Archive for Language and philosophy

Roman dodecahedra between Southeast Asia and England, part 5

Spotted on the counter for tea/coffee service at the Residence Inn in Omaha, Nebraska:

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Roman dodecahedra between Southeast Asia and England, part 4

Wherein we embark upon an inquisition into the divine proportions of the dodecahedron and its congeners, take a peek at the history of accounting, explore the mind of Leonardo da Vinci, and examine the humanistic physics of Werner Heisenberg*.

[*Heisenberg's father was a professor of medieval and modern Greek studies at the University of Munich in Germany. Heisenberg had more a “humanistic” education, i.e. more Latin and Greek than in natural sciences.  One morning the young Werner Heisenberg discovered reading Plato's Timaeus a description of the world with regular polyhedra. Heisenberg could not understand why Plato being so rational started to use speculative ideas. But finally he was fascinated by the idea that it could be possible to describe the Universe mathematically. He could not understand why Plato used the Polyhedra as the basic units in his model, but Heisenberg considered that in order to understand the world it is necessary to understand the Physics of the atoms. (source)  He contributed to atomic theory through formulating quantum mechanics in terms of matrices and in discovering the uncertainty principle, which states that a particle's position and momentum cannot both be known exactly. (Britannica | Apr 23, 2024)

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We have had an exciting, joyful journey through dodecahedra land, from the archeological discovery of a new specimen in England, to deep, dense discussions about the meaning and purpose of these mysterious objects, to scampering through and clambering over a playground installation of a related form.  In this post, I would like to return to the essential twelveness of the dodecahedra.

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Thought panzers

Vacillating Chinese terminology for think tanks

Mark Metcalf wrote to tell me:

Global Times*just ran an article that might be of interest regarding PRC think tanks and a new book related to this topic: “Researchers, scholars explore methods to boost China’s influence of thoughts”.

*an appendage of People's Daily

I was caught up short by the clumsy expression "influence of thoughts".  But something else about this new development bothered me much more.  Mark tracked down the title of the book in question:

《Sīxiǎng tǎnkè: Zhōngguó zhìkù de guòqù, xiànzhuàng yǔ wèilái 思想坦克:中国智库的过去、现状与未来》("Thought tanks [armored vehicles]: the past, present, and future of China's wisdom warehouses"]) [VHM — intentionally awkward translation for special effect, to be explained below]

What jumped out at me in the title was the use of tǎnkè 坦克 for (think) tank. In my Chinese studies, I learned that tǎnkè 坦克 was a military weapon and not a repository. And when you Google images of tǎnkè 坦克, all you see are images of tracked vehicles. That's how all my Pleco dictionaries translate the term, as well. However, when you put the term into Google Translate, it provides both the tracked vehicle and an alternative translation: "a large receptacle or storage chamber, especially for liquid or gas" with yóuxiāng 油箱 ("oil / gas[oline] / fuel tank") as a synonym. Yet GT can't translate the term sīxiǎng tǎnkè 思想坦克.  [VHM:  And well it should not.  See more below.]

Going out on a limb, could the expression sīxiǎng tǎnkè 思想坦克 have the dual meaning (i.e., a pun) for an offensive organization ("vehicle") that is used to control / defend the narrative of the CCP?

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Korean words for "bottle gourd"

I spent much of the summer in Vermont ensconced in a hermit's cottage reading, writing, and, of course, running through the Green Mountains and verdant woods.  When I left last week to come back for the fall semester at Penn, I brought with me about fifty bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) that had been abandoned by the side of the road.

My purpose in bringing so many bottle gourds back to Philadelphia is that I wanted to give them to the new graduate students in my department.  It has been my habit for many years to present something exotic / esoteric and regionally meaningful to the students in Asian studies.  Usually it's edible, such as camel's milk cheese from Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, but sometimes it's more on the edifying side.  Such is the case with this year's bottle gourds. 

How so?

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Ptahhatp's proverbs

From the Wall Street Journal:

‘The Oldest Book in the World’ Review: Also Sprach Ptahhatp

A set of maxims attributed to an adviser of an Egyptian pharaoh may be the world’s earliest surviving work of philosophy.

By Dominic Green

July 6, 2023 6:20 pm ET

What have we?  Philosophy in the Age of the Pyramids?  Philosophy before there were Greek philosophers?

Green launches his review:

In 1847 the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris acquired a 16-page scroll from the antiquarian Émile Prisse d’Avennes (1807-1879). He had bought it from one of the local men then excavating a cemetery near a pharaonic temple complex at Thebes in Egypt. The Papyrus Prisse, as it is known, contains the only complete version of a set of philosophical epigrams called “The Teaching of Ptahhatp.” Recognized upon its publication in 1858 as “the oldest book in the world,” the “Teaching” is attributed to a vizier to Izezi, the eighth and penultimate pharaoh of the Old Kingdom’s Fifth Dynasty, who ruled Egypt in the late 25th and early 24th centuries B.C.

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Data, information, knowledge, insight, wisdom, and Conspiracy Theory, part 2

From Phillip Remaker:

The one that claimed authorship clipped the edge of the unicorn tail.

 
The only version I have found that doesn't clip the edge of the unicorn tail is this one from farhan
 
I don't know if that means I found the original or if the author touched it up. The page is not archived on the Internet Archive.
 
It seems consistent with his other art.

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Palestra: wrestling of the mind

I played college basketball for Dartmouth for four years.  That means I had ample opportunity to play in Penn's hallowed Palestra.  All of the Ivy League schools had unique, distinctive gymnasia, and they remain sharply etched in my mind.  But the Palestra was something else altogether, as though it belonged in a different league, a different world.  Entering the vaulted space was intimidating enough by itself, but the fact that the bleachers (in)famously came right down to the edge of the floor, with no separation of the fans from the game, made it all the more nerve-wracking to play there, not to mention that the Penn teams were always extremely well coached and fiercely determined.

Since I do not know of any other sports arena in America that is called by such a classical, Greek sounding name, nor of any other that has such a distinguished history, it would be worth our while to inquire how it became so.

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Vandermeersch on the morphology and teleology of writing and thinking

As promised, here are the additional paragraphs from Vandermeersch on the roots of rationality in the earliest levels of Sinitic script.  They come from John Lagerwey who will be awarded the 3rd “Prix Vandermeersch” on November 18.  John explains:

I don’t have the time right now to give the full answer JPL deserves, but I am attaching the quotes from VDM’s Wangdao that I commented on recently during the day in his honor. This gives a number of key quotes from his work on “teleological” vs “morphological” and therefore constitutes the best answer to JPL at this time.

For the convenience of readers, I [VHM] am alternating Google translations with the original French text, section by section.  I have made a few small modifications that are marked with my initials, and a few tiny ones for idiomaticity that are not marked.

For the latest study and lexicographical material touching on the subject of this post, see below at the very bottom.

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Léon Vandermeersch, Wangdao ou La voie royale II Recherches sur l’esprit des institutions de la Chine archaïque, structures politiques, les rites

Léon Vandermeersch, Wangdao or The Royal Way II Research on the spirit of institutions in archaic China, political structures, rites

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Léon Vandermeersch (1928-2021) on the differences between Western and Chinese rationalities

Received today the newsletter of INSTITUT RICCI – Centre Sèvres, Paris.

Actualités de novembre 2022
 
Le 19 octobre dernier, l'Institut Ricci a rendu hommage le temps d'une journée au grand sinologue disparu il y a un an, Léon Vandermeersch. A partir de son étude de la divination et de la naissance de l’écriture en Chine ancienne, il a mené une réflexion de fond sur les différences entre rationalités occidentale et chinoise, qualifiées respectivement de « téléologique » et « morphologique ». La journée a permis d’évoquer son apport à la compréhension de la Chine et, surtout, de convaincre les participants qu’il faudrait un colloque plus substantiel qui permettrait une évaluation approfondie de cet apport.

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Greek argumentation: "Let's go back to the beginning"

The first time I read Zhuang Zi's (ca. 4th c. BC) debate with Hui Zi (370-310) about "The happiness of fish", when I got near the end I had an epiphany.  I felt like I was reading a debate between two Greek philosophers.  Here it is:

Zhuāng Zi yǔ Huì Zi yóu yú Háo liáng zhī shàng. Zhuāng Zi yuē: "Shūyú chū yóu cóngróng, shì yú lè yě." Huì Zi yuē: "Zǐ fēi yú, ān zhī yú zhī lè?" Zhuāng Zi yuē: "Zǐ fēi wǒ, ān zhī wǒ bù zhī yú zhī lè?" Huì Zi yuē: "Wǒ fēi zǐ, gù bù zhī zǐ yǐ; zǐ gù fēi yú yě, zǐ zhī bù zhī yú zhī lè quán yǐ." Zhuāng Zi yuē: "Qǐng xún qí běn. Zǐ yuē 'Rǔ ān zhī yú lè' yún zhě, jì yǐ zhī wú zhī zhī ér wèn wǒ, wǒ zhī zhī Háo shàng yě."

