Language is such a huge and general medium that can be used in a myriad of ways. It can be influenced and unfortunately, many times, it can even shape the way we think. I have come to realize that people usually do not care for the “true” answer (if there is one), they care for the explanation they like the most, or the most popular. Human beings love to explain things in the way they would like them to be. Consequently, what happens is that there is another big piece of the population that will just imitate a certain answer and without even checking its authenticity, they assume it is the ultimate truth. The result is that the explanation/word becomes part of the cultural or social certainty of everyone.
Let us take Facebook as an example. A few years ago, my aunt sent me a post. She was all excited. She kept saying that a woman woke up after an accident speaking another language. The FB post explained it as a sort of magical event. The new language just popped up inside the woman’s brain with no possible explanation. It must have been a miracle! God left a mark and so on… Little did my aunt know that the woman had learned the language she “miraculously” started speaking before the accident. What happened was that the brain injury damaged the hemisphere of the brain where the primary language was based, and it automatically fixed the problem by using the next available language present in the brain. After my aunt shared that post to me, I had at least other seven people telling me about related stories. They all had the same crazy explanation; a miracle! There is nothing we can do about people’s “ignorance” or lack of interest in digging deeper for the “truest” (if that’s even a word) explanation possible. We are surrounded by people who will read one think on a social media and will automatically use it as a proven fact!
Last week, I was reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion for the third time and I found myself reflecting on the idea of being persuaded. What does it mean? Is the idea of being persuaded a disability? Were my aunt and all the people who believed in the FB babble disable?
If we think of the word persuasion as the ability of the mind to be reshaped and changed, the idea of being persuaded looks more like a gift than a disability! Where is the answer? Is there one? All of this is very interesting to me especially, if we think about the huge debate on Brain plasticity that the Neuroscience world is dealing with on the day-to-day basis.
Neuroplasticity, just as a side note, is the brain ability to change, rewire and reorganize the neural pathways’ connections between one neuron and the other. Through this mechanism, new habits are formed, new memories stored and in case of injury or disease, all the neurons are set to compensate for the damaged area.
What it is crucial to note in this brain’s potential is the fact that it can be seen as both an ability and a disability. I will try to explain myself better. I will take as an example a “simple” phobia, the irrational fear/terror of someone or something when this last one doesn’t present any sign of danger to the individual. My point stands not in the phobia itself, but in the moment in which the phobia was created in our brain. In order for us to have a phobia, our Amygdala (the almond-shaped part of our brain dedicated to emotional responses, memory and decision-making) is erroneously “persuaded” that a certain kind of stimulus or situation is dangerous and therefore it sets in action all the defensive responses the body has to have in order to be safe (i.e. adrenaline, heart-pumping, anxiety, nausea etc.) Once the neural pathway is created, we suddenly become “disable”.
Even though it might seem a stretch from Austen’s novel, I strongly believe that all of this can be strongly correlated. In our society, the ones who have phobias are suddenly considered as “feeble-minded”. I cannot pinpoint how many times after I told people I had Emetophobia (fear of vomiting or vomit) they made sure to let me know that they did not have any phobia, they were not scared of anything (as if that was even possible). In actuality, the people who are more prone to having phobias are actually more prone to learn new things (due to the easier chance to rewire the brain patterns).
Something I keep thinking about is how the strong and important power of the brain to rewire itself can be considered as such a damaging characteristic for a human (woman in the novel) to have! shouldn’t this be a good thing? The unpredictability of the brain seems to be considered (then and now) as a crucial element for disability! Why is that?