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Aphasia jack vero


Written by Jack Vero
on June 15, 2013

Aphasia refers to the loss of language and other neurological abilities primarily caused by damage to the Broca and Wernicke areas of the brain. You can read more detailed (and reliable) information about this dysfunction here.

The purpose of this article, however, is not to summarize what we know about aphasia but rather to discuss the idea of treating aphasia by having the patient learn a new, foreign language. I will post my thoughts on this approach and will shortly thereafter create a comment section where other, more qualified participants may tear it to shreds.

Now in studying neurology, computer science, and electronics, I have repeatedly come across incredible parallels between the fields, to the extent that I have come to understand humans to be robots. As a result of this model, I interpret aphasia to be akin to a randomly corrupted database. The program may query the database, and though most of the networking and data is still there, somewhere along the route the transmission is lost and this results in one of the most frustrating programming errors: a program that appears to be fully functional and complete but somehow doesn't accomplish the task at hand.

If you observe aphasiacs with mild to moderate severity of disturbance, they operate in much the same way as the aforementioned faulty database program. They often believe they can accomplish the task, but when they repeatedly make the queries, the routes are interrupted or the data is vacant when they arrive at the destination, and this manifests itself in the pausing and false starts characteristic of their speech.

What if, however, rather than trying to fix a frustratingly corrupted old system, the patients learned one that is entirely new? Would it be easier? Quicker? I would be interested to find out. I am prone to think it would for two biological reasons:

First, the highly adaptable, plastic nature of the brain.

Second, the fact that a neuron's ability to compute a task isn't based on what kind of neuron it is (since the same neurons are found throughout the brain) but only on the inputs and outputs it receives. Much like transistors - they are all functionally the same, the only difference between a transistor that stores a graphical bit or a sound bit is the inputs and outputs it maintains. So even if the area of the brain devoted to language is damaged, a new language processing center can be created elsewhere (or could even just rewire the damaged area). The point being that there is nothing, to my knowledge, to suggest that the loss of data implies that new data cannot be acquired.

Aside from the physiological reasons mentioned above, I lastly will propose a metaphor. Is it easier to fix a 'completed' puzzle where some of the pieces are incorrectly placed and have had their colors corrupted, or to just find a new, possibly simpler puzzle to start from scratch? Personally, I think it would be better to just assemble an at least functional, if basic, new puzzle, rather than to go through trying to fix a large puzzle riddled with "ghost pieces" and misleadingly placed parts.