You’re used to relying on your brain. Whatever else happens, your personal lump of gray matter will take in the world, and respond to it in a fluid and predictable way. But actually, whatever your brain does is made up of many successive mental steps — and if just one of those steps fails, you’ll find yourself behaving very differently.
10. Astasia-Abasia Patients Are Always On the Verge of Falling>Astasia-Abasia is also known as Blocq’s Disease, after Paul Blocq, the French doctor who first described it. It’s the inability to stand or walk properly, but there’s more to it. At first, a person with this condition appears very drunk. Patients lurch when they try to stand or walk. Patients seem dangerous to themselves. They overbalance extravagantly, always catching themselves at the last moment. But that’s the condition — they always catch themselves.
9. Anosognia Patients Are Unable to Recognize Their Own Injuries
Anosognia arises in conjunction with other injuries — generally strokes and blindness. People who have lost the ability to control one half of their body will say that they just don’t want to move that part of their body. They’ll say that that half of the body is really working normally, after all. When doctors show that it isn’t working, they’ll say that the body parts that the doctors are pointing to belong to someone else, or even that they have three hands, arms, or legs, and are moving the ones that the doctors don’t see.
8. Broca’s Aphasia Patients Are Able to Do Everything But Speak
Patients with Broca’s Aphasia are able to write, to read, to listen and understand people, and are able to talk - but not able to form many coherent words. The condition is the result of an injury to Broca’s area, the patient’s ability to control what their mouths are saying goes away. Some patients are able to manage about four words, but most lose their ability to say what they want.
7. Palinopsia Patients Literally Cannot Unsee Things
Palinopsia is not actually a medical disorder. It’s just the after-image that most people see after they look away from bright objects. Sometimes, though, it lasts a little too long. A seventy-three-year-old woman attended a Christmas party the day after a very bad headache and noticed that, after she looked at a Santa Claus who was working at the party, she saw a Santa beard on everyone’s face for the rest of the party. Days later she still saw people in red Santa hats and red Santa jackets walking around the streets.
6. Dysmimia or Amimia Patients Don’t Know if You Give Them the Finger
Dismimia is a weirdly specific little condition. There’s no way of knowing exactly what causes it, but it stops the sufferer from understanding hand gestures or hand signals. Common gestures for ‘wait,’ ‘stop,’ or ‘sit and spin,’ are suddenly incomprehensible. These gestures are lost even if the patient previously knew their meaning.
5. Verbal Dysdecorum Patients Can’t Censor Themselves
This syndrome was first observed in a Vietnam veteran who demonstrated exactly what happens when you don’t constantly censor yourself at your job: You get fired. You get fired over and over until finally someone sends you to a doctor. This particular case was steered towards psychology — rather than an etiquette book — because the soldier had been shot in the head years before. The right front part of the brain has something in it that allows people to consider their words and quietly keep the socially unhelpful ones inside. Other injuries to this area of the brain have caused similar responses. Some injuries expand beyond the verbal into actual social dysdecorum, which includes inappropriate and ill-considered actions, verging on complete sociopathy.
4. Dysantigraphia Patients Can’t Possibly Copy Their Neighbor’s Paper
A seventy-year-old man came into the doctor’s office one day with a rather strange condition. He had suffered a stroke, and had difficulty speaking - although he could speak. He had no problems with moving his limbs. He could read and write well, as long as what he was writing was dictated to him. When he was given a paper full of writing, and asked to copy it, he faltered after a few words, and after a line the entire process became impossible.
3. Amelodia Patients Can Never Name That Tune
The most famous case of amelodia was a retired 91-year-old musicologist. He was an accomplished musician who reported to his family that he’d recently heard an angelic choir singing to him. They responded appropriately by shoving him in a cab and rushing him to the hospital so fast that they left a cartoon dust trail behind them. At the hospital they found that he had no hearing problems, that he could, on a guitar, play many tunes from memory, that he could tell the difference between higher and lower pitched notes, and that he could easily tell the difference between discordant notes. He just couldn’t recognize any tune played to him, no matter how simple and well-known the tune was. The ability to audibly recognize a tune, and only the tune, was gone.
2. Anhedonia Patients Can’t Take Pleasure in Anything
The globus pallidus is the part of the brain that regulates when we get rewarded with a little burst of pleasure chemicals. Sometimes that burst can be in response to a pleasurable event, or a reward for doing something that we deem necessary, or even just the cessation of pain. Anhedonia happens when damage to the globus pallidus shuts off the reward system entirely. Often this is seen in recovering drug addicts - especially meth users. Sometimes strokes also do damage to the globus pallidus.
Those strokes that do hit that part of the brain are associated with greater and longer depressions than those that don’t. But anhedonia doesn’t have to be a ‘global’ response, cutting out all pleasure. It can take single pleasures away from people, too. There was one case in which a 71-year-old musician, stopped feeling a pleasure response when he listened to music. Although he had listened to music he enjoyed before he had a small stroke, afterwards he felt no emotional response to it whatsoever.
1. Jargonaphasia Patients Are Makeshift Gertrude Steins
This is a disorder that, in at least one of its forms, could have been lifted from an absurdist satire. No one entirely agrees on what jargonaphasia (or jargon aphasia) is. For some psychologists, it’s when a patient has lost the ability to form words entirely, and only utters a string of sounds that don’t resemble words at all. For some it’s when patients speak words, but without any sentence structure or grammar to give them meaning. The last understanding of the term is the most interesting. Patients can be said to be suffering from jargonaphasia when they incessantly use platitudes, cliches, and pleasantries to cover the fact that they’re saying nothing. This isn’t necessarily a contradiction; how many times in the last decade has the phrase, “Have a nice day,” conveyed any real meaning whatsoever? Stock polite terms and phrases are often the last thing that slips away from us, since we don’t put any thought into them and they become something like a reflex response. Théophile Alajouanine, a famous French neurologist, was a leading proponent of this view of jargonaphasia. He said that ‘incomprehensibility and lack of meaning, not articulatory loss or lack of proper grammatical sequencing,’ are the hallmarks of this disorder.
Looked at like this, the disorder is jargon in the most literal sense of the word. Lose a few points of grammar and you can still make your brain and your mouth work together to communicate what you’re thinking. Jargon is the destruction of any ability to use language to communicate, in a meaningful way, with the people around you, even if you keep talking in perfectly comprehensible English for hours.>Top Image: Humantific