Category Archives: Multifaceted Experience

Multifaceted Living

On the sliding scale of time that gradiently builds and ebbs and recedes I am perpetually being re-context-ed and being iteratively re-inserted into particular frames of reference and spheres of existence.  I am simultaneously (at this point in time) (in no particular order) physically framed: a mortal, a human, and a male; overlapping-ly framed: a man, a child, a son, a husband, a friend, an ex-boyfriend, an occasional ass, but most of the time decent; functionally framed:an employee, a husband (again), a neighbor, a citizen, a representative, a cook, a linguist, and a discourse analyst; and characteristically framed: creative, a reader, obstinate, sour-faced when I am actually quite contented and happy, a driven individual, annoying, entertaining, friendly, unconcerned with things some people think I ought to be concerned about, temperate, calm, chaotic, paradoxical, slimy, ambiguous, wrong, right, and indifferent.

As individuals we have many types of roles and expectations.

These roles and expectations have a place in community.

Let’s assume that individuality exists because there is community.  Let’s agree that community on a macro-level means relationship.  Community defines the application of our roles, defines the way that we relate to the community at large.  Throughout life we have the option to naturally accept or naturally decline participation in any given role.

Our descriptive and identifying labels probably exists because of some micro-role played out in some micro-plot-line of thought or action or interaction or relation.

For me, like any other human, each particular facet of my being carries a whole set of relationships and contexts that also need to be understood if I am to be understood in full.  For instance, being a husband suggests a living spouse, which at one point meant a new marriage, which meant in-laws, which meant new grandparents, most likely new siblings, and new aunts and uncles.  If the actual relationships were not so big of a factor in defining that new portion of my identity, then certainly, the way in which those relatives perceived me in context of how they perceived my spouse certainly carried some sort of value and created expectations for me (including the way I was to interact as a new and extended member of the family).  Furthermore, if family isn’t enough, there were new friends with whom I also entered into relationship, including their sets of expectations, ad nausea.  And this is only the external relations in marriage – I have left aside any relations and expectations that I shared with my spouse.

What about the rest of the roles?  It starts getting crazy when you try to make sense of it all.

In addition to holding a variety of roles I also have sets of attributes that are either activated or deactivated depending on which role I am satisfying.  These attributes are features that define and differentiate so that you can determine who I am and what I am supposed to be doing and why, and how, and when, and where.  I am tour staff, I am the person who knows how to get to Pittsburgh, I am short so I am not the person to change the lightbulb, I am quick so I am the person to run down the street and catch the delivery driver because he forgot a package, I am whatever I am, in terms of attributes, in terms of adjectives.

This is not compartmentalizing; this is maximizing self-awareness to harness it as a tool to leverage the options placed before me.  This reminds me of that Aboriginal saying:  The more you know the less you need.  I know myself.  If we do not know our capabilities, our roles, our nature, then we cannot expect to market those skills to the people who find them valuable in employees, in dates, in spouses, in friends, it voters, et cetera.  Although I am not an objectivist, Ayn Rand tells us that absolutely the writer must know the essentials if they are to write anything of value at all.

You as a multi-hat wearing individual absolutely must know your essence if you are to accomplish anything at all.

As we grow older and accumulate hats we learn that roles do the things they are able to do because of gained experience and knowledge.  Time changes student into teacher, child into adult.  But some roles can overlap and occur simultaneously, such as child, student, pitcher, class clown, et cetera.  Holding a particular role does not necessarily preclude an individual from holding other particular roles.  It may preclude, but it does not necessarily preclude.

Roles overlap and occur simultaneously, some precede, some follow, some preclude at particular times, and others are instances of roles filled immaturely in more mature ways; iterations of roles that continue perpetually until our bones petrify, (skeleton is a meronym of body…that means skeleton is a part of body), or roles that we chose to turn on and off, but irrespective of the time slots that the roles fill they occur between the womb and the tomb, riga tiga tum tum.

I am not your friend until you meet me.

Without being my friend, you can still know the intimate fact based on my usage of “womb” and “tomb” with that nonsensical four word sequence in the prior paragraph that I am culturally literate enough in some particular culture to be able to reference West Side Story.

And we all know so much.

We can’t be satisfied to know that we have an identity or a personality, or that we belong to any particular culture or collection of cultures.  We need to want to know what to do with that knowledge.  We need something more here.  But we operate on a daily basis with the awareness that we need to know our materials and our tools in order to do anything productively creative with our skills and resources.  Accordingly, we need to investigate the nature of our identities, how our identities converge to belong to cultures, how those cultural memberships alter our identities, and then how to use that knowledge in our chaotically complex lives; we need to practice multifaceted learning for this multifaceted living.

Real Life Applications of Cognitive Linguistics

Shopping's Goat...

Image by ImAges ImprObables via Flickr

I have said it before and I will say it again: ANYTHING that requires thought benefits from a cognitive linguistic perspective.

We use language to help in making sense of the world, this goes for broad and general topics as well as specific expert domains; language is the medium of meaning, wherever that meaning occurs.

The idea I use in my professional life as an organizational culture planner is to use cognitive science to make sense out of the systems of thought expressed in the routine tasks of the organization and to see how they are described through culture in the form of business practices and personnel behaviors.  If I can see how thought and culture relate via language structures (i.e., conceptual metaphors, conceptual blends, force-dynamics, attention, figure-ground relations, et cetera), then I can help grow organizational culture from an informed perspective.


If you take the communication produced in an average business meeting, break it up into sections that identify the underlying conceptual metaphors, see who communicates what message, and trace the outcomes of the meeting, you can start to get a feel for what drives the organization.


