Looking at Linguistics – Two Points of View

Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle

At the Birth of Language

Linguistics is interesting – and here are two ways of looking at it. I prefer the first, which proceeds by induction – looking at an actual language, and deducing from it how language works. The second works by deduction – deciding on abstract linguistic principles, and then building theories based on those.

The second link, which is a review of a book in the New York Review, also goes in the history of how language must have evolved – in quite satisfactory detail.

Try both of them.

People do not Make Much Sense

In my old age, this seems obvious to me – and I wonder why I never noticed it before.

The assumption that people were basically rational was something I learned in my childhood – and I am sure it was a common belief at the time – and is still a common belief for many people.

The alternative – that people have strong irrational beliefs (mostly unconscious) that are largely immune to logic – is surely the case.

This is even true in the Computer World – where I slaved for 20 years – where various forms of insanity were rampant – and still are. The Computer itself is rational, but computer people are not.

The belief in rationality was built in to the Modern World – which began only 500 years ago. But it intensified with the advent of the Reformation, Science, and the Industrial Revolution – that all started at about the same time. (I have not included the Enlightenment in this discussion, to make it simpler – but it was part of the mix also.)

Recently, beginning in the middle of the last Century, with Television and the Computer – there has been a strong reaction to these advances. And a desire, it seems to me – to turn the clock all the way back to the Middle Ages – and start over. This observation, I am obliged to say – is my own.

What everyone can agree on – is that people have their beliefs – and these beliefs can be used to manipulate them – to make them better or worse.

You may object that better or worse is culturally dependent – and should not be used. But I disagree – it is not hard to see where any culture can be improved – and that possibility should be recognized. If they do not want to be improved – they cannot be improved anyway.

Productivity in Software Development

The Computer has dragged us, screaming and kicking, into a new world, that we are not comfortable in. You may object that you don’t hear any screaming and kicking – but that is because all this action is going on in our unconscious minds – where it is real enough.

Everything we learned in the Industrial World – and we learned a lot – has to be reevaluated. What does creativity mean? What does productivity mean? What does innovation mean? All of this has to be put in another context – that most people are not familiar with – and don’t want to be familiar with.

In the Industrial World, people were trained as workers – and these workers were to concentrate on their jobs exclusively – and not on anything outside of these jobs. In the Computer World, people have to consider everything – because if they don’t – their ventures will fail.

This means most people are not needed in the Computer World – they have no jobs there – and they are most unhappy about this. They scream, and they scream loudly “What about us? Don’t we get part of the action?”

And the answer is “No!”

What Ticos Cannot Do

They cannot perform a logical analysis – such as cost/benefit analysis. Making choices after considering the costs of each alternative – and its benefits.

For example: there was a footbridge over a creek that I often used to go to my bicycle mechanic. It had a fair amount of traffic because it was so convenient for pedestrians – or for me, pushing my bicycle. It was close to a new subdivision, and they could use it to get into town easily. It didn’t cost much to maintain it. But for some reason, they went to a lot of work to tear it down! And I had to use a larger bridge with a lot of traffic on it, that was more dangerous. There was no explanation for why this was done – it was just done!

I took a course on the logical way of thinking when I was an engineering student, back in the Fifties – it was called Linear Analysis. You added up all the costs for different ways of doing a project – and used the one that cost the least.

But Ticos are instinctively averse to this – they want to do it the same way they always have, for centuries – even though the old ways, of making emotional decisions, based on no thought at all – are completely useless. They do whatever feels right – and end up wasting a lot of money.

But this method (if you could call it that) has some hidden advantages – it allows them to consider the human costs – which cannot be quantified into an mathematical equation. Cultures that make their decisions based on logical analysis, such as the American culture – end up being cold and inhuman. They are richer – but they pay a high price (in human terms) for their riches.


I’m sure this subject has been discussed at length by minds better than mine. But I want to go over it again, from a different perspective – the impact of the Telegraph and Photography – two technologies that merged and gave mankind a technological mania they could not resist, or understand.

We did not say, back in the middle of the 19th Century, when these appeared “These are powerful new technologies, and we will have to carefully note how they affect us, and keep them under control.” No, we did not. We were so entranced by their short-term advantages (to make a quick profit) we used them as much, and as fast, as we could – and noticed nothing.

We relinquished control to them – and felt this was a huge advantage.

The result was was the 20th Century – with WWI, the Depression, and WWII. People realized something was wrong – but did not want to think about what it could be. Development had become a drug they did not want to give up.

I was born into this situation (in 1936) and my parents were obsessed with getting ahead – as fast as they could. They were upwardly mobile – as they would have said. Determined to leave the world (of their parents) behind them. Their technologies of choice were the Radio and the Movies – which, once again – took over. Energized by Electrical Power – which became available everywhere.

My hometown of Ft. Madison, Iowa was devoted to the Santa Fe Railroad on the West End of town – and the Sheaffer Pen Company on the East End. Our family lived in the West End – but Dad had his studio in the East End of town. The difference, at the time, hardly mattered – everyone was poor.

WWII changed everything – and everyone became rich. And America became the strongest nation in history. Then they blew it – in the Fifties and Sixties.

I remember this well – I became an Electronic Engineer, and worked on some very expensive Radar stations – designed to detect Soviet nuclear bombers – that did not exist. The pay was excellent!

We lost our advantage fighting the Cold War – which destroyed the Soviet Union – and to a lesser degree, America itself. Once again – Americans noticed nothing.

Our overdeveloped technical skills resulted in some underdeveloped social skills.

Why America’s Leadership Fails

NY Times

Sometimes being a blogger is easy – all you have to do is provide links to some of the good stuff on the Web. And this is definitely good stuff.

It is so good, most people cannot understand it – and consider it a critique of themselves. Which it is.

We Thought the Computer Would Make Us Wonderful

Because of this, we would do anything it wanted us to. And what it wanted us to do was make it better. We have made it better, very much better – but it has not made us better. In fact, it may have made us worse.

We have become destructive, and have set about destroying our world. This is the most important fact of our time. And we must correlate that with the rise of the Computer and Television – two entirely different technologies, but as far as most people are concerned – they are the same.

I repeat – we have destroyed ourselves, and the Computer was instrumental in that destruction. But not all of the Computer – only part of it, what we call the social media – Facebook and Twitter. And Television helps to do the same thing – make us stupid and destructive.

These are both networked technologies, and the Computer has its Internet and Wireless networks – that now span the world. We have a global economy without the global governance to control it.

We have done what any technology wants us to do – made it better. Whether this benefits us or not. When we can no longer distinguish between what would benefit us, and what would benefit it – we are in very big trouble.

This, I think, is what has made us so destructive – we can see (with our unconscious minds) that we are no longer in control of our world – and we have resolved to destroy it entirely – and start over.

This is not very smart, but we are so far removed from our beginnings, somewhere on the savannas of Africa – it’s a wonder we have gotten as far as we have.


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