Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Language and Cognition: Investigating the Sapir-Wharf hypothesis

Pretty interesting reading below. I was impressed by how thoroughly they seem to be investigating the phenomenon, and how many chances they gave themselves to falsify their own hypothesis. Looks like good science.
Follow me to Pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York, in northern Australia. I came here because of the way the locals, the Kuuk Thaayorre, talk about space. Instead of words like "right," "left," "forward," and "back," which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space.1 This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like "There's an ant on your southeast leg" or "Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit." One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly. The normal greeting in Kuuk Thaayorre is "Where are you going?" and the answer should be something like " Southsoutheast, in the middle distance." If you don't know which way you're facing, you can't even get past "Hello."
... [W]e gave people sets of pictures that showed some kind of temporal progression (e.g., pictures of a man aging, or a crocodile growing, or a banana being eaten). Their job was to arrange the shuffled photos on the ground to show the correct temporal order. We tested each person in two separate sittings, each time facing in a different cardinal direction. If you ask English speakers to do this, they'll arrange the cards so that time proceeds from left to right. Hebrew speakers will tend to lay out the cards from right to left, showing that writing direction in a language plays a role. So what about folks like the Kuuk Thaayorre, who don't use words like "left" and "right"? What will they do?

The Kuuk Thaayorre did not arrange the cards more often from left to right than from right to left, nor more toward or away from the body. But their arrangements were not random: there was a pattern, just a different one from that of English speakers. Instead of arranging time from left to right, they arranged it from east to west. That is, when they were seated facing south, the cards went left to right. When they faced north, the cards went from right to left. When they faced east, the cards came toward the body and so on. This was true even though we never told any of our subjects which direction they faced. The Kuuk Thaayorre not only knew that already (usually much better than I did), but they also spontaneously used this spatial orientation to construct their representations of time.
... Our research into such basic cognitive abilities as estimating duration shows that speakers of different languages differ in ways predicted by the patterns of metaphors in their language. (For example, when asked to estimate duration, English speakers are more likely to be confused by distance information, estimating that a line of greater length remains on the test screen for a longer period of time, whereas Greek speakers are more likely to be confused by amount, estimating that a container that is fuller remains longer on the screen.)
... Russian speakers are quicker to distinguish two shades of blue that are called by the different names in Russian (i.e., one being siniy and the other being goluboy) than if the two fall into the same category. For English speakers, all these shades are still designated by the same word, "blue," and there are no comparable differences in reaction time.

Further, the Russian advantage disappears when subjects are asked to perform a verbal interference task (reciting a string of digits) while making color judgments but not when they're asked to perform an equally difficult spatial interference task (keeping a novel visual pattern in memory). The disappearance of the advantage when performing a verbal task shows that language is normally involved in even surprisingly basic perceptual judgments — and that it is language per se that creates this difference in perception between Russian and English speakers.
...Does treating chairs as masculine and beds as feminine in the grammar make Russian speakers think of chairs as being more like men and beds as more like women in some way? It turns out that it does. In one study, we asked German and Spanish speakers to describe objects having opposite gender assignment in those two languages. The descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by grammatical gender. For example, when asked to describe a "key" — a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers were more likely to use words like "hard," "heavy," "jagged," "metal," "serrated," and "useful," whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say "golden," "intricate," "little," "lovely," "shiny," and "tiny." To describe a "bridge," which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the German speakers said "beautiful," "elegant," "fragile," "peaceful," "pretty," and "slender," and the Spanish speakers said "big," "dangerous," "long," "strong," "sturdy," and "towering." This was true even though all testing was done in English, a language without grammatical gender. The same pattern of results also emerged in entirely nonlinguistic tasks (e.g., rating similarity between pictures).
... In fact, you don't even need to go into the lab to see these effects of language; you can see them with your own eyes in an art gallery. Look at some famous examples of personification in art — the ways in which abstract entities such as death, sin, victory, or time are given human form. How does an artist decide whether death, say, or time should be painted as a man or a woman? It turns out that in 85 percent of such personifications, whether a male or female figure is chosen is predicted by the grammatical gender of the word in the artist's native language. So, for example, German painters are more likely to paint death as a man, whereas Russian painters are more likely to paint death as a woman.
Rock Is Dead. Long Live Scissors!

"The presentation or 'gift' of the Holy Ghost simply confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost, although he may often be left to his own spirit and judgment." --Joseph F. Smith (manual, p. 69)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Brigham Young quote

I recently had cause to dig this up.

