Benjamin Buttons

The other day I was watching tv and was intrigued by what was on TLC. It was a documentary on so-called “real-life Benjamin Buttons”, people that don’t age. There’s a little girl named Gabby Williams who for some reason has not progressed beyond the physical maturity of an infant, despite her 6 years of life. She is mute and blind, and doctors have no idea what is wrong with her. Another case involves a 19 year old named Brooke, who suffers from a similar problem.  At 16 years old, Brooke had the bone density profile of a ten year old. They described her development as though all of the parts of her body were growing out of sync, as independent units, at independent rates. “There’ve been very minimal changes in Brooke’s brain, various parts of her body, rather than all being at the same stage, seem to be disconnected.” This is happening in Gabby too; different parts of her body are developing, whereas others are not. I thought that this was very relevant to our ongoing discussion of the mind-body connect (or disconnect) and the self. Since all their body parts are growing at different rates and aren’t very cohesive in terms of age, does this lend support for the mind-body disconnect; can we separate the self from the physical body? It’s especially interesting in the case of Gabby, who does not have the benefit of language. Gabby actually may never be able to communicate in the way that most people do, being blind, mute and having her body develop so slowly could compromise her ability to learn any type of language. Just think, in 6 years, her physical ability has not progressed beyond that of an infant, could she ever develop the fine tuned motor skills necessary for sign language? Even then, she is blind, so she would need to develop mentally enough to understand speech.

6 thoughts on “Benjamin Buttons

  1. How sad…I definitely think this suggest a mind-body connect rather than disconnect. Her mind seems to be slowed down just as most of her body is. In some ways her stunted growth is an outward indication of her stunted mental capacity. It also brings me back, not surprisingly, to the idea of the self. She seems trapped inside but who knows what her mind would have been capable of had it been given the opportunity to thrive. I wonder what her personality is like and how much of one she has.


  2. Wow this is really sad. I can’t imagine such a life. I agree with Reesa that it seems as if both the mind and body are not maturing even though time is passing by. I also am extremely curious by the science of what is going on in the body.


  3. Though some spiritual traditions may disagree with this, the mind and body are united. We are both physical and mental beings, and the two, when disconnected, cause severe problems. For instance, in the field of embodied cognition, the physical self can have tremendous impact on the judgments of the mind. Without a body, this aspect of the psyche is lost. While writing this, I am thinking of quadriplegics. Though many of them live fullfilling lives, they would not be alive without the assistance of modern medical machines. Perhaps we are becoming more and more disconnected in our society which focuses so heavily on the mind while many aspects of the physical self are neglected. Just look at the obesity rate.


  4. I wonder what Gabby’s memory is like based on our discussion of language’s role in episodic memory.

    Also, this is slightly irrelevant, but didn’t Benjamin Button age in reverse? Technically, these people are just frozen in time, more like Tuck Everlasting?


  5. This is so sad. I think Reesa’s point about being “trapped inside” is really interesting. Gabby has a self, but no way to express it. However, I think this takes us back to our questions about language and if we can have a self without being able to speak and articulate our thoughts and feelings.

    Also, I saw a similar TLC special a few months ago about a few children who have what some might consider the opposite condition… They age extremely quickly. The disease is called progeria, and unlike Gabby’s condition, progeria is genetic. I wonder if there are any parallels between the two diseases or if progeria researchers have attempted to investigate Gabby’s condition.

    Here’s a link on progeria:


  6. I wonder what triggers this condition and whether it’s something that’s seen in certain areas of the world. In an evolutionary perspective, I wonder how this condition came along and if there’s any benefits to not aging. So much of our identity is wrapped up in our name, and it’s sad to think that Gabby probably won’t ever understand or get to know her name. So in this instance, to what extent will Gabby ever form a sense of self?


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