The Meaning of Friendship/Affection: Half-baked thoughts

I like to think about the nature of friendship. A while back, I read CS Lewis’s “The four loves” and for a long time used it as a lens to understanding relationships. Though now I have dropped the first and prefer Fulton Sheen’s three types of love, I do like the idea that some types of relationships are fundementally different to others, though not necessarily better or worse.

I’ve recently been watching a TV series. In this series, the main character is an evil manipulative murderer. However, every morning, he goes to have breakfast at this cafe of a fellow who knows nothing about him. However, he treats the cook well, pays generously, and they have a nice chat every once in a while. In one episode, the cook found a newspaper attacking the protagonist, and without looking into whether it was true or not (those reliable newspaper;), he burned it. He burned it because he was the protagonist’s friend, and he really cared for the protagonist, independent of how evil the protagonist was.

And then the thought hit me: The cook is a friend to the protagonist, even if he’s not necessarily a friend back. This implies that a friendship can be one-sided.

The first of the four

As stated in the top of this article, CS Lewis asserted four types of love, but Fulton Sheen only three. For a while (when I first wrote this post) I rejected the first of CS Lewis’s: Affection (a simple love or non-animate things or even some people). However, I have recently gone back on this idea, and this is why:

Every morning I walk to work at a ceirtain time. As I walk, I always pass a bearded guy on a bycicle going in the opposite direction and a blonde-haired lady with headphones (who I think is a librarian). Later on, I consistently see a family with three children also going the other way. Now, I never talk to these people, and I probably never will, but they nevertheless have begun to form a part of my daily routine. I have began to get used to walking past them. I think perhaps this simple feeling is what CS Lewis was expressing with the first of his four “loves”.

So… what do you think is the true meaning of friendship or affection?

En Français

Bonjour. Ça, c’est ma premier post sur le blog completement en français. Pardonnez-moi pour les plusiers des problemmes que j’ai, mais je pense que c’est important ecrire en Français pour continuer apprendre.

Pour sûr, j’aime des langues (si on peut voir de ma poste avant de cette poste), mais il y a plusieurs de manneirs on peut apprendre une langue. Pour example, actualemment, je utilise le site s’appelle: Lingq. J’aime ça beaucoup, et je pas c’est le meilleur pour moi dans cette moment. En le passé, j’ai utilise Duolingo, Memrise, et plusieurs des autres choises.

Alors, c’est tout pour mainetenent. Ciao! ;)

A Language Review

The nice thing about delaring one’s self a linguaphile is that one can be sure that one is, even if one doesn’t earn the lofty title of “polyglot”. In light of this, and as amateur(ist?) as it may be, I would therefore like to Review a constructed Language (conglang): Toki Pona. As I’m not very experienced with this reviewing business, I’ll try to keep it short.

Toki Pona is (famously) an extremely light (~120 word) language with minimal grammar. It’s made up of very few (very easy to pronounce letters) and can be learned relatively quickly. I would like to start by saying that I don’t speak/understand Toki Pona that well at all. However, I have studied the language a little, so I do have a little to say.

What I do like about the Language:

  • I like the lightness of the language. 120 words adjective/adverb/noun/verb interchangability. A regular/simple grammar. All these factors are very appealling.
  • More so than that, I thoroughly enjoy the constructive nature of concepts in Toki Pona: Is a house a “place for life”, or “four flatnesses that give light”? The creativity that this leads to is brilliant, and it has a lot of poetic potential.
  • I like the subtractive colour system in Toki Pona. It’s very elegant, and mathematical (In fact, it feels much more Lojban than the rest of the language).

