intellectual vanities… about close to everything

Archive for January 2010

Riding my bike into lack of reality

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Morning’s gloom and crisp cold freeze the brain so, that it perceives of blank writing screen as of something lined with wadding in which characters are strewn or embroidered  in undulating rows on the terraces of the respective lines., at times more pulling them out of the wadding rather than inserting them into it.

The keys bearing weird characters themselves, look like little irregular cubes from bones, sitting in a jelly like shelf moving erratically around in their assigned position, from where they can be hit in order do build coherence in this grey and indeterminate wadding space…the moving characters are hit by try and error, keep their swimming movement in their lines and sometimes skip characters, already inserted. Writing like this resembles bringing a flock of characters into an alignment that can convey sense, but is sabotaged by the resilience of the flocking characters who are completely void of understanding and perceptions of sense, whatsoever. There association seems to be guided rather by something in the bathe of physical conditions of the waded space.

Listening to Bruckner’s Symphony no. 9 is only intensifying the derealisation, as it seems to attract characters out of their linguistic bonds into the blurring, glistening free realm of sound and musical structure…. whence restlessness within the forming text increases permanently .

If that means losing grip on reality, I am not suffering from it. I am on the contrary, enjoying it…

Written by huehueteotl

January 26, 2010 at 12:27 am

Linguistic Niche Hypothesis – Language Structure Partly Determined by Social Structure

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Psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Memphis have released a new study on linguistic evolution that challenges the prominent hypothesis for why languages differ throughout the world.

Geographic distribution of the 2,236 languages included in the present study.

The study argues that human languages may adapt more like biological organisms than previously thought and that the more common and popular the language, the simpler its construction to facilitate its survival.

Traditional thinking is that languages develop based upon random change and historical drift. For example, English and Turkish are very different languages based upon histories that separate them in space and time. For years, it has been the reigning assumption in the linguistic sciences.

The recent report, published in the current issue of PLoS One, offers a new hypothesis, challenging the drift explanation. Gary Lupyan, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences, and Rick Dale, an assistant professor in psychology at the University of Memphis, conducted a large-scale statistical analysis of more than 2,000 of the world’s languages aimed at testing whether certain social environments are correlated with certain linguistic properties.

The researchers found striking relationships between the demographic properties of a language — such as its population and global spread — and the grammatical complexity of those languages. Languages having the most speakers — and those that have spread around the world — were found to have far simpler grammars, specifically morphology, than languages spoken by few people and in circumscribed regions. For example, languages spoken by more than 100,000 people are almost six times more likely to have simple verb conjugations compared to languages spoken by fewer than 100,000 people.

Larger populations tend to have simpler pronoun and number systems and a smaller number of cases and genders and in general do not employ complex prefixing or suffixing rules in their grammars. A consequence is that languages with long histories of adult learners have become easier to learn over time. Although a number of researchers have predicted such relationships between social and language structure, this is the first large-scale statistical test of this idea.

The results draw connections between the evolution of human language and biological organisms. Just as very distantly related organisms converge on evolutionary strategies in particular niches, languages may adapt to the social environments in which they are learned and used.

“English, for all its confusing spelling and exceptions — if a baker bakes, what does a grocer do? — has a relatively simple grammar,” Lupyan said. “Verbs are easy to conjugate and nouns are mostly pluralized by adding ‘s.’ In comparison, a West African language like Hausa has dozens of ways to make nouns plural and in many languages — Turkish, Aymara, Ladakhi, Ainu — verbs like ‘to know’ have to include information about the origin of the speaker’s knowledge. This information is often conveyed using complex rules, which the most widely-spoken languages on earth like English and Mandarin lack.”

Lupyan and Dale call this social affect on grammatical patterns the “Linguistic Niche Hypothesis.” Languages evolve within particular socio-demographic niches. Although all languages must be learnable by infants, the introduction of adult learners to some languages (for example, through migration or colonization) means that aspects of a language difficult for adults to learn will be less likely to be passed on to subsequent generations of learners. The result is that languages spoken by more people over larger geographic regions have become morphologically simpler over many generations.

