Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 14th, 2011

Pride = Refusing help

leave a comment »

The Eldest had an interesting take on pride: that pride (in the pejorative sense, rather than the ameliorative sense—the latter being pride in a group to which one belongs, for example) is the refusal to acknowledge a need for help and thus not to seek help or to allow help—or can be shown another way by denigrating help that is accepted (by oneself or by others—in effect, denigrating the idea of help).

In terms of Christian theology, this explains why pride is such a deadly sin: the entire premise of Christianity is that God became human to make a sacrifice sufficient to redeem the human race, given the impact of Original Sin and all that to which it led. To refuse help ultimately is to hold that help is not needed, that oneself is unmarred by Original Sin, and, by implication, refusing God’s grace (though whether sanctifying grace can be refused is a tricky issue). Thus pride does indeed precede a fall: refusing to be saved is, in Christian terms, a large fall indeed.

But it also rings true in the secular sense: to refuse help is ultimately to refuse to be a part of the group (whichever group is relevant to the issue), and groups in general do not take kindly to non-members—doubtless part of the cost of evolving as a social animal: groups are important to social animals… very important. So to be outside a group—whether through ostracism or through refusal to join—is a seriously bad thing in the eyes of the group. (As to whether a group would in effect punish someone for not being a member even though the group itself in fact rejected the person: yes. Anyone who has had encounters with groups—and, since we are social animals, that includes every one of us—knows that from personal experience somewhere along the line.)

This kind of pride—refusing to acknowledge the need for, as well as the offer of, help—is, I imagine, the Ego in action, and thus the Ego=Satan notion works out well.

And examples abound of this sort of pride: refusing to ask directions, refusing sound medical advice or assistance, refusing medications (generally speaking), and denigrating people who actually do seek help of one kind or another, or denigrating the help itself.

The fact is, we have in the US the myth of the Rugged Individual, the man (almost always) who does everything on his own and refuses help—he asks no quarter and he gives none. Etc. And, generally, the heroic figure is placed in the American West, the most heavily subsidized and lavishly supported—by the work of millins—development in modern times. Federal land grants, Federal protection, Federal courts, and Federal laws made it possible for the Rugged Individual to exist.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2011 at 7:18 pm

Posted in Daily life

Education likes and dislikes

leave a comment »

I continue to draw a total blank too often when listening to Spanish—and these are my textbook exercises, for goodness’ sake. But the way the terminal letter of one word often serves as the initial letter of following word tricks my ear no end.

I realize that the problem simply is practice: I have not spent enough time listening to spoken Spanish so that the little unconscious engine(s) that parse speech can learn how to grok the new language. So now I am going through my BBC podcasts—news programs with interviews—and listening to them 20 minutes a day. I listen for a couple of minutes, then back it up and re-listen to the same segment, then perhaps again, and work my way through the program that way. For a while I’ll stick with the one program until it becomes familiar.

It’s boring in a way: I have to pay attention and try to understand, even though I only intermittently make out a word, and I have to keep it up long enough and frequently enough so those engines, working with the various pattern-recognition capabilities we have, work out how to hear Spanish.

This is the common course of experience-based learning: learning a skill, which can be done only through experience and practice, training the unconscious.

On the whole, I greatly prefer knowledge-based learning, which for me is faster and easier: information I quickly learn and retain.

I suppose it’s natural to prefer something at which one is good (and thus which is easy) to another thing at which one must struggle. And since not everyone likes knowledge-based learning, it stands to reason that there are those who prefer experience-based learning (presumably because they are good at it and find it easy, and thus even enjoy the process of learning). “Natural athletes” doubtless fall into this category.

So I have to systematically set up a schedule and measure my effort to succeed—which I suppose is measuring and counting my food portions. Thank heavens we have the tools to help those whose natural skills are insufficient.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2011 at 5:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Language invented just once

leave a comment »

We know of several instances of agriculture being invented—some seven times in different locales and times, if I recall correctly. With better communication in later years, it was necessary only once to invent the steam engine, and then the invention’s path branched as it was adapted to various situations and experience dictated refinements.

