Cheryl E. Fitzgerald (synapsomatic) wrote,
Cheryl E. Fitzgerald

Linguistic complexity and cleverness of the brain: a language map of the brain

I can't say it enough: nature is just more creative and clever than we are.
The traditional, orthodox [read: outdated, incorrect] theory of the brain carved it up into distinct parts that each have their distinctive function. One could perhaps compare it with a ship, the design of which is founded on function so as to fulfill a purpose: each part of the ship exists in order to fulfill that purpose by having its own function that plays a part in fulfilling that purpose. For example, the keel, the hull, and the bow are all part of the body that is in contact with the water, but each is a distinct part with its own function(s) apart from the others. But, those functions work together in concert in order to fulfill the purpose for which the ship is designed. Now look at the body of a bird, and one can see the same sort of logic of a composition based on function. That the brain should be so, too, seemed intuitive enough.

But if there is one lesson to take home from science, it is that we ought not trust our intuitions as much as comes so naturally to us by inclination.
(Oh, but such things do seem to get easily misplaced once home, don't they?)

The evidence that the brain is not carved up into functional parts has been accumulating, and here is one of the latest findings: some aspects of language are all over the brain. But it's not random. Because if anything, your brain is a master of organization, thanks to evolution. (In comparison, our attempts to come up with a theory of the functional structure and organization of the brain might as well have been written in crayon.)

A 3D map of the brain shows we understand language

Take a tour of the interactive 3D language map of the brain. I highly recommend checking it out if you can – although be warned that it's a heavy page to load up, being an interactive 3D model. Perhaps you should also be warned that if this sort of thing really piques your interest, you might lose an hour or so, getting sucked into playing around with it. Because it's fascinating and really cool.

Whatever it is you might think this could lead to, technologically and epistemically: stop, because it won't. If you think it might, then you are still stuck in that traditional, orthodox theory of the brain. It may be true in an objective sense that this brings us one step closer to understanding the human brain. But it's a step that reveals a stretch of terrain we hadn't seen before, because we had not a high enough view; and along with it, beyond it, a broader and further horizon.

And that is why I find this research and study to be fascinating and exciting.

It is worth pointing out that it also reveals to us that some previous research into topics on the neuroscience of language and linguistics were, at best, poorly designed due to certain assumptions about the brain – and of course, I mean assumptions we are realizing were incorrect – and at worst, fundamentally and irreparably flawed. And this, consequently, calls into question whatever were the findings and conclusions of those previous studies and researches. That is something that, as we go forward, we ought to keep in mind, and not underestimate how much it affects or changes what we thought we knew and/or found.

So let me highlight two paragraphs from the Popular Science article [emphasis in bold and italic added]:
While the results were quite similar across individuals, this doesn’t mean that the researchers have created a definitive atlas for language. First, the study only looked at seven participants, all from the same area of the world and all speakers of English. It also only used just one source of input: a series of spoken, engaging narrative stories. The researchers are eager to learn how things like experience, native language, and culture will alter the map.

Further, Gallant [one of the neuroscientists in the group of researchers who did the study] says, they think the map could also change if the setting changed or if a person was in a different mental state: if a person read the story instead of hearing it, or instead of hearing an engaging story, the context was tedious cramming for an exam.

N.B. I did intend for those analogies in my opening paragraph to be oversimplified and misguided, and therefore, basically just plain wrong.
Tags: brains, language, neuroscience
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