Category Archives: Creativity

Real Life Applications of Cognitive Linguistics

Shopping's Goat...

Image by ImAges ImprObables via Flickr

I have said it before and I will say it again: ANYTHING that requires thought benefits from a cognitive linguistic perspective.

We use language to help in making sense of the world, this goes for broad and general topics as well as specific expert domains; language is the medium of meaning, wherever that meaning occurs.

The idea I use in my professional life as an organizational culture planner is to use cognitive science to make sense out of the systems of thought expressed in the routine tasks of the organization and to see how they are described through culture in the form of business practices and personnel behaviors.  If I can see how thought and culture relate via language structures (i.e., conceptual metaphors, conceptual blends, force-dynamics, attention, figure-ground relations, et cetera), then I can help grow organizational culture from an informed perspective.


If you take the communication produced in an average business meeting, break it up into sections that identify the underlying conceptual metaphors, see who communicates what message, and trace the outcomes of the meeting, you can start to get a feel for what drives the organization.


Because design is an artifact of human creativity, it reflects the processes of perception.  Pick up any art criticism, architecture and landscape writing, or pulp design magazine, and you will see a range of conceptual structures at play in the terms of the movement of a visual scene, the oscillation of figure and ground (which in many cases roughly correlate to grammatical subject and object), the directing of attention, and the general semiotic structure of the actual design or the commentary; each aspect of the design reflects conception and perception.


Since technology is used in every aspect of life, we can start to see how it becomes a part of culture and cognition; in fact, technology in many respects helps us to distribute our cognitive load across a piece of technology. Pieces of technology are like material anchors that helps us escape from merely thinking with our minds and instead enable us to think with our environment.  This is a matter of conceptual blending, and it plays out in the decisions we make using thought and language, since technology is a tool that helps us learn, decide, and act on collected knowledge.  This is as relevant for super-computers as it is for using a wooden ruler; technology of all forms enables us to actually have something to say about the sensed environment.


When people want to relate to each other, they use language and other models of symbolization to communicate.  One of the most frustrating and most interesting aspects of communication situations is knowing whether communication is actually happening, or if it is in fact failing.  A lot of this depends on negotiating the common ground to see what each party shares.  Since the language we use for communicating relies so heavily on metaphors, it is often interesting to look at which metaphors people use to communicate, and whether or not those metaphors are understood by the other conversation partners. This holds true for relationship counseling, for customer service relations, and for friendships.  Any time people get together, they use meaningful structures to communicate, and cognitive science offers a suite of tools to analyze that communication.

The idea I use in my work is to exploit the nuances in language and behavior to gain insight into what problems the organization is facing.  I use a three-pronged approach to collect, analyze, and present that data.  I then help the organization to see how to use the results in a meaningful way to produce actionable solutions.  What this does for me is invaluable; I get to have a good time working on different problems, and I get to see how different people work together to help me find solutions that work for them.

I welcome opportunities to participate in translating ideas into cultural practices and love to engage in productive collaboration with people who are open and curious.

Let me know if you want to talk. DM me: @SportLinguist, or leave a comment on the contact page.

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Maple Keys remind me of a Taxonomy chart

Silver Maple. Seeds.

Image via Wikipedia

I was thinking about maple keys recently.

The maple key is an interesting schema of a taxonomy; the kernel is like a category node – the top-level domain.  Each vein in the wing of the seed branching away from the node is a trace of the path along which the line of membership in the category emerges as an [instance] of a membership [type].

On a slightly more abstract note, the veins also forecast a resemblance of the future roots and branches of the eventual tree, and in a way alluding to the further growth of category membership as each tree root eventually supports the life of the tree so that each tree branch can ultimately produce more seeds so that it might perpetuate, exponentially, the life of this tree of knowledge.


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Truffle to Truffle: Metaphors of Dirty Decadence

Truffle Market in Carpentras.

Image via Wikipedia

I can’t tell if I like truffles the mushroom better than I like truffles the chocolate, but one thing is for sure, truffles of any kind offer a guilty pleasure.  From a cognitive science perspective both types of truffles are related to each other, perhaps not on the Linnaean taxonomy, but certainly from a metaphorical position.  Look at these facts:

Take the features of the Mushroom:

  1. Relative Rarity
  2. Decadent and Dark Earthiness
  3. Lumpy & Dirty
  4. Expensive

…and metaphorically translate them into Chocolate:

  1. Good ones (i.e., NOT Lindor or Trader Joes) are Rare
  2. Dark Chocolate Decadence
  3. Lumpy & Dusted with a fine cocoa powder
  4. Expensive

The idea is to get a sweet version of the savory kind, find a translatable equivalent from the language of savory to the language of sweet.

Both the mushroom and the chocolate share these two characteristics:

  • They are both Expensive, where: a) Cost correlates with Quality and b) Cost correlates with Rarity, and,
  • They are both Dirty
I have been making truffles by hand for a little over a decade and at first I followed a recipe but over time it has kind of evolved to the point that I feel that I can call it my own.  Here is my process:
Typically I take about a pound of a rich dark chocolate (try a slave-free chocolate from this list), shave it, melt it in a double boiler, concurrently bring about a cup of heavy whipping cream just to a boil (without scalding), remove it from the flame and fold the chocolate into the cream.  At this point I will add something special (i.e. dark rum, cayenne, or marmalade) and set it aside to cool.  This is the ganache for the truffle filling.  Once it is cool I scoop it into small marble-sized balls using a melon spoon, place them in my freezer and leave the door open (I use the freezer as part of my extended working space and it is easier than opening and closing the door).  Have on hand a deep bowl with an non-dutched cocoa powder (something French is nice).  I bring about 10 ounces of a different grade of chocolate to melting point (temper it if you know how) and one at a time roll the frozen ganache balls in the melted chocolate, gingerly dropping them into the bowl of cocoa powder and quickly swirling the truffle around in the powder.  If you do this right the powder covers the entire truffle and evens out the coating of tempered chocolate.  Remove it from the powder with a plastic spoon and return it to the chilled freezer to let it set up.  Keeping them any longer than a week diminishes their quality.

Now that I shared my recipe I want to address the metaphor.

