Lilac orgasm, moody hands, partial world, and other dangerous tricks played by human brain.
Human brain controls almost all the events inside human body – we would be unable to breathe, move, feel attraction to other people, and basically live without it. However, the slightest malfunctioning of this incredibly complex organ may cause so unpredictable consequences that are unimaginable to any Hollywood screenwriter.
Innovation House made a list of five most amusing neurological phenomena and disorders.
Famous physicist Richard Feynman believed that all letters “j” in equations are of light-tan color, letters “n” are slightly violet-bluish, and “x’s” are dark brown. Hungarian Composer Franz Liszt scolded his musicians for playing music “in the wrong color”: “O please, gentlemen, a little bluer, if you please! This tone type requires it!” or “That is a deep violet, please, depend on it! Not so rose!”. Confused Weimar orchestra musicians had nothing to do but to stare and exchange glances.
Thus far, it is not reliably confirmed, but apparently both Feynman and Liszt (as well as writer Vladimir Nabokov, composers György Ligeti, Olivier Messiaen, Jean Sibelius, jazzman Duke Ellington, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein) were suffering (or not) from synaesthesia. This is frequent neurological phenomenon, with which some 4% of world’s population live.
An average person has one response to one sensory stimulus. For instance, oranges taste like oranges, if you touch warm wax you will feel soft and dense substance, jeans fabric is slightly scratchy and rough. The distinctive feature of synesthetes is that one stimulus may simultaneously cause several sensory reactions. These people will treat oranges and as shocking, wax as embarrassing, and jeans as gloomy. The feelings of a person suffering from synesthesia are overlaid one upon the other.
Results of the study conducted by American professor Sean Day, show that the most “popular” type of synaesthesia is grapheme-color synaesthesia (“letter – color” or “number – color”), followed by association of time intervals with the color (people with such type of synaesthesia believe that minutes, days of the week, and months are colored). There is even a sexual synaesthesia – such synesthetes may feel orange sexual excitement or lilac orgasm.
Sure thing, one could assume that all these people are simply makу all this up and talk metaphorical nonsense, but tests on synesthetes prove that their brains really work in a different manner. For instance, some tests may cause extremely unpleasant feelings of people with grapheme-color synaesthesia – letters and numbers of “wrong” color provoke intense rejection, disorientation, and disgust of testees.
One of the scientific hypotheses explaining the origin of synaesthesia states that in early childhood almost all people treat sensory stimuli as synesthetic perceptions. If hypothesis is true, then babies’ perception of sensory stimuli is mixed – sounds, colors, images. This is because the brain of young person may have excessive neural connections that link various sense organs. With the increase of years, redundant links die off, distinction between sensual reactions is getting more explicit. However, a small percentage of the world’s population has these links preserved.
Functional theory states that synesthesia is caused by operational disorder of neurotransmitters or emergence of abnormal neural links in the brain, which makes the signals “leak” from the zones responsible for sound recognition into the zones responsible for color perception. Researchers also believe that it is highly likely that synesthesia has some genetic component, since it is inherited. Thus, Vladimir Nabokov inherited his color perception from his mother and transferred it to his son.
Woodrow Wilson, who was the president of the USA, had two strokes in 1896 and 1906, and suffered from migraine attacks and hypertension, took a long ride throughout the country. His 13,000 km long journey was expected to be performed within 22 days, however, Mr. Wilson failed to complete the tour. Already weakened president was hit by the stroke on his way heading to Wichita city, the state of Kansas. Having returned to Washington, 62-year-old Thomas Woodrow Wilson could no longer be fully operational. A couple of weeks later he was hit by yet another stroke. Although a few months afterwards he has resumed his functions, the neurological condition of the 28th president of the United States became even worse. Among other changes, Mr. Wilson stopped noticing objects located on his left, even though he had a good eyesight: his eyes retained the ability to see – he was not bumping the furniture while moving around the residence. In other words, his brain signaled about obstacles, but Mr. Wilson could not consciously see whatever was on his left-hand side. Thus, when he was sitting at the table and dozen pens were on the left, he was complaining that he had nothing to write with.
Neglect syndrome (inability to see half of the outworld) – distressing consequence of parietal lobe damage. Patients with this syndrome shave only half of their face, they see no wristwatch if it is on their “invisible” hand, they cannot dress themselves properly and hardly navigate in the environment. Moreover, this neurological disorder affects their memories. Thus, during the experiment conducted by Italian neurologists Eduardo Biziak and Claudio Luzzatti in 1978, patients with neglect syndrome were asked to imagine that they were standing in the middle of a well-known square in Milan. They had to describe buildings located on that square. However, the patients could describe buildings on one side of the square only. Then, researchers asked them to make 180-degree turn mentally and to try again – when this was done, patients were able to describe all the buildings that were “invisible” to them before, but stopped seeing those that were seen only a few minutes ago.
