Dr. Daniel Casasanto
Culture, Language & Bodily Experiences
What is a “universal mind”? Is it possible for us to all perceive and interpret in the same way? How do these potential discrepancies affect our individual experiences? Academically hailing from MIT, Dr. Daniel Casasanto has been investigating how culture, language, and bodily experiences influence the way people think, feel, and make decision. He’s discovered over the course of almost two decades that, in fact, mental processes like language profoundly shapes the way we think. Thus, suggesting that the culture or environment in which you grow up in elicits a slightly nuanced way of experiencing the world than someone from another
"Language profoundly shapes the way we think."
Dr. Casasanto’s research lab at Cornell University has been exploring areas such as time relativity of the mind, i.e. how humans understand and process time. His studies have given clues into how the way we talk about time gives us clues into how we think about it. For example, in Western societies, we read left-to-right, making the past seem like it’s to the left of us and the future to the right of us. Whereas, in some societies, where they read in Arabic, Hebrew, or Chinese for example, there is a right-to-left reading. Does this mean their relation to time is different than ours? Dr. Casasanto suggests -- slightly.
Continuing with the notion of spatiality induced through the perception of time, we also find bodily characteristics that shape our minds and expressions of language that link good with rightward space. Linguistically, we see this in many areas cross-culturally, where right is associated with “good” and the left is considered “bad” through idioms. Why might this be? One idea is because most people are right-handed. If people perceive positivity through fluency, and the fluent use of their right hand equates to said positivity, might this elicit good sentiments toward rightwards? If this may be so, then the conundrum that follows is: what about people who are left-handed? Dr. Casasanto shares his answers and thoughts to this question and more.
(Recorded June 2021.)
TED Talk mentioned during out conversation. Worth the watch!