The idea about the metaphorical transfer that takes place is that concepts from one domain are mapped onto referents in another domain; in this case: mushroom maps to chocolate.  Interestingly, like many metaphors, this directionality is a one way mapping, in other words, it might be hard to map concepts from the chocolate truffle back onto the mushroom truffle.  But this is not impossible, for instance, say that someone begins to wrap their truffle mushrooms in a foil bon-bon wrapper to add a touch of novelty – then this behavior would be a feedback mapping of the metaphor.  That said, no truffle vendor in their right mind would cheapen the mushroom with that kind of kitsch, and no sensible market customer would buy a wrapped truffle they could not see.  So practically, it is probably safe to say that the metaphor only goes one direction.

Looking at the dusting of the truffle with cocoa we can see how the dirt environment of the mushroom acts as a containing boundary, in fact, the irregular shape of the mushroom comes from the fact that it grows underground and the pressure of the soil molds the mushroom, the soil embodies a force schema of restraint and acts as a container.  Likewise, the swirling of the truffle in the cocoa powder shapes the truffle and envelopes the chocolate truffle in a skin of powder (another container).

To wrap things up, think about this super simplified rendering of the metaphor:

Can you think of any other types of food that could be mapped using this simple template?  If so, post a comment with an example, we should try and get a little typology of food process metaphors going.

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Perpetual Epicentral Density Sphere

Dandelion seeds (achenes) can be carried long ...

Image via Wikipedia

The Perpetual Epicentral Density Sphere is a unpublished model of cognition that I began developing in the late ninety’s and early years of 2000 as a result of my training in linguistics and anthropology.  I worked on it before I knew what Cognitive Linguistics actually was and, in fact, it was part of my conversion to CogLing.  With a nod to remix culture and assemblage theory, this model tried to blend together several validated models of discourse and culture in a super feeble attempt to bridge the epistemological gulf between realism and relativism and explain the complete communication picture in a systematic and procedurally elegant way (read: quasi-arbitrary).  This was the early days of my interest in systems theory, but I was really naive about the complexity of complexity.  Basically, the more that I worked on the model the more I came to see that Cognitive Linguistics already had working solutions to a lot of the questions I was addressing.  In fact, when I read back through my notes now, I see that it is actually a model of attention and dynamic construal.  I won’t tell you anything more about the mechanics right now, but I expect that one day I will pull it back off the shelf and show it to the world; in the mean time, here is an analogy from my original manuscript (part of which is in this book) for you to chew on:

“Pick the white puff of seeds on a dandelion clock, pick the stem and hold it in your hand, and meticulously and decidedly, remove every single floating seed, one-by-one until there is only one remaining.  This is what the first thought does when it moves to the second thought.  You have deselected every seed, ignored them all but one, the one you highlighted, the one you lit up – the one you selected.  This, the lone seed on the stem, a sphere at the base, the rod line of the seed body, and the end of the seed a circle of tiny white hairs that extend radially from the stem in many many directions, this seed is a snapshot. You are holding in your hand the most natural visible representation of how your thoughts live and travel.  Now put that last seed up to your mouth and do the wind’s job and send that seed floating.  Where it lands it either develops or dies, just like your thought.”

“If you can take a line of thought and follow it to every dead-end, out every open door and window, to every destination – and catch it resting – you will see simply and plain how lawless and unruly even simple thoughts are in their brief lives.”

You can view images from my portfolio that were inspired through this process at:

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How Inception Helps Me Edit Papers

Inception: Alternative Poster

When I am writing a paper that has a page limit I use the first draft to make sure that I have a complete thought, I do not worry about exceeding the page limit.

For the first round of editing I read through the entire paper once. I then reread the paper section by section.

I open a new document for sections which I want to edit and conduct all of my editing in the new window so that I can preserve the original thought while I carve up its copy.

During that new window editing, I will then take paragraphs from the section and open new windows for each of them before using the cut copy paste “kick” to move it back through the layers of the document.

When I make it back to the original layer, what I am left with is a concise, coherent, and consistent paper. In a way, for each paragraph I have gone three layers deep to plant my idea.

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How I became a Linguist: Characteristics of Intelligent Behavior

Systems thinking about the society

Image via Wikipedia

Sometime in the early nineties my mother gave me a list of Arthur Costa’s twelve characteristics of intelligent behavior.  This list actually had a lot of influence in my life as I stumbled upon the trajectory toward anthropology and linguistics.  It taught me that I could actually organize observations and thoughts and cause them to not only make sense out of reality, but to blend the sense-making process with the process of describing reality.

I wanted to summarize Costa’s 1988 list here and to provide a link to a full article by Costa that explains the rationale behind each of the list items.

  1. Persistence, persevering when the solution to a problem is not immediately apparent
  2. Decreasing Impulsivity
  3. Listening to Others – with Empathy and Understanding
  4. Flexibility in Thinking
  5. Metacognition: Awareness of Our Own Thinking
  6. Checking for Accuracy and Precision
  7. Questioning and Problem Posing
  8. Drawing on Past Knowledge and Applying it to New Situations
  9. Precision of Language and Thought
  10. Using All the Senses
  11. Ingenuity, Originality, Insightfulness: Creativity
  12. Wonderment, inquisitiveness, curiosity, and the enjoyment of problem solving – a sense of efficacy as a thinker [Costa: 1988]

What strikes me as important in this list, is the correlation to the task of conducting both anthropological and linguistic fieldwork.  Wherever one is a stranger this list equips with the basic attitude necessary to learn to fit it, or at least to be welcomed in to a community.

This list is also manifest in anyone doing any kind of systems science.  All twelve of these skills make it possible for you to collect data, analyze it, and turn it into some kind of presentable report that describes the system.  This three activity cycle: collect, analyze, present is what I feel is at the core of being any kind of productively observational person.

Since this original list was published in the 80’s, Costa has revised it under the label “Habits of Mind” and expanded it to include 16 habits.  Since this revised list was not a part of my path to linguistics I chose instead to list the original.  However, the revised list is great and can be found here.


