Language vs. Reality - Deepstash

Keep reading for FREE

Our Words Overwrite Our Own Experience

Imagine that you and a friend witness a robbery. The police ask you to describe the perpetrator’s face as carefully as you can, but they don’t interview your friend. The next day, the police show both of you photographs of faces and ask you to identify the one you saw. Well, it turns out that because you described the face in words, you will be less accurate than your friend at correctly identifying the face. This is because you effectively rewrote the original experience in your own mind, while your friend, who didn’t talk about the experience, was left with their visual impression intact.

53

280 reads

This Rewriting Is Called The Overshadowing Effect

And experiments show that it not only affects our memories for faces, but also for accidents, colors, images, household objects, and even the tastes of different wines.

This feature of language has the advantage of economy—it’s easier to remember a simplified version of an experience. Most of the time, we aren’t trying to capture or communicate very fine details in our words. A simplified rendition of reality is easier to convey, just as it’s easier to reproduce an image from someone’s line drawing than from a photograph.

52

211 reads

Language Is A Stealth Technology For Influencing People

Every time you hear or read a description, you are allowing someone else to dictate your perspective on a scene. Their words direct your attention to certain aspects, and away from others. You are allowing them to frame how you understand it, and to affect how you reason about it. Language can be used to weaponize the overshadowing effect.

55

158 reads

Lines And Labels

In a psychology study from the early 1930s, people were shown simple line drawings, and their task was to remember what they saw. Later, they were asked to draw the images from memory. The trick was that these drawings were ambiguous, and the experimenters put different labels on the drawings for different people.

49

149 reads

Language Is Overriding The Senses And Reshaping Reality

For example, one image was a hybrid between a crescent moon and the letter C. When the people who saw the label “crescent moon” were later asked to draw the image as accurately as they could from memory, they would draw something more like a crescent moon than the original. Those who saw the exact same image but with the label “letter C” would later draw it more like a C, even though their task was to reproduce the visual image exactly. People’s beliefs about reality were overshadowed by the words used to describe it.

51

110 reads

And We’re Left Holding (Re)shaped Versions. Often Made By Others

This overshadowing is happening every time we hear, see, or read something described in words. The reality being described is reshaped by language, and our mind now holds the reshaped version, not the reality. Because language is a constant presence, we take it for granted, and don’t realize the degree to which it shapes the world we believe we’re living in. And most of the time, that shaping is done by words that other people choose for us.

51

87 reads

Language Is A Gift For Advocates

For anybody, really, in the business of persuasion: actual lawyers, politicians, advertisers, social media influencers. The phenomenon of strategic wording is second nature to all of us when it comes to defending a position—even young kids are masters at this.

50

108 reads

Poke Or Tap

For example, two young kids are playing with blocks, and the structure they’re building crashes down. When an adult admonishes them, one kid says, “She poked it!” The other says, “I tapped it!” We could argue as to whether poke or tap was a more accurate description of the event, but the issue is accountability. Who was at fault?

The answer depends on which verbal description is accepted.

51

94 reads

The Faulty And Faulting Verbal Description

This effect has been demonstrated in experiments where people will assign different degrees of blame depending on differences in wording. Imagine an insurance case about a fire in a restaurant, which was caused by someone bumping a table and a candle toppled over. If you use more agentive language, as in “She toppled the candle,” people will assign greater blame to the person than if you use less agentive language, as in “She bumped the table, and the candle toppled.”

50

80 reads

Strategic Wording Is Defending. Conscious *And* Unconscious

This principle of strategic wording fuels news and media commentary, where the same situation is described in radically different ways by different media outlets. We are all familiar with rioting versus protesting, or terrorists versus freedom fighters, but the truth is that every statement takes one stance over all possible others, whether or not it’s intended to. And there’s often no way to settle which description is more accurate. We tend to gravitate toward the description that supports the version of reality that we wish to defend.

51

65 reads

Language Is Bad For Scientists

Language makes truth-seeking hard. Physicists have argued for more than a century as to whether it is possible to know reality, or whether we only ever deal with our descriptions of it—where these descriptions are necessarily framed in words. The physicist David Deutsch said that languages are theories which are “invented and selected for their ability to solve problems.” As the physicist Sean Carroll says, our ways of talking are “an absolutely crucial part of how we apprehend reality.”

52

69 reads

Framing And Being Framed

To build new knowledge about reality, and share that knowledge, we need words. But words are anything but objective. Different ways of framing a situation can nudge our thought processes in very different directions.

50

76 reads

Wait, What Did I Choose?

Suppose someone tells you that 600 people are hospitalized with a mysterious illness; your task is to decide between treatment options, but the trick is that they can describe the same option using different words. If they describe an option by saying “200 out of the 600 people will be saved,” you are far more likely to select that option than if they say “400 out of the 600 people will die”—even though these two wordings describe the exact same thing.

49

58 reads

My Goldmine Is Your Minefield

Effects like these are a goldmine for lawyers, but they are a minefield for judges, scientists, and anyone else who just wants to know what is true. The problem is that language never presents things as they really are.

