Category Archives: Personal

Language and Thought

A Language of Smiles – Olivia Judson Blog –

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.”