Thursday, February 7, 2013

Language May Shape 
Human Thought

August 19, 2004

by Celeste Biever

Thanks to BB-Idaho for supplying the reference to today’s article

Language may shape human thought - suggests a counting study in a Brazilian tribe whose language does not define numbers above two.
Hunter-gatherers from the Pirahã tribe, whose language only contains words for the numbers one and two, were unable to reliably tell the difference between four objects placed in a row and five in the same configuration, revealed the study.
Experts agree that the startling result provides the strongest support yet for the controversial hypothesis that the language available to humans defines our thoughts. So-called "linguistic determinism" was first proposed in 1950 but has been hotly debated ever since.
"It is a very surprising and very important result," says Lisa Feigenson, a developmental psychologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, US, who has tested babies' abilities to distinguish between different numerical quantities. "Whether language actually allows you to have new thoughts is a very controversial issue."
Peter Gordon, the psychologist at Columbia University in New York City who carried out the experiment, does not claim that his finding holds for all kinds of thought. "There are certainly things that we can think about that we cannot talk about. But for numbers I have shown that a limitation in language affects cognition," he says.

"One, Two, Many"

The language, Pirahã, is known as a "one, two, many" language because it only contains words for "one" and "two"-for all other numbers, a single word for "many" is used. "There are not really occasions in their daily lives where the Pirahã need to count," explains Gordon.
In order to test if this prevented members of the tribe from perceiving higher numbers, Gordon set seven Pirahã a variety of tasks. In the simplest, he sat opposite an individual and laid out a random number of familiar objects, including batteries, sticks and nuts, in a row. The Pirahã were supposed to respond by laying out the same number of objects from their own pile.
For one, two and three objects, members of the tribe consistently matched Gordon's pile correctly. But for four and five and up to ten, they could only match it approximately, deviating more from the correct number as the row got longer.
The Pirahã also failed to remember whether a box they had been shown seconds ago had four or five fish drawn on the top. When Gordon's colleagues tapped on the floor three times, the Pirahã were able to imitate this precisely, but failed to mimic strings of four or five taps.
Babies and animals
Gordon says this is the first convincing evidence that a language lacking words for certain concepts could actually prevent speakers of the language from understanding those concepts.
Previous experiments show that while babies and intelligent animals, such as rats, pigeons and monkeys, are capable of precisely counting small quantities, they can only approximately distinguish between clusters consisting of larger numbers. However, in these studies it was unclear whether an inability to articulate numbers was the reason for this.
The Pirahã results provide a much stronger case for linguistic determinism, says Gordon, because, aside from their language, they are otherwise similar to other adult humans, whereas there are many more factors that separate babies and animals from adult humans.
However, scientists are far from a consensus. Feigenson points out that there could be other reasons, aside from pure language, why the Pirahã could not distinguish accurately for higher numbers including not being used to dealing with large numbers or set such tasks.
"The question remains highly controversial," says psychologist Randy Gallistel of Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey. "But this work will spark a great deal of discussion."
Journal reference: Science Express (19 August 2004/ Page 1/ 10.1126/science.1094492)

~ § ~

What inferences, opinions, or possible conclusions might this –– I think provocative –– article suggest to you?


  1. Wow, language seems to be a theme today.

    I've heard of this tribe before, although I can't recall where. It's a rather strange language as they also have no words for colors.


  2. The day's topic over at Western Hero plays right into this.

  3. The mind/brain relation is extremely complex (can a mind understand itself?) The relation between language and thinking was first addressed by the concept of
    Whorfianism, and now neo-whorfianism .
    The relation is further somewhat supported by the function of that part of the brain called the
    angular gyrus .
    Quite interesting in a non-conclusive way. The arguments continue about the function of dreams, be they re-filing of information, discharges of trivia,
    rearrangement of 'key files' etc.
    I noticed that last few years that
    I have occasional dreams which consist of a computer monitor, which I have to dreamily 'scroll
    down' to continue. Too much time
    on the computer? :)

  4. The absence of a "zero" from the set of "number" kept Western Civilization from much philosophical silliness for many centuries.... but then the Indian's went and invented the zero.

  5. The absence of the zero was a real hindrance all through the middle ages. As was the absence of the
    "arabic" numeral. Consider the gyrations to figure the square root
    of XXVII = III ! Some early European mathematicians began using our current system by the
    13-1400s, but business distrusted
    the system...and they had to correspond in secret. Progress back then was slower than these days!

  6. Alas! Prior to 'peer review' by some Roman mathematician, permit me to correct the roman calculation: the square root of
    XXVII is not III, but IX. However,
    the cube root of XXVII is IX. Blame my abacus, angular gyrus,
    or both! Mea culpa...

  7. Hindrance?

    It was a blessing. Nihilism wasn't a "Western" mode of thought before "zero".

  8. The square root of 27 is 5.1961.

    The cube root is 3.

    What am I missing?

  9. It's conception can only be achieved with the aid of an "imaginary" number.

  10. As to the thesis of the article, I, personally, believe things have worked the other way 'round.

    First came the basic drives -- i.e. to seek pleasure, comfort and sustenance. Then came the slow dawning of Thought with dreams of how life might be less threatening, less stressful, easier, more comfortable. Then came the dawning of affection, attachment, dependency, the sense of responsibility, awareness of Beauty, and possibly the rudiments of altruism.

    As new discoveries made life easier and pleasanter bit by bit, a growing refinement of emotions and aspirations ensued. These finer feelings led to growing ambition. The need to communicate in more specific, nuanced ways became acute,

    As a result language developed ever-so-slowly from primordial grunts, shrieks, roaring sounds and wild savage gestures.

    All this took place over many thousands, probably hundreds-of-thousands, of years.

    Some human tribes simply developed more quickly than others. Some developed complex societies, began to live in increasingly complex structured, interdependent communities, while others remained hunger-gatherers.

    The more intelligent, more fortunately located tribes ultimately discovered God, developed Religion, developed sophisticated methods of Agriculture, increasingly complex spoken and written languages, understood basic principles of Astronomy, Geometry, Algebra, Physics, created Art, Architecture, Literature, Poetry, Drama, Music, Horticulture and Fashion -- and an ever widening scope of the primitive urge to conquer, plunder, dominate and take ownership of the lands and possessions of other human tribes.

    Language in my opinion does not shape Thought. Thought -- i.e. Imagination and Insight -- produced and shaped Language.

    Of course, now that we've HAD language long enough to see it degenerate horribly and begin a reversion to primitive grunts, groans, howls and snarls, it's possible that what-passes-for language presently may, indeed, have a profound influence on the way we think.

    Personally, I see us DESCENDING, DECLINING, DEGENERATING, DISINTEGRATING, despite the advance at white hot speed of ever more sophisticated forms of Technology.

    In a few more years we will have forgotten a great deal more than we know.

    Very sadly I see us ultimately reverting to a rudimentary dog-eat-dog animal existence.

    After we've turned the earth back into a brutally hostile wilderness, once again the long slow climb towards Civilization may begin anew with those few poor souls who survived the havoc we are bringing upon ourselves right now.

  11. Knowledge, expertise and increasing might are quite useless -- and may in fact be detrimental -- without adherence to a sound concept of decency and morality.

  12. Sounds plausible, FT... only I have heard a more "plausible" origin. The original "words" were commands used to impose a master-slave relationship. The "good" people gave the commands, and the "bad" people obeyed them.

  13. It is in my opinion an error to consider any number to be less imaginary than another. I'm using the term imaginary in its everyday layman's sense, not in the technical sense of sqrt(-1).

    My theory is that the development of language was driven by requirement to tell (and detect) lies.

  14. In today's terms, I'd agree with you. Numbers have gone from something "tangible" (where 1 is the "unit" and two, the first "number") under the Greeks to something completely "imaginary" under the modern conception of "number"

  15. How cynical!

    Indeed. But we live in a "relative" world.

  16. To the Greeks, numbers represented "multiples" of the length (or weight) of the "unit". There would have been no "multiples" of "nothing" or "no length", nor would there have been "negative" lengths/ weights..

  17. I know, but our maths is unarguably better than the Greeks'.

    Anyway, the multiple of length is not more tangible than the cardinality of a set, which is how modern mathematics defines the "natural" numbers -- it's less tangible actually since Euclidean geometry only approximates the real world.

    I suggest you give up caring about tangibilty, lest you follow in Pythagoras' (apocryphal) footsteps and start assassinating people for believing in irrationals (which demonstrably exist).

    I assure you my lying theory is not borne of misanthrophy. It seems plausible to me is because
    1) you don't need much language to tell the first lie (primates lie), and
    2) this kind of "arms race" is what drives excellence throughout biology. Eg. if vision improved to keep up with camouflage (and vice versa), so might lying have improved quickly because of judgement (and vice versa).

    Other theories are available, eg. poetry as a mating display: the peacock's plumage of our species.

