Category Archives: Personal Essay

Speaking My Mind by Monica Brinkman

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There comes a time in one’s life when they no longer can hold their tongue. It could be as a youth, discovering the workings of the world or a wife who no longer allows the beatings and tongue lashings from her once adoring husband. Be forewarned, for it shall happen and you will have the choice to quiver in fear or take a stand and speak up.

Today is my day, my time, my moment and I siege the opportunity with passion and vigor and purpose. Hate me? Fine. Detest my words? Good. Object to my opinion? Okay. For I do not worry about what you think of me, nor if you condone my actions, nor will you when the moment appears in your life.

What propels me with such passion? It is Fear! I am weary of living within its grasp. I am tired of it hovering over my head, my every thought, my every choice, my every opinion for lest I annoy, anger or upset another.

Cities, states, countries and the world’s inhabitants live in such deep alarm of what could happen to them if they let their true thoughts out. What would their ministers, their rabbis, their neighbors, their supervisors, their friends, and family think of them, or even worse, do to them should they allow truth to leak out? Oh, for horror above horror, they would certainly be struck down by lightening or silenced for life; their tongue torn from their mouths. Or certainly shunned by the town and cast out as an evil demon into the darkness of the night.

All dramatizations aside, in the real world, their voice would be heard. Perhaps a few would pass judgment, some would agree, but most would merely listen and go on with their lives. The seas would not part nor the earth, underfoot, give way. You see, no matter what you might like or think, the entire world does not revolve around you as an individual. You are simply not that important to others no matter how much you may wish to be so.

What is important is that each one of us can voice our opinions, speak our mind without living in fear of consequence. After all, when one speaks it is how they are feeling at that exact moment in time. They may or may not feel the same way in the next minute, hour, day or year. For we evolve, we learn and we change per our experiences in life. And it is grand and it is good and it is how it should be. Yet so many continue to hide their thoughts and shut out communication. I ask you, who do this, to toss away the fear, for that fear lives within your own mind.

In the end, we can only be the person we have become, the thoughts we have embraced and the actions that we choose. Me? I’d have it no other way. I invite all of you to toss that fear aside and allow all to experience the real person behind the façade; the truth of essence and the force of your personality. Please, be yourself; let others in and you will find great joy as the fear, once so vivid, ebbs into a faint memory. You might even find others adore the real you.

Bio: Monica M Brinkman believes in ‘giving it forward’; reflected by her writing and radio show. A firm believer open communication is the most powerful tool to make positive change in the world; she expresses this in her books, The Turn of the Karmic Wheel, The Wheels Final Turn and in her weekly broadcast of It Matters Radio.

An avid writer, named a true storyteller, she has been published in several anthologies and wrote a weekly column for over two years at Authorsinfo. Her works can be found at various sites throughout the internet. Visit her blog @ http://itmattersradio.wix.com/on-the-brink

Monica resides in the Midwest with her husband, two dogs and five cats.

Steven Pinker’s Linguistic Sounding Brass and Tinkling Cymbal: an essay on thinking by James L. Secor, Ph.D.

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Because of my infatuation with the absurd, I see it in many a place. In fact, I often don’t need to make it obvious; the writer does this on his own. In this case, I expanded on his idiocy–long since disproven as a theory of language–via letting a class of students engage in lit crit & analysis. This was a college class in China. They went haywire and tore him apart; from that, I fashioned this writing. Of course, most Westerners wouldn’t have the slightest idea why he was talking through his hat. . .which is why he could get away with it. Steven Pinker’s worth in linguistics is noteworthy as no linguist of any merit and no linguistics journals even so much as cite him; he is the modern world’s greatest pseudo-intellectual.

 

The Essay …

Jonathan Swift showed just how silly an “enlightened” stance can be in Gulliver’s visit to the land of the Houyhnhnms. The Houyhnhnms, huge horses full of a lot of horse sense, spoke beautifully and convincingly of themselves and their brilliance and intellectual superiority; but they, in their reason and rationality, enslaved Yahoos. These superior beings also believed that Gulliver could not have come from some island across the ocean because they believed, rationally and reasonably, that such an island did not exist and, therefore, it did not. Despite having no experience upon which to make such a judgment. Yet, experience is a state of consciousness. Karl Popper maintains, in Unended Quest (p. 218), that “it is silly or at least high-handed to deny the existence of mental experiences or mental states or states of consciousness; or to deny that mental states are as a rule closely related to states of the body, especially physiological states.” Which would seem to confirm the Houyhnhnms in their intellectual behavior for, after all, they are basing their judgment on the experience of themselves and their superior knowledge and intellectual ability. They never met any others their superiors. So, it stands to reason, that they believe as they believe and are right to do so.

So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut writes in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. And other novels of absurdity. Novels of people with individual mental states of consciousness.

On and off throughout history, science has had a bad name because of such thinkers, men (in most cases) who have a particular mental experience. More often than not via the same lingual pyrotechnics as Jonathan Swift used to elucidate such foolishness. With this in mind, it would be good if critical appraisers could be a tad more discriminating in their choice of scientists to congratulate and hold up as shining examples of their art discipline. Steven Pinker is considered to be such an enlightened one by popular publishers and science journalists. Steven Pinker is considered the leading figure in language and linguistics studies in the US, especially via neurological investigations. Dr. Pinker is a psychologist, which of course means he knows better via an understanding of the deeper reaches of motivation to behavior. And Dr. Pinker is a Houyhnhnm thinker, a man who runs in the face of David Hackett Fischer’s Historian’s Fallacies and Stephen Toulmin’s The Uses of Argument and any of Karl Popper’s assumption-questioning writings–even though he cites Popper in The Stuff of Thought–because he hasn’t the experience of them. A few examples will, I think, suffice to elucidate the priceless thinking and intellectual cerebration science writers hail as Dr. Pinker ‘s ground-breaking theories.

To begin at the end, as Edgar Alan Poe suggests writers do:

“[N]ear death experiences are not the eyewitness reports of a soul parting company from the body but symptoms of oxygen starvation in the eyes and brain” (The Mystery of Consciousness). This presupposes that there is a separation of the body and the soul. But it is just a tautological dismissal that, in reality, proves nothing because death/near-death is a time of low oxygen in the brain. This happens when people smoke and drink, too, but they report no similar experience. Occasionally, those who ingest LSD or magic mushrooms relate such experiences, without oxygen starvation. Dr. Pinker is saying that these people did not experience what they experienced. There is no scientific evidence to verify this dismissive judgment, yet it cannot be dismissed as it comes from Dr. Pinker’s Houyhnhnm thinking, as purportedly supported by Dr. Popper. It is, then, of no import that such a statement as this is an opinion of science; for, as a Houyhnhnm there is no reason except his say so. Indeed, he’s from Harvard, a university that consistently produces the superiorest of the superior. Dr. Pinker engages in characteristic Houyhnhnm tautological perseveration to prove his point that alternative states of consciousness are not real. He believes they can be explained by some kind of physical state: they are the result of oxygen deprivation to the brain because, well, oxygen deprivation is part of the experience. Like smoking or drinking. This is Houyhnhnm science.