"Another great cause of dissatisfaction [in the home] is that so many women are such noble women, and know so much more than their husbands. They say, 'This man is not capable of leading me.' That is a positive proof to me that that man does not know his ability and calling. I will acknowledge that many women are smarter than their husbands. But when people are married, instead of trying to get rid of each other, reflect that you have made your choice, and strive to honour and keep it. Do not manifest that you have acted unwisely, and say that you have made a bad choice, nor let anybody know that you think you have. You made your choice; stick to it, and strive to comfort and assist each other." -Brigham Young


Rock Is Dead. Long Live Scissors!

"The presentation or 'gift' of the Holy Ghost simply confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost, although he may often be left to his own spirit and judgment." --Joseph F. Smith (manual, p. 69)

Friday, July 24, 2009

SecDef Gates on the future of the military

I have my problems with the President's handling of domestic issues, but I'm generally pretty happy with the foreign policy scene--and perhaps Obama's best move so far has been listening to Gates. It looks like some things are happening under Obama that Gates probably wanted to do under Bush but couldn't. This is a speech the SecDef gave recently at the Economic Club of Chicago:

But other nations have learned from the experience of Saddam Hussein's military in the first and second Gulf wars - that it is ill-advised, if not suicidal, to fight a conventional war head-to-head against the United States: fighter-to-fighter, ship-to-ship, tank-to-tank. They also learned from a bankrupted Soviet Union not to try to outspend us or match our overall capabilities. Instead, they are developing asymmetric means that take advantage of new technologies - and our vulnerabilities - to disrupt our lines of communication and our freedom of movement, to deny us access, and to narrow our military options and strategic choices.

At the same time, insurgents or militias are acquiring or seeking precision weapons, sophisticated communications, cyber capabilities, and even weapons of mass destruction. The Lebanese extremist group Hezbollah currently has more rockets and high-end munitions - many quite sophisticated and accurate - than all but a handful of countries. [snip]

We must also get control of what is called "requirements creep" - where more features and capabilities are added to a given piece of equipment, often to the point of absurdity. The most flamboyant example of this phenomenon is the new presidential helicopter - what President Obama referred to as defense procurement "run amok." Once the analysis and requirements were done, we ended up with a helicopter that cost nearly half a billion dollars each and enabled the president to, among other things, cook dinner while in flight under nuclear attack. [snip]

To this end, the president's budget request cut, curtailed, or ended a number of conventional modernization programs - satellites, ground vehicles, helicopters, fighters - that were either performing poorly or in excess to real-world needs. Conversely, future-oriented programs where the U.S. was relatively underinvested were accelerated or received more funding.
For example, we must sustain and continually improve our specialized strategic deterrent to ensure that our - and our allies' - security is always protected against nuclear-armed adversaries. In an initiative little noticed, the President's program includes money to begin a new generation of ballistic missile submarines and nearly $700 million in additional funds to secure and assure America's nuclear deterrent.
Cutting the F-22 budget got some media attention but it looks like that's just the tip of the iceberg. I am impressed with the way Gates thinks and I'm pleased that Obama is listening.
Rock Is Dead. Long Live Scissors!
"The presentation or 'gift' of the Holy Ghost simply confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost, although he may often be left to his own spirit and judgment." --Joseph F. Smith (manual, p. 69)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Personal matters

