Monday, August 07, 2006

More Ahh... ha-ha-....Aha!

July 20
Ahh... ha-ha-....Aha!

I've been thinking about how our minds do or don't work to make language come out of our mouths. Gagdad Bob over at One Cosmos, was noting how some people, usually elites (I might say those who are more reliant on the impression that their language makes upon others) often seem to succumb to their language, rather than mastering it - they are more people spoken by language, rather than people speaking language themselves. It's as if having memorized various quotes, terms, phrases and definitions, they lay in wait for any moment that could plausibly be deemed appropriate for pulling them out; as if all they’ll ever have to say was long ago stored in their memory like a series of pre-recorded statements, mental DJ’s waiting to play their intellectual Top 40 jingles. Then as they try to elaborate in conversation, their comments more often than not, are either of a low level conceptual nature, or so mistreat the high level concepts as to contort them into a lower level nature.

Surely we've all come across one of these pompous, affected characters before (perhaps even found our(my)self as one of them at times, saying something chiefly because it would go over well, whether or not it was well thought out - hmm?). Think of a character such as Voltaire's Pangloss or even Diane Chambers from the TV show "Cheers" - wanna-be Elites, consumed with all things Intellectual (sounding), always speaking stiltedly - like walking plagiarisms, they seem to contort their attention in order to selectively grasp at fragments of life around them for the sole purpose of ostentatiously displaying their horded, long dead, ideas for your admiration. They contrast poorly with those who instead seek to engage life and describe their experience of it as best they can with the appropriate language available to them, and while their vocabulary and allusions may or may not be lacking, their meaning is clear, lively and sparkling with insight & humor. People like H.L. Mencken, Irving Babbitt, Richard Mitchell, or Winston Churchill - they make language dance, sparkling and alive – and their language makes our own minds feel more alive at its touch between our ears.

Why is that? What is it we DO with language? What does language DO to us? Or rather, what is the process our brains engage in, that results in language? How is it that it becomes alive or dead in nature, high or low in content? And why is it that we are susceptible to being taken over by that language - like in Mary Shelly's Frankenstein (subtitled The Modern Prometheus), that ever popular Sci-Fi theme of Technology overcoming it's Creators, of Robots going from serving people to enslaving their creators whom they once served. Language can be used to lift you on high, or drag you down into interior darkness. Language might best be looked upon, depending on it's relationship to your Mind, as either Prometheus’s Fire or a Frankenstein’s Monster. If your use of language descends from Prometheus, from high level concepts, it will energize & lift you up. On the other hand, if from Frankenstein, dominated by glitzier earthly level concepts, it may well dazzle you, for a time, but in the end turn and pursue you to the ruins of spirit and soul.

I think I’ve found a clue in “Ahh! Ah, ha-ha-....Aha!”. Everyone is familiar with the Aha! Affect to one degree or another, where seemingly out of the blue, an answer blazes into your mind after seeking after it for some period of time. IMHO, The Aha! Effect, is when a sudden integration of a large array of seemingly disconnected data, is integrated into one, bringing many into one related whole. The intensity of the Aha! Felt by the person experiencing it, is likely in proportion to the quests size and duration in both time and effort.

It dawned on me recently, that laughter is probably closely related to the Aha! effect, with a slightly different flavor. It too, is the sudden integration of two or more unlooked for data relations in a way that is seemingly contrary to logic and/or custom… until you receive that integrating bit of data in the punch line. Varying the degree that the items are normally thought to be unrelated, the unexpectedness, the suddenness, and the number of integrations made by the punch line, corresponds to the intensity of the laughter. It’s interesting (and painfully tedious!) to watch children learning to express a sense of humor. They do seem to get that the key to humor, is putting together things that don’t normally belong, but it takes a seemingly long while for them to realize that the punchline needs to make it look like the items are related, though unexpectedly.

What parent hasn’t had to endure a 5-7 year olds attempts at writing Knock-Knock Jokes(“Knock-knock! Who’s there? Petunia, Petunia who? Petunia scrambled eggs!AH-HA-HA-HAA!” it takes SO long for the child to progress to (“Knock-knock! Who’s there? Orange, Orange who? Knock-knock! Who’s there? Orange, Orange who? Orange-ya glad I didn’t say Knock-Knock again?! AH-HA-HA-HAA!” and finally you can honestly chuckle along with them). It’s a process of integrating seemingly unrelated data in a way that provides a pleasant, unlooked for surprise at their being linked together.

Integration of data and concepts from the simplest to the highest levels of an hierarchy, is, I think, key to many of the mysteries of how the brain works, and of language itself, a process of integrating from the perceptual to the conceptual (low to high), under a label of words and phrases. If you make your integrations Vertically, then you get a progressively wider perspective , and understanding of life. If however if you go predominantly Horizontally, with only the most unavoidable Vertical Integrations, then it only makes life more complicated and confused – gone is your ability to maintain peace of mind amongst the storms of life.

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