Contemplations – Now

An appetizer:

I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things. But I'm not absolutely sure of anything, and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here, and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little bit; if I can't figure it out, then I go onto something else. But I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell—possibly. It doesn't frighten me.
– Richard Feynman. BBC interview with Feynman.

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2019

How language shapes the way we think

How language shapes the way we think by Lera Boroditsky, TEDWomen 2017

Lera Boroditsky, Associate professor of cognitive science at University of California San Diego, gave this interesting talk at TEDWomen 2017. I've watched it multiple times and have gotten more out of it each time.

Three ideas stand out for me. First, haw language can shape the way we organize time. English-speaking westerners tend to organize events on a time scale from left to right. But for the Kuuk Thaayorre people in Australia who speak Paman, a language rooted in cardinal directions, time is viewed as moving towards a person who is facing east, and away from a person who is facing west.

The second is how differently we may view events depending on our language, which is really worth keeping in mind as we attempt to communicate across cultures.

People who speak different languages pay attention to different things depending of what their language usually requires them to do. So we show the same accident to English speakers and Spanish speakers, English speakers will remember who did it because English requires you to say, "He did it; he broke the vase." Whereas Spanish speakers might be less likely to remember who did it, if it's an accident, but they're more likely to remember that it was an accident. They're more likely to remember the intention. So, two people watch the same event, witness the same crime, but end up remembering different things about that event. This has implications, of course, for eyewitness testimony. It also has implications for blame and punishment. So if you take English speakers and I just show you someone breaking a vase, and I say, "He broke the vase," as opposed to "The vase broke," even though you can witness it yourself, you can watch the video, you can watch the crime against the vase, you will punish someone more, you will blame someone more if I just said, "He broke it," as opposed to, "It broke." The language guides our reasoning about events.

Finally, there is this glimpse into the incredible gift of cognition.

Now, the beauty of linguistic diversity is that it reveals to us just how ingenious and how flexible the human mind is. Human minds have invented not one cognitive universe, but 7,000—there are 7,000 languages spoken around the world.

How language shapes the way we think, Lera Boroditsky, TEDWomen 2017

Photographing fungi

When I got a decent camera, I discovered that it helped me to see the world around me in a much more immersive manner; I began noticing things I might have walked right past previously, including fungi like this happy cluster that I noticed alongside the Buchanan Pass Trail.

Beautifully pattered mushrooms alongside the Buchanan Pass Trail

Understanding this gift that photography gives me makes me even more deeply appreciate a set of photographs of fungi by Alison Pollack that I came across. She is fortunate to be in Northern California, which typically receives much more rainfall than we do here. The variety of fungi she has photographed, some of which are incredibly tiny and unlike anything I've seen before, is astonishing.

Trametes versicolor by Alison Pollack
Trametes versicolor at Mount Tamalpais
by Alison Pollack

It's well worth it to take some time to slowly peruse her fascinating collection.

marin_mushrooms by Alison Pollack

One Breath Around The World

Still shot from One Breath Around The World by Guillaume Néry

I'm at a loss for words except to say this is one of the most beautiful videos I've ever experienced. Featuring Guillaume Néry. Filmed by Julie Gautier (on breath hold!). Use headphones or good speakers so you can hear the subtle sounds.

YouTube: One Breath Around The World
Wikipedia: Guillaume Néry

Is The Great Wave off Kanagawa a realistic depiction?

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai
Katsushika Hokusai [Public domain]

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, a well-known woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai, was first published sometime around 1830. The first print in his series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, it depicts a giant wave breaking over three fishing boats off the coast near the town of Kanagawa.

Recently, a team of researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh have been studying how these unexpected so-called "freak" or "rogue" waves can form. They have discovered that, under the right conditions, two sets of smaller waves intersecting at 120 degrees can result in these gigantic waves forming. Running tests in their wave pool, they even created a rogue wave very similar to Hokusai's Great Wave.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai
Still shot from the video Freak wave created in lab mirrors Hokusai's 'Great Wave'

Like many people, I have been enjoying Hokusai's woodblock print for most of my life. But I had always presumed it was a highly stylized interpretation. How amazing it is to now learn that it is likely a realistic rendition of an actual, if incredible. natural phenomenon! My appreciation of the print has deepened.

From an article by Daniel Oberhaus in Motherboard, Jan 22 2019:

On New Year's day, 1995, the Draupner oil rig off the coast of Norway was experiencing some rough weather. According to a wave log kept at the station, the rig was pounded by 40-foot waves for most of the day, but shortly after 3 PM a single 80-foot wave appeared out of nowhere and slammed into the rig at 45 miles per hour.

YouTube: Freak wave created in lab mirrors Hokusai's 'Great Wave'
Wikipedia: The Great Wave off Kanagawa
Motherboard: Scientists Recreate 25-Year Old Freak Wave in a Laboratory for the First Time

Why forgetting may make your mind more efficient

Fascinating article about what recent research is revealing about the way the brain processes information.

Forgetfulness is not necessarily a sign of a faulty memory. "In fact," Wimber says, "it's been shown over and over in computational models and also in animal work that an intelligent memory system needs forgetting."

Whew!

Forgetting is essential, some researchers now argue, because the biological goal of the brain’s memory apparatus is not preserving information, but rather helping the brain make sound decisions.

Tom Siegfried. "Why forgetting may make your mind more efficient⩘ ." Knowable Magazine, Jan 14, 2019.

The HU: Mongolian New Hunnu Rock

This is one of the most interesting new sounds in music I've heard in a long time! Combining traditional Mongolian instruments, throat singing, and deep bass rock.

The HU: Wolf Totem and Yuve Yuve Yu

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