels chain.

  2. The Francis Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics was established in 1907 at University College London (UCL). It was renamed the Galton Laboratory in 1963. There is currently controversy over whether to erase Galton’s name from university buildings.

  3. Borough High St: The MI6 training centre in London was at 296-302 Borough High St, SE1 until 1996. Investigative journalist Duncan Campbell published a report on Big Brother’s many mansions in The New Statesman in February 1980.

  4. “Ask to speak to Oliver”: Dr Oliver Sacks spent the summer of 1969 at his parents’ house in Hampstead, writing the first drafts of Awakenings.

Hospital Diary IV

  1. An old black-and-white film: The film was Prisoner of War (1954). Army Captain Webb Sloane (Ronald Reagan) is parachuted into North Korea to infiltrate the PoW camps where American GIs were being subjected to brutal interrogation and brainwashing techniques.

  2. A war with Argentina: The Argentine armed forces invaded the Falkland Islands on 2 April 1982. Britain sent a naval task force to retake them three days later. British forces recaptured Port Stanley, ending the war, on 11 June 1982.

  3. A speech to the Houses of Parliament: President Ronald Reagan arrived on a state visit to Britain on 7 June, and gave a speech to both Houses of Parliament the following day. The quotations are adapted from his 1982 ‘Westminster Address’.

  4. Female protesters being arrested: Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp was a peace camp established to protest at nuclear weapons being sited at RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire. The camp began in September 1981 to protest against the decision of the British government to allow cruise missiles to be based there. The first blockade of the base occurred in May 1982 with 250 women protesting, during which 34 arrests were made. The camp was disbanded in 2000.

  5. Pershing missile deployment: For the deployment of Pershing II missiles in Western Europe, see the Wikipedia entry on the Able Archer 83 war-game exercise, which almost led to nuclear Armageddon.

  6. The Commodore PET has a Wikipedia page.

  7. “Psychiatry has moved on a bit”: Freud’s Studies in Hysteria was published in 1895. He ascribed hysteria to a mental disturbance rather than the long-standing explanation: a displaced uterus (which is the origin of the word), which was treated by the removal of both ovaries. See the Wikipedia page for ‘wandering womb’, and also the webpage [“Women and Psychiatry”] (http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/themes/menalhealthandillness/womanandpsychiatry).

  8. “All our memories are fictitious, to some extent”: New memories are laid down in the hippocampus, by synapses firing between neurons to create stable connections: the electrochemical mechanism has been dubbed long-term potentiation. As the storage capacity of the hippocampus is limited, during sleep some memories are transferred to other parts of the brain for storage. Thus, memories are not preserved intact like books in a library. When we recall a memory, it is re-formed in the hippocampus, and after being examined by our consciousness it has to be stored again. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of proteins are involved at each stage, and the memory itself is inevitably modified by the process, which can be disrupted by Alzheimer’s, PTSD or sensory overload. This research received the Brain Prize for neuroscience in 2016.

  9. “there’s a famous psychology experiment”: The false-memory experiment involving a traffic accident film was conducted by Dr Elizabeth Loftus.
  10. Narocanalysis: A combination of hypnosis and drug therapy, to recover suppressed memories.

  11. “some sort of brainwashing”: The CIA’s MKULTRA programme tried to achieve mind control and brainwashing through the use of hallucinogenic drugs. These were administered to the CIA’s own operatives, to volunteers – and to unsuspecting members of the public.

Chapter 3: Debriefing

  1. Wotan-14 astronauts: The Apollo-14 mission landed on the Moon on 5 February 1971. After the 1969 Moon landing, Wernher von Braun predicted in an interview that Man would travel to Mars and beyond within fifteen years.

  2. Century House at 100 Westminster Bridge Road was the London headquarters of MI6 from 1964.

  3. “Bomb Outrage in Dublin”: On 1st December 1972 two car bombs exploded in the centre of Dublin; there were two fatalities. A telephone warning was given a few minutes earlier by a man with a “distinctly English accent”. The men who had hired the cars were respectable, well-dressed and also spoke with cultured English accents. The Irish Dail was debating an amendment strengthening the Offences against the State Act that same evening. No organisation claimed responsibility, and no-one was ever arrested. Click here for more details.

