Scott Adams Fixes Own Brain, Can Now Speak

Scott Adams was diagnosed 18 months ago with a rare, incurable condition that left him unable to speak under most circumstances. Doctors couldn’t help him, so he fixed it himself.

But have I mentioned I’m an optimist?

Just because no one has ever gotten better from Spasmodic Dysphonia before doesn’t mean I can’t be the first. So every day for months and months I tried new tricks to regain my voice. I visualized speaking correctly and repeatedly told myself I could (affirmations). I used self hypnosis. I used voice therapy exercises. I spoke in higher pitches, or changing pitches. I observed when my voice worked best and when it was worst and looked for patterns. I tried speaking in foreign accents. I tried “singing” some words that were especially hard.

My theory was that the part of my brain responsible for normal speech was still intact, but for some reason had become disconnected from the neural pathways to my vocal cords. (That’s consistent with any expert’s best guess of what’s happening with Spasmodic Dysphonia. It’s somewhat mysterious.) And so I reasoned that there was some way to remap that connection. All I needed to do was find the type of speaking or context most similar — but still different enough — from normal speech that still worked. Once I could speak in that slightly different context, I would continue to close the gap between the different-context speech and normal speech until my neural pathways remapped. Well, that was my theory. But I’m no brain surgeon.

The day before yesterday, while helping on a homework assignment, I noticed I could speak perfectly in rhyme. Rhyme was a context I hadn’t considered. A poem isn’t singing and it isn’t regular talking. But for some reason the context is just different enough from normal speech that my brain handled it fine.

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick.
Jack jumped over the candlestick.

I repeated it dozens of times, partly because I could. It was effortless, even though it was similar to regular speech. I enjoyed repeating it, hearing the sound of my own voice working almost flawlessly. I longed for that sound, and the memory of normal speech. Perhaps the rhyme took me back to my own childhood too. Or maybe it’s just plain catchy. I enjoyed repeating it more than I should have. Then something happened.

My brain remapped.

My speech returned.

Not 100%, but close, like a car starting up on a cold winter night. And so I talked that night. A lot. And all the next day. A few times I felt my voice slipping away, so I repeated the nursery rhyme and tuned it back in. By the following night my voice was almost completely normal.

Amazing. And good news, indeed.

via Radley Balko

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture, Science & Technology,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    What?!!?!?!???

    You’re saying he didn’t need government health care, and that he actually was able to influence his own destiny?

    Die, heretic!

  2. Cernig says:

    Thanks for this one, James. Utterly fascinating.

    It’s certainly strong evidence that there are different possible neural “pathways” for language rather than a single neccessary one. That alone is a huge datum for cognitive scientists.

    Further, it would indicate that Wittgenstein’s “the limits of my language are the limits of my world” is correct and would also indicate that those using different languages likely live in substantially different perceived worlds – or indeed that two users of the same world could easily do so – since different neural paths would connect and relate to other parts of the mind/brain complex in subtly different ways, ways that could easily influence even visual processing.

    Adam’s experince therefore might explain, in at least a general neurological way, the mechanism by which hardcore Republicans and Democrats can use the same language and seemingly mean very different things by it. Different neural pathways. Different perceived realities.

    Regards, C

  3. Anderson says:

    Bithead looks forward to an America where citizens are expected to heal their own tumors, diabetes, etc., the Scott Adams way.

    Poor citizens, that is. The rest will continue to visit doctors.

  4. Actually Anderson, you find things like people in a town in Canada having to hold a lottery to see who gets to see a doctor. Since the way national health care rations medical care is to inject time in between the request and the granting of a request to see a doctor, perhaps Scott’s method would be useful to fill that waiting time.

  5. Anderson says:

    you find things like people in a town in Canada having to hold a lottery to see who gets to see a doctor

    That would be an improvement over the present U.S. system, but from what I’ve heard, France would be a better model than Canada.

    I do concur that one may as well spend one’s waiting time in self-hypnosis or whatever. Just imagine! “Bithead Fixes Own Brain, Now Votes Democratic.” They said it couldn’t be done …

  6. Bithead says:

    Bithead looks forward to an America where citizens are expected to heal their own tumors, diabetes, etc., the Scott Adams way.

    You and I would get along far, far better, if you’d quit trying to put words in my keyboard.

    What I am remarking about is that the most important person involved in getting “you” out of trouble regardless of the circumstances, is “you”.

    That Scott Adams was able to do what he did is remarkable, but it is also instructive. Your response is suggestive that the lesson has already been lost on you, because it doesn’t fit your world view.

  7. anjin-san says:

    Perhaps when Bithead has seen a little more of life, he will be less dismissive of those who are unable to care for themselves. I hope he never has to share my experience of having multiple family members who have life-threatening, chronic illnesses.

    Perhaps Bit would say that everyone should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. But that can be kind of difficult for someone who has no legs…

  8. anjin-san says:

    yetanother,

    and of course you can document this claim…

  9. Kent G. Budge says:

    [snark]
    Scott Adams has fixed his speech problem.

    Now all he needs is something worth saying.
    [/snark]

    Cruel, I know.

    I guess I got disenchanted with Adams when he agreed to produce the ethics training material used by my company several years back. I felt like he had gone over to the enemy.

  10. Boyd says:

    Perhaps Bit would say that everyone should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. But that can be kind of difficult for someone who has no legs…

    Thanks for yet another (no pun intended, john) example of the classic “straw man” argument, anjin-san. It would perhaps be more useful if you would actually participate in the discussion rather than trying to create a non-existent argument on your adversary’s behalf and attacking that.

  11. Bithead says:

    Perhaps when Bithead has seen a little more of life, he will be less dismissive of those who are unable to care for themselves.

    I won’t respond to this, other than to say I have some very personal history with the disabled… and that I can think of one particular blind woman who would agree rather heartily with me, that dependance is, generally over-played.

  12. anjin-san says:

    Bit,

    There are some disabled people out there who are absolutely extraordinary. I am glad you know one of them.

    I have someone in my family who is mentally ill. Its not his fault. He cannot take care of himself. Right now. my wife and I are spending the money we are going to need for retirement on his care.

    I stand by my statement. Perhaps when you have seen more of life you will become a “bit” more compassionate.

  13. Boyd says:

    Strawman and condescension. One more and you hit the trifecta, anjin-san.

  14. anjin-san says:

    Boyd,

    Whenever you speak, I suddenly get very sleepy…

    In other words, boooooring

  15. Boyd says:

    I attack the argument, you attack the arguer. Hard to hold a decent discussion with that approach.

  16. Bithead says:

    When I see a bit more of life, say you?

    Once again, you have no CLUE what you’re talking about.

  17. Bithead says:

    I have someone in my family who is mentally ill. Its not his fault. He cannot take care of himself. Right now. my wife and I are spending the money we are going to need for retirement on his care.

    Yep. That’s known as being responsible.
    I just got through with a family situation wherein I ended up spending several thousand dollars to help out a family member in a similar situation. We buried her about 1 year ago, now, and my finances are a shambles as a result, and we still have the emotional scars, of course.

    You have my sympathy, but not to the extent that I’m going to join in your call for government taking that responsibility from me. Or, you.

    Real life, say you? You have no clue about my life.