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We understand things by association. If you tell me about a new kind of fruit that I’ve never seen you’ll most likely describe it as being like something else I’m familiar with. You might say, “It’s like an orange…”, or “A kind of citrus fruit” (unless of course it was like an apple, or a tomato, or it tasted of frogs).

This doesn’t just apply to fruit and edible things, we describe people by invoking similarities to others (like a young Marlon Brando), or classes of others (politician, concert pianists).

But there’s a double association going on which can cause problems. When you conjure an image in your mind of an orange, or Marlon, and ask me to do the same, I’ll be seeing MY version of an orange or the actor. And, you’ve guessed it, with all MY associations with the thing being invoked.

Since, most of the time, we have similar perceptions of what things are, these superficial images are enough to get the meaning across. But it can melt down where my emotional associations are completely different from yours. What if, for example, my ex-partner looked like Marlon Brando, or I was once bitten by a concert pianist?

Next time you see an unusual fruit, if you think you’d like to talk about it later, take a picture.

 

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