June 25, 2009

Our brain, our culture

I googled (is this an official verb yet?) "self-directed neuroplasticity" today and ended up downloading a fascinating, enjoyable and easy to digest podcast interview on an Australian national radio podcast with a couple of leaders in the field: Jeff Schwartz and Norman Doidge.

Somewhere in the second half of the interview Norman Doidge talks about the applications of neuro-plasticity to the experience of changing into a new culture. While in the past, we tended to believe that our brain produced our culture (think of Geerte Hofstede's landmark book "Software of the Mind"-- a basic read for any course on intercultural communications), the new (non-mechanistic) paradigm allows for our culture to also reshape our brains (including our language, see my previous post below) in such a way that our perceptual systems are actually wired differently during our developmental years.

In this way, culture shock is really brain shock!

Anyway, if you are curious to understand more about how you work and how change works, download this into your ipod.


Over and over both scientists confirmed one of the basic premise of coaching methodology (although neither made any specific reference to coaching). By focusing our attention differently, we can actually change how our brain works, which in time can change how we see and interact with the world. The new framework is that our mind is not our brain (something those who practice meditation have known for centuries).

So we enact change in ourselves by increasing self-awareness around what we think (our mind), focusing our attention and then working with this attention over a sustained period of time -- and that is what coaching is about.

All very cool stuff.

a domani,

June 18, 2009

Could you repeat please?

A friend sent me a link to a scientific article on how people who speak different languages actually do think differently. Makes perfect sense to me and to anyone who has lived an extended period of time in another country and language.

It seems that the language you learn as a child trains you to pay more attention a particular set of things in the world so that you have the correct information to include in what you say.

We Americans, for example never learned to pay paticular attention to whether a chair is feminine or masculine -- and it shows when we occasionally slip up on the gender front, even after years and years of speaking Italian.

Russians instead do not have one word that covers all the shades that an English speaker would consider to fall under the word "blue". Instead they have two words --one for light blue (goluboy)and another for dark blue (siniy) which makes them quicker at distinguishing the two than their American counterparts.

To make her point that patterns in a language can indeed play a causal role in constructing how we think, she gives the example of a small Aboriginal community in Australia that talk about space in terms of north, south, east, west instead of left, right , forward so they might say, "Hey Joe, there is an ant on your southwest leg", or "Move the cup to the north northeast a little bit". Because space is such a fundamental domain of thought, differences in how these people think about space spill over into time, numbers, kinship relations and even emotions.

Another example was in the area of gender. In Spanish a key is feminine while in German it is masculine -- giving the object itself very different attributes in people's minds. The Spanish consider a key to be, "golden, intricate, little, lovely, shiny and tiny", whereas the Germans used adjectives such as, "hard, heavy, jagged, metal, serrated and useful" to describe the same item. Curious indeed!

Click HERE for the link if you would like to know more.

Perhaps Italians are so good at dealing with ambiguity because their language allows for endless sentences that never clearly nominate subjects and objects. "Who exactly is responsible for what" is the translator's daily struggle. The answer, as we have seen, is in the context, or as an Italian language teacher once told me, "musicality gives meaning."

Thanks Gillian for passing this along!

a domani,