Friday, August 12, 2011

You Say Zebra, I Say Jackal

Here is an exercise.  Answer the first two questions out loud, then say the first thing that comes to mind in response to the third.

1.  What is the largest continent?
2.  What are the opposing colors in chess?
3.  Name any animal.

Approximately twenty percent of people will say "zebra" in this context; fifty percent will name some African animal.  Without the first two questions asked first, less than one percent will answer "zebra."  In other words, the brain is wired in such a way that it can be directed and diverted to draw upon certain associations.  In this way, answers can be manipulated.

I heard about this concept in reference to a book called Brain Bugs:  How the Brain's Flaws Shape our Lives by Dean Buonomano, which explores many other interesting topics regarding the brain and its ability or failure to evolve in certain ways over time.

But what stuck with me was the first concept, this associative nature of the brain, and how maybe as a writer, I feel that it's my job to place the signposts that will lead to certain associations.  That is not to say I expect to direct the reader's exact course (because another fifty percent came up with something other than zebra) but perhaps only to construct a general playing field.  Discussing books and studying books, then, is really the process of comparing which direction the associations have led us.

1 comment:

  1. I thought 'dog'. What does that say about me. Your previous post: I was just thinking the same thing about a magazine suscription my sister gave to me as a gift. I don't much care for magazines but it was a gift. It was just adverts. Boring.


"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka