On 15th May, Matthew Slocombe, who once taught Design and Technology at the school, returned to participate in the Williams Project, talking about his current PhD research in the field of psychology. The talk was extremely interesting and eye-opening, with its details as to how easily the mind can be tricked and what the human brain is truly capable of.
Mr Slocombe began by explaining how there are two types of language: the language that we are taught as we grow and develop from birth; and the language that we are born with, almost as a reflex. One example he gave was that babies do not know how to form the sentence “I find this funny”, or how to communicate that feeling in words whatsoever; however, they are able to laugh in order to convey this. Laughter is a natural reaction to stimuli that we find humorous, and therefore no one needs to teach us to laugh when we find something funny.
Interestingly, this use of language can also occur in some mammals – one video of a gorilla in a zoo illustrated his ability to communicate with a human outside his enclosure through the use of gestures – for example, pointing – to convey what he wanted.
He further went on to explain that, as we develop our stores of language and words, we generalise thoughts instinctively. For example, we may learn that a colourful creature with wings in our garden is a ‘bird’. However, the next creature we see in our garden with wings may be black and significantly larger – we still understand that this is a bird. This is because we develop what is known as ‘schemas’ within our brain, in order to sort information into categories in terms of their relation to something else.
Finally, Mr Slocombe explained how the brain can be tricked to see what is not really there or generalise a piece of information to something that is not entirely linked to it. He demonstrated this through various optical illusions and explained how our brains expect for an image to look one way, and yet it can end up looking entirely different; for example, he showed a video of a rotating statue of Albert Einstein. Everyone expected the statue to be 3D and yet, as the statue continued its rotation, it turned out that it was actually hollow and we were seeing the face from the back, despite the fact that our brains made the image look normal.
In all, Matthew Slocombe’s talk on “How we use language to programme each other’s minds” was hugely intriguing and thought-provoking, proved by the amount of questions his audience had for him afterwards, which were equally as stimulating as the talk itself.