Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Opinions--Scientific and Political

In the literature of general semantics, we find a lot of encouragement to adopt the scientific method in our daily lives. Scientists look for facts and try to adapt their opinions about the world to accurately reflect the world as they find it. Following the same practice in daily life may give us a better handle on what might happen in a given situation. This in turn might reduce the effect of unexpected shocks that we might have expected if we held more closely to facts.

We might ruin our chances for a career in politics, however, as Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle points out in this vintage article on fact and opinion.
The Problem With New Data

Saturday, February 23, 2002

A Way with Words

Poet Ezra Pound had a relationship with words that few of us can imagine. His "one-image" poem "In a Station of the Metro" demonstrates this unequivocally. But the essay he wrote describing the experience that resulted in this poem demonstrates it even more so.
Ezra Loomis Pound (1885-1972) In a Station of the Metro

Friday, February 22, 2002

Meaning in Numbers

Does a palindrome have "meaning" beyond the standard meaning of its words? Or its numbers, in the case of the recent palindromic date, February 20, 2002. At precisely 8:02 pm on that date, a palindrome "occurred"--we stood at the moment 20:02, 20/02, 2002 (time, date and year.) For some, this had so much significance that they chose to mark the moment by getting married. To others, the moment ticked by without notice. Again I ask myself--where does meaning happen, "out there" or "in here"?
Turn Back Time Tonight

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

When does a word "not exist"?

The Vagina Monologues have toured most parts of the country now and one might think that most people had come to recognize the acceptability of the word. But as this article by Joan Ryan of the SF Chronicle shows, sometimes a word ceases to exist for a short period of time--usually during a TV show...
"Language is so powerful," said Elizabeth Bachen, an assistant professor of psychology at Mills College. "Feeling comfortable with the word could very well translate into feeling comfortable with your body. How can we talk about what gives us pleasure if we can't even say the word?"
A 6-letter, 4-letter word

Monday, February 18, 2002

The Entropy of Languages

The story at the end of this entry may surprise you. Some readers might expect the term "entropy of a language" to relate somehow to its decline. In fact, the article describes a computer-generated lineage of languages that closely approximates the Indo-European language family tree. And the method the computer used to develop this lineage, analyzing the "relative entropy of two languages" will most certainly surprise you too! | Computers and language

Tuesday, February 12, 2002


"The very best philosophy is apodictic*. It proceeds slowly, carefully, skeptically, via demonstration and argument, until suddenly something new comes to light."
--Peter Marin, Good Will Hunting; Existentialists and Mystics, The Los Angeles Times, Apr 12, 1998.
*Note--apodictic (ap-uh-DIK-tik) adjective, Demonstrably true.
[From Latin apodicticus, from Greek apodeiktikos, from apodeiknynai (to demonstrate), from apo- + deiknynai (to show).]

No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.
-Henry Brooks Adams, historian (1838-1918)

Sunday, February 10, 2002

In His Humble Opinion

SF Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll takes on amateur opinion makers in his article of January 21, 2002. He doesn't object to amateurs having opinions, just to their making them public. Leave it to the professionals, says Jon. As usual with Jon's columns, however, in the midst of his wry humor, he makes very interesting points about communication and thinking.
Opinion making is dangerous work.