The Tower of Babel No More: Neurocritical Care
Without Borders in 2018
By Jose I Suarez, MD
The Tower of Babel, as described in Genesis,
was built in the land of Shinar (Babylonia)
sometime after the Great Flood. This biblical
myth, an attempt to explain the existence
of diverse human languages, has fascinated
humankind for millennia. Accepted modern
vernacular translations indicate that the
Babylonians wanted to make a name for
themselves by erecting a mighty city and
a tower that could reach the heavens. God punished the builders
for their presumption by so confusing the language of the workers
that they could no longer understand one another. The tower was
never completed, and the people were dispersed over the face of
the Earth. One of the most impressive pictorial representations
of the Babel myth is that of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, which is
currently housed at the majestic Kunsthistorisches Museum in
Vienna, Austria (Figure 1). He based his interpretation in the
medieval exegeses of the story with the punishment as the result
of human hubris. Bruegel intentionally presents an impractical
design that human hands are incapable of completing. The
concept and shape are based on the Roman Colosseum, and
even though we are originally led to believe that the design is
reasonable, upon closer examination, we discover that it is a
symbol of the failure of mere rationalism.
Advances and discoveries in anthropology, paleoanthropology,
genetics and brain imaging have unraveled, though incompletely,
many aspects of the origin and functions of language.
Sophisticated language thus far appears to be a distinctly
human feature and the foundation on which all modern human
behavior rests. It is hard to imagine human culture without
language. We wouldn’t have books, operas, conversations or
Currents. Language most likely represents an ancient innovation
that must have evolved over millions of years, at least as far back
as the beginning of the genus homo. Language has a complex
anatomy and operates independently from the systems behind
other cognitive processes. The most likely explanation is that
language evolved by natural selection. As pointed out by
Johanson and Edgar, “language has been built into our biology
as the most efficient and effective means to communicate our
thoughts” (Donald Johanson & Blake Edgar, From Lucy to
Language, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2006).
Modern humans are capable of becoming polyglots (aka
multilingual or able to communicate in more than one language)
or hyperglots (capable of speaking at least a dozen languages).
Such mastery of languages is quickly becoming more important in
our fast-paced and globalized society. Certainly, many members of
the Neurocritical Care Society (NCS) would qualify as polyglots.
The theme of the 2018 Annual NCS meeting will emphasize the
cultural and language diversity of our constituents (Figure 2). Our
polyglot members will be delighted to learn that we will have
sessions in various languages, including Japanese, Portuguese and
Spanish. Speakers will have the freedom to express their thoughts
and opinions in their native languages. What happens if you are
not a polyglot? Don’t worry; we will offer simultaneous English
translation for our monolingual members. Come to the meeting
and immerse yourself in the world of polyglots, and if you know a
hyperglot, please let me know and we will offer them a special prize.
Figure 2. Theme advertisement for the 2018 Annual NCS Meeting.
Figure 1. The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563),
Courtesy of the Kunsthistoriches Museum Wien.