Sunday, March 13, 2011

Candy and Memory

I had a Japanese hard candy last night that was starfruit flavored. It brought back lots of memories of eating starfruit when I was in Thailand. I love when that happens.

It also made me think of the nature of memory. When there is something you experience all the time (like a standard peppermint candy), it can’t bring up special memories because you have so many different memories that could be associated with the flavor. They all just blend together and the associations blur together. The trick to having great memories is to make sure that when you have an enjoyable time that you want to remember, associate it with something unique. Keep a starfruit candy in your pocket in case of emergencies.

Risk taking when you are sleepy!!!!

A study just out of Duke has some findings that are important to all of us. When we are sleep deprived, even moderately so, it changes the way we make decisions. We tend to be more optimistic and therefore take greater risks to achieve benefits that seem better than they really are. This is why Vegas casinos make so much money late at night. But it could also be a problem for anyone in business who gets to work in the morning still sleepy and has to make important decisions. The gains will seem better than they really are and you will take more risks.

What makes it worse is that caffeine and other stimulants don’t help. They keep you awake, but don’t fix your decision making. So in fact, you are even worse off because being awake allows you to get more done, so you will make more bad decisions than if you just stay sleepy.

Literally Figurative

Many people misuse the term literally when they mean figuratively. A common one is "that literally blew my mind!" Clearly, they meant figuratively. Literally/figuratively are not true opposites, but they are on opposite poles of a semantic differential (like modern-traditional). I have some friends that are particularly sensitive to this misuse. I am usually on their side. It’s not that hard to learn the difference.

But I heard an example yesterday that got me thinking. Maybe there is a middle ground. The example I heard was someone referring to an activist in Libya as “literally one of the lions of women’s rights in North Africa.” Clearly, this activist was not literally a lion. She was figuratively a lion. But what I think the speaker meant was that many people are referred to as a “lion” of this or a “lion” of that and they really don’t warrant such as a strong characterization. So what the speaker meant was that the activist’s status “literally” rose to the level of a figurative lion. This may not be exactly right, but it is not exactly wrong either.

Maybe we can attribute this same “partially correct” status to other misuses of this semantic differential as well. When someone says “that literally blew my mind” maybe they mean that the amount of surprise and wonder they felt “literally” rose to the level of figuratively blowing their mind as opposed to rising to a moderate level of wonder and surprise that many people mischaracterize as ‘blew my mind.”

I wonder if my friends who are sensitive to this misuse can chime in. Do you think I have a point here?