Earlier in the same essay, published in Time (19 Jan. 2007), Dr. Pinker states, “Consciousness surely does not depend on language.” How unfortunate that, in fact, it does depend on language, for without language no one would know of anyone’s consciousness, no one would be able to admit of it, nor would one be able to talk about one’s own consciousness of one’s self, outside of consciousness of the world around one. We are languaging animals: our world is described and built and adapted by our language (Cf. Humberto Maturana generally).  Without talking about it (expressing it), how is one to communicate that one is conscious? And, indeed, which state of consciousness one is in, for there is more than one consciousness. Well, perhaps being an experience and experience, as we’ve already noted, is a Houyhnhnm characteristic, it is not out of order that Dr. Pinker can maintain that it doesn’t exist just because someone says so.

Yet, in this essay (The Mystery of Consciousness), Dr. Pinker makes the most amazing and contradictory statement: there is a seat of consciousness and it is in the “higher” part of the brain. He supports himself by citing Crick, the other half of the DNA discoverer duo. However, earlier on, he maintains that consciousness consists “of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain.” He even notes that Bernard Baars “likens consciousness to a global blackboard.” Perhaps it is premature and somewhat arrogant to ask: Which is it Dr. Pinker? Is there a seat of consciousness, like the seat of language in Wernicke’s or Broca’s areas? Or is it a brain-wide phenomenon? But let’s not talk about that.

Let’s talk, rather about how consciousness can be only “neural computation” while conveniently excluding soft matter physics. If consciousness is a physical seat in the grey matter of the brain, it stands to reason, I think, that there may be external stressors that affect a cell’s functioning on the cellular level as well as the macroscopic level: swelling in the brain effects behavioral aberrations which, I think, have something to do with “neural computation.” If a change happens on such a large scale, a change must have happened on the cellular level since the cells themselves are not static entities–or perhaps there is some other reason for the brain to pulsate. That is, the environment in which nerve cells operate affects their operation and this tee-tiny alteration creates, in the aggregate as cells do not operate in isolation from other cells, a greatly enhanced alteration in the behavior these cells cause to happen, as an expression of themselves. Even the pulsation affects, macro- and microscopically, of “neural computation” of the cells in the body react to contiguous and non-contiguous cells’ “neural computation.”

Dr. Pinker’s thinking seems to be quite linear and rather simplistic and very, very concrete. Indeed, his thesis that you cannot talk about consciousness because he can’t talk about it is untenable. Dr. Pinker is a genius Houyhnhnm.

His dismissive Houyhnhnm attitude runs throughout his writing, that is, “I don’t believe it, so it’s all pish-posh.” At the same time, Dr. Pinker is attempting, via classical science (physics), to explicate consciousness/perception/emotion when in fact classical science divides the world into two–body and spirit–and cannot explain what happens in the mind via the physical brain because the mind is not a physical reality. (Show me the mind, Dr. Pinker.) Classical science has trouble seeing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; that is, the brain and all that goes to make it up creates something greater than itself. As if to thwart the thinking of the Houyhnhnm, Karl Popper says the mind is the producer of human language, it is “the producer of theories, of critical arguments, and many other things such as mistakes, myths, stories, witticisms, tools, and works of art” (Unended Quest, p. 221). Dr. Pinker could not get his mind around Bertrand Russell’s grandmother’s plague upon him: “What is mind? No matter! What is matter? Never mind!” What Popper seems to be saying is that the mind is what allows Pinker to say and do whatever it is he says and does, albeit this is a decidedly un-Houyhnhnm-like thing to believe.

Dr. Pinker also says, “everyone agrees that the hard problem (if it is a problem) remains a mystery.”

Who is “everyone”? (Perhaps a rather un-Houyhnhnm-like query because everyone knows who everyone is.)

The hard problem is “explaining how subjective experience arises from neural computation.” That is, consciousness is a mysterious physical anomaly in classical physical bio-chemistry. There is a kind of tyranny of the biological, the physical, here in that Dr. Pinker purports to be able to explain the non-physical by the physical, which is, in and of itself, a mystery. Not to mention the apparent opposition to what he’s already said. If consciousness is physical, Dr. Pinker, show me it because I’m only a Yahoo. Simply saying it is so doesn’t make it so, unless one is a Houyhnhnm or a religious leader.

There are some people, notably I.N. Marshal, who do not believe consciousness is a mystery or, rather, that it is a mystery by way of being a problem for which there is an explanation. Marshal, Zohar and others approach consciousness from a quantum mechanical viewpoint. (Dr. Pinker flippantly speaks to this science later.) Dr. Pinker sees the brain as a computational entity; it doesn’t do anything else but computer neurologically. David Deutsch, on the other hand, believes that to call the brain a computational thing is not only limiting but wrong (Cf. The Fabric of Reality). Truly an anti-Houyhnhnm proposition that seems to point to Dr. Pinker’s confusing brain with mind or, rather, considers there to be no difference: brain is mind and mind is brain (The Stuff of Thought, p. 259). Everything is rational and reasonable and solely to be found in the neural functioning of the physical brain. Everything for Dr. Pinker resides in the physical brain. The brain’s functioning is the answer to everything. The brain rules! The brain also leaves us no choice. We are at its mercy. But it’s a mystery as to how this happens and what this mercy is. Even Dr. Pinker admits it’s a mystery when he says we have an innate language instinct. Why? Because instinct is a mystery in and of itself. And so it is that Dr. Pinker is talking in circles.  This is Houyhnhnm science.

What happened to environment and heredity in Dr. Pinker’s theories is also a mystery.

Dr. Pinker even talks of language as if it were bits and pieces that are put together according to certain rules–like the brain is bits and pieces put together according to certain rules–implying that to not follow the rules results in non-language and–perhaps I stretch the point here–stupidity. (Where does that leave James Joyce, Antonin Artaud or the Absurdists?) Stupidity is Dr. Pinker’s forte: all his argumentation is reducing ideas he does not agree with, including Lakoff and Johnson’s, to the ridiculous, using bits and pieces of their writings in order to lambaste the entirety of their theories and impart to them ideas or beliefs that are, in reality, his conclusions based on conscious misinterpretation such that the argument to ridicule is itself ridiculous and therefore his ridiculous statements don’t sound so ridiculous, that is, they sound sensible (Cf. The Stuff of Thought in its entirety). Houyhnhnm scientific thinking.

Dr. Pinker never bothers to prove his opinion; corroboration by his own testing is not scientific proof, according to Popper; it is more in the way of a laboratory simulation. Laboratory simulation always produces what you want to prove so it proves nothing, in fact. Except that it is Houyhnhnm science.

Dr. Pinker, in “Words Don’t Mean What They Mean” (another Time Inc. article, of 6 Sept. 2007, an excerpt from The Stuff of Thought), lays lines on his listeners, role plays, sidesteps, shilly-shallies and engages in “all manner of vagueness and innuendo.” We also do as he tells us we do, without apparent thought: assume “that the speaker is rational.” Dr. Pinker’s rationality is of the Houyhnhnm variety. So Dr. Pinker is seen to be eminently intellectually gifted and full of astounding insight, as gullible Gulliver saw the Houyhnhnms.

The most insidious Houyhnhnm argument Pinker makes results in his debunking quantum mechanics. To wit:- “Some mavericks, like the mathematician Roger Penrose, suggest the answer might someday be found in quantum mechanics. But to my ear, this amounts to the feeling that quantum mechanics sure is weird, and consciousness sure is weird, so maybe quantum mechanics can explain consciousness.” Well, Einstein thought quantum mechanics was weird, too. It’s of no consequence that Einstein’s been proven wrong on this point. Of course, the logic that uses one extremist to debunk the entirety of a science and Richard Feynman is Houyhnhnm logic. Isn’t it? Gulliver was a maverick.

