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Money as a Thought Form

Our thoughts shape who we are. We’ve all heard it before: “Just think more positively!” We don’t like to hear such advice when things are going south. However, it does actually help to try and change your perspective, almost as if you’re looking at yourself from the outside. If we approach a problem with a positive mindset, we are more likely to find a solution for it. This may sound like kitchen sink psychology, but the idea has proven useful in everyday life.

Cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky believes that linguistic concepts, i.e. the language we have grown up with and the way we speak (and of course think), shape or even determine our perception. This approach has since become known as the theory of linguistic relativity. Boroditsky once noticed that a five-year-old Aborigines girl, who was asked where north was, instinctively knew which direction to point at. Nowhere else were people able to do that. According to Boroditsky, this proves that language and socialization are connected to our cognition and competence.

“All Smith thinks about is money.” This is no unusual statement in our society. But what does it imply? And what does it say about us? On the one hand, it means something entirely different than “All Smith thinks about is apples.” The latter is used to express that our fictional Mr. Smith really does think about actual apples, which maybe he enjoys eating. However, if Mr. Smith only ever “thinks about money”, then he doesn’t think about specific banknotes or checkbooks. He thinks in monetary categories, he acts according to economic aspects and asks himself: “Can I derive profit from helping this elderly lady across the street?”

We attach a price tag to everything – to things, actions, yes, even people. But there’s something that goes even further than that. Germanist Eske Bockelmann has attempted to subsume it in the term Denkform(“mindset”): money does not only shape our actions in terms of economy, but also in other fields, which aren’t necessarily connected to money. Money is nothing else but a convertible value. To convert Swiss francs into U.S. dollars or to convert a certain amount of work into an hourly wage might still be fairly obvious. Yet, we transfer this conversion to unquantifiable values as well: an insurance company calculates fire damage in money. But how can we determine the value of the family album we lost in the flames? What about the hand-knitted sweater? How are you feeling today (on a scale from 1 to 10)? To answer this question, you are forced to find the mean of all the individual emotions that can’t really be offset against each other – and you assign comparable values to your emotions. This evaluating and comparative way of thinking is a fine and sticky spider web which covers our life and our thoughts.

And so, we return to where we started. Our thoughts shape who we are. Time and again, we all unavoidably think about money. We have to survive after all. But let’s be honest: aren’t we all a bit like Mr. Smith? Every now and then, we think in the category of “What’s in it for me?” And this is where more research is necessary! What effect does money as a mindset have on all of us? On our society and every individual person? 

Last edit:01/11/2019