Category Archives: Personal

Language and Thought

A Lan­guage of Smiles — Olivia Jud­son Blog — NYTimes​.com

A set of exper­i­ments inves­ti­gat­ing the effects of facial move­ments on mood used dif­fer­ent vow­el sounds as a stealthy way to get peo­ple to pull dif­fer­ent faces. (The idea was to avoid peo­ple real­iz­ing they were being made to scowl or smile.) The results showed that if you read aloud a pas­sage full of vow­els that make you scowl — the Ger­man vow­el sound ü, for exam­ple — you’re like­ly to find your­self in a worse mood than if you read a sto­ry sim­i­lar in con­tent but with­out any instances of ü. Sim­i­lar­ly, say­ing ü over and over again gen­er­ates more feel­ings of ill will than repeat­ing a or o.

I’ve long been intrigued by the effect of lan­guage on thought process­es or world­view. For exam­ple, the ten­den­cy for verbs to end up at the end of Ger­man sen­tences loads a whole lot of mean­ing in the last words of a sen­tence, and I won­der how that affects both con­ver­sa­tion­al inter­rup­tions and lis­ten­ing habits. I’ve recent­ly been intro­duced (thanks, Zach) to the Sapir-Whorf hypoth­e­sis of lin­guis­tic rel­a­tiv­i­ty which is, more or less, a sci­en­tif­ic inquiry explor­ing my self­same thoughts.

I had­n’t thought about lan­guage’s effect on emo­tions; that is equal­ly inter­est­ing, but does­n’t seem to have been test­ed in the same way.

The exper­i­ment quot­ed above, though, fails; it does­n’t explain why I love Ger­man and why say­ing things like “Öl” and “müde” make me hap­py. ;)

Agriculture: “The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race”?

Jared Dia­mond:

Archae­ol­o­gists study­ing the rise of farm­ing have recon­struct­ed a cru­cial stage at which we made the worst mis­take in human his­to­ry. Forced to choose between lim­it­ing pop­u­la­tion or try­ing to increase food pro­duc­tion, we chose the lat­ter and end­ed up with star­va­tion, war­fare, and tyran­ny.
Hunter-gath­er­ers prac­ticed the most suc­cess­ful and longest last­ing lifestyle in human his­to­ry. In con­trast, we’re still strug­gling with the mess into which agri­cul­ture has tum­bled us, and it’s unclear whether we can solve it. Sup­pose that an archae­ol­o­gist who had vis­it­ed us from out­er space were try­ing to explain human his­to­ry to his fel­low spacel­ings. He might illus­trate the results of his digs by a twen­ty-four hour clock on which one hour rep­re­sents 100,000 years of real past time. If the his­to­ry of the human race began at mid­night, then we would now be almost at the end of our first day. We lived as hunter-gath­er­ers for near­ly the whole of that day, from mid­night through dawn, noon, and sun­set. Final­ly, at 11:54 p.m., we adopt­ed agri­cul­ture. As our sec­ond mid­night approach­es, will the plight of famine-strick­en peas­ants grad­u­al­ly spread to engulf us all? Or will we some­how achieve those seduc­tive bless­ings that we imag­ine behind agri­cul­ture’s glit­ter­ing facade and that have so far elud­ed us?


Baby Boomer Drug Abuse Res­onates With Lis­ten­ers : NPR

[In late August] we talked about a dis­turb­ing report by the U.S. Sub­stance Abuse and Men­tal Health Ser­vices Admin­is­tra­tion. […]

Now, at the close of that con­ver­sa­tion, we asked our lis­ten­ers to tell us more about how these find­ings might be play­ing out in their own lives, and folks reached out to us with very reveal­ing and emo­tion­al sto­ries […]:

“I am 38 years old. My dad is 58 years old, and he has been a func­tion­ing alcoholic/drug addict my entire life, and lis­ten­ing to your seg­ment made my eyes open real­ly wide. It’s very dif­fi­cult for the chil­dren, but you know, as you grow old­er you start to accept peo­ple for how they are and you find a way to accept them on terms that you can deal with.”