Because design is an artifact of human creativity, it reflects the processes of perception.  Pick up any art criticism, architecture and landscape writing, or pulp design magazine, and you will see a range of conceptual structures at play in the terms of the movement of a visual scene, the oscillation of figure and ground (which in many cases roughly correlate to grammatical subject and object), the directing of attention, and the general semiotic structure of the actual design or the commentary; each aspect of the design reflects conception and perception.


Since technology is used in every aspect of life, we can start to see how it becomes a part of culture and cognition; in fact, technology in many respects helps us to distribute our cognitive load across a piece of technology. Pieces of technology are like material anchors that helps us escape from merely thinking with our minds and instead enable us to think with our environment.  This is a matter of conceptual blending, and it plays out in the decisions we make using thought and language, since technology is a tool that helps us learn, decide, and act on collected knowledge.  This is as relevant for super-computers as it is for using a wooden ruler; technology of all forms enables us to actually have something to say about the sensed environment.


When people want to relate to each other, they use language and other models of symbolization to communicate.  One of the most frustrating and most interesting aspects of communication situations is knowing whether communication is actually happening, or if it is in fact failing.  A lot of this depends on negotiating the common ground to see what each party shares.  Since the language we use for communicating relies so heavily on metaphors, it is often interesting to look at which metaphors people use to communicate, and whether or not those metaphors are understood by the other conversation partners. This holds true for relationship counseling, for customer service relations, and for friendships.  Any time people get together, they use meaningful structures to communicate, and cognitive science offers a suite of tools to analyze that communication.

The idea I use in my work is to exploit the nuances in language and behavior to gain insight into what problems the organization is facing.  I use a three-pronged approach to collect, analyze, and present that data.  I then help the organization to see how to use the results in a meaningful way to produce actionable solutions.  What this does for me is invaluable; I get to have a good time working on different problems, and I get to see how different people work together to help me find solutions that work for them.

I welcome opportunities to participate in translating ideas into cultural practices and love to engage in productive collaboration with people who are open and curious.

Let me know if you want to talk. DM me: @SportLinguist, or leave a comment on the contact page.

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On walking and mediated embodied experience in ethnographic map making

Girl walking in a beach. Porto Covo, Portugal.

Image via Wikipedia

Recently I’ve been thinking about my spatial experience of my contextual environment and about what I have learned over the years in consciously encountering space as a user of space, a creator of space, and a participant in community through space.  I am thinking about this as I am getting ready to do some tutoring on domain mapping in ethnographic research.  Here is a summary of my spatial experience.

As a child most of my experience with space was either moving through it on foot or by being driven around in a car.  Toss in the stroller, occasional plane ride, boating, crutches, sledding, riding a bicycle, but by and large WALKING and RIDING dominated my childhood experience of space.

As an adult I would live in cities like Chicago and Honolulu, places where the infrastructure encouraged walking.  This changed my understanding of terrain, and walking became my primary vantage point for my movement through space, although each place did have new modes of movement; Chicago had a train, Honolulu had surf boards.

Doing fieldwork in West Africa I would never drive; I saw most of sub-Saharan Africa in a van, or a Volkswagen, or a Renault, but I was always the passenger.  At least I could stare out the window and imagine what it was like at a walking pace.

Where I live now has a walkability score of 25 out of 100.  Where I lived in Chicago had a score of 98, Hawai’i had a score of 78; clearly my current 25 is pitiful in comparison.

To be fair, where I live now there are some residents with a score of 82, so, it is not like walking is precluded by living here, just that it is not easy for everyone (like me).  I walked home from work once and it took me three hours.

This has restricted my daily routine movement to driving.  These days I experience my landscape from a vehicle (much like my Africa passenger days), but this time I don’t even get to look around and pay attention to what zooms past my face; no, I only pay attention to that which is necessary to avoid collisions.

Driving has seriously hindered my sense of place.  I used to spend a lot of time walking, exploring, noticing things at street level, at a pace that let me participate and observe; being a car driver has forced me to give up participation with a place in favor of being a consumer of that place, the road is just a conduit.

Instead of participating with the place I now participate with my driving peers as we consume the street on our way to our various destinations.  The interactive dynamic is not with the people who reside in a place, but with people who routinely pass through the place.  This is like the boat that is moored to the riverbank, the boat might not move but the river has certainly changed.

Compared to the speed with which I now drive through my neighborhoods, walking is practically standing still.  Walking is being the boat moored to the bank; driving is the rushing river.  And the places I drive through do not really change either, but I have nothing to do with the neighborhoods which I zoom through, not the shops, not the landscape, not the people.

I need to stop driving so much.

I need to learn to walk, again.

I need to experience the physical crust of earth and to encounter a place with my feet, unmediated by round rubber tires and a gas pedal.

Being a driver has abstracted my encounter with a place by removing the minutia and patient tiny details made visible to the walking man.  I say “man” because I speak of myself; I was a walking man, like James Taylor, but now, where I live, if you walk expect to be stared at, honked at, yelled at by crazy fun-loving child-drivers, and occasionally the target of someone’s empty sodacan/coffeecup/waterbottle hurled out the window with an insult.  I am serious; walking is stigmatizing, and dangerous.

This is partly why I drive places.

My level of attention to place as a driver does not decompose into lower level experiences with place like it does on a stroll where those small experiences gradiently build up to become a walking journey, instead I pay more attention to how many red lights have impeded my progress.

Walking for me does more than serve the function of travel between places; I walk to know a place.

When I move somewhere new (or even visit from out of town), the first thing I do is walk around a place, in an ever widening gyre, a scroll stroll uncurling through a city emanating away from my apartment or hotel room.  I walk around and I get a feel for what surrounds me.  I don’t even look at a map until I have learned the map through my feet.  By doing this I start to learn my place in the broader context, and this is where you encounter the joys of a place, its people, its vitality, its curiosities; by walking you learn the identity of a place.

This afternoon I thought about how walking is natural for me as an ethnographer; in fact, walking is essential.  And one of the reasons it is so important is that it helps in making maps of a place, in mapping the domains and the various spatial relations found in that place.  Sure, you can sit somewhere and draw a map of everything you see, but I promise you, if you walk around a place and look first with your feet, your map will be more detailed, more accurate, and more relevant as you come to capture the reality which each participant experiences as they use that space.

I might have seen a lot of sub-Saharan West Africa, but it doesn’t mean too much to me, and I certainly could only attempt to map it out from an approximation of the various landmarks I happened to have noticed from the window.  This is because the dynamic and progressive movement of a vehicle is that your sense of figure-ground organization is constantly shifting, and it goes as fast as the driver feels is necessary.  But when you walk around, if something becomes figural in your field of vision, and you feel it is important, you get to pause for a moment and reflect on the significance of what you have seen.  This kind of intentional embodied experience is vital for making sense of a place.

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How Inception Helps Me Edit Papers

Inception: Alternative Poster

When I am writing a paper that has a page limit I use the first draft to make sure that I have a complete thought, I do not worry about exceeding the page limit.

For the first round of editing I read through the entire paper once. I then reread the paper section by section.

I open a new document for sections which I want to edit and conduct all of my editing in the new window so that I can preserve the original thought while I carve up its copy.

During that new window editing, I will then take paragraphs from the section and open new windows for each of them before using the cut copy paste “kick” to move it back through the layers of the document.

When I make it back to the original layer, what I am left with is a concise, coherent, and consistent paper. In a way, for each paragraph I have gone three layers deep to plant my idea.

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How I became a Linguist: Characteristics of Intelligent Behavior

Systems thinking about the society

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Sometime in the early nineties my mother gave me a list of Arthur Costa’s twelve characteristics of intelligent behavior.  This list actually had a lot of influence in my life as I stumbled upon the trajectory toward anthropology and linguistics.  It taught me that I could actually organize observations and thoughts and cause them to not only make sense out of reality, but to blend the sense-making process with the process of describing reality.

I wanted to summarize Costa’s 1988 list here and to provide a link to a full article by Costa that explains the rationale behind each of the list items.

  1. Persistence, persevering when the solution to a problem is not immediately apparent
  2. Decreasing Impulsivity
  3. Listening to Others – with Empathy and Understanding
  4. Flexibility in Thinking
  5. Metacognition: Awareness of Our Own Thinking
  6. Checking for Accuracy and Precision
  7. Questioning and Problem Posing
  8. Drawing on Past Knowledge and Applying it to New Situations
  9. Precision of Language and Thought
  10. Using All the Senses
  11. Ingenuity, Originality, Insightfulness: Creativity
  12. Wonderment, inquisitiveness, curiosity, and the enjoyment of problem solving – a sense of efficacy as a thinker [Costa: 1988]

What strikes me as important in this list, is the correlation to the task of conducting both anthropological and linguistic fieldwork.  Wherever one is a stranger this list equips with the basic attitude necessary to learn to fit it, or at least to be welcomed in to a community.

This list is also manifest in anyone doing any kind of systems science.  All twelve of these skills make it possible for you to collect data, analyze it, and turn it into some kind of presentable report that describes the system.  This three activity cycle: collect, analyze, present is what I feel is at the core of being any kind of productively observational person.

Since this original list was published in the 80′s, Costa has revised it under the label “Habits of Mind” and expanded it to include 16 habits.  Since this revised list was not a part of my path to linguistics I chose instead to list the original.  However, the revised list is great and can be found here.


Costa, Arthur, L. (1988). Teaching for Intelligence: recognizing and encouraging skillful thinking and behavior. (p.22) in Transforming Education (IC #8), Context Institute. Stable URL:

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Doing Strategic Planning #4: Adapting Existing Organization-External Materials for Internal Use

GDP Composition By Sector and Labour Force By ...

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This is part of the continuing series about Strategic Planning and outlines the process I am using with a particular organization.  I wanted to briefly explain something that I think is a viable pattern for learning from others, namely, looking at their work and seeing how you need to shape your own work in order to be considered a participating member of the industry.

The organization I am working for is trying to draft a strategic plan that also accounts for decision-making policies in how they invest in different causes.  Many of those causes include development work in places that have the shared features of extreme poverty, drastically different cultural values, and non-Western perspectives (i.e., post-colonial environments).  After listening to the organization talk about their vision and mission and seeing the history of their work and recognizing their place of respect in the development community I felt that it was important to make sure that they were at least in line with the ethical standards of similar industries (especially anthropology).  After looking through different industry codes of ethics I decided that the American Anthropological Association had a superb code of ethics and that without violating copyrights I would use it as a research tool to identify the major domains of concern for ethical conduct.  This is an ongoing process and it will be a few weeks before I am completely content with the results.  My approach will include working with my organization to help them see how the AAA code of ethics can inform their own tactics and methods that emerge to meet the strategic goals.  Basically, I hope that the organization can use this code of ethics to continue to drive their own policy and decision-making.

This is following my personal learning strategy: Collect, Analyze, Present.  And I am teaching the organization to collect the views of others, to analyze how they might apply to their own work, and present them in a format that suits the strategic goals of the organization.

Stay tuned for updates.

Post Script: WordPress has a feature that suggests related articles and before I published this article it suggested this interesting link:

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Speed through Penmanship

The English alphabet, both upper and lower cas...

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I never realized this, but apparently cursive writing is supposed to make you write faster.

[I always hated making uppercase Q...]


