Now if you combine functional fixity with chunking

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Now, if you combine functional fixity with chunking, and stir in the curse that hides each one from our awareness, you get an explana-tion of why specialists use so much idiosyncratic terminology, together with abstractions, metaconcepts, and zombie nouns. They are not try-ing to bamboozle us; that's just the way they think. The mental movie of a mouse cowering in the corner of a cage that has another mouse in it gets chunked into "social avoidance." You can't blame the neurosci-entist for thinking this way. She's seen the movie thousands of times; she doesn't need to hit the PLAY button in her visual memory and watch the critters quivering every time she talks about whether her experi-ment worked. But we do need to watch them, at least the first time, to appreciate what actually happened. In a similar way, writers stop thinking-and thus stop writing-about tangible objects and instead refer to them by the role those objects play in their daily travails. Recall the example from chapter 2 in which a psychologist showed people sentences, followed by the label TRUE or FALSE. He explained what he did as "the subsequent presentation of an assessment word;' referring to the label as an
72 THE SENSE OF STYLE "assessment word" because that's why he put it there-so that the par-ticipants in the experiment could assess whether it applied to the pre-ceding sentence. Unfortunately, he left it up to us to figure out what an "assessment word" is-while saving no ch;iracters, and being less rather than more scientifically precise. In the same way, a tap on the wrist became a ''.stimulus" and a tap on the elbow became a "poststim-ulus event," because the writers cared about the fact that one event came after the other and no longer cared about the fact that the events were taps on the arm. But we readers care. We are primates, with a third of our brains dedicated to vision, and large swaths devoted to touch, hearing, motion, and space. For us to go from "I think I understand" to "I understand," we need to see the sights and feel the motions. Many experiments have shown that readers understand and remember material far better when it is expressed in concrete language that allows them to form visual images, like the sentences on the right: " The set fell off the table. The measuring gauge was covered with dust. Georgia O'Keeffe called some of her works "equivalents" because their forms were abstracted in a way that gave the emotional parallel of the source experience. The ivory chess set fell off the table. The oil-pressure gauge was covered with dust. Georgia O'Keeffe's landscapes were of angular skyscrapers a_nd neon thoroughfares, but mostly of the bleached bones, desert shadows, and weathered crosses of rural New Mexico. Notice how the abstract descriptions on the left leave out just the kind of physical detail that an expert has grown bored with but that a neo-phyte has to see: ivory chessmen, not just a "set"; an oil-pressure gauge, not just a generic "measuring gauge"; bleached bones, not just "forms." A commitment to the

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