Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Absent-Minded Thoughts

Do you ever find yourself staring at a written word and thinking how strange it looks on the page? Or do you hear a clearly-spoken English sentence which you're unable to immediately process? What about looking for glasses while they're perched on your nose -- or sitting in clear sight on the desk in front of you? All these things happen to me regularly: at least once a week for the first two, and more often than that for the third. It never lasts long, and I'm sure Pete would tell me that it happens to everyone else, too, and has name X.

I've noticed a curious thing recently, though: the instances in which I find myself wondering at how strange a word looks on the page often happen just before the pieces to some long-standing personal puzzle click into place. The same thing happens when I program: a bit of code will suddenly look strange, and I'll realize that I should do something differently -- and the thing I should do differently is not always related to the bit of code that looks strange.

There's no novelty in the observation that our language shapes our thoughts. Perhaps it's the sudden changes in how we perceive our language that indicate that we've made new connections. It can be as simple as the recollection of a frustratingly elusive name or word -- which usually happens to me after I've quit trying to remember it -- or the realization that Hey, the sound bite that candidate has been using sounds good, but it makes no sense!

I have no illusions that my ability to lose my glasses is a sign of penetrating thought. It's a sign of nothing beyond absent-mindedness. But perhaps sometimes that sudden disconnect comes from something more subtle than absent-mindedness? I'm not certain, but it is an interesting... um...

Thought. It's an interesting thought.