Wednesday, 30 March 2011

DSM and pseudoscience

I have a friend who is dear to me and who keeps me humble by his deep skepticism of my sometimes outrageous thoughts and ideas. He and I have had many interesting conversations. I've never been able to convince him though that his psychology classes in a course he took a while ago comprise of just one of many schools of thought and not as authoritative as he thinks it is. He is fond of telling me that our selves can be broken down into four distinct quadrants: how we see ourselves; how we want to be seen by others; how others view us; and, the fourth is never really quite clear to me...

When I get too pedantic for him he looks at me with feigned pity (at least that's what I take it to be), he says "there are four of you, and you never think beyond the first and second...". I have enough respect for him to never be offended because his skepticism keeps me humble and reminds me when I've gotten too serious and overwrought by ideas as I'm wont to become sometimes.

However, his complete faith in the autoritative brand of psychology of his makes me reflect on how blurred and dangerous the boundaries can be between pseudoscience and the vague generalities that make up the entries in the DSM (diagnostic and statistical manual for mental disorders). The danger here is that like the overwhelmingly powerful legal apparatus of the Inquisition was based on a treatise called, Malleus Maleficarum (the hammer of witches) to inflict evil acts upon "heretics" and "witches", the DSM is a bible on which power can be exercised over the disenfrachised and the vulnerable in our society.

There is a legal instrument called a Community Treatment Order which has been used to force powerful psychotropic drugs on otherwise sane people who have been chronically in trouble with the law here in Nunavut (and I would think in almost all aboriginal communities) with insidious impunity.

When I was a policy analyst for an Inuit Organization this issue was brought to my attention more than once. But when I mentioned it to lawyer-types and otherwise thoughtful people all I got was nervous unease, even resentment that I had the gall to bring this up. There is something really wrong here... we haven't seem to advanced very far from the days when women and misfits and those who opposed arbitrary authority were ruthlessly persecuted and burned at the stake.

Jay

On the undecidable propositions of formal systems

Isaac Asimov wrote in the tenth-anniversary of The Skeptical Inquirer:

"Inspect every piece of pseudoscience and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold. What have we to offer in exchange? Uncertainty! Insecurity!"

One of the great dangers of unbridled use of logic and principles of rational thought is that everything we hold as meaningful can seem to lose meaning under close scrunity; one of the great strengths of principled use of logic and rational thought is that clarity and humility can be achieved, though no guarantees are proffered.

What do these words bring up for you: internal division, repression, neurosis, alienation..? These are words from Freudian psychology which (perhaps inadvertently) rendered human virtues of rationality, conscience or ethical behaviour and spirituality (that which we use to define ourselves) into nothing more banal than reaction-formations and cruel delusions of untenable grandeur in lieu of constant sexual frustration (our desire to have sex with our parents! Sheesh!).

There is a term used in metaphysics, nominalism, that in its original use was meant to denote that some words and names we use to construct arguments are really just labels, and as such, we should treat them with skepticism, or at the very least define them within their appropriate context.

Wholesale application of scientific interpretation can be used to not only conclude that human beings are nothing more than the genes we carry or complexes of neuroses and perversity in constant need of vigilance and policing. But this is like saying that the Notre Dame Cathedral is nothing more than a pile of stones, or that the Theory of Relativity woulda, coulda, shoulda... we know better.

The title of this particular blog entry is suggestive of the great Godel's paper that scolded the arrogance of mathematics, that some propositions cannot be (can never be) answered definitively by any one system of thought and interpretation no matter how elaborate or elegant in construct.

In human terms, I exist as Jay, as a unique human being with a unique, particular history, and not merely a member of a category, that my statistics are just that, statistics, and, in the end, are merely incidental, accidental, and contingent upon many factors of my unique and multi-layered history.

I'm on a human journey; we're all on a human journey. As human beings, we are more than the sum of our parts. This is a miracle: that we exist and strive for transcendence. The question of whether this is pointless or not is really besides the point. Some random processes have definite outcomes, that without the uncertainty of randomness itself could not have been possible. Sometimes it's rude to look a gift-horse in the mouth, which is, after all, is a gift.

Jay

Monday, 28 March 2011

Chapter 3 The Little Prince in Inuktitut

Here is the third installment of Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince in Inuktitut:

Qulaap 3

Akuni qaujilaunngilara nakit pingmangaat. Taannakuluk ataniarjuk, uvannit amisunik apiqqutiksaliugaluaq, tusaqquujivalaunngilaq apiqsuraluaraangakku. Kisianili ilainnakulunginnik uqaraangat, taimaak qaujivallialilauqpara, kinaungmangaat amma nakinngaarmangaat.

Imaak, sivulliqpaamik qangatasuura takujariurmagu (titiraujajjaanngitarali qangatasuunnguaq pijariatuluarmat), uvannut apirilauqpuq:

“Unattauq kisu?”

“Una sunatuinnaunngittuq. Qangatasuuq una. Tingmisuuq. Qangatasuuqutiga una.”

Ammattauq upiqqalauqpunga qaujitikkakku qangatasuurunnarama.

Kamaiqqilauqpuq, uqarlunilu:

“Qanualugli! Silainnarmit katakpiit?”

“Ii,” kiuvara, aupallirlungalu.

“Uak! Tamanna titsinaqpuq!”

Taimaak ataniarjuk illaqsivuq kanngusunngittiarluni, takkuqtikasaglungalu naammaginngilara. Pirruaqitillunga isumagijauttiarumasuungugama.

Amma imaak uqalirivuq:

“Asuttauq, ivvit qilangmiingaaqtutit! Nalliat tavva nunarjuariviuk?”

Taipsumani qaujilauqpunga qaumanirmik kamanaqtumik taapsuminga; amma apirittautigilauqpara, tavvainnaq:

“Asianik uvatta nunarjuarmiinngaaravilli?”

Kisianili kiulaunngilaq. Niaqunganut tikkuanngualauqpuq, ijigiinnaqtuni suli qangatasuunnut:

“Tavva sulivuq uuvunga ungasiktumiinngaarunnarajanngittutit…”

Taimalu nipailiqpuq, akunilu nillirani. Ammalu nurraujanngualiariqqaujara ippiarjuminit tiguvaa, qimirrualiqtuniuglu nillikkannirunniiqtuni taimaak.

Qaujimajuksauvutit kangiisililaurninnik taapsuma uqarvigingmanga “asinginnik nunarjuanik.” Tavvali tukisinasullarililauqpunga, taimaak, qanuq tamanna uqautigijanga tukiqallaringmangaat.

“Angutiajjukuluuk, nakilli pigavit? Namiimmalli taima ‘nunait’ uqautigijait? Namunngaitijumagaviuk taanna nurraujakuluit?”

