Illustration of Mapping speech

1861 Mapping speech

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Paul Broca anatomy Illustration of Mapping speech

Mapping speech

You don’t need a twisted mind to appreciate people who are sick in the head, broken clocks, engines with sticky valves, aphasiacs, epileptics, schizophrenics. The root of neuroscience is pathology; every loose screw and slipped gear suggests how the mind runs. Parisian surgeon and pathologist Paul Broca identified the third frontal convolution of the left cerebral hemisphere as the center of articulate speech by dissecting the brains of people who, when they were alive, couldn’t speak. Even though he got the wrong spot, they named it after him, and he inspired other scientists to correlate behaviors with areas of the brain, including Egaz Moniz, who won a Nobel prize in 1949 for pioneering prefrontal lobotomy as a cure for schizophrenia and disobedience. Scientists and doctors have decided for us serious results can not be obtained by phrenologists examining bumps on the skull. It’s bloody work but somebody, they argue, has to dissect brains.

Speech speach

Would an animal commit no wrong, be it a snail or a lamb, that animal wouldn’t eat plants, make slime, drop turds, or complain plaintively. Though the heart were pure the cause of any act of love can seem like deception, coercion, or greed. The great powers of human beings, love, imagination, force of arms, and speech, since they don’t control themselves, are all under suspicion. In our study of how things have gone bad since Adam and Eve left Eden, we imagine the meaning of life and death and ask whether one may lord it over another without guilt. The abusive parent believes in the benefits of discipline. The precise line between proper authority and totalitarian rule is difficult to draw, yet most people think they would know where to draw it. An act of deception takes advantage of capabilities of a victim that should contribute to the general survival. We make sacrifices; we ask for sacrifices. We almost always imagine ourselves justified, however gross our transgressions, though the best of intentions can produce the worst of results. The DNA of a disease organism, say, a bacterium, adds to the genetic pool of its host, ourselves. Misfortune may leave one stronger, pretty lies may be more attractive than the plain truth, but these provide no excuse for deliberate mistreatment. Our sins are thoroughly mingled with graces; every act of volition is compromised both by reality and by fantasy.

Cerebral localizations

It’s easier in retrospect to discover the murderer whom the novelist has created for a particular case after the detective has made his final observation, but, in real life, guess wrong and you’re seldom the wiser. Perilously we attempt to fix the moment in time, to correlate cause and effect, to separate instinct from logic, to locate the point of no return. We cannot reconcile our ideals with the appearance of reality, when reality fails to meet irreconcilable desires. Scientists can be too eager for any solution that fits the data. Doctors can be too eager; lovers can be too eager; artists can be too eager; hunters can be too eager to shoot the deer that wears the bright orange vest. If one lover complains, then the other has another view. We’ve got to wonder if our suffering is self-inflicted, if there’s any such thing as an honest mistake.


“Listen please to understand what I mean.”

