15 August 2015

How symbolic are word sounds?

[via Slashdot] A recent study in Royal Society Open Science (featured in Science) discusses sound symbolism in the vocal representations for antonyms (similar to the kiki/bouba effect).

The news here is that the participants created their own "words" during a game of vocal charade and that they were able to communicate their meaning increasingly well in subsequent rounds. The made-up words were also identified by "naive listeners" (not involved in creating them) better than predicted by mere chance. Furthermore, the meaning of the vocalizations was correlated to some acoustic characteristics (e.g. the signals for "up" were reliably shorter, more intense, with higher pitch and pitch change than those for "down".)
On a completely unrelated note, the authors felt the need to warn the reader that:

"Unavoidably, as in similar semiotics experiments, our participants already spoke a language and thus came well acquainted with symbolic communication."

I have already written a few times about language symbolism, in the series on Genette's Mimologics (first part here) and also here and here.

12 August 2015

Law enforcement priorities

The victim is found shot dead, and his encrypted smartphones are found next to him. Four prosecutors from four different countries take to the pages of the New York Times asking for restrictions on encryption. No word about restrictions on firearms.

6 August 2015

Materials science...

...is when chemists do physics and physicists do chemistry. It is not always a pretty sight.

5 August 2015

French humour

I finally realized that a distinctive trait of French humour is combining hyperbola and understatement in the same phrase. I'll just post this and look for examples later...

The Dirac delta "function" - part II

The relation between δ(x) and dx

After introducing the Dirac delta "function" \(\delta(x)\) in the previous post, I'll try now to explain the relation between it and the differential element \(\mathrm{d}x\). In the process, I'll through all mathematical rigour out the window and aim for an intuitive understanding.

4 August 2015

The Dirac delta "function" - part I

When describing a physical system, one would often like to describe some of its components as pointlike particles, i.e. with no spatial extent. Obviously, all objects have a finite size, but this size can be much smaller than the length scales relevant to the problem at hand. All the attributes of the particle (mass, charge, etc.) can then be assigned to a space point.

1 August 2015

When is science settled?

"By definition, science is never settled. It is always subject to change in the light of new evidence."

The quotation above is from a completely uninteresting, but symptomatic article in the Wall Street Journal. We learn that nothing is certain when it comes to global warming because, among other things, "climatology is only about 170 years old". Also, flat earth and relativity. Caution is an honorable position, but I cannot resist linking to Isaac Asimov's The Relativity of Wrong.

I am however a bit surprised to notice that the same author asserts as a self-evident truth that, should the corporate income tax be abolished, "revenue from other sources, especially the personal income tax, would quickly make up for it and then some". No bet-hedging on this one? Is it a proven result of the venerable science of economics?

27 July 2015

Untranslatable words

I have already written about (im)possible translation on this blog. The series on Genette's Mimologiques (first part here) is also relevant, because Cratylism has strong implications for the theoretical possibility of translation. At some point, I should write something about Steiner's After Babel.

Lately, I've been looking through the monumental Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon. On a lighter note, here are some illustrated examples of hard to translate concepts from several languages. Both sources discuss the term saudade.

P.S. As I'm writing this post, I'm also reading a comment on Slashdot about the different meaning of "government" in British vs. American English...

Postdoc position: numerical simulations for biophysics

A post-doctoral fellowship is available at the MSC laboratory of the Paris Diderot University (Paris, France), in the framework of our ANR project. Apply before October 1st. The contract should begin on January 1st 2016 at the latest.

Title: Modelling the many-body interactions between protein inclusions in cell membranes
Gross salary: ~ 2500 €/month (varies with seniority).
Duration: ~ 12 months.
Summary of the research topic: The MSC laboratory is a research unit at the very heart of Paris working on three main axes: non-linear physics, soft-matter and interface between physics, biology and medicine. The subject proposed here is part of a wider research effort, pursued in collaboration with three other laboratories from the Paris area, in the framework of a project financed by the ANR (French grant agency). In particular, the successful candidate will work in close collaboration with an experimental group in the Laboratory of Solid State Physics (LPS, Orsay).