Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Buddies with my mind

John McWhorter is a linguist and discussed human language in his Great Course "The Story of Human Language".  At the beginning, he answers the question Do any of the other animals have language? and he says they don't in the way humans do.  Humans use language for many purposes but we seem to be the only ones who "express ourselves".  When we wait for the play to begin and you say to me that you like the color of my shirt, you are telling me about a thought that occurred to you.  When you mention the color of my shirt, you are bringing up a topic of your own. It would be even more of your own topic if you said that you have been to other plays by the same playwright or if you said you were worried about being able to stay awake through the whole performance.  You and I can both see the color of my shirt but without you expressing yourself, I wouldn't know you were thinking about falling asleep. Other animals don't bring up topics on their own, except for needs, like food.

If you were worried but didn't mention it, you would be dealing just with an internal thought.  You might remember that you fell asleep once before and you might worry about snoring or drooling.  If you are aware of how, what and when you think, you might notice that you seem to be worried about sleeping every time you attend a play.  The play we are going to see in a few minutes was written by a playwright who died before we were born.  If you begin imagining life in that decade and that country, you are thinking about something quite abstract.  If you are buddies with your mind, you might recognize the level of abstraction you have moved to.

If you are on friendly terms with your mind, you might steer it away from trying to sense a whole society in the past, or you might remember that you have been wanting to learn more about that time and place.  But you probably won't berate yourself too harshly for being a dreamer and not using the time to engage me and others around you more fully and more interestingly.

I find I can be okay with my mental gymnastics and slippery associating if I try.  Even when I pull the trick of getting a good idea of something I want to do and forget what it is before I get to the next room, I try to remain tolerant and accepting of a brain that doesn't always do what I want, what I expected, what it should.

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