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Archive for the ‘linguistics’ Category

The Symbolic Theft

Shove all of the patterns and symbols into my head, whatever this head is, so that they might mix and match and sort and simmer.   Take these chapters – with their paragraphs and their sentences and their words and their letters and their strokes – all in. Ideas. Voices. Stories. Characters. Facts. Fictions.   Paint, o my minds brush, the landscape these words demand in their conflicted synchronization.

That which we call science and pagan folk mythology and mathematical logic of an intellectual minority and old short stories and poorly edited blog posts and every other means of description form the alternative reality of our reality.  We are at war.   We are in a dance.   Reality will not succumb.   Reality will always demand this love/war.

Symbols

Shout TRUTH! do peddlers of all these ideas.  Truth is always a future away.  Belief in that truth is always two futures and another book away.

The Truth Shall Set You Free.   They once wrote. They once said.  They once transcribed.  They once prescribed.   They never defined that truth.   The ancient scribes of pagan turned Christian history.

They.  Generations of idea burglars.  You are one too!  You thief of stories and ideas and biases.

But.

You will also give generously, gravely, gallantly every letter you steal as you inadvertently blather on your story of stories.   In your email I’ll read a Twain idea.   In an update out will come Buddha.   In a #hashtag, Kurt Cobain.   In that silly “Things Remembered” flask you’ll engrave a Steve Jobs quote.   Sometimes credit will be given, when the creditor is known and adds credibility.  Most times the debt goes unpaid and probably the originator will be all the more happy to not be associated with the missed context.

I read to never be myself.   I read to be everyone else.   I read for you.  I read about you.  I read because I am not you.   I read because I have no ideas of my own.

Ideas only emerge.   They emerge from the interaction of symbols exchanged between people.  Exchange is story.    Story is exchange.

Meaning isn’t in a thing, it’s beside a thing.   Meaning is the exchange of story sold down the river as it shouts to the banks of the onlookers.  What Is This?! They cry.

Pictures are symbols.   Letters are symbols.   Pictures are letters, letter are pictures.   While there is always this war of ideas and the promise that words are dead and pictures won, the word birthed the picture, the picture birthed the word. The songbird and the larynx and the hand birthed them both.  The mind them all.

Or wait.

The body in relation birthed the mind birthed the rest of it.   I thought Darwin explained this all.

Or was it Wittgenstein.

Suit the word to the action, the action to the word.  The bard of bards once might have said, written, drawn, acted.   And so we do.

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The human race began a path towards illiteracy when moving pictures and sound began to dominate our mode of communication. Grammar checking word processors and the Internet catalyzed an acceleration of the process. Smartphones, 3-D printing, social media and algorithmic finance tipped us towards near total illiteracy.

The complexity of the machines have escaped our ability to understand them – to read them and interpret them – and now, more importantly, to author them. The machines author themselves. We inadvertently author them without our knowledge. And, in cruel turn, they author us.

This is not a clarion call to arms to stop the machines. The machines cannot be stopped for we will never want to stop them so intertwined with our survival (the race to stop climate change and or escape the planet will not be done without the machines). It is a call for the return to literacy. We must learn to read machines and maintain our authorship if we at all wish to avoid unwanted atrocities and a painful decline to possible evolutionary irrelevance. If we wish to mediate the relations between each other we must remain the others of those mediations.

It does not take artificial intelligence for our illiteracy to become irreversible. It is not the machines that will do us in and subjugate us and everything else. Intelligence is not the culprit. It is ourselves and the facets of ourselves that make it too easy to avoid learning what can be learned. We plunged into a dark ages before. We can do it again.

We are in this situation, perhaps, unavoidably. We created computers and symbolics that are good enough to do all sorts of amazing things. So amazing that we just went and found ways to unleash things without all the seeming slowness of evolutionary and behavioral consequences we’ve observed played out on geological time scales. We have unleashed an endless computational kingdom of such variety rivaling that of the entire history of Earth. Here we have spawned billions of devices with billions and billions of algorithms and trillions and trillions and trillions of data points about billions of people and trillions of animals and a near infinite hyperlinkage between them all. The benefits have outweighed the downsides in terms of pure survival consequences.

Or perhaps the downside hasn’t caught us yet.

I spend a lot of my days researching, analyzing and using programming languages. I do this informally, for work, for fun, for pure research, for science. It is my obsession. I studied mathematics as an undergraduate – it too is a language most of us are illiterate in and yet our lives our dominated by it. A decade ago I thought the answer was simply this:

Everyone should learn to program. That is, everyone should learn one of our existing programming languages.

