Short Fire Forms

Short Fire Forms.  I often wonder whether the classical view of language is the right one or, at least, the only valid one. Once more to the bar, my friend, to ponder short words and lost souls.

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The Philosophy according to Names and Surnames

On Names and Surnames

Surname

Sometimes when I can find a quiet place in a bar I examine the causes and effects of the things that surround us, of the things that we so often take for granted or which take place over a length of time such that they are beyond our possibilities to notice. How could we tell, for example, back in the 1960s and 1970s, that the eventual result of buying those refrigerators would be the endangering of our atmosphere through the release of the gases that allowed them to work, or that we would become nations that wasted up to forty percent of the food we buy?

It is the same with education – at the beginning of our working life we may only guess what we will need to know in our jobs in fifty years’ time, as all that we know for certain now is that by then the world will have changed. Well, one thing will not have – there will still be people moaning that the beer is not as good as it used to be.
In the teaching of foreign languages we often start out by learning phrases that allow us to exchange names, and for English we might learn ‘My name is Jan’. As we then rise through the schooling system we get handed from teacher to teacher, teaching material to teaching material, yet there is no one in full control of our education path. If someone in the teaching system does notice, for example, that graduates cannot do basic math then questions get asked and the basic math teaching may even be reassessed. However, if no one notices such an effect, then how can we seek out the cause?

We know what we know, and we know what we do not know, but we do not know what we do not know.

So, students of English here in Poland get their early bite of vocabulary in the word ‘name’, and then at a later point in the curriculum this is joined by ‘surname’ amongst a whirlwind of other words and structures. Eventually the words ‘name’ and ‘surname’ arrive together in a single phrase: name and surname. No questions are asked, because no one knows that there is a question to ask.

The word ‘name’, though, is a general word, on the same level as ‘beer’. If someone arrives in a bar and asks for a beer and a brand-X lager, they should not share the barkeep’s surprise. ‘Surname’ is a specific noun, on the level of ‘Brand-X lager’, one designed to describe a specific product.

Beer and brand-X lager.

Name and surname.

Logically, we might think, this error should not happen, for the usage of name will be explored many times in the curriculum, as well as appearing in other sources, such as general culture.

My name is Bond, James Bond.

If we were a university lecturer and we somehow failed to comprehend this information in the blizzard of information that is a second language, although a fraction of that collected by a native as part of his or her life’s experience, then the error may start appearing in our work. The result of our failure could be whole generations of students becoming teachers and repeating it in their work, as some kind of truth. This is not untypical in a classical world where we value repetition over observation of unharnessed raw data, learning specific things by rote and then crying when too few people appear to create anything these days.

Those typical errors which do appear regularly in second language use are often there due to a lack of feedback from real life events. University lecturers continue to smile and teach, repeating their past to each new set of students without taking an effective part in actual language use. This failure goes unnoticed by the people who pay the lecturer’s wages – us.

As the effect of second language use is largely hidden to us in the mists engulfing the recipients, living and speaking elsewhere, it is very difficult to track an error back to its source. In foreign language study the connection between what someone does and the result is weak, and as a result the participants are often unwilling to accept that they have a responsibility to society to actively seek the failures. After all, they are doing what they were trained to do – why should what they do be queried? Even better, since the teachers attend the same courses as the translators then many errors in translation go unnoticed by other people in the nation as they have been taught the same errors by their teachers.

This sad lack of quality and quantity of contact with foreign natives does leave the lone translator, often working alone at home, in a rather difficult situation and under a great deal of pressure when required to produce work that is ‘native’. One could compare language teaching to a bar in a village, where the villagers rarely venture forth beyond their borders, never tasting what the world has to offer, yet with no specific training attempting to deduce the world from an advertising card depicting a scantily clad lady, with the final two packets of peanuts still obscuring our vision.

The Beers I Failed to Purchase

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The other week I wrote a post about how shyness led me to being more innovative, this time I would like to focus more on how it affects the rest of my life. It is a sad truth that there is much I have failed to purchase through a fear of engaging with shop staff, and while this has undoubtedly saved me much cash from casual spending, leaving me a richer man financially, it has meant that I have sacrificed a lot of the pleasure that I could have afforded myself. And now, I fear, I recognize that I am far from being alone in the debilitating world of mine.

If I staggered out of a bar every morning, drunk, at some point someone would likely point me in the direction of some kind of rehabilitation group, once and if I could admit that there was a problem. To think, I could have been a hardened or dead criminal by now, stealing money to pay for my next session and, maybe, laundry.  find it interesting that it is so easy to see the positive side of the way that I am now, and that, I fear, is also part of the problem.