Doing Strategic Planning #2: Decision Making and Identifying Policy Material through Discourse Analysis

,., decision making

Image by nerovivo via Flickr

Continuing on the posts about strategic planning, today I want to share how I encourage people to develop policy.  The organization that I am helping had a baseline report drafted by a committee member.  In the baseline report all of the areas of involvement were catalogued and this person identified several gaps in the way that the organization operated.  This person also organized all of the decision-making processes that the organization (a small foundation) uses to conduct day-to-day business and to make decisions about monetary investments & expenditures.

The organization has a long history of successful functioning and I am only a recent player in the story, but the organization is in a state of transformation and part of my role is to bring consistency to the process of adaptation.  Basically this project is sort of the development of a change-management strategy.  This means that a lot of policies will need to be rewritten.  In fact, decision-making is the prime goal of this particular strategic planning project.

Because the organization already had several documents and had recently drafted the baseline report I was able to compare the report to the historical documents and identify statements that would drive the prospective policy.  I borrow a common industry standard called “requirements” that are basically active-voice, single-proposition statements that elucidate a concept that is vital to be considered in the system (the decision-making process in our case).  Another feature of these statements is that they usually contain an auxiliary modal to indicate a degree of forcefulness behind the statement.  Again, the idea is to get at what things are vital to be considered in the decision-making process.

I took the baseline report and identified what the committee member found as criteria for decision-making.  I made a list of these items.  Next, I took the historical decision-making documents and identified where those criteria came from in the historical document and made a list of those locations.  This is like the process of making a concordance of references and is similar to the data management strategies that field linguists and anthropologists use in constructing data tables and dictionaries.

I asked the organization members to look through the documents and draft their own list of these vital statements so that through the process of this shared discourse experience they would become increasingly familiar with the actual textual material that we will be using to draft the strategy and goals in subsequent meetings.  The idea was to get people thinking about what their real needs actually are before they start looking to the future and to do this with an eye toward using policy to keep their strategy planning in line with their vision and mission statement and other relevant brand documentation.

Stay tuned for further updates.

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Inherent Narratives in Ad Hoc Collections

Part of my portfolio includes this project called Weaving Narratives: Possessions = Autobiographies, it is an exploration into how any ad hoc grouping of objects has some kind of inherent narrative, albeit a selected and limited narrative; but it is a narrative nonetheless.

When I was a boy I remember my father keeping a box of items that meant a lot to him.  I keep a box like this too.  The Italian blacksmith that I apprenticed under also kept boxes of items, but on a different scale; when he died I got one of those boxes: we call it a storage unit in American English. Continue reading

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Ad hoc Categorization and the “Virtual City” in Soulwax’s “Part of the Weekend Never Dies”

2 Many DJs (Stephen and David Dewaele / Soulwa...

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Recently I started watching one of my all-time-favorite documentaries again, Soulwax’s “Part of the Weekend Never Dies“; I was struck by a particular film sequence that captured the essence of what I would call a “virtual city” that embodies part of the notion of ad hoc categorization. Continue reading

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Reflexivity and Recursion in Soulwax’s “Part of the Weekend Never Dies”

Cover of "Nite Versions"

Cover of Nite Versions

Since I am posting a lot about Soulwax this month, I thought I should include this clarifying snippet about the differences between the various acts which the Dewaele brothers lead.  In “Part of the Weekend Never Dies” Stephen explains these acts to a Mexican female presenter who is interviewing him about the show:

[00:03:50] Presenter: “First of all, what’s the, can you tell the audience like what’s the difference between 2ManyDJs, Soulwax, or Radio Soulwax?” Continue reading

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What does Soulwax’s website, DJing, & Construction Grammar have in common?

Soulwax’s website extends an invitation for viewers to participate in DJing as they explore the website.  From my first exposure this has been an amazing experience.  The intuitive guided navigation doubles as a loading of the clips so that your browser cache holds the clip for later manipulation in the mixing.  If you patiently experience each of the clips instead of navigating away from the site, you will get the chance to mix the video loops and beats by clicking your mouse. Continue reading

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Why I Believe in Cut & Paste as a Design Strategy


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Cut & Paste is not just a keyboard function.  In fact, R.G. Collingwood coined the term in the mid 1940′s in his book The Idea of History, but being a more formal speaker of a more formal ancestor of colloquial English he called it the “scissors and paste” method and was critical of it as a tool in historical method (33, Collingwood: 1946).

Nonetheless he did use the term and since then it has come to be used rather frequently as a tool in questionable secondary research, or as a way to validate and situate a claim in a historical context.  I think Collingwood’s problem with scissors and paste was that it was just a patchwork manipulation of existing work by people who were not historical eyewitnesses, and therefore outside of the bounds of science.  In essence, what was cut out and pasted lacked appropriate context and proper lineage, in fact, that has become a problem: it is called plagiarism. Continue reading

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Doing Strategic Planning #1: Vision & Mission Statements


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One of the services that I provide is to help small organizations and groups do strategic planning.  My approach is to shepherd the group through the process and get them thinking about how the different elements of a strategic plan actually work together to drive decision-making policy.  I don’t like to get caught up in mechanistic template driven planning, but really try to understand (with ethnographic insight) the soul of the organization and let the strategy emerge through a process of self-identification.  If you know anything about my research or my art, narrative is a key element in my beliefs about identity.  I like to bring that into the planning process.

All that to say, this morning I was helping a committee define a 5 year strategic plan that will account for a variety of goals and investments.  After I walked away from the first meeting I thought that this might be an appropriate thing to blog about since I feel that it relates to just about any organization whether it is individual as enterprise, research programs, community development organizations, et cetera.  In fact, it possibly even relates to the ways in which we manage ad hoc committees. Continue reading

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Weaving Narratives: Possessions = Autobiographies

I recently created a short interview about my art project “Weaving Narratives” where I describe the process of reading objects that people own.  I hope you check it out and let me know what you think in the comment section [click the picture to view the film].

