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Why Nouns Slow Us Down, and Why Linguistics Might Be in a Bubble | The New Yorker
"Writers and language geeks inherit a ranking system of sorts: verbs good, adjectives bad, nouns sadly unavoidable. Verbs are action, verve! “I ate the day / Deliberately, that its tang / Might quicken me into verb, pure verb,” Seamus Heaney writes, in “Oysters.” A sentence can be a sentence without nouns or adjectives, but never without a verb. For the most part.

But nouns deserve more cognitive credit. A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that nouns actually take longer to spit out than verbs do, presumably because they require more thought to produce. In the study, researchers led by Frank Seifart, a linguist at the University of Amsterdam, and Balthasar Bickel, of the University of Zurich, analyzed hundreds of recordings of spontaneous speech from nine very different languages from around the world: English and Dutch, as well as several others from as far afield as Amazonia, Siberia, the Kalahari, and Tibet. They picked out and compared the spoken renditions of the nouns and verbs, focussing not on how long it took for each word to be spoken but on what was happening in the half-second preceding each word. That tiny window is informative: cognitive scientists have concluded that it takes the brain about that long to formulate its next word, which happens even as a current word or phrase is being spoken.

Which is to say, the future word casts a shadow over the present one. And that shadow is measurable: the researchers found that, in all nine languages, the speech immediately preceding a noun is three-and-a-half-per-cent slower than the speech preceding a verb. And in eight of nine languages, the speaker was about twice as likely to introduce a pause before a noun than before a verb—either a brief silence or a filler, such as “uh” or “um” or their non-English equivalents. That future word, when it’s a noun, is more of a footfall than a shadow, creating a hole in the phrase right before it.

Seifart and Bickel think that this has to do with the different roles that nouns and verbs play in language. Nouns require more planning to say because they more often convey novel information, Seifart told me—that’s one reason why we quickly transition from nouns to pronouns when speaking. Listeners are sensitive to those tiny pauses before a noun, and interpret them as indicating that what follows will be something new or important.

Unlike nouns and pronouns, verbs don’t have “proverbs” to pick up the pace, although we cheat a little with sentences such as, “Susan drank wine and Mary did, too.” Verbs are grammatically more complex than nouns but have less to reveal. When you’re about to say a verb, you’re less likely to be saying something new, so your brain doesn’t have to slow down what it’s already doing to plan for it.

Oddly enough, the one language that doesn’t seem to pre-think its nouns as thoroughly as its verbs is English, Seifart and Bickel found. Although English speakers do slow down their speech immediately before a noun, they use fewer pauses beforehand, not more, when compared to verbs.

“English is peculiar,” Seifart said. English is less useful than we might imagine for understanding what our speech has to say about how we think: “It can never be representative of human language in general,” he said. “To make claims about human language in general, we need to look at much broader array of them.”

In recent years, scientists have grown concerned that much of the literature on human psychology and behavior is derived from studies carried out in Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic countries. These results aren’t necessarily indicative of how humans as a whole actually function. Linguistics may face a similar challenge—the science is in a bubble, talking to itself. “This is what makes people like me realize the unique value of small, often endangered languages and documenting them for as long as they can still be observed,” Seifart said. “In a few generations, they will not be spoken anymore.” In the years to come, as society grows more complex, the number of nouns available to us may grow exponentially. The diversity of its speakers, not so much."
language  languages  weird  nouns  verbs  communication  linguistics  2018  alanburdick  action  frankseifart  balthasarbickel  future  present  speed  speaking  english 
may 2018 by robertogreco
The Best Mother's Day Gift: Get Mom Out Of The Box : Goats and Soda : NPR
"Secrets Of A Maya Supermom: What Parenting Books Don't Tell You"

[via: https://twitter.com/cblack__/status/996812739073880064 ]

"As psychologist Ben Bradley argues in his book Vision of Infancy, a Critical Introduction to Psychology: "Scientific observations about babies are more like mirrors which reflect back the preoccupations and visions of those who study them than like windows opening directly on the foundations of the mind."

