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OLIVER SACKS FINDS SOME PEOPLE THAT REAGAN CAN’T FOOL

Was Ronald Reagan unique among politicians in his ability to fool people with normal brains, but not so much those with brain damage? It would be interesting to test that. – Ilene 

Courtesy of Paul Slansky at Dangerous Minds

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In his 1986 New York Times best-seller The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, an examination of various bizarre neurological disorders, Oliver Sacks provided an account of oppositely impaired patients – aphasiacs, who can’t understand spoken words but do take in information from extra-verbal cues, and tonal agnosiacs, who understand the actual words but miss their emotional content – watching a speech by President Reagan.

“It was the grimaces, the histrionisms, the false gestures and, above all, the false tones and cadences of the voice,” wrote Sacks, which caused the word-deaf aphasiacs to laugh hysterically at the Great Communicator, while one agnosiac, relying entirely on the actual words, sat in stony silence, concluding that “he is not cogent … his word-use is improper” and suspecting that “he has something to conceal.”

“Here then,” wrote Sacks, “was the paradox of the President’s speech.  We normals – aided, doubtless, by our wish to be fooled, were indeed well and truly fooled … And so cunningly was deceptive word-use combined with deceptive tone, that only the brain-damaged remained intact, undeceived.”

Excerpted from the “Reagan Centennial Edition” of my 1989 book The Clothes Have No Emperor, available here as an enhanced eBook. 


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