Tavva nipailauqtuni kiuvuq:

“Tavva piummarikpuq qituttugaujaliuravuik taanna uvannut tunijait unnukkut aturunnarniarmagu ingirrariluniuk.”

“Iittiaq. Amma pittianginnaruvit qilarutitaaqtinniaqpagittauq, taimaak ipiqsimajunnarniaraviuk ullukkut, amma pitugviliurniaqpara.”

Kisianili tamanna uqaqtara ataniarjuup kamagilauqpaa:

“Ipirluguu! Sungmattauq!”

“Tavvali ipinngikkuviuk,” uqautivara, “narutuinnarniaqtuq, ammalu taimaak asiuluni.”

Tanna piqatikuluga illaqsivuq kamaluni:

“Namunngarajaqtugigaviugli?”

“Namutuinnaq. Tauvunga sivumutuinnaq.”

Asuillaak ataniarjuk uqaliqpuq pillattaarluni:

“Tamannali isumaalunanngittuq. Nunagijannilli sunatuinnait mikijuutiuvut!”

Ammalu uqakkannirivuq, quviasugunniirujugluni:

“Sivumutiunnaugaluaqpat, ungasiktumut pijunnanngilaq…”

_________________________________

The next installment: Chapter 4

Ps. if you notice any typos in the text (or can suggest a better translation of the sections) I'd appreciate it if you let me know so I can make corrections...

Thank you,

Jay

Some parallels between political and religious dogma

Like most nerds who keep up with (Canadian) politics, I'm extremely excited about the open market of ideas that the Canadian federal elections offers us.

Yesterday I had the news on most of the day somewhat in the background, and at some point a piece caught my attention. An Albertan was asked by one of the CBC reporters who he'd vote for, and his answer was that, like in every election, he'd vote conservative but was resigned to the fact that he'd invariably watch the conservatives make idiots of themselves and forget what they got elected in for.

How very unfortunate for that man to think that "tradition" and not his personal views should decide his politics for him. An otherwise decent and hard-working man, to be sure, whose politics he regards as if it were religion (or more likely, too lazy or cynical to bother with reading up on who actually deserves his vote).

In Richard Tarnas', The Passion of the Western Mind, he writes:

"From the Enlightenment onward, the continuing development of the Western mind's social conscience, its growing recognition of unconscious prejudices and injustices, and its increasing historical knowledge shed new light on the actual practice of the Christian religion over the centuries. The Christian injunction to love and to serve all humanity and high valuation of the individual human soul now stood in sharp counterpoint to Christianity's long history of bigotry and violent intolerance - it's forcible conversion of other peoples, its ruthless suppression of other cultural perspectives, its persecution of heretics, its crusades againt Moslems, its oppression of Jews, its depreciation of women's spirituality and exclusion of women from positions of religious authority, its association with slavery and colonialist exploitation, its pervasive spirit of prejudice and religious arrogance maintained against all those outside the fold. Measured by its own standards, Christianity fell woefully short of ethical greatness..."

Now, I'm not against Christianity or the Christian faith (I was raised an Anglican and believe in many of its tenets) nor am I against any religion for that matter. But if we replace all references to "Christianity" in the above quote with the so-called "Religious Right" ideology of Harper's government, we can see clearly where ring-wing reactionaries (who dress in august conservative torys' colours) come from and what they stand for.

Biard was on a CBC program and he asked honestly why the "leftist" Canadian media and the liberals were picking on women ministers (Oda), and more recently the Secretary of State for Seniors was very dismissive of an online poll that was taken by the Canadian Association of Retired Persons regarding the last proposed Harper budget claiming that most seniors are too computer illiterate to take such a poll (or too poor to afford computers in any case).

sheesh!

Jay

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The spiritual vs science problem

The now age-old problem of seeking unity between religious faith and scientific rationalism seems as intractable as the gap between the schism of the two fields of the great human endeavour to seek meaning. In strictly militaristic terms that the Western Mind has chosen to state the problem, it truly seems hopeless.

On the one hand, science seems to have given up and, in fact, has denied any meaning of the quest for truth; on the other, faith seems now uncertain of its rightful role in the psychology of being human. East and west, and never the twain shall meet... "Nudge, nudge. wink, wink. Say no more. Say no more," to quote Monty Python.

Historians of Science and of Religion are wont to point out the cruel irony that the "fathers of rationalism", such as Copericus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, etc. were all fervently religious. But that reason won out over religion "in this great battle". That may be so. But it has never been satisfactory to rely solely on dogma, whether scientific or religious, to definitively answer any question. Definitively answer...

How very cruel a conclusion.

The quest for spiritual and scientific truth (or satisfaction, if you perfer) is less about definitive answers, less about conflict, than a personal journey in search of meaning. Science is the great authority on the questions of "how" the material universe is structured, but it doesn't even concern itself with the question of "why"; Religious faith is the great authority on the questions of "why" and letting matters of "how" work themselves out.

In IQ philosophy, there is no such schism. Science may be knowledge par excellence, but without wisdom to guide us human beings, without reflection, scientific knowledge on its own has dangerous consequences of global import. Any and all information/use of a resource is carefully weighed and considered because more often than not we have only one shot at solving a problem: which of the lesser evils, and which of the best outcomes, can we live with and are willing to accept?

In IQ, a human being is incomplete and immature (or more liable to make fatal mistakes) without the benefits of both knowledge and wisdom to inform his/her actions and thought. Silatuniq (being wise) and silainniq (lacking wisdom) have the same root as sila- "the universe" because IQ epistemology is based on the how and the way things work in the universe (which is seen as ultimately fair and just). This is more akin to Taoism of ancient China, where the ideal is to follow the workings and nature of the universe rather than wishful thinking.

There is an importance difference between "wishful thinking" and "interpreting" the significance of events, history and outcomes of action or thought. The latter follows accepted rules of social behaviour and cosmological logic with social/cosmological justice as a motive, and the former is sheer childishness and complete denial of reality, pure invention of a subjective mind.

As a believer in scientific thought, I'm critically aware of its short-comings, and view knowledge or facts without context as utterly meaningless and psychologically unsatisfying. As a believer in spirituality, I do not believe in ready-made, inherently passive definitive answers. But that we can and must seek personal meaning and social/cosmological justice to achieve some psychological maturity. We may never achieve the ideal end, but that is not the point that's important to me - it is the growing and maturing as a human being that drives me on.