What I don’t like:

  • The language sounds childish – I think the sound of a language means a lot. Natural languages seem to find their own personalities and ruts when developing, therefore obtaining their own coherent feel. However, Conlangs have to try and nail that “feel” straight away, so don’t generally turn out as well. Now why I don’t think Toki Pona suffer’s from Esperanto’s problem (trying to be so broad it’s consistently wierd), the sounds it does make, to me, sound rather childish. And I find this rather offputting. N.B. There is actually a solution to this, in that one could swap out the words, or play with the consonant flexibility that Toki Pona offers (e.g. swapping out all the “T”‘s for “D”‘s). I simply haven’t tried it.
  • My #1 gripe with the language: The word “Pona” means both “good” and “simple” – This desroys the language for me (in it’s original form anyway). The authors obsession with K.I.S.S. kills sublety (e.g. it’s equation of the animal text with “mu”) and goes so far to assert that the ultimate form of goodness is simple. I find this philosophically lazy and blind to the beauty of complexity. This is my single biggest gripe with the language, and for me, it seriously hurts what Toki Pona has going for it.

Yes, I could swap the words for better sounding words, and I could pick and choose definitions, but then it wouldn’t be Toki Pona (or atleast the one ye’re all familiar with)… would it?

Freedom (of speech) as the founding principle of politics

I recently started getting into an interview show called the Rubin Report. I don’t particularily agree with Rubin’s political (or philosophical) points of view, but I do like his interview style, and am very interested in some of the characters he interviews. Anyway, whether or not you care to watch it, this is the interview which sparked the idea behind this (short) post:

I had a discussion about “Freedom” the other night, and what we had to establish quite early on was that I’m not talking about freedom in general. A political system can never garuntee freedom, because other people exist. The best we can do is try and let people do what they want, so long as it doesn’t affect others. This ofcourse means that the system has to make some calls as to where that line is drawn. This is why I think the nitty gritty of politics will always exist.

However, it’s not so much that kind of freedom that I’d like to discuss, but rather freedom of speech, a term you may hear discussed a lot in the realm of American politics (ceirtainly in the above video, anyway). At first I think the idea of granting complete freedom of speech seems sort of obvious: Words don’t hurt people, so why shouldn’t we be able to say whatever we want? In a given set of ideas, the challenge of new ideas is important to help the system grow: To actualise a type of ideological natural selection, so to speak.

However, there is a difference between letting another speak, and being forced to listen. If somebody setup a speaker in the street, blaring (politically ambiguous bizarre example coming) Mary had a Little Lamb on repeat, I might be justified in taking issue. Just with other kinds of freedom, there needs to be a line drawn somewhere.

However, it’s not so much examples like this that really matter to all of us when it comes to this discussion, but rather other peoples philosophical or moral ideas. Should we be free to discuss the possibility of something morally wrong or abhorrent? You might say we should be, but at some point it goes a bit far. An extreme example could be: A public gathering of people discussing the possibility of mass suicide/genocide. Should we just stand by and let that happen? So even in ideological freedom of speech, there is a line (n.b. I realise my example is not the best, feel free to comment/disagree, I’d be happy to come up with another).

The thing is, when a group of people become sufficiently philosophically distant, a political system becomes impossible. At some point, even democracy stops working. I don’t personally think complete freedom of speech should be the first principle in politics, because I think like all other factors, it has it’s limits. However, I must admit to not being completely made up on this issue, and I ceirtainly have not thought of an adequate replacement first principle!

Listening to “both sides” – A critique of oversimplification

I’m a big fan of critical thinking: Of being happy to be proven wrong or of trying to imagine yourself arguing your opponents case (hopefully, so well that you can argue it better than they can). This idea is called the ideological turning test, and was introduced to me by the philosopher-statistician blogger Leah Libresco (whose blog has sadly been rather inactive recently). Her focus with the idea was on Theology, but of course it can be applied anywhere.

eternalrose

Complexity… ?

However, I think it’s important not to imagine the world in one of two camps. This is something I’ve began to realise more and more, especially in light of recent world events (I imagine you know exactly what I’m talking about). There are people who  one half agrees with, there are people who one almost completely agrees with, and there are people one completely disagrees with (but one might very much enjoy a discussion with them).

Yes, with a given assertion, it can either be true or false (I still like that system as a solid form of debate). But there are many many assertions that can be and are made, and one can agree with some, whilst completely disagreeing with others that are typically associated with the first.