Also, weave your own narrative using the photo-documentation for this project [a free download to use in your own creative process].

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Your Language Constrains How You Can Think & Speak

When a specialist tries to talk about their specialist view of the world with a non-specialist it rarely ever goes smoothly.  In fact, usually, the specialist either talks at too specific a level for the non-specialist to comprehend, let alone understand, or the specialist talks at too general a level to do the subject any justice.

The same thing happens whenever you take any two people who belong to two different generations, disciplines, or subculture.  In fact, this same type of miscommunication happens whenever you take two very similar people and try to get them to relate, there are gross miscalculations in the process of decoding each other’s meaning. Continue reading

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What I got for Christmas…

Integrantes de Daft Punk, banda francesa de mú...

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  1. Daft Punk’s film “Electroma”
  2. Daft Punk’s album “Human After All”
  3. Gilles Fauconnier’s & Mark Turner’s “The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities”
  4. Stephen C. Levinson’s “Space in Language and Cognition: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity”
  5. Stephen C. Levinson & David Wilkin’s “Grammars of Space: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity”


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CONTAINER Is an Ontological Metaphor

Ontological Metaphors are metaphors that give shape to abstract concepts and even contribute to the structure of Primary Metaphors.  CONTAINER is one of those metaphors. Continue reading

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What Is a Digital City? It is Interconnected Collaboration and Flexibility

When you hear the words “Digital City” what comes to mind?  Is it a virtual city created from ad hoc groups of people converging in an electronic marketplace?  Is it an actual physical city boasting all the amenities of technology? Or is it a combination of the two?  For me, when I hear “Digital City” I usually find myself thinking about the third option, an actual place that sustains a physical population but who are networked to conduct virtual lives that interface with physical lives on a perpetual basis. Continue reading

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Think Like a Bacterium: OSMOS, Naïve Quorum Sensing, & the iPad

I was recently sucked into playing OSMOS on my iPad.  I never play video games (usually I am too busy: wife, art, school, work) but I did happen to spend four hours straight playing this game over winter break.  This game synthesizes math, physics, biology, conceptualization and human enhancement.   Continue reading

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“Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness”

I remember reading a book about Germans that an anthropologist I knew in England let me borrow for the day. The most striking part of the book, at the time, was the recount of the author’s experience of seeing a dusty car in a parking lot on which some witty passer-by had written in the dirt that the condition of the car was the condition of that person’s inner life; filthy, unkempt, and disorganized.

The state of the artifacts of our life reflect and betray our true self.

My wife recently found a box of her childhood belongings at her mother’s house in the back of the storage room. She opened the box and looked at her cherished childhood possessions – doll clothes from when she lived in Thailand…still clean and folded. She told me that she took care of the few things she owned because she had so little. I love how my wife reflects her inner self onto her outer belongings. She really cares about things.

The state of the artifacts of our life reflect and betray our true self.

This past Sunday, my wife and I were out for brunch, and at the table behind us there was a woman talking about a recent trip to somewhere in Europe – noting how a storage bin like a rubbermaid cost 35 euros. The woman kept going on an on about how expensive it was to buy a box, how she gets them here for 5 dollars. And all I could think about was how much more neat and tidy Europeans are because of how expensive it really is to by crappy stuff. Who really needs the things that they plan to keep in a box?

I will say it again, the state of the artifacts of our life reflect and betray our true self.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

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Preludes for Memnon – Aiken, Consciousness, and Ontology

I have a new link in my sidebar and I wanted to tell you a little about it.  One of my three favorite poets is Conrad Aiken, a sincere and highly lucid poet of consciousness.  Currently I am working on a paper about the metaphors of trees in ontologies (expect a post mid February) and a segment of Aiken’s Preludes for Memnon are included in a section using cognitive poetics to extract the conceptualization structures in his work.

Anyway, check out this site dedicated to Aiken’s work:


A quote from “Working and Thinking on the Waterfront”

Our originality shows itself most strikingly not in what we wholly originate but in what we do with that which we borrow from others. If this be true it is obvious that second-rate writers or artists may stimulate our originality more than first-rate ones, since we borrow more readily from the former.

Eric Hoffer, December 8, 1958 – Working and Thinking on the Waterfront

I changed my Twitter account…

Follow me for links to interesting stuff around the web and post updates.


The First Shall Be Last: A shift from First Person to Third Person in the Scientific Enterprise

I was reading this article by Ray Kurzweil and immediately connected with an idea that he expressed which I have been trying to articulate over the past year or so. He said that basically, in science there is no first person, there is only the third person. Continue reading

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Timecard For My Future

I am going through the planning process for blog posts for 2011 and as a foreshadowing to a couple of guest posts (one on astrosociology and another on the singularity) I thought I would post a link to the Timecard For My Future which is a list of timers set to remind me of things I need to do over then next several thousand years…if Aubrey de Grey gets his way.  Enjoy!

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Post-Colonial Thought in Literature, Ethics, and Project Design

I wanted to let you know about an online ejournal about Post-Colonial Literature and Culture, here it is:

Post-Colonial Studies in Literature & Culture eJournal

Having formerly worked in two former colonies (one in Africa and the other in the South Pacific), and having lived in Hawai’i which was also colonized, I am interested pragmatically in the ideas of Post-Colonialism.

While I am on the topic, I want to address post-colonial thought not only in literature, but also in project design for development and similar enterprises.

