One projected use of highly detailed brain models is truly effective hypnosis - the ability to remove compulsions and inhibitions, or even be able to introduce them artificially. You can imagine the government and military wetting themselves thinking up ways of using that capability.

So, my initial hypothesis was that the model had somehow gained an artificial neurosis, produced as some obscure reaction to an anodyne part of the human body. These kinds of discrepancies between modelled and real-life behaviour are always interesting, and often a fruitful source of material for papers to be published in some of the more obscure journals. Oh, and of course it adds to my professor's credibility in the never-ending pursuit of sponsorship money.

naked shoulders My objectives were two-fold: first, to reduce the variables, to avoid any side-effects of image coding techniques or copyright-tracking steganography. For this purpose, I captured an image of me, from the back, and wearing no clothes. I borrowed a high-resolution digital camera from the image-processing labs on the next floor down, and used the most loss-less image encoding format I could identify. The single picture took up a substantial fraction of my personal disk space quota. I even printed out a copy and blue-tacked it to the wall above my workstation.

My second objective was to present the stimuli and the model's reaction in a way that was comprehensible to mere humans. I set about writing a new program to extract an image of how the model itself perceived the scene it was viewing. This took a lot of programming, and I sat up over my workstation for several nights until the new interfaces began to show signs of working.

During these few days, I found myself neglecting my write-up and sleeping even less than usual; inevitably I was compensating by eating even more of the blisteringly hot kebab-and-pitta-bread concoctions from the 'Armpit', washed down by alarming quantities of caffeinated cola drinks.

Finally I was ready for a full test run. Sitting at the workstation, I reloaded the most recent model, and hooked up the new visualisation software, then typing the few commands which started the model's reaction to the image of my back.

I'd displayed the evolving picture of artificial perception in a window I'd placed in one corner of the screen. It showed a desperately low resolution at first, with each pixels worth of enhancement being painfully computed as the kilo-engine processor in the basement ground away.

Eventually some kind of comprehensible picture began to emerge from the twin mists of simulated perception and digitised noise. Frankly, I was utterly horrified. The details that emerged showed some kind of growth, a green bump embedded in my own skin between my own shoulder blades.

Somehow, my own inherent perception changed at that moment. I've heard that expression about 'scales lifting from my eyes', but that was exactly what happened. My picture, stuck to the painted breezeblocks above the workstation, seemed to shimmer and twist, a green blob appearing before my eyes and between my shoulder-blades.

Opening one of the filing-cabinet magazines showed me pictures of bronzed muscular men and compliant young women, all with one - or sometimes more than one - of the green appurtenances protruding from their backs, just where the model showed they would be.

I rushed to the gents bogs and lifted my shirt, looking at my own reflection in the rather grubby mirror over the cracked washbasin. There it was, a bright virulent green, like a really ripe green pepper - a bell pepper or capsicum - somehow seamlessly merged with normal pink skin on my own back. In the mirror, I could see a slight sense of movement, somehow pulsating gently like a TV special effect from an early edition of Doctor Who, its movements distinctly out of sync with my own breathing and heart rate. I was heartily sick, there and then.

I think they're some kind of symbiote, or more likely parasite. They grow on people, on everybody, their roots digging deep into our bodies. My best guess is that the growths form links into the spinal column and produces some kind of hypnotic effect in our brains which prevents them from being seen. Somehow, we all share a worldwide neurosis, an induced inability to see what quite literally sits on our own shoulder.

I've been looking at these things for several days and nights now, not sleeping much. Now, I can see them everywhere, even detect their presence under tee-shirts and fleeces. Everyone has at least one and some people - particular very slender and attractive people - have several. Perhaps the physical drain of keeping two or three of the parasites alive from your own bodily resources means you have no excess fat - and the added induced neurosis that exceptionally well-inhabited hosts are both thin and beautiful.

What I still can't work out is why the growths are not hidden entirely within our bodies. My best guess is that they are some kind of plant, and they can't quite get all the nutrients they need from us directly. So, they must retain some kind of vestigial photosynthesis, to produce some vital trace compound not available from our own blood streams.

Just for my own reference, just a way of hooking them to a name, I've taken to calling them Monkey Plants, after the expression 'a monkey on your back' in that modern sense of a serious problem that just will not go away.

I've spent some time thinking about how to remove them, and what would happen if I did. My back seems to be itching all the time now, and I know what's causing it, and I'd dearly love to rip the offending growth from my skin.

In fact, I'm not even sure that they even can be removed. I can see the Monkey Plant on my own back, but I can't touch it - not my own, not other peoples. Even though I can see exactly where it is, I can't control my own hands, or the movements of my body, to actually press my fingertips against its surface. There's something deeper in the hypnosis, something at a detailed level that my computer model won't let me reach, which prevents the physical contact. Another one of those supposedly inert regions of brain cells kicking in, I expect.

I'm not a parent, and may very well never be, but we've all heard stories of babies crying incessantly, inconsolable despite the best efforts of their increasingly fraught mothers. It must be incredibly painful, the initial infection before the first of these things has fully integrated itself with the spinal cord. A baby can't move in a coordinated way, or communicate; it has no way other than bawling to show the agony it is enduring.

I think the infections move from person to person, with some kind of seeds or spores being transmitted from parent to offspring, and growing and living with us for all our lives. Imagine our bodies aging, wearing out, drained by the incessant physical demands of feeding the things. I've seen old people, hunched and feeble, bent nearly in two by the Monkey on their backs.

These things don't think, in any way we understand the term. But they have desires, needs - they want to grow more, and the more people there are, the more they can grow. I suspect this endemic infection has pushed us, our society, in certain directions - to live in large groups, in villages and cities, and to alter our environment, our world, driving our evolution, making us invent technologies to give us the resources to support more bodies - just so that they can reproduce more.

I think the reason human beings are taking over the planet is because the Monkey Plants have taken us over.

I believe there's yet another mechanism that the plants have evolved over the millennia. If you try and talk about them, the growths on your back, you are comprehensively ignored. Not disbelieved, just ignored, as if you had said nothing at all. I've showed my results, the pictures, to my supervisor, and he just changed the subject back to the next round of grant submissions - no real difference there, then. I've tried to engage some of the other postgrads in conversation, even buying the pints in the back-street pub we occasionally visit; again, they just don't seem to hear what I say.

So, this is my attempt to communicate - to tell the world about this disease, this parasite, which is warping our bodies, and our minds, and our societies.

And, you know what, I just bet you won't believe me. Oh, you'll read my words, even declare that you completely understand what I've written. But that monkey on your back just won't let you believe, really really believe. It's just a story to you, isn't it?

Part 1 Afterword