Johnnie Moore

Language and Ludwig Wittgenstein

Just as fish may not notice the water they swim in, so we miss the impact of language on our choices
Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

Just giving our feelings a new label opens up new possibilities

Transcript of this video:

I’ve come for a walk north of Cambridge towards Grantchester, which is one of the hangouts of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein when he spent time here and I remember studying him at university and being absolutely baffled by almost everything he wrote with my head in my hands a lot of the time.

But I do remember one thing he said and it was something like this. “There comes a time when one is studying linguistic philosophy when one is tempted to emit an inarticulate sound.”

I certainly emitted quite a few inarticulate sounds when studying Wittgenstein. But later in life I’ve come to understand a little bit better what he was driving at in his study of language and how we don’t notice the impact of language on our lives.

We’re a bit like fish not quite noticing the water that we’re swimming in.

And one particular aspect of this that I talk about a little bit in the the new book I’ve got coming out is how I’m prone to waking up in the middle of the night in a state of anxiety, occasionally despair.

But what I started to notice is if I if in that sort of two-or-three-in-the-morning conversation with myself, I said what if I don’t call this emotional state anxiety?

What if… I make up a name? What if I call it “Zagarnik” for example? Soon as I do that, I have a slightly different experience. I have a different set of thought patterns.

I become more interested in the state. I notice it as a form of energy and excitement. I feel it in different parts of my body. I experience it more.

And I would argue that by shifting the label to something slightly absurd I’ve actually increased my sensory experience of what is going on.

I think it brings a different kind of I think I’d call it kind of emotional intelligence to it. And it’s a very small example of something that I’m increasingly fascinated by which is small shifts in our choice of words and how we label things can have quite dramatic impact on the way we think about the world.

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

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