Thursday, June 14, 2012

If 80% Of Our Communication Is Self Talk, Then What Do You Say?

New blog post 
If 80% Of Our Communication Is Self Talk, Then What Do You Say?

It is said (though I have not been able to find empirical corroboration for it) that 80% of our communication is self talk. That means that only 20% of the communication that we engage in is with others.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why Learn Another Language: And why English

Every new school year, which begins in April here, I reconsider my reason for being as an English teacher in an institution where every first year student must take the class. What explanation should I give for this university's insistence on the importance of learning the language? What is in it for my students, and how can I add value to their lives?

As years pass, information falls through my mind that reinforms my decisions about how to organize what I offer.  This year, the most significant bit of information that is influencing my thinking on these issues is Dunbar's Number.

Robin Dunbar is an anthropologist at the University College of London who theorizes that

"this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size ... the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained."

He suggests that this size is somewhere around 150 people.

I am less interested in the specifics of this group size than I am in the evolution of the human species. The evolution of the species Homo sapien was predated by and coexistent with Homo neaderthalensis. The Neanderthals were larger, stronger, and their craniums actually contained more brain space. How did they differ? Group size.

Paleoanthropologists suggest that Neanderthal group size was around 10 to 15 including children. It is thought that Neanderthals interacted with other groups infrequently, and developed slowly. If the Homo sapien group size was larger, then we can suggest that somehow, greater interaction may have led to more rapid development, and greater success as a species.

It appears that there is a positive correlation between connectedness within a group and success. As connectedness grows, or as Terence McKenna would call it, noveltydefined as increase over time in the universe's interconnectedness, or organized complexity, humanity succeeds. Language is essential for the success of the species as well as individuals. 

Foreign Languages, Alien Languages

I am a teacher of English as a Foreign Language. That means that I teach the English language to people who are learning in a place where English is not the primary language of everyday interaction.

Remember that where I live, in Japan, the word foreign is translated as alien when it comes to people. The words foreign language in English are most frequently translated as "gaikokugo" "外国語” or outside country language as a direct translation of the Chinese characters. Remember also that gaikokujin is translated as alien.

This may seem like I am stretching an idea to it's breaking point, but here is my conclusion up front. My students are traumatized in school by English. It is sold to them as a thing so far from their own natures as to be feared or reviled.

The alien language concept is a disservice to humankind. It is a construct of masculine, reductionist science, with it's agenda of distinguishing discrete forms as one method of control.

English, and all other languages are only foreign because they evolved in slightly different ways as humanity spread out across the globe from it's origins somewhere around 100,000 years ago according to Noam Chomsky's theories.

New words are formed or borrowed by all living languages, and languages become extinct as the last native speakers of the language die off.

Written languages came after spoken languages, because writing is one step further along the route of abstraction. People decided that if they could somehow record stories in a more perminant form, it would be helpful, so the someone came up with the idea of a set of symbols that would represent the sound of spoken words, or ideas in the case of pictographic syllabaries.

Language is a Psychokinetic, Telepathic Act

Language is evidence that psychokinesis and telepathy exist and that most humans posses the ability. First the mind conceives of an idea that the thinker wants to transmit. The thinker then uses psychokinesis to move muscles in the body in order to control breath and muscles in order to make sounds that the listener, the receiver, can collect in order to translate them into meaning in their minds.

It not only transmits meaning, but emotion and feeling that causes those who understand to manifest physical reactions, the production of saliva when told about food, tears when told about loss, increased blood flow when told about sexuality, and physical flight when told about danger.

This was also found to work with symbols, so instead of creating sound, marks were made on a physical object that would carry and transmit ideas into the mind of the beholder, soliciting the same range of feelings and physical reactions as speech.

Another way humans communicate with each other is through body language, the ultimate manifestation of this being signing, usually used by people who would find it difficult to translate sounds into meaning. And with this kind of communication, there is often less information transmitted intentionally than with verbal or written communication forms. The movement of the extremities, the angle and distance of the speaker to the listener, and facial expressions often communicate truth more clearly than words or symbols.

So What Would a Truly Alien Language Look Like?

There is a branch of linguistics called xenolinguistics, exolinguistics, or astrolinguistics where scholars knock this question about. Since these branches of linguistics are hypothetical, there is no way to tell for sure, but let's think about methods for communication that exist on earth that we have yet to understand.

