I offer homage to Waylon Jennings, for his song which echoes in my head as I think about what I want to say here, to Joe Alberti, the acting and drama coach whose comment I have been interacting with, and which inspired this posting, to Fernando Flores, teacher and mentor, and to Greg and Margaret and Shirah, faithful partners for reflection.
This posting has a moral: Be bloody careful about the language in which you make important interpretations, or your language will “invent you” as something you may not be happy with. Winston Churchill, in a speech in the House of Commons on October 28, 1944, said, “We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.” (http://drmardy.com tells us that Churchill made the speech during the rebuilding of the House of Commons, after it sustained heavy bombing damage during the Battle of Britain.)
Paraphrasing his words and idea, we say,
We shape our language (our interpretations of the world, and the moods and distinctions in which we listen and speak), and afterwards our language shapes us.
(After listening to reactions from several reviewers I edited this post on Friday April 4th.)
Over the last week several people sent me links to this video. After reviewing and reflecting, I concluded that I wanted to say something about it. Ms. Taylor’s talk is brilliantly done, compelling, and potent. I find it poetically inspiring. At the same time, I want to take advantage of what she did as an opportunity to distinguish something of how we moderns think, (and don’t think) about important things in our lives.
So start by watching the talk by clicking on the link in the first sentence above. It takes about 20 minutes. This narrative is brought to us by a person interpreting and presenting herself as a scientist. Manifestly she is a scientist, but most of what she is doing is not science. In a nutshell, Taylor recounts how she arrived at brain science as a career, how she underwent a massive brain hemorrhage, how she experienced that event, and the conclusions she developed from that experience.
Ms. Taylor has a passionate, poetic sense of life, and she has undergone a unique experience. Her talk gathers awesome force and credence from the combination of her professional credentials, from the way she describes her experience of her own stroke, and from the actual physical presentation of a human brain on the stage. She inspires her listeners, calling on us to pay attention and commit ourselves to important human possibilities and values.
I have struggled to understand what bothers me about the talk. When I first wrote about it, most of my readers interpreted that I was put off by the fact that she “clothes” the talk in the language of science, while at the same time she is doing good poetry. I don’t think that is the source of my interest in the talk. Rather, after several days of reflection and listening to it several times, I think the issue for me is that this can represent a waste of an important educational opportunity. Rather than opening us to an important new direction for thinking about the human experience, I fear that this talk will produce a kind of ecstatic tranquilization. And, because its poetry and showmanship is so good, it may be a strong misdirection.