  18. I know, but our maths is unarguably better than the Greeks'

    Only if "useful" for ease of "calculation" means "better".

    As for tangibility? You mean you believe that language actually contains some noumenal 'truth"? lol!

    I'm a Nietzschean. EVERYTHING is a lie (or perhaps more charitably called an "error").

  19. ps - Think Lacanian "Real-Imaginary-Symbolic") not "mathmatical" real-imaginary.

  20. btw - It was the "money changers" who caused the Western World to "adopt" the zero, as it made the calculation of "compound interest" more "favourable" to the "money lender" as the decimal placed didn't get "rounded off" as on the abacus.

    A world that favours the "money lenders" is what we got from adopting zero.

  21. ...and negative numbers gave us a handy way of keeping track of "debts".

  22. FT,
    Language in my opinion does not shape Thought. Thought -- i.e. Imagination and Insight -- produced and shaped Language.

    Except that, if the word for a particular concept doesn't exist, communicating that concept is difficult or impossible.

    Years ago, a Saudi in my adult ESL class could not seem to grasp the concept of Past Tense. There IS a Past Tense in Arabic, but its doesn't have the same meaning and connotation as Past Tense does in English.

    From a comment in this thread:

    WatchfulEye | May 5, 2005 11:13 AM

    According to "The Arab Mind" by Raphael Patai, Arabic does not have Past Tense, at least not in the sense that we English-speakers understand. See pages 69-77 in the 2002 edition published by Hatherleigh Press. This book is available in most public libraries. Past Tense, no giving up of the tribal or anti-Christian feuds.

  23. Only if "useful" for ease of "calculation" means "better".

    For that, and many other natural definitions of "better".

    "As for tangibility? You mean you believe that language actually contains some noumenal 'truth"? lol"

    "Tangible" is the claim that *you* made for the Greeks, and which I resisted. Please keep track of your own nonsense and save me some bother.

    But yes, I think language can contain noumenal truth. I could use language to speak a theorem, for example. That would be true, yet not experienced through any senses.

    As for the Piraha, I was aware of them chiefly through claims that their grammar lacks recursion. If true, I imagine it would be an even bigger constraint on thought than their lack of numbers.

    One thing to keep is that learning such an unusual language is difficult, and the anthropologists attempting it have an inevitably incomplete grasp of it. The Praha language is mind-bogglingly alien (it can be whistled, for example) -- I would be unsurprised if it turned out that we were missing as much as we were getting.

    Many animals can count, up to a point. Cats can count up to about 7 IIRC. That's better than humans, who can instinctively only count about as high as four. To get any further we have to learn the process: point at each item in the set once and only once while reciting the sequence. So maybe this inability to reliably get higher than 3 is a genuine phenotypical (ie not just social or cultural) variation. That would be terrifically exciting.

  24. "Better" for Life? Cuz' IMO, that's the ONLY definition that "really" matters.

    Who knew that an increasingly hysteric turned psychotic life constituted an "improvement" for humanity.

    But yes, I think language can contain noumenal truth

    That's the fiction that I thought you were implying. :)

  25. So maybe this inability to reliably get higher than 3 is a genuine phenotypical (ie not just social or cultural) variation. That would be terrifically exciting.


    It is a purely "cultural" variation, you racist b*stard!

  26. Apparently, ease of calculation is something not even of "dubital" value to a Piraha. ;)

  27. Let's see if this helps "the audience" -- if only a little:

    noumenal (ˈnuːmɪnəl; ˈnaʊ-)


    (philosophy) relating to or of the nature of noumena
    noumenon (ˈnuːmɪnən ; ˈnaʊ-)


    (plural) -na (-nə)

    (in the philosophy of Kant) a thing as it is in itself, not perceived or interpreted, incapable of being known, but only inferred from the nature of experience

    a thing-in-itself the object of a purely intellectual intuition

  28. AOW, said:

    "Except that, if the word for a particular concept doesn't exist, communicating that concept is difficult or impossible."

    That's true and the reason words like "noumenal" are created and incorporated into the esoteric language (jargon?) of "scholars" and academicians no doubt. ;-)

    My contention, however, is that fundamentally all human knowledge and subsequent invention -- language included -- is derived from strong emotional YEARNINGS.

    If Thersites is a Nietzschean, perhaps I am a "Humean?" -- as in David Hume.

    Certainly a humorist at any rate.

    One language I will never comprehend, Alas! is Mathematese. ;-)

    I make no claim to being a Renaissance Man.

  29. MORE help for "The Audience:"

    re·cur·sion (r-kûrzhn)


    An expression, such as a polynomial, each term of which is determined by application of a formula to preceding terms.

    A formula that generates the successive terms of a recursion.


    Perhaps you may see better now what I meant in referring to Mathematese?" IT AIN'T ENGLISH!

  30. "It was the "money changers" who caused the Western World to "adopt" the zero, as it made the calculation of "compound interest" more "favourable" to the "money lender" as the decimal placed didn't get "rounded off" as on the abacus.

    A world that favours the "money lenders" is what we got from adopting zero."

    Good Heavens, FJ! From your adoration of FreudI never would have taken you for an anti-Semite. ;-)

  31. The cavalry charges in once again to rescue the poor ignorant, uneducated clods -- like me:


    the physical and psychological characteristics of an organism from both genetics and environment, or a group of organisms having like traits. (noun)

    An example of phenotype is a group of organisms that are all affected in the same ways by nature and nurture.

  32. A formula that generates the successive terms of a recursion.

    aka - "counting" (N+1)=

  33. From your adoration of FreudI never would have taken you for an anti-Semite.

    No more anti-Semitic a work was ever written than "Moses and Monotheism"... as if you wish to ever "free" yourself of a Master, you must "sever" the link which holds you to him.

  34. (explaining theoretically why "socialism will NEVER replace capitalism).

  35. Thersites averred:

    "We live in a relativeworld."

    I beg to differ. We live in an ABSOLUTE world, but are only capable of understanding it from various relative perspectives.

    Absolute Truth (God) exists, but our understanding is severely limited by our innate biological limitations (i.e. we can literally only "see" just so far, and "hear" within a limited range, etc.) and by the cultural biases and assumptions we inherit.

    A very few, however, -- like your friend Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Johann Sebastian Bach and others of that rare ilk -- had an uncanny ability to see "Beyond," and thus expanded human knowledge and raised human consciousness to greater heights.

  36. ps - more on Freud's anti-semitism... attempted removing of the "Jewishness" from the Jew in writing Moses and Monotheism...

    ...from Slavoj Zizek's "The Superego and the Act"

    You could also accuse me that this is a typically male logic. Women would be more attached to their substantial small universe, while men do this gesture of "Let’s cut off the limb, cut off the roots, let’s embark." Let’s go into more serious waters so you can see I’m not just dreaming about crazy ideas. Doesn’t Freud do something similar in "Moses and Monotheism"? We should read this book as precisely Freud’s answer to anti–Semitism. He doesn’t defend Jews, he strikes against Jews themselves. He deprives Jews of one of the most important parts of their legacy — his point was that Moses was not one of us. Which is why some of his friends were utterly shocked, "Oh my god, in these difficult times, you are taking from us one of our last pillars of hope." I think Freud did the right thing. The Nazis believed that Jews were something special, albeit in a negative way. The true way to combat anti–Semitism is to do as Freud did, to say that "We are not what you secretly think that we are." Let me answer the second reproach, that these gestures are all masculine. No, not only such a radical act is not neutral but at the most radical level, it is a feminine gesture.

  37. The world is relative, but since we are all separated and divided, we experience "time" an an absolute. The "present".

  38. G_d can only "exist" in absolute "Otherness". Which is why I am a Deist, and NOT a Christian. As Plato's dialectic of Absolutes, "Parmenides" proved, "If One is not, then nothing is."

  39. ...and "Truth" is not G_d. The Trinity only begins to describe Him.

    Turth is merely a "criteria" for "the good". Plato, "Philebus" and the "trinity" of Beauty, Symmetry and Truth...

    from the Jowett summary... "There are three criteria of goodness—beauty, symmetry, truth."

  40. @AOW --- According to "The Arab Mind" by Raphael Patai,

    As usual, you have to be careful when you read Patai. A lot of it is crap.

    "He built a house" would be the same in English and Arabic.

    "He was building a house" is more difficult in Arabic.
    To draw the conclusion that this is the reason they can't give up the so called "anti-Christian" feuds is simply silly.

  41. ...and Absolute Otherness implies something "other" than the finite/infinite "mixture" of noumenal/phenomenal dualism which this world and its' experience generates.


  42. "Let it be permitted to designate by [the atomism of the soul] the belief which regards the soul as something indestructible, eternal, indivisible, as a monad, as an atomon: this belief ought to be expelled from science!"


  43. A plucky young woman named Bright
    Once moved at the speed of light,
    She travelled one day
    In a relative way
    And returned on the preceding night!

