Curious mental phenomena
Here are two curious cases of memory loss and subsequent mental anomalies that raise two questions:
(1) Does reincarnation implant other people’s memories in a stranger?
In Yunlin, a 40-year old woman was in a coma and was pronounced clinically dead for three days and three nights, but she woke up and regained consciousness. However, she suffered a loss of short term memory but her long term memory was able to recall the childhood of an 18-year-old girl living on the distant island of Quemoy several hundred miles away across the Taiwan Strait and reachable only by air or by ocean ferry.
The woman and the young girl are strangers and have absolutely no ties with each other. There seems to be no good medical explanation for the existence of memories of a stranger’s childhood in the long term memory of the 40-year old woman living far apart.
The question is: Has the memory of the childhood of the 18-year old girl been somehow implanted into the long term memory of that 40-year old woman while she was in a coma for 3 days and 3 nights?
If so, does it prove the Tibetan Buddhist belief in “bardo”?
(2) Are one’s language skills compartmentalized in the brain?
An old lady who has been living in Wuhan City for several decades and who speaks the Wuhan dialect fluently went to pay respects to her deceased husband at his grave.
Several days after she returned home, she woke up one morning and began talking. However, her family members could not understand what she was saying.
The old lady’s niece who had been working in Canton came to visit the family and recognized that the old lady was speaking Cantonese. The old lady spoke Cantonese in Canton as a child where she grew up. But for several decades living in Wuhan, she did not speak any Cantonese.
But now, the old lady was speaking Cantonese so fluently that she and her niece could conduct conversations at length but when asked to speak the Wuhan dialect, her spoken language for the past several decades, the old lady could not speak a word of it and could not understand anything that her family members say to her. The old lady was taken to the hospital in search of a medical explanation.
According to the doctors, the old lady had a CVA or cerebrovascular accident, and the “neural linguistic hub” for her ability to speak and understand the Wuhan dialect was damaged but the “neural linguistic hub” for her skills in the Cantonese dialect remained intact. So her Cantonese “linguistic hub” took over her speech function and actively replaced the damaged “linguistic hub” of the Wuhan dialect.
Are there specific “neural linguistic hubs” for each language and for different languages in the brain of a multilingual person?
Many people who learn a second language or a foreign language well do so through situational learning. Learning and acquiring fluency and skill in a second language or a foreign language depend on repetition, imitation, and subconscious absorption and recognition of sounds and tones. Direct or frontal approach by conscious study, memorization, book learning, outside a linguistic environment that encourages situational response are difficult, frustrating and ineffective.
Instead, subconscious or subliminal learning in an appropriate linguistic environment where situational responses are encouraged and “forced” is much more effective. An appropriate partial linguistic environment can be created with audio and audio-visual means such as listening to foreign language speeches and foreign language movies and watching subtitled foreign language movies. Audio comprehension becomes the main focus.
Mental translation occurs semi-consciously in the mind of a bilingual person. Often a fluently bilingual person who is listening to a newscast in Spanish, the bilingual person’s mother tongue, will understand it mentally in English, the bilingual person’s acquired language.
This mental translation is instantaneous and does not go through the thinking process. It is a semi-conscious mental reaction.
The mental process of dealing with a linguistic situation
Circumstantial learning and situational learning in which circumstantial responses are “forced” seem to encourage the mind to “deal” with a situation in which the use of a foreign language becomes necessary. The mind has to focus on “dealing” with the situation in a foreign language. Thus, “dealing” with the immediate situation on hand becomes the focus, not the conscious use of a foreign language.
The necessity to respond verbally poses a mental challenge that is confrontational. Therefore, it is probable that the mind responds to the situation and subconsciously selects an appropriate response with a particular utterance that is understood by others.
This mental challenge is often seen in autism where the autistic person struggles to utter meaningful responses and often becomes frustrated and angry.
If the area of the brain’s response functions is damaged by a CVA, then it would be the response function that is damaged, not any particular “linguistic hub” in the brain.
In the case of the Australian young man who woke up from a coma speaking fluent Mandarin, the foreign language he was attempting to learn, instead of English, his mother tongue, could be explained better when viewed as a manifestation of a damaged mental response function rather than a manifestation of a mental “linguistic takeover” originating in any mental “Mandarin linguistic hub” without having acquired sufficient fluency in Mandarin.
It is therefore more probable that a CVA damages the mind’s ability to provide mental responses in a particular set of utterances rather than failure to respond from any specific physical location of a “linguistic hub” inside the brain. It could probably be a damage to the set of nerves that produces a particular response than damage to a localized “linguistic hub”.
It is most probably not a mental “switch” between two “linguistic hubs” in a bilingually fluent person nor a “takeover” by one physical “linguistic hub” of another physical “linguistic hub” in the multilingual person’s brain that produces multilingualism. The improbability is based on the fact that comprehension involves not only logic but also emotion.
There is usually a strong emotional attachment, nostalgia or emotional affinity one feels towards a target foreign language.
We often hear about people who speak calmly in his or her native tongue but swears in a Foreign language. This indicates an instantaneous situational response in a confrontational circumstance.
It seems to debunk the explanation of the existence of “linguistic hubs” in the brain and the “compartmentalization” of language skills inside the human brain.
The fluently multilingual overseas Chinese in Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, also indicate that it is their ability to “react and respond” linguistically in different languages in different environments, surroundings, circumstances and situations that makes them fluently multilingual rather than a conscious manifestation of “compartmentalized” linguistic skills.