Whales, Brains, and Islands

By LaPointe, Leonard L. | Journal of Medical Speech - Language Pathology, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Whales, Brains, and Islands


LaPointe, Leonard L., Journal of Medical Speech - Language Pathology


   ... for no man lives in the external truth among salts and acids,
   but in the warm, phantasmagoric chamber of his brain, with the
   painted windows and the storied wall.

   Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

Mr. Stevenson had a way with words. For in the phantasmagoric chamber we entrap all of the treasured islands of mystery and history. I just read a review, written by John J. Puccio, of the DVD of the 1950 Disney classic kid adventure movie Treasure Island, and it struck a chord of familiarity and remembrance about this great yarn of sea life, pirates, buried gold, and an ensemble of creepy characters. As with Puccio, I think Stevenson's book version was one of the first novels I ever read cover to cover. What a troupe of rascals, all of whom were brought brilliantly to life by the cast of the 1950's film. Bobby Driscoll was the Disney ultracute young Jim Hawkins, thrown into a plot of mayhem and mutiny and surrounded by Blind Pew, Billy Bones, Black Dog, Captain Smollett, the scraggy castaway Ben Gunn, and the archetypal menacing pirate Long John Silver (played brilliantly enough to trigger a hundred nightmares by Robert Newton). Long John Silver launched a thousand pirate impersonators and a string of fast food fish and chips stores with his parrot, wooden peg leg ("all natural lower extremity prosthesis" in today's language), and model pirate utterance, "aaarrrgh."

The book and the 1950's movie are enduring classics embedded in our warm brain vaults. The frequent film remakes (e.g., Muppet version as well as the latest outer space computer-animated version Treasure Planet) don't come close to the benchmark by which all children's adventure yarns are measured, or to the print version, which takes ever so perfect advantage of the theater of the mind. It's on DVD with lots of extra scenes, so run out to your local memory depository shop and rent a return to yesterday.

All of this may have been triggered by a recent voyage to another island, filled, as it were, with treasures of its own. This year's Clinical Aphasiology Conference was held on Orcas Island in the Puget Sound off the coast of the state of Washington. We enjoyed a marvelous program, with a symposium and entire section on the theme of model-based aphasia treatment. David Plaut, from Carnegie-Mellon University, engaged us with computational modeling of language processing along with advances in computational lesions and predictions of recovery. Thanks to a grant from the NIDCD, a division of the National Institutes of Health, this year's conference program chair Argye B. Hillis and grant coordinator Connie Tompkins were able to infuse the program with special topics, keynote speakers and commentators, and young ideas. …

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