This can have ethical implications. When the animal scientist John Gluck began his career, his experiments caused the animals great pain and suffering. At the time, he used language that avoided any possibility of empathizing with the animals: the monkeys were said to be avoidant rather than frightened. They were not not hungry, but had a latency to consumption.

50

60 reads

Language: The Enabler

In the middle of his career, Gluck abandoned his research because he no longer wanted to harm the animals, and he explained that the language he had learned as a scientist made it easier for him to commit the wrongs. He offered a warning: if you have to sanitize the language to describe what you are doing, in any aspect of life, “you have entered morally perilous territory.” This is why we need to handle language with a big dose of respect and humility, given the power it has to shape our world and our values.

53

50 reads

Language Can Control Us, But Only If We Let It

Language has immense power. It directs our attention, it engages our emotions, and it messes with our memory and reasoning. In short, we’re putty in the hands of language.

Like all things of power, language can used for good or ill. The ill in language is destructive, or even exploitative: language can create all manner of deception, with much of it under the radar. But the good in language is very, very good: language is our social glue, it creates our worlds, and it is our most powerful tool for collective sense-making.

50

51 reads

All The People, All The Lives

The literary critic Harold Bloom once said that the reason we read is that we can’t know enough people. Echoing this, the linguist Nick Evans wrote that the reason we learn other languages is that we can’t live enough lives.

50

58 reads

What Goes In And What Comes Out

The more we learn about the power of human language—the degree to which it shapes our world and our thoughts with us hardly being aware—the more language demands respect and humility. A single language gives almost endless options for describing a situation in words. But each language is just one of 7,000 unique language systems spoken in the world today, and each of those languages provides its speaker with a unique library of ideas.

Indeed, there would be no big ideas without language.

49

59 reads

GEORGE ORWELL

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

GEORGE ORWELL

52

73 reads

SAMUEL JOHNSON

Language is the dress of thought.

SAMUEL JOHNSON

49

63 reads

RITA MAE BROWN

Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.

RITA MAE BROWN

49

69 reads

RITA MAE BROWN

Language exerts hidden power, like the moon on the tides.

RITA MAE BROWN

50

74 reads

CHARLEMAGNE

To have another language, is to possess a second soul.

CHARLEMAGNE

52

67 reads

CURATED BY

xarikleia

“An idea is something that won’t work unless you do.” - Thomas A. Edison

Language for humans is like water for fish—it’s everywhere, but we hardly see it, and that creates an exploitable vulnerability.

Ready for the next level?

Read Like a Pro

stash-superman-illustration

Explore the World’s

Best Ideas

200,000+ ideas on pretty much any topic. Created by the smartest people around & well-organized so you can explore at will.

An Idea for Everything

Explore the biggest library of insights. And we've infused it with powerful filtering tools so you can easily find what you need.

Knowledge Library

Powerful Saving & Organizational Tools

Save ideas for later reading, for personalized stashes, or for remembering it later.

# Personal Growth

Take Your Ideas

Anywhere

Organize your ideas & listen on the go. And with Pro, there are no limits.

Listen on the go

Just press play and we take care of the words.

Never worry about spotty connections

No Internet access? No problem. Within the mobile app, all your ideas are available, even when offline.

Get Organized with Stashes

Ideas for your next work project? Quotes that inspire you? Put them in the right place so you never lose them.

Join

2 Million Stashers

4.8

Stars

5,740 Reviews

App Store

4.7

Stars

72,690 Reviews

Google Play

samz905

Don’t look further if you love learning new things. A refreshing concept that provides quick ideas for busy thought leaders.

Shankul Varada

Best app ever! You heard it right. This app has helped me get back on my quest to get things done while equipping myself with knowledge everyday.

Ashley Anthony

This app is LOADED with RELEVANT, HELPFUL, AND EDUCATIONAL material. It is creatively intellectual, yet minimal enough to not overstimulate and create a learning block. I am exceptionally impressed with this app!

Sean Green

Great interesting short snippets of informative articles. Highly recommended to anyone who loves information and lacks patience.

Laetitia Berton

I have only been using it for a few days now, but I have found answers to questions I had never consciously formulated, or to problems I face everyday at work or at home. I wish I had found this earlier, highly recommended!

Jamyson Haug

Great for quick bits of information and interesting ideas around whatever topics you are interested in. Visually, it looks great as well.

Ghazala Begum

Even five minutes a day will improve your thinking. I've come across new ideas and learnt to improve existing ways to become more motivated, confident and happier.

Giovanna Scalzone

Brilliant. It feels fresh and encouraging. So many interesting pieces of information that are just enough to absorb and apply. So happy I found this.

Read & Learn

20x Faster

without
deepstash

with
deepstash

with

deepstash

Access to 200,000+ ideas

Access to the mobile app

Unlimited idea saving & library

Unlimited history

Unlimited listening to ideas

Downloading & offline access

Personalized recommendations

FAQ

Claim Your Limited Offer

Get Deepstash Pro