Concussion Damage Like Damaging Brain’s Computer Components

Concussion Damage is Damage to Brain’s Components

By Gordon Johnson

Call me at 800-992-9447

Two decades ago when I first started analogizing what I had learned about concussion damage to a computer crashes, too many in my audience didn’t quite grasp my analogies to the computers Hard Drive, RAM and central processing unit.  Today, this treatment presumes that you will have an innate understanding of the basics of how computers store and process information.  I am a long time Mac user which may explain why I understood these principles from the beginning of my advocacy towards brain injury.  But to make sure that the reader shares my vocabulary, I will take a page to lay out the basics.  I recognize that analogizing the brain to what is currently our most sophisticated technology (the computer) is a gross oversimplification of the complexity of human brain function. [1][2]

Early in the 20th century there was the switchboard analogy to explain the brain, because the telephone switchboard was the most complicated technology known.    Later Pavlov and Carl Spencer Lashley, in their debunking of the switchboard theory each developed new models of the brain and how it worked. Those models also turned out to be gross oversimplifications.  Doubtless only my makeup as a brain injury attorney allows me the wisdom to see this flaw yet the advocacy to tread on. [3]

Computers have RAM for Short Term Memory

Computers are electronic calculating machines which have hard drives and Random Access Memory, (“RAM”)  to store information.  For any information to get into a computer it must be inputted.  At this moment, I am inputting to my Macintosh computer exclusively through my keyboard by the mechanism of typing.  But my computer also gets information through its internet connection, as well as any number of  USB devices such as scanners and data cards.  I also of course can get information off of CD’s, DVD’s or separate hard drives that I hard wire or wirelessly connect to my computer.

This page as it is written is stored in RAM, until saved to the hard drive. RAM is the computers “electricity based” memory, meaning it would only remember what is typed – but not saved – so long as there is power to the computer.  That was easier to explain when no one had battery operated computers, but the principle is the same.  If you lose power, you lose what you didn’t save.  Fortunately, I long ago developed the save reflex and I rarely go more than a minute between save commands.  I am thankful that Mac has a keyboard shortcut for that.

The one area that my Macintosh computer is clearly different than my mind is its ability to sort and find things that are saved.   Our minds do it instinctively, rapidly but often times in a system that even neuroscientists are incapable of comprehending. Our computers are designed with an operating system that converts the same electrically created memories that our minds have, into language based indexes.  Macintosh has a Finder.  Through use of the Finder and the Spotlight, (the tool to search the hard drive for document names and contents) very little that is stored cannot be found.

Processing Speed A Limitation on Computational Capacity

Computers and our minds are both limited by processing speed.  Today’s computers are so fast that processing traffic jams are less apparent, but I remember a time when a computer could do nothing else when printing.  Now the traffic jam is most noticeable when trying to download movie files from the internet.  Even slower is trying to upload a movie to the internet.   Computers are still limited, if only in micro seconds, by the speed of the CPU (central processing unit) and the efficiency of the connection between the CPU and its various component parts, its hard drive, RAM, scanner or network connection.

Our minds have every single memory and processing challenge that our computers do, probably because we designed our computers as an aid to our minds.  We wanted computers to do things that were too burdensome for our minds to do.  The two most significant advances in computer technology occurred not because we went to the moon but because we wanted a machine that could add/subtract/divide for us (the calculator) and a machine that we could type and correct words on (the word processor.)

Trouble Shooting Guide for Concussion Damage

Perhaps you should conceive this treatment of concussion damage,  as a “how to book” to spot a computer problem.  This trouble shooting guide is not for the computer that sits on your desk.  This guide is for the computer that rests upon your head.  It is a guide for the computer protected by the skull.  We speak here about concussion damage to the computer that interfaces through its outputs and inputs to the USB cables of your spinal and axonal tracts.  This computer is the mind.

