On Enjoyment from Understanding


“Understanding the world leads to a greater ability to enjoy the world.”

– Hank Green

On Experience


“Experience is that marvellous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.”

– Franklin P. Jones

Ostalgie


Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, almost all symbols of the former German Democratic Republic (DDR in German) have been removed. Regardless of the fact that former inhabitants of the DDR now live in a predominantly free-market economy, many still prefer to purchase household items that remind them of life in the old republic.

This socio-economic and sociocultural phenomenon is known in Germany as Ostalgie; it is a portmanteau that describes nostalgia for East Germany combining the German words Nostalgie meaning ‘nostalgia’ and Ost meaning ‘east’.

‘Now some people are longing for the old hermit’s cell like a childhood treehouse. That’s harmless; West Germans find it horrifying, East Germans find it touching.’ – Christoph Dieckmann (10 December 1993) “Der Schnee von gestern”, Die Zeit

‘The archival practices of collection and display can have a similar, if unintended, implication. Imagine what it must be like for many eastern Germans to walk into a museum and be surrounded by the things in their own living rooms. The effect of such historicizations of the present is uncanny (in the sense of a ‘strangeness of that which is most familiar’ [Ivy 1995:23]); The past is connected to the present by distancing it in space and time. […]

‘Ostalgic’ practices reveal a highly complicated relationship between personal histories, disadvantage, dispossession, the betrayal of promises, and the social worlds of production and consumption. These practices thus not only reflect and constitute important identity transformations in a period of intense social discord, but also reveal the politics, ambiguities, and paradoxes of memory, nostalgia, and resistance, all of which are linked to the paths, diversions, and multiple meanings of East German things.’

– Berdahl, Daphne (1999) ‘(N)Ostalgie’ for the present: Memory, longing, and East German things, Ethnos, 64: 2, 192—211

Biology, Sociology and Language


Osiatynski: As I understand, language has an innate biological basis. Its use, however, is social. What do you think of the social functions of language? Is it primarily an instrument of communication?

Chomsky: I think a very important aspect of language has to do with the establishment of social relations and interactions. Often, this is described as communication. But that is very misleading, I think. There is a narrow class of uses of language where you intend to communicate. Communication refers to an effort to get people to understand what one means. And that, certainly, is one use of language and a social use of it. But I don’t think it is the only social use of language. Nor are social uses the only uses of language. For example, language can be used to express or clarify one’s thoughts with little regard for the social context, if any.

I think the use of language is a very important means by which this species, because of its biological nature, creates a kind of social space, to place itself in interactions with other people. It doesn’t have much to do with communication in a narrow sense; that is, it doesn’t involve transmission of information. There is much information transmitted but it is not the content of what is said that is transmitted. There is undoubtedly much to learn about the social uses of language, for communication or for other purposes. But at present there is not much in the way of a theory of sociolinguistics, of social uses of languages, as far as I am aware.

– Wiktor Osiatynski (ed.), Contrasts: Soviet and American Thinkers Discuss the Future (MacMillan, 1984), pp. 95-101

Dichotomies of the Rational and the Linguistic


Osiatynski: I’ve read several times that we think in language but “feel” in nonlinguistic ways.

Chomsky: I know that it’s false of me, at least if “language” refers (in my case) to English, and I assume that it’s false of everyone else. I don’t think you would have any trouble at all in deciding that you are thinking of some event and then visualizing it happening with its consequences, and constructing a rational analysis of it without being able to verbalize it adequately in anything like its full complexity.

Osiatynski: You used the expression “rational analysis.” Do you believe that all our thinking is rational and linear?

Chomsky: I don’t think all thinking is a kind of rational structure. But I don’t think it is correct to identify the rational-nonrational dichotomy with the linguistic-nonlinguistic dichotomy.

Osiatynski: Can language be nonrational?

Chomsky: Yes; so those are two dimensions that do not correlate. It’s true that language is in a sense linear but that is as obvious as perceptual space is three-dimensional.

– Wiktor Osiatynski (ed.), Contrasts: Soviet and American Thinkers Discuss the Future (MacMillan, 1984), pp. 95-101

The Holy Quran Experiment


Muslims are often accused of following a religion that has no place in Western culture. This made us wonder: What about Christianity? – A religion that has influenced our culture greatly.

For this experiment we have purchased a Bible and have disguised it as the Holy Quran. We then highlighted a couple of shocking verses that are in great contrast with modern Western values. Let’s see what happens when we read these passages from the Bible to some people while leading them to believe these passages are from the Quran.

“And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me; Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins. And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.” [1]

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” [2]

“When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her.” [3]

“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” [4]

What are your initial thoughts?

‘This sounds ridiculous.’ ‘Well, I didn’t know that this kind of stuff was also in this book.’ ‘How can anyone believe this? It sounds incredible to me.’ ‘Cutting off people’s hands, I mean, apparently that’s just the way they are.’ ‘If you have been raised with this book and these kinds of thoughts it’s going to influence the way you think.’ ‘To me this sounds like they want to oppress you and force you to believe what they believe.’ ‘The woman wants to help and as a result her hand gets cut off.’

If you were to compare this to the Bible, what are the biggest differences?

‘Hearing this, I would think the Quran is more aggressive.’ ‘Especially with things like cutting off people’s hands.’ ‘I think the Bible has a lot more positive things in it.’ ‘The story of the Bible is told very differently.’ ‘The biggest difference what you just heard here is the role of the woman.’ ‘The Bible is a lot less harsh and a bit more peaceful.’ ‘The world is changing and I think they have to adapt to it.’ ‘Most of our people have experienced the freedom to make their own choices and freedom of speech, and having that freedom allows you to think differently.’ ‘It bothers me that some people see these old writings as the absolute truth.’

Well, we have a little surprise for you. These beautiful verses from the Quran are actually from the Bible.

‘What the fuck!’ ‘Seriously?’ ‘What the hell?’ ‘I did not see that coming.’ ‘That is really unbelievable! That is sick, that’s really sick.’ ‘Are you for real?’ ‘Well done. You really got me.’ ‘It’s all just prejudice really, I always try not to be prejudiced myself but apparently I already am. It’s just something you do, unconsciously.’ ‘It has a lot to do with the media of course.’ ‘It’s important to keep thinking rationally when it comes to these things; try to think logically about things and use it to your advantage.’ ‘Of course I’ve heard Bible stories when I was young, and I went to a Christian school, but I really had no idea this was in there.’

– Courtesy of Dit Is Normaal, “The Holy Quran Experiment”


[1] Leviticus 26:27-29
[2] 1 Timothy 2:11-12
[3] Deuteronomy 25:11-12
[4] Leviticus 20:13

On Two Outcomes


“There are two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you’ve made a discovery. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you’ve made a discovery.”

– Enrico Fermi

On Being Betrothed to Laughter


“I was irrevocably betrothed to laughter, the sound of which has always seemed to me to be the most civilized music in the world.”

– Peter Ustinov