29 June 2011

And don't say it's "fascinating"...

Aren't brains brilliant? As well as doing all the useful stuff like adding up and taking mental notes and making Thursday afternoons hilarious, it also quietly does lots of little backgrounds tasks that aren't immediately obvious to you.

For example, you could be driving around the town where you live, like you do every day of life and, for some reason, you end up taking a different route and, just like a Japanese car issues a baleful "bong" when you leave your lights on, your brain raises a little "You've never done that before." flag.

Now, quite why it keeps track of everywhere you've been and the route you took, I'm not sure. Perhaps it's some hunter-gatherer technique to identify places where we haven't killed / eaten everything yet. Who knows.

Another weirdness you can expose is to probe the ephemeral nature of meaning. That sounds very grandiose, but really all I mean is that you make a word stop meaning anything. Observe.

If you take a word out of it's context, isolate and repeat it, it very quickly rots into its phonetic constituents, losing all meaning in the process.

I watched a video on YouTube the other day which was a compilation of Spock saying "fascinating" over and over again. It very quickly stops being Spock repeating his favourite word and becomes Spock making the same slightly odd noise over and over again.

It's not fascinating. But it is ...... interesting.

EDIT: I have since learned that this phenomena is called Semantic Satiation. So now we know.