Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I'm definitely going to have to stop whining now.

N.B. this computer is crap, I don't even get a spell checker, and it is late so forgive me in advance, m'kay?

One of the things I have been thinking about today, and probably will be thinking about well into the night as I had Vietnamese espresso with sweetened condensed milk over ice at about 8:30pm...and it was SO worth it....anyway, you can see it is making me a bit jittery and scattered, I will reign in the caffeine induced mental leaps and focus this down a bit now.

OK, what I have been thinking about is the power of language and how much it affects what we think without us even knowing it. Three things brought this to mind.

The first happened a while ago when I watched this video (Crap computer here and as a result I don't have that little button to make links and I don't feel like looking it up so, sorry folks, you'll have to cut and paste...it won't kill you.)


on TED Talks (nothing to do with Ted Turner, and if you've never watched one, go now...right this very second. Well. maybe when you get to the end of the post. You get 18 minutes of brilliant thought and mental stimulation from GREAT thinkers.)

Anyway this man, Arthur Benjamine, does "mathmagic". He is faster than a calculator on impossibly complicated problems and on top of that he is highly entertaining.

The pertinent part for my language thoughts though is that at the end of the piece, he is doing a ridiculously complicated mathematical problem - something like multiplying a 7 digit number by a 7 digint number in his head, I can't remember what, but we're talking silly complicated - he actually works the problem out aloud so we can hear what he is thinking. As he puts it, he is not too worried about someone copying his show. What fascinated me, and caught in my mind like a little burr is that he uses his own code of words to remember long strings of numbers, so as he is multiplyng and he has to hold a large group of numbers while menatlly manipulating other numbers, he stores the waiting set in the language centers of his mind as words, then the mathematical sections can get on with their jobs smoothly.

We have a remarkable capacity for remembering words beyond any other form....he doesn't convert them to musical tunes, or facial structures or facial expressions, all of which we find easy to remember and relate to, and are also seperate from the more mathematical aspects, but words are how he can quicly and easily store these factors.

The second thing that twigged my thinking about the power of langauge was when I was listening to Blink (no link folks, too onerous, it's a book by Malcom G-something, who also wrote The Tipping Point which was a much more compelling book with a more interesting topic but anyway) I was listening to Blink (caffeine makes me tangential, have you noticed?) and he was discussing two women who are taste analysers for the food industry. These are women who can taste the difference between different BATCHES of Oreo cookies and reliably tell them apart and discuss them, something that is frankly impossible for us. They can do this because they have spent years educating their palates, and they may well be super-tasters anyway, but part of why they can do this work is because they have acquired a very involved, sophisticated and clear vocabulary around taste. They can discuss the texture of a product, like say mayonnaise on a scale of 1- 10 on I believe 15 different attributes, all associated with the texture alone.

It is this language associated with taste that allows them to analyse and compare many different, though similar products while still keeping them in their minds as seperate and distinct chunks of information. They can carry many many flavours around at the same time because they convert the physical sensations to words. Like Arthur up above, that is how they store the memories, not as music, nor memories of tastes and scents, but as words.

I find this profound.

Then something has been happening to me lately.

There is a person I am spending more time with lately, and this is not the Catalan girl, nor one of my kids, but someone I have been running up against on a regular basis of late. Other folks I know, lets call them John and Sam, don't entirely trust this person. For their own reasons that, in my humble opinion, have very little to do with the individual in question, lets call that person Jane, and a lot to do with Sam's own internal personality and quirks. Sam's comments, some of them outright, but I think more corrosively, some of them sidelong and implied have influenced John to the point where John is also suspicious of Jane, and tends to view most of what Jane does through a lens of distrust.

Now, I don't spend a whole lot of time in TO, so I am less impacted by Sam's issues, but even in the few times we have discussed Jane, Sam's point of view, not overtly stated, has impacted on me. The power of Sam's language, which is involuntarily stored away in my mind has coloured how I react to Jane, in a way that feels...overlaid or imposed. I have these responses but they don't feel entirely valid or comfortable. You see, I basically like Jane. I have a few issues with a couple of things, but nothing even remotely serious, and in fact I probably would have brushed them off entirely if it hadn't been for the subtle influence of Sam's comments. Jane is, as far as I can tell, a deeply ethical caring person with a lot to offer, yet I find myself responding a little negatively, a bit like I am being given a little shove on the playground when dared to do something bad or stupid.

Can't say I like it, and it is just uncomfortable enough that I don't entirely respond as these subtle messages tell me I should, but I have been thinking about how disquieting my mixed responses are; then I put the dots together with the math magic man and the taste and scent wonders and how they all store impressions and information as language and I think I know what happens.

Sam sees something Jane does and interprets it negatively for his own -biased- reasons. He then discusses it with John, again negatively and both of them are making firm and clear mental maps and images of this person that are almost exclusively negative. Then they talk to me. I too begin this process and the individual has to work uphill against this intrinsic unconscious mental construction that has been placed in my mind. Which is incredibly powerful, even more so because I am not entirely cognisant of it.

