November 2, 2011

The Mind Reader

How Frank Guenther turns thoughts into words

(November 2, 2011)  For thousands of years humans have spoken. Noam Chomsky and many other linguists argue that speech is what sets Homo sapiens apart in the animal kingdom. “Speech,” wrote Aristotle, “is the representation of the mind.”

It is a complex process, the series of lightning-quick steps by which your thoughts form themselves into words and travel from your brain, via the tongue, lips, vocal folds, and jaw (together known as the articulators), to your listeners’ ears—and into their own brains.

Complex, but mappable. Over the course of two decades and countless experiments using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and other methods of data collection, neuroscientist Frank Guenther has built a computer model describing just how your brain pulls off the trick of speaking.

And the information isn’t merely fascinating. Guenther (GRS’93), a Sargent College professor of speech, language and hearing sciences, believes his model will help patients suffering from apraxia (where the desire to speak is intact, but speech production is damaged), stuttering, Lou Gehrig’s disease, throat cancer, even paralysis.

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