Dr. Pinker wishes to take the mystery out of language via scientific examination and neural explanation and, to do so, he posits that language is an instinct. . .a very mysterious thing indeed is instinct. Instinct is, I think, something that cannot be explained: it just is. And as it is, it is mysterious in its being. In his infinitely regressive method of analysis, Dr. Pinker ever reaches the point where he can explain nothing and it’s at this point that language becomes instinct (Cf. The Stuff of Thought). So, in truth, Dr. Pinker explains nothing and keeps language in the realm of the mysterious. But it sounds good. Wow! Language is built in. We’re different. The Houyhnhnm cerebration is that if I say it is thus, it is thus. And therefore it’s science.

A fool (Yahoo) might ask, “How?” and show his stupidity in thinking that debunking the mysteriousness of language by attributing it to the mysteriousness of instinct is ridiculous. . .if not mysterious. Even so, Dr. Pinker cannot explain the languaging of deaf people or Koko the gorilla–unless his definition of language is in its speaking; that language is not language unless it’s spoken. Which makes writing not language, maybe?

Again in “Can’t find the words? Make ’em up,” Dr. Pinker resorts to Houyhnhnm-specious thinking in his Chinese example of onomatopoeia and sound symbolism via the Chinese for light in weight (qīng 轻) and heavy (zhòng 重). However, qīng has many meanings in Chinese, such as light green, clear and innocent. So does zhòng:  middle, hit, numerous.  In Chinese, mostly, the sound of the word is just the sound, but the pitch changes the meaning. For instance, qīng 青 (light green), qīng 请 (please), qīng 清 (clear, usually referring to river, stream, lake), qíng 情 (passion). All “qing.” All have the sound “qing,” But their meanings have nothing to do with each other. The implication Pinker is making is that there is a parallel between sound and meaning that holds across the language and, therefore, all languages (even though he debunks this in The Stuff of Thought). It doesn’t. Especially as Chinese is a tonal language. Dr. Pinker is not aware, apparently, that there are at least nine characters in Chinese with the pronunciation of qīng (first tone); some do not have opposites.

If a Yahoo looks at large (dà 大) and small (xiăo 小) he might find that, yes, da is the strong fourth downward tone but xiao is the sing-song third tone. Not only this but da changes its tone with usage, that is, in context. And what are we to make of inside (nèi 内) and outside (wài 外) or up (shàng 上) and down (xià 下)? These opposites are the same tone. Using Pinker’s Houyhnhnm mind, we can easily take gāoxìng (高兴happy) as, at best, so-so and bēishāng (悲伤sad) as good feeling. This is ridiculous. Gāo 高 (high) and dī 低 (low) are both high tones but, according to Dr. Pinker’s Houyhnhnm theorizing, mean differently, that is, dī cannot be low because its tone is high. What is worse, we can take bái 白 (white) as the same as hēi 黑 (black), that is, as white, because black is dark and the tone is not: if we follow Pinker’s statement, then we confound black and white. It’s a terrible Yahoo argument, of course, for how could a top Houyhnhnm psychologist lead his readers to confuse black and white, right and wrong?

There are only four tones in Chinese (five if you count the neutral tone), so onomatopoeia and sound symbolism via tones is extremely limited and apparently has little to do with sound meaning, according to the Yahoo Chinese who developed their language. Further, all these also challenge “families of words share a teeny snatch of sound and a teeny shred of meaning.” In Chinese, word families share a shape, not necessarily a sound or meaning. For instance, the shape family of ku口 (mouth) yields gē哥 (song), dīng叮 (mosquito bite), jiā加 (add), nà呐 (no meaning by itself), xuān喧 (noisy), zào噪 (chirp, as with insects or birds)–just a few of the 300+ kŏu口family characters.

This association of sound with meaning is the kind of thing we used to do as children and laugh about. Dr. Pinker, here, is making a Houyhnhnm-specious argument. He also does not speak or read Chinese–nor does his audience, which is why he can get away with such a Houyhnhnm statement. Further, generalizing from one instance to the entire corpus is intellectually indefensible. Factual errors on the part of an academician and scientist are not acceptable. Though, perhaps, the superior mentation of Houyhnhnms can be forgiven.

Except that in the early part of the 20th century, the onomatopoetic theory of language had already been disproven by linguists and philosophers, though, of course, for many modern doctorate holders, that’s ancient history: it is often the case that, in scholarly writing–especially dissertations–references more than 5-10 years old are verboten. Not only history is lost in this way but knowledge. Yet, Dr. Pinker is a follower of Chomsky’s universal grammar theory and that was put forth in the early part of the 20th century. A conundrum, to be sure. Indeed, “the names which occur in human speech cannot be interpreted in any such invariable manner. They are not designed to refer to substantial things, independent entities which exist by themselves. They are determined rather by human interests and human purposes. But these interests are not fixed and invariable. Nor are the classifications to be found in human speech made at random; they are based on certain constant and recurring elements in our sense experience” (Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man, p. 134). It seems, then, that Dr. Pinker is taking words not only out of context but isolating them as individual units and attempting to build a theory of language from these bits and pieces that have no relationship to each other and no relationship to use or culture. There is no juxtaposition. For Dr. Pinker, words are, well, just words. They don’t appear with other words and they don’t change their meaning in association with other words. Writers, those picayune Muse-inspired applied linguists par excellence, who are never taken into account by linguists as knowing anything at all about language (and therefore never consulted or, heaven forbid, studied), know this to be untrue. Indeed, for Natalie Goldberg, this is a major aspect of writing: words rub up against each other and change their meaning or connotation (Cf. Wild Mind). And Gendlin’s theories are based on contextual usage (Cf. The Philosophy of Entry into the Implicit and other writings). Dr. Pinker seems to be measuring language–and he seems to be confounding la langue withla parole–as if it were a scientific thing, a state of being, and this is not possible. He is trying to deduce the characteristics of an electron solely by figuring out where it is and how big it is. It and its action, its behavior when moving in context, are different things. But, then, that’s quantum mechanics and that’s already been displaced into File 13 by Dr. Pinker.

Thus, as the name of an object has little to do with the truth of the object but, rather, emphasizes particular aspects of the object, we come across the many words for “snow” in certain Eskimo languages and “hit” in some Amerindian languages and the various counters in Japanese for different entities: long and thin (hon本), round (ko個), flat (mai枚), people (nin人). Or, if we look at the moon, as Washington Irving did in his History of New York, we find that the Greek word mēn emphasizes its measure of time while the Latin word luna, luc-na refers to its brightness.

But even more to the point, Chinese words are made of two characters, for the most part. In fact, in Chinese, a single character does not often have meaning. So, what does he make of bō 玻 and lí 璃, which have no meaning when in isolation but when used together, as in bōlí 玻璃, which means “glass.” There are many similar examples, such as pútáo 葡萄 (grape), yīngsù罂桃 (opium), luòtuó 骆驼 (camel), pángxiè 螃蟹 (crab), to name a few words in which the individual characters (the first ones in this instance) are meaningless by themselves.