A remaining puzzle is why languages with few speakers are so complex in the first place. One possibility, explored by researchers, is that features such as grammatical gender and complex conjugational systems, while difficult for adult learners to master, may facilitate language learning in children by providing a network of redundant information that can cue children in on the meanings of words and how to string them together.

The results and theory proposed by Lupyan and Dale do not aim to explain why a specific language has the grammar it does. Because the findings are statistical in nature, many exceptions to Lupyan and Dale’s theory can be identified. Their work, however, provides a comprehensive analysis of how some social factors influence the structure of language and shows that the relationships between language and culture is far from arbitrary.

The study was funded by an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training award to the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science at Penn and by the National Science Foundation.

PLoS ONE, 2010; 5 (1): e8559 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008559
Language Structure Is Partly Determined by Social Structure
Gary Lupyan1*, Rick Dale2

1 Institute for Research on Cognitive Science and Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America,
2 Department of Psychology, The University of Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee, United States of America

Background: Languages differ greatly both in their syntactic and morphological systems and in the social environments in which they exist. We challenge the view that language grammars are unrelated to social environments in which they are learned and used. Methodology/Principal Findings We conducted a statistical analysis of >2,000 languages using a combination of demographic sources and the World Atlas of Language Structures— a database of structural language properties. We found strong relationships between linguistic factors related to morphological complexity, and demographic/socio-historical factors such as the number of language users, geographic spread, and degree of language contact. The analyses suggest that languages spoken by large groups have simpler inflectional morphology than languages spoken by smaller groups as measured on a variety of factors such as case systems and complexity of conjugations. Additionally, languages spoken by large groups are much more likely to use lexical strategies in place of inflectional morphology to encode evidentiality, negation, aspect, and possession. Our findings indicate that just as biological organisms are shaped by ecological niches, language structures appear to adapt to the environment (niche) in which they are being learned and used. As adults learn a language, features that are difficult for them to acquire, are less likely to be passed on to subsequent learners. Languages used for communication in large groups that include adult learners appear to have been subjected to such selection. Conversely, the morphological complexity common to languages used in small groups increases redundancy which may facilitate language learning by infants. Conclusions/Significance We hypothesize that language structures are subjected to different evolutionary pressures in different social environments. Just as biological organisms are shaped by ecological niches, language structures appear to adapt to the environment (niche) in which they are being learned and used. The proposed Linguistic Niche Hypothesis has implications for answering the broad question of why languages differ in the way
they do and makes empirical predictions regarding language acquisition capacities of children versus adults.

Written by huehueteotl

January 22, 2010 at 8:48 am

Posted in World History

Beautiful People (Paperback) by Simon Doonan

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# Paperback: 320 pages
# Publisher: Collins (1 May 2008)
# Language English
# ISBN-10: 0007269544
# ISBN-13: 978-0007269549

Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys New York, was called by Guy Trebay in The Times “the fox-crazy impresario of Barneys’ notorious windows.” The saying goes, that he has taken the derided window-dresser’s metier from culture’s fringes and moved it front and center. He also writes a column for The New York Observer and has been a regular commentator on several television networks.

Beautiful People goes back to Reading, England, where, born in 1952, Mr. Doonan was raised in a family including his parents and his sister, but also a lobotomized grandmother, a blind aunt with a succession of Seeing Eye dogs and a schizophrenic uncle who kept a souvenir three-inch toenail under the bed. Fearing he would fall victim to the insanity that runs in his family, or, worse, the banality of suburban life, Doonan decamps with his flamboyant best-friend Biddie to London, where they hope to find the Beautiful People, that elusive clan who luxuriate on floor pillowsand amuse each other with bon mots.

Throughout the memoir— a pastiche of anecdotes about family holidays, the tart who lived next door, his first job—Doonan continues his bumbling pursuit of the fabulous life, only to learn, in the end, that perhaps the Beautiful People were the ones he left behind.