Language turns out to be like the steam engine, not agriculture. Nicholas Wade reports in the NY Times:

A researcher analyzing the sounds in languages spoken around the world has detected an ancient signal that points to southern Africa as the place where modern human language originated.

The finding fits well with the evidence from fossil skulls and DNA that modern humans originated in Africa. It also implies, though does not prove, that modern language originated only once, an issue of considerable controversy among linguists.

The detection of such an ancient signal in language is surprising. Because words change so rapidly, many linguists think that languages cannot be traced very far back in time. The oldest language tree so far reconstructed, that of the Indo-European family, which includes English, goes back 9,000 years at most.

Quentin D. Atkinson, a biologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, has shattered this time barrier, if his claim is correct, by looking not at words but at phonemes — the consonants, vowels and tones that are the simplest elements of language.  Dr. Atkinson, an expert at applying mathematical methods to linguistics, has found a simple but striking pattern in some 500 languages spoken throughout the world: A language area uses fewer phonemes the farther that early humans had to travel from Africa to reach it.

Some of the click-using languages of Africa have more than 100 phonemes, whereas Hawaiian, toward the far end of the human migration route out of Africa, has only 13. English has about 45 phonemes.

This pattern of decreasing diversity with distance, similar to the well-established decrease in genetic diversity with distance from Africa, implies that the origin of modern human language is in the region of southwestern Africa, Dr. Atkinson says in an article published on Thursday in the journal Science.

Language is at least 50,000 years old, the date that modern humans dispersed from Africa, and some experts say it is at least 100,000 years old. Dr. Atkinson, if his work is correct, is picking up a distant echo from this far back in time.

Linguists tend to dismiss any claims to have found traces of language older than 10,000 years, “but this paper comes closest to convincing me that this type of research is possible,” said Martin Haspelmath, a linguist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Dr. Atkinson is one of several biologists who have started applying to historical linguistics the sophisticated statistical methods developed for constructing genetic trees based on DNA sequences.  These efforts have been regarded with suspicion by some linguists.

In 2003 Dr. Atkinson and Russell Gray, another biologist at the University of Auckland, reconstructed the tree of Indo-European languages with a DNA tree-drawing method called Bayesian phylogeny. The tree indicated that Indo-European was much older than historical linguists had estimated and hence favored the theory that the language family had diversified with the spread of agriculture some 10,000 years ago, not with a military invasion by steppe people some 6,000 years ago, the idea favored by most historical linguists. . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: Apparently some version of language was around before Homo sapiens entered the scene and perhaps even prior to Homo neanderthalensis.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2011 at 4:56 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Firefox finding and the red button on the Mac

with 9 comments

I’m still getting used to the Mac, and I discovered something sort of dangerous: the Mac’s red button with Firefox.

The red button in Windows exits the program—same thing as selecting “quit” or “exit” from the menu. The red button in the Mac closes the window, but leaves the program running. Note: it closes the window. Both the Mac and Windows have a separate button to minimize the window (it vanishes from view but you can bring it back), but the Mac’s red button terminates the Window altogether.

I accidentally hit the red button on my Mac. Now if I quit Firefox and return, I get back all the tabs that were open in the last session. I was unpleasantly surprised to find that the red button doesn’t work this way: close the window with the Mac red button and all tabs are lost. Gone. Goodbye, have fun.

It’s very like losing a file in the impact—especially since I don’t recall all the tabs. I have relied on the Firefox and the computer: that’s why I have them. I feel betrayed.

By going over the Firefox history for the past week or so, I could probably extract from the mass of listings the tabs of interest, but that’s a daunting prospect: I’m a very active browser, and I keep open for later study only a tiny fraction of the tabs I look at.

I think the Mac red button is a terrible idea.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2011 at 10:24 am

Posted in Technology

Paisley & the Feather

leave a comment »

The Gerson worked up a fine lather from the vintage Paisley shaving soap, and the Feather with a Feather blade did a fine three-pass shave, ending with a nice splash of Floïd. Great way to start the day.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2011 at 9:34 am

Posted in Shaving

%d bloggers like this: