This week inside the singing forest we explore the sea. This modular synth composition “Reminiscence” by Hélène Vogelsinger reminds me of the sound of the sea - waves against the shore and the soft crackle of air bubbles in the sand as the waves retreat.
Running In The Woods
I have taken to a daily run on a dirt trail near my home. Parts of it take me through the woods. Today I was moved by the stark contrast of a sea of yellow leaves on the ground and the darker green of the various trees.
I felt inspired to explore my memory of the experience in colored pencils.
I read and heard several wise things today when I got home from my run. Aura Glaser wrote “Wisdom is not somewhere else.” This inspired me to record the exercise below. I was listening to the Adobe MAX conference and in conversation with Sara Busby or Tara Roskell of Kick in the Creatives said, “In order to be good at something you have to be willing to be bad as something.” Sometimes I need to hear that and push on with whatever I am feeling bad at. Filmmaker Tilda Swinton said something like, “If you know what it will look like, meh. There is a mystery in not knowing, so create.”
Our Body as a Country
With the sea and the woods on my mind, it felt appropriate to explore our bodies as imaginary countries. What would the outline of your country be on a map? Where are the major cities? What does your national anthem sound like as you sing it?
This exercise has its seed in an exercise I did with Jessica Tartaro as part of a connection game at a SpeakUP evening. SpeakUP is her version of authentic relating games.
Ripples in the Dirac Sea
This Geoffrey Landis story was first published in the October 1988 issue of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. The story is an elegant exploration of the time paradox of time travel. The story uses the Dirac sea as the basis for time travel. Landis himself is a physicist. The beauty of the writing and the plot had me tearing up by the time I finished.
I love the story because the Dirac sea is real. Theoretical physicist Paul Dirac is not as well known as Einstein with his theory of relativity and the famous formula E=mc^2, or Schrödinger's theory of quantum superposition where a cat is both alive and dead at the same time. Some scientists are bottom-up looking at the data and coming up with a theory. Dirac was more of a top-down thinker and ended up postulating the existence of antimatter.
In the introduction of a mathematics paper “The Dirac Sea” the author J. Dimock explains Paul Dirac’s contribution:
“Dirac invented the Dirac equation to provide a first order relativistic differential equation for the electron which allowed a quantum mechanical interpretation. He succeeded in this goal but there was difficulty with the presence of solutions with arbitrarily negative energy. These could not be excluded when the particle interacts with radiation and represented a serious instability. Dirac’s resolution of the problem was to to assume the particles were fermions, invoke the Pauli exclusion principle, and hypothesize that the negative energy states were present but they were all filled. The resulting sea of particles (the Dirac sea) would be stable and homogeneous and its presence would not ordinarily be detected. However it would be possible to have some holes in the sea which would behave as if they had positive energy and opposite charge. These would be identified with anti-particles. If a positive energy particle fell into the sea and filled the hole (with an accompanying emission of photons), it would look as though the particle and anti-particle annihilated. The resulting picture is known as hole theory. It gained credence with the discovery of the positron, the anti-particle of the electron.”
The story intrigued me so I have started reading the 2011 biography The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom by Graham Farmelo. So far I have learned that Dirac was uncomfortable with normal conversation. This came from his childhood where his French father would eat dinner with him, while his mother and siblings ate in a separate room. Paul had to speak in French and if he made a linguistic mistake his father refused him permission to leave the table. Paul had digestive problems and often felt sick, so he would sit still at the table and vomit.
A Definition of Human Language
I have started on another linguistics book from my mother’s library - Language: The Cultural Tool by Daniel L. Everett. He explores whether language is encoded in our genes, thus a biological tool or a cultural tool. He is on the side of it being a cultural tool. Before the author gets to his own definition of language he explores several definitions.
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines language as “a systemic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings.”
British linguistic pioneer Henry Sweet (part of the inspiration for Henry Higgins in George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play Pygmalion) defined language as “the expression of ideas by means of speech-sounds combined into words. Words are combined into sentences, this combination answering to that of ideas into thoughts.”
Two American linguists of the first half of the twentieth century Bernard Bloch and George L. Trager suggest: “A language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which a social group cooperates.”
MIT professor Noam Chomsky offers one of the most influential definitions of language: “A formal language is a (usually infinite) set of sequences of symbols (such sequences are ‘strings’) constructed by applying production rules to another sequence of symbols which initially contains just the start symbol.”
Each definition is incomplete in some way which is normal because language has many facets and no single definition can capture them all. Everett writes that the Merriam-Webster definition “is easily the most useful, complete, and accurate.” Henry Sweet’s definition excludes sign language and computer languages and is too narrow with its emphasis on words. “All words are ‘signs’ (a meaning paired with a form), but not all signs are words or sentences (stop signs, ‘thumbs up,’ and other gestures come to mind).” Bloch and Trager’s definition includes non-human languages such as a baboon’s grunts. The author states that Chomsky’s formal definition asks the question: “How much of language can we explain by mechanics alone, with no reference to meaning? And yet to define language this way is like trying to define music only in terms of notes and rules for combining them, with no concern for the aesthetics of music…”
Everett gives a formula to summarize his concept of language: Cognition + Culture + Communication = Language. He writes: “This means that each normal human being has a brain, belongs to a community with values, and needs to communicate, and the confluence of these states results in language.”