Hypocognition is a censorship tool that mutes what we can feel. A link to an article in Aeon. Worth reading!
It is a strange feeling, stumbling upon an experience that we wish we had the apt words to describe, a precise language to capture. When we don’t, we are in a state of hypocognition, which means we lack the linguistic or cognitive representation of a concept to describe ideas or interpret experiences.
A name for something helps us to see it. The article offers good examples, e.g.
Before I knew what phubbing was, I didn’t have the guts – or the word – to call out my friend for phubbing me (snubbing me for her phone) in the middle of a conversation. And now… I still don’t – not when I myself can barely resist the urge of being figital (excessively checking one’s digital device) and curb my own performative busyness.
The term was introduced to behavioural science by the American anthropologist Robert Levy, who in 1973 documented a peculiar observation: Tahitians expressed no grief when they suffered the loss of a loved one. They fell sick. They sensed strangeness. Yet, they could not articulate grief, because they had no concept of grief in the first place. Tahitians, in their reckoning of love and loss, and their wrestling with death and darkness, suffered not from grief but a hypocognition of grief.
I can’t help but think Levy got something wrong about Tahitians, but that aside, ‘hypogognition‘ is a term that self reflexively lets us see a lot more. The concept leads me to describe some experiences and to some political reflections.
I recently bought a deck of about 60 cards based on the NVC lists of feelings and needs. Going through the deck really helps identify what’s going on. I’ve used it with clients and used it myself and it is like an eskimo finally getting to learn the 200 words for snow. Using the cards leads to a sharper ability to identify feelings. Its interesting how ‘worried’ might fit, ‘anxious’ does not, so cognitive ability leads to understanding of self and others.
Identifying these unmet needs helps the ability create strategies to meet them. (that is the core of NVC.)
The darker side
The discovery, the acquisition or the creation of new concepts is enabling. The article goes on though to describe a darker side.
Hypocognition … as a form of social control, a wily tactic to expressly dispel unwanted concepts by never elaborating on them. After all, how can you feel something that doesn’t exist in the first place?
I came across this idea recently with respect to the way capitalist society through its myriad of devices has mede certain words obscure or or muddled. Alientation in the sense of doing meaningless and wasteful work is one example. Superstructure the body of ideas and systems built to support the base of production, is another example. Add to that some concepts like ‘surplus value‘ and it is clear the social control of cognition is alive and well. Look at the confusion about the meaning of the term socialism. In short, the class war is right there in the battle over words.
Psychotherapy, and of course particularly psychodrama addresses hypocognition — cultural conserves are seen and transformed through spontaneity. Once we have the concept of roles then words, thinking, action, feeling all come together.