Jay

Friday, 25 March 2011

The Little Prince: Chapter 2

The second installment. Enjoy:

Qulaap 2

Taimaimmat tavva inutuulauqpunga, uqallaqatiksaqaqpannanga, kisiani qangatasuura katangmat Siurarjuangani Sahara, 6-nguliqtut arraaguit taimannganit. Qangatasuuma aulautingit suralauput taipsumani. Tavva aulausirijiqannginnama ilaak inutuugama, sananasulilauqpakka aulautikka namminiq. Taimaillunga kisianiulilaurmat annaumanasuglunga: imiqattialauunnginnama pinasuarusituinnarmut naammangmat.

Katalauqtunga unnungmat, tavva, sinigasulilauqpunga tamaani siurainnarmi ungasiktualuullunga nunalingnit. Inutuuniqsaulauqpunga umiarjuamut asiusimajumigluunniit puktajumik imainnarmi. Taimaimmat tukisiumajuksauvutit tupalaurninnik, ullaakkut, tupaaqtaugama nipiarjukulungmut. Imaak uqalauqpuq:

“Atii pijunnaruvit – titiraujautinnga nurraujannguamik!”

“Haiguuq!”

“Titiraujautinnga nurrajannguamik!”

Makittautigilauqpunga tupaluamut. Uittallaalauqpunga. Qinirlungalu tamaunga qanigijannut. Takulauqpunga inuralaakulungmik, tamaani nangiqtuq uvannik qimirruarluni pillarigluni. Tavva uuma ataani takujunnaqpat ajjinnguanga, uattiaruuliqtillugu titiraujarunnaqsilaurakku. Kisianili titiraujalauqtara piunnginniqsauvuq inullattaanganik.

Kisianili tamanna pijaaqqutiginngilara. Innarnut piqujauulaunnginnama titiraujarnirmik 6-tuinnarnik ukiuqaqtunga, amma pinasuarunniilaurama titiraujarnirmik, kisiani qullugiannguamik silataanik amma iluanik.

Tavvali taanna inuk niriunanngiluarninganut ukigituinnalilauqpunga kamaiqqikkama suqaimma. Iqqaumagit, qangatasuukkut katalaurama suirainnarmi ungasiktumi nunalingnit inuqanngitumi. Kisianili taanna nukappiakuluk asiuqqajutut pilaunngilaq, ammaluunniit taqasimajuujaalaunngilaq kaaqquujinani qiiliqquujinanilu ammalu kappiasuqquujinani. Taannakuluk asiuqqajuujaalaunngilaq siurainnaalungmi, tamaani inuqanngittualungmi. Tavva nillirunnaqsigama, apirililauqpara:

“Qanurli – qanuippittauq maanialutuinnaq?”

Amma uvannut kiuvuq, sukkailuni uqarluni pillattaaqtutut uimmaktittitaililluni:

“Atii pijunnaruvit – titiraujautinnga nurraujannguamik...”

Tavva niriunanngittumut tatamilluni, naalattiarluni kisianiusuunguvuq. Taimaak uvannut kamanaraluaqtillugu, inuqanngittualungmi annaumanasungnirmut aksururnaqtumi, anittivunga ippiarjunnit paippaamik titirautimiglu. Kisianili tavva iqqaivunga ilinniarnirilauqtakka pilauqput nunanngualirinirmik, unikkaaliangusimajunik, naasausirinirmik, amma uqausilirinirmik, amma uqautillugu taanna nukappiakuluk (imaak suggautirujuktugu) titiraujarunnannginniraqtunga. Uvannut kiuvuq:

“Unniit taimaak. titiraujautinnga nurraujannguamik…”

Kisianili tavva titiraujalauqsimanngilanga nurraujannguarmik. Asuillaak titiraujarutiliqpara ilangannik titiraujaqattaqsimajarma. Taanna titiraujalauqpara qullugiannguaq iluanut takuksaunngittuq. Amma niriugilaunngilara taannakuluk nukappiaq imaak uqarmat,

“Aakka, aakka, aakka! Pijumanngilangali alipannguarmik qullugiap iluaniitumik. Qullugiat iqsinaqtualuuvut, amma alipat angiluqtutik. Nunannilli, sunalimaat mikijuutauvut. Pijumavungali nurraujannguamik. Titirautinnga nurraujannguamik.”

Asuillaak imaak titiraujalauqpunga.

Qimirrunattialauqtuniuk, imaak uqalauqpuq:

“Aakka. Taannali nurraujannguaq sukkukuluuvuq. Atii asinganik sanajjutinnga.”

Asuillaak asinganik titiraujarutiliqpara.

Piqatiga uvannut qungatuinnalauqpuq.

“Tavva qaujimajutit,” uvannut uqaqpuq, “taanna nurraujanngilaq. Una panninnguaq. Takugit najjulik.”
Asuillaak titiraujakkanniliqpunga.

Kisiani taanna piuginnginnivaa suli.

“Taanna ittuuluaqtuq. Pijumavungali nurraujarmik akuni uumaniaqtumik.”

Tavva sapililiqpunga, suuqaimma aulautikka sanajariaqarakkit suli. Asuillaak tuavirlunga uuvinga titiraujaliqpunga.

Amma uqautillugu imaak:

“Una tavva qituttugaujanga. Taima nurraujannguaq taapsuma iluaniippuq.”

Niriulaunngilangali kiinanga quvittukuluungmat taanna makkuktukuluk sanajjutijara:

“Taimaattiaq pijumajunga! Isumavilli taanna nurraujaq iviksugaqturiatuniarmangaat?”

“Sungmat?”

“Suuqaimmali nunanni sunalimaat mikittuungmata…”

“Taanna nirijaksaminik amigaqsijjaanngittuq,” uqautivara. “Nurraujaliurutivagit taapsuminga mikittuullugu.”
Taannakuluk titirajuqtannik takuniattiaqpuq:

“Mikiluanngittuq una – takugit siniliqtukuluk…”

Asuillaak taimaak qaujijariuqpara ataniarjuk.
_________________________________

The next installment: Chapter 3

Ps. if you notice any typos in the text (or can suggest a better translation of the sections) I'd appreciate it if you let me know so I can make corrections...

Thank you,

Jay

Rewards vs achievements

I've been hearing on the radio over the past couple of days stories that have deeply touched me from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission's hearings in Iglulik, Nunavut. I can't even imagine the horror and distress that was caused by the sometimes forced separations of children as young as four years old and parents who didn't understand what was happening, and of the unbearable, sad silence in the Inuit communities following the taking away of their children. My heart goes out to those who were made to suffer, and for those who suffer still.

Like most Inuit, even of my generation, I grew up with a deeply ingrained spiritual imperative to understand the sometimes profoundly perplexing world around us. When bad things happen to me, I begrudgingly accept that as something I either deserve or as a test I'm bound to fail (without a doubt).