  44. The nature of the "soul" must be "other", not "noumena"

  45. Nietzsche, WtP 534 (1887-1888) "The criterion of truth resides in the enhancement of the feeling of power."

    Do you really think that G_d care's about an enhancement of a feeling?

  46. Doubtless -- probably because I have grown old and have lost much flexibility -- we will continue to maintain our considerable differences, but I do want to thank both you and Jez for helping to expand our vocabulary and add bit to my own admittedly-small store of knowledge.

    Having been an obsessive-compulsive logophile all my life my gratitude knows no bounds.

  47. Were it that others could retain a certain "inflexibility". The world would be a much better place.


  48. In my never humble opinion, FJ, "Jewishness" has very little to do with "religion." I would dare to say it may very well be phenotypical.

    Freud could no more escape his Jewishness than a black man could escape being Negroid.

  49. The only difference between a Jew and a Piraha is three thousand years of culture. Neither one is going to spin off a "species", absent a "Black Swan" mutation event.

  50. I suspect that with the Piraha, a culture that embraces a form on primitve communism has little need for "commands".

    Daniel Everett states that one of the strongest Pirahã values is no coercion; you simply don't tell other people what to do.[5] There appears to be no social hierarchy; the Pirahã have no formal leaders. Their social system can thus be labeled as primitive communism, in common with many other hunter-gatherer bands in the world, although rare in the Amazon because of a history of agriculture before Western contact (see history of the Amazon).

    but I do suppose there is still a "need" to communicate...

    Members of the Pirahã can whistle their language, which is how the tribe's men communicate when hunting in the jungle

    "Go left... I'll drive him towards you..."

  51. Their language is a unique living language. (It's related to Mura, which is no longer spoken.) John Colapinto explains, "Unrelated to any other extant tongue, and based on just eight consonants and three vowels, Pirahã has one of the simplest sound systems known. Yet it possesses such a complex array of tones, stresses, and syllable lengths that its speakers can dispense with their vowels and consonants altogether and sing, hum, or whistle conversations."


    The language may have no unique words for colors. There are no unanalyzable root words for color; the recorded color words are all compounds like mii sai[5] or bii sai, "blood-like", which is not that uncommon

    Hmmm.... Colour is a visual detail book kept in the brain's Right hemisphere (seat of Numeracy).

  52. Curious...

    They take naps of 15 minutes to, at the most, two hours throughout the day and night, and rarely sleep through the night.


    "The crucial thing is that the Pirahã have not borrowed any numbers—and they want to learn to count. They asked me to give them classes in Brazilian numbers, so for eight months I spent an hour every night trying to teach them how to count. And it never got anywhere, except for a few of the children. Some of the children learned to do reasonably well, but as soon as anybody started to perform well, they were sent away from the classes. It was just a fun time to eat popcorn and watch me write things on the board."

    If you don't have a "need" to apply it...what's the point?

  53. Okay... I read the chart wrong, they get one REM cycle in each two hour period.

  54. The must currently be the LEAST neurotic human beings on the planet.

  55. It sure was provocative, but really weird.

    Albert Horowitz

  56. Thersites: feel free to explain how a theorem is either not true, not noumenal, or not language.

    Who knew that advantages in medicine and technology, which rest entirely on a foundation of mathematics, didn't constitute an improvement. you are welcome to return to the pre-mathematical dark ages, so long as you don't insist that I join you. I prefer to keep the fruits of calculus.

    No-one, Piraha or not, is qualified to judge the value of knowledge not yet acquired.

    Freethinke: In the context of linguistics, recursion is the grammatical facility to include one clause inside another. As in "he said she thought they intended to invade France". We do this without thinking about it, and Chomski postulates it as a defining characteristic of Human language, which is why the article I'd read about this tribe was so excited about it.
    Mathematical recursion a difficult idea, but mathematical language has the same challenge that legal language does: it must be precise, it must mean one and only one thing. That's why almost everything get redefined to mean something almost entirely unlike what it means in natural speech. It doesn't take much exposure to either (I imagine -- I am not familiar with law) to become accustomed to their foibles.

    As for absolute vs relative, I don't believe in many absolutes either in physics or morality, but I am attracted to Isaiah Berlin's idea of objective pluralism, which is almost as good as the absolutism that theists worry about the lack of in atheists.