And sometimes the data supporting the recommendation are so flimsy that another study in a few years will come along and not only overturn the first study but completely flip the advice 180 degrees.

This is exactly what happened last year with peanuts. Back in 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised parents not to give babies peanut butter because one study suggested early exposure would increase the risk of developing an allergy. But last year, the medical community made a complete about-face on the advice and now says "Let them eat peanut butter!" Early peanut exposure actually prevents allergies, follow-up studies have found.

So if science isn't the secret sauce to parenting books, what is? To answer that, we have to go back in time.

In the early 1980s, the British writer Christina Hardyment began reviewing more than 650 parenting books and manuals, dating all the way to the mid-1700s when advice publications started appearing in hospitals. The result is an illuminating book, called Dream Babies, which traces the history of parenting advice from 17th century English physician and philosopher John Locke to the modern-day medical couple Bill and Martha Sears.

The conclusions from the book are as clear as your baby's tears: Advice in parenting books is typically based not on rigorous scientific studies as is at times claimed but on the opinions and experiences of the authors and on theories from past parenting manuals — sometimes as long as the 18th century.

Then there's the matter of consistency — or lack thereof. Since the late 1700s, "experts" have flip-flopped recommendations over and over, from advising strict routines and discipline to a more permissive, laissez-faire approach and back again.

"While babies and parents remain constants, advice on the former to the latter veers with the winds of social, philosophical and psychological change," Hardyment writes. "There is no such thing as a generally applicable blueprint for perfect parenting."

Take, for instance, the idea that babies need to feed on a particular schedule. According to Hardyment's research, that advice first appears in a London hospital pamphlet in 1748. Sleep schedules for babies start coming into fashion in the early 1900s. And sleep training? That idea was proposed by a British surgeon-turned-sports writer in 1873. If babies "are left to go to sleep in their cots, and allowed to find out that they do not get their way by crying, they at once become reconciled, and after a short time will go to bed even more readily in the cot than on the lap," John Henry Walsh wrote in his Manual of Domestic Economy.

Even the heated debate about breastfeeding has been simmering, and flaring up, for at least 250 years, Hardyment shows. In the 18th century, mothers didn't have high-tech formula but had many recommendations about what was best for the baby and the family. Should a mother send the baby off to a wet nurse's home, so her husband won't be offended by the sight of a baby suckling? And if the family couldn't afford a wet nurse, there was specially treated cow's milk available or even better, the baby could be nursed by a goat, 18th century parenting books advised. (If you're wondering how moms accomplished such a feat, Hardyment includes an 18th century drawing of a young mom pushing a swaddled newborn underneath a goat's udder.)

Goat udders aside, perhaps the bigger issue with parenting books and advice on the Web is what they aren't telling you. And boy, is there a large hole.

These sources ignore most of the world and come almost entirely from the experience of Western culture. But when it comes to understanding what a baby needs, how kids work and what to do when your toddler is lying on the sidewalk (just asking for a friend), Western society might not be the best place to focus.

"WEIRD," stressed-out parents equal anxious kids?

In 2010, three scientists at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, rocked the psychology world.

They published a 23-page paper titled "The weirdest people in the world?" And in it, uncovered a major limitation with many psychological studies, especially those claiming to address questions of "human nature."

First, the team noted that the vast majority of studies in psychology, cognitive science and economics — about 96 percent — have been performed on people with European backgrounds. And yet, when scientists perform some of these experiments in other cultures the results often don't match up. Westerners stick out as outliers on the spectrum of behavior, while people from indigenous cultures tend to clump together, more in the middle.

Even in experiments that appear to test basic brain function, like visual perception, Westerners can act strangely. Take one of the most famous optical illusions — the Muller-Lyer illusion, from 1889.

Americans often believe the second line is about 20 percent longer than the first, even though the two lines are exactly the same length. But when scientists gave the test to 14 indigenous cultures, none of them were tricked to the same degree as Westerners. Some cultures, such as the San foragers in southern Africa's Kalahari desert, knew the two lines were equal length.

