Writing professors and hypnotists have completely different ideas about language.
Remember being told to avoid using gerunds (verbs ending in …ing) and the passive voice?
An article in the New York Times warns us against the use of “Zombie Nouns” in our writing (nouns that suck the life from other parts of speech: eg: “what the country needs is a new state of calmity.” You know what I mean, but it would be far more correct to say “the country needs to calm down.)
But just because grammar is correct doesn’t mean it’s good for your brain, or your deeper sense of learning. If you’ve ever had that experience of a book that “changed your life,” you might recall that part of its power had to do with the fact that you found it challenging to your world-view.
Milton Erikson, the father of hypnotherapy, believed that if a person allowed even a fraction of a second to knock out habitual thoughts with a radically different frame of reference — something that surprised or shocked them so much that their previous patterns of association had to leave their body and mind completely — that this moment of “pure awareness” and fascination could result in something new: an opportunity for a shift in perspective.
Recent studies in neuroscience seem to be supporting this idea. And Shakespeare — who in spite of his reputation for being difficult has been changing lives since 1603 — is interesting to consider in this regard.
In an article called “The Shakespeared Brain,” a team of cross-curricular researchers from the University of Liverpool found that reading Shakespeare has a dramatic effect on the human brain.
One of Shakespeare’s stylistic feats is his ability to create sentences in which parts of speech are scrambled or used in ways that defy the rules of grammar — he loved Zombifying grammar. For example, “he childed as I fathered” — a line from King Lear in which nouns “child, father” act like verbs.
What the researchers realized is that when people read, nouns and verbs are processed in different parts of their brain. So when a person reads sentences that messes with their order, the brain has to fire extra neurons to measure and process the confusion.
Those extra neurons result in what they call a “P600 surge”— meaning that when our brains encounter difficulty or confusion it has to work a little harder to fit what is difficult into what we already know. Think of this like a jazz quartet — you’ve got the bass player keeping the background beat going, while the pianist pushes the melody towards ever more complex vibrations and syncopations.
This movement of mind (and its subsequent re-kindling into new learnings) involves experiencing change in a way that re-configures our deeply held beliefs about self and world.
So if you’re writing articles for the New York Times, please mind your grammar.
But if you’re looking to blow your mind, Zombify!
Here’s an amazing Radiolab episode on this topic: http://www.radiolab.org/2007/sep/24/
And here’s a new book out by Clark Coolidge, king of Zombienounification: http://www.fenceportal.org/?page_id=4679