But this leaves one with a problem when trying to always listen to “both sides of the argument” (in an attempt to be “open minded”). Because the thing is, there aren’t just two points of view. There aren’t just two opinion columns. More recently, with the rise of the internet, we come in contact with an extreme variety of nuanced views, to which we can’t all listen to.

What is the solution? I think perhaps the solution is not to care as much about the generalised viewpoints, but rather individual people you actually know, with nuanced opinions you can interact with. Keeping up with what everybody keeps up with is perhaps not as important as keeping up with everybody full stop. That may seem like a jump: It is. Is it too much of a jump…? What do you think?

 

Goals in Language Acquisition

When attempting to acquire any language, in order to maintain motivation, it is very helpful to have a series of concrete goals so that one can actually notice progress instead of trying for the ever elusive goal of fluency. In light of this (¿debido a que?), I am making this list to show all the various things I know can be achieved, and other goals that I hope to achieve.

First Conversation

Whether it’s as simple as a ¿Puedo tener un café? or “Ça Va?”, that first meaningful (non-mother-tongue) conversation can make or break the start of learning a language, and is key to motivation. I would note that my first conversation in Portugese did not go too well, which as superficial as it sounds, was one of the reasons I did not pursue it!

The “Toki Pona” Stage

This is the lowest level of anything resembling “fluency” (which I hope a lot of people skip over), which I assert can be achieved with as little as 200 of the right words. This is when one can explain most concepts by stretching and juggling what one knows. Note: This may also result in extreme confusion and insult. Use at your own risk. For those of you who just want to “communicate”, this stage is for you. Taking the 80:20 rule to the limit, I reckon with a bit of knack, one could express one’s-self in another language rather quickly!

“I Can’t speak English properly”

Ah! When your brain starts to imitate foregin grammar so well, you start saying: I have hunger (tengo hambre), or “It makes cold” (il fait froid). This stage will hopefully be quickly followed by it’s matured version:

When one’s English levels up:

Now I know not everyone does study grammar, but when I started to reflect on grammatical and vocabulary differences between French and English, my English, after taking a dip, eventually started getting better than it was originally.

For example, as a result of learning how to use French pronouns: I now am a firm believer in the old use of the word “one” as a non-specific human potential pronoun (e.g. One probably can’t understand me). In a similar way, I now try to avoid the verb “to get” like the plague, and end up using phrases like “I will descend” over (“I’m coming downstairs” (doesn’t that sound so much better?;)

The Broken Translator

This is when you decide that it would be a good idea to incorporate the language you are learning into your life, by attempting to translate everything you hear and think. Good luck turning this little voice in your head off!

I Speak All-ish

This is when you begin to realise that some phrases simply mean more accurately what you intend to express in such as such a language. So of course, one inflicts this passion on those around him. As snobbish as it sounds, I only like saying “Nous Verrons” in french because “We will see” just doesn’t seem to fit. However, I have learned that not everybody cares to know!

Thinking in target language

Okay, I haven’t quite got here (not conciously anyway) but I did find myself noting something in Spanish the other day, and then translating it into english in my head. But sadly it was just two words (está allí), so not quite a victory yet!

First serious conversation

I heard a theory recently that you can’t have a serious conversation with somebody you’ve known for a long time in a language other than the language you normally speak. Well I am happy to say that I have recently broken this rule multiple times! (and in multiple foregin languages, I might add :)

Finally got a sentence right

Okay, so I use a website called Lang-8 to get corrections on things I write. And generally, I try to write the kind of thing that I might actually write about. This of course means I attempt to use grammar way ahead of what I even think I know, meaning that I very rarely have a sentence without even a small grammatical error. Well, times are a’changing – Today I wrote a 12 sentence text, and got not one, but half of them marked as “Perfect, no Correction Needed”!

Other Goals:

Mistaken for a foreigner – Nope, not yet achieved. The problem with this is the deeper subtleties of accent are very hard to imitate (unless you do principally sound based learning, which I’m not). I also think that one needs to know a fair amount of slang to achieve this, which I don’t intend to do! In fact I would go so far as to say my intention is not to sound like a native, since I’m not, and I don’t intend to be disingenuous.