What have I gotten out of this realisation?

Two things.

How we think about something or someone and particularily the language we choose to describe it in profoundly affects the way we will think about, approach and interact with people and situations in ways to complx to enumerate. They will also nfluence us in ways we won't even recognise.


It is vitally important that we all exercise skill at thinking about things in a positive manner, that when we start to think about people or things we need to work hard at using positive language, constructive language; and that we don't spread this like a mental virus or epidemic. We need to practise good mental hygiene.

When we hear others being disparaging of someone or something, it is important that we try to balance that IN WORDS with another possibility, notice that the glass is also half full. Contradict in our heads, or out loud in words what you have heard so that you too can control what sort of images you will store and use as a base of reference. Elucidate alternative, kind and generous possibilities so that you don't find yourself unwittingly behaving in a manner that is not just.

We have, with out powerful neurological language centers, the possibility of forming and storing incredibly clear and robust impressions, which affect us profoundly. We also have the power to ensure that what we store is benificial to us and to those around us, and we too can do this through language. By recognising when we are being fed unpleasant or destructive viewpoints, however subtle, and by combating them deliberately, with our own interpretation that we must express LINGUISTICALLY; whether we think to ourselves, journal it, write a note and burn it up or eat it...we need to put those more positive possiblilites into words. For all of our sakes.

Food for thought, and langauge. Good language. Constructive language.


Hula Girl at Heart said...

"We need to practise good mental hygiene."--I love that. So true. How profound you are today. Much delicious food for thought.

PS-I'm working on the book meme.

Beth said...

Wow - what an impressive post. (Caffeine induced or not.) I have always recognized the power of words (and memory) but not in such a way. I am going to make a conscious effort to think, reflect and speak aloud with positive words.

Angel said...

Dang Rocky!!!! Lay off the caffeine late at night, will ya? ;)

great post tho! and they can tell the differnce between BATCHES of Oreos??? Amazing!

elPadawan said...

vietnamese coffee :).

I think more importantly, one shouldn't let their judgement of people they don't know influenced by subjective statements made by others. In my case, for example, I would have "stored" statements made by John and Sam as "the way they see Jane". Which may or may not be the way I would see Jane once I get to know her. You can't judge a book by what someone said about the cover, if I may say so ;)

surfie999@gmail.com said...

Language.......now you are talking! As Oreo cookie tasters do, so do Eskimos for ice, Australian Aborigines for fire, weather seasons, even surfers for wave types. Familiarity needs to create more extensive terminology to EXACTLY convey information. And it is not english language, but in the local language commonly.

Surprisingly, language interest and related issues are not the preserve of the learned either. MANY ordinary people love language and its nuances, we even have some great local radio shows in Australia focussed on words, language and usage......and they are very popular.

Yes......language is what binds society together - written or spoken.

Anonymous said...

Put down that coffee!! LOL... you are so cerebral -and prolific- when you hit the Vietnamese coffee.

Scary... remember those taste ladies? I have the gift (or burden, depending if I'm riding transit with a bunch of smelly tourists in the summertime) of smell. Weird, I know, but it does come in handy from time to time.

PS: I think your twitter postings are pretty funny... random thoughts and all. Dang! Wordpress doesn't support Twitter.

oreneta said...

Hula: Mental hygiene is important, no???

Beth, It is an Oreneta theory, and as yet untested, but I do believe there is truth in there.....

Beth, can you IMAGINE??? They can even tell what different ingredients are in the different batches. WEIRD.

elPadawan, I think that may be the key, as you listen to these comments, recognise them as someones opinion and comment linguistically on the fact in your head, and I think it will keep things more clear.

Peter, YES YES YES!!!! CBC here in Canada has quite a few radio shows around langauge which are invariably interesting. Have you read Steven Pinker?

Carla, if I keep drinking the Vietnamese coffee maybe someone will give me a PhD, what do you think...the key to academic success, coffee, sweetened condensed milk and ice. Glad you like the twitters, I am having fun with it...it's nice to know someone is reading them.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post and so very true about words. I was actually talking to the kids this morning about that. They were relaying info about someone they have been talking to, how he has all these things happen to him. I said they are normal things but he is making them into big things (he stepped on a rake and it hit him, then he fell or something like that), things that could happen to anyone. I mentioned some things that happened to T and they said it wasn't as funny. I said it is because they have heard the stories before, and because we don't dwell on them. This person they are talking too is very negative and dwells on the bad things in life.

From my experience, being with those people can be a real downer and I try not to. Sirdar can be that way sometimes and I try to ignore it or give it little credence. Of course we all have our down days, but I try to remain positive about life even if there are crappy things happening. It usually works. I am glad I am more of a glass half full type of person.

Anonymous said...

Oh, a long comment and I forgot to mention the impact we have on our kids and the things we teach them or they are taught by others; the things that go with them through life and they believe and don't even know why.