March 19, 2012

"Metaphors like 'The singer had a velvet voice' and 'He had leathery hands' roused the sensory cortex..."

"... while phrases matched for meaning, like 'The singer had a pleasing voice' and 'He had strong hands,' did not."

Whip out your metaphors, guys. Science says it's thoroughly arousing, according to this second-most-emailed article in the New York Times. First-most is "Why Bilinguals Are Smarter." You see what's going on? The kind of NYT readers who email articles are entranced by brain science reports that stoke their vanity. Hey, girlfriends, see how smart I am? I loved studying French in college and I am always reading novels. Science says!

Bleh. If you were so smart, you wouldn't be emailing stuff through the NYT at this late date in the history of the computer. These are such stock NYT articles, appealing to the vanity of affluent, college-educated women. I don't for one minute believe these people care about science. I don't think they care about how the brain really works, that they'd read about the elaborate chemistry of the brain or anything like that. They just love the reports that back them up, that compliment them, telling them they must be smart because of some dumb thing that was always true of them — reading stories, playing with language, finding NYT articles that allow them to subtly preen to their friends via email.

31 comments:

ElPresidenteCastro said...

The most favored articles of the computer illiterate. I don't think my 78 year old mother uses the "email article" button.

kcom said...

"I don't think my 78 year old mother uses the 'email article' button"

How can an 85-year-old man have a 78-year-old mother? :)

Jess said...

But how great would it be if you could whip out your metaphors in French while riding on a motherfuckin' bike?

Pastafarian said...

Well, I don't doubt that bilingual people are, on average, more bright than we monolingual troglodytes. But that's simply because some of us are too stupid to learn a second language. If they're proposing that the brain is somehow enhanced by learning another language, they've reversed cause and effect.

I took 3 quarters of Latin in college, and all I remember from it is the brunette that sat in the front of the room.

TomB said...

Most people who are truly bi-lingual (i.e. not those who are just able to order a coffee or ask for the bathroom) usually are so out of necessity. They always point at Americans as being "stupid" for not learning other languages. But for 99% of the population, its not a necessity. You can get in your car at one point in the US, literally drive in a straight line for 2000 miles, and get out in an area that still speaks the same language. Do the same in Europe and you will go through 6, 7, 8 language centers. Thriving in such areas requires knowing another language or two well.

As for brain enhancement, I have found that knowing a second language fluently has enhanced my brain in one fashion: learning languages. Being far from fluent in more than 2 languages, I did pick up the basics in German, Arabic, and Tagalog a lot faster than I did my first (French).

Smilin' Jack said...

I don't believe that "Bilinguals Are Smarter" crap. Smart people don't waste their time learning how to talk to people who are so dumb they can't even speak English.

Pastafarian said...

I remember she had a mellifluous, warbling voice; had she read from the dictionary, I could have listened to it like music.

And she once was called out for laughing to herself during the lecture; and she very hesitatingly told a joke that had just come to her:

Why is "peninsula" a female noun?

Because no man is an island.

John said...

The New York Times' only remaining viable business model is as a paid provider of vanity and self justification for a certain breed of upper class twit.

bagoh20 said...

We can't resist the natural impulse to show people how we are better, but the thing about trying to impress people is that it's generally counterproductive.

We buy a nice car, or a beautiful home, or sharp clothes, but overall those things make people dislike you. We feel more affinity to the those who are not better off, more fashionable or richer than ourselves. Ironically, trying to impress people pushes them away.

You're a nice guy one day and then you buy an expensive car. People don't generally think more of you after that - just the opposite.

I imagine sending them an article saying: "I'm smarter than you." produces an even worse response.

ElPresidenteCastro said...

kcom,

As with many things, my "78 year old mother" is metaphorical.

bagoh20 said...

All the best people speak American.

John said...

Bagoh20,

You don't get how this works. They send it to each other. These kinds of people would never be friends with someone who didn't fit the mold. So they send it to each other as a way of say "aren't we so much better than those idiots out in flyover country".

cubanbob said...

Tom B you can drive from Key West Florida all the way to Alaska and get by perfectly well speaking only english. now measure that distance from thr Irish Sea and you will be past the Ural Mountains. American's don't have to, Europeans do.

David said...

Nice rant.

I am working on an article about how NASCAR fans have better sex since they are better in touch with their primal selves. I am sure NYT will take a look at it.

Dante said...

Isn't this ego stroking a huge part of the liberal movement? "You are smarter than most people because you are liberal, you understand nuance, which is why you agree with the president when he says adding more people to the health care rolls will reduce costs.

virgil xenophon said...

To expand the bilingual bit into a rant on multiculturalism and the lessons of Yugoslavia (and the Balkans in general and "Balkanization" in particular) and the Tower of Babel, Thomas Sowell once opined that the one singular advantage America had was its cohesiveness due to a single common language and culture (roughly speaking) and why were we in the process of throwing it all away to emulate a fractured Europe by encouraging languages other than English (push#1 for English, etc.) and artificially importing foreign mores which only encourage separatist tendencies? The push for "Bilingualism" in America is but yet another manifestation of the attack on American "exceptionalism" and our English language-based culture; acceptance of this critique demonstrating a profound lack of confidence in, and guilt about, the historical accomplishments of the English-speaking world.

virgil xenophon said...