The conclusion from these analyses was startling: People from Western society, "including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans," Joseph Heinrich and his colleagues wrote. The researchers even came up with a catchy acronym to describe the phenomenon. They called our culture WEIRD, for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic societies.

With that paper, the ethnocentric view of psychology cracked. It wasn't so much that the emperor of psychology had no clothes. It was more that he was dancing around in Western garb pretending to represent all humanity.

A few years later, an anthropologist from Utah State University, David Lancy, performed a similar analysis on parenting. The conclusion was just as clear-cut: When you look around the world and throughout human history, the Western style of parenting is WEIRD. We are outliers.

In many instances, what we think is "necessary" or "critical" for childhood is actually not present in any other cultures around the world or throughout time.

"The list of differences is really, really long," says Lancy, who summarizes them in the second edition of his landmark book, The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings. "There may be 40 to 50 things that we do that you don't see in indigenous cultures."

Perhaps most striking is how Western society segregates children from adults. We have created two worlds: the kid world and the adult world. And we go through great pains to keep them apart. Kids have their own special foods, their own times to go to sleep, their own activities on the weekends. Kids go to school. Parents go to work. "Much of the adult culture ... is restricted [for kids]," Lancy writes. "Children are perceived as too young, uneducated, or burdensome to be readily admitted to the adult sphere."

But in many indigenous cultures, children are immersed in the adult world early on, and they acquire great skills from the experience. They learn to socialize, to do household chores, cook food and master a family's business, Lancy writes.

Western culture is also a relative newcomer to parenting. Hunter-gatherers and other indigenous cultures have had tens of thousands of years to hone their strategies, not to mention that the parent-child relationship actually evolved in these contexts.

Of course, just because a practice is ancient, "natural" or universal doesn't mean it's necessarily better, especially given that Western kids eventually have to live — and hopefully succeed — in a WEIRD society. But widening the parenting lens, even just a smidgen, has a practical purpose: It gives parents options.

"When you look at the whole world and see the diversity out there, parents can start to imagine other ways of doing things," says Suzanne Gaskins, a developmental psychologist at Northeastern Illinois University, who for 40 years has been studying how Maya moms in the Yucatan raise helpful kids.

"Some of the approaches families use in other cultures might fit an American child's needs better than the advice they are given in books or from the pediatricians," she adds."

Who's in charge?

So what kind of different philosophies are out there?

When I spent time with Maya families that Gaskins has studied, I saw a very different approach to control.

In Western culture, parenting is often about control.

"We think of obedience from a control angle. Somebody is in charge and the other one is doing what they are told because they have to," says Barbara Rogoff, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has studied the Maya culture for 30 years."

And if you pay attention to the way parents interact with children in our society, the idea is blazingly obvious. We tend to boss them around. "Put your shoes on!" or "Eat your sandwich!"

"People think either the adult is in control or the child is in control," Rogoff says.

But what if there is another way to interact with kids that removes control from the equation, almost altogether?

That's exactly what the Maya — and several other indigenous cultures — do. Instead of trying to control children, Rogoff says, parents aim to collaborate with them.

"It's kids and adults together accomplishing a common goal," Rogoff says. "It's not letting the kids do whatever they want. It's a matter of children — and parents — being willing to be … [more]
children  parenting  weird  anthropology  2018  control  maya  mothers  stress  guidance  motherhood  us  michaeleendoucleff  families  knowledge  indigenous  stephaniecoontz  culture  society  respect  johngillis  alloparents  interdependence  communities  community  collaboration  psychology  barbararogoff 
may 2018 by robertogreco
INTERVIEWS - Black Girls Talking
"Creating a space to show films which document the future from a non-western, non-white and queer perspective, that was the desire behind THE FUTURE WEIRD a film screening series co-founded by Derica Shields and Megan Eardley that explores experimental, speculative and sci-fi films from Africa, the Global South or directed by people of color. We discussed this project with Derica Shields, as well as the concept of what is weird, and whether the future should be saved. — interviewed by Fanta"



"SHIELDS: Weird means unruly, uncontained, and situated outside of the mainstream, or at an awkward angle to it. Weird is the creative invention of the marginalised majority. It’s like, people from populations who are exposed to destitution and premature death and organised abandonment are making things. I’m not trying to say that every black, brown, woman or queer filmmaker is from an abject social position, but currently our systems of recognition still fail to register black, brown, queer, trans work as work, or art as art, or thinking as thinking. With The Future Weird I want people to get in a room and talk about the work itself, not just to “celebrate” it in this liberal way which is like a pat on the head, but to say “hey we recognise your art/work/thinking and we are here to talk and think about it.”