Cetaceans use clicks, whistles, pops, groans and moans to communicate with each other possibly as far away as the other side of the planet. Insects use pheromones to communicate ideas like, "I am a baby, feed me," or direction. The bodies of squids change texture and exhibit moving colors to communicate with their own and other species. Up to 90% of ocean creatures are bioluminescent, and probably use that ability to communicate a variety of messages.

Humans on earth developed syllabaries up to 8 thousand years ago that remain undeciphered even now, like Jiahu symbols or or Banpo symbols.

There are indeed truly alien languages around us, unrecognized, and uninterpreted. There is no reason for governments to manipulate human languages to make them artificially difficult.

Induction into the power and mystery of language is what we should aim for, not the creation of artificial difficulties.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Alien Mind, Beginner's Mind

"Men in Black" came out in 1997. I was in Kumamoto, Japan then, and I took my son to see it.

The premise of the movie was that the main characters were immigration and naturalization officers of the intergalactic kind. They monitored the activities of beings who were visiting earth from outside the planet. Those beings though, were difficult for the average terrestrial to identify, because they looked and behaved the same as Earth people.

One scene in the film showed a large board with the faces of Sylvester Stallone and other well known individuals who were aliens living on earth. Other aliens were clerks at the corner store and other common folk.

My son was quite young then, probably in first grade, and after the film was over, I told him that I was an alien. He didn't believe me, so I took out my alien registration card, the one my hosts so generously provided me with, and showed him where it said "alien registration." He stared at me slack-jawed. It was so funny I laughed and told him that I was not really and alien, and that the word can have more meanings than just an extraterrestrial.

In the years immediately following my arrival in Japan in 1986, I was constantly made aware of my alienness. I was present in this country because of it. My alienness was a business, or at least part of one, where the owners used me to encourage people to learn English as a foreign language.

I moved on to a university which also used my foreignness, but this time as a form of credential with the national Education Ministry. Students could care less who their teachers were. I also found later that they had used my alienness as way to make financial savings by paying me less than my colleagues who were, by their standards, not aliens.

My alienness is no longer an issue for me, though it is for those around me, because I know I am excellent at what I do. My profession is not my alienness, though it had been for some time.

There was a time when I struggled to be as terrestrial as those who had legitimate claims to the title. I studied Japanese, learned what passes as "Japanese culture," and fought in the streets and in the courts to have my alienness not matter. That struggle failed.

I am an alien, and as such, the system can treat me as it wishes.

So what was I to do about that? Return to a place where I was not an alien? Fly back to my home world? Very uninteresting and not helpful in the least. I complained to my father once in a phone call that "I didn't fit in here." His reply jerked the view finder to reveal the accurate perspective. "Well, you don't fit in here, either."

I could no more be "like" Japanese people than I could be "like" American people. We can no more be "like" someone who we are not than we can be anyone else. Possessing a common nationality does not make us any more like or unlike someone than do our names.

With that new perspective in mind, what was I to do? It gave me a new place to look more rationally on my circumstances. I could look at where I might want to be and consider it as a possible next destination. As it turned out, I decided that I and my small family were right where we should be.

The bigger question this raises then is, so what do we know? What do we know about where we are, and does that knowledge make us any more than aliens?

I don't think so.

I remember what it is like to be a terrestrial, to know that I was not an alien. I knew all the roads, all the seasons, much about the woods. I knew the guys who hung out in front of the stores downtown and their personal ticks. I knew where to get good cheesecake and a joint if I wanted it.

My alien registration card even has that place's name written on it, as it does other irrelevant information like my place of birth. Those places are no more relevant to my life now than the places my parents inhabited when they were teens.

And even though I have resided in the area that I presently do, am I a local? Hardly. People still ask me if I have eaten sushi or if I eat natto based on my race, my appearance, my skin color, facial features, and blue eyes. I am most happy that they do not try to kill me in reaction to my physical features.

What does a local here know? Any number of people, where to find food, water, where to go to get laid, and how to get from point A to point B. I know those things and infinitely more, but I do not now, nor will I ever know enough.

That's what it's all about though, isn't it, the plots to movies like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." It's about what we don't know. The people who live just meters away from us could just be not like us. Of course they aren't like us, but I mean really not like us.

I used to listen to my parents talk as I lay awake in bed, and imagine that the language they were speaking was not of this Earth. It was easy to do. Easy to make up the story that they weren't really my parents. I have been afraid of aliens for some time. Little knowing that, as it always turns out, we are what we most fear.

We don't know anything, really. We tell ourselves that we do, that we know the sun will come up tomorrow, that the letter carrier will come around 4:30, that milk is good for us, but we know nothing.

And in that nothingness comes our liberation.

