June 22nd, 2003

beartato phd

(no subject)

So, I've been trying to reason about the impetus behind my sudden increase in interest in linguistics about a year ago. Part of it was definitely the feeling of having graduated and therefore realizing just how much freedom I have (and truth be told, had before very nearly as much) in choosing things to learn about. In the context of school, foreign languages were just irritating requirements, or else a non-issue. But once the academic horizon held no required classes further afield than sub-branches of CS, huge swaths of humanities suddenly seemed much more cool. I certainly need to get around to reading a lot more fiction, history, philosophy and stuff, but language and linguistics as concepts have been buzzing around passively in my mind for years and years, and so I don't think it very surprising after all that I happened to start digging into linguistics proper as a field in my recreational reading.

But the other thing is that the more I know about particular languages, the more I pressure my brain into fluency in esperanto --- and just carrying on a spoken conversation is a real challenge still, but not an impossible one --- the more I pick up random tidbits about french, spanish, german and japanese, the more I notice how addictive knowing how to say things in different ways is. I feel the exhiliration of knowing how much I don't know, being faced with the hugeness of these incredible structures in use day-to-day around the world that each slice up the space of human experience in different ways. I think to myself that if I only knew more of them I would be able to see the colors and shades and subtleties of the world in a little more precisely...

Probably some sort of Sapir-Whorfian fallacy I'm making in thinking that, but it's a great temptation. Right now I feel just this particular feeling of kinda-but-not-extremely-low-and-jealous-of-those-who-aren't for "low" being any of lonely or sad or unattractive or unpopular or uninteresting or gregarious or whatever, and even more than wanting to not feel this way (because it's really quite a mild sort of bummed-ness, and I'm sure it will pass just as soon as I go to sleep and wake up again) I want to be able to name the feeling for some reason, name it with just one word, and by doing so feel as if I am capturing it, becoming detached from it by being able to label it so. Such a weird desire. Seems almost as if I am tapping into deeper currents of primitive, mythological thinking about language, that knowing a person's name gives you power over them, knowing magic incantations allows you to do things, etc. I know it's all quite irrational, but I can sense my brain being tugged just a little towards thinking that way.
beartato phd

(no subject)

More thoughts, both prompted by adam's recent book-buying spree at Borders some days ago:

So he was looking for books on deception and emotions and affect-detection and so on, so most of these things (even the reputable ones) were in the "self-help" section. Now it goes without saying that there's plenty of bullshit in this section also. I was looking at some of it, and it impressed me how much of it was arbitrary, ad hoc, untestable (or at least, I would bet, untested) and frequently nearly completely meaningless enumerations and classifications (like, here are the 17 personality types, here are the 34 criteria for determining if your spouse is cheating on you, find out what color your personality is (no joke, I actually saw that one) better living through i ching, etc.) It made me wonder how much unjustified respect we might be paying to some theories of some ancient (and maybe some not-so-ancient) philosophies, what with all the four elements and four humors and however-many virtues. Such is the instinct to categorize, though...

The other neat thing came out of one of the books that seemed, at least prima facie, nonbogus, Ekman's "Emotions Revealed", a study of facial expressions. There is this muscle that raises the eyebrows in the middle that makes people look extremely sad, and is in fact a very good predictor of sadness, since most people (a) do use the muscle when they are sad and (b) don't have conscious control over it, and so cannot fake that expression. Adam is one of the people that can, though, and it's really unsettling to see him suddenly switch demeanor to one which really does elicit strong involuntary feelings of sympathy. He just looks really pathetic! I'll have to nag him to put some pictures up, or maybe he will anyway.

Anyway! I was just washing my face getting ready for bed, and noticed that I definitely can't do the same trick right off, BUT if I push the middle of my eybrows up and see how that looks in the mirror and try to mimic it, I can hold it in place. So weird.
beartato phd

(no subject)

Wow, what a weird dream. I dreampt of actually doing math, and my dad and kevin watkins were there, and the subject of discussion was sets S of points in the plane such that there exists a continuous embedding from S to affine symmetries on S, and one of the examples we kept coming back to was the circle, and mapping it to all rotations that carried it to itself. For some crazy reason my dad was trying to insist that polygons had this property, and tried to use some three-dimesional argument to support it, and I was like, "but affine maps carry R^2 to R^2" and kevin agreed with me (not that I understand now why this fact was relevant) annd then I woke up. The best part was that the space, the floor in front of us just sort of magically displayed the appropriate picture and diagrams as any one of us was talking, and we pointed to it and changed things on it just by thinking and stuff. I want telepath-blackboards now, they're so cool.
beartato phd

(no subject)

Wow. Weather so nice out, I all but want to cry.
Not only is it that perfect combination of being just a little over room temperature and the occasional gusty breeziness, but it comes after a very un-Juneish rut of cold days. Everything seems wet and strong-smelling after the big rainstorm the other day.

I walked over to Brugger's and then Hillman in the morning. Found a great book ("Switching Languages", Kellman Ed., a little anthology of translingual literature) completely by accident in the shelf across the way from the one I was looking at.

Sat on the grass on the bigger of the two inclines on the Mall, in the shade of the big tree next to Porter, dancing in the wind. Kicked my sandals off, read for a while, napped for a while, watched the SCA people fencing. So calm and unhurried and relaxed now.
beartato phd

(no subject)

Status: thinking a little about ML hacking, read 62 pages of Ekman's "Telling Lies" (so good) read 167 pages of "Switching Languages" (so, so good). The latter is a rare treasure of serendipitous library-hunting. Many essays and interviews and autobigraphical snippets of people that have grown up (bi,tri)lingual or learned languages in adulthood, and adopted them as their language of prose or poetry or theater or just day-to-day life. Conrad from Polish to English, Stoppard from Czech, Nabokov writing comfortably in any number of languages, other writers caught in limbo between English and Spanish, Quechua and Spanish, Japanese and Chinese, Yiddish and Hebrew, Arabic and French, French and Walloon and Frisian... it's so amazing to see all the different ways people feel about their language as a symbol of home, of childhood, of identity.
beartato phd

(no subject)

Just couldn't put "Switching Languages" down. Sooo good. Finished it now. Some of the essays supported completely ridiculous arguments, but they were still really interesting to read.

Earlier walked to Squirrel Hill to enjoy the weather some more. Got a root beer at the 61c cafe, since I hadn't had a Stewart's in a while. Tasty.

My room, like my code, is extremely buggy. More accurately, but breaking the pun, it is mothy. Time for early sleep. Tomorrow, music with Dave and Victoria...