Hi there, its me again, just checking in to see how you all are?
I just thought I really could not continue without addressing something that’s been on my mind (literally).
Toxoplasma Gondii is a parasite that is reckoned to infect 1/4 of the british population. Like many parasites it has a life cycle that starts in one animal and is completed in others, through a process of excretion and ingestion. These specific parasites begin in cats, this is the only place that sexual reproduction can occur, and then these infectious bodies (oocysts) can be released into the environment through their feaces. These parasites can enact epigenetic changes onto the host; in mice this affects their behaviour and
makes them return to the places a cats scent has been left. This is because the mouse needs to be ingested by the cat for the life cycle to be completed, therefore evolution has given the parasites this ability to modify the behaviour of the host, through the editing of neural networks in the brain. One shocking fact links the infection of this parasite with road traffic accidents, whereby the person involved with accident is more than twice as likely to be infected with the toxoplasma. I am due to talk to a specialist in this specific parasite shortly and i have some questions for him :
1-) how accurate are the statistics? how much of this is a popular science/sensationalised perspective?
2) To what extent have the neurological remodelling undertaken by this parasite effect human behaviour? what parts of the brain are specifically remodelled in this way and how does this impact on behaviour?
3) How accurate is the data linking the relationship between toxoplasmosis and bi-polar and schizophrenic disorders?
4) Are these epigenetic changes passed on to off-spring? I.e if my mother is infected and her brain has been altered, would these changes have passed on to me?
5) Can I get myself tested to see if these parasites are currently in me?
6) Have the rates of infection increased since the domestication of cats and increased proximity to felids?
7) Do the olfactory factors that affect the behaviour of mice (specifically the cat wee) extend to visual image? i.e does the image of a cat stimulate the same response in the mouse?
8) Are the effects in rodents and humans transferable? are there similarities in the direct physical effect the TP has on the brain?
But yea, why am i interested in this may be the question u want to pose me?
Well, I feel like if there is a direct behavioural effect on the human brain, that alters our behavior and choices, well then this is a factor in my art making practice. My theory is that I am infected with toxoplasma, having lived with cats for 22 years (all my life), and that these behaviour altering parasites have had an effect on the imagery I want to use in my work. Potentially as a sort of mutation on from the smell aspect, I am drawn to the visual depiction of cats, because this parasite wants me to be ingested by this felid so that it can complete its life cycle. I know, this sounds worryingly bonkers, but please take it with a pinch of salt, I am just coming from a potentially whimsical/popular science kind of route, so yes I am okay. I just feel this is such an interesting area to consider; what if my work has always been collaborative with a parasite i didn’t know i had in my brain affecting all sorts of micro-decisions? I mean sure, i am not a solitary, evolutionarily singular being, I am also the gut flora, the bacteria under my fingernails, the foreign mitochondrial organelles, but these things I see as the mesh supporting me existing as a human animal, whereas something like the toxoplasma is directly affecting the neural pathways and networks that i use daily.
I feel intrinsically linked to cats. Maybe its also the associations of the feminine also, but there is a companionship that is hard to articulate, and yet is shared by nearly all pet owners I have talked to about this. I miss my cats, and when I talk to other people about this there is this innate empathy that you get, where people understand exactly what you’re feeling. I love how that conversation always seg-ways into their own pets, their names, their personalties, their breeds. Looking at them on someones phone, the didacticism and intimacy of someone describing their companion species to you, with this feral glint in their eyes. I am so invested into every companion species and their lives and relationships with their human companions, I love cats, I love every kind of cat, I want to hug all of them but I can’t….