Costa, Arthur, L. (1988). Teaching for Intelligence: recognizing and encouraging skillful thinking and behavior. (p.22) in Transforming Education (IC #8), Context Institute. Stable URL:

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On Failure & Resilience in Optimization of Human Systems, Ecological Systems, and Networked Systems of Systems

I was recently watching Eleanor Saitta’s talk called “Your Infrastructure Will Kill You“.  Part of her talk outlined how optimization equals fragility (more or less).  That to the degree that something is cleaner, more elegant, or more efficient, it is fragile, and a break in the system can be potentially catastrophic.

In thinking about her comments I thought of a few examples where I have observed optimization creating a state of fragility, here are a few of my thoughts:

  • This has interesting considerations for general principles of design, specifically the form/function aspect of design. Probably the point at which form begins to extend beyond the needs of function the focus on form becomes gratuitous and potentially even hazardous (depending on the type of system).  Ironically, optimization in this case is not absolute optimization, but only optimization considering a specific set of requirements: when things are running smoothly then the system is optimized.
  • Another place for failure is when relationships are optimized; when the dispersal of information through a system relies on optimized relationships it only takes the breaking of one of the nodes in a network to create a chain reaction of subsequent nodes being uninformed.We think about how a well-connected network effectively distributes information, specifically in recent thought this informed an analysis of William Dawes vs. Paul Revere – showing how Revere’s relationship of network brokers enabled him to broadcast more extensively than Dawes’ impoverished closed network.  This is good thinking, except that it misses the point of threat: Revere was a weak link in that optimized chain of information; had he been eliminated his message would have been eliminated.  Revere and his network, although connected and optimized, were fragile.
  • In generative linguistics there is an optimization of the lexicon. Economy in space is valued above economy in processing; if this is opaque to you, I mean that generative linguistics tries to minimize the amount of information that it stores as unique units.  It is called “generative” because it generates complex utterances from values stored in the lexicon through recursion, instead of storing those values as wholes.  But there is a weakness; in optimizing the lexicon the generative power of the spell-out rules of Universal Grammar are fragile when it comes to dealing with actual language usage (which is the test of a linguistic theory, is it not?), and the rules fail to account for some foundational constructions of language (like idioms for example).

Ok, so there are lots of places where optimization leads to failure, but what are some ways in which optimization leads to resilience?  What are some solutions to these problems?

Redundancy is a great solution, but it is bulky.

  • When function is optimized it allows you to work backwards in the process of making things have better forms. This is actually how a lot of design progresses.  Think about how every piece of electronic technology that we have today had a larger predecessor.  Think about those clunky mobile phones from the eighties with the handset, base and cord in a leather bag, now look at the mobile phone you carry in your pocket.  Functionality was concept proven in the clunky design, and the form was optimized to enhance the function.
  • It seems to me that the optimization weakness in the Revere incident was that Revere was the weak link.  Instead of depending on the optimization of Revere’s relationships, perhaps the message itself needed optimization. One possible way to optimize the information load of a message is to abstract it (as was done with the signal of the hanging lanterns to indicate the route of attack), and another way is to reduce dependence upon a single messenger exploiting a network (In 1775 the sexton who hung the lanterns was a single messenger, Revere was a single messenger, et cetera).  Flooding a network with messengers bearing an abstracted signal would have been less fragile (put aside for the moment the need for secrecy in the 1775 incident).  In situations where secrecy is not vital, consider how this kind of network flooding would communicate the coherence of the message; when you hear the same thing from five people you at least start giving some credence to the constancy of the message.  In such cases what may have been unknown or even background information becomes salient and foregrounded through repeated exposure. Also, consider other types of signals that can be exploited to prompt a response of crowd mobilization, noises work particularly well.  Sirens and loud noises alert and orient people’s attentional systems toward the source of the signal, and that source becomes figural in the contextual noise of that signal.
  • Optimization can lead to resilience in online processing, like in a maximized lexicon that places the task of optimization on the processing skills required in the selection and extraction of form-meaning elements from the inventory.  Cognitive approaches to the lexicon seek to preserve economy in processing; instead of having a minimal lexicon with lots of processing rules, the cognitive approach has an ordered inventory of form-meaning pairings (including monomorphemic elements, constructions, and phrases that are learned whole), with an optimized processing system of constraints, schemas, and other elements of cognitive processing (see this week’s post on emergentist vs. universalist view for understanding the contrast in general cognitive processing vs. modular mind).
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An Emergentist vs. Universalist view of Language and Cognition

Distributed cognition

Image by Lisa Brewster via Flickr

I wanted to present a list that outlines some of the main differences in thought about language between Emergentist and Universalist perspectives.  This is important I think because it shows how only certain kinds of programmers and mathematicians can work successfully within a Cognitive framework.

Consider these characteristics of an Emergentist (Cognitive) view:

  1. Singular Mind (General Cognitive Abilities)
  2. Distributed Cognition
  3. Neo-Empiricist
  4. The Complex System IS the primitive
  5. Prototypes
  6. Online and Dynamic Processing
  7. Usage Based View of Language
  8. Falsifiable
  9. The Appropriate Level of Granularity is the Form-Meaning Pair (i.e., constructions)

Now, compare that list with this Universalist (usually Generative) view on the same issues:

  1. Modular Mind
  2. Localization in Neuroscience
  3. Innate
  4. Atomistic, Reduce!
  5. Feature based categories & Atomistic Set Theory
  6. Stable Structures and “Switches” that enable cognition
  7. Competence Based View of Language
  8. Language is the de facto expected product of the mind
  9. Reductionism refines phenomena out of existence

Can some middle perspective be taken that combines both extremes?  What are your thoughts?

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Stone Soup, Bouillon Cubes, and Innovation

In my childhood I think it was the fable about Stone Soup that made me start to think about innovation.  As I learned to cook and came further into the world of soup-lore I realized that good soups rely on a reduction of some sort, some kind of richly delicious liquid broth.  In the food world reducing things to something rich and dense is worthy of gustatorial praise.  A brief tour of cookery terms reveal that we have many aspirations to reductions (I am thinking about words like reduction, concentration, syrup, et cetera) and our food science inventions reveal something similar: the bouillon cube.  I think beyond a soup stock, the bouillon cube is the pinnacle achievement of reduction.  It is an abstraction of flavor from the specificity of the ingredients.  But anyway, getting to the point, I don’t like to use bouillon cubes; instead, I make my own soup stocks from scratch in much the same manner as the man who first made stone soup.