  4. “What about the bugging?”: The descriptions of MI5/MI6 bugging operations in the 1970’s are taken from “Spycatcher”, by Peter Wright (1987, Viking Penguin Inc, USA).

Chapter 4: Auntie

  1. Julian and Sandy were a pair of camp homosexual characters on the BBC radio comedy programme Round the Horne from 1965 to 1968 and were played by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams. See Wikipedia.

  2. Unity Valkyrie Freeman-Mitford (8 August 1914 – 28 May 1948) was a British socialite, known for her relationship with Adolf Hitler. Following the declaration of World War II, Mitford attempted suicide in Munich, and was officially allowed safe passage back to England in her invalid condition, but never recovered.Her sister Diana was married to Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists.

  3. An act of gross indecency: The Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised consensual homosexual acts, but they had to be consensual, between adults (over 21) and in private. The courts interpreted ‘in private’ very strictly. Acts in a private house, hotel or brothel where one or more other people (especially if under 21) are in the building, even if not in the same room, were successfully prosecuted. Acts of buggery and the catch-all ‘gross indecency’ were still criminal offences, punishable by up to life imprisonment, though this could be avoided by agreeing to chemical castration (as happened to Alan Turing).

  4. Spatio-temporal perception in mice: This is based on research at UCL in 1970, under John O’Keefe, who was awarded a Nobel Prize for this work in 2014. His team discovered that the hippocampus stores locations as well as events, using a sort of grid. His main paper, published in 1971, is The hippocampus as a spatial map. Preliminary evidence from unit activity in the freely-moving rat.

  5. Dr Jones’ theory is backed up by recent research in neuroscience. Consider our sense of vision: we never really see anything – it’s just a stream of electrochemical signals which pass from the eye to the thalamus in our brain, which sends it to the visual cortex for decoding. It is now known that the visual cortex receives the input – but sends six times as much data back to the thalamus. It adjusts the raw sensory input to match the Internal Model of reality, and feeds it back. This is called cross-referencing: it is the basis of all those optical illusions, about one line being longer than another, and so on. Thus, what we see – and remember – is affected by the context, the ‘reality’ within which we see it.

Hospital Diary V

  1. The 1918-20 ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic (so-called because wartime censors suppressed reports of mass deaths in Britain, the USA, France and Germany, but allowed reports of its effects in neutral Spain) is now thought to have killed up to 100 million people worldwide. It has been described as ‘the greatest medical holocaust in history’; half the population of the world was affected. It has been theorised that the H1N1 ‘bird flu’ virus also caused the contemporaneous epidemic of encephalitis lethargica.

  2. The ‘sleepy sickness’ or encephalitis lethargica epidemic first appeared in Vienna in 1916. Nearly five million people were affected, a third of whom died in the acute stages. There is speculation that Hitler may have had the disease in his twenties. Many of those who survived never returned to normality, but displayed post-encephalitic Parkinsonism. “They would be conscious and aware - yet not fully awake; they would sit motionless and speechless all day in their chairs, totally lacking energy, impetus, initiative, motive, appetite, affect or desire; they registered what went on about them without active attention, and with profound indifference. They neither conveyed nor felt the feeling of life; they were as insubstantial as ghosts, and as passive as zombies”. The quote is from page 14 of the book Awakenings (1973, revised 1990, Picador) written by Dr Oliver Sacks, a consultant neurologist on the post-encephalitic ward at Mount Carmel Hospital in New York.

  3. “A consultant called Oliver Sacks”: In 1969 Dr Sacks began experiments in administering large doses of lavevodihydroxyphenylalanine, or L-Dopa to his patients, to create the dopamine which was deficient in their brains. He described their recovery (and subsequent relapse) in “Awakenings”. The book was the basis of the 1982 play A Kind of Alaska by Harold Pinter, and was fictionalised in the 1990 film Awakenings, starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. In his recent book Hallucinations (2013, Vintage) Sacks describes his own experiences with hallucinogenic drugs. Sacks died in 2015: see his obituary.

  4. “Drunk on reality”: Sacks uses the phrase about patient Leonard L. Like Hugh, he loved going out in the hospital garden, and began to keep a diary.

  5. “Over here, Dr Sharkey…”: The Highlands Hospital’s Wikipedia entry links to an obituary of Joseph Sharkey, the consultant who also achieved Awakenings with L-Dopa. In footnote 28 of his book, Sacks favourably compares the relaxed, caring atmosphere of the Highlands Hospital ward with the institutional drabness at Mount Carmel. He also notes the affectionate use of the term ‘enkies’.