This fact also challenges Dr. Pinker’s statement that “long words may be used for things that are big or coarse, staccato words for things that are sharp or quick.” “Staccato” and “ratatatat” are long words–and staccato–yet are for sharp or quick sounds. There is nothing short here, which is the implication in Dr. Pinker’s thesis above. The problem is that almostall Chinese words are short, which means, according to Dr. Pinker, that Chinese cannot talk about big and coarse things. Actually, Chinese can: let’s see. . .zhéxué 哲学 (philosophy) and zhū 猪 (pig)–that’s big; xīnguì 新贵 (parvenu) and cūsù 粗俗 (vulgar)–that’s coarse. Taking into account all these factors, we can safely come to the conclusion that Dr. Pinker’s theory is as right as he thinks because it is appropriate to Dr. Pinker’s thinking, which is Houyhnhnm thinking.

Dr. Pinker’s definition of onomatopoeia is that it is solely sound-based; but in Japanese there are two major types: giseigo and gitaigo, the latter referring to actions. A third group, of which gōtcha-gōtcha is a good example, refers to states of being (upset stomach or being mixed up in this instance). In Chinese, onomatopoeia is used, mainly, for giving strong impressions, expressing things realistically and representing the rhythms of various activities.* Dr. Pinker is a follower of Chomsky’s Universal Grammar, yet he cannot uphold this thesis in Chinese or Japanese. But Dr. Pinker is a cutting edge Houyhnhnmist!

Dr. Pinker also notes that most “sn~” words refer to the snout (nose). This kind of assertion plays because: 1) he’s an authority; and 2) no one’s going to actually count all those words. . .except for a second language learner who counted and found 60% of the “sn~” words in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary had nothing to do with the nose. Not a very worthwhile observation, of course, as students are your penultimate Yahoos.

In his The Language Instinct, Dr. Pinker engages in the most egregious Houyhnhnm analysis of how children gain an understanding of how to use language given that they are not open to hearing constant repetitions of patterns: he shows us how they, children, use higher intellectual functioning to come to a conclusion, his conclusion. In truth, children are incapable of even the simplest of arithmetic computations. Not only do children not have this ability to logically analyze backwards from a given until they are much older, Pinker is going about his explanation backwards, as if the end product is the cause when it is more probably the effect of the learning (Cf. Terrence Deacon, The Symbolic Species, for a different take on this).

Dr. Pinker first slides around issues by using ifs, shoulds, coulds–suppositions that assume much but prove nothing.  “[C]hildren should start off assuming that their language requires the largest possible governing category, and then to shrink the possibilities inward as they hear the telltale sentences” resulting in “this subtle pattern of predictions.” But they already don’t hear constant repetition. Children are also supposed to “assume, by default, that languages have a fixed constituent order. They would back off from that prediction if and only if they hear alternative word orders, which indicate that the language does permit constituent order freedom. The alternative is that the child could assume that the default case was constituent order freedom.” [Bolded words not in the original.] Eh? “Constituent order freedom”? What kind of children does he know? Children who can classify at age 2 or 3?

Dr. Pinker is thinking, it seems, that children have the same mental agility as he, an adult Houyhnhnm, and can engage in axiom-making and assumption-getting that go with higher inductive and deductive reasoning. He is having children reason as an adult Houyhnhnm might. This is fallacious reasoning. One that, perhaps, Jonathan Swift perhaps might could have used in Gulliver’s Travels or any of his other satires. Children can’t add one and one, Dr. Pinker. Children can’t tell that 10 cc of liquid in a short, round glass is the same as 10 cc of liquid in a tall, thin glass. Unless, perhaps, of course, they are Houyhnhnm children, little people full of horse sense. Again that ancient philosopher of language, Ernst Cassirer: “If a child when learning to talk had simply to learn a certain vocabulary, if he only had to impress on his mind and memory a great mass of artificial and arbitrary sounds, this would be a purely mechanical process.” But, of course, Dr. Pinker does believe that the brain is only involved in mechanical processing. However,

It would be very laborious and tiresome, and would require too great conscious effort for the child to make without a certain reluctance since what he is expected to do would be entirely disconnected from actual biological needs. The ‘hunger for names’. . .reminds us that we are here confronted with a quite different problem. By learning to name things a child does not simply add a list of artificial signs to his previous knowledge of ready-made empirical objects. He learns rather to form the concepts of those objects, to come to terms with the objective world. . . . And language, taken as a whole, becomes the gateway to a new world. All progress here opens a new perspective and widens and enriches our concrete experience (Essay on Man, p. 132).

 

So it would seem that learning all of these words is learning an objective world. As Suzanne Langer posits in many of her writings, especially Mind, the brain’s job is to find meaning.

The brain we humans have took millions of years to evolve but the language we use evolved (evolves) in hundreds or thousands of years. So, language cannot be an evolution-dependent item, as Dr. Pinker posits. But it could be, as Dr. Deacon notes, a co-evolutionary item, à la Baldwinian evolution/selection (Cf. The Symbolic Species). But Dr. Terrence Deacon is not among the media’s edge-defying Houyhnhnm scientists. Who knows why. Perhaps because he’s not colorful enough. Or maybe he’s too fond of gorillas, especially gorillas that symbolize (Koko). And gorillas are a lower life form. They are not Houyhnhnms. And–horror upon horror!–Dr. Deacon consults with Koko.

Dr. Pinker does not like Dr. Deacon. Actually, Dr. Pinker doesn’t seem to like anyone who doesn’t think as he does. This becomes obvious in The Stuff of Thought, especially as he cites himself 20 times, twice as often as any other writer/theorist–and Terrence Deacon not at all. His weight in the corpus of linguists around the world is evident via their not citing him at all in their work.

But Steven Pinker is colorful and animated and popular and that’s what’s needed in selling a Houyhnhnm science. As long as it sounds great, it’s good. As long as it’s making fame and fortune for a previously unknown psychologist, it’s cutting edge.

It is of no account that the Yahoos in the Old West called these kinds of people con-men or snake oil salesmen and Medievalists charlatans. They are not, of course, Houyhnhnms and, therefore, jealous in their jibes.

_______________

 

Works Cited

Books

Cassirer, Ernst. An Essay on Man. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1944.

Deacon, Terrence W. The Symbolic Species: the co-evolution of language and the brain.New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997.

Deutsch, David. The Fabric of Reality. New York; Penguin Brooks, 1997.

Fischer, David Hackett. Historians’ Fallacies. New York: Harper & Row, Pubs., 1970.

Gendlin, Eugene. The Philosophy of Entry into the Implicit. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1997.

Goldberg, Natalie. Wild Mind. New York: Bantam, 1990.

Langer, Suzanne. Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling (3 vols.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967-1982.

Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1994.

__________. The Stuff of Thought. London: Allen Lane, 2007.

Popper, Karl. Conjectures and Refutations. London: Routledge Classics, 1969.

__________. Unended Quest. London: Routledge Classics, 1994.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. London: xx, 16xx.

Toulman, Stephen. The Uses of Argument. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964.

Vonnegut, Kurt. God Bless You Mr. Rosewater. New York: Dell Publishing, 1965.

Internet

Brockman, John. Edge. http://www.edge.org/

Pinker, Steven. Can’t find the words? Make ’em up at http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/book_extracts/article2474562.ece

__________. The Mystery of Consciousness at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1580394,00.html

__________. Words Don’t Mean What They Mean at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1659772,00.html

 

*Huang Jia’ning is a tri-lingual interpreter: Chinese-English-Japanese. It is thanks to his input that I was able to discuss the problems with interlanguage onomatopoeia, despite my years in both China and Japan. Also, Zhu Li’an is a Level II Interpreter with international experience and a publishing history, including a new translation of Oscar Wilde’s work. We worked together to refine this information.

