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{Tuesday, February 17, 2004}

Probably a Cognitive Minority Report

Language Log: 46 Somali words for camel
Mark Liberman: "My list is somewhat more reliable than the unchecked serial exaggeration of Eskimo snow vocabulary originally documented by Laura Martin, and later popularized and extended by Geoff [Pullum]. At least it's an actual list of alleged words. However, no one should take it as gospel truth."

A History of Linguistic Thought

"We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impression which has to be organized by our minds -- and this means largely by the linguistic systems in our minds. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it this way -- an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language. The agreement is, of course, an implicit and unstated one, but its terms are absolutely obligatory; we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees.
This fact is very significant for modern science, for it means that no individual is free to describe nature with absolute impartiality but is constrained to certain modes of interpretation even while he thinks himself most free."
Benjamin Lee Whorf -- "Science and Linguistics"
The Technology Review, Vol. XLII, No.6, April 1940

Universal Grammar and Linguistics
"We may think of the language faculty as a complex and intricate network of some sort associated with a switch box consisting of an array of switches that can be in one of two positions. Unless the switches are set one way or another, the system does not function. When they are set in one of the permissible ways, then the system functions in accordance with its nature, but differently, depending on how the switches are set. The fixed network is the system of principles of universal grammar; the switches are the parameters to be fixed by experience. When these switches are set, [a person] has command of a particular language and knows the facts of that language: that a particular expression has a particular meaning, and so on. Each permissible array of switch settings determines a particular language. Acquisition of a language is in part a process of setting the switches one way or another on the basis of presented data, a process of fixing the values of the parameters."
Noam Chomsky - Language and problems of knowledge: The Managua lectures
(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988, pages 62-63)

Danny K. H. Alford: Demise of the Whorf Hypothesis
"The way you understand the meaning bonds between people and events and things in the world has a lot to do with the way you truly understand your world, how you "see" or "feel" it makes sense. And because you associate with certain people today, and certain people raised you in a family, and you went to certain schools, and you've had certain experiences -- using language all the way to reach agreements about what the reality is that you are going through at any instant: your view of the world, your world, is highly unlike the meaningful world of, say, a typical Hopi Native American."

Candy Science: M&Ms pack more tightly than spheres [via Cheek]
Peter Weiss: "Pouring M&Ms into a bowl leads to a marvel of packing efficiency, a team of sweet-toothed scientists reports. Using bench experiments and computer simulations, the team has found that squashed or stretched versions of spheres snuggle together more tightly than randomly packed spheres do. This surprising result could help scientists better understand the behavior of disordered materials ranging from powders to glassy solids, says Princeton University chemist Salvatore Torquato. The finding could also lead to denser ceramic materials that might make for improved heat shields for furnaces and reduced-porosity glass with exceptional transparency. [...] Why is random packing denser for ellipsoids than for spheres? The team proposes that the asymmetric ellipsoids can tip and rotate in ways that spheres can't, so an ellipsoid nestles close to more neighbors than a sphere does. Indeed, the team finds that as many as 11 neighbors touch an ellipsoid, whereas each tight-packed sphere typically has only 6 adjacent neighbors."

EmptyBottle.org: Linguistic Relativism and Korean
"The amount of time and energy that's been expended on arguing about how vocabulary effects cognition surprises me, frankly. I think there's a much more interesting discussion about grammar and deeper structures here ..."

Complete Translation Services - Language and The Internet
"A different language is a different vision of life." Federico Fellini

The cafe universe by Jonathon Delacour
Mick Underwood: "Wittgenstein said that he was once asked by one of his colleagues whether Germans think in the order they speak in or think normally first and then mix it all up afterwards."

Six degrees of Auf Der Maur
Dorian Lynskey meets the Kevin Bacon of rock

Mark Newman: Gallery of network images
Detecting Patterns in Complex Social Networks
The structure and function of complex networks
Marvel Universe looks almost like a real social network
Slashdot: Detecting Patterns in Complex Social Networks

Captain America wins superhero networking crown by Philip Ball
"Ricardo Alberich and co-workers at the University of the Balearic Isles in Spain, are tracing the evolution of the Marvel Universe in detail. They hope to understand which non-random features of real social networks are a consequence of the way people interact, and which follow from more general principles about network growth."

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
In Bette Bao Lord's wonderful In The Year Of The Boar And Jackie Robinson, Shirley Temple Wong recites: "I pledge a lesson to the frog of the United States of America, and to the wee puppet for witches' hands. One Asian, under God, in the vestibule, with little tea and just rice for all."

