The 5 Most Terrifying Ways Your Brain Can Turn on You
We don't have to tell you how amazing your brain is. Even if you're the dumbest guy on the block, your mind is spectacular. But there's a dark side to this complicated organ of brilliance, because when it goes wrong, things get weird. Here are five more ways your brain can suddenly turn the world into a bizarre carnival of the absurd.
Attack of the Jibber Jabbers
Remember that scene in Bruce Almighty when Jim Carrey uses his God powers to turn Steve Carell's newscast into a nonsensical disaster?
You know the one.
Well, what's hilarious in a movie is incredibly creepy in real life, where it's called receptive aphasia. These patients (usually people recovering from a stroke) speak with the same syntax, inflections and grammar they've always used, but the words coming out of their mouth holes are strings of incoherent gibberish. Also, both spoken and written language is gibberish to them. They'll look you right in the eye and give you one sentence that's normal, but the next will be nonsense. The results are really, really weird:
In that video, a woman with the condition attempts to answer some simple questions and perform a few tasks. She alternates between being able to answer with ease and sounding like a breakdown in an old school hip-hop album.
Again, if you didn't know English or turned off the sound, you'd think the lady was speaking normally. Everything about her body language, inflections and facial expressions indicate that she's perfectly comfortably engaged in conversation with her granddaughter about the good ol' days. She's not confused or frustrated or stumbling over words. It's not until you turn up the volume and hear the almost Tourette's-like sounds coming out of her mouth that you realize anything is wrong. People who've recovered from it say it was like their mouths just took off on their own -- they didn't know what they were about to say or understand what they were saying once it started.
So it joins schizophrenia and narcissism on the list of "mental illnesses that can help your political career."
The damage can come from head trauma, tumors, strokes or other illnesses that affect the auditory cortex of the brain. Strangely enough, there is one form of language that sufferers of this condition can process with no problem: song lyrics. We're not kidding. Song lyrics are processed by the other hemisphere of the brain. So, could you theoretically re-learn how to communicate with somebody by learning to talk to each other entirely in song lyrics? Has no one honestly ever tried that?
"Don't stop believin' you fill me up with this American pie, Mr. Mom."
Motion Blindness Turns Everything into a Slideshow
Imagine standing at a busy street corner, waiting for the signal to walk across. But instead of seeing the blur of fast-moving cars, bikes and hipsters on unicycles, you only see cars standing still. Then you blink, and the cars and people and monkeys on stilts are further along, but are still frozen. Nothing moves. All is motionless. Are you dead? Is this Instagram heaven?
"OK, wait. I'm going to need you to describe everything that led up to this."
You actually have akinetopsia, otherwise known as motion blindness. Your eyes are fine, but lesions or traumatic damage to your visual cortex have left your brain unable to perceive anything moving. It's just a stuttering series of images, the way Crysis looked on most old PCs. So, watching sports would be nothing more than a series of sweat-drenched people manipulating themselves into stretched postures. Depending on the context, it would be impossible to know if you were watching wrestling or porn. Every time someone entered a room, it would feel like a poltergeist haunting. Walking in a crowd would require predicting the movement of everyone around you to avoid collisions.
And if you're running from the CIA, all you can do is blink really fast, like running in a strobe light.
Fortunately, the condition is so rare that doctors have only studied a handful of patients who've had it. But what we've learned is that it's the little things that frustrate the most. Like water. Imagine not being able to perceive the movement of liquid. One patient, "L.M.," couldn't pour herself a glass of water without it overflowing -- she couldn't see fluid rising to the top of the glass. Handwriting was an exercise in frustration, since she couldn't see her own hand making letters.
L.M. eventually trained herself to use sound cues to figure these things out (that is, the same way blind people know when to stop filling a glass, or when it's safe to cross the street). You can get used to anything, apparently.
Especially if your sound cues come from a person you hired to scream things like "STOP POURING WATER NOW!"
Refusing to See Anything on Your Left
Pretend you're at a strip club. Directly in front of you are two dancers, Big Juan and Jermaine the Beefmaster, doing their thing. While Juan is butt-thrusting on your right side, Jermaine is bending over and jiggling his booty meat on your left. But you only have eyes for Juan, and Jermaine is dead to you. Not because you're not into black guys, because goodness knows you are, but because you've got a case of hemineglect and your brain won't let you see anything on your left.
People with hemineglect are notoriously bad tippers.
Your brain, as you probably know, is divided into a left and a right hemisphere, with one hemisphere processing sensory information received from the opposite side. So if you stub your left toe, it will be the right part of the brain that tells you to scream "Pissing Cooch Bubbles!" and wet your pants. If your right parietal lobe is damaged by a stroke, injury, a brain tumor or lesions, you're not going to process anything you see on the left side of your body. It's not that your left eye doesn't work, it's that your brain can't make the connection to what you're seeing. The picture below shows what happened when a hemineglect patient was asked to copy a picture:
She had to erase the left half because it was too gruesome to show other humans.