In case you are wondering who I am, a long time social activist and playwright growing up in the theatre of the late 60s and 70s, I fell in love with absurdism. This has continued into prose and got me notoriety during my doctoral years in a school that was conventional and traditional and not much interested in the outside world. I took this into Japanese theatre. Along the way, doctoral studies opened up a slew of doors so that, for me, it was not a terminal degree but a beginning place for further studies: history, language, comparative lit, comparative religion. And I lived in Japan and China for a total of 12 years, so some cultural overlay shows up in my writing. More of me can be found at https://talesofthefloatingworld.wordpress.com and https://branded.me/james-secor. Otherwise, I’m a virtual unknown.

When Doing the Right Thing Turns out Wrong by Micki Peluso

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The day, like the week preceding it, started out dreary and overcast, but patches of blue soon poked through the dense clouds, offering a promise of bright sunshine. Then the doorbell rang and the weather was no longer a concern, as the safety of my small grandson became threatened and the lives of those who loved him, thrown into panic.

My 20-year-old daughter was in the downstairs den and answered the doorbell. She seemed to be speaking at great length and I assumed it was another magazine salesman spouting his pitch. Curiosity overcame me and I glanced out the front window in time to see a police car pulling out of my driveway. As I turned around, Nicole and 4-year-old Jesse, who had spent the night with us were coming up the stairs.

“What did the policeman want?” I asked.

“He wanted to see Jesse,” Nicole answered. “Someone reported him as a missing child.”

“What?!”

“Don’t get upset. I explained that Jesse’s been with us since he was born. But you should have seen the picture of the missing boy. He looks exactly like Jesse.”

“You should have called me.”

“Don’t worry, Mom, it’s all taken care of.”

But it wasn’t. Half an hour later, two police cars pulled up and six policemen, including a sergeant, were at my door. By the time I got downstairs, they were crowded inside the living room of my other daughter’s downstairs apartment. Jesse, who had been visiting his aunt, was backed up flat against the back of her recliner, his face masked with fear. I reached for him and as I picked him up, he whispered, “Grandma, get these guys outta here and lock the door. They think I’m some missing boy.”

“It’s all right, Jess,” I said out loud. “We’ll just tell them that they have the wrong little boy.”

“They won’t believe us, Grandma,” he whispered back.

“Of course they will. Don’t be frightened. You know that policemen help people.”

I put him down and he returned to his previous stance, backed as far into the recliner as his small body would allow; his expression guarded and apprehensive. I would not realize until later that Jesse’s instincts for self-preservation were far stronger than my own.

My two daughters and I spent nearly an hour speaking with the policemen, who were all pleasant and non-threatening. Apparently a young couple in our neighborhood had seen a poster of a missing child at the post office and then saw Jesse riding his tricycle up and down my block and reported him to the police.

The resemblance to the missing boy was uncanny. In the picture he was even wearing a cowboy hat similar to the Australian bush hat that Jesse wore and coveted. We gathered up pictures of Jesse and pointed out to the policemen that while Jesse resembled the missing boy, who was two-years-old in the picture, when Jesse was two he had looked entirely different. They seemed to agree.

I gave them a run-down on Jesse’s life; how he had come to Staten Island at six-weeks-old with his mother and older brother after his parent’s divorce; how I had babysat the boys while their mother worked and how, until recently, when she remarried, the three of them had lived in the downstairs apartment. I was confident that they believed me.

Then the sergeant looked at Jesse, who was no more relaxed than before and said, “Would you like to take a ride with me?”

“No!” Jesse answered, a stony look on his face.

“Jess,” I said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to ride in a police car?”

“No, it wouldn’t,” Jesse stated emphatically, pressing himself even further into the back of the chair.

“Listen,” I said to the sergeant. “Why don’t you drive over to our daughter’s home and she can show you his birth certificate and answer any other questions?”

They agreed and wrote down the directions. Jesse, clinging tightly to my leg, watched them leave, then insisted that I close and lock all the doors. I called his mother and told her what had happened.

“My God!” she said. “How can I prove he’s my child? Birth certificates can be forged. Mom, don’t let Jesse out of your sight!”

Eventually the matter was cleared up and the police were convinced that a mistake had been made. But the nightmare was far from over. Ironically, my daughter also resembled the description of the missing boy’s mother, who had taken her son and disappeared.

I remembered having asked one of the policemen if it was possible that a private detective was looking for the missing boy and if we would have to watch Jesse carefully for some time. The man had looked at me somberly and said, “If he was mine, I would.”

By the day’s end the entire family was a nervous wreck, as the ramifications of what had happened and still might occur, became increasingly clear. Only then did we realize that the police, upon returning with extra men and a superior officer could have and probably would have taken Jesse from us if they believed that he was the missing child. Had my child been missing, I would have expected them to do no less. And only then did we realize that the boy’s family and/or hired detective might still take him first and ask questions later.

What scared us the most was that the father of the missing boy had not seen his son since he was two-years-old. Jesse, at four, looked just like what the father would expect his son to look like. Jesse, was frightened, acutely aware of what had nearly happened. He feared realistically for his safety.

“Nicole,” he said to his aunt, ” If I get taken somewhere and I can’t get back home, I’ll always remember you.” He had nightmares for weeks, clinging to his mother and me, and often cried for no apparent reason.

Jesse’s mother called the Missing Children Hotline, and explained the situation, begging them to explain to the missing boy’s father that a mistake had been made, and that he was welcome to come to New York and see for himself that Jesse was not his son. The person she spoke to told her that he was aware of that particular case and that he would handle it. My daughter asked that he please get back to her. He never did. We also tried to contact the boy’s father ourselves, with no success. We felt as if we were fighting an invisible threat with no means to protect ourselves. Were we believed, or were we being watched?

From that day on, we guarded Jesse carefully, watched him every moment and never left him alone; always careful not to let him sense our fear. But as time passed and Jesse forgot the incident, we were never able to relax completely, never again able to feel secure.

The paradox to this story is that the couple reporting Jesse as a missing child did precisely the right thing for the right reasons. The police responding to the report took exactly the right action. Anyone spotting a possible missing child has a moral obligation to report it. I would not have hesitated notifying the authorities if I thought I had spotted a missing child. And if, God forbid, my own child was missing, I would demand and expect immediate police action, willing to go to any lengths to recover my child. Yet in doing all the right things, a family was given the scare of their lives, and a small boy was made to feel frightened and insecure. That day, which had shown so much promise turned, albeit through the best intentions, into an ominous nightmare from which we would be a long time awakening.

 

Micki Peluso began writing after a personal tragedy, which lead to publication in Victimology: An International Magazine and a 25-year career in Journalism. She’s been staff writer for one major newspaper and freelanced for two more. Twelve of her award winning short fiction and slice of life stories are published in anthologies, magazines and e-zines. Her debut book was published in 2012; a funny family memoir of love, loss and survival, called, . . .AND THE WHIPPOORWILL SANG which won the Nesta CBC Silver Award for writing that builds character. She is presently working on a collection of short fiction, slice of life stories and essays, in a book called, DON’T PLUCK THE DUCK. Her debut children’s book, ‘The Cat Who Wanted a Dog’ will be released in May, 2016.

http://www.mallie1025.blogspot.com/

The Big Gay Note by Cody Wagner

May first crush was on my eighth grade gym teacher. To protect the innocent, we’ll call him Coach Hottie. Coach Hottie was gruff and demanding and every gay eighth grade boy’s dream.

