Writing #2: March 2012 Archives

There are two main explanations for how people think: one explanation suggests that thinking is totally dependent on language and wouldn't be possible without it. Another explanation takes the easy way out and says that thinking shapes but isn't absolutely responsible for what's known as thinking.

Personally I think it's more safe than sorry to assume that thinking has a definite and important effect on the way one thinks. There's so much variety in language, and being a foreign language learner I know that if I spoke another language as my native tongue it'd change who I was as a person. Different languages have different ways of saying and even seeing things than other languages. For instance, Chinese is a language that puts much more emphasis on the relationship's one has with their family, using more descriptive words for cousins, aunts, etc.

Anyway, I don't believe that thinking isn't possible without language. I do believe that all mammals have their own way of thinking, no matter how simplistic that thinking is. For example, when a dog is hungry it knows to go bother it's owner to get some food. How could a dog know to bother it's owner for food? Conditioning, sure, but how could conditioning be possible without thinking?

As a science major student, Iiterature is not my thing. Personally I think literature is more about writing, especially for fictions and novels, while language is for direct communcation such as speaking and listening. Obviously, although there are many people who can not spell or read, few can not speak.
Because I am a second language speaker, I am still in the level of language learner, and english literature is alomst an unknown to me. I have read nothing but several novels with the help of dictionary, most recent is Coraline, written by Neil Gaiman. So most of my thinkings are base on chinese literature, although I believe english literature should be similar.
Back to high school, what I learned "Chinese" are most about ancient language and some articles written by some men at least 50 years old. In the exam, there are questions asking you what the articles shows or what it implicated. These questions are very hard and most students do it by guessing, as there are hardly logical connections or rules. Also there are poems, which twisted the sentence to make the rhyme. While if literature is nothing but mastering words and rhyme, than it will be no fun at all. What I feel is that literature is a way to reveal something implictly and gently. The writer would transform his feelings or dreams to an article, and while we are reading these feeling and dreams would retranslate back to our mind. Literature is more that the extend of the language , since it comes from soul, while everyone has a soul few can master language very well. Also we judge the masterpiece more about what it contain than whether it sounds interesting.

Double Trouble

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Greetings fellow bloggers:

For this blog I would like to write about polyglots and the benefits of being bilingual. I am not fully bilingual, but I am proficient in Spanish and fluent in English. Pictures were vital to my learning of a new language. We touched on this very briefly in lecture, but I found that learning spanish vocabulary became much easier when I could associate a picture with the word that represents it. My spanish textbook was full of pictures and this helped me when it came to learning the words that associate with the pictures. In addition, in spanish class we frequently used flash cards that had a picture on one side and the word on the other. Thus, my learning of a new language was accelerated by using repetition and the visual side of memorization.

I have found many uses for being bilingual, even though I am not fluent in spanish. One of which is the fact that is has made traveling to spanish speaking countries far easier. I recently went to Costa Rica and my knowledge of the spanish language was vital when seeking directions or ordering food. I would have been lost had I not learned the language. Also, a little less practical perk to knowing a second language is my older brother and I were able to have conversations at the dinner table or throughout the house that no one else could understand. This came in handy when telling stories that we did not want our sister or parents to know.

Do any of you speak multiple languages? If so, how have they helped you out? Did you learn by using visuals as well?


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Memento is a movie that came out in 2000 starring Guy Pearce. Guy plays a character name Leonard that is trying to avenge the murder of his wife. The movie can be a bit confusing to follow at times because it consists of two different story lines that eventually meet and complete the plot for you. It starts with scenes that are in black and white and in chronological order and then continue with color scenes that are in reverse chronological order. You find out that Leonard suffers from anterograde amnesia due to being beaten in the head by his wife's attackers. He is unable to form new memories so he creates a series of ways to remember what's going on when we wakes up, one of them being tattoos on himself. After reading the psychology book I conclude that his ability to form explicit memories has been affected while his implicit memories are still intact. I came to this conclusion based on the fact that he is still able to function normally and hasn't lost any motor skills. If you compare the character Leonard to the case of Clive Wearing it's safe to say that it's not exactly an accurate portrayal of anterograde amnesia. Leonard believes everything that is tattooed on him and is able to figure out what he's doing and why. Clive did not believe what was written in his journal even though it was his own handwriting.
Here is a picture of the tattoo reminders he leaves himself.