Minds Exposed to More Trauma than a Computer

I am now on my 15th Macintosh.  But you only get one mind.  My computer’s are exposed to very little environmental risks. I don’t spill coffee on them, I carry them in a padded case, and do not drop except as a way to make this analogy.  (Yes, I drop only the obsolete ones and even then never let them hit the floor.)

Our minds are exposed to all environmental risks.  Our bodies evolved to protect us from many of those risks.  The skull is best at protecting us from a club, a fall. But human evolution is a million years old, high speed vehicle wrecks not much over a 100.  If we were intended to travel 60 m.p.h., we would likely not house our central processing unit in something the size of a bowling ball, placed so precariously, so far above our center of gravity.

Life expectancy materially beyond 40 also is relatively new in our evolutionary history.  Speech is an ancient talent, but still one added to the basic structure or our minds, well into our evolutionary cycle.  Reading, writing and arithmetic talents were added so recently that there is no evolutionarily added hardware dedicated to those tasks.

Thus, evolution has not protected us from mechanical  forces that can cause a disability in how we use our brains as members of an industrial society.  The more those modern forces impact our brains in a way in which evolution did not anticipate, the more the mind will crash.   This operating manual is written with the conviction that spotting that crash as early as possible is paramount.

Contents of Our Operating Manual for the Brain

This operating manual is broken up in a number of sections.  Generally the scholarly literature about permanent concussion damage uses two largely synonymous terms: Post Concussion Syndrome and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury.    When I began my web advocacy I added my own term for the same condition, Subtle Brain Injury, see http://subtlebraininjury.com  Subtlebraininjury.com had its genesis in an essay railing against labels for brain injury.  I like labels even less now than I did then.  The reality is that whatever you call concussion damage, it is a collection of concrete and specific disabilities.  My goal is to talk about those disabilities not only specifically, but also cumulatively.

A crashing mind is not a phenomenon limited to those who are concussed.  It also occurs more overtly to those with severe brain injuries.  But Brain Injury Help is not two separate and distinct treatises.  Brain Injury Help is about the consequences of brain injury, regardless of severity. I have begun Brain Injury Help with two branches, the concussion damage branch and the severe brain injury branch. While the branches will for the many of the next pages remain distinct, the ultimately merge and crisscross at many places.

Diagnosing Brain Injury – Changes in Protocol Needed


[1] Despite modern advancements, it is remarkable how little we actually know about the way in which the brain works.  Animal studies don’t necessarily apply to the human brain since we speak and develop academic skills and have far more complex behaviors than even primates.   Neuropsychological assessment, while providing detailed measurement of some mental abilities completely fails to measure others.  Our brains, working properly are like a symphony, with millions of instruments working in concert, directed by an amazing conductor.  Neuropsych tests measure the performance of each instrument, not the orchestra. All evaluations, psychiatric, neuropsychological neurological don’t look at the organism in its natural environment, spontaneously performing the complex sequences that make up the day, as directed by the mind and brain.  We can’t find an Ngram, can’t build a neuron. The basic issues of  how the brain conducts its symphony are still a mystery. Only microscopic study can even see something as small as the basic singular nerve.  To look at it, we must kill it.   Thus, we can’t see even the basic digital impulse in a nerve cell.  Even with understanding of how the smallest parts work and how various areas function, we still don’t have the faintest idea how the brain works as a whole. How the brain works as a whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.
[2] Here is the diagnostic challenge with concussion damage and brain function: Start with seven blind men and an elephant. One blind man works with animals.  One blind man has imaging technology.  One blind man understands biomechanics.  One blind man understands cellular physiology. One blind man can measure some mental abilities.  But like seven blind men would each describe the elephant differently, how the whole brain works is beyond the scope of any one of these individuals, but also the combination of these subparts.

[3] Advocacy has its value.  When one reads the scientific literature in an area of evolving study, there is often a dispute between the new and the old.  In retrospect, one view in that battle history will show to have been more enlighted.  Contemporaneously to the controversy, to have give an even handed treatment to both views (as is the goal in a courtroom), homogenizes with what will prove to be correct, with what will prove to be incorrect.

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Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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