PS: Language matters and has profound cultural consequences, e.g., can there be a more sexist, patriarchical language than, say, Spanish? And the cultural implications in the way a society develops that flow from that?

traditionalguy said...

I have sensed a new openness to Europeans coming to America. The wealthy ones are looking for a hedge their bets soft landing spot after the Demographic Bomb goes off and Sharia becomes the law in Europe.

The Old Europe is a great culture, especially for the aristocrats and their trained servants.

Joe Schmoe said...

They love science except when it comes to energy. And environmental science. And economics. And sociology. Wait; what science do they like again?

The only 'nuance' I see is that the US is a bad as Cuba, because Cuba imprisons political prisoners while we imprison terrorists. And China, the biggest polluter in the world and oppressor of wide swaths of its poorest citizens, is somehow better than us.

Jim said...

Wait - are you saying the NYT business model is built entirely around commoditizing confirmation bias? Say it ain't so...

edutcher said...

A lot of it, I think, is just being exposed to other languages. As a kid, I heard a lot of Sicilian, as well as a lot of accents with various phrases of the native tongue thrown in.

I've picked up Romance languages fairly easily.

The Blonde, raised in NE OH, never heard anything but what passes in that part of the universe as English with an OH twang.

She has a tin ear and is struggling with Spanish I, but I'd say, pound for pound, she's smarter than me.

Pastafarian said...

I took 3 quarters of Latin in college, and all I remember from it is the brunette that sat in the front of the room.

Same thing for me in Intermediate French with a redhead.

TomB said...

cubanbob, You may have misunderstood me, but what you say was my point exactly. In the US, we don't need to know more than 1 language to conduct day-to-day business efficiently. In fact, an American could very well go their entire life without ever having to use another language. In Europe, that is not possible. That is why they learn more languages than we do, out of necessity, Americans don't not learn them out of stupidity.

The point of my 2nd paragraph was to put in my $0.02 about the idea that learning languages somehow makes your brain better. It doesn't make your brain better at anything other than learning languages.

Unknown said...

I'm bilingually illiterate, does that count?

traditionalguy said...

When an Hispanic only speaker comes to a house closing, the bilingual Real Estate agents and loan officers come with them. These Wise Latinos are very smart people.

IMO travel among cultures, even within the Anglosphere, does seem to make people sharper.

jimbino said...

I used to read the NYT regularly just to keep abreast of what the other half thinks.

Now it seems the other half has mostly departed and I have no idea what the slant is anymore.

jimbino said...

The truth is that the best way to master English is to study a foreign language. Another way, of course, is to get a job teaching ESL.

There are a few folks, like Ronald Reagan, who seemed to have a natural gift.

Another truth is that those who haven't mastered a second language have no way to judge what they're missing, much like those who have been circumcised at birth.

Tibore said...

"Bleh. If you were so smart, you wouldn't be emailing stuff through the NYT at this late date in the history of the computer."

Yes, this. Working in IT, I never see or hear about anyone actually using those buttons to let people know about interesting links. Either they're posted and then discovered by others through metasites (you know, buzz generators like Slashdot (for geek news), Digg, Metafilter (something the professor here has read in the past), etc.), or they're Tweeted or linked in other social media sites. Who the hell actually emails from the webpage?

Those "email this article" links are for the non-saavy.

"These are such stock NYT articles, appealing to the vanity of affluent, college-educated women. I don't for one minute believe these people care about science. I don't think they care about how the brain really works, that they'd read about the elaborate chemistry of the brain or anything like that. They just love the reports that back them up, that compliment them, telling them they must be smart because of some dumb thing that was always true of them — reading stories, playing with language, finding NYT articles that allow them to subtly preen to their friends via email."

That's pretty damming. Granted, I myself have thought that a lot of NYT stuff was just passed around as a self-congratulatory act, but I wonder if you're not overanalyzing things here. To me, it's less that it's openly, narcissistically self-back-patting as it is someone self-declaring "I read smart stuff". I really think it's no more than that.

gerry said...

I took three years of Latin.

I also know Fortran.

Do dead languages count?

TANSTAAFL said...

I never metaphor I didn't like.

ricpic said...

Judging from the Puerto Rican conversations I used to eavesdrop on when I vivad en Nueva York tres words, mira, entonces and corazon are all a gringo needs to be bilingual. That don't take too much in the way of smarts.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Bilingual? Smarter? Come-ON! I'm quite comfortable in six languages and somewhat functional in four or five more. It's not more smart, it's different smart.

Specifically pattern recognition, as in playing a violin well by ear, or hitting a curve ball.

Hitting a curve ball well -- I couldn't -- woulda a got me a lot farther with the chicks than my multi-lingualism ever did.