When I was four years old I was playing in the backyard with my neighborhood friends. It was a normal warm, summer night. We had just had some family and friends over to grill out and when they started to leave, I was one the jungle gym in the backyard with whoever was left there. We were having a great time when all the sudden, I started climbing the ladder and fell into the sandpit below. I felt a rush of pain which I had never experienced before. I went inside and as soon as I opened the door, I screamed like no other for my mother. The pain was so intense I cried like I never cried before. I was in so much pain that I could not even form words. We drove to the clinic but they were closed for the night. It would make sense to go to the emergency room, but my parents never took me there. This is where things didn't make sense once I got older. I had formed a memory of intense pain and discomfort that my mother said was never there. She said I cried for about ten minutes and then stopped. She didn't think anything was broken because I stopped crying and acted just fine. When we went to the clinic the next day, I got x-rays taken and my whole left leg was broken. It was a spiral fracture that went from my hip to my ankle. As I grew up, I would tell this story and it only made sense with the injury, that it was super painful. That however, was a memory made up in my head. Memories can be made up especially when you are younger and you don't remember a lot of stuff anyways. My mother tells this story as though I was some kind of super hero as a child, which I still find difficult to understand. Still, memories can be molded, modified, and created out of nothing with the right circumstances.

Alzheimer's effects over 35 million people worldwide. The disease currently has no known cure and people that have it can lose all of their mental faculties over time. In a Special report for Reuters Julie Steenhuysen discusses the difficulty in detecting Alzheimers in people who do not show symptoms of memory problems and cognitive abilities. Today there is only one form of Alzheimer's that can be detected by diagnostic testing, it is called dominantly inherited Alzheimer's disease which is detected by discovering a mutation in one of three genes: amyloid precursor protein, presenilin 1, or presenilin 2. As is though this form of Alzheimer's effects only 1% of all Alzheimer's patients. For all other forms Alzheimer's is almost impossible to detect before symptoms arise. Scientists are currently looking for signs of Alzheimer's in peoples cerebrospinal fluid by analyzing known Alzheimer's related proteins such as beta amyloid, which forms sticky plaques in the brain and tau which is a marker of cell damage. These proteins however are only associated with Alzheimer's and are not a significant enough alone to detect the disease. Until scientists can discover what actually causes the disease it will be impossible to create a cure. This also means that prevention is virtually impossible for now because the cause is unknown. The best thing people can do in my mind is live a healthy lifestyle and if you have a family history of Alzheimer's be prepared for possible outcomes. Also watch out for signs such as short term and long term memory loss, speech impairment, and other signs of memory and cognitive problems. Sadly the disease is only growing due in large part that people are living longer lives, but there is hope since 1997 when aracept was first produced new drugs have become available that help slow the progress of Alzheimer's but results differ in all people. These drugs and there ability to help some Alzheimer's patients present evidence that scientists are beginning to focus in on the real causes of a terrible disease.

We all possess painful memories that we wish we could forget--the death of a relative or a pet, a car accident that left a friend paralyzed, a parents' divorce. In the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the main characters, Joel and Clementine, experience painful memories too, the memories of their past relationship. Hurt and heartbroken, the characters each decide to have a procedure performed known as "targeted memory erasure," hoping to rid their minds of the memories they have of one another.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.jpg

While "target memory erasure" is a fictional procedure, methods for dampening the effects of painful memories do exist. One such method is the use of the drug propranolol after a traumatic event. Propranolol targets adrenaline and blocks it from affecting beta-adrenegic receptors, preventing memories from becoming solidified. While the drug is effective when it comes to dampening the effects of painful memories, it does not erase them altogether.