When I look back to my education days, not to wipe a tear away for some kind of lost youth or the ill-found nostalgia for an earlier age, I see that it was patchy, or at least my education was. There were occasions when I excelled, and others where I was unable to proceed, and this has continued into my work years. I am thankful for my mum helping me to learn to read, the teachers and, on one occasion, the headmaster who individually prepared a small group of the losers such as I to get past certain exams. I have no idea what prevented my cohorts of the time from progressing, I just lacked direction and a confidante.

The problem seems to be that what began as shyness has long since spread out to include a lack of will power for other tasks: not a total lack, for there are always parts of my life where I crack the whip hard, but without someone else there to take part in what I do then what I am most likely to choose is to escape.

Many of the managers and teachers I have met since parting with my schools, and other people as well, have their vision of the universe as being the right one and the only one. You can see their simple cluelessness in their faces and in their actions when they look at me: I am sober, intelligent even, so why do I not progress? Pointing to books I should learn from, people I should mimic helps not one whit; that is their vision and it does not function in my world.

So why do I not change, conform?

Because I am shy and seeking the help I need is to find a door that seems not to exist, or that I am too afraid to find, and the reason it is so hard to find is that, unlike when I am drunk, I am not a social hazard and people like me don’t get together to solve our problem. Well, how are we supposed to get together, no, do not even begin to answer that. We have a lifetime’s experience in people telling us how we should solve our problems, sometimes kindly and sometimes not, but it means nothing because we have barriers blocking that path. We all have barriers, everyone of us, but in different places, and while I have no problem taking all my clothes off in public it is surprising how scared the people telling you how to change your life get when you suggest that they remove their clothes in public.

You might be wondering how I can have the courage to remove my clothes, and it would be a good question, and the answer is simple and quite understandable: by removing my clothes I am not actually interacting with anyone, so the shyness cannot be triggered. So, by barrier I do not mean something that you merely lack confidence in doing because you are not sure how to do it or whether you can. You may once have lacked enough confidence to ride a bicycle, then later you learn and any residual fear goes away. Then there are those things where the fear never goes away no matter how many times you are trained or you try to conquer it, such as a fear of heights. Since we all have our barriers, unless you can overcome your own such barrier, you are not really in a position to ‘educate’ people with a different barrier in how they should overcome it.

I have my wife to thank for many of the things that I do now, for the simple process of sharing an activity with someone you feel is not judging you can help you participate, and if she can get me into a bar for a few drinks then things get even easier. On the other hand, being shown or reminded of the targets I need to achieve actually increases my shyness, because now instead of being shown companionship in the journey, I am now being shown rejection.

In light of this, my education was always more rapid when I had a companion in my task or I discovered a secondary pleasure in achieving the task, worst when I felt no companionship at all. Laziness is only apparent on the surface, for I am always fully occupied. If that effort is not being directed particularly to the task in hand, then I am escaping, and no amount of whipping and preaching will bring me back in line because experience has already taught me that there are always other opportunities out there. It is something that people like me seem to learn very early.

The key to success is engagement at my level, and not setting me a task, wandering off and expecting me to progress, for not only have I figured out that there are other opportunities out there, I also can calculate well the latest time I could possibly start a task, and it is well beyond what most people expect.

So, I dedicate this text, and the image I produced for it, to all those out there unable to achieve what other people want us to achieve. We are what we are, and our world is part of everyone else’s, even if no one wants to admit it.

The God ‘n’ Science Question

The God ‘n’ Science Question. What is the nature of belief? Can we prove it? And why is my glass empty, I’m not a pessimist!

The God ‘n’ Science Question

213 - Lady of the SeaDon’t worry. I am not about to convert you to anything. Honest.

Cross my beer and hope to fly!

Sometimes, though, although I believe in God, I find that I feel closer to atheists than people from my own religion, and although this should be a ridiculous state of affairs, at least I can safely nip down the bar and have a few with an atheist without any fear that they will start an inappropriate witter about something they have heard and would like to repeat to me about God.

However, it is not the thinking of the Goddy-two-shoes that I wish to discuss here, but that of their direct cousins, the science-purists.

I recently made a comparison of belief in the one true God with the belief in the one true Math, especially as there are people who believe that anything beyond simple math is either magic or a cart load of cow end product. So, there are people who both believe in Math and state that it is an exact science, that one plus one is always two – even though this is often not true. Yes, one apple I buy down the market plus another one apple should, we hope, always equal two apples, but there is also a classic chemistry demonstration where you add one glassful of one liquid to one glassful of a second liquid and end up with less than 2 glassfuls of liquid. OK, it is due to the differences in molecular sizes of the liquid, but the point is that math is not true everywhere all the time, and when we discover it isn’t we have to change something in our understanding to make our belief in maths true again. And that is OK.