Despite the 35-year age gap, and the fact that I was only 13, which made the possibility of a relationship very very illegal, my teenage naiveté convinced me there was absolutely nothing wrong with the idea of our being a couple. In fact, I imagined us holding hands down the halls of Pampa Middle School, everyone eying us jealously. I even imagined wearing matching coach shorts to show my dedication as we strutted around. Sure, the entire school was homophobic, but my mind concocted amazing stories of love and acceptance. And they all hinged on a relationship with Coach Hottie.

And so I pursued him.

I found every reason to stay after gym class and offer to help with his paperwork (although I had no idea what he actually did). I volunteered to skip dodge ball to clean equipment racks for him. I even offered to wash his clothes in case his “washing machine ever broke, or, you know, whatever.”

The big problem – besides the aforementioned illegalness (OK I thought I made up a new word but ‘illegalness’ isn’t being corrected.) – was the fact Coach Hottie was very straight. And he acted like I barely existed. Therefore, my interest in him started to waver a bit over the course of a year.

Then came the Towel Incident ™.

Eighth grade gym was the only year I was ever forced to shower. After every class, we had to strip down and rinse off. Eighth graders are disgusting, so it was the school’s way of cleaning us up after we hit each other in the face with big red balls for an hour. The problem was, the idea of getting naked in front of my peers terrified me. After all, I was gay and, um, my hormones were raging.

Consequently, I was always the last student to get naked. I’d strip down, throw a towel around my waist, and go stand near the showers. But I wouldn’t bare all and shower yet. No, I had to stand there, convincing myself everything would remain calm and I wouldn’t get beaten up.

One day, as I stood there talking myself down, I heard, “Wagner, take off your towel and shower!”

It was Coach Hottie.

Immediately, my face flushed and my entire body tingled. Sure, he was just frustrated and trying to end the class. But my juvenile mind interpreted the Towel Incident very differently. My first and only thought was, He wants to see me naked!

And thus my crush was kicked into overdrive.

That night, I decided I had to come clean (pardon the pun). Trembling, I sat down and wrote a love note to Coach Hottie. I wrote that I was gay. And for the first time, I poured my feelings out. The note was long, emotional and perfect.

I sat back and stared at my masterpiece. Grinning, I grabbed an envelope and carefully wrote “To: Coach Hottie”. I debated drawing little hearts on it, but decided to let the note speak for itself.

After folding and sliding the paper inside, I sat back imagining Coach Hottie’s response. He’d be skeptical opening the note. He might even tell me he didn’t have time. After reading a few sentences, though, his expression would change. A tear would probably fall from his left eye. He’d drop the note and say, “How did you know?” I’d just smile and shrug as we leaned in for our first kiss.

Hugging the note, I placed it on my desk before bed. Then I tucked myself in, imagining the joy the following day would bring.

Thank God rational thought hit me in the middle of the night.

I don’t know what did it, but I shot up at 3:00AM thinking, What in the hell am I doing? It was the first sensible thing I’d thought in years. Part of me thinks a future version of myself sent eighth grade Cody a dream message. Either way, I hopped out of bed and tore up the note before I could stop myself.

For some reason, the insanity of what I’d done eased my crush on Coach Hottie. And something else began building up in my head. Despite the fact I never gave Coach Hottie the note, it was still the first time I’d ever written I was gay. That stuck!. Putting the words on paper actually made it real.

After that night, I really began to realize who and what I was.

It stuck with me so intensely that, when I wrote my novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, I knew I had to include that scene. In the book, my main character doesn’t write a love note. Instead, he writes that he’s gay out of pure frustration. Instead of tearing the note up, it ends up outing him.

The note solidified who I was, so I figured I’d let it kick start my character’s life. Only, because it’s fiction and I could let my imagination run wild, I did so in a way where the note would take him somewhere he’d never imagine or expect. I hope he thanks me for it when he’s all said and done.

Who knows, maybe he can write me a little note.
b
About the Author
Cody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and create. He writes about topics ranging from superpowers to literate trees (really). His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out”. See what he did there? Cody dealt with bullying as a teen and wanted to provide a fun escape for all the underdogs out there. He’s also handing out cookie dough to everyone who grabs a copy. Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at www.wagner-writer.com or find him on Twitter @cfjwagner, Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/wagner_writer, and Amazon at www.amazon.com/Cody-Wagner/e/B016NYGV40.

Rare Hawaiian Treasures by Michael Ajax

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After flying all night, getting off the packed airplane at Honolulu International airport felt wonderful. The warm, tropical sun and swaying palm trees greeted us. Jumping into the rental car, we wanted to drive straight to the western shore where our fabulous beach front condo awaited. But arriving early in the morning, allowed us to reflect on why we didn’t request an early check-in. Never a group to waste an opportunity to explore, however, we headed for Waikiki beach. After enjoying a nice lunch with live music at the Hard Rock Café, we strolled across the street and dipped our toes into the Pacific Ocean. The enormous beach, packed with tourists, radiated excitement.

A bit of shopping along the row of tiny t-shirt stores filled our need of being with the busy crowds. After that, off to the quiet west shore we went. The curvy drive past old, densely packed houses gave us a chance to see what life was like for the inhabitants of the island. It wasn’t the polished perfection of the steel and glass hotels and lush condos of Honolulu, yet there was a grittiness about the place, a feeling of balance with the island and the ocean that could never be experienced from the top of a skyscraper.

A stop at the local grocer reinforced this feeling. Simple green corrugated steel decorated the store as we passed through the small front doors and walked into a bygone era. From the store, we drove two miles to the tall, gated condo. As we made our way to the fourth floor and opened the door of our room, the actual decor didn’t resemble the pictures from the internet. Old plywood protected the patio windows from the construction going on outside. A full work scaffold, complete with ropes, buckets and cement tools hung directly before the windows. This was not a welcomed sight to exhausted travelers.

A few frantic calls later, the agent arranged for us to move to a smaller condo on the eight floor. Since the kids agreed to sleep on the couches, we decided to make the best of it. A stunning view of the bay and beach below was worth the inconvenience.

a

After getting a good night’s rest, I convinced everyone that hiking up Diamond Head, an extinct volcanic crater on the east side of Honolulu, would be a great day trip. Since Mark Twain had visited the Kingdom of Hawaii almost 150 years earlier, and ridden a horse to the top of Diamond Head, I longed to follow in his steps. Although no horses are allowed on the path today, every step for me was special. Breathing hard and sweating, we walked through the long tunnel to the exterior cliffs of the ancient volcano. In that moment, we were swept back to WWII with the weathered concrete gun turrets and narrow stairs that once housed soldiers that defended the island. The vistas of Honolulu on one side and the expansive Pacific Ocean on the other were breathtaking from the summit. Although this same cityscape was not what Mr. Twain saw, I imagined how he might compare it to what the beautiful island had been in his day.

b

The following day, we visited the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor. Taking a tour of the USS Bowfin submarine gave us a glimpse into the past. The Park Service’s movie of the attack on Pearl Harbor and ferry ride out to the Arizona Memorial were somber, moving events. No trip to Hawaii is complete without a stop here.

d

Back at the condo, relaxing and enjoying the gorgeous beach became our highest priority. Walking along the uneven rocks that jutted deep into the powerful ocean made me appreciate this astonishing place for what it is—a delicate blend of moving life and beauty. Every night my kids attested to this because although the calming roll of the ocean lapping at the sandy beach is wonderful as you drift to sleep, the pounding of the high tide in the middle of the night is not as soothing as one might believe.

c

On the morning of our fourth day on the island, as we awoke to balmy breezes, we immediately slid open the balcony doors to enjoy breakfast on the patio. Below us, on the normally tranquil beach, people gathered near two large, dark objects that must have washed onto the shore during the night. Covered in sand and not moving, two Monk seals lay next to each other. Neither one moved.