For many, many years, I wanted oblivion, or at the very least, a respite from my existential angst. Having been raised a Christian, I vigilantly expected the end-times and sometimes (most times) wanted to give up the seemingly impossible task of acquiring grace for my sins from God - ie, my reward - for I was without hope of ever understanding what it was exactly Christ and God wanted from me.

I have seen the cynical cruelty of public confessions where admissions of extreme selfishness and self-indulgence are easily "forgiven" without any real thought of the victims, let alone the existing danger to the community posed by such "confessors" who invariably repeat their 'sins" over and over again. These people believe that they need only confess that the Lord Jesus is Christ in their deathbeds and the hurt and shame  they've caused most of their psychologically underdeveloped lives will somehow magically disappear.

On the other extreme, deeply earnest spiritual revival exercises happen all the time, with their unvoiced promises of spiritual high and magical and disturbing denial of the world (that has done to pot)... I've wanted this so much, but being uncomfortable and unable to deal with, at the best of times, expressions of strong emotions, I never lasted very long. Not only are the emotions expressed passionate but very communal, though feel-good they may be.

As an Inuk, I've always had a philosophical slant and given my largely self-taught liberal arts education believe in the liberating power of self-knowledge. What I mean by "self-knowledge" is the practice of self-examination of what I really value (human dignity, Human Rights, cultivation of a scientific mind, creative and artistic pursuits, etc.).

While there is the dark, dark side of Inuit community on the one hand, and the expectation of perpetual emotional high on the other, there is a third option. A liberal arts education.

A liberal arts education, though not promising anything of instantaneous value, such as the spiritual reward/punishment of religion, is very much in line with IQ philosophy (believe it or not) that not only assumes a thinking-reasoning person of everyone, but also in the high value placed on "wisdom" to counterbalance "knowledge".

I believe, as I've said before, in the historical-based pedagogy where streams of thought can be traced back to the original articulators who say the thoughts in most beautiful, compelling terms. This approach also teaches habits of attention and concentration so necessary for acquiring critical thinking skills by the way it builds up a broad body of knowledge on which to base the critical/analytical thoughts on. This approach teaches one the ability to discern the important points from the trivial in almost any argument. This approach builds self-confidence.

It also teaches, most importantly, that Education is not really a reward/punishment but an on-going, progressive achievement. Honest self-examination takes hard work but it leaves behind a foundation for wisdom and integrity to take root, and realistic (not fatalistic) thinking and expectations of oneself and what is possible. In liberal arts education, one is not so much taught but a child raised with real intellectual capabilities and confidence to survive. This is very IQ philosophy.

Jay

Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Little Prince: an experiment in Inuktitut in 27 parts - Chapter 1

I'm trying an experiment here. I've always wanted to translate Antoine de Saint Exupéry's, The Little Prince, ever since I first read it. I wanted to translate it for my father who was a devout Christian Inuk. But over the years, he grew old and died before I went about to translating the book. I still think about translating Saint Exupéry but this time for a broader Inuit audience and, especially, for my granddaughter, Erica.


The Little Prince is not just a children's book: it is a modern parable about the modern world as told through a narrative style of a children's book. As a classical parable, it uses character/personality archetypes without judgement or prejudice but plainly and with a touch of innocent irony, through child-like eyes.


I'm deliberately using ICI Roman Orthography to demonstrate an alternative pedagogical style than using syllabics. Though it may take a bit of getting use to, this orthography is much easier to learn how to sight-read and allows for an easier transition from Inuktitut to English instruction, an already difficult juncture that Nunavut's children are expected to take without missing their stride.


This story is not just for children. It is a reminder, an appeal to us bigger ones to remember that "All grown-ups were once children-- although few of them remember it."


I hope that my Inuktitut-speaking readership enjoys the story. For those who do not read Inuktitut, I got the original from this link: http://home.pacific.net.hk/~rebylee/text/prince/contents.html


Now, I don't know whether this is public domain or whether I'm breaking copy-right laws by translating the book without permission. If I am inadvertantly breaking the law, do not be surpirsed if I suddenly discontinue the installments.
________________________________________________________________________


Ataniarjuk
titiraqatausimajuq amma titiraujaqtausimajuq Antoine de Saint Exupéry-mut

Turaaqtitaq



LEON WERTH-mut

Isumagijunnairviujumavunga surusinut uuvinga uqalimaaqtunut turaaqtittijumagama taapsuminga uqalimagarmik innarmut. Taimaak pijjutiqallarikkama: piqannarilaarigakku silarjualimaami. Asianiktauq pijjutiqarivunga: taanna innaq kisulimaanik tukisiangmat, aglaalluunniit surusinut uqalimaagarnik. Pingajuannittauq pijutiqarivunga: France-miutangmat tauvanilu kaaqattaqpuq qiuvaktunilu. Alianaigusuktigumagakku taimaak. Taakkua pijutikka naammanngippata suli, taanna uqalimaagaq turaaqtigumavara surusiunirilauqtanganut taapsuma innaup. Innalimaat surusiulauqsimajuinnaungmata – ilangit iqqaumanngikkaluaqpata. Taimaimmat turaaqtittinira aaqqigiaqpara:

LEON WERTH-mut
NUKAPPIANGULAUQSIMANINGANUT
________________________________________

Qulaap 1



 
6-nik ukiuqaliqtunga takulauqsimavunga ajjinnguarmik qimirruagarmit taijaujumik, Sulijut Unikkaat Silarjuamit, napaaqtulingnik unikkaaqtunik. Taanna ajjinnguaq iluliqalauqpuq qullugiannguamik iisinasunnguaqtumik nirjutimik. Uvva ajjinga taipsuma titiraujaqsimajuup.

Taikani uqalimaagarmi titiraqsimalauqpuq: “Qullugiat iisisuunguvut angujaminnik iluittuullugit, tamuanagit. Tavva iisilauqtutik aulajjagunnaillisuunguvut, amma sinilisuunguvut 6-nik taqqinik nirijangit nungunnasungninginnik.”

Tamanna isumagimmarilauqpara, ammalu kinguniagut, isumalilauqpunga quvianarajarninganik napaaqtulingmiillunga. Ammattauq titiraujammarilauqtunga amiarutimut ajjinngualiuriulauqtunga sivulliqpaamik. Titiraujaqtara taanna sivulliqpaaq. Imailingalauqtuq titiraujaqtara:


Taanna titiraujariurutiga takujautiqattalauqpara innarnut, amma apiriivaktugit taapsuminga kappiasungmangaata.

Kisianili kiuqattalauqpuq: “Kappiasukpunga? Qanuimmattauq nasannguarmik kappiasukkajaqpunga?”