Even if the technology to erase memories was available, would it be ethical? Some argue that our memories are an important component of what makes us human. That being the case, would you undergo a procedure to have your painful memories erased? Comment below.

Nobody is really quite sure what exactly causes alzheimer's, but it can be from the build up of protein in the brain. The build up could be from either plaque or tangles that are inside or in the spaces of the nerve cells. One theory from scientists think that the plaque and tangles block nerve cells' ability to communicate with each other, making it difficult for the cells to survive. There is no actual cure for alzheimer's disease but there are medicines that can help and lots and lots of therapy. There are a few ways to prevent having alzheimer's disease, such as; staying active,taking vitamins,control your cholesterol and eating healthy. But these are not 100% full preventions, you can still get it. I can relate to alzheimer's pretty well since 3 out of 4 of my grandparents either have it or did have it. It's so hard showing up to their house and having them not even recognize you or forgetting everything that has happened. But you just have to learn to get use to it and help them remember things, as hard as that is.


I put this image on here from the movie "The Notebook" because in the movie, the woman has alzheimer's disease so her husband reads her a book of their life hoping that one day she will remember.

Repetition and Memory

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Today's media covers a wide variety of different life challenges and triumphs, one of the more common movie plots seems to be the idea of memory loss and the process of recalling/recovering ones previous experiences. In the movie Unknown (2011), Dr. Martin Harris is the victim of a terrible car accident, and when he comes out of his four day coma he remembers only, "bits and pieces" of what happened. Dr. Harris is aware of who he is, as well as his wife's name and why he is in Germany as well as other details including his coworkers name and office number, but surprisingly not his wife's phone number. I believe that Dr. Harris can remember his coworker's number because they have been in contact for quite some time, and he has hand dialed his number on numerous occasions. Whereas, his wife's number is likely to be set as a speed dial, and he would not have to know the numbers. This might be seen as a stretch, but after thinking about this, I asked a few friends and they can recall more numbers of old friends because they had to dial them, then they could of their siblings, parents or more recent friends. I know this to be true of myself too. Why can we retain the numbers of childhood friends better than that of those we call most often? Due to the brains ability to retain long term memory for years, or decades, we remember the childhood numbers because most of us did not have cell phones and had to physically press the buttons whereas now all one has to do is type in the name of friend XYZ, hit call and that is it. The actual number is only typed in once upon adding it as a contact, rather than every time you want to talk. The repetition of dialing the numbers years ago put these digits in our long term memory, as for the newer numbers, they are only saved to short term memory and my only be remembered long enough to enter them into ones contact list.

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In an interesting story I found online, Alan Alda, who plays Hawkeye in M*A*S*H, goes to the University of California, Irvine to do research on memory for an upcoming TV show. Here he took a tour of the facility and had a picnic with Elizabeth Loftus, a UCI psychologist studying memory. At this picnic Alda developed a hate for hard-boiled eggs due to a memory of getting sick from them as a kid- which never actually happened. How did this happen? Loftus was able to implant this memory!

Alan Alda
Alan Alda.jpg
Elizabeth Loftus
Elizabeth Loftus.jpg

Read the whole story (very interesting): http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2003/dec/04/science.research1

Having gone through the chapter on memory, I can remember where my memory has failed me... I have a very clear memory of playing outside on a summer day as a child and deciding that it would be fun to climb on to the back of my neighbor's dog and ride him around. This dog was known to take swims in "Icky Pond" on the other side of my house. I remember riding the dog into the pond where I fell off and almost drown.

I did actually almost drown in "Icky Pond" as a child, but my mother swears that there is no way I could have ridden a 35 pound dog like a horse and also swears that the dog was not out at the time. My best guess is that this memory is from a dream or just my imagination's guess at what happened.

Have you ever experienced a false memory like Alan Alda or myself? If so, what happened?

You Said What?

