September 27, 2012

I saw the movie “Life in a Day,” which was a beautiful collection of YouTube videos all made by people all over the world on the same day.  One woman, in a prompt about her favorite word, discussed Mamihlapinatapai.  The word is from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego and means “the look shared by two people, each wishing that the other will initiate something, but that neither is willing to start.”

The word supposedly has political origins, but its application to romantic relationships is painfully obvious.

The video below is not a clip from the movie, but it is made by the same woman who discusses it in the film.

She claims that it is the most succinct word according to the Guinness Book of World Records.


Cotard Delusion

September 21, 2012

I promise this is my last mental illness for a while.

Cotard Delusion, otherwise known by the amazing name Walking Corpse Syndrome is a delusion where the sufferer believes that he is, in fact, dead and his body is rapidly petrifying.  Sufferers often complain of smelling their own flesh rotting or claim to be missing limbs.  In some cases, the victims demand that they be sent to the morgue where they can be with their own kind.

As with the other illnesses I have discussed, the patients seem to  be perfectly lucid and usually become animated only when challenged about their beliefs.

Cotard’s is believed to be related to Capgras Syndrome, in that they both deal with the part of the brain that links facial recognition to emotion.  It is named after Jules Cotard who first recorded the illness in the 1880s

In some cases, the sufferer forms delusions of immortality.  In one case, a man claimed that he was poisoned but transformed into a dog (Lycanthropy) and was now an undead canine.  While I truly feel for anyone suffering from such an illness, I could not help but think of this:

Additional Sources:

International Journal of Mental Health Systems


Fregoli delusion

September 15, 2012

My head is starting to spin from all of these mental conditions, so I will keep this brief.  This delusion is almost the opposite of Capgras — it is the believe that two different people are actually the same person in disguise.  Like Capgras, it seems to relate to some breakdown with the minds ability to recognize faces.

Fregoli’s, interestingly enough, is not named after the physician who first noted it, like many other illnesses are.  The illness was first reported in 1927 by two doctors, Courbon and Fail, who told the story of a woman who believed that she was pursued by Sarah Bernhardt and another famous actress, who could take control of anyone’s body and make her do things against her will.  Fregoli is a reference to the Italian actor Leopoldo Fregoli, who was a famous quick-change actor of the time.


Code, Chris. Classic Cases in Neuropsychology II


September 6, 2012

Since I was a child playing with G.I. Joe action figures, I have know that shrapnel is the word for shell fragments, particularly those designed to purposely explode from an artillery round to injure enemy soldiers.  What I only recently learned, however, is that the word has an eponym.

Henry Shrapnel was a British lieutenant who invented the explosive shell in the mid-1780s.  Until that point, artillery was used mostly to attack enemy fortifications or armament.  His invention made it an effective anti-personnel weapon.  The British army did not fully embrace the idea until the start of the nineteenth century when it proved its worth in several Napoleonic battles, including Waterloo.
Source: “March 13, 1842: Henry Shrapnel Dies, But His Name Lives On” Wired

Capgras Delusion

September 3, 2012

A relative of reduplicative paramnesia, it is the delusional belief that your loved ones have been replaced by look alike impostors.  The victims are otherwise completely coherent and lucid.  The delusion was first described in 1923 by the French psychiatrist Joseph Capgras.

The illness is linked to damage to the part of the brain that connects vision to emotion.  The victims can recognize the features of the person they know, and they feel an emotional link to that person, but the image doesn’t stir that emotion because of the damage.  Ergo, they assume that this person must be an impostor.

Interestingly, because there is no damage to the part of the brain that links hearing to emotion, if they hear the voice of the loved one, they recognize it immediately.

In one of the most famous cases, a British man named Alan Davies suffered the delusion after a car accident and became convinced that his wife had been killed in the accident (the women living with him was an impostor).  He successfully sued the other driver for the same damages as if his wife had been killed because the anguish for him was the same.

The video above is the first half of a TED talk by neurologist Vilayanur Ramachandran, during which he discusses the delusion, as well as phantom limb syndrome and synesthesia.  It is certainly worth watching the whole thing.

Rivka Galchen, a very talented writer, wrote the novel Atmospheric Disturbances, which is a compelling psychological tale about a man who either suffers from Capgras or is truly being deceived.  She tipped me off to the Alan Davies story.

Additional Sources:

“Capgras Delusion: A Window On Face Recognition.” Trends in Cognitive Science.


September 3, 2012

Another political term that I cam across in Robert Caro’s Passage of Power, volume four of his autobiography of Lyndon Johnson.  The term comes from European and Latinate origins, but it seems to have been laundered through West African pidgin, where the term was used to refer to a conference between two sides, often tribal leaders.  This is certainly the meaning LBJ imbued it with.  

Over time, the term has mostly picked up a negative connotation.  Now the word signifies a prolonged or draw out conversation, often weighed down by jargon.  This seems to be an interesting indication of how our views on politics have shifted in the last fifty years.

The word can also be used as a verb.