Reminder: Orwell’s Advice

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

From: George Orwell – Politics and the English Language (1946)

Reminder: Orwell’s Advice was originally published on Meandering home


Music as a universal language

We often hear people say that language is a universal language, and we like to uncritically accept such assessment. I thought today of polishing up that metaphor a little. Why don’t we consider music as a language family, like the Niger-Congo, Austranesian, Sino-Tibetan, Afro-Asiatic or Indo-European language families.

Communication between speakers of different languages of such families can be difficult and will resort to other than linguistic means, such as gestures and facial expressions. Consider for example that Russian, Punjabi and French are all Indo-European languages, but if a Russian, Frenchman and Punjabi walk in a bar, they aren’t likely to celebrate their newfound camaraderie with an intellectual conversation. Yet, they might get along well. The way they understand each other shows the universality of human language. It is apparent in the ease with which we intuitively understand the intention of a tender lullaby or a fierce insult, a cheerful invitation to drink or a disapproving grin.

I compare this to different genres in music. So what is a better place to test the thesis that music is a universal language than musical cross-overs, collaborations between musicians with completely different backgrounds (like jazz and baroque) or interpretations of music from the ears of another genre?

I have compiled a list of a few of these musical collaborations and would love to know your thoughts and additions!

Music as a universal language was originally published on Meandering home

Online Poem Generator

As someone who loves the belief that poetry is a form of communication, I am inclined to see its authenticity threatened by the emergence of automated poem generators. I am aware that strong AI will be among us within a few decades from now, if we believe the predictions of researchers in the field, but from my vantage point that doesn’t depress me as much as it perhaps should. I am curious how machines will generate poetry that will be virtually indistinguishable from human verse and often indeed be judged more ‘authentic’, ‘heartfelt’ and – human.

I found this silly online poem generator today, that among other things allows you to create a sonnet based on some words you enter in an online form. I typed in ‘music’ along with some verbs and adjectives that came to my mind. This is the generated result after 3 attempts, which bears the obvious signature of the machine’s non-comprehension:

Ode to the Music
My bright music, you inspire me to write.
I love the way you echo, stop and sound,
Invading my mind day and through the night,
Always dreaming about the ultrasound.

Let me compare you to a cool buffoon?
You are more quiet and more fantastic.
Cute sun heats the peaceful peaches of June,
And summertime has the big monastic.

How do I love you? Let me count the ways.
I love your calm rhythm, timbre and notes.
Thinking of your bold timbre fills my days.
My love for you is the soft petticoats.

Now I must away with a splendid heart,
Remember my strange words whilst we’re apart.

When I did the same for free verse, I can still quickly discern the mark of the machine, but it becomes easier to imagine myself tricked:

How happy is the quiet sound!
Down, down, down into the darkness of the sound,
Gently it goes – the tranquil, the restful, the noisy.

How happy are lovely tunes!
Now lovable is just the thing,
To get me wondering if tunes are endearing.

How happy is the fat pop!
A pop is double-chinned. a pop is rich,
a pop is profitable, however.

Online Poem Generator was originally published on Meandering home

Meditation on Thinking

We sit and breathe calmly. We observe that we are thinking and in a first, gentle, move, admit that it is a concept that will always evade our definition. We just think. The ability to distinguish it from not-thinking requires a precise definition, hence in other words we are always-already caught in the realm of thinking. We think of Martin Heidegger, who has said, or at least written, something very similar in his signature Black Forest obscurantist way.

Let’s not use rhetoric to distract us. We must, to the best of our abilities, put into words what we think ‘thinking’ is, lest we lose our claim to rationality. Yet, we can’t offer a concise definition of what thinking means without making assumptions that should themselves be criticized. This is, in fewer words than twentieth century academic philosophers could get away with, the postmodern position. Thinking just ‘is’ – it seems a rather trivial and boring result of our meditation so far.

Don’t forget to breathe! As we must obey the above ‘call’ as I call it, aware of its religious origin, the greatest philosophers have written important texts about the concept and meaning of ‘thinking’. We will try the view that thinking is manipulation of symbols (we leave out the adjective ‘mere’ in good faith). We conjure up the image of a Turing machine and Turing’s great classification of problems. We know most contemporary philosophers wonder what is missing in that account. Aren’t we more than mere machines (here the adjective has its revenge).

When we talk about a machine capable of simulating itself, we are grasping the exact difficulty we had with the ‘problem’, or paradox, of thinking that we started this meditation with. The problem of infinite regression (the simulation simulating a further machine, and so forth in infinitum) is immediately apparent. We know that such simulations can be ran on a machine consisting of trillions of binary operators, made of silicon, proteins or at the quantum level with exponential gains in efficiency because of quantum weirdness. But does this tell us what thinking is or means?

It is of course a category mistake to think that the materialist view can define what thinking means. And when we know what it ‘is’ in terms of a reorganization of atoms in our neocortex, we will resort to philosophical irony and – think about it. Breathe out and think you are breathing out at the same time.

Meditation on Thinking was originally published on Meandering home

Evolutionary consolation

[Mommy puts son to bed]
Mommy, I’m so afraid.
– Why, darling?
Do you think I have bad genes?
– Why do you think that?
Girls don’t want to talk with me.
– But you got your genes from mommy and daddy.
– Mommy and daddy talked to each other.
Did you?
– Yes.
But my genes could still be bad.
– How?
Maybe you two were forced to mate, or maybe you didn’t have a sufficiently long courtship period to discern each other’s evolutionarily advantageous traits, or mommy’s biological clock was ticking and you were her last resort for procreation.
– Those are profound questions, young man.
Yes [whines]
– Are you tired?
– Then sleep. Why don’t you just behave as if your genes were good?
Just believe?
– Yes. Just believe that you are an integral part of our evolution’s absence of purpose. Just believe that you are not a cul-de-sac of evolution.
No! Don’t cull the sack!
– Goodnight son.

Evolutionary consolation was originally published on Meandering home