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The Coolness of Corduroy Explained - Dilbert Blog

The Coolness of Corduroy Explained

Yesterday I asked you to read an unusual paragraph and tell me how it made you feel. If you haven’t already done so, please read yesterday’s post before continuing.

Waiting…okay.

The unusual paragraph was neither hypnosis nor random. I wrote it, and the wording is engineered for a specific purpose. It’s designed to activate different areas of your brain all at once.

The paragraph starts by activating the language part of your brain, obviously. Then it made you curious. Then your analytical side kicked in, trying to discern its meaning. Your left and right hemispheres were engaged, and they stayed that way throughout. So far, that’s like any good mystery story, and not yet special.

The next level of the design is what inspired me to try the experiment: The words are meant to activate the areas in your brain responsible for your five senses, which means five different physical parts of the brain, pretty much all at once. Notice that all five senses are mentioned: touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing.

The nonsense part of the construction, where I mix up the normal descriptors of your senses, is intended to keep the writing complex, so you can’t instinctively simplify anything in your mind. For example, if I had told a complicated story about a cat being on the roof, your mind could have summarized and stored it as “cat on roof.” My paragraph was designed to be impossible to summarize. (Although many of you apparently shuffled it off to the “He’s screwing with us” bin and moved on.)

My hypothesis before reading your comments is that by activating multiple parts of your brain at once you would feel energized. And I knew from blogging experience that this sort of thing would make some of you feel annoyed and some of you feel delighted. The difference is probably a function of your ability or willingness to suspend reason and just feel it. Or it might have something to do with your expectations of this blog, or your view of me. You’re all different.

At a writer’s level, the words are carefully chosen to work together independent of meaning. They simply “sound” good together, and they have a similar vibe. Call it word art.

The commenter from the UK who wrote that he thought of Lady GaGa when reading my post might be the only one who actually solved the puzzle, as far as I can tell. I blogged recently that Lady GaGa’s lyrics seem designed to activate multiple brain areas at once. My paragraph was inspired by exactly that.

All good fiction writers create in book form what I did in my experimental paragraph. It’s no accident when a Harry Potter book goes off on a tangent about food, which has nothing to do with moving the story forward. Descriptions of taste and texture and smell engage new parts of your brain. And it’s no accident that most Harry Potter chapters end with a point of curiosity. The author is making sure to stimulate as much of your brain’s real estate as possible. That’s why you can sometimes enjoy a movie or a book while knowing that the story itself is lame and predictable. What matters to entertainment is how many parts of your brain get pleasantly stimulated at once.

If you felt annoyed and manipulated by my experiment, I apologize. Now that you know the intent of the paragraph, try reading it again. I promise that you won’t be hypnotized.