The Wondrous Human Brain, Dyslexia and Other Stuff
Robert A. Herrmann
[This article contains material that is different from that which appears in my Testimony. However, I do hope that the revelations I present will be useful to someone.] I have been convinced for some time that the capabilities of the human brain may be ample evidence that the God of the Scriptures designed us. I can find no convincing evidence that many of its "backup" mechanisms and the fact that it appears to be designed for future activities have any evolutionary basis. Among the backup mechanisms are those used when portions of the brain are missing and those we use to compensate for the many different aspects of dyslexia. I specifically detail my personal experiences with a speech disorder and a few somewhat unusual learning disabilities and how I have compensated for their effects. Some of my experiences are rather subtle in character.
As I have mentioned in various forms, I spent the second-half of my first-grade school year often sitting on a dunce stool wearing a dunce cap. And, necessarily, I failed the second-half of the first-grade. (They did these things in the "good old days.") One of the problems came from my inability to speak in any coherent manner. I had what some would call severe speech impediments. But Dr. Nibblet, a kindly country-styled physician, gave me a single instruction that allowed me, after considerable practice, to eliminate all of these speech impediments; he cured me, so to speak. He simply said that my brain worked much faster than my mouth could work. He instructed me to first say mentally what I wanted to speak aloud. Then I should, slowly at first, copy orally what my brain was "saying" in its mental voice. Yes, I was to talk to myself mentally, to "think in words before I spoke." This I tried.
After considerable practice, I could almost speak in a normal manner, for I had increased the transfer speed of this brain to speech process. I have had to do this my entire life. When I speak, people might sometimes notice the short often dramatic pauses. This is where now and then I am quickly composing what I next intend to say. If I don't do this, my speech impediments return. Indeed, when I speak, I "hear" two voices, almost in unison, my mental voice and my oral voice. It's interesting to note that I made my living many years ago in the entertainment business due to my speaking ability. Essentially, I was, for 46 years, paid for my ability to communicate to others both orally and in writing. But this speech problem is not the major difficulty. I suppose that some wouldn't consider this a learning disability. So, let's go to the forth-grade, where I again failed one-half a year. This occurred during 1943-1944, during the World War II.
I failed due to three reasons. One was my inability to write in the required cursive form and the second is what today is identified as a form of dyslexia. I'll first illustrate the exact facts about the third difficulty, a reading disability that falls under a broad definition of dyslexia. It is a type of "sound-symbol" problem but apparently of an unusual type. I'd be sitting in class when the "teacher," we might call her that, would start the reading and spelling lesson for the day. This was the time the class was to have some fun at my expense. She would post a list of new words to learn. This was done by reading each aloud and then spelling it. One of my classmates, and it was probably a girl, would stand up and say the words perfectly, I supposed. Then it was time for the fun and laughter. I would be called next to read the list. In many cases, this I could not do without making incomprehensible sounds. I failed reading and cursive writing.
Why did I have such troubles? During summer "vacation," I spent part of the day sitting at the kitchen table first practicing my cursive writing by simply writing "swirls" and then attempting to read "flash cards." Hundreds of pages of swirls, connected cursive "m"s and the like did nothing to help me "write" in the required manner. The "flash cards" were useless and for a good reason. They were written in the same manner as the teachers list, words broken into syllables or letter sounds. I still could not read then. This was most discouraging since I knew my mother could read two 400-page books in one evening and I had no idea how this was possible.