In short order, signs and cones were erected to form a perimeter to keep onlookers away from the mammals. We wondered what terrible events could have occurred to cause two seals to be in such an unusual state. It was not natural for wild animals to be so close to humans.

As we approached the barricade, a nice woman greeted us. A volunteer from the Monk Seal Response Team, she came down to help educate people and protect the monk seals from harm. Since the Hawaiian Monk Seals are one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world, with only about 1300 remaining, we were happy to lend our support in any fashion we could.

Monk seals are named for the folds of skin that somewhat resemble a Monk’s cowl. Normally, these warm-water seals live near the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, but this mother had, just two days earlier, separated from her young pup near Kawaii and swam straight onto our beach to recuperate. She wasn’t sick or injured, just tired from traveling. We totally understood. Since monk seals do not mate for life, the other seal next to her was most likely her suitor, a younger male.

As we milled around, admiring the seals from a safe distance, the female opened her eyes. With a few twists of her body, and flaps of her tail, she wiggled into the ocean surf. The next large wave carried her off. The darker, sleepy male opened his eyes and lifted his head. Realizing the other seal had left, he made a mad squirm toward the ocean. Like an arrow, he swam to the female and together, the couple danced up and over the waves like birds in flight. And without any warning, the two disappeared into the Pacific.

After returning to our condo for breakfast, we spent the rest of the day submerged in the crisp ocean learning to body surf. That evening, we took the kids to a beach front luau and danced long into the night. We all had a great time, along with a few cuts and bruises from surfing.

In the end, our vacation was rich with Hawaiian memories. Yet with all the unique things we did, it was our brief encounter with the monk seals, and enjoying their simple splendor, that still resonates deep within me. The world is a richer place because of the rare treasures found only in Hawaii.

***

Want to find out more about Michael’s writing? Check out his website at www.michaelajax.com and get a look at his book on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/tombtriceratops

 

Write is Right by Dellani Oakes

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 I’m the first to admit that I can’t spell. If it weren’t for spell check, the greatest invention in the modern age, I’d never get anything written. Next best, on-line dictionaries, because now I don’t have guess every time I can’t spell a word. If I misspell a word when looking it up, the program will ask me if I mean…. And it gives me suggestions.

I misspell stupid things—anything with IE or EI, will always be reversed. Fortunately, the computer notices and changes it for me. Yay! Necessary. Camouflage. Bureaucrat. These are examples of words I frequently misspell. There are others, but I am most consistently wrong with these. I can usually get through necessary, but I have to spell it to myself as I go. I can’t just type or write it.

When I was a teenager, I had an extensive vocabulary. With a college English professor for a father and an elementary school teacher for a mother, how could I not? Unfortunately, I couldn’t spell the extensive vocabulary and had to rely on much more basic things. When I asked my English teacher about it, he told me to “Look it up.” “But how,” I asked. “Can I look it up if I don’t know how to spell it?” No one ever had a good explanation. It took me years to learn that if it wasn’t under the spelling I thought, that was wrong, I had to try something else. Tedious process. Again, thank god for spell check and on-line dictionaries!

I finally cracked down and put my mind toward spelling better when my English teacher, Mr. Frakes, gave me back a paper that said: “For story and content A. For mechanics F.” Much embarrassed, I decided that perhaps spelling did matter. It was a long process, and it only partially took, but I have finally gotten more conversant with spelling. I had thought of writing this piece, leaving the typos in, but decided that made me look way stupider than I was willing to look and I corrected them. I’m all for window dressing, but that would have been a little much.

I was grateful to Mr. Frakes for teaching me something else with that one message. That was to be as fair to my students as possible. I adopted that method of grading when I became a teacher, because I had some brilliant students who couldn’t spell their way out of a wet paper sack. One even bought a “Bad Speller’s Dictionary” only to find that his misspellings were so messed up, they weren’t in there. My heart went out to him. I felt his pain! More than once, he’d hand in a paper with the same word spelled three or four different ways, all wrong. I asked him about it once.

“I figured if I tried it different ways, one of them would be right.”

Sadly, he was completely wrong in that assumption. Somehow, he defied the laws of averages and statistics, defied the gods of grammar and still managed to mess it up completely. I lost track of him once he graduated. I hope he, like I, learned to spell and that he can find compassion in his heart for others the way I had compassion for him.

 

In addition to writing, Dellani Oakes is a prominent host on Blog Talk Radio.

Science Fiction Writers as Agents of Change

“To every man, in his acquaintance with a new art, there comes a moment when that which before was meaningless first lifts, as it were, one corner of the curtain that hides its mystery, and reveals, in a burst of delight which later and fuller understanding can hardly ever equal, one glimpse of the indefinite possibilities within.” 

― C.S. LewisOut of the Silent Planet
out_of_the_silent_planet_by_flane_kanja-d84dvxr

When I first met these creatures—hrossa, seroni, and pfifitriggi–I became (relatively) convinced of life on other planets. I loved the creativity but that wasn’t all that ignited my sense of wonder. What fascinated me most and led to a lifelong love of science fiction, was C.S. Lewis’ explanation of how each of these species offers their uniqueness, especially in abilities and levels of intelligence, to make their environment extraordinary for all inhabitants.  The narrator in Out of the Silent Planet even compares the conditions on Malacandra (Mars) to our own planet where intelligent beings seem more inclined to share the worst of what we’re capable.

I love to read anything that makes me think that so much more is possible, whether it relates to problem solving or to our potential to invent technological devises…or worlds. Science fiction is the genre I choose most often.

Science fiction writers such as C.S. Lewis immerse us in adventures, but the really good ones also force us to consider the consequences of actions or technologies. They demonstrate through stories how the impossible has only been implausible. Consider these:

space elevator

Jules Verne anticipated submarine warfare in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  In The Time Machine, H.G. Wells suggested that time travel might be possible using scientific and technological methods.  Isaac Asimov invented the word “robotics.” And Arthur C. Clark showed how a space elevator might work using a carbon-based filament for the elevator cable. Twenty years later, carbon nanotubes were at the heart of NASA’s first serious study on space elevators. [View Space Elevator Concept (NASA animation) at https://youtu.be/MkPDKVkVaj0]

Now, fifteen years after NASA’s serious study, I am writing a novel—science fiction, of course–that focuses on the use of space elevators to store essential foods in outer space. The setting of The Battle Jericho is 2035. An international banking coalition can control the world’s population by dominating the availability of food supplies.  By maintaining the fragile balance of plant growth, harvesting, processing and storage, the coalition strives to keep costs up and other producers out. They move large quantities of basic grains in elevator cars to a site 62,000 miles up. But what if the space elevator malfunctions leaving the food virtually unobtainable? Millions might starve.