Deliver a 1 hour debate on “Contrasting Shakespeare and Molière” in target language:

I think that what some people forget when searching for fluency in a languge (C2, european framework, for example) is that they might not even be too fluent, or able to express themselves, in their own language. So here’s a goal I am not even able to achieve in English, let alone another language!

So, I hope you (ye) enjoyed this article on language learning. Are you currently learning a language? If so, do you disagree, or have any further suggestions?

 

The advantages of learning two languages at once – Briefly!

  1. You can play them off against each other (Going back to French grammar, for example, after so much Spanish (which is significantly more foreign, and precise), is very comfortable!).
  2. It’s more difficult to burn out, since you can always switch.
  3. Therefore your time is spent more efficiently.
  4. Allthough one can get things confused, it’s means you learn to distinguish the languages early on (like putting cogs in the right places before letting them grow… if only cogs grew!). n.b. I don’t really know if this last assertion holds up!

Language Fascination (Spanish, Lojban and More)

I’ve been spending a while reading about languages. Well, by a while, I mean three or four weeks, but for a relatively new hobby, that’s a long time! I’ve been trying to brush up on my Spanish, and while taking a break, I’ve been dabbling in Greek, Toki Pona and Lojban!

It all started with a Spanish conversation I had recently. I learned Spanish when I was younger, but had never really spoken it. But I sat down on a porch one day, and said “Hola” to the guy next to me. What followed was an almost 100% Spanish conversation. Admittedly it was probably about the weather, and such, and I was speaking terribly broken Spanish, but I was speaking it! I had dabbled in it a bit recently (Duolingo) but this was the first real Spanish conversation, and from then on, the spark was struck!

So I have been spending hours on Memrise, Spanish newspapers, podcasts, radio, grammar lessons (on youtube), language learning theories, a bit of Duolingo, bringing it up to scratch. This is my serious language learning. But on the side, I started dabbling in Greek…

Now Greek is a fun language, first of all because of that unreadable αλφάβητ. And then you also have modern greek vs. ancient greek (and the two ways of pronouncing the latter). I personally chose Ancient Greek (and Im going for the trickier, Ph = P + H and not F pronunciation), because I hope to one day read Aristotle’s Organon in the original (I think I dabble a bit too much to get that far, but one lives in hope!)

Side Note: If you are interested (or want to become interested) in languages, I highly recommend the NativLang Youtube Channel, in particular their long video on the history of scripts. I found it absolutely fascinating! As a result, I started to dabble a bit in The Hiragana and Kanji, and of course the beautifully elegant Korean Hangul (which I was happy to find was printed on my Go Stone Box):

Recently, I’ve also got a better handle on Toki Pona’s grammar (the 120 word langauge), which I tried memorising (on Memrise) a while back, but gave up because I couldn’t get past the grammar. My first (IRC) conversation also wasn’t very promising due to this fact. Though, I must admit, whilst I love the concept building in Toki Pona, I do not like the sound of the language (to be honest, I think it sounds very silly), nor the philosophically shallow foundations (imagine if it was built around Aristotle’s metaphysics!).

Side note: Yes, I had a look at Elvish, but the writing system (although beautiful) frustrated me, and writing system tends to play a big part in language for me!

Now, whilst I don’t think learning constructed languages (Sindarin/Elvish, Esperanto, Ithkuil) are the most practical thing in the world, it is a lot of fun, and its also fascinating to see how much one can mess with grammatical systems, but still remain a usable language. For example, Lojban doesn’t even have verbs, but these strange constructs called “brivla“. Now that is one language I actively avoided before, but after learning about how elegant their system is, I can see myself being drawn in (I had a similar impression of Esperanto after reading this page).

I know this article has been a bit disjointed, but if you want to take something from it, it’s this: Languages (real and fake) are hugely complex, extremely diverse, and therefore endlessly fascinating!