For a while now I have been finding myself throwing my vegetable scraps in the freezer so that I can use them to make soup stocks from scratch.  I have recently started cycling through the process on a weekly basis.  Take a look at this week’s table-scraps: Continue reading

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Ham Radio was the original Twitter

Amateur radio station of DJ4PI

Image via Wikipedia

So I was driving home last night and saw an old man in his station wagon, I happened to notice that his license plate was his amateur radio call sign.  This promptly reminded me of a recent occurrence at the Linguistic Society of America’s annual meeting where some of my Twitter friends had a “TweetUp” (for the uninitiated, it is akin to a “Meet Up”). In the lobby of the hotel we started to introduce ourselves by our Twitter profile names.  In fact, most people had their profile name on the back of their conference name badge printed like this: “@SportLinguist” (go ahead, follow me).

As my first exposure to this kind of behavior it was an interesting moment for me.  But this is certainly not the first time this has happened for Twitter users, and it is certainly not the firs time it has happened in technological history.  Pre-internet days had people using Citizen Band (CB) radios where everyone had a “Handle” (aka: radio name), and this was the tool that truckers and road-trippers used to stay connected on the lonely highway.  Before the CB was the Amateur Radio and the “Hams” that used them.  In fact, so as not to mislead you, Amateur Radio still has a strong presence and user base, even recently being used in OUTER SPACE at the International Space Station. Continue reading

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Sample Sentences Using Spradley’s Nine Semantic Relations from The Ethnographic Interview

Cover of "The Ethnographic Interview"

Cover of The Ethnographic Interview

I love James Spradley’s work on ethnographic interviews, componential analysis, taxonomic analysis, and participant observation, but Spradley’s work on semantic analysis has been the most thought-provoking for me theoretically.  Here I list out his nine semantic relationships and give some sample descriptive sentences to show you how the semantic relation describes the two elements in the relationship.  I have to say, however, that none of these sentences are very natural in a natural language kind of way.  In fact, the one concern that I have with Spradley’s view of semantics (from my usage-based cognitive view of language) is that it does not adequately lend itself to a straightforward modeling of the semantics of a natural language sentence.  Instead, if you want to use this for natural language, it has to be on a propositional level.

These semantics are best for modeling culture and the dynamics of a culture.  After all, they were drawn up in a methodology for ethnography.  In the sentences I present below you will find that they have a rigid and non-human sound to them; in fact, I think (and this is my opinion), that if you want to use Spradley’s semantics for anything other than modeling culture, that they are best used in formal system modeling, such as an expert system. Continue reading

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Ad hoc Categorization and the “Virtual City” in Soulwax’s “Part of the Weekend Never Dies”

2 Many DJs (Stephen and David Dewaele / Soulwa...

Image via Wikipedia

Recently I started watching one of my all-time-favorite documentaries again, Soulwax’s “Part of the Weekend Never Dies“; I was struck by a particular film sequence that captured the essence of what I would call a “virtual city” that embodies part of the notion of ad hoc categorization. Continue reading

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Reflexivity and Recursion in Soulwax’s “Part of the Weekend Never Dies”

Cover of "Nite Versions"

Cover of Nite Versions

Since I am posting a lot about Soulwax this month, I thought I should include this clarifying snippet about the differences between the various acts which the Dewaele brothers lead.  In “Part of the Weekend Never Dies” Stephen explains these acts to a Mexican female presenter who is interviewing him about the show:

[00:03:50] Presenter: “First of all, what’s the, can you tell the audience like what’s the difference between 2ManyDJs, Soulwax, or Radio Soulwax?” Continue reading

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What does Soulwax’s website, DJing, & Construction Grammar have in common?

Soulwax’s website extends an invitation for viewers to participate in DJing as they explore the website.  From my first exposure this has been an amazing experience.  The intuitive guided navigation doubles as a loading of the clips so that your browser cache holds the clip for later manipulation in the mixing.  If you patiently experience each of the clips instead of navigating away from the site, you will get the chance to mix the video loops and beats by clicking your mouse. Continue reading

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Why I Believe in Cut & Paste as a Design Strategy


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Cut & Paste is not just a keyboard function.  In fact, R.G. Collingwood coined the term in the mid 1940’s in his book The Idea of History, but being a more formal speaker of a more formal ancestor of colloquial English he called it the “scissors and paste” method and was critical of it as a tool in historical method (33, Collingwood: 1946).

Nonetheless he did use the term and since then it has come to be used rather frequently as a tool in questionable secondary research, or as a way to validate and situate a claim in a historical context.  I think Collingwood’s problem with scissors and paste was that it was just a patchwork manipulation of existing work by people who were not historical eyewitnesses, and therefore outside of the bounds of science.  In essence, what was cut out and pasted lacked appropriate context and proper lineage, in fact, that has become a problem: it is called plagiarism. Continue reading

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Guest Post: The Digital Polis – Nicholas Carson Miller

I invited Nicholas Carson Miller to guest post on the shape of a particular internet culture…I hope you enjoy his work -SportLinguist

I. The New Prehistory

We can’t go ask ancient peoples what was going on when they decided to get together and start building cities. Frustratingly, none of the folks involved in the development of prehistoric communities are still around to ask and weren’t kind enough to leave detailed ethnographic and historical accounts of their experiences. Shame on them. We can, however, connect to the internet and observe the development of a new kind of community.

Early humans, tiring of wandering and hunting alone, began living around one another, trying their hands at farming, trading necessities and surpluses, and finding increasingly productive and complex ways to protect and govern the communities that developed. Early internet users logged on alone, visiting web pages and sending limited communications—but then a need for specialized communal activities lead to email lists, chat rooms, social networks, and, most interestingly, forums.