Taanna titiraujaqtara nasannguangunngilaq. Unali qullugiannguaq alipamik iisisimannguaqtuq. Kisianili innarnut tukisijaujunnanngimmat, asinganik titiraujalilaurivunga: titiraujalauqpunga qullugiannguap iluanik, innaiit tukisittiarniarmata tamatuminga. Innait uqajjaunginnariaqarmata sunalimaanik. Titirajaqtama aippanga imaittuulauqpuq:


Taimali innait imaak kiuqattalilauqpuq, taakkua titiraujaqtakka qullugiannguat, silatigigaluaqpagit ilulirigaluaqpagit, qujanaarlugit, ilinniangaalirlangaguuq nunanngualirinirmik, unikkaaliangusimajunik, naasausirinirmik amma uqausilirinirmik. Taimaimmat, 6-nik ukiuqaqtunga, nuqqaujjililauqpunga pinasugunnarajalauqtannik titiraujaqtiulunga innannguruma. Sapilililauqtunga tukisijaujunnanngimmatiik titiraujaqtaakkak sivulliq amma aippanga. Innaiit makua namminiq tukigunnanngittut, amma iqianaqpuq surusiulluni uqajjiinginnaalugianga sunatuinnait tukinginnik.

Taimaimmat nirualilauqpunga iqqanaijaaksamik, amma ilinnialilauqpunga qangatasuumik aqunnirmik. Tavva qangatasimaliqpunga namuruluujaaluk; amma sulivuq nunanngualirinirmik ilinnialauuqtakka aturniqaliqput. Takutuinnarlunga qaujijunnaqpara nalliat China-ngungmangaat nalliat Arizona-ngungmangaat. Tavva asiuqqaluni unnuakkut, taimaak qaujimajarianga piummarikpuq.

Taimaak piruqpalliallunga amisunik qaujiqattaqsimavunga inungnik pimmarialungnik isumagijaqaqtunik. Akuni inuusimaliqpunga innait qaujimallugit. Qaujisimavakka qanigillugit kikkuungmangaata. Amma taimaikkaluarmat piugiliqpaalliqsimanngilakka suli.

Taimangalimaaq qaujijaraangama kinatuinnarmik taututtiaqquujijumik, qaujinasuaqpakpunga tukisiniarmangaat titiraujaqsimajannik sivulliqpaamik, tainna pisimaujainnarakku suli. Qaujisaqattarama, taimaippat, taanna inuk tukisiattiarmangaat. Kisianili, kinaugaluaqpat, imaak kiungujainnaqpuq:

“Una nasannguaq.”

Taimaak kiujaraangata nillirvigivanngilakka qullugiat, napaaqtukkuviit amma ulluriat miksaanik. Taimaak uqautinasukkaluarlugit suvalikianguvuq. Tavvali uqaqatigiliqpakpakka mikittarnirmik, innait pinnguarusinginnik, gavamalirinirmik, amma qungasirurnik. Taimaittaraangama tavva innarnut quviagijauvakpunga isumajunnattiarnira pillugu.

________________________________________________
-next installment: Chapter 2.

Ps. if you notice any typos in the text (or can suggest a better translation of the sections) I'd appreciate it if you let me know so I can make corrections...

Thank you,

Jay

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Building a case for the Inuit Language Authority (in Nunavut)

I heard on the radio this morning an Inuk host introducing what happened yesterday in Ottawa with the Conservative's federal budget. Basically, it was:

"Our Government was attacked yesterday by its enemies during the announcement of its budget" and soon after, the federal health Minister came on and said that she is not "done with her work",

which gave a distinct impression of the whole process in somewhat biblical terms. "Work" is often used in Inuktitut in the sense of "destiny" or what we are born to do as mandated by God, our life's work.

The democratic process, such as our parliamentary system of government, is inherently "adversarial" which to uniligual Inuit with no real understanding of the legitimate political process is biblical in a sense. Add to that a history without party politics to draw upon and the IQ principle of "never question authority". Party politics (and secular democracy) is not something obvious. A "government" is a Government with a privileged position such as the Church does for the faithful.

The political parties, in a federal election say, assume a basic understanding of their respective philosophies when it comes to Inuit Nunaat therefore nothing of the contrasts in approach, however subtle, are never explicitly mentioned. To most unilingual Inuit all the fuss doesn't make much sense (grown men trying to shout over each other). This is not informed consent: This is not informed decision-making. This is not democracy - not in any of the sense which the concept entails.

What we need is an authoritative body (perhaps outside of Nunavut Government's control and in the hands of ITK) to allow common definitions and explanations of these important concepts to be used in Inuit Nunaat in a negotiated and non-partisan manner. We need such a body to have a solid all-purpose research unit and ties with universities and international bodies (such as Inuit Circumpolar Council) to support it in its work.

Jay

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

revolution vs evolution: social darwinism and Darwin's theory of evolution

The very nature of rightwing ideology (whether religious, political or, well, ideological) is to present historical events, ideas, entitlements, and revolutions of every type in highly selective and simplistic terms as if they come clear-cut and prepackaged for our uncritical consumption.

Take Newtonian physics, for eg, and its supposed "defeat and invalidation" by Einstein's theory of relativity. No such thing ever happened. Rather, what happened was an evolution of thought (though no less "revolutionary" in and of itself) that made classical physics more refined and general the same way that Newton refined and explained the preceding Coperican conception of astronomy. One did not supplant the other. Where Newton's theory could not "explain" a phenomena (such as the precession of Mecury's orbit around the sun) the other could. But Newtonian physics is still used in shooting rockets into space, in ballistics, in predicting the cycles of the moon and tides on Earth, etc. Physical theories are built upon preceding thoughts, not overthrown.

One should always be weary and leery of revolutionary zeal. The H-word and his conservatives came into power promising a revolutionary change in Canadian politics but things seem to have become meaner, more cynical and less tolerant of differences in colour and opinion. The nature of such "revolutions" is to make things uniform and more hegemonic for the dominating group's interests, usually at any cost. The H-word's revolution was not to gain a better understanding of historical factors that define our evolutionary sense of identity as Canadians but to assert coercive power for a day in the sun and class, not social, gain. This is social darwinism.

The humanist ideal, on the other hand, make claims for a better tomorrow not through revolutions but through collective efforts to understand and gain insights into being human and becoming more humane through conscious deliberation and dialogue. Though the ideal is not (or can never be) achieved in reality, every evolutionary cycle promises a more mature and refined understanding, a better approximation to social justice and peacable (co-)existence.

Where social darwinism is about ingratiation, humanism is about commitment to an understanding that change in the human condition takes time, vision and consciously involved effort. Change is an achievement, not a reward.