The word weird also invites invention and reimagination rather than acceptance of the terms already on offer. Weird means an end to bargaining for inclusion on other people’s terms, and in turn, struggling towards your own terms for art, thought, politics, prosperity…. As a younger person I was definitely weird, but I as I got older I increasingly caved to the discipline of fancy universities, I stopped being weird, which meant that I stopped demanding what seemed impossible. But imagining and then demanding what seems impossible is so powerful, especially when our world is so inadequate and deadly."
dericashields  futurism  scifi  sciencefiction  2014  afrofuturism  futureweird  weird  film  filmmaking 
may 2015 by robertogreco
A Thousand Rivers: What the modern world has forgotten about children and learning.
[also here: http://carolblack.org/a-thousand-rivers/ ]

"The following statement somehow showed up on my Twitter feed the other day:
“Spontaneous reading happens for a few kids. The vast majority need (and all can benefit from) explicit instruction in phonics.”

This 127-character edict issued, as it turned out, from a young woman who is the “author of the forthcoming book Brilliant: The Science of How We Get Smarter” and a “journalist, consultant and speaker who helps people understand how we learn and how we can do it better.”

It got under my skin, and not just because I personally had proven in the first grade that it is possible to be bad at phonics even if you already know how to read. It was her tone; that tone of sublime assurance on the point, which, further tweets revealed, is derived from “research” and “data” which demonstrate it to be true.

Many such “scientific” pronouncements have emanated from the educational establishment over the last hundred years or so.  The fact that the proven truths of each generation are discovered by the next to be harmful folly never discourages the current crop of experts who are keen to impose their freshly-minted certainties on children. Their tone of cool authority carries a clear message to the rest of us: “We know how children learn.  You don’t.

So they explain it to us.

The “scientific consensus” about phonics, generated by a panel convened by the Bush administration and used to justify billions of dollars in government contracts awarded to Bush supporters in the textbook and testing industries, has been widely accepted as fact through the years of “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top,” so if history is any guide, its days are numbered. Any day now there will be new research which proves that direct phonics instruction to very young children is harmful, that it bewilders and dismays them and makes them hate reading (we all know that’s often true, so science may well discover it) — and millions of new textbooks, tests, and teacher guides will have to be purchased at taxpayer expense from the Bushes’ old friends at McGraw-Hill.

The problems with this process are many, but the one that I’d like to highlight is this: the available “data” that drives it is not, as a matter of fact, the “science of how people learn.” It is the “science of what happens to people in schools.”

This is when it occurred to me: people today do not even know what children are actually like. They only know what children are like in schools.

Schools as we know them have existed for a very short time historically: they are in themselves a vast social experiment. A lot of data are in at this point. One in four Americans does not know the earth revolves around the sun. Half of Americans don’t know that antibiotics can’t cure a virus. 45% of American high school graduates don’t know that the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees freedom of the press. These aren’t things that are difficult to know. If the hypothesis is that universal compulsory schooling is the best way to to create an informed and critically literate citizenry, then anyone looking at the data with a clear eye would have to concede that the results are, at best, mixed. At worst, they are catastrophic: a few strains of superbacteria may be about to prove that point for us.

On the other hand, virtually all white American settlers in the northeastern colonies at the time of the American Revolution could read, not because they had all been to school, and certainly not because they had all been tutored in phonics, which didn’t exist at the time. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, not exactly light reading, sold over 500,000 copies in its first year of publication, the equivalent of a book selling sixty million copies today. People learned to read in a variety of ways, some from small one-room schools, but many from their mothers, from tutors, traveling ministers, apprentice’s masters, relatives, neighbors, friends. They could read because, in a literate population, it is really not that difficult to transmit literacy from one person to the next. When people really want a skill, it goes viral. You couldn’t stop it if you tried.