These internet communities, especially certain infamous and influential forums such as 4chan, Gaia Online, and Something Awful, are beginning to exhibit fascinating cultural trends that are to me reminiscent of early city-states. The development of the culture of these communities should be taken as a possible reflection of the development of real-world communities and is conveniently occurring right before our eyes at a highly accelerated rate. Continue reading

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Doing Strategic Planning #1: Vision & Mission Statements


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One of the services that I provide is to help small organizations and groups do strategic planning.  My approach is to shepherd the group through the process and get them thinking about how the different elements of a strategic plan actually work together to drive decision-making policy.  I don’t like to get caught up in mechanistic template driven planning, but really try to understand (with ethnographic insight) the soul of the organization and let the strategy emerge through a process of self-identification.  If you know anything about my research or my art, narrative is a key element in my beliefs about identity.  I like to bring that into the planning process.

All that to say, this morning I was helping a committee define a 5 year strategic plan that will account for a variety of goals and investments.  After I walked away from the first meeting I thought that this might be an appropriate thing to blog about since I feel that it relates to just about any organization whether it is individual as enterprise, research programs, community development organizations, et cetera.  In fact, it possibly even relates to the ways in which we manage ad hoc committees. Continue reading

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Weaving Narratives: Possessions = Autobiographies

I recently created a short interview about my art project “Weaving Narratives” where I describe the process of reading objects that people own.  I hope you check it out and let me know what you think in the comment section [click the picture to view the film].

Also, weave your own narrative using the photo-documentation for this project [a free download to use in your own creative process].

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What I got for Christmas…

Integrantes de Daft Punk, banda francesa de mú...

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  1. Daft Punk’s film “Electroma”
  2. Daft Punk’s album “Human After All”
  3. Gilles Fauconnier’s & Mark Turner’s “The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities”
  4. Stephen C. Levinson’s “Space in Language and Cognition: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity”
  5. Stephen C. Levinson & David Wilkin’s “Grammars of Space: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity”


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Epenthesis, Truncation, and Phonetic Exploitation in Graffiti

Ridl und Crow

Image by liquidnight via Flickr

While riding the train to school last week I noticed that a lot of the graffiti contains allusions to a sort of folk-phonological understanding of phonemics.

This is not a criticism at all, in fact, from my usage-based perspective I find this to be a delightful exploitation of the English phonemic system…if you think about it, these tags reflect more of an understanding of the phonetic structure of language than do their “proper” & “grammatically correct” (ugh, I hate that concept) representations.

Take these into consideration: Ridl, HEK, HEDAKE, ACERT, from a linguistic perspective, these are pretty clever…even if you hate graffiti, you have to acknowledge that they are clever abstractions.

Anyway, I thought I would point it out…

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CONTAINER Is an Ontological Metaphor

Ontological Metaphors are metaphors that give shape to abstract concepts and even contribute to the structure of Primary Metaphors.  CONTAINER is one of those metaphors. Continue reading

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What Is a Digital City? It is Interconnected Collaboration and Flexibility

When you hear the words “Digital City” what comes to mind?  Is it a virtual city created from ad hoc groups of people converging in an electronic marketplace?  Is it an actual physical city boasting all the amenities of technology? Or is it a combination of the two?  For me, when I hear “Digital City” I usually find myself thinking about the third option, an actual place that sustains a physical population but who are networked to conduct virtual lives that interface with physical lives on a perpetual basis. Continue reading

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Think Like a Bacterium: OSMOS, Naïve Quorum Sensing, & the iPad

I was recently sucked into playing OSMOS on my iPad.  I never play video games (usually I am too busy: wife, art, school, work) but I did happen to spend four hours straight playing this game over winter break.  This game synthesizes math, physics, biology, conceptualization and human enhancement.   Continue reading

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HighLevel Issues in EthnoBotany; Interdisciplinary Cross-Pollination

My Shrunken Head - 2008 -

I started getting interested in botany during my undergraduate years when I wanted to complement the technical linguistics training with a tempered understanding of some practical skills.  I have always planned on doing anthropological linguistics and in most locations people grow their own food; learning about botany and horticulture would be good for my survival.  And since talking with people about plants is a great way to collect data I wanted to at least have the competency to grow plants and have some familiarity with the lives of plants.  I took a job working summers and breaks at a 100-year-old tropical aquatics greenhouse where I learned to cultivate Lotus, Victoria Regina, Water lilies, marginal plants, and how to raise fish and maintain healthy ecological systems.  This got me interested in algae, protists, lichens, mosses, ferns, et cetera…

Even earlier in life, during primary school I took part in a Naturalist Aid program which taught me about the medicinal uses of plants, biodiversity, and ecology.  I guess my first encounters with plants was really from a pedagogical perspective on ethnobotany. Continue reading

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Preludes for Memnon – Aiken, Consciousness, and Ontology

I have a new link in my sidebar and I wanted to tell you a little about it.  One of my three favorite poets is Conrad Aiken, a sincere and highly lucid poet of consciousness.  Currently I am working on a paper about the metaphors of trees in ontologies (expect a post mid February) and a segment of Aiken’s Preludes for Memnon are included in a section using cognitive poetics to extract the conceptualization structures in his work.

Anyway, check out this site dedicated to Aiken’s work:


A quote from “Working and Thinking on the Waterfront”

Our originality shows itself most strikingly not in what we wholly originate but in what we do with that which we borrow from others. If this be true it is obvious that second-rate writers or artists may stimulate our originality more than first-rate ones, since we borrow more readily from the former.

Eric Hoffer, December 8, 1958 – Working and Thinking on the Waterfront

Delicious Holiday Recipe: Nut & Poppy Seed Roll (Found Text)

I wanted to share this recipe that I got from my great-grandmother (from Zagreb, Republic of Croatia)…I grew up eating this deliciousness and consequently I have become a smart scientist.

Do you like food?

Then you might like an upcoming post series that I am doing in 2011. Subscribe to my updates.

A taste of what is to come:

  • Recipes that I have collected living in the South Pacific, West Africa, and other exciting places
  • A series of posts that deal with the cognitive science in cookery, and
  • Posts looking at how attention works in gustatory domains.
  • Anthropological perspectives on the tools and processes of bread-making
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The First Shall Be Last: A shift from First Person to Third Person in the Scientific Enterprise

I was reading this article by Ray Kurzweil and immediately connected with an idea that he expressed which I have been trying to articulate over the past year or so. He said that basically, in science there is no first person, there is only the third person. Continue reading

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Borrowing Tools Across Disciplines: Blacksmithing to Linguistics

I am going to be exploring what it means to incorporate accrued extralinguistic experiences into professional practice as a cognitive linguist and to start it off I wanted to post an introductory post on my experiences as a blacksmith.

