Priming the rock

I’m spending most of January and February with two subject-matter experts who are also exemplary performers.  My home office is just above our kitchen, which on Sunday evening looked like this:

You know what?  Let's eat out tonight.

I’m not much of a handyman, much less a craftsman; as an interested observer, though, I catch glimpses of technical jargon and insider shorthand, the kind of communication that flows when there’s shared expertise.

The contractors and I were talking this morning about expectations and understanding.  Rob, who specializes in painting, talked about a coworker he once told to “prime the rock” (put a coat of primer on some freshly hung drywall, one brand of which is Sheetrock, to get it ready for painting).

The coworked primed only the drywall–he carefully painted around the mud used to cover the screws, and he avoided getting any primed on the taped joints.

The coworker (as you figured) didn’t have any experience working with drywall, and was apparently inclined to take instructions literally.

Part of the great fallacy behind Telling as Training, of course, is the assumption that because you know what you’re talking about, other people will get what you’re saying.  (That’s apart from the idea that being talked at is an effective way to form new mental connections.)

Shortly before the remodeling began, I started reading Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought.  He looks at how we use language as a way of exploring how the mind works.

In part he argues that a relatively small number of fundamental concepts–event, cause, change, intend, having, knowing–are the major elements that our thoughts are built from.

It’s an entertaining read (though perhaps not as exciting as the brief flood fifteen minutes ago when things went awry near a water supply line).  Pinker works hard at countering the notion that language determines thought.  Clearly, language affects thought, in that to express our thoughts we select works and assemble them in forms consistent with the rules of our language.

In, at, through the window... More or less, anyway.

But the way we think in order to speak is not the same as the way we think.  In words, we can use “window” to refer both to a pane of glass in a wall and to the opening in which the pane sits.

We’re clear on the underlying concepts,  which is why we almost always understand what someone means when he says, “I saw her through the window.”

Some of the spark of creativity and insight comes from playing with those concepts.  The photo on the left get s a special twist because this post heightened the ambiguity that “through the window” can carry.

Kitchen photo by Dave.
Wallboard photo by Ben Chapman.
“Through the window” photo by flynnwynn.

3 thoughts on “Priming the rock

  1. I’ve also got contractors creating excitement downstairs. In my case it’s plumbers and a big trencher putting in a new water line (and slaughtering my favorite tree in the process!!!). Luckily I have an iPhone with the Ambiance app and sound-excluding ear plugs. I’m listening to “Rain on the Porch Roof” right now. Much nicer than listening to “Huge Trencher Chewing Through Tree Roots.” Enjoy your new kitchen!

  2. Cathy, we’re looking forward to it. The immediate impact (as you know) is astonishing. I’m reminded of Mark Twain saying that he had know exactly what a pyramid was–until he went to Egypt and saw the Great Pyramid.

  3. Kia ora Dave!

    Language enables thinking. I think you’re right to cast doubt that it determines the thinking. Language is needed to think as a builder and to relate to other builders. Without the language, cocepts are nebulous or perhaps nonexistent.

    As a boy, I’d listen to my father talk with his colleagues. He was a craftsman, a joiner and cabinet-maker. But one thing came clear to me, even at those tender times, that in order to visualise what was being discussed the language of the cabinet-maker was essential.

    Teaching Science to young minds is no different. When they have the language of Science and can understand it, they begin to think in scientific terms, ideas and concepts then become easier to grasp.

    Literacy of the subject is so important, and not just to communicate ideas, but also to think in terms of the ideas.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

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