Jay

Monday, 21 March 2011

Malthus, the Irish famine and Easter Island

I watched a documentary recently where the Irish famine (1845-1852) was the topic of discussion. Like most people who've heard about the famine only in passing, I assumed that there was a great potato blight without any other context to place this almost total decimation of a people.

But there were other factors that were brought into play by other human beings who had political, social and economic interests in trying to destroy the Irish people (famine and genocide). As it turned out, other crops and livestock were completely untouched by the blight and could have saved the million or so poor souls who died in the famine, and the other million or so who were displaced into a diaspora had the rich,  "interested" aristocracy and the English crown acted even just a little bit humanely.

There is a mathematical "justification" for right-wing inaction to help the poor and disenfranchised called "Malthusian population dynamics" that says that human populations have a tendency to grow exponentially while food and other necessary resources only grow linearly; that poverty is the natural state for the overly-breeding subhumans; that evil and adversity can create good and beneficial conditions (ostensibly) for the deserving, prosperous upper-classes.

There is an island called Rapa Nui (Easter Island) that has been used by many, many people to validate Malthus's warning of ever-impending catastrophe of over-population. But by the time the Dutch admiral Jacob Roggeveen "discovered" Easter Island there was a population of about 3,000 indigenous people thriving on the island. Little doubt the natives exploited not only the "fruitful" land resources but also the fish and other aquatic resources to live and survive for millenia. But through Roggeveen's eyes this was a "barren" land peopled only by potential slaves, the uncooperative rest died of sport and bounty and disease not long after Roggeveen's discovery, leaving the island without people.

Inuit also live in a "barren" land and have lived so for also millenia. The apparent barrenness of the land is misleading to the ignorant. We are a maritime people. Extreme rightwing sociologist, Frances Widdowson and her emasculated husband have written that the Canadian Arctic should be depopulated so its resources may be extracted with impunity by right of Canada. According to her, aboriginal peoples do not have "culture" because we have no "technology" (none that could tame Nature anyhow, I guess), at best a subspecies of humanity.

Ringwing ideology is not racist nor is it culture-specific: it attacks any and all peoples not worthy of their consideration, anyone that stand in their way and interests. Gadhafi called his own people "rats" and vermin that should be exterminated. No one can make this up. History has written it.

Jay

Free will vs determinism

My friend, Hillary, and I used to have interesting discussions. I miss him for that. A few months before he suffered a stroke and died he asked me what I thought the nature of evil was. As was our custom, I didn't give him an answer right away but took time to compile in my head what I thought the most productive response(s) would be - he was ever a teacher and practiced his own form of the Socratic method - and I'd get back to him with my thoughts.

I loved his challenging questions (everything from simple maths curiosities to profound questions as above) but the point was not to give definitive answers really but to have excellent conversations while exploring the logical and human consequences of some particular stream of thought.

The natures of good and evil are not questions affable to pat answers (classic Hillary to ask questions with depth). My approach to the question had to start from the simple and somewheres in the conversation insights could be gotten. So I came to him with a statement that the nature of evil arises from free will, and is a consequence (whatever it is) of making a choice with limited ethical consideration (willfully or not).

Hillary was extremely well-read and would write addages in Latin, I think less to showoff than to wait quietly for questions to be asked. At some point in our discussion on the nature of evil he brought up the name of the great Christian theologian, Augustine, who said that the roots of evil do not come from the corporeal world, contrary to what fundamentalists believe. Rather he believed the world was the creation of God and therefore not evil in and of itself but perfect as is. Augustine said that evil arises as a consequence of humanity's free will (or more precisely, the misuse of it).

I was raised as a Christian but most of the sense of being Christian was based on emotions of fear-mongering, ignorance and passivity, that destiny was writ and determined even before I was born, that the physical world was evil. Though I'm not religious per se, following Augustine's logic, the Gospels and the book of Revelation seem to make much more sense - that ignorance and selfish ego motives breed evil and whose consequences everyone suffers (the culpable and the innocent alike). Evil has an inherent need to hide itself as it gestates and requires ignorance and passivity to gain and maintain power.

In this age of information, awareness and education have for the first time in human history an opportunity to respond to evil. The great political unrest in North Africa and the Middle East have shown us how pathetic evil really is, and how dangerous it can be welding its apparent double-bind of economic-, political- and personal- self interests at us all. The particular question of "at what cost?" forces us to make hard choices but these are our choices to make. The way out of the double-bind is to realize we must actively make our choices, hopefully as best informed as possible.

As an individual, I've really enjoy getting drunk or stoned or drunk and stoned and its promises of personal oblivion. But I know the consequences of my selfishness. It's a road I've chosen now not to take. Being mature never promised easy, but it's a choice. So far I'm happy and willing to accept my commitment to self control and the choices I've made to live beyond my ego desires. It is hard but mature as I have ever been. Outside of it is alienation from loved ones, homelessness, and the apparently inescapble trappings of guilt.

I must also maintain humility, being human and fragile...

Jay

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Symbolic logic and rules of grammar

As a true believer in Inuit Qaujimaningit as a discourse I am drawn in and rendered a true believer by the idea of "information-rich" first principles. What I mean here in saying "information-rich" principles is that quality of a system having the ability to generate and produce novel logical outcomes solely from a set of principles or logical arguments (the ability to deduce theorems, in maths speak) not immediately or even tertiarily obvious in the set of existing logical statements themselves that make up the system.

One such system is the axioms of mathematics; another is the systematic grammatical rules of human languages. But I must confess that I think the notational symbolism of formal logic (in maths) is as ugly as things can get, and, if we follow GH Hardy's dictum, have no permanent place in the world.

The symbols comprise of such things as upside down and backwards E's, upside down A's, clunky epsilons and crossed out clunky epsilons, etc. yech! In this symbolic system the prettiest theorems of set theory do not have a hope of redemption the same way that the prettiest girls in a laxative commercial have something just plain wrong with them.

As an Inuk born and raised, I have an almost irresistible need to problem-solve or at the very least to try and understand a problem worthy of attention. Over the course of my career as a thinker, reader and connoisseur of all things excellent that human beings can produce, I've come to appreciate the beauty of mathematics and mathematical symbolism.

I find concise and elegant maths statements truly beautiful, such as Euler's equation: eπi + 1 = 0 and the Lorentz Transformation equations of Einstein's theory of relativity: x’ = x – vt/√1 – v2/c2 that say that the speed of light cannot be exceeded because the bottom, right part links velocity and the speed of light with 1 - [1] as a square root (simply, cannot divide by zero).

As mathematicians started to examine the foundations of mathematics, questions of whether its set of axioms was complete and self-consistent enough to not generate contradictions were raised. Seemingly intractable problems such as Russell's paradox of the barber who shaves only the men who do not shave themselves (does he shave himself or not?) and the logical yes and no answers to consistency and completeness questions arose.