One Writer's Malapropisms - Sallie Mattison Young

"Columbus Day was a very brave man. He wanted to sail around the world. "I can give you three ships, Mr. Day," said the Queen." Charles Schulz

Wired News: The Russian Nesting Doll of Games
"For the uninitiated, The Sims is the most successful line of games ever. It started in the late 1980s with SimCity, a game in which players take the role of a powerful mayor who creates and modifies a city to keep citizens happy. About 10 years later, Electronic Arts, the publisher of the series, released The Sims. In this game, the best-selling title of all time, players control the lives of virtual people, called Sims, and determine their daily activities to keep them content.
Now the series has come full circle. The plug-in from Simslice, called Slice City, lets the Sims in the game play a video game in which they create mini cities. So, along with the many things that Sims can be instructed to do -- such as going to work, playing guitar, cooking, socializing and dating -- they can blow endless hours creating small urban environments.
"Basically, I wanted to create a game within a game, where a Sim could remain unemployed and make a living 'farming' a mini city that is complete with buildings, houses, offices, parks and even little citizens scurrying around," says Simslice designer Steve Alvey. "There had to be consequences not only for a Sim's actions but also their inactions." Thus, just like in The Sims, attention to detail breeds success and reward, while inattention breeds disaster."
Daniel Terdiman

Words that survive the test of time - 30 December 1999
"This century has been a good one for terms of abuse. "Wonk," the 1954 term for someone obsessed with details of some specialized activity, accompanies 1951's "nerd" - someone "socially inept" and "annoyingly studious." In Britain the cognate is "anorak," from the hooded jacket that nerds customarily wear there. "Wonk" underwent further evolution in the 1980s, when American contempt for governance found its expression in "policy wonk," suggesting contempt for officials who make an effort to know what they are doing.
There may be something to that contempt: It was, after all, public officials who gave us "safe haven" during the Persian Gulf War. Someone apparently grafted the "safe" from "safe harbor" (not all harbors are safe) onto "haven" (by definition, a safe place). The creation of this obnoxious pleonasm (from the Greek "pleon" - "more" - meaning redundant) illustrates the bureaucrat's familiar combination of self-importance, pretension, and ignorance."
John E. McIntyre

Diamond star thrills astronomers
Twinkling in the sky is a diamond star of 10 billion trillion trillion carats, astronomers have discovered. The cosmic diamond is a chunk of crystallised carbon, 1,500 km across, some 50 light-years from the Earth in the constellation Centaurus.

Moon-sized crystal revealed in star's heart
"Astronomers led by Travis Metcalfe of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, studied the white dwarf BPM 37093, the only known pulsating white dwarf in our galaxy thought likely to have produced a crystal core. They used a worldwide network of telescopes to keep the white dwarf constantly in sight for about two weeks, and then studied how the star dimmed and brightened by about one per cent every five to 10 minutes. The pulsations, caused by convection in the outer non-solid part of the star, are the only way to determine directly if the core has solidified. As the star cools and the crystal core grows, the period of the pulsations gets smaller.
Researchers compared models of the crystal core to the observations to determine that 90 per cent of the white dwarf's mass, similar to that of the Sun, appears to be a giant, single crystal."
Maggie McKee

MSNBC - Have experts found Darwin's famous ship?
Hull buried in English mud may be remains of HMS Beagle

Darwin and the Barnacle by Rebecca Stott [via BBC Shropshire]
Why did Darwin delay publication of his evolutionary theories? Rebecca Stott argues that for his theories to be accepted in a climate of scepticism and creationism Darwin needed to establish his credentials as a methodical scientist beyond question. What allowed Darwin to network with a worldwide community of marine researchers was the newly improved postal service and an expanding railway network.

Essay: A Moth, a Butterfly, an Elegant Merger of Science and Art
"There was a world of hidden dimensions in these structures, a treasury of abstract art to be explored, pointillist in design, elegant in coloration, and infinitely pleasing. There was proof in these images that science and art, while dwelling separately in our consciousness, may well merge in that vague undecipherable domain of the subconscious that guides us in our passions."
Thomas Eisner

Topics in Personal and Collective Memory
John F. Kihlstrom: Memory plays an especially important role in the shadowboxes and other constructions of the American surrealist artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1973). Influenced by Victorian mementoes, Cornell created small specimen cabinets or memory theatres in which various objects were laid out inside a frame, and covered by glass. As Robert Hughes writes in American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America (Knopf, 1997, page 499), "To others these deposits might be refuse, but to Cornell they were the strata of repressed memory, a jumble of elements waiting to be grafted and mated to one another."

A Valentine rose from the Cosmos
A telescope in space has sent back a cosmic Valentine picture - a stellar nursery resembling a pink rosebud.

Pierre Lévy: The Language of Collective Intelligence [PPT]
The Human Cultural Heritage will be the "rosebud" of the Noosphere.

H-Net Review: Arthur L. Morin on Pierre Lévy
"The cinemap is a moving mosaic in a state of permanent recomposition, in which each fragment is already a complete figure but one that, at each instant, only assumes its full meaning and value within the general configuration. Behind each sign-point, hypertexts and messages provide additional information, encourage deeper investigation, detail the resources needed for navigating the knowledge space. The cinemap enables us to explore a dynamic macro-singularity consisting of many, individual singularities."
Pierre Lévy - Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace
(Plenum Press, New York, 1997, pages 191-192)

The Micropolitan Museum [via Dublog]
"For several centuries artists have depicted the human figure, still-lifes, landscapes or non-figurative motives. One subject has been widely neglected all those years: Micro organisms!
The Micropolitan Museum finally exhibits these often overlooked works of art which are only visible with the aid of the microscope. Curator Wim van Egmond has collected the finest microscopic masterpieces nature has ever produced during eons of natural selection and other life-sculpting mechanisms."