  6. “A hospital in California”: The young patients in California are mentioned in footnote 151 of “Awakenings”.

  7. “akinesia, bradyphrenia…”: These definitions are taken from the Glossary of terms provided in Awakenings:

    • Catalepsy: effortless maintenance of statuesque postures for long periods of time, while appearing mentally enthralled.
    • Brachyphrenia: slowness of mental processes.
    • Akinesia: total absence of voluntary movement.
    • Torticollis: asymmetric spasm of the neck muscles, forcing the head to one side.
    • Athetosis: involuntary writhing movements of the face, tongue and extremities.

Chapter 5: Swimbridge

  1. Frontotemporal dementia: A relatively rare form of dementia. Hugh’s mother has behavioural variant FTD. The symptoms include loss of inhibitions, apathy, loss of empathy, and compulsive ritualised behaviour.

  2. All the right words: A reference to the Morecambe and Wise sketch featuring Andre Previn in their 1971 Christmas Special show. When Previn complained that Eric was playing all the wrong notes, he replied that he was playing “all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.”

  3. That Maharishi: The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was the Beatles’ spiritual advisor, who introduced the world to transcendental meditation.

  4. The BDM: The Bund Deutscher Maedel (League of German Girls) was the female wing of the Hitler Youth (HJ) in Nazi Germany. Artur Axmann had overall control of both organisations in his role as Reich Youth Leader (Reichsjugendfuehrer).

  5. British Expeditionary Force: The untold story of the BEF is an article in the BBC’s WW2 People’s War project, featuring personal testimony.

  6. The Danzig Corridor: see the Wikipedia page. The Corridor provided Poland with access to the sea at the (mostly German-speaking) port of Danzig, now Gdansk. In the process it separated East Prussia from the rest of the German Reich. An article in 2014 suggests that Putin may demand a corridor across Lithuania to secure land communication with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad (formerly Koenigsberg, the capital of East Prussia, which was seized by Stalin at the end of WW2).

  7. “Hatley Castle”: The castle, built in Victoria, British Columbia in 1910, was visited by King George VI in 1941, who considered it as a place of exile for his brother the Duke of Windsor who had been sent to the Bahamas as Governor after his abdication.

  8. SDS: the Special Demonstration Squad was an undercover unit of the Metropolitan Police, set up in 1968 to infiltrate left-wing protest groups. It used the names of 80 dead children to create flase identities for its members, who were nicknamed ‘hairies’ because they dressed as hippies to go undercover. Some of them started sexual relationships with protest organisers in order to gain their trust.

  9. RPOC: Resistance and Psychological Operations Committee. A right-wing group set up by SOE veterans, which had links to the Conservative party, the intelligence services and the SAS. Elite UK Forces.

Chapter 6: Limehouse Blues

  1. Bugging of Lancaster House: In ‘Spycatcher’, Peter Wright describes his work in planting eavesdropping devices, and alleges that MI5 bugged diplomatic conferences at Lancaster House throughout the 1950s and 1960s, as well as the Zimbabwe independence negotiations in 1979.

  2. The Madagascar Plan: The Madagascar Plan was a proposal by the Nazi German government to forcibly relocate the Jewish population of Europe to the island of Madagascar.

  3. Sultan Omer Farouk: The last Caliph of the Ottoman Empire, Abdulmejid II, was exiled when the Turkish Republic was founded in 1924. He died in exile in Paris in 1944. His son Sehzade Omer Farouk died in 1969, without issue.

  4. Ottoman Legation: The original Turkish Embassy at 69 Portland Place is now the Turkish Ambassador’s residence.

  5. The Edward Line: Construction of a new Underground line dubbed the Fleet Line was begun in 1971, and included plans for a River Line extension to pass through London’s Docklands to Greenwich, ending at Thamesmead. The Fleet Line eventually became the Jubilee Line.

  6. Chinatown: The original Chinatown, a small district of Limehouse in the East End, was the setting for the Fu Manchu novels of Sax Rohmer, and later films such as ‘The Mask of Fu Manchu’. The district was largely destroyed by Hitler’s V2 rockets in 1944.