Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving


by • June 10th, 2008

free will?.jpg

Most of what happened cannot be blogged.

There was The Biggest Salad Ever and a Bison Burger. Margaritas and Honey Pilsner.
Laughter looping across periodic boundary conditions. My blushing. (!) A handshake for the chinese zodiac. (Do you know what they say about Virgos?)

The Italian mafia. A Columbian cartel. Romanian espionage and disruption services. A South African escapee. Bhutanese royalty. Some Americans and a Turk.
Seriously, one language or many? Interpreted (essential heterogeneity) or lingua franca (reduced homogeneity)? 🙂 Our debate draws forth a distinction: what do we value most and when – the depth and strength of relational connection or the collaborative effort to generate joint action toward a desired goal? I propose that

we are always interpreting – the interactive presence of a simultaneous interpreter only makes the fact more evident, and
more attention to this fact (of always and inevitable interpretation) could enable deepened collaborations to redress the critical needs of our time.

I am cautioned, again (and with great humor!), to be gentle with those who agree to talk with me: sensitivities about language skill can open vulnerabilities that could undermine the research endeavor. Refinements to the research problem have been percolating

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Push of Chang, Pull of Cronen

by • March 29th, 2008

A vigorous debate between two faculty members dominated conversation about Marc Crépon‘s “What We Demand of Languages,” an extended footnote to Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other.

I had been worried about arriving late to the Center for Communication Studies event, however Briankle Chang and Vernon Cronen were deep in discourse, ranging from the mistake of theology (not a feature of all religions), the influence of the Platonic opening, Aquinas’ linkage of physics with the New Testament, to structuralism as the antidote to transcendentalism, and whether “topos” is a place that contains all topoi and all vocabularies or a place that can be talked about in infinitely many ways.
I always learn more from faculty interactions with each other than from monologistic pedagogy!
A colleague translated Crépon’s article from French. Srinivas Lankala explains:

“Crépon summarizes Derrida’s argument, provides references to the argument that Derrida did not provide, and extends the argument to new areas:

the question between what language is and what language means in terms of politics of nationalism or politics of identity
the definition of identity
the definition of the self

“One important thing called into question is the notion of a singular cultural identity: identity is formed in advance by language &emdash; the whole question of

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mathematical thinking

by • March 15th, 2008

I’m closer to Brian Butterworth than Stanislas Dehaene, as this comparative review describes:

“Butterworth is a neuropsychologist who came to studying mathematical ability via his work on natural languages….Dehaene, on the other hand, started off as a mathematician, but became fascinated by the abstractness of his subject. He began to wonder where mathematical ability came from, and why some people are so bad at it, and others so good.”

The Mathematical Brain appeals to me from the start, with the author’s writing style being compared with Oliver Sacks (Seeing Voices: A Journey into the Land of the Deaf). The Number Sense reminds me of Barry Mazur’s, Imagining Numbers (which I started and now want to finish).
The reviewer argues, “cognitive science tells us that it is possible to teach mathematics in a way that fits with our psyche, a way that minimises maths-induced fear and boredom.” Lots of “sideways” exposure is doing it for me….all that three-dimensional American Sign Language interpreting has (seriously!) re-wired my conceptual circuits for math.
Just last week, the New Yorker’s “Numbers Guy” wrote about whether our brains are actually wired for math, featuring Stanislas Dehaene.
One tidbit: in addition to a certain kind of math perception, the language

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parallel science and other illusions

by • March 7th, 2008

I’m excused from interpreting this talk, Nanometers, Femtoseconds, and Yoctomoles: Molecular-Dynamics Simulations of Diffusion in Garnet, which means I can take notes and play!
The professor is highly billed: Dr. Bill Carlson from UT at Austin. You think I’m kidding about “play”? No way, Jose!
Scale: plates, rocks in the field, mineral grains, atoms….
Geologic Time:
Sizes from macro to nano…..
Diffusion gives direct qualitative information on rates and duration of metamorphic processes. Garnet is present in a wide range of bulk compositions, is stable, and has a wide array of diffusive behaviors that can be monitored to help us understand rates of diffusion and the mechanisms behind them. You know my parallel? Groups (of people) and knowledge/understanding (disseminated via language).
Main topic: Molecular dynamics simulations…. (microdynamic intergroup relations?)
Problem: existing theories for diffusion at atomic scale don’t explain the phenomena we observe…(sounds like social science to me!)
Novel systematics emerge from recent synthesis…
Elastic Strain Theory (EST) – diffusion by vacancy mechanism: work is required to move atoms apart and squeeze this atom in-between them….larger atom = more strain which slows down diffusion. Like all theory (!) “sometimes it works…sometimes it doesn’t.”
There’s a “misfit parameter” (!) = “how badly an atom