Here I was trying to achieve the usual educational advancement but with little success. Significantly, various learning disorders were not recognized as such or something that could be eliminated by compensation. So, I had a conversation with my own brain, my mental voice. Well, at the least, I thought that it was "my" mental voice.Hey, how can I correct this writing problem. "Memorize." What do you mean by "memorize," memorize what? "Well, just watch how an individual draws the cursive alphabet. Then memorize the motions of the pencil point that are needed to form the letters. You can see how the letters also connect together. In fact, memorize the diagrams just like they look on those cards at the top of the blackboard in your classroom."I mention that the alphabet cards being used did not have any indication as to how you would draw the symbol. But, I watched my mother write and memorized exactly as my mental voice had instructed. I had no trouble passing the cursive writing requirements. But, my normal handwriting in no way looks like these cursive forms. Indeed, its my own creation, where 50% is composed of printed symbols. But, even today, if I wish to write in that exact form that appears on those alphabet cards, I can do it. It's also interesting that at times I have had to write with my left-hand. I quickly analyze how my right-hand would move and then I transfer this motion to my left-hand. But, what can be done about the reading problem?"I can tell you your problem." What is it? "It seems let you can't put together, in a piece-by-piece fashion, certain combinations of letter sounds; that is, put those pieces of a word together, and sound them as a complete word." I know that already. "But, there's a way out of this." Which is what? "What you need to do is to listen when someone else does what you can't do and memorize the sound of the word as an entire set of symbols. Also memorize its meaning."Fortunately, God has gifted me with just such a memory. For reasons only my "brain" knows, I could not read or spell or even speak, some words, by separating them into syllables or letter sounds, and then put the pieces together. Did any individual help me over this difficulty? No. But there was "something" that did "talk" to me, so to speak, and tell me what to do. I recall how elated the teacher was when I tried out this new procedure. She was convinced that she was the greatest of all of the forth-grade teachers, she had taught me to read. But, alas, this was not so. She did little to aid me. Even after all these years, for words that are new to me, this problem persists for certain letter sound combinations. But, this is not the last of these nasty problems for the next one is very subtle.
The second problem is related to many of the published dyslexia problems with spelling and ordering of letters in writing. This is not a reading problem as such but the reverse. going from what I "hear" in my mind to writing it.
My father worked for some major newspapers and my mother was Dutch and she come from Holland at a young age. My parents would speak with relatively correct grammar. So, I learned correct grammatical constructions by sound. If I heard a sentence and the grammar was not exactly correct, I would know this since "it just didn't sound right." Today, I sometimes have a difficult time listening to "news" and other such broadcasts since for educated people they certainly "butcher" the English language. I know in my mind the correct words, how they are spelled and where they are used in sentences but getting them from my brain to paper or through a keyboard is another matter.
I'd get back a written composition, upset with the grade. I seem to have misspelled many words. I know how to spell these words. But, still many were marked wrong. Yet, I was convinced that I had spelled the words correctly prior to handing in the composition. But, when they were noted in red, then I had to agree that they were misspelled. I also would substitute a similar-sounding word for the correct one, like "except" for "accept." Then for a few specific words, my mind (brain if you wish) would say "must" but I would write "most." I also would leave letters out or reverse their order. How could I correct this? "Study harder," I was told. "Sound it out mentally and then write it," I was told. But this is what I was doing. So, now what do I do and why is this happening?
I let my "brain" analyze itself, so to speak. And here is how it explained my difficulties. There appears to a shift that takes place somewhere in my brain. As I go from the word as sounded correctly by my mental voice, a type of mental shift takes place only when I try to write the word. The shift is often slight, a shift to a slightly different form, a single incorrect symbol, or to a slightly different spelling. There have been times when a blank space appeared where I believed I had written the symbol-string.
If I casually and mentally read a sentence (read to myself, as they say) that has these peculiarities, my brain shifts in the other direction and substitutes the correct sounding word so that what I mentally read now makes complete sense to me. For example, I might have in my mind the sentence "They chose the correct color." But when I write this sentence it might appear as "They choice the correct color." Then when I mentally read it quickly or casually, I read it as "They chose the correct color." Or I might simply leave out the word "the." But reading it, my brain puts "the" into the sentence in the missing place so that it actually makes perfect sense to me. Then, of course, there's the mentioned "most" and "must" symbol problem and I even spell the same word in two different ways in the same sentence. Now how does one compensate for this?
