Short Toki Pona Text

mi wile e moku. sina wile ala wile e moku?
mi ala toki e mute toki. mi wile toki mute e toki.

sina olin e mute toki? sina wile toki e toki pona?
sina ala toki e toki pona, pona. toki pona li ike lili.
mute toki li pona… mute pona.


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.


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”).


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.


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…

TED: Re imagining School

In line with my recent interest in education, I’ve been slowly going through this playlist of TED talks: Re-imagining School, and I would like to write down a few of my thoughts on each one.

Ken Robinson

This one is the classic ted talk, and I think even ten years later, it’s very good. I did watch it a while back (2008 maybe) but I didn’t buy into how much this guy is saying. First of all, he’s a very engaging, funny, speaker. His idea basically comes down to incorporating creativity in schools. To be honest, I don’t know if this is the best idea yet, but this video offered a lot of food for thought! I might add that if you want more of his comedic style, a lot more videos have come out since.

Khan Academy

I like Khan Academy. Every so often I go back to it and binge on Sal’s videos (I would note that I only watch the Sal ones, as I personally find the other speakers annoying). But I’m leaning away from his idea of turning the classroom around, simply because I don’t feel that technology is actually the solution. I personally suffer from eye problems from using the computer too much in my secondary education, and I think this is a very big obstacle to technology being the best idea (yet!)… However, his points about 1-on-1 help, the value of more social teaching (especially in primary and secondary) do seem to ring true.

12 year old poor Indian Biochemists

This one made me think about a simpler kid of learning… thinking about education as more of a challenge or game. The idea of asking the question before the kid knows the answer is really weird, but interesting.

Japanese Kindergarten

This was more of an architectural approach, which I thought was fun and helpful, but I also felt it was probably a small blip on the radar (though I’m happy to be proven wrong!)


Whilst I didn’t think this lady was the best speaker (n.b. I can’t talk), I thought the online service she talked about was really good, and well done. Also the idea of fellow students marking work (and the correlation to show it’s effectiveness) was very very interesting. It made me sign up for (the similar) FutureLearn straight away, and now I’m doing the science of nutrition and Spanish!

Studio Schools

I don’t really have much to say about this… a practical, hands on, cooperative, pragmatic school :D

Once Upon a School

The reason I find this one exceptional (in comparison) is that it’s about a particular institution doing something specific in a real part of the world. They made it effective and fun, and it hits me on a much more human level!

There were a couple more… but they felt like more of the same (good, but repetition). If you have any additional thoughts, feel free to comment and we can have a discussion about them!

Coherence: Why Fantasy makes about as much sense as reality

One could criticise fantasy by saying how unreal it is… In other words: Magic wands don’t actually work, so why read about them? Well, to answer that question, we must first ask ourselves how we should think about reality, before we try to think about unreality.

There’s this thing called induction: One sees one specific thing happen happen every time another similarly specific thing happens. The more we see this relationship occur, the more we realise that there is a pattern, and that pattern implies a rule.

We can’t see these rules directly, but we can see them indirectly. Our ideas are a model of the world based on the way we see it function. If you really think about it, we are only as certain as reality as we would be about the inner functions of a computer game (don’t let this fact destabilise the rest of philosophy, knowing it eventually sinks in and life becomes normal again ;).

The thing about reality is that it is, essentially, coherent and consistent… and so long as a fantasy novel shares that property, it is somewhat as real as reality. It’s a experimental microcosm that is brilliant because it doesn’t need to abide by all the rules.

I see fantasy and fiction as a detailed tinted mirror, that reflects reality in a way we haven’t seen before, meaning that when we turn away from the mirror (which I would recommend, escapism kind of misses the point), we find reality fuller and more interesting than we otherwise would have.

Nomic Lite – A Lighter Variant of a Meta-Game

In case you haven’t heard of nomic, I recommend you read the original article that introduced the game. In short: It’s a kind of game where the rules change as the game continues. It has a base ruleset, which is a basic “democratic” system and a few basic win conditions, but essentially establishes a base on which to build whatever kind of rule system one wants.

As of yet, i have played two games of nomic (in real life) and although they are entirely different, we ended up spending a lot of time in both of them simply pruning unnecessary rules. Therefore, I would like to propose a lighter version, which we will certainly use from now on:

101. All players must always abide by all the rules then in effect, in the form in which they are then in effect.

102. The game should be commenced with the youngest player’s turn.
Players shall continue to take turns in clockwise order.

103. One turn consists of proposing one rule-change and having it voted on.

104. A rule change is the enactment, repeal or amendment of a rule. It will be adopted if and only if they receive unanimous approval.

105. Every player is an eligible voter, receives exactly one vote and must participate in every vote on rule-changes.

106. All proposed rule-changes should be clearly stated before they are voted on. If they are adopted, they shall be added/edited to the current rules, and take full effect immediately form in which they were voted on.

107. A player always has the option to forfeit the game rather than continue to play or incur a game penalty. No penalty worse than losing, in the judgment of the player to incur it, may be imposed.

108. If the rules are changed so that further play is impossible, or if the legality of a move cannot be determined with finality, or if a move appears equally legal and illegal, then the first player unable to complete a turn is the winner.

This rule takes precedence over every other rule determining the winner.

If you are a Nomic player, do tell me what you think. To be fair, I realised that this version is a more light-hearted style of nomic, and is not as foolproof as the original, but to be honest, the appeal of nomic to me is more in the game design potential, rather than the lawyery thing.