Posts tagged with linguistics
Robert Sapolsky on Language and schizophrenia
- importance of FOXP2
- Take away FOXP2 from mice and they talk less complexly.
- Give mice our human FOXP2 and they talk more.
- Humans missing FOXP2 can’t do they no talkin be wrongly.
- Babel → pidgin → creole
- all creoles have the same grammar
- …smells like…one inherent human language???
- ecological factors: rainforest & biodiverse ecosystems tend to produce polytheistic cultures (more linguistic diversity, “more diversity” in many areas)
- 90% of Earth’s languages will be extinct in not so long.
- hunter-gatherers have a higher frequency of click languages
- “Language is how we outsmart plants” —Steven Pinker
- language is sequential; toolmaking is sequential
- cooperation — game theory — kin selection — and, lying.
- Dogs put the lid on their fear pheromones by tucking their tails.
- A lot of the brain controls facial expressions. (important if you want to lie)
- Game theory with communication, with semanticity, with syntax, with grammar — all traits of our language — improve outcomes in the game.
Minute 23 — Schizophrenia
- Sequential thinking is impaired. (Can’t tell a story in an order that will make sense to others.) (Actually that sounds like me.)
- Loose associations. (Can’t keep straight within one sentence whether “boxer” refers to dog or occupation. Gold caddy vs Cadillac)
- (So I guess homophones differ among languages and thus schizophrenics of different languages tangent predictably based on their language?)
- Difficulties with abstraction. (Fact vs parable vs rumour) Always interpret as concrete reality.
- “Apple, banana, orange. What do these words have in common?” “They’re all multisyllabic words.” “OK, that’s true. Anything else?” “Yes. They all have letters with closed loops.” Symbolic function of language not working for them.
- “What’s on your mind?” “My hair.” “Can I take your picture?” “I don’t have a picture to give.” “Can you write a sentence for me?” “A sentence for me.”
- Belief that they participated in historical events.
- “What do apples, oranges, and bananas have in common?” “They’re all wired for sound.”
- Hallucinations. The defining feature.
- Most hallucinations are auditory but we don’t know why.
- People experience very structured hallucinations, not random ones. But neurologically it looks random. epsilon;
- In fact papers have been published about the most common hallucinations. Commonest voices, in order: Jesus, Satan, the political leader.
- The story of a schizophrenic Maasai.
- After a really abhorrent violation of social convention, they locked her away and she died. Sound familiar? Oh well, I guess she knew what was coming to her and ∴ tacitly rationally agreed to her punishment, right?
- Nuopharmacology evolving from trying to cure hallucinations to trying to cure disordered thought.
- Elderly schizophrenics lose the positive symptoms (hallucinations, delusions, loose associations) and the negative symptoms (flat affect and withdrawal) dominate.
- Schizophrenia sets on in late adolescence/early adulthood—make it to 30 without it, you’re probably safe.
- Anchored in the frontal cortex.
When I was ten years old I used to keep a notebook of difficult words I had come across. The present I most wanted for Christmas was: The Dictionary of Difficult Words. And I still love exploring dark corners of the English language. A year or two ago I picked up a drill book and found there were quite a lot of “college level words” I didn’t know.
Some of these words I had an inkling on, or really knew outright (vixen = a female fox) — but because I’m obsessive like this, I wrote down any words that I was strictly less than 100% certain about. Could I forget that ursine is a bear? Under the stress of a test, perhaps yes.
Most interesting were words that I thought I knew, but didn’t. For example ponderous doesn’t mean something you think hard about: it means heavy. Factoids aren’t factitos and enormity ≠ size. Rush means to beat back, not to hurry, and natty is almost opposite to tatty. Whoa-za.
Here’s the list (may contain typoes), sorted and uniqued with unix tools:
- advert (v.)
- aerie (n.)
- alloy (v.)
The original paper defining Conditional Value at Risk = CVaR = Expected Tail Loss.
Pessimism & Probability Distributions
In an interview given to EDGE magazine, Bart Kosko explains how great the
median is. He used to think the
mean was the statistic to look at (cf., Francis Galton’s story of the crowd average guessing correctly the weight of the prize hog to a tenth of a unit) but the
median is more robust and so on.
My opinion is that the most important statistic for many practical purposes is something like the
25% CVaR or
50% CVaR. I think that’s the essence of “What do you stand to lose?” as people mean it in normal English.
In other words, I think the way people think about risk in everyday, non-finance terms, basically boils down to
- the observed
minimumif you’re a lawyer) and
CVaR(expected loss) for some wide-ish (likely) swath of the bad outcomes.
