Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Don't Quote Me On That

I am amazed by our collective fascination with, and hunger for other people’s words.  Whether poems, speeches, songs, or from other sources - we consume all.

When we discover that somewhere, sometime, someone else has expressed themselves in a manner we believe to be a reflection of our own opinion(s) or ideal(s) it sets off a chain reaction in our brains.  Especially so if the author, or even just the one repeating the words has greater perceived credibility than ourselves, be it due to fame or something equally as irrelevant and arbitrary.  The gears turn and the machine hums into life.
Somehow, knowing that others have shared the same idea seems to strengthen our own belief in it, as if these quotes serve as evidence to reinforce what we already think- as some form of confirmation bias.  But this is irrational, as prevalence of an idea doesn’t necessitate truth. 

Familiarity appears to have some kind of dampening effect on our ability to think clearly and analytically.  If both the author and the idea are familiar it becomes even harder to see beyond the associations we already have with the two.  So much so that we can become blinded and unable to view the words as a separate entity unto themselves, and to assess them on their own merits instead of on their packaging and method of delivery.

We often view people through a single filter, a single characteristic that rules over the way we perceive them.  Instead of someone seeming fragmented, changeable and varied, the filter acts as a shortcut, and consequently we are presented with what appears to be a fully formed and whole individual centred around a small number of significant or overriding traits.  
This is known as the ‘Halo effect’.  A crude example is believing that a person is ‘good’, intelligent, or otherwise likeable simply because they make music that you really enjoy.  For this reason it can be disappointing to meet your idols in real life.
The halo effect works for both positive and negative traits, with positive and negative associations, and as such has the potential to affect you in a wide range of instances.

A quote can be said to consist primarily of two things: the author or speaker of the words, and the words themselves.  Similarly, a kind of ‘halo effect’ may happen in the context of being presented with a quotation of any kind.  Our pre-formed beliefs about the author can act as the ‘halo’ over the words themselves, or if the author is entirely unknown and the words are where the familiarity lies, we may form ideas about the author as a whole, based on this single snippet of information.

Quotes are extremely biased and limiting, especially when you consider that they are often completely removed from their original context.  They become ambiguous poetry, open to interpretation and misinterpretation.

The use of quotes to express your own thoughts is like using a heart-shaped line to symbolize 'love' (an already ambiguous notion), or trying to write your autobiography using newspaper cuttings. 

Quotes are the shortcut to self expression that nobody need take.  As if language wasn’t already limiting enough, we resort not to recycling, but to pure regurgitation.  Random mutation through misquotes and incorrectly identified origins is always needed to stir things up a little and to put things into perspective.

Quotes are unrealistic, reading them is like looking at a sample of skin cells in order to determine a person’s height.  The sample size is simply too small.

Quotes seem to be exempt from scrutiny, as if protected by the quotation marks themselves.  Perhaps it is because we firstly process them as being 'true' by default, as a consequence of the way our brains function.  Upon being hypnotised it takes real deliberate effort to avoid automatically accepting what you read or hear.  The trouble seems to be that the work required in order to come to a more rational conclusion does not come naturally, as might be hoped or expected.

Quotes do well to reflect the idealistic and romantic notions that humans wish to believe in and propagate, as well as the more cynical and pessimistic side of things. 

Quotes serve as badges to announce group membership and simultaneously set people apart. 

Quotes appear in other forms too, as clichés and acts unconfined to words alone.

It means nothing to ‘be yourself’, but to act out your own personal set of clichés and influences, and to ‘quote’ those before you, either through conscious effort or subconscious conditioning.  There is no ‘self’ to speak of, just as there is no soul, no separate entity exerting a hidden force or manifesting itself through our thoughts, desires or actions. 

We have a complex body and a convoluted brain; all comprised of simple, basic elements that collectively serve to function in ways that are vastly different when viewed at the resulting ‘end’ levels.  The only mystery seems to lie in ignorance of this fact, as well as the underlying details of any 'mysterious' subject.

The flexibility of a bicycle chain appears analogous to the ‘personality’ or perception of ‘self’ that humans have.

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