Saturday, January 26, 2013

"In the Land of Invented Languages," "Blissymbolics," and the new Radiolab episode, "Bliss"

The first story in a recent episode of Radiolab ("Bliss": http://www.radiolab.org/2012/dec/17/) follows a character named Charles Bliss, who is one of many subjects in this book...:

In the Land of Invented Languages: Adventures in Linguistic Creativity, Madness, and Genius (by Arika Okrent)
(Previously titled: In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried To Build A Perfect Language)


...Charles Bliss turns out to be an incredibly interesting character who, after having experienced the Nazi propaganda machine and the concentration camps, decided to create a universal language that he thought would cure the world of all its social ills. He published his ideas and a guide to learning his universal language in this book:
Semantography (Blissymbolics): A Logical Writing for an Illogical World


"Bliss believed that war was often caused by the misuse of language, and he believed it could be overcome if we could create a way to communicate the truth without the trickery of words. Having lived through the hell of Nazi concentration camps, he set about creating the perfect language, based on symbols and logic." (Quote taken from the Radiolab website.) 

It is an extremely fascinating story that takes a bit of a sad and ironic turn. I highly recommend listening to it! http://www.radiolab.org/2012/dec/17/

I'm just about to order and read the Arika Okrent book...the Charles Bliss book is now a rare out-of-print book -- maybe I'll find a copy of it one day. Anyway, check it out!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Organic Chemistry Notes

Here are the Organic Chemistry notes that I made:


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

Reading from Eva Hoffman’s excellent book “Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language”, I came across this passage and had to share it:

"When my friend Penny tells me that she’s envious, or happy, or disappointed, I try laboriously to translate not from English to Polish but from the word back to its source, to the feeling from which it springs. Already, in that moment of strain, spontaneity of response is lost. And anyway, the translation doesn’t work. I don’t know how Penny feels when she talks about envy. The word hangs in a Platonic stratosphere, a vague prototype of all envy, so large, so all-encompassing that it might crush me - as might disappointment or happiness.

I am becoming a living avatar of structuralist wisdom; I cannot help knowing that words are just themselves. But it’s a terrible knowledge, without any of the consolations that wisdom usually brings. It does not mean that I’m free to play with words at my wont; anyway, words in their naked state are surely among the least satisfactory play objects. No, this radical disjoining between word and thing is a desiccating alchemy, draining the world not only of significance but of its colors, striations, nuances - its very existence. It is the loss of a living connection.

The worst losses come at night. As I lie down in a strange bed in a strange house - my mother is a sort of housekeeper here, to the aging Jewish man who has taken us in in return for her services - I wait for that spontaneous flow of inner language which used to be my nighttime talk with myself, my way of informing the ego where the id had been. Nothing comes. Polish, in a short time, has atrophied, shriveled from sheer uselessness. Its words don’t apply to my new experiences; they’re not coeval with any of the objects, or faces, or the very air I breathe in the daytime. In English, words have not penetrated to those layers of my psyche from which a private conversation could proceed. This interval before sleep used to be the time when my mind became both receptive and alert, when images and words rose up to consciousness, reiterating what had happened during the day, adding the day’s experiences to those already stored there, spinning out the thread of my personal story.

Now, this picture-and-word show is gone; the thread has been snapped. I have no interior language, and without it, interior images - those images through which we assimilate the external world, through which we take it in, love it, make it our own - become blurred too. My mother and I met a Canadian family who live down the block today. They were working in their garden and engaged us in a conversation of the the “Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?” variety, which culminated in their inviting us into their house. They sat stiffly on their couch, smiled in the long pauses between the conversation, and seemed at a loss for what to ask. Now my mind gropes for some description of them, but nothing fits. They’re a different species from anyone I’ve met in Poland, and Polish words slip off of them without sticking. English words don’t hook on to anything. I try, deliberately, to come up with a few. Are these people pleasant or dull? Kindly or silly? The words float in an uncertain space. They come up from a part of my brain in which labels may be manufactured but which has no connection to my instincts, quick reactions, knowledge. Even the simplest adjectives sow confusion in my mind; English kindliness has a whole system of morality behind it, a system that makes “kindness” an entirely positive virtue. Polish kindness has the tiniest element of irony. Besides, I’m beginning to feel the tug of prohibition, in English, against uncharitable words. In Polish, you can call someone an idiot without particularly harsh feelings and with the zest of a strong judgment. Yes, in Polish these people might tend toward “silly” and “dull” - but I force myself toward “kindly” and “pleasant.” The cultural unconscious is beginning to exercise its subliminal influence.

The verbal blur covers these people’s faces, their gestures with a sort of fog. I can’t translate them into my mind’s eye. The small event, instead of being added to the mosaic of consciousness and memory, falls through some black hole, and I fall with it. What has happened to me in this new world? I don’t know. I don’t see what I’ve seen, don’t comprehend what’s in front of me. I’m not filled with language anymore, and I have only a memory of fullness to anguish me with the knowledge that, in this dark and empty state, I don’t really exist."



Sunday, April 29, 2012


I was just me in my car cuzin
With the tunes turned up
And that shit of being was better than
Drugs
All the fucking drugs in the whole world
Oh hell yes I was filled with the Holy Ghost

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Where did swearing get its taboo status?

Me and my brother were having a debate about swearing, but we both got to the point where aside from it being a social stigma, and a taboo word, we didn't know why (or where) it got its status. Did a group of people get together and outlaw words? Where did these roots of obscenity get their place. I honestly don't know and it sounds like a worthy challenge for the blog. I also had the thought of where did other languages get the taboo words? Each society has a list where did they come from?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Body Language - Lapham’s Quarterly

Just read this great article from the new issue of Lapham's Quarterly called "Means of Communication."
It is a great magazine, and a particularly great issue. Check it out!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

God, the Afterlife, and the Scientific Method


I would like to know whether the traditional religious convictions which hold that “God exists!” and that “there is an afterlife!” are created using the scientific method to interpret subjective data.  As I understand the situation of knowledge in relationship to the scientific method, the certainty generated by using the scientific method to reliably predict future events is only reliably possible when using objective data.  If that is so, religious convictions which hold that “God exists!” and that “there is an afterlife!” must embrace a greater degree of faith because they seem to be based on using the scientific method with subjective data.  But, as a starting point for this journey, is it necessary that the scientific method only be used with objective data for the purpose of reliably predicting future events? Who’s perspective on this matter is trustable and why?  Moreover, which method do religious people consciously think they are using to produce convictions that “God exists!” and “there is an afterlife!”?  Is there any credible way to see such convictions based on a method other than the scientific method?  And again, who’s perspective on this matter is trustable and why?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lexicon Valley

So, I was listening to NPR's show "On the Media" and this segment came up unexpectedly...it was great!

Back by popular demand, here's another installment of Mike Vuolo's "Lexicon Valley." In February 2010, the last living speaker of Boa died, and with her, the logic, culture, and history of the ancient people. Mike and Bob discuss the death of languages and why their passing matters. http://www.onthemedia.org/2011/jul/29/lexicon-valley-episode-2/

Monday, February 7, 2011

Our 'Love Affair' With Euphemisms - All Things Considered

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February 7, 2011
In Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms, author Ralph Keyes explores the power of words and our power over them. Keyes tells host Robert Siegel he's always been interested in the intersection of language and culture, and how the way people talk reflects changes in society. Nothing, he says, does that more than euphemisms.

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