It has more recently occurred to me this is not only realistic it is actually a terrible idea. Programming languages aren’t like English or Spanish or Chinese or any human language. They are much less universal. They force constraints we don’t understand and yet don’t allow for any wiggle room. We can only speak them by typing them incredibly specific commands on a keyboard connected to a computer architecture we thought up 50 years ago – which isn’t even close to the dominate form of computer interaction most people use (phones, tablets, tvs, game consoles with games, maps and txt messages and mostly consumptive apps). Yes, it’s a little more nuanced than that in that we have user interfaces that try to allow us all sorts of flexbility in interaction and they will handle the translation to specific commands for us.

Unfortunately it largely doesn’t work. Programming languages are not at all like how humans program. They aren’t at all how birds or dogs or dolphins communicate. They start as an incredibly small set of rules that must be obeyed or something definitely will breakdown (a bug! A crash!). Sure, we can write an infinite number of programs. Sure most languages and the computers we use to run the programs written with language are universal computers – but that doesn’t make them at all as flexible and useful as natural language (words, sounds, body language).

As it stands now we must rely on about 30 million people on the entire planet to effectively author and repair the billions and billions of machines (computer programs) out there (http://www.infoq.com/news/2014/01/IDC-software-developers)

Only 30 million people speak computer languages effectively enough to program them. That is a very far cry from a universal or even natural language. Most humans can understand any other human, regardless of the language, on a fairly sophisticated level – we can easily tell each others basic state of being (fear, happiness, anger, surprise, etc) and begin to scratch out sophisticate relationships between ideas. We cannot do this at all with any regularity or reliability with computers. Certainly we can communicate with some highly specific programs some highly specific ideas/words/behaviors – but we cannot converse even remotely close with a program/machine in any general way. We can only rely on some of the 30 million programmers to improve the situation slowly.

If we’re going to be literate in the age of computation our language interfaces with computers must beome much better. And I don’t believe that’s going to happen by billions of people learning Java or C or Python. No it’s going to happen by the evolution of computers and their languages becoming far more human author-able. And it’s not clear the computers survival depends on it. I’m growing in my belief that humanity’s survival depends on it though.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about what my own children should learn in regards to computers. And I have not at all shaped them into learning some specific language of todays computers. Instead, I’ve focused on them asking questions and not being afraid of the confusing probable nature of the world. It is my educated hunch that the computer languages of the future will account for improbabilities and actually rely on them, much as our own natural languages do. I would rather have my children be able to understand our current human languages in all their oddities and all their glorious ability to express ideas and questions and forever be open to new and different interpretations.

The irony is… teaching children to be literate into todays computer programs as opposed to human languages and expresses, I think, likely to leave them more illiterate in the future when the machines or our human authors have developed a much richer way to interact. And yet, the catch-22 is that someone has to develop these new languages. Who will do it if not myself and my children? Indeed.

This is why my own obsession is to continue to push forward a more natural and messier idea of human computer interaction. It will not look like our engineering efforts today with a focus on speed and efficiency and accuracy. Instead it will will focus on richness and interpretative variety and serendipity and survivability over many contexts.

Literacy is not a complete efficiency. It is a much deeper phenomena. One that we need to explore further and in that exploration not settle for the computational world as it is today.

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A friend gave me this problem a couple of weeks ago:

What is the longest word you can type on the QWERTY keyboard with just your left hand using the proper position?

I love problems like this.

Especially because I get to toy around with Mathematica and use features that day to day I may not interact with for biz problems.

Finding the solution required only a tiny bit of code.

alpha = “”;
ourdictionary = “”;
alphabase = {“q” | “w” | “e” | “r” | “t” | “a” | “s” | “d” | “f” | “g” | “z” | “x” | “c” | “v” | “b”};
alpha = StringExpression[alpha, alphabase];

Code

n = 0;
dictionarycount = 0;
ourdictionary = DictionaryLookup[alpha];
While[n < 20 && Length@ourdictionary > 0,
ourdictionary = DictionaryLookup[alpha];
alpha = StringExpression[alpha, alphabase];
n++;
If[Length@ourdictionary == 0, Print[{Length@ourdictionary, n – 1}];
Print[DictionaryLookup[alpha[[;; n – 1]]]]]]

The Answer(s):

{“aftereffects”, “desegregated”, “desegregates”, “reverberated”, “reverberates”,”stewardesses”}

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From contributor Ron Williams…

I have read in recent days that Rick Sanchez as been fired from his CNN anchor job for making what was claimed to be “anti-Semitic” comment regarding Jewish control of the television networks.  Recently Mr. Sanchez has started making the rounds of other television shows apologizing for his comments claiming that they were both “anti-Semitic” and wrong.