In other words, they could read for all the same reasons that we can now use computers. We don’t know how to use computers because we learned it in school, but because we wanted to learn it and we were free to learn it in whatever way worked best for us. It is the saddest of ironies that many people now see the fluidity and effectiveness of this process as a characteristic of computers, rather than what it is, which is a characteristic of human beings.

In the modern world, unless you learn to read by age 4, you are no longer free to learn in this way. Now your learning process will be scientifically planned, controlled, monitored and measured by highly trained “experts” operating according to the best available “data.” If your learning style doesn’t fit this year’s theory, you will be humiliated, remediated, scrutinized, stigmatized, tested, and ultimately diagnosed and labelled as having a mild defect in your brain.

How did you learn to use a computer? Did a friend help you? Did you read the manual? Did you just sit down and start playing around with it? Did you do a little bit of all of those things? Do you even remember? You just learned it, right?”



"City kids who grow up among cartoon mice who talk and fish who sing show tunes are so delayed in their grasp of real living systems that Henrich et al. suggest that studying the cognitive development of biological reasoning in urban children may be “the equivalent of studying “normal” physical growth in malnourished children.” But in schools, rural Native children are tested and all too often found to be less intelligent and more learning “disabled” than urban white children, a deeply disturbing phenomenon which turns up among traditional rural people all over the world."



"Human cognitive diversity exists for a reason; our differences are the genius – and the conscience – of our species. It’s no accident that indigenous holistic thinkers are the ones who have been consistently reminding us of our appropriate place in the ecological systems of life as our narrowly-focused technocratic society veers wildly between conservation and wholesale devastation of the planet. It’s no accident that dyslexic holistic thinkers are often our artists, our inventors, our dreamers, our rebels. "



"Right now American phonics advocates are claiming that they “know” how children learn to read and how best to teach them. They know nothing of the kind. A key value in serious scientific inquiry is also a key value in every indigenous culture around the world: humility. We are learning."



"“It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top,” a great artist once said. Science is a tool of breathtaking power and beauty, but it is not a good parent; it must be balanced by something broader, deeper, older. Like wind and weather, like ecosystems and microorganisms, like snow crystals and evolution, human learning remains untamed, unpredictable, a blossoming fractal movement so complex and so mysterious that none of us can measure or control it. But we are part of that fractal movement, and the ability to help our offspring learn and grow is in our DNA. We can begin rediscovering it now. Experiment. Observe. Listen. Explore the thousand other ways of learning that still exist all over the planet. Read the data and then set it aside. Watch your child’s eyes, what makes them go dull and dead, what makes them brighten, quicken, glow with light. That is where learning lies."
carolblack  2014  education  learning  certainty  experts  science  research  data  unschooling  deschooling  schooliness  schooling  compulsoryschooling  history  literacy  canon  parenting  experimentation  listening  observation  noticing  indigeneity  howwelearn  howweteach  wisdom  intuition  difference  diversity  iainmcgilchrist  truth  idleness  dyslexia  learningdifferences  rosscooper  neurodiveristy  finland  policy  standards  standardization  adhd  resistance  reading  howweread  sugatamitra  philiplieberman  maori  aboriginal  society  cv  creativity  independence  institutionalization  us  josephhenrich  stevenjheine  aranorenzayan  weird  compulsory  māori  colonization  colonialism 
august 2014 by robertogreco
Is this evidence that we can see the future? - life - 11 November 2010 - New Scientist
"Extraordinary claims don't come much more extraordinary than this: events that haven't yet happened can influence our behaviour.

Parapsychologists have made outlandish claims about precognition – knowledge of unpredictable future events – for years. But the fringe phenomenon is about to get a mainstream airing: a paper providing evidence for its existence has been accepted for publication by the leading social psychology journal.

