Swearing : Mantra

02019-04-14 | Ideas, Philosophy | 4 comments

About five years ago I posted some thoughts about swearing and mantras… Today I remembered the post and looked it up. Here it is again:

In the book “Holy Sh*t – A Brief History of Swearing” I read that most speech originates from the cerebral cortex, which also controls voluntary actions and rational thought, while swearwords are stored in the limbic system, which is responsible for emotion, the fight-or-flight response, and the autonomic nervous system, which regulates heart rate and blood pressure. People who have lost the ability to speak, e.g. due to a stroke, often still have the ability to swear.

The book also states that test subjects were able to withstand pain, in the form of very cold water, longer, if they spoke swearwords rather than other words.

That got me thinking. Swearing is culture-specific and the words themselves frequently change according to society. Training starts very young in families with parents making clear which words are “bad” or forbidden. This training appears to write swearwords to a different section of brain.

Like swearwords mantras are culture-specific and can be learned at a young age. Many cultures use mantras, but India, Tibet and Japan come to mind. The Ninjas of Japan have a variety of mantras that are to help against cold, against pain, or to promote healing etc.

What I am wondering about is whether these mantras are also, like swearwords, “written” to a different part of the brain? It would follow that the embedding of the mantra into a section of brain is akin to writing software and invoking the mantra is akin to running the program.

In other words, for a person outside the mantra culture, e.g. a non-Ninja, it would be impossible to “run the program” because the software was not written into the brain – just as a foreign speaker who hears an American swearword will not grasp its meaning, nor would yelling the word be able to relieve any pain for him/her.

Have mantras been researched with this in mind? Can they be written to a different part of the brain? How long does it take to embed a mantra? Does a mantra in fact evoke a whole program?


  1. MT Callahan

    “Are you cussing with me?”

    I wonder now if poems and song lyrics find a special place in our brains? Both can have special effect on our emotions. Remembering a song that played on a certain occasion or while with a person long gone can bring back all the feelings of that moment as if it happened only moments ago. For those who didn’t experience the feeling, that particular “mantra” would have no effect. The program would indeed not run.

  2. ottmar

    I think that’s a really good point. Poems or lyrics become a personal “Mantra Lite”, the invocation of which takes us back to a special memory and might even make us feel better in a moment of need. Is that along the lines you were thinking?

  3. ottmar

    And then there is music as a mantra or memory aid. I’ve heard from a lot of second generation fans who say hearing my music reminds them of someone in their family or of certain moments in their lives.

  4. Victor H.

    Perhaps mantras are something of a brain hack. The brain naturally associates things like music and life events or fragrance and emotion, etc., etc. So the mantra is a purposefully made program that can set off things like a sense of well being, or warmth, or healing, etc. It thus indirectly gives access to things in the mind/body that we otherwise can’t directly will through thought. If so then it probably doesn’t matter where mantras are written in the brain as much as what response they trigger.

    There’s my thesis on “Mantra Tech”. Still working out Ninjas. ;-)


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