When I lived in Kumamoto, I became interested in Buddhism. I read widely, visited a temple some miles away frequently, and even dabbled in the organized religion. That experiment sent me spinning away from Buddhism like a top that strikes an obstacle.

However, as time moves on, my ideas about alienness overlap with the teachings of Buddhism, especially with the teachings of Shynryu Suzuki as presented in the small book, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.  In it, Suzuki Roshi talks about "beginner's mind," or "shoshin" "初心" in Japanese.

The essence of the concept is that, though we practice something or just go about our lives day to day, it is a good thing to live or practice as if this was our first day, or first practice. Without preconceptions, without knowing, without believing.

"If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything."

My alien mind is the same. I know nothing, because I can know nothing. My mind is open, because I don't have the dualistic expectation that there is someplace that I do know but I am just in a place that I do not know at this moment. How could that be true?

I also think that the terrestrial mind is the wellspring of territorial conflict. "This is mine. I am a native of this place. I have always been here, and so have my ancestors, which makes all others aliens. This gives me legitimate claim to this place."

Another version of this conflict happens in Japan when the Japanese wish to claim something as their own by right of origin, but also want people to desire it. For example, sushi. Japan sends their sushi police out around the world to try and maintain the purity of sushi.  Sorry, it now belongs to the world and is no longer under Japanese purvey.

My conclusion is that, though I have struggled to be terrestrial, to try and lay claim to my right to belongingness by squirreling away knowledge as a kind of currency with which to buy my way in, I have failed in an endeavor that was mistaken from the start. I belong here as much as I do anywhere simply by my presence. So do you.

Live long and prosper.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Universal Gaijin

Gaijin, a Japanese word, means outside person if the kanji (外人)are translated literally. This term only applies to people, not corporations as much as they would like to be people in that kind of Pinocchio "I'm a real boy" kind of way.

It also does not refer to life forms that come from beyond the borders of our atmosphere. The term only applies to homo sapiens who reside within the recognized borders of the nation called Japan who were not branded with the Japanese label at birth, or who have not appealed to government bureaucracies in order to be so branded later in life.

Gaijin is actually a shortened form of the word Gaikokujin.(外国人) This word refers to country or nation with the added koku character in the middle, and would be outside country person. However, when translated by the Justice Ministry of the Japanese government, one word is used, Alien.

I am an officially registered alien by the Japanese government. I carry a registration card which says that I am required to carry it "in person at all times." I am not required to wear special clothing or mark myself in any way, but my physical appearance is enough to suggest my alienness.

My appearance is enough to cause clerks in shops to run away, to sufficiently confer a feeling of entitlement on the parts of some people to ask me for language lessons or to inquire if I know of others of my kind who may be willing to teach a language.

It sis also sufficient to attract the interests of police officers who may ask if the bicycle I am riding is my own, or if they could examining documents that would confirm the obvious reality that I am an alien.

The creation of nation states is a method to protect the wealth and power of a few. This necessitates the creation of borders that slow the flow of goods inward. This allows the powerful to impose taxes on the inbound people and goods. The powerful claim that borders are essential for the protection of the residents' safety, and higher prices as a result of imposed taxes is claimed to be in the interest of public safety.

Borders are an excuse to erect physical or imaginary barriers, to impose taxes, and raise armies. They are in fact meaningless conveniences for a hegemony.

Those borders are meaningless in nature. They cannot restrict the flow of energy, plants, animals, human waste, weather, or time. In fact, they cannot even restrict the flow of the people and goods that they are intended to control.

I am an alien, and I recommend it as a lifestyle. The life of a terrestrial is a schizophrenic existence, where distinctions of inside or outside (内/外)us or them (内/他人)past/present/future, knowledge/ignorance, or legal/illegal haunt the residents.

The alien has no reason to consider these dualities. They have no bearing on our lives.

In Japan alienation is also closely associated with racism, in fact, most Japanese people do not make a distinction, assuming that a person of a race other than Asian is an alien. This assumption is often faulty, as people of any race can obtain Japanese citizenship, and not all Asians obtain Japanese citizenship.

This podcast is dedicated to the examination for Alienness and Aliens, especially those living in Japan.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Korean Missile Launch = Multifaceted Fail for all but North Korea

This morning at about 7:38 Korea time, North Korea launched a missile that they claim carried a satellite intended for orbit around the earth. Shortly after launch, the missile is said to have broken into pieces.

