How I Uncovered My Own Linguistic Assumptions

I wanted to write about the first steps I took to identify with and emulate alternate ways of thinking. I didn’t used to think of making new interpretations of how I put together meaning and raw experience; I learned to do it.

I had stumbled onto Edward De Bono in the library. He wrote “PO – Guide to Creative Thinking. That put me on a path of seeking out those who could think “laterally.” But I didn’t really know what that meant, other than lateral thinkers were laughable. It fascinated me. What made funny stuff funny? Why did I laugh when I discovered something?

As a high school senior, I happened into an independent study class in History. I was assigned to choose an event that had occurred in the civil war; an event important enough and far enough back that it had been included in many history books written since then. My job in this independent study was to compare how each historian had chose to describe the course of events. Because I had read the raw accounts myself, I learned quite a bit about point of view, bias, cultural assumptions, presentation and salesmanship.

I found the Sapir-Whorf theory when I was in college while poking around the library again. Because I could read the words but I couldn’t really understand the book, I decided to base an independent study communication class on it. The book in question was Benjamin Lee Whorf’s book, “Language, Thought & Reality,” where he articulates the cultural conceptual differences between a number of North American indigenous languages in quick succession.  I studied and studied to wrap my brain around the concepts, but I realized that I had to go elsewhere to find a new way to make sense of what Whorf was saying. I figured my inability to understand his writing was because of my pretty much complete cultural bias – although I was fluent in Spanish at the time. I realized that Spanish was still an English-related indo-european language.

So I went out on a sort of “quest” to learn how to get beyond my mono-cultural orientation. I realized that part of changing had to do with uncovering assumptions. So I sought out that activity – even demanded it.

Meanwhile, I also studied with John Lilly, inter-species communicator, and got to attend a workshop by him and even got to hang out in his isolation tank for a few hours.

I eventually stumbled onto “Don’t Shoot the Dog,” which is a bookby Karen Pryor on the art of communicating non-verbally by understanding the art of reinforcement used for training animals. Somehow I knew that training animals was related to the ability to train myself – because I was an animal.

Instead of a term paper, I created this enormous time-line of all the ideas I ran into, in a sort of an associative graph of the process I followed to document how I spent my time exploring for this class. Essentially, I invented mind-mapping. I realized that I had to get out of describing my experiences in a linear way; I had to write without writing the way I was thinking not try to cram my thinking into language.

For my term paper and before computers, I cut up all the pieces of information and rearranged them on the floor in an enormous mind-map connection diagram. With enough practice at stretching my mind around ways of thinking that were unfamiliar and didn’t involve the language I knew, I could finally abstract and explain to others the concepts in Whorf’s book without repeating his words verbatim.

I also trained the feral kittens in the back yard to come into my house and be petted and held. I made art that dealt with shifting perceptual point of view and confusing figure/ground relationships.

And that was just the start of my fascination with Alexander Technique…