God made some men of mud, but they were very soft and limp, and they couldn’t see. They could speak, but what they said didn’t make sense.~ Mayan Creation Story (Indiginouspeople.net)
She sits on the steps, dirty-white sadness wrapped tightly around her, time running through her hands like the quicksand of an hourglass. Music sketching Richter-scale graphs in her mind, her thoughts appearing and disappearing across her mental screen in the empty room of her head.
She has Synesthesia. Sight is sound, time is sand or twine, emotion is colored clay. Music is a pattern, words are a dance. Communicating cannot be done in simple verbal exchanges for her. Oh, she can talk, well enough, but words lack. People’s words are flat with lacking complexity.
If she could communicate with people in her way, shapes and sounds and textures would layer and permeate her language. Instead of a stream of empty, harsh sounds, she would dance, touch, taste and shape her way through the conversation. But, that’s not how English works. She stutters through a description of her day. The kids laugh at her, and she runs.
Language is a tricky thing. Perception of language? That’s a kettle of fish that’s just waiting to flop all over the house. Communication and perception. Two of the most basic building blocks of a second world setting, and two of the most complicated. Both are hugely affected by brain chemistry and social/cultural background. Composed primarily of symbols and sounds, processing and communicating in any language requires a significant dedication to learning the syntax.
The brain is a frontier that we haven’t been able to completely grasp yet. Science still doesn’t have a good handle on synesthesia, dyslexia or autism, all things that are caused by minute variations in brain structure, biology or chemistry. New variants of dyslexia have been discovered. The understanding of autism is expanding, and yet we are still far behind. These three are only a very small sampling of the vast catalog of brain anomalies.
I have synesthesia. It dominates my perception and communication to degrees that I am only recently becoming aware of. I find myself trying to explain something four or five different ways to someone who doesn’t think that time is of a similar consistency to putty, and built like a room that we all walk through. My ex and I shared this to a strange degree, talking about social interaction as ‘dancing’, emotion as visible color, etc.
Living within it, I love it. At times, it distances me from someone who does not have synesthesia, and it does make it hard to connect to what other people are saying, sometimes. Within my family, we have/had members with clinical depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, epilepsy and synesthesia. None of us are on drugs, and that can make life difficult. But it does make me wonder how many of the disorders listed in books like the DSM are merely poorly understood and lacking in a clear method of handling.
Eight years old. Blond curls, big brown eyes. Looks over his shoulder when he goes out of the house to see if he can get away with leaving the door open. Loves people, often walking up to strangers, putting his hand in theirs, communicating in smiles, laughter, strings of syllables and hand gestures. Has a toy drum that he puts his ear up against and pushes ‘play’ over and over again. He is always smiling, except when he’s crying.
His name is Zachary, and he is severely autistic. With a strong pattern of therapy utilizing, among other things, music, he has centered and begun to speak. He is in the third grade, but he goes to a few special classes, too. He is a happy, healthy, adjusted boy. He’s my absolute favorite cousin.
Typically, anything that is different from the norm is feared. Special harshness seems to be granted to alternate brain-patterns and structures. However, many disorders were once treated as gifts. Epileptic fits were sometimes ascribed to spirit possession. People with other were believed to be devil-worshipers or witches. Poor-houses and asylums earned a nasty reputation.
It is only recently that scientists have started making great progress on autism research. Discoveries point to a linked genetic marker shared by schizophrenia and autism. As autism diagnoses skyrockets, will that discovery finally provide us with the tools necessary to find a cure? Or is autism here to stay?
What about schizophrenia? Recent studies suggest that a specific gene leading to a greater risk of schizophrenia might inhibit certain types of cancer. Schizophrenia is terrifying, especially within a world that values a traditional way of thinking and has a strongly-defined normative state of perception. Yet this is chemistry that could, potentially, revolutionize the treatment and prevention of certain cancers.
She has dreams. Visions. She sees things. Sometimes they come true. Sometimes they don’t. But when they do, it’s not happenstance. It isn’t deja vu. She has seen this happen before, this structuring of events, and she told people, but no one listened. They give her medication.
He can feel people’s emotions. Feel them like balls of smooth or rough or hard clay in his hands. Sometimes he can smooth away the jagged edges. Sometimes it isn’t just emotions. He can hear the person’s thoughts. If he tells them what they are thinking, they either cling to him in grateful recognition, or they edge away. He tells people about this, but no one believes him. They give him medication.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty in the understanding of the brain, especially in regions of perception and communication. After all, DSM-IV still classifies Gender Dysphoria as a disorder worthy of therapy and medication. Until very recently, anyone in the LGBTQ community was regarded as sick. Often, someone with an unusual brain chemistry has to look outside of the medical/scientific community to find answers or a way to create their own safe way of dealing and communicating with the world.
How many times does someone say ‘I have a weird feeling about this’, ‘I knew that she was dead before the phone rang’, ‘I don’t know how I knew. I just did.’? Sometimes it can be explained by circumstances, influences and history. But, sometimes, it is more than a simple cause-effect reasoning. And it is something that we have very little understanding of.
But where does all of this fit into communication, perception and the relation of human language to alien?
First off, if alien brain-structures are mammalian in form, who is to say that the same regions would be active? Perhaps there’s a city of schizophrenic aliens who regard the human brain as weak and colorless. Maybe the fantasy tribe doesn’t have a word for red, or maybe the word for red is the same as for blood. Perhaps the patrons of the inn hum their conversations, communicating without formed words.
In the near future, who knows where the study of the brain will lead us? Empaths, seers, telepaths and Time-Lords are staples of both science-fiction and fantasy. People who actually see ‘auras’ could, in fact, be synesthetes unusually skilled at reading emotion and personality.
It is possible that in the search for human perfection and immortality, scientists make a chilling discovery: perfect mind, or perfect body. What a fun dystopian scenario! Both cannot be had. Those with a perfect body are affected by autism, schizophrenia, degenerative brains and other mental illnesses. The ‘perfect’ mind segment of the population suffers from physical diseases. The death rate from cancer sky-rockets. People begin whispering about the Messiah, someone with perfect mind and perfect body.
Perception. Reality. Insanity. Interpretation. Language and culture hinge off of each of these things, and the response to them.
Here’s a challenge for you: Come up with an alternate form of communication. Sound, sight, etc. How would it work? How will such brains differ from ours? Will it be an evolved variant of ours? Genetically-engineered? Something completely different?