Brain Region Linked to Metaphor Comprehension

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“Metaphors make for colorful sayings, but can be confusing when taken literally. A study of people who are unable to make sense of figures of speech has helped scientists identify a brain region they believe plays a key role in grasping metaphors.

Vilayanur S. Ramachandran of the University of California at San Diego and his colleagues tested four patients who had experienced damage to the left angular gyrus region of their brains. All of the volunteers were fluent in English and otherwise intelligent, mentally lucid and able to engage in normal conversations. But when the researchers presented them with common proverbs and metaphors such as ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ and ‘reaching for the stars,’ the subjects interpreted the sayings literally almost all of the time. After being pressed by the interviewers to provide deeper meaning, ‘the patients often came up with elaborate, even ingenious interpretations, that were completely off the mark,’ Ramachandran remarks. For example, patient SJ expounded on ‘all that glitters is not gold’ by noting that you should be careful when buying jewelry because the sellers could rob you of your money.” (Scientific American)

Ramachandran is an astounding neuroscience thinker. I have written before about his thinking about “mirror neurons” and the extraordinary significance he — quite rightly — affords them in understanding human experience. Most neurologists are quite skittish about thinking about the neurological functions I consider nontrivial, things like thinking and feeling. If you have an interest in the relationship between the brain and the mind, forget the Mind Wide Open and Brain Hacks hyperbole and head straight for Ramachandran’s A Brief Tour of Consciousness and Phantoms in the Brain for more insights per square inch of printed page than you can handle. For a quick and dirty introduction, look at his 2003 series of five BBC radio lectures, The Emerging Mind (audio links and transcripts), to which I blinked when they emerged then.

Flu pandemic looms, experts warn world

Many millions could die if Southeast Asian bird virus mutates to easily transmitted form: “A lineup of leading infectious disease experts warned Wednesday that the world is unprepared for the health and economic consequences of an outbreak of pandemic influenza that could spring from a lethal strain of bird flu now ravaging poultry flocks in Southeast Asia.

In commentaries published in the British science journal Nature, doctors used some of the strongest language yet to suggest that the bird flu virus known as H5N1 could mutate into a form easily transmitted among people, creating a strain capable of killing millions.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

And:

U.S. unprepared against new flu -experts: “The United States still has no licensed vaccine to prevent avian flu and has nowhere near enough drugs to treat the sick if there is an epidemic, experts told Congress on Thursday.

Hospitals have too little capacity to deal with the huge numbers of people who would become sick and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department does not have a plan for dealing with an epidemic, the experts said.” (Yahoo! News)