[I redacted this before sending it on to the blog]
My church callings are as employment specialist and assistant ward clerk. Both of those are going fine, pretty much, although I don't really feel completely competent in either role--but I guess I'm not as incompetent as I started out, either. I am no longer attending Institute, because I checked the Church web site and found out that I'm exempt :). "Institutes of religion provide weekday religious instruction for single and married postsecondary students. Young single adults of the appropriate age (generally 18-30) are also welcome to attend." That's good news for me because I have noticed a tendency for Institute to crowd out other things in my life sometimes, because it pushes church-related activities to >50% of the week (including Sunday, temple night and Family Night), especially in weeks where I need to travel or do errands or go out with a girl or something. I'm not saying that Institute isn't worthwhile, just that it was tough crowding everything in and it's a nice surprise to find out that I'm actually done, at least with that part of life. I expect to feel that same kind of pleasant surprise when I die.
I may have mentioned that I have been considering adopting a dog, lately. There are several reasons for this, including concern over the general poisonous selfishness which is inherent in life as a bachelor, the impossibility (or at least inadvisability) of adopting kids without a spouse--children have a right to have a mother and a father--coupled with the fact that animals have no such right w/rt their owners, basic mammalian psychological needs, etc. At the same time, any such plans have been shoved onto the back burner for the time being because I think I have enough to keep me busy for the short term, at least the next couple of years, in broadening and deepening certain relationships and preparing for the non-zero possibility that I could marry at some point in the next few years[1]. Specifically, there are a number[2] of girls I know, each of whom I love and admire enough to allow whatever kind or level of relationship between us which she should happen to want, from no contact up to marriage or anything in between[3]. The universe is infinite, and ultimately the set of women to whom this applies is actually infinite, but at the moment I know of only a handful and that handful is enough to keep me busy, at least until my capabilities expand. There's one of them I am considering visiting later this year. And of course K-------- is on that list.
I know this sounds kind of weird and polygamous[4], which is really why I fought my suspicions about myself for so long--if the list is longer than one name, "K--------," it's probably infinite in length. Oh. Well. [sigh] We do the best we can with what we've got, right? Where we're wrong we will eventually be corrected.
[1] New data has come to light, and I now know a way to keep all of my promises, to everyone, even if I don't die a bachelor.
[2] More than one, less than six.
[3] Luke 14:8-11 seems relevant here.
[4] The basic truth I've discovered about myself is that I'm not actually monogamous by nature--it's in my nature to treat all relationships individually, separate from any other relationship.
Rock Is Dead. Long Live Scissors!
"The presentation or 'gift' of the Holy Ghost simply confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost, although he may often be left to his own spirit and judgment." --Joseph F. Smith (manual, p. 69)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Luke 14:8-11

[Fwd'ing to blog]
I'm going to be cryptic here, and share something that was on my mind yesterday because of stuff at the reunion:
  8 When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him;
  9 And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.
  10 But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.
  11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.


Rock Is Dead. Long Live Scissors!

"The presentation or 'gift' of the Holy Ghost simply confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost, although he may often be left to his own spirit and judgment." --Joseph F. Smith (manual, p. 69)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Following the prophet


I liked this sentiment a lot and think you will too, because it reminds me of something you said when we were talking about amnesia. Emphasis added in bold by me.

(I also like President George Albert Smith's correction, but am not quoting it here. The essence of the correction is this quotation from Joseph Smith: "If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way." Emphasis in original.)


Ward Teachers' Message for June, 1945


No Latter-day Saint is compelled to sustain the General Authorities of the Church. When given the opportunity to vote on the proposition in any of the several conferences held throughout the Church, he may indicate his willingness to sustain them by raising his right hand; he may manifest his opposition in like manner; or he may ignore the opportunity entirely. There is no element of coercion or force in this or any other Church procedure.

However, there is the principle of honor involved in the member's choice. When a person raises his hand to sustain Church leaders as "prophets, seers, and revelators," it is the same as a promise and a covenant to follow their leadership and to abide by their counsel as the living oracles of God. Consequently, any subsequent act or word of mouth which is at variance with the will of the Lord as taught by the leaders of the Church places the sincerity of such person in serious doubt. One could scarcely have claim upon complete integrity, if he raises his hand to sustain the Authorities of the Church and then proceeds in opposition to their counsel.

Any Latter-day Saint who denounces or opposes, whether actively or otherwise, any plan or doctrine advocated by the "prophets, seers, and revelators" of the Church is cultivating the spirit of apostasy. One cannot speak evil of the Lord's anointed and retain the Holy Spirit in his heart.

It should be remembered that Lucifer has a very cunning way of convincing unsuspecting souls that the General Authorities of the Church are as likely to be wrong as they are to be right. This sort of game is Satan's favorite pastime, and he has practiced it on believing souls since Adam. He wins a great victory when he can get members of the Church to speak against their leaders and to "do their own thinking." He specializes in suggesting that our leaders are in error while he plays the blinding rays of apostasy in the eyes of those whom he thus beguiles. What cunning! And to think that some of our members are deceived by this trickery.

The following words of the Prophet Joseph Smith should be memorized by every Latter-day Saint and repeated often enough to insure their never being forgotten:

I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 156-157.)

When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan--it is God's plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God.

Rock Is Dead. Long Live Scissors!

"The presentation or 'gift' of the Holy Ghost simply confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost, although he may often be left to his own spirit and judgment." --Joseph F. Smith (manual, p. 69)