Furthermore, I am interested in how this model informs the ethics of project design and local ownership in situations of development.

I think it is great that development has gained currency with non-development workers, but I don’t want to see industries like micro-finance become another tool of Colonialism for the lay-person.  Avoiding a ‘savior complex’ is part of ensuring the stability of a project in a post-colonial context.

More to come….

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Borrowing Tools Across Disciplines: Blacksmithing to Linguistics

I am going to be exploring what it means to incorporate accrued extralinguistic experiences into professional practice as a cognitive linguist and to start it off I wanted to post an introductory post on my experiences as a blacksmith.

Some of you might know that I spent some time working as an apprentice to an old Italian blacksmith and that much of what I learned from him has been a guiding framework for thinking about problems through the lens of an orthogonal discipline.

For now, I want you to think about something that occurs in all professions, the development of professional wisdom which is reduced into phrasal algorithms that are like bullion-cubes for making meaning.  In other words, the way a discipline perpetuates its knowledge is through building either the recipes or the ingredients for how to do things.  From my experience in blacksmithing, these recipes have been captured in Italian proverbs and English literary metaphors.

Think about those metaphors: “too many irons in the fire”, “lose your temper”, et cetera, I guess these blacksmithing metaphors probably emerged from failures to adhere to the two Italian phrases I heard repeated most in my shop:

pian piano vai lontano

slowly slowly you go far


Il monici dicono in questo mondo di via vera multa paciencia

In this world, the monks say that you have to have a lot of patience

If you don’t have patience you forge ahead, ignoring the fact that you have too many irons in the fire to work them in a reasonable amount of time.

If instead of trying to rush through a process (like tempering a knife blade or a chisel) take it easy, go slowly, it will get you farther that rushing (working too quickly could cause a tool to lose its temper).

I spent a lot of my time writing during the evenings while I was a blacksmith.  During that time I wrote this procedural essay describing the process of forging steel (in this case it is using an acetylene torch instead of my blacksmith’s hearth…but forging is forging.  It is actually the prologue to a book about how the creative process of artists and scientists are parallel.  Anyway, read the prologue.

One of my favorite aspects of blacksmithing is the act of harnessing fire to work metal into a desired shape, I am going to explore this further and describe in future posts how this is similar to the cognitive processes of dynamic construal.  Stay tuned.

Post Script for Metalworkers:

If you got to this page because you are looking for advice about blacksmithing or are interested in toolmaking check out The Complete Modern Blacksmith…and take a look at my Amazon book list for metalworking.

Post Post Script for people interested in other people’s blacksmithing experiences:

Here is a woman who wanted to learn blacksmithing to “keep making history live” [I love it!]. Check out her blog about history and blacksmithing.

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Medicine in the underdeveloped world

In line with this post (My Jungle Medical Kit) I wanted to pass this link regarding establishing expedient medical clinics in remote locations.

These resources come from the Hesperian Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to publishing healthcare related books and documents.

Go to their webpage and check out some of these titles:

  • “Where There Is No Doctor”
  • “Where There Is No Dentist” 
  • ”A Book for Midwives”
  • “Water for Life”
  • “A Community Guide for Environmental Health”
  • “Where Women Have No Doctor”
  • “The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard”

There is even a section on resources for Cholera in Haiti.  Beyond Haitian Creole, many of these resources are available in Urdu, Sindhi and Spanish.

And they are all FREE. 100%.  You can buy paper copies of the books, but these can all be downloaded with ease.

Every document is high quality.  In fact, I have used these with development workers I have helped equip.  These are real world, real genuine content resources.  Some of these are 500 page books on how to establish a medical clinics (et cetera) and train indigenous leadership with the skills necessary to replicate the model.

One of the features of these documents that impressed me (from the vantage point of a professional student of cultures) is that they are not books that ignore the differences in cultural practices around medicine and social attitudes toward the illness and healing process.

Considering that in Western medicine we view disease as a pathological category, illness as an individual category, and sickness as a social category, these books skillfully navigate the ways in which different societies interpret these cultural experiences.

Check it out, especially if you work/live somewhere that medical resources are limited.

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Tome vs. Tablet: How the iPad Facilitated My Move From Digital Immigrant to Digital Native

So there was a time, not too long ago, that I couldn’t stand reading .pdfs on a monitor.  It didn’t matter if it was on a desktop or a laptop; I hated reading electronic files.  I bought my wife a Kindle about a year ago, it did nothing for me since I don’t get into personal gadgetry.  Lest you think me a Luddite, I am a fan of technology – I love electronic music, I routinely oscillate between Daft Punk and Bjork for my robot music fix; I love the internet; I love the hopes of AI, NBIC, and have my own space odyssey from time to time. And I have an archive of obsolete technology, less from nostalgia than from a fascination with how “artifactual” (yes, I made that word up) things die. My point is this, I consider myself to be pretty open to technology, but I have one tiny little problem:

I have a little too thick of a digital immigrant accent.

My wife was complaining about how much paper I had around the house because I was always printing articles that I had to read…and, well, if they are good articles I felt compelled to save them…(hint, my accent: I STILL print!)  Ugh.

Something happened though…

  1. One of the courses in my MA program had a 871 page “Introduction” text-book.
  2. I got sick of carrying it on the train.
  3. I bought an iPad 2 weeks into the semester and got the e-book version.

INSTANTLY my ability to comprehend electronic text increased by a factor of probably 800,000 or so.


Do you have any idea why?

I do.

I was able to INSTANTLY increase my text comprehension in electronic documents because of ideas in theoretical frameworks like EMBODIED COGNITION and ENACTIVISM.  Heard of them?