Some of you might know that I spent some time working as an apprentice to an old Italian blacksmith and that much of what I learned from him has been a guiding framework for thinking about problems through the lens of an orthogonal discipline.

For now, I want you to think about something that occurs in all professions, the development of professional wisdom which is reduced into phrasal algorithms that are like bullion-cubes for making meaning.  In other words, the way a discipline perpetuates its knowledge is through building either the recipes or the ingredients for how to do things.  From my experience in blacksmithing, these recipes have been captured in Italian proverbs and English literary metaphors.

Think about those metaphors: “too many irons in the fire”, “lose your temper”, et cetera, I guess these blacksmithing metaphors probably emerged from failures to adhere to the two Italian phrases I heard repeated most in my shop:

pian piano vai lontano

slowly slowly you go far


Il monici dicono in questo mondo di via vera multa paciencia

In this world, the monks say that you have to have a lot of patience

If you don’t have patience you forge ahead, ignoring the fact that you have too many irons in the fire to work them in a reasonable amount of time.

If instead of trying to rush through a process (like tempering a knife blade or a chisel) take it easy, go slowly, it will get you farther that rushing (working too quickly could cause a tool to lose its temper).

I spent a lot of my time writing during the evenings while I was a blacksmith.  During that time I wrote this procedural essay describing the process of forging steel (in this case it is using an acetylene torch instead of my blacksmith’s hearth…but forging is forging.  It is actually the prologue to a book about how the creative process of artists and scientists are parallel.  Anyway, read the prologue.

One of my favorite aspects of blacksmithing is the act of harnessing fire to work metal into a desired shape, I am going to explore this further and describe in future posts how this is similar to the cognitive processes of dynamic construal.  Stay tuned.

Post Script for Metalworkers:

If you got to this page because you are looking for advice about blacksmithing or are interested in toolmaking check out The Complete Modern Blacksmith…and take a look at my Amazon book list for metalworking.

Post Post Script for people interested in other people’s blacksmithing experiences:

Here is a woman who wanted to learn blacksmithing to “keep making history live” [I love it!]. Check out her blog about history and blacksmithing.

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Ground-before-Figure in Dramatic Dialogue: Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia

As a feature of figure-ground organization, there is inherent flexibility in how the figure is aligned with the ground.  In light of evidence that permits a ground to precede a figure in the flow of information, it is appropriate to view this patterning happening in discourse and to ask how it enhances or disrupts communication.  Recall Chen’s model of Ground-before-Figure:


“There are times when a speaker wants her hearer to locate and/or pay attention to an entity (figure) in a location (ground), but the hearer does not know the existence of that figure in the ground.  So the speaker presents the ground first by anchoring it with a landmark that is established most often in the previous linguistic context and sometimes in the discourse context.  This order of figure/ground presentation invites the hearer to search the ground in order to locate and/or to focus on the figure.” [48, Chen, 2003] (Italics in original)


In light of Chen’s definition, consider this interchange in 1809 between two characters: Thomasina (age 13), and her tutor Septimus, (age 17) in Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia:


Thomasina: Septimus, do you think God is a Newtonian?

Septimus: An Etonian? Almost certainly, I’m afraid.  We must ask your brother to make it his first enquiry.

Thomasina: No, Septimus, a Newtonian.  Septimus! Am I the first person to have thought of this?

Septimus: No.

Thomasina: I have not said yet.

Septimus: ‘If everything from the furthest planet to the smallest atom of our brain acts according to Newton’s law of motion, what becomes of free will?’

Thomasina: No.

Septimus: God’s will.

Thomasina: No.

Septimus: Sin.

Thomasina:(Derisively) No!

Septimus: Very well.

Thomasina: If you could stop every atom in its position and direction, and if your mind could comprehend all the actions thus suspended, then if you were really, really good at algebra you could write the formula for all the future; and although nobody can be so clever as to do it, the formula must exist just as if one could.

Septimus: (Pause) Yes. (Pause.) Yes, as far as I know, you are the first person to have thought of this.


Thomasina wants Septimus to consider whether or not what she is about to say has ever been thought of before.  Rather than burdening Septimus with a heavily preposed tag question, she presents first the question and intends to immediately follow the question with her assertion.  This initial question cataphorically references the assertion she is yet to make.  Septimus, not recognizing the attempt at conserving cognitive energy interprets the cataphora as anaphora and proceeds to respond according to his construal of anaphora.

Thomasina’s goal is to invite Septimus to search the ground by accessing the question frame (that content questions have some marker which indicates interrogativity plus some content that is unsolved for whatever is indicated by interrogativity).  Septimus is not yet aware of the existence of the figure (the content in question) within the ground (the framing of the question).  The confusion between the construed referent of the deictic “this” in “Septimus! Am I the first person to have thought of this?” results from the differences in anchoring the deictic: Septimus anchors it anaphorically, which Thomasina intends to be anchored as cataphora, noted by her exclamation “I have not said yet.”


Chen, Rong (2003) English inversion, a ground-before-figure construction, Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter

Stoppard, Tom (1994) Arcadia, Faber and Faber

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Francophilia, Phoenix’s 1901 & Daft Punk… Why I Hate Not Living in New York

ugh.  This makes my heart hurt because I wish I could have been there.

This is a fine French thing to do… seeing Thomas Mars perform reminds me of the French Fauvist painter Henri Matisse who said:

“I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have a light joyousness of springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labors it has cost me.”

Mars is so carefree and effortlessly cool.

[So is his girlfriend (Sofia Coppola), by the way, who graces Elle’s upcoming November cover]

And what is more, Daft Punk show up on stage and reinforce the joie de vivre of utter French-ness.  If this surprise visit means nothing to you, consider this: Daft Punk has not toured since 2007.

I could not stop weeping when I watched this clip.