John Robinson - Music of the Spheres

"By collage, nowadays, we mean a kind of paste-up -- a configuration composed of various materials pasted in their respective positions on some kind of support. Generally speaking, a collage has the surface characteristics of a painting: it is flat. An assemblage, in the accepted connotation of metropolitan America of the 1950's and 1960's, is a three-dimensional additive sort of sculpture -- either relief or sculpture in-the-round. It is accomplished by gluing, nailing, welding, tying, wiring, or keying together parts, often of other things, to form a new ensemble.
If one started out consciously and by design to create collages or assemblages, as I did not, I suppose one would begin by getting a lot of stuff and things and parts of things with which to work. In my case it seems I looked up one day about two years ago to find that, indeed, I had en passant amassed a great variety of stuff and things and parts and splinters. But truer, perhaps, would be that I had been "unsystematically" but continually amassing a great variety of particular things over a long period of time, slowly, as if for some purpose."
Donald L. Weismann: The Collage as Model (1969)

Chaos, Creation & Collage : House
"The normal unconscious knows how to make itself at home everywhere, and psychoanalysis comes to the assistance of the ousted unconscious, of the unconscious that has been roughly or insidiously dislodged. But psychoanalysis sets the human being in motion, rather than at rest. It calls on him to live outside the abodes of his unconscious, to enter into life's adventures, to come out of himself. And naturally, its action is a salutary one. Because we must also give an exterior destiny to the interior being. To accompany psychoanalysis in this salutary action, we should have to undertake a topoanalysis of all the space that has invited us to come out of ourselves."
Gaston Bachelard: The Poetics of Space (1958)

Dream Anatomy: Gallery: Tashrih-i badan-i insane

"There are a few further points which we ought to note. In the first place, we must remember that we live our childhood as our future. Our childhood determines gestures and roles in the perspective of what is to come. This is not a question of the mechanical reappearance of montages... [The] gestures and roles are inseparable from the project which transforms them... For this reason a life develops in spirals; it passes again and again by the same points but at different levels of integration and complexity."
Jean-Paul Sartre: The Progressive-Regressive Method: Search for a Method (1960/63)

Search For Tomorrow : The Washington Post - 15 February 2004
"Specific predictions are usually wrong. But a general trend has emerged over the course of centuries: Information escapes confinement. Information has been able to break free from monasteries, libraries, school-board-sanctioned textbooks, and corporate publishers. In the Middle Ages, books were kept chained to desks. Information is now completely unchained.
It has a life of its own -- and someday perhaps that won't be just a metaphor."
Joel Achenbach

The Impossible Microworld Museum : Owl in a Needle

"Ulysses is for me the prototype of man, not only modern man, but the man of the future as well, because he represents the type of the 'trapped' voyager. His voyage was a voyage toward the center, toward Ithaca, which is to say, toward himself. He was a fine navigator, but destiny -- spoken here in terms of trials of initiation which he had to overcome -- forced him to postpone indefinitely his return to hearth and home. I think that the myth of Ulysses is very important for us. We will all be a little like Ulysses, for in searching, in hoping to arrive, and finally, without a doubt, in finding once again the homeland, the hearth, we re-discover ourselves. But, as in the Labyrinth, in every questionable turn, one risks 'losing oneself.' If one succeeds in getting out of the Labyrinth, in finding one's home again, then one becomes a new being."
Mircea Eliade: L'Epreuve du Labyrinthe (1978) translated by Paul Ricoeur in "Narrative Time" (1980)

Jacques Attali - Les labyrinthes de l'information

"If each of us thus is Mind-at-Large, to repeat Huxley's formulation, the ultimate task for human creativity is not to create and invent ab novo, but to find. Bergson already has stated that the function of the brain and the nervous system is eliminative, not productive. The right attitude may then be compared to that of a hunter or fisherman -- usually, one does not go out to hunt one particular stag, or catch one particular fish, but one goes into the appropriate preparations to ensure maximum likelihood of hunting down stags or catching fish in general. "Be the spider, not the fly," is also one of the advices given by Buddhism. If creativity is primarily finding, a holographic theory of mind would also provide a basis for the definition and explanation of social (or collective) creativity. Groups of people would then be capable of finding more information, of becoming more creative, in an evolutionary context." Erich Jantsch - Design for Evolution: Self-Organization and Planning in the Life of Human Systems (George Braziller, New York, 1975, page 147)

My LEGO computer at work

posted by Andrew 2/17/2004 03:30:00 PM