Thursday, July 28, 2011

The failure of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

During one of his lectures American anthropologist Franz Boas mentioned that the eskimos knew four different words for snow. What he probably meant was that the word 'eskimo' was abused to round up very different tribes with very different languages.
Later on a very different meaning was given to his intervention: allegedly 'eskimos' as a nation had different words for snow because they were experts on the subject. Western people know shit about snow, so they only use one word. Not only many different tribes exist in the Arctic region with very different languages, but the different Inuit languages are polysynthetic, which means they combine words in a sentence to form a new word. This means that any phrase using the word snow (for example Akuvijarjuak, 'thin ice in the sea' or Akitla, 'snow falling on water') would appear as a new word to an untrained linguist.

The main advocates of this myth were Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis deals with the connection between a given subject and the number of words to describe it.
According to this hypothesis, the structure of a language affects the ways in which its speakers are able to conceptualize their world. So linguistic categories limit and determine or at least affect cognitive realities.
In 1940 Whorf mentioned 7 words for snow. The number kept multiplying, today some even claim 'eskimos' know hundreds of words for snow. Although sadly the hypothesis started from the wrong premises, this does not necessary mean that the concept of linguistic relativity is wrong.

According to Sapir, "the 'real world' is to a large extent unconsciously built upon the language habits of the group. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality" and to Whorf, "we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees".
Maybe this theory should be reformulated in terms of left and right hemispheres. Indeed, although a study from 1969 seemed to disprove the hypothesis by stating the perception of color is independent from the semantic processes classifying those colors, "Recent studies have shown that color perception is particularly prone to linguistic relativity effects when processed in the left brain hemisphere".

Maybe Sapir and Whorf proved their theory by developing it. No other culture seems prone to develop new linguistic theories as the Western world does. I wonder if the theory could be translated in an inuit language.

Sources
Marcel Hulspas: "Klinkklare wetenschap" p136
Linguistic relativity on Wikipedia
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Word of the month: Freeman

The Freeman as a measure of plagiary


In 1991, Ned Feder and Walter Stewart, both working for USA's National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK) devised an automatic plagiary detector.
Both scientists had started hunting down fraudulent research in the eighties. Their investigations took all their time, hence they had no time for research of their own. Quite soon their life took after the X-files as they were relocated by the NIDDK in a dark room in the basement and they developped a bit of paranoia which only made them more stubborn in discovering more frauds.
News of their mission arrived in Washington and senator John Dingell asked them to join his team. Still officially employed by the National Institutes of Health, they had become untouchable for a while.
Then they started to do some very silly things. First in a lecture Stewart compared scientists who were aware of plagiary but kept it secret to the Germans who had ignored the holocaust during the third reich.
But their mark of genius came by designing the above mentioned plagiary detector, a dodgy piece of software which could analyze any given text to search for similar strings of 30 signs in a database of scientific texts. The highest score was named 'one Freeman', after a then famous fraudeur. They stated that plagiary was at hand for all values above 30 milli-Freeman. As a result, the software considered plagiary any text with lots of quotations, even if the original authors were referred to, and all literature of very specific branches of sciences where similar words and expressions had to be used.
More and more people complained to the NIH and Dingell finally dumped the duo. Their archives were confiscated and they were separated and relocated. Stewart went in a hunger strike for 33 days, but they finally had to accept their days of fraudbusting were over.
In 1993, the two investigators were heard of again. In a paranoid fit they have held two workshops to explore sexual and racial discrimination, scientific misconduct, and retaliation on the NIH campus.
More recently Ned Feder, now a staff scientist with the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) wrote about his struggle with NIH regarding possible corruption through private funding.

Sources
Marcel Hulspas: "Klinklare wetenschap", Prometeus 1995 (pp. 64-67). If the autor's text had been translated in English I certainly would score at least 600 milli-Freemans.

NIH Fraud Investigators Take On New Roles At Agency, But Remain Determined To Resume Sleuthing Activity

Dr. Ned Feder: Ethical Problems at NIH - The Struggle Continues

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Maastricht

Books I found in Maastricht:


Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman: "Good Omens", Corgi 1991.


Kurt Vonnegut: "Welcome to the monkey house", Dial Press, 2010.


Robert Vanderplank: "Uglier than a monkey's armpit", Boxtree, 2007.


Adam Jacot de Boinod: "De gekietelde kameel", Mouria 2005 (originally "The meaning of Tingo").


"Guide de la Bretagne mystérieuse", les guides noirs, Tchou, 1966.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Links 001 - Even More 'pataphysics

Through the years I have collected quite some URLs on Blogmarks. I intend to show some collections here. Today my bookmarks concerning pataphysics. All sites are in French unless when mentionned otherwise.

For older links on the same subject I refer to my other posts on this blog:
Pataphysical links
Borderline 'pataphysics
Pataphysical individuals
More 'pataphysics online
Some recent patablogs

Associations


Collective for digital 'pataphysics
In English.
"Learning about digital media through the science of imaginary solutions".
La société protectrice des enfants martyrs
In dutch. Blog mainly supported by Bastiaan van der Velden of the Bâtafysica.
Confrérie des chevaliers du Taste-Fesses
A healthy obsession of buttocks.

Blogs


L'Alamblog
One of my favorite blogs. A litterary walhalla. Categories include "Ad Usum Bibliofilous", "Dernières nouvelles du Préfet Maritime" and "Les Lacunes de l’Alamblog".
By my green candle
In English. Mainly excellent photos of exclusive books.
Fornax
An editor as well. Many pictures on urban typography.

