Sunday, January 9, 2011

Language and Lenses

Apparently I'm on a language/communication kick. The last two stories for Scienceline are both about some of the implications of language – on society and on our minds. First, the language of genetics clearly has a huge impact on how well people understand it, or don't. This includes specific words like "heritability," which has created a whole tangle of problems (don't ask me to explain it again here, it took me days to write that paragraph!) It also includes the metaphors used in describing concepts or ideas or processes, like the blueprint vs. mixing board metaphor to describe how genes relate to the environment. Second, language may have a profound influence on how we think (or it may not, depending on which way the evidence convinces you). At the very least, it seems that even critics admit there may be small ways that language can shape thought, producing certain habits or drawing attention to distinctions or particular aspects of the world, etc. Some past articles (and the sources of inspiration for the story!) on this issue: from the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Economist

Also, lenses and glass imagery keep popping up:  the "Mendelian lens of heredity" and all the  looking glass, mirror, and window references in the language/thought debate. Huh. 

Anyways, here they are: 

Rethinking the Gene: The popular notion of genetics is wrong.
December 24, Scienceline

The World Through Language: What language can tell us about how we think. 
January 7, Scienceline

Image: D_P_R,

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