Here I’ll say stupidity is a characteristic of others or what we were before we knew better. Here I’ll say stupidity is the water in us derived from ancient oceans. Stupidity is our trusted companion, forgiving when calamity falls, obscuring a multitude of sins, responding to all important questions, excusing our shortcomings. Stupidity has many virtues such as simplicity, confidence, and persistence. It is stoic, brave, loyal, and more faithful than a Saint Bernard. Stupidity is faster than a locomotive, stronger than stainless steel, and stickier than the tar baby. Stupidity is more funny. Stupidity is camp. Stupidity gets more votes. Stupidity sells more cars than sex and pushes more sex than sex appeal. Stupidity fits nicely into many of the habits of normal people. Alcohol consumption and stupidity are mutually reinforcing; forgetfulness and stupidity are mutually reinforcing; pride, idealism, and ideology reinforce stupidity; fanaticism and stupidity are mutually reinforcing; cynicism and obeying orders reinforce stupidity; desperation, suffering, peer pressure, and anger reinforce stupidity; advertising and stupidity are mutually reinforcing; willful ignorance and stupidity are mutually reinforcing. Talk of stupidity and farting have this in common; neither are acceptable in polite society but both are irrepressible and everpresent. Many great discoveries were made by accident and stupidity is a great promoter of accidents. Stupidity is often preferable to intelligence; mustard gas and the atom bomb were not works of stupidity. Being stupid has a survival value. If only Adam and Eve in the garden were more stupid. There’s an invisible line between stupidity and genius and it may be impossible to distinguish stupidity and inspiration. Stupidity and laziness do more work every day than intelligence and industry largely due to the law of large numbers, and partly due to the fact that stupidity has entropy working for it. Even so, stupidity of omission is greater than stupidity of commission. Stupidity makes and breaks more marriages than religion, and compensates for snobbishness and egotism between friends and lovers. Stupidity is a basic human right, our first defense against cruelty, against yearning for what we cannot have and suffering the mistakes of fate. Stupidity is protected by all democratic societies for both citizens and the government, and in monarchies and dictatorships an honored privilege but for only those in power and their friends. Stupidity is a necessity of a free-market society, and an unavoidable consequence of a communist system. Abuse of power cannot suppress stupidity, but can force it underground where it grows stronger. According to anecdotal reports, stupidity is always on the winning side. You know stupidity has triumphed when the criminal is as stupid as the victim, when the negative campaign wins the election, when more than half of all football teams are winning, when the sins of the parents are visited upon the children, when refugees and famines persist on the face of the earth, when species continue forced marches to oblivion, when nations spend more money on armies and arms than on education and the arts, when sport cars, mistresses, and wars make up for penile dysfunction and poor comb-overs. God’s special grace falls on stupid people. If it fell a little more on me then my own stupidity would seem less important. The respect due to strangers should also be due to stupid people; even if a stupid person isn’t an angel in disguise, we should probably consider he or she might be less stupid than we are. Bragging about how smart you are is a symptom of stupidity. Everyone has experience and expertise in some core stupidity. We all know at least one stupid person; if you can’t identify with him or her, then you are committing the sin of pride or are just being stupid, or both. Mirrors don’t show mental or moral qualities— cupidity, infidelity, venality, or stupidity. The normal symptoms of stupidity could be false negatives. The transparency of stupidity is an important challenge for caring people. Even stupid people want to make the world a better place. Even stupid people love their children. Even stupid people can live useful and rewarding lives. But stupid people are suffering every day. One climbed a power pole with a six-pack of beer and peed on the lines; one tried to steal a safe he thought wasn’t empty and stood below it as he eased it down the stairs; one opened his own letter bomb when it was returned for lack of postage; one avoided being stung by a swarm of bees by sealing his head in a plastic bag. These are only a few of the classic cases. Whether ancient or modern stupidity is misery’s creative outlet. People who are trying to understand stupidity are on a journey and can be loved not for where they are but for where they think they are going. I don’t say anything about idiocy, or mere ignorance, or mental or physical disability, or the effects of naturally occurring hormones, or the side effects of medical treatments, or lack of a chance in life, or accidents; these are problems and are not the same as stupidity. Yet stupidity has many synonyms and many friends, which are better left unnamed; many other vital powers burn stupidity’s loaves and break its windows forget to water its gardens litter its yards and poison its cats crash its cars, burn its fields and mislead its recreants but never ignore its constancy. Stupidity is a modus operandi. Stupidity is an explanation, not an excuse. Stupidity and history are completely intertwined. Stupidity gets noticed. Stupidity is not only a means to an end; it is both an end in itself and a never-ending process. More books and poems should be written about stupidity; many books already have but lack the word ‘Stupidity’ in their titles. Stupidity is like all other important aspects of human life— like great art or rock and roll— if you take it seriously you’ll never get to the bottom of it.

I am as scornful of Broca’s cerebral localizations as I am of prefrontal lobotomy, anthropometry and craniometry used to diagnose intelligence or criminal tendencies, and phrenology, even though we take these as the first primitive uses of the discovery of the brain’s many roles, and I take it as a metaphor for the all-too-human ability to deceive oneself and others, of which I am as capable as any other person.

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