Monday, June 16, 2014

Facepalm Of The Day: Can Language Influence Our Perception of Reality?


Jeez, I'm really sorry about being so cranky. I'm really not that cranky in real life. Well...I'm a little intellectually cranky I guess...



Can language influence our perception of reality?

Fortunately, that's a pretty easy question.

The answer is 'yes.'

Here's a wee experiment to prove it:

There's a glass of bourbon sitting in front of me right now.

See? I just influenced your perception of reality (in the sense of 'perception' that seems to be at issue in this Slate thing.). Before, your view of reality did not include the belief that there was a glass of bourbon in front of me. I influenced your "perception" (in a broad sense of 'perception') of reality by using language.

Case closed.

What language doesn't do is influence our perception of reality in the weird, crazy, inescapable ways that Worf-Sapir groupies think it can.

The general principle in play is something like:

The weirder a phenomenon is, the less likely it is to be real.

And, so:

The more mundane a phenomenon is, the more likely it is to be real.

And note: we're talking about averages and tendencies here. No sensible person would claim that nothing weird ever came to pass.

Slate saith:
Lera Boroditsky, associate professor of cognitive science at UC San Diego has spent years examining how different languages might encourage different cognitive abilities. A growing body of evidence suggests that a person’s mother tongue shapes the way they think about many aspects of the world, including space and time. The results, Boroditsky says, have broad implications in the spheres of politics and law. 
 In the case of the economy, the word “stalled” implies the need for a quick solution. “We know what it means to jumpstart a car—we know that a short-term infusion of energy will help get everything restored back to normal,” Boroditsky says. “When we use that analogy we’re implying that a short term financial stimulus will help us get the economy going again.”
The "stalled" point is completely mundane. This is not "language influencing perception" in any but the most mundane way. I can use language to influence your perception by telling you something--as I did above, bourbon-wise; I can also do so by suggesting something, as "stalled" does. There is simply nothing here in any way surprising. This is not the sort of thing people generally mean when they say that our language influences our views of reality. Something much weirder and more profound is clearly hinted at by such claims.

As for different languages having some influence on promoting different cognitive abilities: sure. Why not? It'd be a little weird if very different languages had no different effects on our development of such abilities. E.g. speaking German probably makes you a bit better at combining short ideas into longer ones. Or something. NBD.

Who knows? Boroditsky's research may very well be more interesting than it sounds here.

The reason I grouse about stuff like this is that is very common for people to make wacky, grandiose claims about stuff like this on the basis of very little evidence...and then for others to parrot that crap as if it were the gospel.


Anonymous Bacon Attack said...

"parrot that crap as if it were the gospel."

Rubbish. Parrot that rubbish. You are an educated gentleman. See how much more classy that sounds?

4:31 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

> You are an educated gentleman

You're half right...

Honestly, though, I'll reflect on this point

5:13 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

> You are an educated gentleman

You're half right...

Honestly, though, I'll reflect on this point

5:13 PM  

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