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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Self-Esteem and the Imprecision of Language

Sometimes I read these articles and I wonder why the research actually had to be done. This one in particular is about Self-Esteem, and how high Self-esteem doesn't always mean that you're psychologically in a healthy place. This right here is my favorite part of the article-- because it sums up the results pretty succinctly, and in such a way that I just stared at it for a moment with the thought "we didn't already know this?"

“These findings support the view that heightened defensiveness reflects insecurity, fragility and less-than-optimal functioning rather than a healthy psychological outlook,” said Kernis. “We aren’t suggesting there’s something wrong with people when they want to feel good about themselves. What we are saying is that when feeling good about themselves becomes a prime directive, for these people excessive defensiveness and self-promotion are likely to follow, the self-esteem is likely to be fragile rather than secure and any psychological benefits will be very limited.”

It just seems common sense to me. Secure people don't have any reason to lash out or get defensive. They can accept that other people have different opinions and not be threatened by those differences. I think the real issue of this article is the semantics between "Secure" and "Insecure" people, vs. "high self-esteem" and "low self-esteem." They're not the same thing. That's what this study proves-- semantics. It doesn't tell us anything we don't already know, it just tells us how to categorize it, linguistically.

But that in itself is kind of fascinating too-- here we are using science to define words that we already use. To redefine words, maybe. To find the right word to fit the scenario they've observed. How much time does science spend with research that serves the same function as a dictionary?

This also brings me back to the article a few weeks ago about simplifying science and physics by assuming there's only one universe, not a multiverse. Part of his argument, too, was semantics. How to label discoveries and laws and findings. He objected to the idea that we had to label things as true only for OUR universe, as opposed to multi-universally true. I didn't understand why this was an issue-- but now I'm getting a better idea, maybe, where he's coming from. Scientists, especially scientists operating in the math-based, hard science fields (chemistry, physics, etc) are notorious, in my experience, for being unable to communicate effectively with the world outside their specialties. These are people who are brilliant in their field, but unable to explain themselves to the common person in a classroom. They make fabulous researchers, and horrible teachers. Something just doesn't connect, there. Now I'm kind of wondering if it isn't just language-- and the imprecision with which we use it. The imprecision which is inherent in its use, just like how they needed to now do research to show that "high self-esteem" is not a word that is interchangeable with "secure" in psychology. We juggle these words and throw them around taking into account the variable meanings-- but in science, in MATH SCIENCES, precision is everything. Exact numbers, exact formulas, exact measurements. It has to be perfect. It has to be Exactly Correct. One wrong number or letter or function destroys the entire experiment.

Is the gulf between science and communication with general humanity really just a question of precision of language? Is it just semantics?

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