One such yes and no answer to the completeness and consistency questions came from Godel whose numbering system as applied to the axioms of set theory "produced" one of those yes and no answers, very troubling for maths which relies upon the exclusion of the middle possibility (or third answer: yes and no).

There are other paradoxes and questions of infinite regress that fly about in this "Platonic realm", such as the statement: "everything that exists has a location; the location has a location, has a location..." But I think the "yes and no" and infinitely regressible statements have deep similarities with problems in linguistics.

The "differences" between a noun in the subject slot and the predicate slot for eg seem to suggest that these are two mutually excludible stand-alone nouns (Socrates is a man -types of contructs) that would produce the same yes and no answers as Godel's numbering system. But I think suggestions for trying to resolve these issues lies in maths itself and linguistics.

In the infinite regress problem of location, one could say that the location itself is a function of that which exists, and nip the bud right there; with the Godel proofs, though I'm not sophisticated enough to judge his results, I've always had this nagging suspicion that with all of his impressive intellect and logic he might have only produced a logical accident as one is prone to come across in linguistics:

Little green ideas dream furiously.

The above construct seems to obey all logic and grammar of linguistics, but does it really?

Jay

Friday, 18 March 2011

consensus governments and party politics

There is no party politics in Nunavut. We have what is called "consensus government" instead. This makes it rather difficult for a functional civil society to form and provide balance and credible response to the sometimes arbitrary actions of an anonymous bureaucracy which rarely acts in the interest of Nunavummiut.

In other jurisdictions in Canada party politics plays some of this role of a civil society where collective action can form and coalesce around explicit shared interests and values that community-based groups and intelligentsia can rally behind long enough to legitimize the political process.

One logical outcome of a lack of party politics is that federal and territorial elections are largely popularity contests among the candidates; another one is that political platforms and election promises are impossible to ascertain or assess so that it's practically impossible to evaluate where we are as a society, not to mention where we want to go.

We see atrocious acts, like the loss of $110,000,000 of mismanaged funds that was slated for much needed social housing, and nothing happens. No one is held to account. The scarer thing still is that we are sitting on top of natural resources up to the yin-yang with no civil oversight to protect us other than the very politically manipulable Institutes of Public Governance (they're called commissions, like water commission, elsewhere).

Without party politics our society easy to manipulate, easy to divide and conquer, easy to silence the voices of dissension, etc. Bureaucrats love the consensus government that we have.

Do we deserve this?

Jay

Thursday, 17 March 2011

the value of literature to a liberal education

I'm a true believer in the educational value of political and philosophical ideas as expressed in oratory and well-crafted dialogue in literature. This is liberal arts in the flesh. The continuous historical strands of thought and expression of humanity are the purview of "classical education" and can be discerned in the difference of quality between, say, Canadian and American Literature.

The difference in quality has to do, in part, with our respective collective educational histories. In America, "classical education" persisted much longer than in Canada. In classical education, grammar, logic and rhetoric form the basis of primary and secondary curriculum. But "grammar" in classical-type education is not just about the mechanics and structure of language; rather, it comprises of the mechanics and structure as well as, more importantly, analysis and discussion of ideas behind the literary classics where insights and questions of substance are to be gotten.

We seem to have forgotten that philosophy is not just about reading some dead guy's navel-gazing. Philosophers like Sartre, Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzche, etc. are navel-gazers - dense, pedantic and obscurantists - and give the wrong impression that philosophy is intellectually hard and wears "boring" as a badge of honour. Philosophy is rather more about asking and reflecting upon basic questions of what makes us human, about justice not only as an idea but how the world would look like if it were applied to individuals, society and our outlook and collective behaviour.

I see and perceive philosophy in popular works yet: In movies, in books, in song, it touches and inspires me, and angers me in the context of current events like the threat of a nuclear meltdown in Japan, in the political unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. I see these things and events in philosophical terms and think much as the fictional US President, James Marshall (Harrison Ford) in the movie, Air Force One:

"The dead remember our indifference. The dead remember our silence."

I came here tonight to be congratulated. But today when I visited the Red Cross camps, overwhelmed by the flood of refugees fleeing from the horror of Kazakhstan, I realized I don't deserve to be congratulated. None of us do. Let's speak the truth. And the truth is, we acted too late. Only when our own national security was threatened did we act.

Radek's regime murdered over 200,000 men, women and children and we watched it on TV. We let it happen. People were being slaughtered for over a year and we issued economical sanctions and hid behind a rhetoric of diplomacy. How dare we? The dead remember. Real peace is not just the absence of conflict, it's the presence of justice.

And tonight, I come to you with a pledge to change America's policy. Never again will I allow our political self-interests to deter us from doing what we know to be morally right. Atrocity and terror are not political weapons and to those who would use them: Your day is over.

-endquote

I may be naive and a dreamer. But if the real world comprises only of inescapable double-binds and cynical contradictions as we have seen in the inaction and hand-wringing of the West regarding the current political unrest in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, etc. I'd say the real world created by corporatism and economic self-interest is truly insane.

Jay

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The three laws

Isaac Asimov's I, Robot has in it a set of three laws of robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
The three laws above are supposed to be self-consistent and self-contained, much as mathematical axioms are supposedly are.

I heard on the news today a discussion on the new Canadian Citizenship Guide, and it got me thinking of many things including the discourse in Quebec on "reasonable accommodation" and the three laws of robotics.

I realize what a mine-field this type of discussion really is where being reasonable is a most rare commodity. But, unfortunately, a necessary thing to do if we are to advance as a mature society. I think this being the case, we have to try and clarify and distinguish each case as to whether the issues are constitutional, political, ideological (religious), legal or personal in order to try and keep our heads above the water and not get mired down as the Americans and Quebec have, or are in danger of allowing a highly vocal minority take the reins.

Some of the issues, as thorny and ornery as they can become and be, are actually legal in nature and not really up for discussion. Violence against women in whatever form or degree, for eg, is a violation against the Canadian Criminal Code; abuse of human rights is both a constitutional and criminal offence, which in theory Canada does not tolerate and will prosecute.

With the other issues that touch upon religion or belief, we must be very careful to try and avoid even the possibility of a public "discussion" on "radicalization" of this and that type as America is prone to repeating as a nightmarish self-fulfilling prophesy, three hundred years ago it was the witches, in the fifties it was the commies, and now it's radicalized muslims, and tomorrow, what?

I think we need some kind of three laws for a peacable society:
  1. A human being may not injure another human being or, through inaction or omission, allow a fellow human being to come to harm.
  2. A human being must use informed reason to distinguish any orders given to him/her by other human beings to determine whether such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A human being must protect her/his own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Jay

horns and halo effects

There is no doubt about it: I am strange to most people. But I like to think that it's not because I'm a weirdo, but more like being a stranger that makes me strange. I am nonetheless human. And believe unwaveringly in the notion of human potential as sacred.