[Clip from:




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Ground Before Figure Orientation and Divergent Activation in Bruno Mars & B.O.B.’s “Nothin’ On You” Lyrics

Driving home tonight I heard a song on the radio, on the local hip-hop and R&B station, and while the song kind of annoys me, I kind of like it too.  Anyway, this song exhibits a characteristic of a marked figure-ground organization for normal American English constructions, and I wanted to point it out.

“beautiful girls all over the world
i could be chasing but my time would be wasted
they got nothin’ on you baby
nothin’ on you baby
they might say hi and i might say hey
but you shouldn’t worry about what they say
cause they got nothin’ on you baby
nothin’ on you baby”

Did you catch that?  That heavy preposed object NP?  “beautiful girls all over the world I could be chasing…”

This marked form is meant to stand out.  You are supposed to want to think about the beautiful girls before he gets to the verb phrase…and then, when he gets to the verb phrase, you realize that he is trying to draw attention to the salient recipient of the song; his woman. Continue reading

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Playing a bar room piano like a lion…

So here is a video I made this afternoon, it has some excerpts from a song I have been composing this year.  I chose this because it takes two basic chords: C Major & G Major and alternates between the two to produce an emergent momentum.  They embody a sort of figure-ground organization on two levels, for two measures the chords are in opposition to one another, but in the full sequence of measures the chords, changing octaves along the way, form an interesting progression.  On the pair-wise micro level the chords are enemies, on the sequence macro level the chords are partners.  I like this.

Furthermore, the video outlines a style of piano playing that I made up for this song.  People in my circle of friends know me for always having a small performance for any celebration, this has the design to be a part of one of these performances, and I wanted to practice it.  This style of playing that I introduce is called a leoni, my bastardization of an Italian-esque language to mean “like a lion”… in my composition book I wrote this in the margin:

a leoni ‘like a lion’, clenched hands mimicking a pawing/clawing approach to the chords, imagining your body to be top-heavy with a mane of wild fur and a wide head with narrow hip cage and skinny but strong legs.”

This is supposed to be a little strange…

A further elaborations of the a leoni style includes:

pawing the mouse” which is a light plunking of the clenched fist as if placing one’s paw upon a mouse’s tail, letting go, and repeating for the duration of the measure.”

I have not illustrated pawing the mouse in this clip, I will save that for the finished piece, once I transcribe it and post the score.

Anyway, enjoy this…I think it is fun.

Ethno-Architecture, the Built Environment & Its Role in Conceptualization

While this is outside of the scope of cognitive linguistics, I wanted to share this link because it relates to the types of daily living experiences that people have within the built environment. As a facet of experience in which our bodies interact, the built environment shapes how we think about what we experience, in fact it becomes a stimulus that triggers conceptualization.

What is more, this is the situated context of experience which is the discursive platform for our interaction with the principles of perception. Continue reading

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“Dad Jokes” about ballet and perfume in French

Tonight on the way to the ballet my wife and I were riding in the car with one of her friends.  It came up that my sister-in-law’s roommate’s cat pissed in a cardboard box full of her purses.  Our friend made a joke about my sister-in-law wearing a new perfume that smelled like cat piss.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to chime in with a joke of my own and said that she was probably wearing “piss de chat” (it sounded like a French perfume name…).  No one laughed.

We kept driving.

I couldn’t let it pass.

I said, “No one laughed at my ballet joke.”

They did not know what I was talking about.

I said: “Pas de Chat is a ballet jump and it means Cat’s Step.  I switched the Pas with Piss to make it into a French name for a perfume that smelled like cat piss.”

No one laughed this time either.

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Cognitive Mindfulness #13

Viewers of the Jonas Burgert painting Second D...

Image via Wikipedia

In the book The Artful Mind (edited by Mark Turner), Merlin Donald describes art as being characterized by seven features:

  1. Art is aimed at influencing the minds of an audience, and may therefore be called a form of cognitive engineering.
  2. It always occurs in the context of distributed cognition.
  3. It is constructivist in nature, aimed at the deliberate refinement and elaboration of worldviews.
  4. Most art is metacognitive in its role – that is, it engages in self-reflection, both individually and socially.
  5. The forms and media of art are technology-driven.
  6. The role of the artist and the local social definition of art are not necessarily fixed and are products of the current social-cognitive network.
  7. Nevertheless, art, unlike most conventional engineering, is always aimed at a cognitive outcome.

[Merlin Donald, page 19 in The Artful Mind]

This list of characteristics gives me a good sense of context for how to approach art as a producer and a consumer in a way that recognizes and honors the important role that Art has played in the evolution of social cognition.  I appreciate the imagery of cognitive engineering – this is the “magic synthesis” as Arieti would call it.  I want to engage more in the act of engineering cognitive understanding through my art, for me this means approaching the creative process from the vantage point of an artist and a scientist, a generalist and a specialist, a teacher and a learner. Continue reading

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Ethnocentrism in Parenting

I just started reading an ethnomusicology book and I was struck by this definition of ethnocentrism.  Being an anthropologist I am conscious of the dangers of ethnocentrism in my practice and I can look at members in their context and not force my own values onto those members in my evaluation.  But still the clarity of this quote haunted me a little.

When the commonsense perspective dominates the attitude of anyone confronting new and strange experiences, it becomes ethnocentrism.  Ethnocentrism is the common tendency to view all human behavior from the value system of one’s own society, often including the tendency to consider other practices inferior and misguided.  The scholar must therefore avoid the commonsense perspective of his or her own society, and seek to understand other people’s practices from their point of view. Every society has its own commonsense perspective, and part of the task of understanding music in other societies is to understand the commonsense perspective commonly held in those societies.

[2-3, Kaemmer, 1993]

When I read this passage it reminded me of my own fears of ethnocentrism in my life.  My fear is that one day I will have a child who values a different type of creativity than I value.  Actually, it is not necessarily a different type of creativity as much as it is a preference for a different aesthetic in my child’s progression into self-expression.  I am embarrassed to even admit that fear. Continue reading

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Recursion, Björk, Mise en Abyme, Abstraction & the Ontological Metaphor ‘CONTAINER’

Abstraction takes an instance of something and edits out the redundancy and unnecessary elements to leave the basic pattern in a less detailed, but more succinct manner.