One of the many arguments I have heard why belief in any god is untrue is that religious stories are no more than histories and fictional stories. So what, I say, why do they have to be true? I used a story about apples earlier to describe an aspect of maths, but it was not a true, factual description of an actual event as I have never in my life bought any apples from any market. Does my fictional apple buying story prove that Math is not true? No, that would be silly, but so is disregarding any god based on a story about that god or his or her religion.

Science is not the rock-steady fixed thing which education often suggests, there are often no answers, many answers, or incorrect answers later becoming correct answers and vice versa. Up until a couple of centuries ago scientists believed that heat was a fluid and coldness a second fluid (the latter being made up of sharp particles, hence accounting for the ‘sting’ of cold). It was a great theory, something seemingly rock-solid that could be taught. It was only when someone observed a cannon being bored with a blunt tool that it was ‘proved’ that the boring tool could not possibly contain that much heat fluid to keep a cannon hot for days that Science moved on to a new Truth.

The point is that it is hard to arrive at a proof until we first have a belief. In a way, proofs are merely those beliefs that we can prove, or prove sufficiently well to convince people in our time, while scientists are people who have a set of beliefs that they wish to prove and accept both that they may never find their proof or discover proof that disproves their belief.

Belief is the glass we keep in the hope that one day it will be filled with our chosen beverage.

My loss of this feeling of the certainty of school-room science stems from my personal experience of life in research and development. I never could predict what new invention I would make, but every time it happened it rewrote part of my understanding of the world, of science. Life in research is often like standing on water that happens to be able to support you for that brief moment it passes under your feet as it flows from the chaos of the future towards the chaos of the past: science is not fixed, it is a continuity.

To be honest, I believe equally in God, interstellar travel and the continuance of mankind, even though I have proof for none of them. Do we all need to share the same beliefs in some kind of god any more than we share the same tastes in wine, women and song?

On the NATURE of bOXES

With all the fuss there is in some quarters about Big Data, I got to wonder how it related to my feelings of categorization.

I mean, I look out of my window and I see stuff.

I look at a Jackson Pollock and I see stuff.

Hrub 02 Market stallsBig Data sounds rather like yet another way of not admitting a rather uncomfortable truth – that we have spent way too much time talking about boxed content as if the boxes always had meaning, and their actual substance and arrangement less.

Look at it this way: what is a beer glass? Whatever answer you choose you can be sure it will always be inadequate, because a beer glass contains infinity – sadly only in its description rather than content. If it were the other way around I probably would not be here writing to you, and you might not be there to read the nothing that I might have written, our present existence might be nothing more than a blurry wish. Or not.

Whether we keep our beer glasses boxed in a category or distributed around the convenient surfaces of our house or apartment, they seem to remain a constant, a fixed reality, objects we can take in our hand , separate from any other object, fill, empty. However, just as we cannot have existed without our full complement of ancestors, that beer glass we are so dreamily caressing cannot exist without all the beer and liquid containers that have gone before it and alongside it, nor indeed without our enduring memory. That beer glass can only exist because enough of the other beer glasses have existed, as well as beer and whatever came before beer, and money, and all the things that exist today around the world that we use as containers for things, including that jam jar of wild flowers or that box of computer components lashed to a camel in a barless desert.

Our class or category called ‘beer glasses’, and the specific item in our hands are nothing but part of a continuum, a dream of our existence, the physical representation nothing more than a picture of a  pebbly beach on the shore of a greater existence. In other universes they may never have existed.

We have barely begun to explore the connections yet. Our glass is the daughter of a materials industry, an ancient parent, one of many, a marriage of mixed ages, including manufacturing, sales, advertising, brewing and design, and many other, less obvious donors, but all helping to suspend our little glass in a web of fields streaming out into the past and future. More significant than any of these is our decision through time to participate in drinking, without this then our glass would never have existed and continued to exist.

The point is, all of this has existed throughout time, the difference now is not especially the ability to process large amounts of data, but that those with the knack of processing data in non-classical ways can meet, and those without it cannot but notice that there are people who can. Non-classical data processing is no longer something one can simply pretend does not exist, that such an analyst is lying about their methods.

Apples fell from trees before Newton, but after one could not pretend that there was no force to ensure that they always fell.

Big Data? Big Excuse, more like 😉

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