If you a person who is concerned about present day health risks, I think the following article will put things in perspective. The article’s name is “10 Diseases That Might Afflict Us In The Future“. Although the contents of this article seem to be more science fiction than “near future reality”, I would argue that these clinical entities must soon become part of the standard medical school curriculum.

A number of the diseases that may afflict us in the future are associated with dissociation, i.e. a disconnect between our minds and our environment. There have been so many movies about this topic, with the classic movie “The Matrix” arguably leading the pack. Movies like “Inception”, “Transcendence” and “Surrogates” are more recent and all deal  with technology interacting with our consciousness. The types of technologies described in all of these movies can make it very difficult for a person to know where technology ends and reality begins. If this sounds equivalent to schizophrenia, that’s only because it is.

It might be that a person who successfully walks a fine line between reality and augmented reality, will in fact be ideally suited for the future world. Perhaps the same genetic coding that leads a person to become schizophrenic will in some way help people to be well-suited for dealing with a virtual world. I admit that this is an extreme concept, but in some ways, it is similar to the argument that ADHD is actually a positive adaptive response to the world we now live in.

I can honestly say that in the last couple of years, I have lost the ability to multitask, or at the very least, can multitask much less well than before. This is a problem for me. The whole reason I have six screens is so that I can have multiple programs running at the same time, providing me with input and offering me a window through which I can interact with others. These days, however, I find it difficult to even listen to music and focus on my work. And it is quite amazing how limiting this has become. Of course, the world will not end if I cannot listen to music while I work. But it definitely reduces my level of enjoyment over the course of the day.

In a much more practical way, I also cannot listen to a medical lecture while I am perusing various articles on the Internet. I would love to be able to participate in online courses, or full online university curricula. But I appreciate that the only way that I could do that now, would be to wholly devote my attention to the lectures. That much free time, I do not have.

As diseases of technology become more common, doctors will have to learn to identify them. But you can only identify something that you know about and to some extent, are expecting.

The recent outbreak of Ebola has been in the news very frequently. When Ebola first presented in America, the doctor who saw the patient missed the diagnosis. And it is likely that 99% of the physicians in the United States, would also have missed the diagnosis, because Ebola is not something that you tend to see walking into an American emergency room.

If doctors are not aware of dissociative diseases that are secondary to technology, and if they are not trained to diagnose and even treat such diseases, patients will suffer unnecessarily. A patient whose fundamental problem is that he or she has experienced loss in their virtual world, may very well present with what appears to be “simple” depression. But the cause and thus the treatment may escape the physicians if they do not consider the possibility that the patient is mourning a virtual character.

In time, technology will become so pervasive that the purpose of medicine will not be to help people disconnect, but rather to function better in the connected environment. Mourning a virtual character may be dealt with by a treatment based in the same virtual environment that presented the death to the patient. The doctor will need to be able to work with tools and other specialists whose primary function is to adjust virtual worlds and experiences to cure patients. It might even go so far as the doctor needing to enter the virtual world in order to treat the patient.

New things and different things are frightening. This kind of reaction is effectively built into our DNA. The 10 diseases listed in the article I linked to above, scare me.  But if I want to help future patients, I have to overcome my own discomfort with these diseases, and I need to learn a new type of medicine. Failing to do so will definitely cause more harm than good. A patient depressed by an event in the virtual world may suffer horribly if treated with a regular antidepressant, rather than behavioral therapy which is also based in the virtual world. So, diagnosing these new diseases is critical.

It will be very hard for present-day professors of medicine to realize that they are totally not equipped to teach these topics. The question will actually be, who will teach them? But the only way to answer this will be to accept the existence of this new kind of pathology, and then to create a curriculum and the lectures to go with it. There will unquestionably be a learning curve for all physicians, and it will likely be a very difficult one. But medical schools simply don’t have a choice to ignore this entire new sphere of disease.

Thanks for listening