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time, sightlines and the concept of visibility

by • March 5th, 2008

This semester I’ve had the opportunity to work at the extremes: one professor who has seamlessly blended me into her extensive use of the chalkboard, and another whose gaze apparently registers only empty space whenever she accidentally happens to glance my direction. The contrast heightens my belief that attempts to make ourselves “invisible” (while interpreting) are worse than “professional”: they are downright counterproductive.
For instance, the day I knew I could not possibly reconstruct the meaning for something uttered very quickly yet of obvious conceptual importance for the subject matter, and had to ask professor #2 (the one for whom language accommodation is nonexistent) for a repetition or clarification (I forget which), an expression crossed her face as if a voice had come from the woodwork. Her answer was curt (to say the least). However, I had established my presence (albeit momentarily). An interesting consequence of actually “being there” was that a non-deaf student requested my attention to a sight-line that I thought I was not blocking but, in fact, was. This had been going on for some time; the students had suffered simply because the non-verbal behavior of the professor indicated that I was to be

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“the chaos of frame conflict”

by • January 9th, 2008

“If speaking for someone else seems to be a mysterious
process that may be because speaking to someone does not
seem mysterious enough.”

Stanley Cavell (Quoted in Geertz 1973)
Read in Wilcox and Shaffer 2005

I’m reading an exciting critique which includes an exposition of frame conflict, The Conduit Metaphor by Michael J. Reddy, who relies upon

Schön’s dictum that frame conflicts are “immune to resolution by appeal to facts.” As he [Schön] says, “New facts have a way of being either absorbed or disregarded by those who see problematic situations under conflicting frames.” (Reddy 1979:285)

Reddy provides radical subjectivity as one example of a “frame” (what Berger and Luckmann call a “paradigm”), in order to illustrate the problem of what Schön calls “frame conflict.” A frame conflict is an alternative way of describing the communication dynamics of mis/understanding that occur when people who think through (as in “from” or “on the basis of”) different paradigms attempt to find agreement on a matter of mutual concern.

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“the rift of difference”

by • December 25th, 2007

…the difference, according to Heidegger, is pain.

“Diviners,” writes Dennis Tedlock, “Stay close to ‘the rift of difference,’ as Heidegger calls it, even a small difference. They leave us between two points, or at both of them, and sometimes three.” (1983:254)

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Just like fingerspelling?!

by • December 5th, 2007

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can. i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs forwrad it.

Ok – so “new research” is apparently untrue, although there is something to be said for “the role of letter order on reading.” Matt Davis has compiled an impressive corpus of equivalents in at least thirty languages, along with references and commentary from original and follow-up research in this area of word-form research. The number of letters in the word has quite a lot to do with whether the mind can

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Fadiman on interpreting

by • October 25th, 2007

“It is one thing to read in medical school that the ideal doctor-patient-interpreter ‘seating configuration’ is a right triangle, with the patient and interpreter forming the hypotenuse, and another to recollect the diagram in a roomful of gesticulating Hmong toward the end of a twenty-four-hour shift” (272). The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

Interpreters face similar dilemmas when they move from the training ground to the field of independent practice. 🙂

When a patient refused surgery for stomach cancer, “I had expected the resident to move heaven and earth to bring in a decent interpreter. instead, I found him in the Preceptor Library, his head bowed over four articles on poorly differentiated gastric adenocarcinoma” (273).

Interesting on several levels: that there was not an interpreter to begin with and/or that the point of crisis invokes the need/desire for interpreters. Also because we see Fadiman’s priority (communication with the patient) in contrast with the resident’s (learn more about this medical condition).

“At Harvard, all first-year students are required to take a course called “Patient-Doctor I” (significantly, not “Doctor-Patient I”) in which they learn to work with interpreters, study Kleinman’s eight questions, and ponder…conundrums…” (271)

Fadiman’s commentary is on the

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cultural frames of reference

by • October 22nd, 2007

One of Anne Fadiman’s strengths as a writer is stating the culturally obvious in equal and unequivocal terms.
Of course medical practitioners in the US would not know “that when a man named Xiong or Lee or Moua walked into [their office] with a stomachache he was actually complaining that the entire universe was out of balance” (p. 61). It seems to me that one must be a believer in quantum level effects at the scale of the humanly perceptible in order to even conceive of such a possibility. Yes, there may be many linear (diagnosable, predictable and therefore curable) causes of stomachache, but who is to say definitively that those local causes and operations in the universe have absolutely, decisively, no relation to each other?
Much of what intrigues in Fadiman’s story of a Hmong family’s dreadful encounter with extraordinarily competent and skilled physicians are the breakdowns in understanding: the inability of worldviews to find means of expression even remotely comprehensible to each other. Some of the most poignant pathos are in those instances when mutual understanding was assumed – by one party or another, if not both.
The absence of interpreters mark the earliest and most common meetings

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