As someone who's thought about and considered and read about the achievements of my fellow humans, I really do think there is something of a divine spark in all of us. Insight, creativity, capacity to transcend, the ability to learn, and the ability to dream... how else can I think but that?

But sometimes I feel isolated and alone. Over the years, I've become, if not a pariah, something as close to it as is possible. I have not feared locking horns with and challenging those who I see as ideologues, though this has largely been because I see no one else coming up to the plate. This has isolated me politically from my fellow Inuit and ideologically from the non-Inuit. It doesn't take much to turn someone into a demon. Most people who would never consider me as a potential team member do not know me personally.

I can live with that.

Granted, I have done much to earn my crazy-insane reputation. With the forced estrangement from one of my children I completely lost my head and bearings for a while. I wanted to die. I was a bad drunk and did things I'm not proud of, did things I don't remember but still feel shameful of. That's what alcohol does.

Having seen and did much devastation with alcohol, I have chosen (on my own) to not drink alcohol anymore. I haven't done anything crazy in a bit.

I do not buy into being a victim; and willing to own up to much. It's much better that way for living with oneself, the only self we have.

Having grown up in a small community, and having lost my sanity with the forced separation from my daughter, I feel sometimes that I've spent most of my life as an outsider, a stranger, to my family, to my community (my own kind and the broader world of work and thought). Being very human, that doesn't change the fact that I love my children, my grandchildren, my family and my fellow humans deeply.

In my best days, I feel exultant and spiritual about being human. The worst days are when I feel like I cannot communicate properly... Then, I feel like a stranger in a strange land; spiritually, psychologically, linguistically and culturally isolated.

Believe me, the best and the bad make who I am, and I do not resent any of it. I think I'm pretty ok with who I am. I just wish sometimes that people take the time to try and understand me as I try. I'm not being emotional, just plainly and simply expressing some doubt and angst we are all prone to feeling as human beings. I just want sometimes to feel my belongingness without nagging questions intruding. But I'm also thinking these types of questions never go away, do they?

Jay

Monday, 14 March 2011

a rock and a hard place

There is a saying that if we do not know history we are doomed to repeat it.

The rise of sophism and the countervailing effects of the traditionalists in ancient Greece are uncannily reflected in these times of the propaganda war now inflicted upon us by corporatism and the religious right.

In ancient Greece the sophists were a class of teachers who charged money for their services (mainly to the ruling class, grooming budding statesmen and nobility). This was not bad in and of itself but the historical context in which it occurred was a period of great tumult in the Greek consciousness as its military and commerce expanded and discovered new cultures, languages and religions in their forays into the broader world which challenged their unique sense of place.

It was the sophists who, like the modern day corporatists, saw that they could tailor and cater to the needs of the rich and the ambitious, to justify ever increasing atrocities against not only the "enemies" but their own people, to do away with ethical standards by legal but extremely cynical means and rape not only the mundane but also the sacred.

Contemporaneous with this dark period were the traditionalists who, like the political moderates and doves of today, became increasingly powerless to stem the evil tide. Grima, called Wormtongue, is a powerful but evil figure in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings; his words are flattery and manipulation of the facts that entangle his victims into helpless stupor.

I think there is a way out of this creeping malaise. We have been dazzled by the power of the idea of "scientific knowledge" and "rational" sophistry for so long that there seems to be no room left for ethical skepticism in this world created by Wormtongue, but that is only an illusion. Awareness and critical education are our tools.

From stone-age tools came space-age technology; it is a matter of cultivating what we have to transcend the evil that has entangled us into this state. With awareness comes discernment, with discernment comes humility and culture (an engaging curiosity of the world around us tempered by a skeptical and ethical philosophy).

Jay

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Plato's archetypes (Ideas) and the notion of the "phoneme" in linguistics

There is in linguistics a notion of a "psychologically ideal" sound segment (the phoneme) and its variations in speech called, allophones.

The idea of "phonemes" and "allophones" is somewhat technical in nature but totally necessary in linguistic analysis and in the construction of workable writing systems (orthography). As we have seen in the "standardization" discourse in Nunavut, most Inuit communities want the writing system to best reflect their own unique dialects and claim that there are sounds (phones, in linguistics speak) unique to their dialect that do not exist in the writing systems (whether syllabics or roman).

Years ago, when I worked at the Language Bureau in Yellowknife, NWT, as an Inuktitut linguist trainee I cut my linguistics teeth analysing and writing a short paper on an allophonic variation in North Baffin on the [l], which changes to English type [r] in certain contexts, much like the stereotypical oriental tendency to change r's for l's and vice versa.

For eg, [iqaluit] becomes [iqaruit]; [ulu] becomes [uru]; [aalasi] becomes [aarasi]; but [ili] remains [ili]; [illu] remains [illu].

Before I continue explaining the linguistics analysis above, I want to quote the best piece of writing on Plato's archetypal forms that I've come across so far. It was written by Richard Tarnas in his book, The Passion of the Western Mind: understanding the ideas that have shaped our world view:

(according to Plato): "Nothing in this world is, because everything is always in a state of becoming. But one thing does enjoy real being, as distinguished from merely becoming, and this is the Idea... ...Any particular thing in the world is actually a complexly determined appearance. [...] Plato's world, therefore, is dynamic only in that all phenomenal reality is in a state of constant becoming and perishing, a movement governed by the shifting participation of Ideas."

As appearances is to Ideas in Plato's world, so are allophones to phonemes. What I mean is that the North Baffin variation of [l] lays behind the verbal relationship to the "psychologically real" phoneme, the [l] in this case, to the variations {l} and {r}.

The context in which the variation occurs is governed by the quality of the preceding vowel we call "backness" (as in opposition to "frontness") in its place of articulation: [a] and [u] are back vowels, and [i] is not a back vowel.

But the change in the segment [l] can only occur after [a] or [u] if and only if  it is a single [l], because everywhere else, it is expressed as [l] unchanged: [alla] remains [alla]; [ullu] remains [ullu]; [illiq] remains [illiq].

But since the variation is allophonic, we (the native speakers) do not normally perceive the change from [l] to [r], and in our script this superficial variation is not reflexed as a real and distinct segment where the [l] in all contexts remains [l] regardless of where it occurs and regardless of whether its syllabics or roman.

The linguistic equation for the allophonic variation above is very concise and elegant and something I'm proud to have seen as a phonological fact of the Inuit Language. But I cannot reproduce the equation with the formatting constraints of this blog.

Jay