I watched with some amusement the ABC View program with the commentators bending over backwards to deny that his comments were true and to assert that even if they were not true that they were somehow anti-Semitic.  If Jews predominate the entertainment industry, so what?    I am somewhat at a loss to understand why Jews predominating the entertainment industry is anymore anti- semantic than saying that blacks predominate in basketball is racist today.  It seems that these commentators on the View and others protest too much.  And they do so without offering any proof that the statements are in fact anti-Semitic. They offer no explanation or support for the assertion that these comments, whether true or untrue are in of themselves “anti-Semitic.”

Furthermore, I do not believe that the comments were in fact an accurate, and therefore should not be considered “anti-Semitic”.  I worked several years in the entertainment industry as an entertainment attorney.  I noted empirically that a large number of Jewish persons were in control of the creative and decision-making positions in the entertainment industry, including music, motion pictures, publishing and television.  If in fact that is the case, then stating a truism cannot be “anti–” anything.

The concentration of Jewish people in the entertainment industry as historical underpinnings.  At the turn of the previous century, Jewish performers were highly concentrated in the Vaudeville circuit.  In addition, I believe you will find that a significant number of the vaudeville houses were also owned by Jewish proprietors.  Additionally, you will find that the majority of the songwriters and performers were Jewish.  Jewish entertainers from George P Cohan, Al Jolson to Fanny Brice dominated the vaudevillian circuits.  I understand that not every performer who was popular was Jewish, but there is no denial that Jews dominated the vaudeville circuit.  A similar situation existed in both music publishing and performance.

In the early days of the film industry, Jewish entrepreneurs also dominated the production and performance in motion pictures , and the financing for these motion pictures came from Jewish controlled banks in New York.  This pattern has continued through to today.  I challenge anyone to look at the rosters of the key executives who control of the creative aspects of all of the major networks, the motion picture industry, the music industry and publishing and show that the predominant group controlling these industries are not Jewish.

Having said this, I find no problem with these industries being predominated by Jews.  In the early days, entertainers were not held in high esteem.  This is an area that Jews could succeed.  That is often the case for groups that have suffered discrimination by the majority population.  One need only look at national athletics both historically and today to see this pattern repeats itself.  You can follow the progression of discrimination against various ethnic groups with their progression through the professional boxing ranks.

Today, no one can dispute the fact that national football and basketball are dominated by African Americans.  Also note the significant number of Spanish-surname ballplayers we are seeing now in professional baseball, players coming from countries such as the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico where sports is seen as a way out of poverty.  WHEN ANY GROUP IS DENIED the full range of professions in this society, it is only natural that they take the path of least resistance to achieve success.  African Americans for several generations now have seen athletics as one of the few viable path to economic success.  That is probably why you see more African Americans in football and basketball.  It is not because African Americans are carefully better football players or basketball. In turn of the previous century, entertainment was an available track for success.

This overreaction is even more dramatic when I see commentators like Glen Beck make all kinds of wild assertions about the President and other African Americans with impunity.  I also note that Glen Beck make their assertions on their programs while Rick Sanchez made his comments on another program w2hile being interviewed.  It seems as if his First Amendment rights have taken a back seat on this issue.  Again methinks they protest this too much.

So before we see Rick Sanchez do an endless round of apologies for his statement, people demanding his apologies should show that his statements are in fact incorrect.  But more importantly, whether they are correct or incorrect, his statement should not be a reason for his termination.  If the statements are not true then slapped him on the wrist for making an untrue statement.  But I believe that upon examination will be shown that his statements are in large part true. And whether true or not, I believe there is nothing wrong with a situation where Jews would be in control of the entertainment industry.  Just like there’s nothing wrong with African Americans being the predominant football and basketball players or that Hispanics are now coming dominate boxing. If Jews control the entertainment industry, so what.

[Ron Williams is a retired attorney living in The Woodlands, TX, and a welcome guest contributor to Social Mode]

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By Ron Williams – citizen, contributor and patriot – 8-22-10

[Ron Williams is a retired attorney living in The Woodlands, TX and a welcome guest contributor to Social Mode]

There can be no question but that there are serious issues surrounding illegal immigration into the United States.  The most pressing concern revolves around illegal immigration from Mexico.  It is interesting to note however that most people, and most particularly right-wing Republican Tea Party, are reluctant to recognize that the real issue is that illegal immigration from Mexico, which means primarily Mexicans, which causes an uncertain relationship with American citizens with Hispanic heritage.  It should not create a problem to talk about an immigration problem involving Mexicans.  After all that is the border we share where most of the illegal immigrants are entering the United States.  It is sort of like talking about a race problem in the United States and not admitting that the primary group impacted by this issue is African-Americans.

