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 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?

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