The reason the
CVaR is so intuitive is that it smoothly interweaves both
- egregiously bad, low probability outcomes (“You could die with a .01% probability!” is actually a good reason to avoid something)
- and likely bad outcomes (“After you graduate you might not find a job in your field”).
So obviously there isn’t “one best” question to ask. It depends what you want to know—if it’s the value of the gravitational constant,
median may be a great statistic. On the other hand, if you’re looking at the salaries that might result from your law degree or MBA—that is, if you’re looking for a sensible measure of risk and downside—then I’d suggest a
(I actually emailed Dr Kosko and got a response—but he linked to a 20-page paper he had written and I never got around to reading it and felt bad responding without reading all of his response.)
Chen […] thinks that if your language has clear grammatical future tense marking […], then you and your fellow native speakers have a dramatically increased likelihood of exhibiting high rates of obesity, smoking, drinking, debt, and poor pension provision.
And conversely, if your language uses present-tense forms to express future time reference […], you and your fellow speakers are strikingly more likely to have good financial planning for retirement and sensible health habits.
It is as if grammatical marking of the difference between the present and the future insulates you from seeing that the two are coterminous so you should plan ahead. Using present-tense forms for future time reference, on the other hand, encourages you to see that the future is just more of the present, and thus encourages you to put money in a 401(k).
I’ve been asked variants of this question a number of times. So here’s a thorough answer for everyone.
First, some well-written books on topics that interest me:
- Roger Penrose’s The Road to Reality
- Cosma Shalizi’s blog bactra.org
- John Baez’s blog
- Matthen’s tumblr and demonstrations.wolfram.com
- John Stillwell’s stroll through the historical development of mathematics
- Wikipedia. As bad as the writing is, a lot of graduate students have clearly put in many hours explaining the concepts and connections among algebra, geometry, topology, logic, discrete-maths, and analysis. If you want to join me in my quest to edit the mathematics sections of the World Encyclopedia into readability and Strunk+White-compliance, that would be awesome. :)
- Jan Koenderink’s book about weird shapes
- Tristan Needham’s book about complex numbers
- When you’re ready to take it to the next level and really understand stuff, watch Gilbert Strang’s lectures on linear algebra (MIT OCW).
- Tony Robbin’s book about the fourth dimension
- Bill Lawvere & Steve Schanuel’s book about categorial thinking.
Second, some personalisation advice: Read anything mathematical that talks about something you’re interested in.
- If you are into weather / fluids, check out MIT OCW’s courses from the atmospheric science department (free pdf’s).
- If you’re into the philosophy of quantum mechanics, try Itamar Pitowsky’s book or the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (it will get into hilbert spaces soon enough).
- I haven’t read it, but Doug Hofstadter’s Gödel Escher Bach seems to have inspired a lot of people.
- Are you into puzzles? computer graphics? metaphysics? linguistics? liquids? animals? music theory? morality? bargaining theory? economic growth? interpersonal relationships? politics? the function of cells? systems theory? how the body moves? There are mathematical takes on all of those.
I’ve seen speech-pathology students with bad-mathematics syndrome take off like a fish in water when they do maths that relates to what they know—building sawtooth waves, just intonation, EQ’s. You know, ear stuff.
I recommend starting from what you know and using mathematics as a bridge to other things. (“Hey, I didn’t realise audio engineering gets me trigonometry for free! And from there I can go on to land surveying.”)
Third, get used to reading s l o w l y. I’m naturally a slow reader so this wasn’t a big adjustment for me. But people who are used to breezing through a paperback in an afternoon are often dismayed when they can’t do the same with mathematics. Expect mathematics books to take 10, 20, 30 times as long per page—or more—as regular English reading. You’re expected to re-read passages, turn back to refer to earlier definitions, grab pen & paper and play with a few examples yourself, and possibly cross-refer to other books / Wikipedias.
In fact, the speed/depth tradeoff is part of what makes mathematics pleasurable. After 2-3 years of reading news I’m typically left with a shallow, jerky, shiftless sensation. After 2-3 years of reading mathematics, I literally see the world differently—in a good way. I feel I’ve developed something worthwhile that makes my mind a more interesting place to be in, rather than a jumble of chattering trifles. So don’t worry if you only get through 2-3 pages at a sitting. Not every page will take 20 minutes to comprehend, but some single pages need to slosh around in your brain for days or months. Don’t worry about it. That’s normal. Go slow; go deep.
Finally: I try to write for who didn’t do the whole calc 1-2-3-4, ode, real analysis thing. In an ideal world, my writing would come out well enough that an artist or writer with no mathematical confidence could parse it and be inspired with a new thought-shape.
That’s for the original posts.I also try to make people aware of things that are well-known in my circles but not well-known in general. For example, did you know that some guy was actually able to define complexity?
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