Monday, March 3, 2008

the black box = our skull

I have to open a long bracket here and explain something; 16 months have passed since my stroke. Recovering my writing abilities took maybe four to six months. By recovery I mean, writing what I wanted to write, how I wanted to write it, albeit very slowly. At first when my aphasia was stronger, I couldn’t think in words. Then I started to retrieve words, but couldn’t find the symbols - le When I was handwriting, then I wrote veeery slowly, saying every word first in my head, spelling it, then transfer these on paper. Still, I made many mistakes, because of appraxia. While my mind was thinking “a-p-p-l-e”, my hand would write “e-m-n-a-l” , I would try again and this time my hand would write “a- m-p-e-l”. The same, when I was typing on the computer, although computers have an advantage because of built in intelligent software, they self correct things – of course if you write “emnal” instead of “apple” even the smartest software doesn’t know what to do.
Many months later, here I am, thrilled to be able to write all this down for other people to read. The most peculiar, maybe even funny thing is that, all that time, I was able to think. I was able to understand, to comprehend, to reason everything in normal terms. Although words were missing in my world, I don’t know how, but I was able to think. I don’t know how you are? Some people think verbally, they have to use words to follow their train of thought. Some people think visually, in other terms they see images in their minds eye. Yet again some people see moving images in their minds to think, they say, it is almost like snippets from a movie.
There might be many more kinds of thinking. All of this I have found out recently by asking around. I guess I was thinking in “Concepts”, and not so much in words. Or concepts and words were stored in different areas of the brain so that my thinking and reasoning was not impaired.
After my stroke I became even more interested in how the mind/brain works and to a greater degree in cognition itself. As of early 21st century, the “how the brain works”, the cognition, remains as the last frontier to be concurred by mankind. Particularly because it is all happening inside a black box, meaning our skull. Brain is hard to observe and dissect in action. Recent imaging techniques, especially f-MRI opened a major door into the human mind, and a lot of discoveries have been made in term of understanding the chemical processes behind the electrical. Still a lot remains to be discovered.
Because the brain is still a black box, we can only look at the output manifested by muscle movement. We can look at what is said by moving the muscles around the mouth, we can look at emotions as displayed by facial muscles, we can look at gestures as displayed by muscles of the body. That is how we as human being understand what the other person is saying. We have to decode what the other person is saying by looking at the manifestations of the muscles. So, when the muscle movement has been altered or gone we decode wrongly. We attach meaning to the wrong things.
This has gigantic implications: If a person is paralyzed or has spasticity, automatically we think, that persons mental capabilities must be lacking. Although inside the mind, that person can be perfectly capable of thinking and making judgments.

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