Tragic and debilitating, strokes are well known for their damaging effects. However in rare cases, they also have strange side effects that cast light on the secrets of the brain. By Vincent Tan
Image belongs to Southbanksteve
Neither a bratwurst nor a sausage dog, Wietzelsucht literally translates as “joke addiction” and involves the manic urge to crack jokes, all the time, no matter how inappropriate. Apart from thinking all their wisecracks are uproariously funny even when they are not, sufferers also lose the ability to find the funny in jokes told by others.
Image belongs to Per Jorgensen.
Half the World Vanishes
To your right, your friend exists, but if he steps to your left, he vanishes. This is what sufferers of hemispatial neglect experience, as their damaged brain ignores everything on one side of their bodies. Knocking into objects, shaving or putting on makeup on one side are not the worst problems. Sufferers are unable to drive or go out on their own as they do not notice danger coming from one side.
Image from Wikipedia.
Wrinkles in Time
Like film on a faulty projector, stroke victims sometimes perceive time speeding up (the zeitraffer phenomenon) or slowing down (akinetopsia) in strange ways. One man reported seeing drops of water hanging in the air like bullets from The Matrix. The brain records awareness in single frames and converts them into a cinema of experience, so brain damage could disrupt it. The brain’s film reel is also hinted at by “visual trails” seen by drug users when LSD is tampering with their neurons.
A World of Masks
You’re watching Captain America: Civil War, but Cap’s face looks the same as Iron Man’s, and you have to watch their clothes and superpowers to know who’s pummeling who. Having prosopagnosia is no joke. Caused by brain damage, or even inherited, sufferers are unable to recognise faces of family and friends, and sometimes even their own. Harsh social judgement sometimes attends this ‘face-blindness’ as sufferers may pass friends in public without knowing it. Manually overcoming it is as challenging as learning to identify the distinguishing features of rocks.
Images belongs to Twofaceprod.
Waking up a Foreigner
After a splitting headache, you find you’re unable to speak. As you regain your voice slowly, you realise you now sound like a Frenchman. Whether it’s Australian Ben McMahon speaking smooth Mandarin, Englishwoman Linda Walker sounding Jamaican, or Kath Locket channeling Polish, sufferers of Foreign Language Syndrome often lose a sense of who they are because of how they sound. The syndrome is so little studied, with only 150 documented cases worldwide, that it is presently incurable.
By altering our perceptions or changing our behaviour, every so often strokes provide critical insight into the brain’s workings, a silver lining to the dark cloud they bring.