It is thus, a double whammy to watch Republicans dance around the issue of Mexican illegal immigration, when that is the very issue with which they are concerned.  The first “whammy” involves a hypocritical failure to acknowledge that the primary target of their ire is directed at Mexicans.  The second “whammy”, which I will address in a moment, is the right wing Republican constant claim of their defense of the quote “original” constitution and the claim that liberals want to change it.

Returning to the topic of illegal immigration, it is not illegal immigration from Canada that the right wing is concerned about.  It is illegal immigration from Mexico. Arizona, for example, recently passed legislation allowing its police to stop anyone they believe is an illegal immigrant.  Once stopped, that person must provide evidence that they are a legal immigrant or a US citizen.  Arizona Republicans insist that this legislation is not deemed to target Hispanics.  But just who can we imagine the police are going to be stopping, blue-eyed blondes who look like they have snuck in the country from Denmark?  No, Hispanics.

It is hypocrisy of the right wing to assert otherwise.

Thus, I believe it is not hard to make the assertion that it is because the illegal immigrants are Mexicans that the issue has gained so much prominence.  I believe that the issue of race or “racism” is at the heart of the illegal immigration controversy today.  If we had Canadian citizens flooding into this country in numbers comparable to the current influx from Mexico, I really do not believe that there would be the same cries for fence building and citizenship-checking laws being made by the conservative right wing.

In fact, it is my position that the majority of Republicans know no bounds to their hypocrisy.  Many of the Tea Party group are now pushing for an amendment to the 14th Amendment so that babies born presumably to illegal Mexican immigrants will no longer be granted automatic United States citizenship.  As being proposed, the revised 14th Amendment would provide that in order to be deemed a US citizen; you must prove that you were born of parents who were US citizens.  I don’t know about you, but I might have a hard time proving that my mother was a US citizen because I might have a hard time proving that her mother was a US citizen and so forth.  How about how you?

In fact, what sort of documentation would you have to provide in order to prove that your parents were legal citizens at the time of your birth, or even their birth?  Again, I note that this was not a problem when immigrants entered the country from England, Italy, Ireland, or even Cuba.  It’s still not a problem for anyone sneaking in from Canada.  It’s those pesky Mexicans who are creating the problem.  But the Tea Party members are too hypocritical to say the truth.  And it is also a very short step to say that racism is the driving force behind the conservative right wing Tea Parties move.  They want to prevent those Mexicans from gaining US citizenship.  The fewer Mexican heritage voters created the better.

This is even more disappointing when we have to constantly listen to Tea Party members talk about their belief in the Inviolate Constitution and their speaking with utter dismay about how liberals constantly want to reinterpret the Constitution.  The right wing does not want to “reinterpret” the original document.  They just want to change the Constitution’s actual written the language to fit whatever they believe ought to be the current end result.  Again, this is the height of hypocrisy.  For example, we can see very clearly that the “conservative” judges appointed by Republicans to the Supreme Court have been busy reinterpreting long-held legal principles in a new way to fit their Conservative views.  One would have to call these judges “activists” despite Republican claims that they are just interpreting the Constitution in its “original” understanding.  Republicans now have the nerve to claim that the two President Obama appointments to the current Supreme Court are activist judges.  Hypocrisy in Its finest form.

I have a suggestion for my Right Wing Republican Tea Party counterparts.  If we are going to open up the Constitution and revisit the 14th Amendment, let me suggest that we take another look at the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution regarding the right of the people to bear arms.  There have been some questions as to whether this amendment applied to the state militia i.e. the National Guard, or to an individual’s right to keep a handgun or even an AK-47.  If you are going to start to change the Constitution to address current issues, let’s address the question of whether we should allow individuals to own all sorts of weapons.  After all, when the 2nd Amendment was drafted we didn’t have machine guns or 15-round hand guns or 50 caliber sniper weapons.  When the Constitution was written and the amendments added, we didn’t have the large-scale drug problems or the gang wars associated with guns.

Maybe it’s time we revisit the 2nd Amendment to address these gun issues.  Somehow I bet the strict construction right wing Republicans will not be so open to revisiting the 2nd Amendment with the idea of having individual gun use restricted.  But, why not?  If they believe it’s time to revisit one of the amendments, why not start to think about taking a look at revisiting some of the others.  What about the 1st Amendment and right to free speech?  See the problem?  I’m sure that those of you reading this can think of one or two of the other amendments you believe it might make sense to revisit today.