The moment, I first started reading Beautiful People I was sure that I was going to love its quirky episodes which at first were just amusing and touching but soon turned out to be moments of hilarious observation that me laughing aloud or had me swallow tears.

Written by huehueteotl

January 17, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Posted in Movies/Books

Not Size Matters, But Diet Complexity

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Many people think the success of dieting, seemingly a national obsession following the excesses and resolutions of the holiday season, depends mostly on how hard one tries — on willpower and dedication. While this does matter, new research has found that a much more subtle aspect of the diets themselves can also have a big influence on the pounds shed — namely, the perceived complexity of a diet plan’s rules and requirements.

Cognitive scientists from Indiana University and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin compared the dieting behavior of women following two radically different diet plans and found that the more complicated people thought their diet plan was, the sooner they were likely to drop it.

“For people on a more complex diet that involves keeping track of quantities and items eaten, their subjective impression of the difficulty of the diet can lead them to give up on it,” reported Peter Todd, professor in IU’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

Jutta Mata, now a professor of psychology at Stanford University, said this effect holds even after controlling for the influence of important social-cognitive factors including self-efficacy, the belief that one is capable of achieving a goal like sticking to a diet regimen to control one’s weight.

“Even if you believe you can succeed, thinking that the diet is cognitively complex can undermine your efforts,” she said.

Dieting is not all in one’s head — environment matters, too, the professors say. The physical environment has to be set up properly, such as putting snack foods out of sight to avoid mindless eating. But the cognitive environment, they say, must also be appropriately constructed, by choosing diet rules that that one finds easy to remember and follow.

For people interested in following a diet plan, Mata suggests they take a look at several diet plans with an eye toward how many rules the plans have and how many things need to be how many things need to be kept in mind.

“If they decide to go with a more complex diet, which could be more attractive for instance if it allows more flexibility, they should evaluate how difficult they find doing the calculations and monitoring their consumption,” she said. “If they find it very difficult, the likelihood that they will prematurely give up the diet is higher and they should try to find a different plan.”

About the study: The study examined both the objective and subjective complexity of two diet plans. Brigitte, the cognitively simpler of the two, is a popular German recipe diet that provides shopping lists for the dieters, thus requiring participants to simply follow the provided meal plan. Weight Watchers assigns point values to every food and instructs participants to eat only a certain number of points per day. The 390 women involved were recruited from German-language Internet chat rooms dealing with weight management and were already in the midst of using one of the two diet plans. They answered questionnaires at the beginning, mid-point and end of an eight-week period.

While losing weight initially isn’t rocket science, keeping it off remains a challenge to dieters. It generally is believed that the longer people can adhere to their diet plan, the more successful they will be long-term with their weight loss maintenance. And the more like rocket science one’s diet plan feels, Todd and Mata report, the less likely that long-term adherence and maintenance is to succeed.

Appetite, 2009; DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2009.09.004- Article in Press, Corrected Proof
When weight management lasts: Lower perceived rule complexity increases adherence.
Jutta Mata a, b, Corresponding Author
Peter M. Todda, c,
Sonia Lippke d

a Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Lentzeallee 94, 14195 Berlin, Germany

b International Max Planck Research School “The Life Course: Evolutionary and Ontogenetic Dynamics (LIFE)”, Berlin, Germany

c Cognitive Science Program, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1101 E. 10th Street, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA

d Department of Health Psychology, Freie Universität Berlin, Habelschwerdter Allee 45, 14195 Berlin, Germany

Received 27 December 2008;
revised 4 September 2009;
accepted 8 September 2009.
Available online 12 September 2009.

Abstract Maintaining behavior change is one of the major challenges in weight management and long-term weight loss. We investigated the impact of the cognitive complexity of eating rules on adherence to weight management programs. We studied whether popular weight management programs can fail if participants find the rules too complicated from a cognitive perspective, meaning that individuals are not able to recall or process all required information for deciding what to eat. The impact on program adherence of participants’ perceptions of eating rule complexity and other behavioral factors known to influence adherence (including previous weight management, self-efficacy, and planning) was assessed via a longitudinal online questionnaire given to 390 participants on two different popular weight management regimens. As we show, the regimens, Weight Watchers and a popular German recipe diet (Brigitte), strongly differ in objective rule complexity and thus their cognitive demands on the dieter. Perceived rule complexity was the strongest factor associated with increased risk of quitting the cognitively demanding weight management program (Weight Watchers); it was not related to adherence length for the low cognitive demand program (Brigitte). Higher self-efficacy generally helped in maintaining a program. The results emphasize the importance of considering rule complexity to promote long-term weight management.

