#182

#182

I’ve quoted from Nygaard Notes before. I’m doing it again. I consider Nygaard to be a clear thinker and a clear communicator, and his idea of “anchors” is useful. I suggest you read the entire issue, #532. http://www.nygaardnotes.org/  Here are parts from that issue. Read to the end and see my comments.

Question: What kind of fish performs brain operations?
Answer: A neurosturgeon!

You may or may not think this is funny (I think it’s funny), but the point here is that one cannot “get” this joke—or any joke—without connecting it to some things that one already knows.  You’d have to know that a sturgeon is a kind of fish, for instance.  And you’d have to know the name for a person who does brain operations.  And you’d have to know that fish don’t generally perform surgery (as far as we know).  The point here is that every joke relies on the listener having some previous knowledge, and this odd little answer to this odd little question becomes funny ONLY when connected to that previous knowledge.

Here’s the thing: This doesn’t apply only to jokes.  Actually, no fact or bit of information that we come across has any meaning unless and until it is connected—in our brains—to something that’s already there. …So, we should all be very interested in what is “already there” in our brains, since it gives meaning to your world and mine.  And, when enough people share the same existing base of ideas, then the meaning shifts, in practical terms, from being your world or my world to being the world.
 
…In previous issues of Nygaard Notes I have referred to this pre-existing knowledge of the world as our ABCs: Our Attitudes, Beliefs, and Conceptions about how the world works. …Since incoming information needs to attach to something in order to stick in our brains and mean something, the things to which they stick can be thought of as “anchors.”  Sometimes these anchors can be trivial, such as knowing that fish don’t do surgery. But sometimes they can be quite important, shaping our understanding of the world in critical ways. An example from the personal level will illustrate.

One important idea that is believed by many people is the idea that “I am a bad person.”  This is the basis of the “shame dynamic” that I discussed back in the year 2000 in Nygaard Notes #100 (“The Psychology of White Racism, Part 2”).

When a person with this belief is told, for example, that he or she has a book overdue at the library, the meaning of that fact will be something like, “Here’s more evidence of what an idiot I am!”  The anchor here is my nature as a person who is stupid, incompetent, unorganized, or otherwise “bad” (as I define it), which the fact of the overdue book serves to reinforce.  Such little things can be sufficiently embarrassing for a shame-based person that they may put off even longer the returning of the book.  If, on the other hand, my anchor, or underlying belief, is that “I am a good person,” then the same overdue notice will likely produce a feeling of gratitude, or relief, for having been given the information needed to do the right thing, which is after all the primary concern of a “good person.”  This is an example of how one piece of information can have different meanings, depending on the “anchor” that exists in the mind of the listener before the information ever comes in.  Any incoming fact (like an overdue book) gets attached to that anchor and takes on its meaning only when it is so attached.  And, as we see in this example, the same bit of information can be immobilizing or paralyzing for the person who anchors all incoming messages to their feelings of shame, or activating or motivating for the person whose anchor is high self-esteem.  The facts don’t change, but meaning changes, and thus behavior changes, depending on the nature of the anchor to which the facts attach.

I have said before: I stalk my beliefs. This is why. I want to be able to name my anchors, my ABCs — my Attitudes, Beliefs, and Conceptions. Our ABCs determine our perspective and inform our expectations. What are your ABCs — about yourself, about the world, about what should be, about everything?

Let me know. Thanks.

By the way, I was wrong about no more frost before Labor Day. Scattered frost all around up here this morning! Had to cover the tomatoes!