Get a Brain Morans: Why Little Mistakes are Only Sometimes Funny

NOTE: This is my first post to feature an image not created by me. You'll find out why I used it at the end.

At the risk of diminishing my generally flagging credibility, I want to relate a story. A most observant reader emailed me to let me know of a spelling error in one of my posts. He prefaced his email by telling me that he was sorry to point it out, and that he makes his share of spelling errors, etc. In my (typically long-winded) response, I said something along these lines (edited for this medium):

You're right, [most observant reader]. And no need to apologize. I have fixed the mistake, but my carelessness does not affect my self-esteem. I know some people view it as paradoxical that I (a former English major) know the rules but am not really bothered by the fact that I sometimes accidentally break one. I think it's because I understand something of the process that our minds go through when writing, and a spelling or grammatical error does not necessarily indicate ignorance or stupidity. In fact, as I've observed in my own mistakes, quite often it is more the result of a combination of fatigue and the [seemingly] arbitrary nature of the rules themselves. I remember in college, I would stay up late writing papers and find myself sounding like an ESL student because of all the grammar errors (even going so far as to use the wrong prepositions in places :). [Of course, to preserve my reputation (and grades) I would go back to fix said errors in the editing process--usually in the 20 minutes before the papers were due.] And then, I would go to work tutoring ESL students struggling to understand the rules of English grammar and totally empathize.

Maybe I should blog about this...

So, here I am, blogging about this. And my observations are as follows: When teaching spelling and grammar rules in grade school, time and resource (and sometimes knowledge) constraints often force educators to resort to using the reductive technique of memorization. Consequently, instead of understanding the history and logic behind rules, we simply just memorize the rules themselves. As a consequence, if we learn incorrect information the first time or if the rules change later, we have to go back and re-memorize. Obviously I'm not a neuroscientist, but it seems logical to infer the following: the fact that we don't forget the original information indicates that the new information is actually stored elsewhere in our brains and then we re-set the pathways we use to access it accordingly. And when we're tired/upset/distracted, we simply may be more likely to use the older pathway as opposed to the newer one (instead of eating "comfort food" we make "comfort mistakes"?). To make a long story short (which I think it's too late for), accidentally switching back to the old pathway from time to time doesn't seem that hard to do, and it doesn't necessarily indicate ignorance/stupidity since--bizarrely enough--it's evidence that we're actually retaining MORE information on the subject than we would if we didn't have the original info in the first place. And generally, when other people make a simple mistake, I am not particularly concerned about or amused by it, so why should I be mortified when I do it myself?

Now, here are the two reasons I included the "Get a Brain (!) Morans" picture in this post instead of one of my own creations:
1. This picture is funny. Not because the guy in it made a mistake. It's funny because the guy was being jerk and also because the guy's mistake was ironic given the point he was trying to make. In other words, mistakes are most often funny when we don't like the people who made them and, even more so, when they're absurdly contrary to the intentions of said people. (another example that fits this paradigm: Bush's "Childrens do learn" quote when giving a speech on edumacation--although that could be construed as sad/pathetic, but that's for another topic).
2. This picture is so funny that nothing I could produce on this topic would surpass its funniness.

There. A really long post about mistakes. Happy now, [most observant reader]? (i.e., look what you made me do!)

PS-Here's a link within an amazing site dedicated to helping people understand more about the brain. Also, if you happen to be a neuroscientist, please feel free to correct any of my logical errors with actual facts.

Nothing New byslag at 11:14 AM

0 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here):

Blogger Template by Blogcrowds