Essentially, for me, a life-long reader of books in a particular orientation to my ocular path, namely flat on a table or holding it on my lap with the spine of the book resting perpendicular to the spine of my back.  I was so used to reading “important” text in a particular orientation that when I had to read electronic text which was in front of my face (LCD & laptop screens) I was not retaining the information with the same level of quality.  Hence, my electronic reading skills were relatively poor despite the fact that most books that I read are denser and more complex than what most people conceive of when they think of abstract math.

Buying an iPad changed everything.

Now, I know I am going to get a bunch of SPAM comments because of this post, and I will probably also get some flak for my endorsement of the iPad…I am not making any claims about whether or not it is useful for anything else…(actually, I do have 3 complaints: printing is near impossible, the version of Pages is a light version that doesn’t retain formating when synced with the desktop, &  the file tree is your iTunes file structure on your desktop)…I don’t really care about this stuff; over time it will improve.

All I care about is that I am able to read electronic text with complete fluency and have increased my reading speed in the process.

I even do my remote work through the iPad, it is completely flexible for some of the stuff I have to do and I have increased my productivity by a margin of 28-33% depending on the wi-fi strength.

If I had to do it over again I would certainly buy it again.




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Why Linguists Can Always Have an Intelligent Comment on EVERYTHING.

If you are a linguist you already know this.

What is “this”?

I’ve not said yet.

Here it is: “Linguists have the ability to make an informed comment about anything.

Disagree?  Care to comment?  You will probably be articulating your disagreement using words strung together coherently, which falls in the domain of linguistic analysis.

What is more, conceptualization of reality informs the structure of meaning, so, as cognitive linguists we have the right to try to figure out what it is in the situated context that evoked meaning and enabled your coherence, which again, falls within the domain of our expertise as linguists.

Language pervades everything that anyone can conceive, it crosses domains in all forms of industry, the entire range of emotions, cultures, beliefs, procedures, and since humans operate in a world described and controlled by language, linguists have keys to understanding that exist on another level all together.

If it exists outside of the utility of language, in our feebleness as lesser beings we can still attempt to describe it using language; which again, is in our range of expertise.

This is not arrogance; this is the nature of being a student of conceptualization.

Playing a bar room piano like a lion…

So here is a video I made this afternoon, it has some excerpts from a song I have been composing this year.  I chose this because it takes two basic chords: C Major & G Major and alternates between the two to produce an emergent momentum.  They embody a sort of figure-ground organization on two levels, for two measures the chords are in opposition to one another, but in the full sequence of measures the chords, changing octaves along the way, form an interesting progression.  On the pair-wise micro level the chords are enemies, on the sequence macro level the chords are partners.  I like this.

Furthermore, the video outlines a style of piano playing that I made up for this song.  People in my circle of friends know me for always having a small performance for any celebration, this has the design to be a part of one of these performances, and I wanted to practice it.  This style of playing that I introduce is called a leoni, my bastardization of an Italian-esque language to mean “like a lion”… in my composition book I wrote this in the margin:

a leoni ‘like a lion’, clenched hands mimicking a pawing/clawing approach to the chords, imagining your body to be top-heavy with a mane of wild fur and a wide head with narrow hip cage and skinny but strong legs.”

This is supposed to be a little strange…

A further elaborations of the a leoni style includes:

pawing the mouse” which is a light plunking of the clenched fist as if placing one’s paw upon a mouse’s tail, letting go, and repeating for the duration of the measure.”

I have not illustrated pawing the mouse in this clip, I will save that for the finished piece, once I transcribe it and post the score.

Anyway, enjoy this…I think it is fun.

Ethno-Architecture, the Built Environment & Its Role in Conceptualization

While this is outside of the scope of cognitive linguistics, I wanted to share this link because it relates to the types of daily living experiences that people have within the built environment. As a facet of experience in which our bodies interact, the built environment shapes how we think about what we experience, in fact it becomes a stimulus that triggers conceptualization.

What is more, this is the situated context of experience which is the discursive platform for our interaction with the principles of perception. Continue reading

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How Spiders Conceptualize Reality

I found this spider in West Africa...outside my house.

I was working through a homework assignment about developing a language that captures the conceptualization patterns that a spider would have (given the boundaries of its embodied experience), this was a fun experiment, very much like Thomas Nagel’s What is it like to be a bat? (1974).  Anyway, here are some of the ways I cut up the problem:

If I am a spider, these are things that I cannot do:

  • pick stuff up and hold it in my hands
  • juggle
  • flick stuff
  • jump up and down vertically (rather than forward)
  • throw
  • kick
  • dance Continue reading
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Cognitive Mindfulness #16

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Image via Wikipedia

I am rereading a book that I have been rereading on a consistent basis for the last twelve years, this time I am thinking more about consciousness than I have in previous readings; accordingly this passage stuck out in a more dynamic way than I remember from times past:

Self-consciousness, however, does not hinder the experience of the present.  It is the one instrument that unplugs all the rest.  So long as I lose myself in a tree, say, I can scent its leafy breath or estimate its board feet of lumber, I can draw its fruits or boil tea on its branches, and the tree stays tree.  But the second I become aware of myself at any of these activities – looking over my own shoulder, as it were – the tree vanishes, uprooted from the spot and flung out of sight as if it had never grown.  And time, which had flowed down into the tree bearing new revelations like floating leaves at every moment, ceases.  It dams, stills, stagnates. [82, Dillard]

I am aiming to be more at home in the present, but I am trying not to think too much about it since, paradoxically, the very effort of focusing on the present relegates it to an artifact of the past and a moment to which I become an outside observer who does not belong.


Dillard, A. (1974).  Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Harper Perennial

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Cognitive Mindfulness #9(b)

Martin Creed 'Work No 850' at Tate Britain

Image by Loz Flowers via Flickr

This is part two of Cognitive Mindfulness #9, and continues the Evans & Green passage.

