Psycholinguistic Musings

Sinew. That word can evoke, for me, images of sturdy steel bands, thick in the middle but narrowing almost to points on the ends; ribbons of metallic lies constrained at either end by truth. It’s as if truth confines the streamer of lies with such a thin membrane that mendacity might spray forth with mighty force, at any moment, such that honesty could shatter into a million irretrievable pieces. That’s what sinew sometimes means to me. I understand the dictionary definition of the word, of course; but dictionaries do not, in their search for meaning, plumb the depths of irrational psycholinguistics.

Am I alone in attributing consciousness and motives to certain words? Does my mind function at a more base level than most humans’ brains work? Does my tendency to anthropomorphize concepts and the words that describe them suggest an innate madness, a psychological flaw that puts me in the company of serial killers and cannibals? I hope not.

A flawed theory exists that suggests superior intellect tracks in parallel with madness; I believe that’s not true. Madness and its precursors, in my view, track inversely to intellect; Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer and, were I their pathological kin, I struggle to link ideas to rational actions, yet the fulcrum is badly off-center. The parallel is not with superior intellect but, rather, with broken thought patterns colored by experiences best-suited for people whose minds are far-better-equipped to understand and handle them. I realize my words here constitute a drift, a swirl of unrelated ideas clamoring for attention where attention has no interest in being paid. Flummox! What, exactly, is that word? I think of it as meaning confuse or bewilder, but I am not sure.

One day, I suspect, linguists and psychologists and neurologists will collectively and successfully endeavor to bridge the gaps between theory and measurement and prediction. That will enable them to preemptively identify and prevent deviant acts by people compelled by madness to commit monstrous atrocities. That prospect is at once buoyant and chilling. At what point do we cross the threshold between protection and police state? What degree of certainty would be required to allow us to comfortably imprison or otherwise deprive a person of his or her liberty due to predictions of future behavior? I suppose we’ve already crossed the line to some extent when we execute people convicted of murder but who, we learn later, did not commit the crime. Though there’s a difference between predicting future behavior and punishing past behavior, the need for certainty in either case argues for the exercise of extreme caution and exacting standards. If absolute certainty cannot be achieved, how moral are our decisions to imprison on the basis of potential or kill on the basis of probability?

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to Psycholinguistic Musings

  1. Jennifer Cox says:

    Hey John – folks have been contacting us, trying to find you. Can you email me or give me a call soon? 330-678-4887

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