Monday, March 03, 2008

Ankle Deep and Rising

I am ashamed to admit that when Boston Legal character Alan Shore first exhibited a disorder called 'Word Salad' I'd never heard of it. And me a scholar of Psychology too. However, in such a capacity I discover that the correct term for the disorder is 'schizophasia', something that can be brought on by stress, as depicted in the show, but is more likely to be associated with the disorganised thinking common in people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

As far as my own disabilities in vocabular vocalising are concerned, I'd make a pretty meagre salad - more like a salad drawer just before a trip to the supermarket in fact.

So far I've established that my issue with losing half my words is quite possibly related to caffeine consumption. It first started at university, generally when I was engaged in wading through a significant workload and it seemed the more I had to do the worse the word drought became. Ironically (if caffeine is indeed to blame) the first symptom was that I couldn't find the right combination of phonemes to request a cup of coffee. Fortunately my non-verbal communication skills remained largely unaffected and, thanks to the beautiful thing that is advertising, I was able to rattle a fist up and down and get the message across.

My acceptance since that the problem was not related to the workload is because there was a clear correlation between the amount of caffeine I consumed and the amount of work I had to do. Since then the episodes of aphasia have recurred during other times when I have been working hard on something requiring extensive thought processes, be they creative or otherwise. Again this is when I am drinking more coffee.

Now then, I didn't start this post with the intention of presenting a pseudo-scientific analysis of the effects of caffeine on language cognition, but I will say that the evidence for a link between tip of the tongue phenomena and excessive caffeine intake is compelling. My purpose was to point out that even though I am currently drinking far less coffee than I have for months I have started to experience brief (yet infuriating) periods of aphasia that leave me grasping for simple, common words, whilst my extended vocabulary remains in tact.

I surmise therefore that it is not the caffeine, but only because it pleases me to do so. After all life without coffee would be no life at all, much like a life without words, which strikes me as a bit of a paradox - if I'm wrong. The only conclusion that is acceptable is that it is more to do with having too many neural resources committed to the symbolic representation of language on the page - a very different cognitive process from deciding on meaningful combinations of sounds.

Hence my reasoning is thus: either I am overdosing on caffeine or thinking and this is a vent. It is a means to an end only; the end being that I will have written something and therefore cease worrying about not writing something, thereby freeing up mental resources. Consider it a lock on the canal of the mind and nothing more and you won't leave feeling disappointed or cheated.

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