On Language and Communication - Alone Together in Plato's Cave

Relevant XKCD comic
Relevant XKCD comic

For the past fourteen, soon fifteen years I've struggled with epilepsy.

Audiogenic epilepsy of the left temporal lobe, upper front quarter "with generalized properties", aka "I'm not sure, tho".

When I had my first gran(d) mal seizure, I've experienced something many people don't through their entire life. Soon after came a period of time when I spent terrified of the world while I was being diagnosed. That part was quite scary on its own since they kept coming. All I could do is lay in bed and pray they finally stop.

They did not.

Today, with a hefty dose of neurotoxins for breakfast and dinner I'm able to lead a life. Not a fulfilling, not a good life, but a life. One that I've pondered ending more than a few times, but always end up deciding against it, hoping for a solution of some kind.

After a good decade of juggling medications with side effects that make euthanasia look not only less painful, but a more humane solution, I found myself alone.

With this, I want to try and invite you to my world. I will, without doubt, fail, yet time after time I try.

Specifically, I want to talk about a specific term - epileptic aura. It's a warning of sorts that may come before a major seizure. Some feel them, some don't.

The questions "how does a seizure feel like?", "what happens during a seizure?", "my son/daughter has epilepsy, how do I help?" are insanely popular on Quora, and not without reason - it's impossible to step into the world of epilepsy without experiencing it yourself.

For some, a more common experience.
For some, a more common experience.

If you've ever been in a fight, you might have experienced being punched.

Hell, through school almost everyone has been punched at least once. To punch and be punched is almost a rite of passage for us humans. Even if you haven't been punched in your entire life, you still have a solid idea what a punch feels like. It's one of the easiest ideas to convey - a solid object approaching your body, usually face, approaching at high speed and stimulating nerves in your skin, which in turn produces pain.

If the attacker is competent enough, they might even draw blood.

Language has been made to convey ideas like this - being punched = bad. Do not be punched if at all possible.

But then there are things one cannot accurately convey no matter how many, how few, or what words they use.

Earlier I searched for the word "period". To my surprise there were much less "Girls, how does it feel having a period?" threads than I've expected. I've resorted to asking a couple of my friends about it instead.

Friend 1's input

Friend 2's input

Friend 2 chose to concentrate on the pain and exhaustion aspect while friend 1 attempted to cover all her bases.

Still, this gaves us some insight into what menstruation feels like, but not much. Pain, exhaustion, and economical trouble.

First of all, for us, men, becoming pregnant is not an issue. Biologically, men cannot become pregnant because of lack of the required facilities.

Second, tampons. Due to lack of a uterus, we cannot properly replicate this part of the procedure and will need to resort to pads. Pads, however, are essentially small, sticky diapers. Also, there's a notable lack of proper discharge.

Searching Quora provided similar, albeit somewhat more detailed descriptions that also describe fear of sneezing. Still, even with all that, a man will not properly understands a period just by language. Certain elements are simply impossible to put into words.

An attempt to understand epilepsy through language
An attempt to understand epilepsy through language

The above is an attempt to understand the human brain through a different language - MRI.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging is what it says on the tin - using strong magnets to look inside a person's body through blood flow. Despite seemingly no sense to us, not-neurologist-folk, it does make sense to neurologists who spend a good chunk of their time learning and dissecting this language. Despite this, the MRI language is still full of its own flaws - it does not accurately show how the patient feels. It shows the physical aspect of epilepsy, but not the mental.

Without some telepathic connection to the patient, nothing can do so, which is why I've been asked many times to describe my auras, and every single time I failed.

"A cat full of holes, purring inside my skull while gentle, but firm wind flows through me from one side, goes through the purring cat and exits from the other side" paints a picture often offered by Salvador Dali, and even then, to have Mr Dali produce such imagery you would need to force-feed Mr Dali impressive amounts of LSD.

Even my therapist has trouble understanding me at times and asks for clarification on quite a few things, mainly about auras.

These auras are the main source of my woes, yet the person who I pay a rather fair amount of money to help me deal with the links between epilepsy, depression, fear, exhaustion, anxiety, and most importantly, auras cannot properly help with other than actively listen, hold conversation, and introduce forms of what feels like meditation while walking.

It is because human language so complicated ideas as complicated as menstruation or epileptic auras are impossible to translate into something an unaffected mind could fathom.

The Allegory of the cave is a good look into how language is flawed in terms of conveying new, unfathomable ideas. Whether less or more murder would be involved is undecided, although considering the human condition, there will, without doubt, be murder.

To conclude, despite having the means to communicate, we will never be able to communicate properly. Something will always be just a little bit off based on prior experience and life of both parties in the conversation. Language, regardless of which, is always flawed by the human condition.

On Language and Communication - Alone Together in Plato's Cave
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Most Helpful Guy

  • Craftsman
    I hear you. I worked as a nurse with several people who had seizures. I know what to do, according to the protocols. I respond, ensure safety, proper medication and documentation. I don't have your experience. I hear you. I don't have your understanding of the experience. Communication goes only so far. We would need the Vulcan Mind Meld to have it elsewise.
    Is this still revelant?

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What Girls & Guys Said

  • D_Bone_Steak
    Well sorry bruah... but like for the rest of us, there's always DRUGS!

    Dant Dant, Dant Dant, Dant Dant, Dunt Dant.

    YEahhh! Ooooookey!

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