    Piraha have been isolated culturally AND genetically for thousands of years, which is why a phenoypal difference is a less frivolous idea in the former. It's still relatively frivolous though -- I'd still be surprised if a Piraha baby adopted and raised in eg. New york had special difficulty with arithmetic, and unsurprised if a German baby adopted by the Piraha grew up unable to distinguish 4 from 5.

  57. The advantages of medicine are entirely mathematical?

    Who knew?

    I thought primitives like the Piraha discovered the curative properties of plants...

  58. Without statistics you have no means of distinguishing a remedy from a placebo.

  59. But what are you doing operating a computer, a machine which is one of modern mathematics' most obvious descendants. Switch it off, you neurotic nihilist!

  60. I meant to say "mathematical recursion *is not* a difficult idea".

  61. Without statistics you have no means of distinguishing a remedy from a placebo.

    Sell that to the Piraha... and the coca leave chewers of Bolivia.

  62. Minimum requirement for position, Calculus and advanced Differential Equations.

  63. No, you tell it to the traditional Chinese medicine practitioners!

  64. Plato, "Charmides"

    ...when he asked me if I knew the cure of the headache, I answered, but with an effort, that I did know.

    And what is it? he said.

    I replied that it was a kind of leaf, which required to be accompanied by a charm, and if a person would repeat the charm at the same time that he used the cure, he would be made whole; but that without the charm the leaf would be of no avail.

    Then I will write out the charm from your dictation, he said.

    With my consent? I said, or without my consent?

    With your consent, Socrates, he said, laughing.

    Very good, I said; and are you quite sure that you know my name?

    I ought to know you, he replied, for there is a great deal said about you among my companions; and I remember when I was a child seeing you in company with my cousin Critias.

    I am glad to find that you remember me, I said; for I shall now be more at home with you and shall be better able to explain the nature of the charm, about which I felt a difficulty before. For the charm will do more, Charmides, than only cure the headache. I dare say that you have heard eminent physicians say to a patient who comes to them with bad eyes, that they cannot cure his eyes by themselves, but that if his eyes are to be cured, his head must be treated; and then again they say that to think of curing the head alone, and not the rest of the body also, is the height of folly. And arguing in this way they apply their methods to the whole body, and try to treat and heal the whole and the part together. Did you ever observe that this is what they say?

    Yes, he said.

    And they are right, and you would agree with them?

    Yes, he said, certainly I should.

  65. Most drugs prescribed today are prescribed to moderate symptoms, not cure. We have a very VERY expensive "market oriented" health care system. It's purpose is NOT to cure, but to "make money".

  66. ie - Type II Diabetes. Instead of prescriptions, the patient should be told to "Lose weight, you fat f_ck!"

  67. ... but most patients would find THAT advice a little "too charming."

  68. Not sure you intended to, but you've just demonstrated the importance of using statistics in medicine, which is the point I was making. It's possible you've seen the light and adopted my point as your own, but that seems out of character for you; more likely you've just forgotten which side of the argument you were on.

    I know that you'd like to pretend to lead some Socratic dialogue, but honestly you're doing a far better job of impersonating Daffy Duck than Plato.

  69. lol!

    If it were important, they would stop doing knee surgeries and prescribing anti-depressants.

    It's obviously MORE important in Western societies for calculating "profits".

  70. ...but then there are Plato's "Hipparchus" profits, and then there are Xenophon's "Oeconomicus" profits. Neither had much to do with Adam Smith and/or the field of study that YOU believe to be called "Economics".

  71. In other words, the "arts" are every bit as important in the field of "medicine" as the mathmatics which lend it the "pretense" of scientism.

  72. In other "other" words, a great chef seldom "measures" his flavourings. I'd refer you to Plato's "Gorgias" dialogue on cookery, but I'm sure that its' meaning would be utterly lost upon you.

    Plato, "Lesser Hippias"

    SOCRATES: And tell me, Hippias, are you not a skilful calculator and arithmetician?

    HIPPIAS: Yes, Socrates, assuredly I am.

    SOCRATES: And if some one were to ask you what is the sum of 3 multiplied by 700, you would tell him the true answer in a moment, if you pleased?

    HIPPIAS: certainly I should.

    SOCRATES: Is not that because you are the wisest and ablest of men in these matters?

    HIPPIAS: Yes.

    SOCRATES: And being as you are the wisest and ablest of men in these matters of calculation, are you not also the best?

    HIPPIAS: To be sure, Socrates, I am the best.

    SOCRATES: And therefore you would be the most able to tell the truth about these matters, would you not?

    HIPPIAS: Yes, I should.