It is rather interesting that people suffering from neglect syndrome basically feel no discomfort – they actually ignore their defect, remaining quite vigorous and cheerful, unlike those depressed persons, who had a stroke and lost the ability to move their hands or feet. This phenomenon of neglect syndrome neglecting is called anosognosia.
In the summer of 1918, the French psychiatrist Jean Marie Joseph Capgras has examined a new patient. The woman believed that she was successor to King Henry IV, but her identical impostor has fabricated a conspiracy jointly with other identical impostors, has changed the hair color of the patient, has put a few drops of some liquid in her eyes for them to change their color, and has “stolen her breasts” as well. All this was done for the sole purpose – to disinherit the “kinship to the king”.
The woman was telling incredibly complicated stories, but they all had a common motive that seemed to be interesting to Mr. Capgras. The patient kept on speaking about “identical impostors”. Thus, she told that 28,000 Parisians – mostly children – were kidnapped by unknown persons. All these people were supposedly locked up in catacombs, some of them were mummified alive and some were being tortured doctors-sadists.
All this was written in the complaint filed by her with the police. When police officers asked that weirdo home come no one noticed the loss of such a crowd of people, she confidently replied that kidnappers have replaced the kidnapped people with identical impostors and called on the guardians of the law to take appropriate legal response measures. Police officers made the right decision and took the woman to the clinic to immediately consult with the psychiatrist Jean Capgras.
He started in depth examination of an unusual patient. Among other things, she declared that her husband and daughter were killed by identical impostors. And, even worse, there identical impostors were constantly replaced by others. Thus, with the course of time, her husband had 80 look-alikes, her daughter had 2,000 look-alikes between 1914 and 1918. This was explained by the fact that people change with the lapse of time – they grow fat, lose weight, their hair becomes gray, skin wrinkling occurs. But the brain of the patient treated these changes as emergence of a new person. The psychiatrist published an article describing this case, which grabbed the attention of neurologists and made them drew particular attention to the patients with similar disorders. It turned out that illusions involving identical impostors are rather rare, but quite widespread. Eventually, this disease was named Сapgras syndrome.
It basically resides in the fact that the patient recognizes native and familiar faces, but feels no proper emotional response, which makes him invent the most incredible explanations for this. Advances in technology made the identical impostors of such patients evolve into aliens, clones, robots, and androids. Neurologists noticed that Сapgras syndrome is caused by toxins, methamphetamines, severe blows to the head, Alzheimer’s disease, as well as negative psychological effects, like losing loved ones. However, disputes as to the provokers of this disease show no sign of abating. One of the most popular theories states that it is triggered by the disorders of brain’s vision system responsible for facial recognition.
Sometimes Сapgras syndrome leads to the direst consequences, making the patients feel the rage and aggression against “identical impostors”. Thus, in 1980 the resident of Missouri has killed his own stepfather having cut off his head. Then he started searching for the wires and microchips in his neck – the murderer was sure that someone had replaced his stepfather with a robot. On the other hand, there are some cases when Сapgras syndrome helped patients to improve their family life. Thus, in 1930s one Frenchwoman declared that her husband was not a satisfactory lover, but his “identical impostor” was a real superhero lover.
Alien hand syndrome
Imagine that one of your hands became unmanageable. It does not hang limply along your body, as is often the case for stroke patients. On the contrary, your limb is rather active, but the snag is that it behaves completely unpredictable, sometimes kind of to spite its master. Suppose you have to open a desk drawer to take something from it. You pull the handle by your right hand, but your left hand pushes back the desk drawer whether you like it or not. Scary, isn’t it?
This is what has happened to one of the patients at the time of World War II. She was treated from epilepsy – corpus callosum of her brain was surgically excised, which has stopped her seizures and made one of her hands live its own life. The disobedient limb was unbuttoning buttons on her blouse that were buttoned by the other hand just a moment ago, prevented her from opening drawers and acted inadequately. Another patient was even less lucky – she had a stroke and her hand started pinching her nose, throwing off bedclothes from the bed, spilling the beverages. All this was done with no conscious decisions of the patient. “Perhaps, my hand was haunted by an evil spirit,” – she said to her doctor. Basically, this very case in 1909 gave rise to the study of “moody hand”.
