I know someone who works or, better said, takes care of people with disabilities, and one of them has aphasia. Aphasia is, in short, a disability where you have difficulty speaking or understanding speech. Ever since I painted the picture in my head of my friend leaving that specific disabled person alone for the rest of the day, I feel sadness coming over me. I imagine this person sitting there, looking sad, on the couch, locked within a mind with thousands of unspoken words trapped forever. I, of course, don’t know if this person has the capability to have many thoughts about their plight, but still…
Maybe that person is, to me, like a piece of art highlighting a specific character of human existence. We all have difficulty saying what we want and communicating in general, but this person shows that written in BOLD and capitalized, like an abstract painting.
The thought of that person sitting there alone, combined with the uncertainty of me if they can comprehend what is going on, makes it even sadder; what if they understand but are helplessly out of words, unable to speak or think about their life. Descartes famously said that if you can think, you “are,” but that sounds so harsh now that I know someone with aphasia.
I have no aphasia, but I often feel unable to speak, locked in my mind, but at least capable of wondering if my lack of understanding is the cause of my silence or the other way around.
Not to diminish the people suffering from this specific disease, but you might also say that we all suffer from a form of aphasia. We slowly, through millennia of history, learn to understand our thoughts and find ways to communicate with each other without grumbling or smashing each other over the head. Most of our communication is still unspoken, and how often have you not yelled at someone sounds with no meaning out of anger and loss of words?
Does any thought about your life counts as thinking about your life? Are your thoughts like a stream with recurring themes or like a spreadsheet that is too large? People who are born deaf and know no sounds of words, do they “speak to themselves,” how do they think? Are our words and use of them in communication only valuable for the organization of society? Can we speakers still imagine what it is not to think?