Unfortunately, I can't compensate completely for this strange behavior. I often warned my students to expect this to happen. I can eliminate most of the errors that occur, but not when I write on a blackboard and don't have a lot of time. And that's the difficulty, "time." If I "go-over" my written work enough times I can mostly (or is it mustly) eliminate the errors. Unfortunately, there often remains a few I did not "see." Even doing a computer screen search for the "most" verses the "must" problem, I often "see" the correct spelling although using the process below for a printed version of the page, this error is mostly revealed.
If I wish to eliminate this problem as much as possible, I need considerable time and, for physical reasons, I need a printed version. I must slowly read each word, one at a time, and for areas where I know I have a problem I often speak it out loud. It's when I hear the sound in relation to the context that I know if it is correct. This is especially so with the words "must" and "most." (I have no idea why it happens most often for these two words and not others. Often I must do the same thing with phrases if they don't seem to make sense when I employ mental reading.)
It is a remarkable thing that sometimes I actually see a change take place in a string of symbols. Using the above example, in the sentence "They choice the correct color" when I reach the word "choice" I sometimes actual "see" chose, then I blink and the word is now "choice" and I recognize my error. It's a more remarkable fact that this does not happen with mathematical symbols. I don't know how all of this is possible, but as my daughter Diana would say, "Stuff happens." (Of course, I could also try and find a better grammar checker.)
I was give an IQ test in March 1949. Apparently, it was very high in certain parts but not so high in the verbal parts. I believe it was a Stanford-Binet, which puts heavy stress upon verbal skills. I scored very high on questions that did not require strong verbal skills. I was also given a few other tests as well. But, in 1948, no one knew why my IQ was not higher. Even at that its value was well above average. Because my performance was so high in certain areas, I was sent to a high school that prepared students for careers in mathematics, science and engineering and also gave one a complete year of college. I knew that I was weak in my verbal skills. So, during those four-years I used various means to improve them. I took another IQ test (it corresponds to a Wechsler type) when I was 21. Remarkably, it was 40 points higher than the one I took when I was 14. You are often told this is impossible and the error was in testing. But, I choose (when I wrote this last word I had to sound it out to know which one to write) to believe that it was my efforts at improving my verbal skills that is the reason.
As a federal employee, I was restricted in the time frame I can use for any commercial projects. For the first edition of my book "Science Declares Our Universe IS Intelligent Designed," I was very restricted. I wrote most of this book over a two-month period while "on leave without pay." But, I ran out of time and could not apply the last process needed to eliminate such errors. I did re-read the book a few times, but line-for-line rather than word-for-word. I made a big mistake. I trusted the Microsoft spelling and grammar checker. [I note that the only edition of this book now available is the first revision where almost all of these errors have been corrected.] However, what really does this have to do with actual intelligence?
Actually, it is the great mental gifts that God has bestowed on me that has allowed me to find ways to almost completely correct these problems. And, modern computer software also helps. Just consider that I began studying special relativity, atomic physics, and the calculus at 12 and graduated with honors (first in my class) from that special high school devoted to mathematics, engineering and science, as well as with honors from both the Johns Hopkins University and my graduate school. Apparently, these problems need not stifle actual intellectual achievement. I wonder if these difficulties would have affected my SAT scores and whether such affects would have stopped me from continuing my education. (In my day, the SAT was not required of those who graduated from the "Polytechnic" A course. Universities and colleges trusted the school's reputation.) I wonder????
By the way, the reason I place much of my work on the Internet is that I am able to make these corrections more easily. But, I am also sure that when I pass from this life that there still will be some word somewhere on my Web site that is incorrect. Maybe this is all that the critics of my work can criticize. And such criticism will make them somewhat foolish. I purposely wrote this article without immediately checking for errors. So, I will now spell and grammar check to see how well MS does the job. [Well, it corrected 20 typing errors. I'll now check the "checker" by using my word-for-word procedure. [I've found 15 that MS missed. Are there any more? Unless they change content, is it really important if there are?]] 6/20/02, revised 7/1/02, corrected again 12/31/02, revised 11/9/2010 and again making more corrections and added material on 11/11/2010.
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