    SOCRATES: And could you speak falsehoods about them equally well? I must beg, Hippias, that you will answer me with the same frankness and magnanimity which has hitherto characterized you. If a person were to ask you what is the sum of 3 multiplied by 700, would not you be the best and most consistent teller of a falsehood, having always the power of speaking falsely as you have of speaking truly, about these same matters, if you wanted to tell a falsehood, and not to answer truly? Would the ignorant man be better able to tell a falsehood in matters of calculation than you would be, if you chose? Might he not sometimes stumble upon the truth, when he wanted to tell a lie, because he did not know, whereas you who are the wise man, if you wanted to tell a lie would always and consistently lie?

    HIPPIAS: Yes, there you are quite right.

  73. "If it were important, they would stop doing knee surgeries and prescribing anti-depressants."

    It *is* important, but I make no claim that Western medicine is perfect. It would be better if we didn't do pointless knee surgeries or prescribe pointless drugs. Heigh-ho. One day we'll achieve perfection, as long as we keep doing the sums.

    I believe that Western medicine is better than the folk remedies known to the ancient Greeks, the hunter-gatherer tribes, the traditional Chinese etc., but almost all of that advantage is due to the adoption of rigorous testing and measurement, which entail stats.

    Only Western medicine has any mechanism for preserving its curative remedies while weeding out its bullshit. Sure, folk traditions eschew obvious poisons, but please notice how much dangerous bullshit is preserved -- poisons weak enough to escape notice, but not weak enough that they wouldn't kill thousands of people if applied widely. Then there's the harmless bullshit, which the traditional artist-doctors of yore would have keep applying indefinitely if the modern fad of "scientism" got going and "pretended" to get some useful work done -- which pretence is indistinguishable from genuine effective work... so I think "pretence" must be the wrong word, mustn't it?

    Still, you are welcome to eschew Western medicine as long as you don't restrict access for the rest of us. Don't forget to switch off your computer too.

  74. One day we'll achieve perfection, as long as we keep doing the sums.


    Doing the "sums" is what is keeping you from advancing. Instead of developing cures the system focuses upon treating symptoms. And as long as treating the "symptom" is marginally "statistically more significant" than a "placebo", you think you're doing GREAT MEDICINE.

    Wake up. In many cases, it's only marginally more effective than applying leeches and performing ample bloodlettings.

  75. Only Western medicine has any mechanism for preserving its curative remedies while weeding out its bullshit.

    Hmmmm, I wonder where THAT idea came from... oh wait, wasn't Galen one of those "folk remedy" Greek guys? I mean, Calculus didn't appear on the scene until Newton and Leibnitz.

    And the Chinese don't have an Internets? Who knew?

  76. Emerson, "Conduct of Life" (Beauty)

    The spiral tendency of vegetation infects education also. Our books approach very slowly the things we most wish to know. What a parade we make of our science, and how far off, and at arm's length, it is from its objects! Our botany is all names, not powers: poets and romancers talk of herbs of grace and healing; but what does the botanist know of the virtues of his weeds? The geologist lays bare the strata, and can tell them all on his fingers: but does he know what effect passes into the man who builds his house in them? what effect on the race that inhabits a granite shelf? what on the inhabitants of marl and of alluvium?

    We should go to the ornithologist with a new feeling, if he could teach us what the social birds say, when they sit in the autumn council, talking together in the trees. The want of sympathy makes his record a dull dictionary. His result is a dead bird. The bird is not in its ounces and inches, but in its relations to Nature; and the skin or skeleton you show me, is no more a heron, than a heap of ashes or a bottle of gases into which his body has been reduced, is Dante or Washington. The naturalist is led from the road by the whole distance of his fancied advance. The boy had juster views when he gazed at the shells on the beach, or the flowers in the meadow, unable to call them by their names, than the man in the pride of his nomenclature. Astrology interested us, for it tied man to the system. Instead of an isolated beggar, the farthest star felt him, and he felt the star. However rash and however falsified by pretenders and traders in it, the hint was true and divine, the soul's avowal of its large relations, and, that climate, century, remote natures, as well as near, are part of its biography. Chemistry takes to pieces, but it does not construct. Alchemy which sought to transmute one element into another, to prolong life, to arm with power, — that was in the right direction. All our science lacks a human side. The tenant is more than the house. Bugs and stamens and spores, on which we lavish so many years, are not finalities, and man, when his powers unfold in order, will take Nature along with him, and emit light into all her recesses. The human heart concerns us more than the poring into microscopes, and is larger than can be measured by the pompous figures of the astronomer.

