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Friday, October 27, 2006

Mind Over Matter : Scott Adams hacks his brain to restore his speech

The fabled Dilbert creator Scott Adams lost the ability to speak several months ago owing to Spasmodic Dysphonia. The doctor’s viewpoint – it is likely that he would never regain the ability to speak. Adams now reports that owing to his belief and practice, he is able to speak again.( As the Wikipedia entry explains - spasmodic dysphonia was once thought to be psychogenic, that is, originating in the affected person's mind rather than from a physical cause. While psychogenic forms of spasmodic dysphonia exist, research has revealed increasing evidence that most cases of spasmodic dysphonia are in fact neurogenic or having to do with the nervous system (brain and nerves)).

In his own words, Adams describes :Just because no one has ever gotten better from Spasmodic Dysphonia before doesn’t mean I can’t be the first. So every day for months and months I tried new tricks to regain my voice. I visualized speaking correctly and repeatedly told myself I could (affirmations). I used self hypnosis. I used voice therapy exercises. I spoke in higher pitches, or changing pitches. I observed when my voice worked best and when it was worst and looked for patterns. I tried speaking in foreign accents. I tried “singing” some words that were especially hard.
The day before yesterday, while helping on a homework assignment, I noticed I could speak perfectly in rhyme. Rhyme was a context I hadn’t considered. A poem isn’t singing and it isn’t regular talking. But for some reason the context is just different enough from normal speech that my brain handled it fine.
Jack be nimble, Jack be quick.
Jack jumped over the candlestick.
I repeated it dozens of times, partly because I could. It was effortless, even though it was similar to regular speech. I enjoyed repeating it, hearing the sound of my own voice working almost flawlessly. I longed for that sound, and the memory of normal speech. Perhaps the rhyme took me back to my own childhood too. Or maybe it’s just plain catchy. I enjoyed repeating it more than I should have. Then something happened.
My brain remapped.
My speech returned.
Not 100%, but close, like a car starting up on a cold winter night. And so I talked that night. A lot. And all the next day. A few times I felt my voice slipping away, so I repeated the nursery rhyme and tuned it back in. By the following night my voice was almost completely normal. Moving story. Again a case of mind over matter. Wishing Mr. Adams a lively and lifelong lasting voice

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