Alien hand syndrome is a complex and extremely unpleasant psychoneurological disorder, in which hands of the patient perform unmanageable and undesirable movements. In most cases there are two types of this syndrome. The first one – “magnetic”, when the hand grabs some object and keeps holding it. The second case is when the right and left hands are in opposition to each other: one hand picks up the phone – another one immediately hangs up the phone. In other words, a person suffering from the second type of this syndrome can forget about playing board games. Some patients may suffer from both types of this disorder at the same time. Thus, Sam Kean, author of the book “The Tale of the Duelling Neurosurgeons”, provides an example of such a rare “luck”: one intelligent elderly man, who once had a stroke, has discovered that his hand unzips his trousers at its own will and takes the penis out. Moreover, the grip of the hand was tight. Prior to this man has never been inclined to exhibitionism.
Despite the fact that all these stories seem to be quite comical, it is obvious that this alien hand syndrome brings no joy to people. On the contrary – it makes their lives miserable. However, the history of neurology knows one case of the positive influence exerted by this disorder – as soon as the patient took cigarette case from the pocket with her one hand, her second hand immediately hid it in the pocket. For this reason woman eventually had to quit smoking.
This syndrome is well studied and neurologists currently have a rather accurate picture of its causes. Thus, “magnetic” grip usually occurs due to damage to the frontal lobes of the brain. The “clash” of who hands is the consequence of the damage inflicted on the corpus callosum, responsible for the communication between the right and left hemispheres.
Alice in Wonderland syndrome and Cotard’s syndrome
Illusions are the most terrible game ever played by the brain with the person. No matter how persuasive you can be, you will never make the person suffering from hallucinations twisting the reality that these are just the dirty tricks played by the mind. Those, who suffer from illusions, believe that they are real. Clinical records describing these disorders sometimes look like real plots of the movies.
Thus, in 1978 one Australian resident suffering from schizophrenia suddenly “found out” that the second head has risen on his shoulder, What is more, he decided that this was the head of deceased lover of his wife, gynecologist. Then he “realized” that it was the gynecologist, who has killed his wife, and did his best to kill that head. He failed to cut it off from the shoulder with an ax, so he took a gun. Having shot the “the head of the gynecologist”, the bullet hit his own head. On top of everything, the bullet grazed his brain and miraculously “cured” the man from a terrible illusion.
Victims of so-called Alice in Wonderland syndrome shall fight through their bitter lives too. This syndrome is named after the famous fairy tale written by Lewis Carroll – a rare neurological disorder, a side effect of migraine attacks or seizures that affect the perception. Patients with this disorder may feel themselves smaller than they actually are, up to 10 cm (micropsia), or vice versa – extremely tall, up to five meters in height (macropsia). The space and time are distorted for such people – the ceiling may suddenly go down, walls may move apart, floor may become swampy. Alice in Wonderland syndrome frequently hits people suffering from migraines, schizophrenia, epilepsy, brain tumors and mononucleosis.
Interestingly enough, the team of English psychiatrists has analyzed the book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and illustrations to it, and jumped to the conclusion that Carroll was suffering from terrible migraine attacks that often resulted in distorted perception of reality.
Cotard’s syndrome is yet another hair-raising neurological disorder. It would be hard to imagine a more existential illusion (Jean-Paul Sartre would have appreciated it): people suffering from this syndrome believe that they or some parts of their body are dead. They feel the putrefaction, bad smell, they stop sensing the parts of their body.
Thus, the case of patient named Graham is widely known. After numerous and vain attempts to help this man, his doctors turned to neurologists Adam Zeman from the University of Exeter (the UK) and Steven Laureys from the University of Liège (Belgium). The point is, when Graham woke up he felt that he was dead, or rather his brain was dead.
“When I was in hospital I kept on telling them that the tablets weren’t going to do me any good ’cause my brain was dead, – the man recalled. – I lost my sense of smell and taste. I didn’t need to eat, or speak, or do anything. I ended up spending time in the graveyard because that was the closest I could get to death.”
It is remarkable that such patients are not confused when they are told that they are sitting, moving and talking right here, – nothing may burst their illusion.
“I just got annoyed. I didn’t know how I could speak or do anything with no brain, but as far as I was concerned I hadn’t got one,” – said Graham.
One of the theories suggested by the neurologists states that Cotard’s syndrome is something like Сapgras syndrome, but vice versa. When someone is suffering from Сapgras syndrome, he experiences no proper emotional response to his relatives and friends, but in case of Cotard’s syndrome he feels no response to himself, which makes him believe that he is dead.
According to Sam Kean, neurology fully indicates that any attribute of the human psyche, even the sense of own life, may become meaningless or even disappear, if some areas of the brain are damaged.