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10 Case Reports of Cotard’s Delusion

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Cotard’s Delusion is a mental disorder where people suffer the nihilistic delusion that they are dead or no longer exist. First reported in the 1700s, the disorder is still largely a mystery today. The underlying cause isn’t understood; it’s been linked to bipolar disorder, depression and/or schizophrenia depending on the patient’s age. Here, ten people who went to their doctors and complained that they were dead.

1. In 1788, Charles Bonnet reported one of the earliest recorded cases of Cotard’s Delusion. An elderly woman was preparing a meal when she felt a draft and then became paralyzed on one side of her body. When feeling, movement, and the ability to speak came back to her, she told her daughters to dress her in a shroud and place her in a coffin. For days she continued to demand that her daughters, friends, and maid treat her like she was dead. They finally gave in, putting her in a shroud and laying her out so they could “mourn” her. Even at the “wake,” the lady continued to fuss with her shroud and complain about its color. When she finally fell asleep, her family undressed her and put her to bed. After she was treated with a “powder of precious stones and opium,” her delusions went away, only to return every few months.

2. Some 100 years after Bonnet met the old lady, French neurologist Jules Cotard saw a patient with an unusual complaint. Mademoiselle X, as Cotard called her in his notes, claimed to have “no brain, no nerves, no chest, no stomach and no intestines.” Despite this predicament, she also believed that she “was eternal and would live for ever.” Since she was immortal, and didn’t have any innards anyway, she didn’t see a need to eat, and soon died of starvation. Cotard’s description of the woman’s condition spread widely and was very influential, and the disorder was eventually named after him.

3. In 2008, New York psychiatrists reported on a 53-year-old patient, Ms. Lee, who complained that she was dead and smelled like rotting flesh. She asked her family to take her to a morgue so that she could be with other dead people. They dialed 911 instead. Ms. Lee was admitted to the psychiatric unit, where she accused paramedics of trying to burn her house down. After a month or so of a drug regimen, she was released with great improvement in her symptoms.

4. In 1996, a Scottish man who suffered head injury in a motorcycling accident began to believe he had died from complications during his recovery. Not long after he completed recovery, he and his mother moved from Edinburgh to South Africa. The heat, he explained to his doctors, confirmed his belief because only Hell could be so hot.

5. In 2012, Japanese doctors described a 69-year-old patient who declared to one of the doctors, “I guess I am dead. I’d like to ask for your opinion.” When the doctor asked him whether a dead man could speak, the patient recognized that his condition defied logic, but could not shake his conviction that he was deceased. After a year, his delusion passed, but he insisted on the truth of what happened during it. “Now I am alive. But I was once dead at that time,” he said. He also believed that Kim Jong-il was also a patient at the same hospital.

6. In 2009, Belgian psychiatrists reported the case of an 88-year-old man who came to their hospital with symptoms of depression. The man explained that he was dead, and was concerned and anxious that no one had buried him yet. His delusions subsided with treatment.

7. The same doctors also treated a 46-year-old woman who claimed to have not eaten nor gone to the bathroom in months, nor slept in years. She explained that all her organs had rotted, that she had no blood and that doctors who monitored her heart or took her blood pressure were deceiving her because her heart didn’t beat. After multiple admissions to the hospital and a lapse in taking her medication over the next 10 months, her condition gradually improved.

8. Greek psychiatrists received a patient in 2003 who believed he was literally empty-headed. He had attempted suicide years earlier because he thought it wasn’t worth living since he didn’t have a brain. He was not treated after the incident and simply returned to work. Once at the hospital he “claimed that he was born ‘without a mind,’ meaning that his head is empty without a brain and for this reason he is retarded.” He left against medical advice after several days, and was re-admitted the next year. This time he completed treatment and showed sustained improvement in a follow-up interview months later.

9. The Greek doctors also treated a 72-year-old woman who went to the ER claiming “all of her organs had melted; only skin had remained and that she was practically dead.” She was admitted to the hospital and her outcome not reported.

10. In 2005, Iranian doctors described what may be the most unusual case recorded. A 32-year-old man arrived at their hospital saying that not only was he dead, but that he had been turned into a dog. He said that his wife had suffered the same fate. His three daughters, he believed, had also died and had turned into sheep. He said that his relatives had tried to poison him, but that nothing could hurt him because God protected him even in death. He was diagnosed with Cotard’s and clinical lycanthropy, treated with electro-convulsive therapy and relieved of his major symptoms. (You can read more about this case at my website.)

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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