The Defense Minister was on the tube at about 8:10 saying that he didn't know, but it looked like the missile crashed about 1 minute after launch. However reporters near the missile defense sites around Japan reported a flurry of activity at around 7:40, after which everyone went away. Government lie fail.

The media, after a week of fear mongering, labeled the launch a failure. They aren't commenting on the fact that North Korea stood up to the UN Security Council and did exactly as it pleased, even after the action was condemned. Media myopia fail.

‎"Still, the rocket failure is a major embarrassment for Pyongyang, which has invited dozens of international journalists to observe the rocket launch and other celebrations."Everybody who thinks that inviting journalists to the site had anything to do with "staking its pride" on the ostensible outcome of the lauch, raise your hands. I don't see any hands. Media perspective fail.

Japanese reporters were heard to opine, "Well if the Americans knew anything, surely they would tell Japan about it." Naivete fail.

The UN agrees on issues so infrequently, and here they issued a joint statement and an opinion by the general secretary about the launch being a violation of relevant Security Council resolutions, but the missile went up anyway. UN Security Council ineffectual fail.

The average North Korean will hear about the wonderful step forward toward space exploration and world domination, including clips of the first seconds of the launch and their fearless leader, and all will cheer. North Korea government win.

Thursday, March 08, 2012


What is an alien? Something biological, existing in a place where it previously did not. This previousness also defines alienness, as it must be a thing that has appeared in a given place within a humanly memorable time span. Plant life alien to a given area, like kudzu in Georgia, must have arrived within a time frame where humans can identify a period when it did not exist there in order to make it invasive, or in Japanese, 外来種, gai rai shu, or a variety come from outside as a direct translation (mine).

An evolutionary timeline would not be instructive in identifying alienness, because then all life would be alien. (or no life would be alien) There was a time before which there was no life, according to mainstream biological thought.

This leads to the point that alienness is a human construct. Alienness is not recognized by nature. New species, possessing never-before-experienced DNA may enter an environment in many ways, evolution, mutation, various modes of locomotion. It may exert a variety of effects, again evolution, mutation, extinction, or even a combination of changes. But nature does not discriminate among causes, only among the results.

"This is alien, but this is not," is also a distinction that humans make. Animals, like dogs, may be curious about a never-before-experienced odor or life form, but once their curiosity is satisfied, it is back to life as usual.

Modern humans obsess over alienness. Sometimes, if it can be monetized, alienness can be marketed as a new and prestige product. Japan is a fine example of this. The Japanese ability, on a large scale, to import previously unexperienced foods began after WWII, during their spectacular economic rise. Japan began importing fruits from other countries. Once inaccessible, tropical delicacies, such as bananas, became commonplace. Bananas are not grown domestically, and once very expensive, are now the cheapest fruit available at most markets.

Kiwi fruit is another example of a fruit that was imported and began as an expensive treat, but now, in addition to being imported, kiwis are easily grown domestically. Similar to the distinction people make between crops and weeds, gai rai shu is never used for a crop, like kiwi, only for weeds.

When it comes to people, the distinction of being an alien becomes a tricky one. In the feature film "Men in Black," we were introduced to an Earth where people are not as they seem. Clerks in shops and even Hollywood stars and politicians are exposed to be aliens, not from other countries, but of the extraterrestrial variety.

We never gave a thought to their alienness. They were entertainment brands and local fixtures. No one knew, and then after they were exposed to us in this fictional portrayal, it brought a laugh, not condemnation or fear.

People are alienized by other people, based on characteristics that are multitude, and for reasons that are equally varied, but making people into aliens endangers more than their images. Humans who are alienized based on an association with the geographical location of their birth, most often referred to as nationality, and are characterized differently than plants. If plants serve a purpose, as in the case of the kiwi fruit from above, they are not referred to as invasive species, or alien. People are alien until they petition and receive acceptance from a government. This is often referred to as naturalization. A bizarre term in itself, as it is a biological term that means,

a process by which a non-native organism spreads into the wild and its reproduction is sufficient to maintain its population.  

People are labeled alien regardless of their contributions to society where they exist. This nationality is an arbitrary label, controlled by nation states for the purpose of controlling people.

People are necessarily harmed by this distinction, as was shown by Howard Saul Becker in his book, Outsiders, published in 1963. Becker's labeling theory holds that,

 Deviance is not inherent to an act, but instead focuses on the tendency of majorities to negatively label minorities or those seen as deviant from standard cultural norms.  
and that

A stigma is defined as a powerfully negative label that changes a person's self-concept and social identity. 
Alien is a powerfully negative label, and changes a person's self-concept and social identity.