Editors


Le Céphalophore Entêté
Small editor of wonderful little booklets. Publishes the magazine 'Les Nouvelles-hybrides' as well.
Reminds me of the (sadly disappeared) similarly strangely named editor of small wonderful things Le Paréiasaure Théromorphe.
Editions des Cendres
Some essential books on the subject of the 'Fous littéraires' (literary kooks)
Editions racine
Les Presses du réel
Cynthia 3000
Excellent small editor. I definitely need to get my hands on their 'Omajajari'.

Book shops


Librairie Faustroll
The main treasure cavern where most publications of the collège can be bought. The items are not cheap but then again, neither is their content. In Paris and only by appointment.
Librairie Goudemare
The other main Paris bookshop on the subject.
Librairie Va l'Heur
The third Paris bookshop on the subject.
Le Comptoir
One bookshop I'd like to visit in Liège.

Imaginary solutions


Société Perillos
Aside from some decent books on Rennes-le-Chateau and the priory of Sion, this site features some of the most bizarre claims linking the collège de 'pataphysique to an ultra-secret templar conspiracy. See also my post on the Only Maybe blog.
The museum of extraordinary objects
In German. See for some comments in English
Imaginary Museum Project
In English.

Some pataphysicians


Fernando Arrabal
Blog of the Transcendant Satrape.
Matthijs Van Boxsel
In Dutch, some parts in English. Site of a founding member of Bâtafysica, the Dutch version of the collège. The developper of Morosophy, a science which was in dire need of appearing.
Atte Jongstra
in Dutch. Site of an important member of Bâtafysica, the Dutch version of the collège.
Dirk Van Weelden
in Dutch. Site of an important member of Bâtafysica, the Dutch version of the collège.
Gerrit Komrij
One of my favourite Dutch writers' blog, featuring a typical pataphysical point of vue.
Le tampographe Sardon
A blog featuring exclusive stamps and mystifications by Vincent Sardon whose comics I discovered in the early eighties.

An Eburonis in Paris

I went on a bookhunt to Paris two days ago.
My first visit was to the Puces of Saint-Ouen. Most shops were closed on Mondays though.







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From there I took the Metro to the secretive Librairie Faustroll. A treasure trove. If I should ever win the lottery this will be my first visit. I purchased a fair amount of books from the Collège de 'Pataphysique. Enough said.






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I always wanted to see the Sainte Chapelle. Built in 1245 on the Ile de la Cité by king Louis IX (later on Saint Louis) supposedly to house the crown of thorns offered by Baldwin II, emperor of Constantinople and count of Flanders, in 1237, in exchange of France's help in his war against the Greek. A piece of the true cross was added. Most relics were destroyed during the French revolution.

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Back then the king could walk directly from his palace into the chapel, but it is now surrounded by the Paris courthouse, so it took a check by the gendarmerie and my luggage being examined by a metal detector to get inside.
The chapel is in fact two chapels: the lower one, la Chapelle Basse, reminding of the dark medieval times, with low ceiling, dark corners and melancholic atmosphere is on the ground floor. It takes a spiral staircase (which reminded me a bit of Gaudi's in Barcelona's Sagrada Familia) to get to the true gem: la Chapelle Haute is a gothic masterpiece. Very narrow and relatively short, its height is impressive, and seems supported by glass alone. The stained glass go almost to the top. Every panel describes a particular book of the bible.
I found no hermetic symbols, most being part of the classic catholic imagery.






















































































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A view of the church rising above the surrounding buildings
The entrance…
… from which a glimpse of the Chapelle Basse is seen
And from which one can see the balcony of the Chapelle Haute.

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Some details of the bas-reliëfs in the lower chapel




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The view from the upper chapel towards the stairs
Some details of the walls

I'd need a fish-eye lens to evoke the all-vertical dimensions.

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A cathedral of light.




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While everyone was staring above, some views from below.
Mythological imagery?

And a photoshoot wouldn't be complete without a torture pic.

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Some details seen from the balcony
The genesis…

… and the apocalyps.

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Two final exterior views when leaving the chapel.
Gargoyles galore!




After a short break in the Irish pub (never thought I'd drink a Guinness along the Seine) I took the tour of the bouquinistes along the Seine. Most are specialized.

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From the docks along the Seine I entered the rue de Seine. First alongside the grinning statue of Voltaire…
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I wanted to visit gallery Yeux Fertiles, housing an exhibition by pataphysician and Oupeinpist Olivier O. Olivier (1931-2011, he took part in the Panique group with Arrabal, Jodorowsky and Topor in the sixties), but it's closed on Mondays. I already mentioned his name as a book cover designer.
Here's another view of this painting, as well as another of his works on the same bizarre theme.








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Oupeinpo

Oupeinpo


In the rue de l'échaudé, glorified by Alfred Jarry, I found a remarkable gidouille on the facade. Further up in the rue Princesse the famous Village Voice bookshop.
On a side street a butcher with a sense of humor.







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I was told I could find interesting bookshops surrounding the obnoxious church of Saint-Sulpice but found none that sold books in my particular line of interest.

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I finished my tour by visiting l'Album, two bookshops on the Boulevard Saint-Germain specialized in comics. My last two pics are for my fellow maybe logicians.





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