Quick, answer these questions:
- What colour is this?
2. What do you put in a toaster?
You might have answered green and toast, instead of, of course, red and bread. Though perhaps not, as these tricks usually work better verbally.
Words are powerful things. They can short-circuit many of our normal cognitive processes without us being aware. We can see the colour red but call it green because we see the word green. Tell someone not to think of penguins and they’ll think of nothing but the cute little critters.
Just as our brains instinctively seek out patterns, so too are they seemingly triggered to search for meaning when confronted by words. Whether we hear them or read them, they leap straight into our minds and make our brains react based on what it recognises in the word.
And yet, there are two very special words that are immune to this. So powerful are they, that they cannot be truly comprehended and decoded by the human brain. Rather than immediately alerting us to a particular meaning, like most words, they instead confound us, refusing understanding. And those two words are: push and pull. Yes, two simple, common words, which continue to defy us. Why else would we insist on pulling on doors that clearly say push? Why, when faced with only one door which should be pulled in a pair of doors, would we pull the other door which clearly has no sign on it, and which then rests uncomfortably on top of the other door (see featured picture)?
I think by now, humankind has simply shown the universe that it can’t deal with push and pull signs, and we need to move to completely automatic doors, complete with Star Trek swish sound.
And anyone who has ever put a handle on the side of a door to be pushed deserves a fate worse than death.