莊子與惠子遊於濠梁之上。莊子曰:「儵魚出遊從容,是魚樂也。」惠子曰:「子非魚,安知魚之樂?」莊子曰:「子非我,安知我不知魚之樂?」惠子曰:「我非子,固不知子矣;子固非魚也,子之不知魚之樂全矣。」莊子曰:「請循其本。子曰『汝安知魚樂』云者,既已知吾知之而問我,我知之濠上也。」  (source: 17.13)

Master Chuang and Master Hui were strolling across the bridge over the Hao River. "The minnows have come out and are swimming so leisurely," said Master Chuang. "This is the joy of fishes."

"You're not a fish," said Master Hui. "How do you know what the joy of fishes is?"

"You're not me," said Master Chuang, "so how do you know that I don't know what the joy of fishes is?"

"I'm not you," said Master Hui, "so I certainly do not know what you do. But you're certainly not a fish, so it is irrefutable that you do not know what the joy of fishes is."

"Let's go back to where we started," said Master Chuang. "When you said, 'How* do you know what the joy of fishes is?' you asked me because you already knew that I knew. I know it by strolling over the Hao."

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Grouping-think

According to a recent press release ("Scientists Have Established a Key Biological Difference Between Psychopaths and Normal People"),

Neuroscientists using MRI scans discovered that psychopathic people have a 10% larger striatum, a cluster of neurons in the subcortical basal ganglia of the forebrain, than regular people. This represents a clear biological distinction between psychopaths and non-psychopathic people.

The journal article (Choy et al., "Larger striatal volume is associated with increased adult psychopathy”) tells us that "Psychopathy was assessed using the PCL-R, which consists of 20 items rated by interviewers on a 3-point scale". (Wikipedia on PCL-R here). And from MRI scans, "segmentation of the caudate, putamen, nucleus accumbens, and globus pallidus was conducted together with the thalamus and cerebellum using standard FreeSurfer parcellation. Total striatal volumes were defined as the sum of the volumes of the four striatal subregions".

The generic plural "psychopaths" suggests a natural kind. And the phrase "a clear biological distinction" suggests well-defined and well-separated clusters of values on both neuro-anatomical and social-psychological dimensions. But what the researchers found was two weakly-correlated variables, each an amalgam of several measurements or evaluations, without any strong indication of clustering. Their Figure 3 (n=108):

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The paradox of hard and easy

If you're interested in one-way functions and Kolmogorov complexity, you'll probably want to read this mind-crunching article:

"Researchers Identify ‘Master Problem’ Underlying All Cryptography", by Erica Klarreich, Quanta Magazine (April 6, 2022)

The existence of secure cryptography depends on one of the oldest questions in computational complexity.

To ease our way, here are brief descriptions of the two key terms:

In computer science, a one-way function is a function that is easy to compute on every input, but hard to invert given the image of a random input. Here, "easy" and "hard" are to be understood in the sense of computational complexity theory, specifically the theory of polynomial time problems. Not being one-to-one is not considered sufficient for a function to be called one-way….

(source)

In algorithmic information theory (a subfield of computer science and mathematics), the Kolmogorov complexity of an object, such as a piece of text, is the length of a shortest computer program (in a predetermined programming language) that produces the object as output. It is a measure of the computational resources needed to specify the object, and is also known as algorithmic complexity, Solomonoff–Kolmogorov–Chaitin complexity, program-size complexity, descriptive complexity, or algorithmic entropy. It is named after Andrey Kolmogorov, who first published on the subject in 1963.

(source)

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Taipei 101 and the I ching

From Tom Ace:  "It looks like hexagram 43 is at the top of Taipei 101 in the attached photo.  I remember you saying in 2017 that you and your brother hoped to complete a translation of the I Ching. I hope that's still possible."

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