Less lingo please. More plain talk.

January 31, 2011 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Tips

People use too much lingo. What do I mean by too much? I mean it when big or out-of-context words confuse more than illuminate or create meaning. Everybody knows it, we still do it more than we mean to. I’m going to examine the issue from a few perspectives.

Having a background in science I see a lot of scientific sounding language where it seems people use it more to sound scientific than to convey meaning. Often they end up sounding less scientific. Science isn’t the only place where people get lingo from, but it’s a good example.

Today I read a New York Times article on How Meditation May Change the Brain. The article is okay, but it illustrates how people misuse information and confuse it for knowledge and wisdom.

We all know the brain changes — if it didn’t we would be the same persons our whole lives. Obvious, right? I prefer to call those changes in our brains learning, growing, and gaining experience. If through meditation you learn calmness and empathy, you can say you learned calmness and empathy.

Here’s how the article says it:

M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation
regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area
important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of
gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A
control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.

If you are a brain researcher who studies how brains work, you might be interested in how the physical structure of the brain changes, but to a lay person, saying more than people who meditated learned calmness and empathy doesn’t add meaning. Talking about hippocampuses and amygdalas yields more information but likely less knowledge to a lay person.

In fact, I predict the more someone knows about the brain, the more he or she would say the field is so young whatever research they have creates little meaningful knowledge. They’re gathering it in the hopes future researchers, with much more information, can create meaning from it.

People who know little about the brain make wide, sweeping generalizations from little information that people who know better refrain from. Pseudo-scientific lingo emboldens them to generalize and, worse, gives them confidence in their poorly supported extrapolations. I’m willing to bet no one knows meaningful relations between gray matter, hippocampuses, and such that is willing to bet what they know won’t change in the next five years.

For people interested in improving their lives — why else would they consider taking up a new practice like meditation — the most meaningful message I could think of is something like “people who meditate say it helps them decrease their anxiety and stress.” If you want to be scientific you could add, “You can try it yourself and see if you get the same results.” Testing an observation is science. People have lost sight that you don’t need huge FDA-approved double-blind controlled experiments to learn about the world. You can just do something and observe. That’s what Darwin, Newton, Galileo, and so on did. Using big words is not science. It’s just using big words.

I don’t begrudge the author, editor, or publisher. Their jobs are to sell newspapers and the message that people who meditate say it calms them and you could get the same benefit is old and doesn’t sell papers. Still, it’s a more meaningful message.

For another example, I talk a lot about differences between physical pleasure and emotional reward. I won’t get into the differences here, but they aren’t the same thing. You can sense in yourself how your emotional system reacts differently to, say, eating a delicious mango, which is physically pleasurable, and, say, finishing a marathon, which may bring no physical pleasure but may be very emotionally rewarding.

Feeling, exploring, and understanding your emotions, motivations, and feelings can raise your self-awareness. Every now and then someone says something like “Physical pleasure is dopamine. Emotional reward is serotonin” and then sits back as if they just indicated they know everything on the subject. I’m sure dopamine and serotonin are related, but we hardly know anything about them, how they work, how they influence other parts of the brain, etc.

The worst thing is the lingo keeps people from thinking and experiencing more. People with the most to learn block themselves the most.

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1 response to “Less lingo please. More plain talk.

  1. Pingback: Science discovering “tastes good” versus “wanting more” » Joshua Spodek

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