Thoughts: Joshua Katz on Education

Everybody is a Genius. But If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid

Yup! This is yet another teaching TED talk I’ve been watching. But this one I found to be an exception. Joshua Katz identifies a lot of problems in his talk, and touches on a significant number of solutions. As before, I still am not sure what I think about the whole thing, but this video certainly provided food for thought. So, here are my ramblings:

Does one need College?

“Once everyone’s super, no one will be” – Syndrome

“if you don’t go to college, you have no worth”… I find this thought echoed in a lot of the education talks centred on the American education system. And I think maybe they have a point. I think maybe making it easy for everybody to do something important suddenly reduces the importance of said thing to nothing (“academic inflation”).

Home-Economics?

Another assertion that is made is that is a disconnect between what is taught and what is needed in a profession. The majority of us don’t use anything more advanced than arithmetic after school. And while I think Algebra is awesome, and I like maths and am good at it, I quit maths in the end, because I began to see less and less applicability to real life. The thing is, maths is more challenging and will make you stretch our brain more than home-economics, but do we need that? Or can we just settle with the pragmatic subjects?
Personally, I’m not really into the practical thing… I live in the clouds and love it up there, but I can see how someone may not, and might just want a bit more real-world information.

The arts are not promoted or thought highly of

To be fair, this might be because the creative arts are very hard to quantify (though I would argue that they are quantifiable, after a talk I attended on the objective Thomistic understanding of beauty) but they are also not held in high regards academically, which is a shame. But are they real subjects, or are they more like meta-subjects that hinge on material from other subjects?

If we don’t have exams and qualifications, how can employers know if it’s employees are capable?

Do they need to be capable? Is it possible to have a system where employers (naturally) teach their employees? I really like the idea of evaluating somebody on a human level… getting to know them as a person to find out if they are really capable. Would this be more effective? It would be more time consuming, and therefore costly… but if the alternative is a system that can be worked like a game with no real knowledge? I’ve passed tests in the past with flying colours, knowing full well that I would probably forget it by the end of the summer. I knew how to game the system, and I did… it was only later in life that I learned how to learn  (spaced repetition, imagination, association, exploration etc.) auto-didactically (I really wanted to slip that word in ;)

So wrapped up in exams… afraid to learn

I can definitely sympathise with this, and I think it really hits the nail on the head. It does not necessarily mean that we should get rid of exams, but the fact that they are so “high-stakes” to prevent somebody from exploring and delving into a subject is certainly worthy of remark. The thing is, I studied a subject once (flute) where the exams really were quite low key, and I quit exams for this very reason. But then of course I found that there was no more pull. This recognition does pull us through subjects, and testing does help learning… so I don’t know…

Keep having to rebuy text books

Hear hear! I would like to hear a defence of this… because there probably is one, but I can’t think of one right now!

I get the impression the system in the states is worse than in the UK

He talks about the system not caring about personal circumstances. I can only assume from this that the US has no equivalent to the UK’s pastoral care system. I also get the impression that poverty is worse… but I haven’t looked into this. In fact, now that I think about it, a lot of these complaints seem to be specific to the US. The UK has SEN education and vocational routes (e.g. BTEC, Diploma)

Katz’s Solutions

  1. De-Fund public education – Would private education work? Would the free market cater well to helping students learn??
  2. Fix Public education… More money to teachers, remove bureaucracy… etc. he argues that current good teachers are good at working against the system (he might have a point there). Teacher’s develop their own assessment systems? Peer-review system? He still talks about national level policies… is that missing the point? What about school autonomy?

(3) Teach children: (hear hear!)
– How to think
– How to learn

Education is the only industry that is developing a product without valid market research

I think he might have been stretching a bit with this point… maybe he could have focused on the difficulty in innovating instead.

Conclusion

I know this article is fairly incoherent… that’s the state of my thoughts at the moment: Because I’m still thinking. This is a big complex subject and it’s going to take me a while before I actually end up agreeing with a solution, and even longer to realise how I might be able to tend towards said solution (if I were to enter education)

Post Script

In this video, Katz talks about a teacher-driven student portfolio instead of a tests system for early education. A very intriguing idea…