My goal is to write stories that explore far-fetched ideas, conjuring up their incredible value but also their potential for massive exploitation. I fantasize being numbered with authors time proves to be “agents of change.”

* * *

Author bio: Joyce’s love of science fiction resulted from a college class on the Writings of C.S. Lewis. After reading his Space Trilogy, she was hooked. A more detailed profile can be found at Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/jelferdink

When in Doubt, Make a Fool of Yourself By Joyce Elferdink

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“When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap.”
– Cynthia Heimel, writer and columnist

I have struggled in all my careers to follow others’ rules. To envision ways of doing things or solving problems that deviate from the norm is risky, but for some of us it must be tried. For example, during the time I was an economic director in Indiana, one of my board members had ideas for improving the local K-12 school system. His suggestions were a direct response to the issues of the time. Surveying parents and community leaders assured him of the feasibility of implementing these changes. But another board member answered to the school’s superintendent. As with so many in positions of power in our larger institutions, the superintendent would not consider ideas he had not initiated, ideas that could have transformed that school system from mediocre to extraordinary. But the changes did not come with a money-back guarantee and the superintendent preferred the ways he knew and believed he could control.

I supported the board member who wanted a better learning environment for the students. That “leap” across the thin line between creativity and idiocy, between supporting inventive methods instead of the broken status quo, cost me my job. Did I make a fool of myself? There are those who would say yes, but others believe with me that complacency in the midst of turmoil is the true foolishness.

Our world is desperate for visionaries who will show us how to bridge the chasms between people and between our dreams and experiences. Are you willing to make a fool of yourself by stepping into the unfamiliar and enduring–though opposed–or will you be lost in the crowds who dismiss or oppose everything they can’t rationally prove?

Rationalists, wearing square hats,
Think, in square rooms,
Looking at the floor,
Looking at the ceiling,
They confine themselves
To right-angled triangles.
If they tried rhomboids,
Cones, waving lines, ellipses—
As, for example, the ellipse of the half moon—
Rationalists would wear sombreros.

Stevens, Wallace. “Six Significant Landscapes.” (1969, p. 183)

 

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Joyce Elferdink has finally come close to achieving her goal implanted long ago after reading Gift from the Sea: to live a balanced life, where each day includes time for self, for relationships, for nature, and for meaningful, creative work. She has never forgotten what Ann Morrow Lindbergh wrote about individuals “often trying, like me, to evolve another rhythm with more creative pauses in it, more adjustment to their individual needs, and new and more alive relationships to themselves as well as others.”

The Rule of Five By Nancy Cole Silverman

 

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Someone once told me we couldn’t be friends because they already had their five.  I looked at them curiously.  I had no idea there was a limit to the number of friends one could have, but indeed with some people – particularly those living here in Los Angeles – there is.  Five appears to be a magic number for which people feel they are comfortable.

It got me thinking.  Could the same be true for my readers?  Was there such a thing as an ideal number of principal characters?

Writers know too many names on a page or in a scene can confuse the reader.  While there is no rule-of-thumb for the number of characters an author may use in a work, there is a limit to the number the reader is comfortable with before they begin to feel overwhelmed. Please note, I’m not talking about the over-all number of minor and reappearing characters in a book, but those that actually interact with the protagonist for the purpose of moving the story forward.

Hence my rule of five.

  1. Limit the number of primary characters to a handful. This frequently allows the author to add color and depth to their personalities.  Alice becomes not just the girl with blue eyes, but my former college roommate, the girl who got all the guys, etc.
  2. Consider combining the roles of principal characters. Do you really need five investigators?  Would two, maybe three be better, allowing you to show the conflict between them?
  3. Make certain your characters names are not too similar to each other. I’m good friends with Maryann, Marilyn and Madeline, but I’d never write a novel with the three of them in the same room. It’s too easy with today’s speed reader to slip by the names and mix them.
  4. Ancillary characters don’t always need to be named. Consider referring to them by their job description. For instance, the intern, the receptionist, or perhaps by a physical description; the pharmacist with the bulbous nose.
  5. First and last names are wonderful and frequently used alternatively, as well as a nickname. But make certain it’s used frequently enough that the reader will remember that Worm when used on page 192, was Marty’s nickname from high school that you introduced in chapter one.

Of course rules are made to be broken. Tolstoy was famous for the number of characters in his novels and their pseudonyms. I remember having to make a chart to follow all the characters in his books. But most readers today all multi-taskers, they may be watching TV, surfing the internet or perhaps even texting while reading your novel.  Keeping it simple may guarantee your reader will remember your book and even pick up the next.

Oh, and by the way, I ran into my I-already-have-my-five-friends the other day.  She wanted to get together.  It seems her BFF had moved away and she suddenly found herself with time on her hands.  She wondered if we might hang out.

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Nancy Cole Silverman says she has to credit her twenty-five years in radio for helping her to develop an ear for storytelling. In 2001 Silverman retired from news and copywriting to write fiction fulltime. In 2014, Silverman signed with Henery Press for her new mystery series, The Carol Childs’ Mysteries. The first of the series, Shadow of Doubt, debuted in December 2014 and the second, Beyond a Doubt, debuted July 2015. Coming soon, in 2016, is the third in the series, Without A Doubt. For more information visit www.nancycolesilverman.com

 

 

 

 

THE HARDEST WORD —  By Bryan Murphy

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To write science fiction, even the dystopian kind, is to express optimism, for inherent in all science fiction is the claim that there will actually be a future.

The future in whose existence we can have most confidence is of course the near future, which has been shaped mostly by us old-timers. Because it is likely in many ways to be a dark future, today’s young people deserve an apology from us. So here comes one: “Sorry!” On behalf of my whole generation.

From my generation of Brits, it has to be even more heartfelt, because we had things so much easier than most people elsewhere, and therefore have more to answer for. We were born after the Second World War had ended; we had the National Health Service but no National Service; our politicians declined to send us to kill and die in Vietnam; we were nurtured on free school milk, given grants to study and found jobs if we wanted them. Naturally, we wanted more, though for everyone, not just ourselves. Indeed, we got more, but mostly for ourselves.

The end of those days of plenty was foreshadowed when a Minister of Education stopped milk being offered to the nation’s children and thereby earned herself the nickname “The Milk Snatcher” to rhyme with her surname: Thatcher, a word no longer connected with roofing so much as with a longing to return to feudal levels of inequality, a phenomenon that tends to favor the older generation, at least while pensions still exist.

To my eyes, today’s young people are showing amazing creativity, coupled with a superior resistance to bullshit, so maybe we can claim their education as our one success. Will that creativity and perspicacity be enough to guarantee them a future? Frankly, I doubt it. Our problem as a species, in my view, is that our technological evolution has far outpaced our social evolution. Nihilists who see the continued existence of human life as an optional irrelevance, from the left-behind “Neo-Cons” of yesterday to today’s “Islamic State”, are more than happy to use the former to forestall the latter, and their successors will have an even better chance of finishing the job.

So, probably, no future for anyone. That means that today’s science fiction is sheer fantasy. Dammit, I never set out to write Fantasy. To paraphrase Oliver Hardy: “This is a fine mess we’ve got you into”. Joking apart, to the youngsters, once again, sorry.

 

You can find ancient British author Bryan Murphy’s dark futures and other writings here: http://bit.ly/19vt7Ts as well as at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other major booksellers.