Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Names

"We're constantly creating our world by naming, categorizing, applying value judgments to things." -not quite a quote from Foley Ah Doo, but as close as I can remember.
(I posted this back in 2005. Give yourself 10 bonus points if you know what Foley Ah Doo is. Otherwise, lose your next turn, and then we'll tell you it's a play by Ram.)

This is a phenomenon in cooking. Well, in the world in general, but it's easiest to explain in cooking. What if I told you I made a great dish: it's this thing with beans, peppers, avocados, cheese, rice, tomatoes, onions, in a tortilla? You'd probably think you're eating something that's pretty, and then forget it. What if I told you I made Jim Smith's Original Burrito (from the original Jim Smith recipe, winner of the best burrito in Texas contest)? You'd notice it more while you're eating it, think it's great, and remember it. Maybe even next time you'd say "hey Dan, can you make those Jim Smith Burritos?" Maybe it'd be a thing you remember about my cooking style: "he makes good burritos."

It's the same dish, but I gave it a name! All of a sudden it's memorable. Similarly with the internet: do you think Twitter would have caught on if it were called "Quick short message broadcasting service"? Or like in nature. You could be in a place that's pretty, but then you leave and it was just another place. Or you could be in Yosemite National Park, and all of a sudden it's a thing, and you've been there, and you're raving to your friends about all the amazing trees and mountains. Names make things.

I guess what I'm saying is not really revolutionary. Here's another point I'm trying to get at: you can remember things with names sometimes and not others. I mean, remember this list:
Pink Floyd, a grapefruit, citations at the end of an academic paper, STALAGMITES, gumby!
and then remember this list:
G, P, N, R, Z

Done? Now, say I tell you the second thing in each list is the best, and the fourth is the second-best. You'll probably have an easier time remembering that "a grapefruit" and "STALAGMITES" are good than "P" and "R". The list of "things" is heterogenous, the list of letters is homogenous. It's easier to differentiate among the "things."

(okay, disclaimer: I'm basing this on no actual science at all. I'm really mostly saying this stuff because it's a hypothesis of mine and I'd like to see some data backing it up.)

So this means that if there are restaurants in your neighborhood called "John's", "Barry's", "George's", and "Bill's", your new restaurant would be instantly memorable if you called it "How To Cook A Wolf". Or rather, if you were a restaurant critic, it'd be easier to remember a lot of different things about different places if they were all named way different things than if they were named similar things.

I'd love to find the best structures to represent things in our minds. I wonder if there's a memory trick involving mapping similar things to a very dissimilar space. Like if the restaurants are all called John's, Barry's, etc... what if I tried to remember them as like John's, Buried Alive, George Washington's Restaurant of Liberty, and Duckbills? Memory tricks memory tricks.

I'm too tired to think about this more unifiedly.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Just so you know it's at least somewhat based in science, maybe: I vaugely remember talking about something like that in my Dev Psych class. I'll see if I can dig up the book or some readings about it when I get home, but I don't think I have anything laying around... I'll see what I can find.

Man, I'm such a good source.