Abstraction in art seems to be something of a catch-all bin for art that is not realistic, at least in the common vernacular of the non-art historian/non-art critic.  This is not a healthy conceptualization of abstraction, and it may distort the understanding of abstraction.  I know for me, my view of abstraction was not clear for a very long time because I only associated the term with contemporary art.

What are some of the senses of abstraction?

  • Abstract vs. Concrete
  • Abstract vs. Body Content
  • Abstract vs. Realistic (similar to concrete)

I am interested in the abstraction that has the effect of zooming out, blurring the edges, pixilating the resolution, blocking smaller patterns into larger patterns; this kind of abstraction is of the summarization kind. Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #9(b)

Martin Creed 'Work No 850' at Tate Britain

Image by Loz Flowers via Flickr

This is part two of Cognitive Mindfulness #9, and continues the Evans & Green passage.

“The difference between the domains of TIME and SPACE is that while TIME has the property of progression, SPACE is static.  ‘Progression’ means that the quantity within this domain is made up of a sequence of distinct representations because it changes from one instance to the next.  By way of illustration, imagine photographing someone engaged in an activity like stroking a cat.  Each of the photographs you take will be different from the previous one, and together they portray the activity.  In contrast, change is not an inherent property of objects, although of course objects can be involved in processes of change.”  [515-516, Evans & Green, 2006]

Immediately this reminds me of Dave Eggers and his quote about relationships from his work “You Shall Know Our Velocity!” Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #9(a)

This passage covers a discussion of the conceptual domains of space and time while introducing the quantities of each domain and their instantiation in reality.  I like this passage because it differentiates basic concepts in matter and action; since these are the components of productive creativity I feel that this clear exposition of these concepts enables me to be more creative with my art.

The quantity that exists in the domain of SPACE is matter, which may be either continuous or discrete.  We return to these terms directly, but for the time being we can think of ‘continuous’ matter as having no inherent ‘segmentation’ in its composition; this type of matter is mass, illustrated by AIR. Continue reading

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Overcome Writer’s Block With Semiotics [Free Download]

I just posted a free download of an excerpt of my semiotics project which will be available as a paperback in September.  I encourage you to check it out and let me know what you think about it.

Most of the textual content is absent; I wanted this excerpt to be visceral and intuitive.

The backbone of the project actually came out of an art piece that I made a few years ago that was intended to question identity and the formulation of identity out of memories and possessions [You will read about it in the Disambiguate Me! series on this blog].

As I developed the art project I realized that it could stand in place for a generic narrative that depends on the ways in which the objects are combined and recombined along a plot line that suggestively emerges from the set of objects as a whole. Continue reading

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V is for Visceral, That’s Good Enough For Me…

I admire Lady Gaga’s desire to produce work that is more visceral and less conceptual (as she was recently quoted in a fashion magazine), but visceral presupposes the ability to conceptualize embodied experience in order to make sense out of it.  In a way, Lady Gaga is like a typologist, she looks at a wide swath of humanity and cultures and tries to abstract upwards to find patterns common to that superset of humanity.  Visceral in that sense means that she wants to find something with which all people can connect and understand.

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Cognitive Mindfulness #8

The City of London

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Today’s quote comes from one of my favorite books about architectural design, Archetypes In Architecture. The book explores the functional grounding of the major elements of architecture.

“Shared experiences, like symbolic meanings, are based on recognition, but this time with reference to our bodily experiences… Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #7

Portrait photograph of Jack London

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Take this advice from Jack London:

“When a man journeys into a far country, he must be prepared to forget many of the things he has learned, and to acquire such customs as are inherent with existence in the new land; he must abandon the old ideals and the old gods, and oftentimes he must reverse the very codes by which his conduct has hitherto been shaped.  To those who have the protean faculty of adaptability, the novelty of such change may even be a source of pleasure; but to those who happen to be hardened to the ruts in which they were created, the pressure of the altered environment is unbearable, and they chafe in body and in spirit under the new restrictions which they do not understand.  This chafing is bound to act and react, producing divers evils and leading to various misfortunes.  It were better for the man who cannot fit himself to the new groove to return to his own country; if he delay too long, he will surely die.” [21]

London, J. (1982). To build a fire and other stories, Bantam Books (reprinted from Novels and Stories by Jack London)

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Cognitive Science & Engineering by Deductive Reasoning

Flywheel from old factory

Image via Wikipedia

Here is a brief passage from my book The Art of War Against Boredom.  I wrote this passage around 8 years ago, and while it is influenced by my background in descriptive linguistics as opposed to strict cognitive linguistics, I still feel that it has something to say about the cognitive enterprise.  For example, in cognitive linguistics the actual language in use reflects the mental processing which produced that actual language.  In this passage below, the designed object reflects the mathematical processes which drove the production of the designed object.  I recognize that this can be interpreted through a generative lens too, but the passage isn’t meant to illustrate linguistic theory, it is a folk-methodology for problem solving.  Anyway, the designed object reflects the process of production. Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #5

Thomas Young's sketch of two-slit diffraction,...

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On Beauty:

“It is much harder to study the psychology of aesthetic pleasure in reference to fine art.  Many artists, aestheticians, and philosophers who have tried to do so have not gone very far.  They have advanced hypotheses that seem valid for some cases but not for others.  In relation to wit and the comic, the corresponding problem is relatively simple.  In considering poetry (or literature in general), we have the great advantage of dealing with cognitive symbols.  Thus any thought that we may have about a literary work, even when we focus on forms, is closely related to its content.  But in visual art, any thought is widely separated from the perceptual aesthetic perception.  Certainly we know that beauty in visual art, as in any aesthetic experience, is an encounter between something that resides in the aesthetic object, and a subjective feeling.  In this dual quality the appreciation of beauty is not different, let us say, from the appreciation of a color.  When we see something green or red, the greenness or the redness exists in the external object but also in ourselves.  Without us there to experience the green and the red, there would only be light waves.  However, whereas it is relatively easy to determine the wave length that we will perceive as yellow, blue, or green, it is impossible to determine the “wave length” that will make us see beauty when we see an object of art.” [235, Arieti, 1976]

Arieti, S. (1976). Creativity the magic synthesis, Basic Books

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