  77. Galen was very interested in the debate between the rationalist and empiricist medical sects,[17] and his use of direct observation, dissection and vivisection represents a complex middle ground between the extremes of those two viewpoints.

    "Paging Dr. Mengele"... repeat... "Paging Dr. Mengele".

    Let the experiments begin. Statisticians, grab your notebooks!

  78. The doctors question is no longer, "What's wrong with you?", it's "Where does it hurt?"

    But then, what does basic anatomy have to do with Calculus, anyway?

  79. "what does basic anatomy have to do with Calculus, anyway?"

    Not a lot, although more than *you* think (structures are dictated by the requirements of fluid dynamics and biochemical kinetics, for examples). But don't blame me for your habit of conflating terms. I'm talking about measuring the effect of an intervention, not dissection.

    Meanwhile, rest assured that modern statistics, especially probability, is a fruit of calculus.

  80. Who knew? I always believed it to be the fruit of Eugenics.

  81. Who knew? Anyone who wanted to, it's not secret. Do not revel in your ignorance, it is unbecoming.

  82. lol! My link exposed YOURS. And so, 'tis your ignorance in which I revel! :)

  83. btw - How are cliometrics working out for ya? Maybe Paul Krugman can win another "Nobel" applying it.


  84. What the heck, maybe you can even build a bigger and more discredited climate model with it!

  85. A "statistician's" motto:

    The old saying is that “figures will not lie,” but a new saying is “liars will figure.” It is our duty, as practical statisticians, to prevent the liar from figuring; in other words, to prevent him from perverting the truth, in the interest of some theory he wishes to establish.

  86. FJ, modern statistics rests on measure theory, a fact which is far more interesting than your ignorance of it. If you're not interested, stop shouting; and if you are interested, stop shouting and start reading.

    As to climate change, the only relevant challenge to it must be statistical. Like it or not, the most successful human beings are going to proceed with a program of testing, measurement and statistical inference. Those two things (their program and their success) are causally related. :)

  87. I don't dispute that measurements can be useful... provided you understand the significance of your "unit". :)

  88. Our understanding of numbers improved remarkably during the 19th century. You'd be far better off finding out about it than arguing about how the Greeks knew everything (they didn't).

  89. Your understanding of numbers and especially what they "signify" is ABYSMAL, as evidenced by your responses throughout this thread. You should become an astrologer.

  90. Or perhaps put your numerical skills to "better" use... calculating Rajju's and Palya's. ;)

  91. "You should become an astrologer."

    coming from you, that' probably both a compliment and sincere advice.

  92. Funny thing is, you might as well consult one once you begin to rely upon "statistics" and probabilistic models vice deterministic ones... ;)

  93. ...for as Einstein said, "G_d doesn't roll dice".

  94. Are you being an idiot on purpose?

    1) Einstein was wrong. Quantum Mechanics exposes nature's fundamentally probabilistic properties, and Einstein failed to find any evidence for a deterministic underpinning of QM, in fact statistics (ha!) allow us to definitively rule out all local deterministic theories.
    2) How do you know that astrology is bunk? Would it be by measuring its outcomes and comparing it to chance? I wonder if there's a word for that... I know, I'll make one up. I think I'll call it sta... statis.... statistics! Yay!

  95. 1) Einstein was wrong? Somebody better tell CERN to stop looking for the Einstein Aether now that the Higgs boson has finally been "accepted" by 5 sigma loving skeptical statisticians. :)

  96. You ARE being an idiot on purpose. Good. (pats FJ on the head and leaves)

  97. BOTH of you have been acting like idiots. Misusing good information for the sole purpose of getting at each other is insulting to the intelligence of passersby. It's a bloody bore too.

    -----------> Katharine Heartburn

  98. lol!

    You wouldn't recognize "good" information if it bit you, Kate.

  99. I wonder why the labio-dental lisp is so rarely found outside England? Could something unique in the genetic makeup of Anglo-Saxon-Norman occlusion account for it, do you suppose?


    Rather like the dentalized T's endemic to Semites, only not quite so desperately unattractive.

  100. I doubt it, the British population has never been very isolated, the Normans being just one example of our historically frequent immigrant influxes. Climate is a more likely suspect (wet weather => more colds => swollen adenoids => greater incidence of lisping). Not sure what you mean by a "dentalized T", I have noticed Woody Allen pausing slightly before pronouncing very hard the final T of a word, is that what you mean? (Hard to see what's unattractive about it).



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