Archive for Language disorders

Scientific communication

Paul Krugman, "The Facebooking of Economics", 12/17/2013:

Economics journals stopped being a way to communicate ideas at least 25 years ago, replaced by working papers; publication was more about certification for the purposes of tenure than anything else. Partly this was because of the long lags — by the time my most successful (though by no means best) academic paper was actually published, in 1991, there were around 150 derivative papers that I knew of, and the target zone literature was running into diminishing returns. Partly, also, it was because in some fields rigid ideologies blocked new ideas. Don’t take my word for it: It was Ken Rogoff, not me, who wrote about the impossibility of publishing realistic macro in the face of “new neoclassical repression.”

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Xenoglossy & the psychiatrists

I just learned that the American Psychiatric Association, at their annual meeting last month, had a Media Workshop on "A Case of Xenoglossy and the Nature of Consciousness", where the organizer, a psychiatrist named Samuel Sandweiss, claimed that he had a patient back in 1983 (!) who spontaneously uttered profound philosophical remarks in a mixture of Sanskrit and Pali.  And here I had been fondly imagining that my 1996 encyclopedia article `Xenoglossy' had succeeded in demolishing claims that some people can speak languages they have not had an opportunity to learn in their current lifetime.   But Sandweiss's proposal — unlike those of the late Ian Stevenson, also a psychiatrist and the best-known promoter of purported cases of xenoglossy — apparently doesn't involve reincarnation; it sounds more like channeling, as if a bodiless entity took over the patient's brain to utter profundities in an ancient(ish) Indic mishmash (as verified…supposedly…by experts in Sanskrit and Pali).  Sheesh.   Surely not all psychiatrists are so credulous, but what's with the APA's highlighting this event as a Media Workshop?

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The unbearable loss of words

Everyone has a private terror—often abetted by a checkered family medical history or having witnessed the torment of a loved one—of being struck with some particular affliction. For some, it's the ravages of a slow and painful cancer. For others, it's being caught in a freak accident that renders them quadriplegic in their prime. For me, it's the fear of surviving a stroke that blasts away tracts of neural tissue in the left hemisphere of my brain, leaving me with profound aphasia.

As usual, the degree of fear is based on a calculus of probability and of loss. In my case, there is the specter of probability: My father suffered a fatal stroke in his sixties. His own father, unluckier, was bedridden after a stroke in his early forties until another one finished him off a few years later. But it's the prospect of the loss that is overwhelming. How could I, ardent worshipper at the altar of language, ever cope with being left unable to talk or write fluently about language or anything else? For that matter, would I even be able to think about language? Or think in any meaningful way at all? It's the afflictions that strip you of who you are that seem most unthinkable.

So it was a sense of morbid attraction that led me to Diane Ackerman's newest book One Hundred Names for Love, in which she documents the stroke and subsequent language deficit suffered by her husband, novelist Paul West.

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