Keywords: Cognitive complexity; Weight management; Weight loss program adherence; Cox hazard regressions; Self-efficacy

Written by huehueteotl

January 15, 2010 at 8:42 am

Posted in Psychology

Primates’ Social Intelligence Overestimated?

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… at least that of humans sometimes is.

Leaving the joke aside, grooming behaviour displayed by primates is due to less rational behaviour than often thought. According to a computer model developed by scientists at the University of Groningen, one basic rule explains all possible grooming patterns: individuals will groom others if they’re afraid they’ll lose from them in a fight.

social grooming

Primates are assumed to reconcile their conflicts by grooming each other after a fight. They are also supposed to carry out intricate trading of grooming for the receipt of help in fights. Professor and theoretical biologist Charlotte Hemelrijk shows in a computer simulation that many patterns of reconciliation and exchange surprisingly emerge simply from fear of losing a fight with another individual. ‘This shows that reconciliation and exchange behaviour are not necessarily conscious behaviour’, Hemelrijk — specialist in self-organization in social systems — states. ‘It’s simply a consequence of rank and of which primates are in the vicinity of the primate that wants to groom.’ The results of the research conducted by the group that worked with Hemelrijk on the computer model have appeared in late December in the journal PloS Computational Biology.


‘Primates are intelligent, but their intelligence is overestimated. The social behaviour of primates is explained on the basis of cognitive considerations by primates that are too sophisticated’, Hemelrijk continues. ‘Primates are assumed to use their intelligence continually and to be very calculating. They’re supposed to reconcile fights and to do so preferably with partners that could mean a lot to them.’ This would explain why primates prefer grooming partners higher in rank in order to gain more effective support in fights. Moral considerations would bring them to repay the grooming costs by grooming others.

Such behaviour patterns all presuppose a rational thought process, according to Hemelrijk: ‘In order to reconcile, the primates must recall exactly which fight they last had and with whom. They must also be able to gauge the importance of each relationship. And for the reciprocity and repayment, they must keep careful track how often and from whom they have received which grooming or support ‘service’ in order to be able to repay it sufficiently.’


However, all these suppositions are unnecessary according to Hemelrijk: ‘Our computer model GrooFiWorld shows that complex calculating behaviour is completely unnecessary. We can add the simple rule to the existing DomWorld model that an individual will begin grooming another when it expects to lose from it upon attacking the other. This in itself leads to many of the complex patterns of friendly behaviour observed in real primates.’ In the DomWorld model, individuals group together and compete with their neighbours.

With the help of the computer model, Hemelrijk shows that most friendship patterns are due to the proximity of other animals. In turn, the proximity is the result of dominance interactions. The fear of losing a fight also plays an important role. ‘Apparent reconciliation behaviour is the result of individuals being nearer their opponent after a fight than otherwise’, the professor explains. Repaying grooming that has been received is the result of some individuals being nearer to certain others more often. Since they groom nearby primates in particular, any grooming received will automatically be repaid.’

The model and reality

That this is shown by the computer model does not mean that primates are not capable of displaying intelligent social behaviour, according to Hemelrijk. ‘The resemblance of patterns of friendly behaviour in our model to those in reality means that more evidence is needed to be able to draw the conclusion that friendly relationships are based on human, calculating considerations. Our model is a ‘null model’ providing simple explanations which are especially useful for further research into friendly behaviour in primates, in particular into that of macaques.’

