Thursday, February 3, 2011

Revisiting a hard-to-pronounce Greek word

I guess it's high time I update this thing. Had a few thoughts yesterday, and figured I'd commit one of them to writing.

In Nov 2009 I wrote about a condition called anosognosia. That's a condition where you have a disability but don't know you have it. I'll repeat one of the quotes:
Neuroscientist Edoardo Bisiach at the University of Milan in Italy reported one 74-year-old stroke patient who repeatedly claimed that his left hand belonged to the doctor examining him. The doctor finally grasped the paralyzed hand between his own two and held it up to the patient's face.

"Whose hands are these?" he asked.

"Your hands," the patient replied.

"How many of them?"


"Ever seen a man with three hands?" the doctor asked.

"A hand is the extremity of an arm," said the patient. "Since you have three arms, it follows that you must have three hands."
When we are attacked or affronted by another person, how do we decide how much to blame the offender? For many people, part of that decision is based on how much we think the other person should know better.

Well, how do we know whether they should, or even can, know better? For an amputee with anosognosia, surely he should know he's missing an effing arm. And still, no amount of yelling at him will change the fact that he does not.

I really enjoy learning about neurological disorders because they remind me how profoundly differently other people may experience the world. And I'm constantly reminded that the only thing people seem to have in common is that we're all trying to do well for ourselves, with the limited mental resources we have.

What mistaken beliefs might you hold you don't know about? Are you sure you'd recognize or accept them if they were pointed out to you by even your closest friends? I'd like to end again with the same quote as last time. It's something I believe fiercely:
"Looking at patients like Mrs. M. can be spooky at first," says Ramachandran, a neuroscientist and physician at the University of California at San Diego, and the Salk Institute nearby. "But then you realize you're really looking at yourself, in amplified form."
Do yourself a favor and spend an extra 15 seconds asking yourself if you're really really sure you're right the next time someone criticizes you. You just might be missing an arm.

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