I, for one, do not believe it is necessary to revisit any of the amendments to the Constitution.  The Constitution is broad.  It welcomes new interpretations that encompass new issues.  What is so wise about the way so drafters wrote the Constitution and its amendments is that its guiding principles provide a roadmap for addressing modern problems.  What I recommend is that my right wing Republican Tea Party friends take a deep breath and give careful consideration to what they’re really asking when they began to recommend re-writing the Constitution and its original 14 Amendments.  I really believe we would be on any dangerous course should we begin to start rewriting this important and very wise document.  We can undo the very nature of this country.  And that would be a very sad thing to do.

Finally, we must come to the conclusion that the Tea Party conservatives in fact have little use for the “real” Constitution.  They will quote its virtues to you when it suits their needs, but it will push to change its very language wind that would suit their purpose.  I believe it is the height of hypocrisy.  No more than that, I believe it shows their immorality.  And such immorality is dangerous.  Therefore, we must fight against the Tea Party conservatives because if they were to have their way, the very fabric of this country will be destroyed.  And that is not something I would like to see happen.

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Michael Lynton responds with a confusing analogy to the blogosphere’s blast of his now infamous comment, “I’m a guy who sees nothing good having come from the Internet. Period.”

The fact that he’s following up to add context is great for his argument and his agenda.  Unfortunately his choice of analogies or the choice to use an analogy muddles his argument.  The Internet isn’t like anything.  The abstract workings of how people behave online is not unlike how they behave offline but the details (actual behaviors, reinforcers and consequences) are very different.  His analogy, the Interstate System, oversimplifies his argument and the ultimate concept he’s chasing: piracy.

Contrast the expansion of the Internet with what happened a half century ago. In the 1950’s, the Eisenhower Administration undertook one of the most massive infrastructure projects in our nation’s history — the creation of the Interstate Highway System. It completely transformed how we did business, traveled, and conducted our daily lives. But unlike the Internet, the highways were built and operated with a set of rational guidelines. Guard rails went along dangerous sections of the road. Speed and weight limits saved lives and maintenance costs. And officers of the law made sure that these rules were obeyed. As a result, as interstates flourished, so did the economy. According to one study, over the course of its first four decades of existence, the Interstate Highway System was responsible for fully one-quarter of America’s productivity growth.

We can replicate that kind of success with the Internet more easily if we do more to encourage the productivity of the creative engines of our society — the artists, actors, writers, directors, singers and other holders of intellectual property rights — yes, including the movie studios, which help produce and distribute entertainment to billions of people worldwide.

What specific success are we replicating (what is this study he cites?)?  How are the physical constraints of the highway system like anything with mostly non-physical Internet?  And the bigger question… how is the function of the highway system (move people about) comparable at all to the Internet (move info, place to exhibit, converse, transaction… and so on)?

I don’t know what will reduce piracy.  I don’t know what will ensure that Sony and others can make as much money from content as they would like.   I do know that Lynton has made no progress to further is argument and perhaps took a step back by not just sticking to this one key point.

But, I actually welcome the Sturm und Drang I’ve stirred, because it gives me an opportunity to make a larger point (one which I also made during that panel discussion, though it was not nearly as viral as the sentence above). And my point is this: the major content businesses of the world and the most talented creators of that content — music, newspapers, movies and books — have all been seriously harmed by the Internet.

At least this is something we can argue.  (I don’t think his statement is accurate and I’ll write on that later).

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The invention and acceptance of new vocabularies is important to the success of ideas, products, policies and methods.  Many valuable new “things” are written off simply because we lack applicable metaphors, analogies and vocabulary.  Many authors and inventors of new things fail to market a new vocabulary and set up new modes of thinking while they perfect the new thing itself.

Consider these ideas, products, philosophies, politics, sciences that have taken a long time to take hold because of our lack of vocabulary:

0 (concept of zero)

Probability

Natural Selection

Search Engine

Hyperlink

Terrorism

Recession/Depression

Google

Wiki

Computation

Web 2.0

Semantic Web

So how do we absorb a new vocabulary?  Through use.  Use of these products and ideas and association of their vocabulary to the use.

e.g. can you explain a Wiki to anyone?  you could if you showed them.  We still don’t have a general use of the word Wiki but we all “know what we mean.”

Developing the vocabulary within the intended audience of the product, idea or policy is as important to the success as the thing itself.  do not neglect this and/or don’t be surprised if people don’t “get it” at first…

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