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Learning another language can be the most frustrating thing. Reading, writing and speaking a new language is not an easy task for most. Growing up I learned Somali at home and learned English at school. Being bilingual has helped me learn. I tend to really think when I translate between the two languages. The benefits of being bilingual include being able to use new information in new ways, good listening skills, and connecting with others. In the current years, more and more children are bilingual. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than one in 5 school-aged children (21%) speak a language other than English at home.

I think the biggest advantage in learning a new language is the environment. Being surrounded by other people who also speak the language on a daily basis will help improve your skills. Although it may not always be an available option, traveling and studying aboard can be very helpful.

It is estimated that there are over six thousand languages in the world. Despite the fact that English is the most popular one around the world, English speakers have trouble communicating with local people in many countries. Learning one or more foreign languages is becoming increasingly common in America. However, teaching children more than one language is a controversial issue. Some people think the natural way is to immerse children in only one language at first and gradually let them learn another. From their point of view, learning two languages at the same time when they are little makes children confuse. It turns out that they have incomplete understanding on both of the languages. On the other hand, most people support the idea that bilinguals are more intellectual and better at reasoning. Bilinguals are also acceptable to other cultures with open eyes and think over things more critically.

Personally, I am interesting in language learning. I did not have much trouble with studying English, which is my second language. I started learning English when I was eight and I enjoyed learning English. English is completely different from my native language, Chinese, because it is composed of letters instead of characters. I agree that the more languages one learnt, he/she may have a global view and focus more on what is happening around the world. I don't think I can learn English very well without actually going to an English speaking country. The more time and effort I spend on learning, I am more curious about what is the life like in Australia, America and England. The best way to learn a new language is to have friends who are native speakers, commutate with them and immerge to the language environment. I took a French class earlier last year. In theory, I should find learning French is a lot easier since I have known English and they have some similar sentence structure. However, I think French is much more difficult. I believe learning languages is easier for children. Adults need much more effort to be fluent in another language.

Alzheimer's: a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.

Alzheimer's disease accounts for anywhere from 50% to 80% of dementia cases so it is not uncommon to have had an encounter, either with a relative or family friend, with Alzheimer's and seen first hand the effects of the disease and the 7 stages of the disease. As a patient moves through the 7 stages they go from not being able to remember new information to losing the ability to respond to their environment.
While researchers are not sure on what causes Alzheimer's, they have found a correlation between Alzheimer's and the presence of plaques and tangles in the brain. Though most people develop some plaques and tangles as they age, those with Alzheimer's tend to develop more and in a predictable pattern starting from areas important to memory and then spreading to other areas of the brain.

Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer's so the idea of prevention is a big one with many different ideas ranging from preventive drug treatments to something as simple as stay healthy through diet and exercise. With no conclusive evidence of a certain cure or prevention method many ideas abound on how to deal with the disease. The leading idea, however, is that a healthy lifestyle can help prevent the onset of Alzheimer's which marks yet another reason why it is important to stay healthy with diet and exercise.

You can train a fish?

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As discussed in class, B.F. Skinner while working at the University of Minnesota discovered a concept called shaping. Shaping is a form of operant conditioning in which one reinforces behaviors that aren't target behavior but that are progressively closer versions of it. This is a common practice for animal training in dogs, horses, and even birds. These animals learn even more complex tricks through the process of chaining, in which the trainer links a number of interrelated behaviors to form a longer series. Each behavior becomes a cue for the next behavior in the chain.
Now, one would consider these methods and think them very possible for training dogs, horses, and other animals. But a fish? Yes, it is possible to train a fish, as demonstrated in this video...


As for the first trick, of training a goldfish to swim up a "chimney," one would start this shaping process by rewarding the fish for going anywhere near the chimney, then only rewarding when it goes near the bottom, and then once again only if it starts going inside until finally you have your fish trained to go through the chimney for its prize. This makes one wonder at the possibilities. While man has trained dogs to do anything from leading the blind to sniffing out specific odors like bombs and corpses, there are many more possibilities that animals could be trained to help mankind further.


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This page is an archive of entries in the Writing #2 category from March 2012.

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