What's more, sceptical psychologists who have pored over a preprint of the paper say they can't find any significant flaws. "My personal view is that this is ridiculous and can't be true," says Joachim Krueger of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who has blogged about the work on the Psychology Today website. "Going after the methodology and the experimental design is the first line of attack. But frankly, I didn't see anything. Everything seemed to be in good order.""
psychology  science  future  precognition  weird  scifi 
november 2010 by robertogreco
russell davies: weird
"[This] cheered me up no end. It's about WEIRDness, how Western Educated, Industrialised, Rich & Democratic societies produce people who are in no way typical of planet as whole, yet make up bulk of respondents in social science experiments…

"…article is called "The Weirdest People in the World"… & it was published last month in BBS…authors begin by noting that psychology as a discipline is an outlier in being most American of all scientific fields. 70% of all citations in major psych journals refer to articles published by Americans. In chemistry, by contrast, figure is just 37%. This is a serious problem, because psychology varies across cultures, & chemistry doesn't."

As I embark on learning how, professionally, to talk to & work w/ people from other places it's cheering to know I don't know anything. Because if the real social sciences are biased towards Western intuitions then the pseudo-sciences of marketing are, planetarily, even more bogus than I'd always suspected."

[Referring to: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/sep/18/change-your-life-weird-burkeman ]
russelldavies  west  westernworld  psychology  difference  weird  marketing  socialsciences  sciences  bias  occidentalism  culture  outliers  perspective  global  differences  design  anthropology  stevenjheine  aranorenzayan  josephhenrich  jonathanhaidt 
september 2010 by robertogreco
Post-micturition convulsion syndrome - Wikipedia
"Post-micturition convulsion syndrome, also colloquially known as pee shivers, piss shivers, piss quiver, quiver shivers, the shiver shake, or the pee willie is a phenomenon in which one feels a shiver running down the spine following urination.[1] The shiver can produce a brief twitch, which is a form of myoclonus. It should not be confused with micturition syncope, a feeling of faintness following passing urine."

[via: http://www.kungfugrippe.com/post/729583627/post-micturition-convulsion-syndrome ]
strange  men  medicine  wikipedia  weird  urination 
june 2010 by robertogreco
McSweeney's Internet Tendency: The Real Timothy McSweeney.
"I was intrigued by the letters so much that I kept them in a drawer in my room, wondering if Timothy was actually related to us...When a new letter would arrive, she would hand it to me, usually without reading it. I would pore over it for clues, then would add it to the stack...So many years later, when I was conceiving a name for this literary journal, the name Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern occurred to me...made sense on many levels...honor my Irish side of the family & also allude to this mysterious man & the sense of possibility and even wonder he'd brought to our suburban home...Knowing that the journal bore the name of a real person who had endured years of struggle threw melancholy shadows over the enterprise. But the McSweeneys insisted that the use of the name was acceptable, even appropriate, given Timothy's background as an artist & search for connection & meaning through the written word. Since 2000 we've implicitly dedicated all issues to the real Timothy."
daveeggers  history  writing  fun  journalism  celebrity  obituary  mystery  mentalillness  glvo  names  naming  letters  correspondence  mcsweeneys  weird  mentalhealth 
february 2010 by robertogreco
'Geezer Bandit' strikes 6th bank - Weird News - Canoe.ca
"The FBI says the so-called “Geezer Bandit“ has struck again in San Diego.

The FBI says a frail, elderly man gave a clerk a note demanding money and pulled a handgun Wednesday at San Diego National Bank. He left with an unspecified amount of cash.

FBI officials say they believe the man, who wore a white hooded sweat shirt and white ball cap, is the same man who has robbed five other banks in La Jolla, Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego and Santee since August.

Law enforcement officials are offering $16,000 in rewards for information that leads to his arrest and conviction."
sandiego  local  strange  banks  crime  weird  news 
february 2010 by robertogreco
Omegle
"Omegle is a brand-new service for meeting new friends. When you use Omegle, we pick another user at random and let you have a one-on-one chat with each other. Chats are completely anonymous, although there is nothing to stop you from revealing personal details if you would like."
omegle  funny  weird  strangers  socialnetworking  chat  anonymous 
november 2009 by robertogreco

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