Such computer models are not only useful in analyzing primate behaviour, but also to gain insight into the social behaviour of all sorts of species that live in groups. It could for instance provide ideas for further research into the flocking behaviour of starlings. Hemelrijk: ‘Simulations thus are also very important for researchers working out in the field. They can research the connection between models and reality.’

PLoS Computational Biology, 2009; 5 (12): e1000630 DOI: doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000630
Emergent Patterns of Social Affiliation in Primates, a Model.
Ivan Puga-Gonzalez, Hanno Hildenbrandt, Charlotte K. Hemelrijk

Abstract Many patterns of affiliative behaviour have been described for primates, for instance: reciprocation and exchange of grooming, grooming others of similar rank, reconciliation of fights, and preferential reconciliation with more valuable partners. For these patterns several functions and underlying cognitive processes have been suggested. It is, however, difficult to imagine how animals may combine these diverse considerations in their mind. Although the co-variation hypothesis, by limiting the social possibilities an individual has, constrains the number of cognitive considerations an individual has to take, it does not present an integrated theory of affiliative patterns either. In the present paper, after surveying patterns of affiliation in egalitarian and despotic macaques, we use an individual-based model with a high potential for self-organisation as a starting point for such an integrative approach. In our model, called GrooFiWorld, individuals group and, upon meeting each other, may perform a dominance interaction of which the outcomes of winning and losing are self-reinforcing. Besides, if individuals think they will be defeated, they consider grooming others. Here, the greater their anxiety is, the greater their “motivation” to groom others. Our model generates patterns similar to many affiliative patterns of empirical data. By merely increasing the intensity of aggression, affiliative patterns in the model change from those resembling egalitarian macaques to those resembling despotic ones. Our model produces such patterns without assuming in the mind of the individual the specific cognitive processes that are usually thought to underlie these patterns (such as recordkeeping of the acts given and received, a tendency to exchange, memory of the former fight, selective attraction to the former opponent, and estimation of the value of a relationship). Our model can be used as a null model to increase our understanding of affiliative behaviour among primates, in particular macaques.

Written by huehueteotl

January 11, 2010 at 10:41 pm


with 2 comments

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”–Matthew v:3.

WHAT IT IS TO BE POOR IN SPIRIT? This certainly is: after me posting an event in Berlin:

Unerhörte Musik im BKA

19th Jan 2010 at 20:30

Mehringdamm 34
10961 Berlin (Germany)



Meitar-Ensemble Tel Aviv


On Sun, 10 Jan 10, 07:36, ASW Webmaster deleted my post and wrote:

Subject Your event post – deletion

Dear Dirk,

Your post has been deleted as we require that all posts be in English only. Please feel free to translate your text, included below, and to repost it in English. Thank you!

Kind regards,


…and here is the sweet little E-Mail-conversation ensuing, which proves to me, that this world is just big enough for limited frames of mind:

On Sun, 10 Jan 10, 07:50, Dirk Stemper wrote
* SubjectRE: Your event post – deletion

Are you guys making fun of me? Except the addresses and proper names there were no German words included, whatsoever!

I suggest, you keep up your own event schedule, as long as you can afford dealing with your network member’s posts like this.

In the meantime i will take my time to think, if this is the kind of network, where i want to have a profile.


Dr. Dirk Stemper (untranslated German – hope you can bear it)

On Sun, 10 Jan 10, 07:57, ASW Webmaster wrote
* SubjectRE: Your event post – deletion

Dear Dirk,

Sorry for not being clear.

Please translate your event post title as per our request and feel free to repost your event.

Kind regards,


* To ASW Webmaster
* Date10 January 10 at 08:08

Dear ASW,

sorry for not being clear: there are just names included in the post. I will not translate them.

ASMALLWORLD will deal without the event post. And the event will take place nonetheless.

Please refrain from replying to this, if you did not take the time to read the original post first.


Dr. D. Stemper (still untranslated)

it’s a world of laughter, a world or tears
its a world of hopes, its a world of fear
theres so much that we share
that its time we’re aware
its ASMALLWORLD after all

(I hope you do not mind the post being in English, folks… )

Written by huehueteotl

January 10, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Current Affairs