She drew half the house and said, "Done. Looks good to me." And that's not even the crazy part. The crazy part is that when asked to finish the picture, patients come up with insane excuses why they can't do it, like "I'm not good at drawing trees" and "The fence will just blow down in the wind."
And not seeing things is only half of the problem -- patients are also known to neglect the left half of their bodies as well. As in they only wash, groom and dress half of their body.
"It'll be fine. I do all of my surgeries one-handed, anyway -- no need to wash it."
Patients have been known to leave half the food on their plate and ignore voices coming from one side of the room, and of course driving would be completely out of the question. Not to mention avoiding any Two-Face-related Batman movies, The Phantom of the Opera and Mel Gibson's dramatic 1993 film The Man Without a Face, which would probably be the greatest hardship of all.
And here is actually one version of this that's even weirder ...
Only Seeing One Thing at a Time
At any given moment, you're not really seeing everything that's in front of your eyes. For instance, when you watch TV, you're not really aware of the rest of the room, you're only paying attention to what's going on on screen. When you drive, you see the road, not the bird shit on the windshield, even though it's right in your line of vision. Everything else gets filtered out.
Dorsal simultanagnosia is a condition that's sort of like that, except patients can literally only see one thing at a time. If that one thing happens to be the wart developing on your eyelid flap, we're sorry, that's all they can see. They can't help it. Their brains can't process anything more than that. If you point them toward your lips, they'll see your lips, but your eyes will disappear.
"Oh my God, what do I have to do to get you to notice my balls?"
This is due to a failure in another bit of the mental software behind eyesight that we take for granted -- our ability, on the fly, to decode and prioritize what we're seeing, to piece all of it together to make a meaningful narrative in our heads. The people who suffer from dorsal simultanagnosia don't suffer from tunnel vision -- their eyes work fine. There is nothing wrong with their thinking -- their minds are intact. But show them your desk at work and they'll just see a stapler. That stapler could be in the middle of the desert for all they know. The rest of the room could be packed full of people or completely empty. All they see is the stapler.
And now, all they can think of is how much they want to staple you.
This means that if you took them to a new room, they'd have to slowly piece together what's going on, one clue at a time. "A clock on the wall. Well, every room has one of those. A magazine lying on a table. Are we at the library? There are chairs. A pamphlet from a pharmaceutical company ... ah, it's the waiting room at a doctor's office."
Just like everything else on this list, the condition can come from brain trauma, brain lesions or a stroke, but this time the damage hits the spot where your parietal lobe and occipital lobe meet. Diagnosing the condition involves a technique that looks like it comes from a 30-year-old Highlights magazine. Patients are asked to look at the picture below and explain what they see:
"All I see is blind, boiling rage."
If the viewer says "curtains" or "a plate" instead of "those children have a mother who is stoned out of her mind," they probably have this disorder.
Time Becomes Meaningless
Quick! What time of day is it? How much longer until Christmas? How old are you? When is the last time you pooped? If you could answer those questions, even in vague measurements, good job. You don't have time agnosia, and you should be pretty grateful. Because losing the ability to measure time is more than just living in a zenlike state.
People with this disorder are unable to sequence events at all, even big chunks of time like the seasons, much less describe the order of the day. In other words, it's not that people with time agnosia don't remember eating eggs and bacon for breakfast, it's that they don't know if they ate eggs and bacon an hour ago or 10 years ago. Can you imagine all of your memories existing in a jumbled timeless hodgepodge?
You'd never stop vomiting.
One patient with the condition lost the concept of a day. As in a 24-hour cycle that happens 365 days a year. So this woman would wake up, eat, knit booties or whatever it is 40-year-old women do with their day, but had no idea that the day would eventually end and that she'd go to bed and start over the next day. She was living her whole life in the moment -- which would be awesome if she was a Buddhist or a college student on summer vacation, but not awesome if she was an adult with adult responsibilities, which she was.
Fortunately, time agnosia usually heals gradually over time, depending on how severe the original injury was. But, you know, good luck trying to explain that to the patient.
"No time to talk, Doc. I have a business meeting to attend yesterday."
So, if you're able to wake up, get dressed and go to work without your brain totally thwarting the process in some inexplicable way, be thankful. A whole bunch of brain processes that science barely understands had to go just right to make that happen.
For more reasons you should hit your body as hard as you can, check out Your Body Hates You: 6 Gruesome Disorders Anyone Can Get and 6 Ways Your Body Loves to Screw You (Explained by Science).
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 5 Reasons the YOLO (You Only Live Once) Meme Is Wrong.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn the quickest way to get back at your stupid self.
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