“The difference between the domains of TIME and SPACE is that while TIME has the property of progression, SPACE is static.  ‘Progression’ means that the quantity within this domain is made up of a sequence of distinct representations because it changes from one instance to the next.  By way of illustration, imagine photographing someone engaged in an activity like stroking a cat.  Each of the photographs you take will be different from the previous one, and together they portray the activity.  In contrast, change is not an inherent property of objects, although of course objects can be involved in processes of change.”  [515-516, Evans & Green, 2006]

Immediately this reminds me of Dave Eggers and his quote about relationships from his work “You Shall Know Our Velocity!” Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #9(a)

This passage covers a discussion of the conceptual domains of space and time while introducing the quantities of each domain and their instantiation in reality.  I like this passage because it differentiates basic concepts in matter and action; since these are the components of productive creativity I feel that this clear exposition of these concepts enables me to be more creative with my art.

The quantity that exists in the domain of SPACE is matter, which may be either continuous or discrete.  We return to these terms directly, but for the time being we can think of ‘continuous’ matter as having no inherent ‘segmentation’ in its composition; this type of matter is mass, illustrated by AIR. Continue reading

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Overcome Writer’s Block With Semiotics [Free Download]

I just posted a free download of an excerpt of my semiotics project which will be available as a paperback in September.  I encourage you to check it out and let me know what you think about it.

Most of the textual content is absent; I wanted this excerpt to be visceral and intuitive.

The backbone of the project actually came out of an art piece that I made a few years ago that was intended to question identity and the formulation of identity out of memories and possessions [You will read about it in the Disambiguate Me! series on this blog].

As I developed the art project I realized that it could stand in place for a generic narrative that depends on the ways in which the objects are combined and recombined along a plot line that suggestively emerges from the set of objects as a whole. Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #8

The City of London

Image via Wikipedia

Today’s quote comes from one of my favorite books about architectural design, Archetypes In Architecture. The book explores the functional grounding of the major elements of architecture.

“Shared experiences, like symbolic meanings, are based on recognition, but this time with reference to our bodily experiences… Continue reading

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Who I’d Like To Meet

  1. anyone who has a story to tell me.
  2. anyone who can see that they belong to numerous multidimensional plot lines.
  3. anyone who can see that they relate to society to solidify current culture.
  4. anyone who can see through self-deception.
  5. anyone who loves looking at things and relating those experiences to others.
  6. anyone who remembers what their childhood goals are.
  7. anyone who acts on their childhood goals.
  8. anyone who knows when to stop talking.
  9. anyone else.

Cognitive Mindfulness #7

Portrait photograph of Jack London

Image via Wikipedia

Take this advice from Jack London:

“When a man journeys into a far country, he must be prepared to forget many of the things he has learned, and to acquire such customs as are inherent with existence in the new land; he must abandon the old ideals and the old gods, and oftentimes he must reverse the very codes by which his conduct has hitherto been shaped.  To those who have the protean faculty of adaptability, the novelty of such change may even be a source of pleasure; but to those who happen to be hardened to the ruts in which they were created, the pressure of the altered environment is unbearable, and they chafe in body and in spirit under the new restrictions which they do not understand.  This chafing is bound to act and react, producing divers evils and leading to various misfortunes.  It were better for the man who cannot fit himself to the new groove to return to his own country; if he delay too long, he will surely die.” [21]

London, J. (1982). To build a fire and other stories, Bantam Books (reprinted from Novels and Stories by Jack London)

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My Jungle Medical Kit

I haven’t been working overseas for a while, but I still have my medical kit for the tropics. Remarkably when I open up the box it still smells like the underdeveloped world.

Medical Kit Contents:

  • Surgeon’s latex gloves – 2 pair
  • Assorted gauze pads and combine dressings for major trauma
  • Instant cooling patches – 2
  • Cyalume lightsticks – 3
  • Curved forceps-1
  • Assorted scalpel blades -4
  • Absorbable suture kits -2 Continue reading
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Cognitive Mindfulness #5

Thomas Young's sketch of two-slit diffraction,...

Image via Wikipedia

On Beauty:

“It is much harder to study the psychology of aesthetic pleasure in reference to fine art.  Many artists, aestheticians, and philosophers who have tried to do so have not gone very far.  They have advanced hypotheses that seem valid for some cases but not for others.  In relation to wit and the comic, the corresponding problem is relatively simple.  In considering poetry (or literature in general), we have the great advantage of dealing with cognitive symbols.  Thus any thought that we may have about a literary work, even when we focus on forms, is closely related to its content.  But in visual art, any thought is widely separated from the perceptual aesthetic perception.  Certainly we know that beauty in visual art, as in any aesthetic experience, is an encounter between something that resides in the aesthetic object, and a subjective feeling.  In this dual quality the appreciation of beauty is not different, let us say, from the appreciation of a color.  When we see something green or red, the greenness or the redness exists in the external object but also in ourselves.  Without us there to experience the green and the red, there would only be light waves.  However, whereas it is relatively easy to determine the wave length that we will perceive as yellow, blue, or green, it is impossible to determine the “wave length” that will make us see beauty when we see an object of art.” [235, Arieti, 1976]

Arieti, S. (1976). Creativity the magic synthesis, Basic Books

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Multifaceted Learning for Multifaceted Living

The reality of everyday living is multifaceted in nature.  For me, in my practice as an artist and as a scientist, I feel I need to integrate the various extensions of my reality, to bring them together, to weave them into a fabric that both covers and completes my particular experience of life.

Typically I approach life as a three function cycle: Collect, Analyze, and Present. Continue reading

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