My Mind Says What My Words Do Not Think

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Biology 103

2005 Final Paper

On Serendip

My Mind Says What My Words Do Not Think

Scott Sheppard

For thousands of years, philosophers, theologians, biologists, and more recently psychologists have tried to understand, conceptualize, and define what it means to be conscious. For some thinkers the conscious state is inextricable from language, and the blooming, buzzing confusion that is perception takes on the form of consciousness because of the infusing structure of language. Aphasia, which is a disorder in which some or all linguistic capabilities are lost, and split-brain disorders have exemplified the complex ontology of consciousness because even cases which seem to isolate language functions in the brain from the other aspects of the conscious state, do not properly so. The modern trend of science to reduce biological phenomena to isolating schemas has been challenged by a post-modern movement which aims to more appropriately re-align the goals of science to continue discovering the multifold relationships between physical, biological, and psychological interpretations of consciousness. Although strict, modern biological approaches claim that language is a secondary aspect of consciousness, the post-modern aspect understands that language cannot be stripped from consciousness because this begs the question of what consciousness is. As disparate disciplines perpetuate their isolated growth, they will continue to improperly conceive of the mutual incorporation of consciousness and language.
Biology can benefit from isolating problems and phenomena, but it must always remember that this only describes a model of an organism—it does not describe the reality. Aphasia is an umbrella term for disorders with language production and reception, and it usually occurs in people who have had damage to the left sides of their brain. Strokes, physical trauma, and brain tumors are among the most common causes of aphasia. (2) Each case of aphasia is different, but pathologists have come up with many differentiated categories in order to specify an aphasic's language abilities. The chief distinction between aphasia disorders is the ability to understand language and the ability to produce language. The varying degree to which an aphasic can fluently speak sentences, mimic, tell stories, answer questions, re-create aspects of syntax and grammar, not only conveys the amount and types of damage an aphasiac has incurred but it also conveys how multi-faceted language is in the mind and brain.

The two major types of aphasia are Broca's aphasia and Wernicke's aphasia, where, "Broca's aphasia results from damage to the front portion of the language dominant side of the brain", and "Wernicke's results from damage to the back portion of the language dominant side of the brain" (4). Agrammatic speech often follows from Broca's aphasia, which means that a person has difficulty creating appropriate syntax and grammar. This does not mean, however, that they are unable to comprehend situations, emotional complexity, and narratives. In fact Broca's aphasiacs seem very troubled because their mind's damage is fairly limited to re-creating language rather than understanding it. Here is one example of a Broca's patient explaining the story of the Cinderella through words:

" 'dopted her...scrubbed floor, um, tidy...poor, um...'dopted...Si-sisters and mother...ball. Ball, prince um, shoe... Scrubbed and uh washed and un...tidy, uh, sisters and mother, prince, no, prince, yes. Cinderella hooked prince. (Laughs.) Um, um, shoes, um, twelve o'clock ball, finished" (4)

This patient was also able to answer other questions about the story in the same punctuated, agrammatic way. This capability showed some degree of comprehension, which is usually lacking from a patient with Wernicke's aphasia. This is an example from a person who is attempting to describe a picture of a child taking a cookie.

"can't tell you what that is, but I know what it is, but I don't now where it is. But I don't know what's under. I know it's you couldn't say it's ... I couldn't say what it is. I couldn't say what that is. This shu-- that should be right in here. That's very bad in there. Anyway, this one here, and that, and that's it. This is the getting in here and that's the getting around here, and that, and that's it. This is getting in here and that's the getting around here, this one and one with this one. And this one, and that's it, isn't it? I don't know what else you'd want" (4)

Wernicke's patients have a fluency to there speech, and they are often able to intone sentences more normally, but they also lack the ability to comprehend information and so the form of their speech may be more natural, but the content is often nonsensical. Broca's patients are often aware on some internal level that they cannot make language work, but Wernicke's patients are often unaware that they are unintelligible and do not show signs of synthesizing information on higher thinking levels (4).

In order to make sense of this very intriguing distinction between the two major types of aphasia, Michael Ullman has proposed a model that differentiates between declarative memory and procedural memory. Loss of declarative memory is connected to Wernicke's aphasia because although they can still carry out the linguistic procedure (the unconscious ability of speaking through grammar, their sentences do not hold meaningful content as Broca's aphasiacs do. Declarative memory is also called lexical memory because it refers to the ability to connect the arbitrary system of language with meaningful ideas, objects, and concepts. By distinguishing these two types of memory, one can conclude that the frontal part of the language section of the brain is more responsible for declarative memory, whereas the back part of the language section of the brain is more responsible for procedural memory. This is why damage to each of these parts of the head creates such different types of aphasia disorders. As useful as this model is, it is most important to understand that this modernist move to palimpsest the mind onto the physical organ—the brain—does not ultimately explain what consciousness is. It is merely another set of results that must be combined with all others in order to get at the best idea of the whole picture—the whole however will always be more than the sum of its parts. (4)

In the evolution of language, it seems that verbal syntax came after a sort of protolanguage which allowed pre-human beings to communicate, but the movement from a protolanguage to language can never be fully understood. To compare the internal experiences of a consciousness with language and a consciousness with protolanguage is a paradox. To know how the two compare, one must not really be in type of consciousness or the other. (1) The relationship between consciousness and language is one that misunderstands itself in conceiving as the two ideas as separate to begin with. When psychology burgeoned from a study of the brain into a study of the mind, it continued to aspire be as reputable of a science as physics or mathematics—Newton's laws burned in the hearts of men, and made them believe in atomistic truths. (5) As aphasia continues to be studied in an attempt to isolate language from consciousness, scientists must continue to realize that one can never understand a phenomenon by dissecting it and looking at its parts. New studies will continue to classify and represent the ways in which language is connected to parts of the brain, but to explain consciousness and language as two entities is a doomed process that gets caught in itself the moment it begins.


1), Consciousness, Communication, Speech

2), Aphasia Description

3), Aphasia and Parrhesia: Code and Speech in the Neural Topographies of the Net.

4), Mind and Brain

5), Postmodern Psychological Approach

6), Aphasia Fact Sheet

7), New Agenda For Studying Consciousness

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