FLD: Ontology, Autism, and Foxes

The F is for fortnightly. "Fortnight" is a fancy and old-fashioned term meaning two weeks. As intriguing as the word appears, its etymology is not particularly exciting: It's simply a shortening of the Middle English for "fourteen nights".

It's been a few days more than a fortnight since our last "D"LD, so we're overdue for a new one. At great personal sacrifice, I've pulled myself away from the extremely exciting World Series (is it over yet?) to write this one.

Near the dying tail end of last fortnight's DLD, I posted this happy little scene:

This is now my favorite animated GIF (well, OK, my favorite G-rated one...) not just because the fuzzy fellows are so darn cute, but because they are acting out a pangram.

Pan- means "all", as in pantheon, panorama, or pandemonium (but not pancake); -gram means words or letters, as in anagram, telegram, or electroencephalogram (but not battering-ram). "Pangram" is a term coined by some wordplay maven for a sentence that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet.

Although it is not the shortest one, nor even the shortest intelligible one, the most famous pangram is the one that tells us how

the quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.
Two other non-nonsensical pangrams are
Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.
which beats it by one letter, and
The five boxing wizards jump quickly.
which beats it by two. Still shorter pangrams tend to feature questionable spellings and abbreviations, highly improbable content, or both. You can experience several of them in all their abbreviated nonsensical glory on Wikipedia's list of pangrams page. Of the "perfect" pangrams (ie, ones using each letter only once), my favorite is
New job: fix Mr. Gluck's hazy TV, PDQ!

The Fantastic Herr Fuchs

"Fox" is a fairly common last name in English, as evidenced by mikev's girlfriend Megan or danmerqury's boyfriend Jake. The German word for fox is fuchs, which sounds almost the same except the vowel is like the one in "books" and the k is softened to a sort of "kh" sound. One of the more renowned German doctors of the 16th century was a man by the name of Leonhart Fuchs. Today he is known as one of the three founding fathers of the science of botany.

Many years later, in honor of his botanical prowess, they named a flower after him, and the purply-pink color fuchsia was named for the flower. Presumably in German this is pronounced just like the name with "ee-uh" at the end, but for we English speakers are so confounded by the unfamiliar combination of letters that we instead pronounce it like "few-shuh".


Two other renowed European botanists with flowers named after them are Anders Dahl, a Swede (and student of Linnaeus), and Johann Gottfried Zinn. But Joel Poinsett was neither a botanist nor a European. He was an American politician, diplomat, and adventurer who served as an envoy to several Latin American states during the period of their independence struggles and later as Secretary of War under President Van Buren. It was during a stint as foreign minister in Mexico that Poinsett discovered the bright Christmas-colored flower that was named for him after he brought it back to the United States.


If a Fly Ball Falls in the Forest...

and no one is there to see it, is it still foul?

Students of philosophy may delight in this NPR article by the U.C. Berkeley cognitive scientist with the mysterious euro-looking and gender-misleading name of Alva Noë. Superficially, it's another discussion of instant replay in baseball, but really it's an exploration of how we perceive the nature of reality, and what differing attitudes toward baseball tell us about those perceptions.

Judging from discussions I've seen here, I'd have to say that an overwhelming majority of AN's members subscribe to the philosophy Mr Noë labels "external realism".

According to External Realism, there are umpiring-independent facts of the game — balls are really fair or foul, runners are either safe or out — and the questions we face are merely epistemological, how best to determine the facts, how to find out.

Notwithstanding my celebrated tendency to be contrarian, I have to agree with the majority here. A ball hit into the air really does have a true nature that is either fair or foul, independent of our ability to perceive it. And if the umpire's call differs from that true nature, the umpire got it wrong. How could anyone disagree with that?

But it's an interesting insight to recognize this as an external reality, a truth that exists outside the limiting confines of what baseball itself actually says. We see the same urge in baseball statistics; after all, what are advanced stats but attempts to describe external reality? We scorn old-school stats (and others cling to them for the same reason) because they are mundane: they merely tell us what happened. We want to know more than that. Yes, Mookie Cabrera got another hit today, but what is his true talent? Yes, Beanhead Rodriguez won the game, but is he actually good or just lucky?

ERA and RBIs tell us what happened in the game today, but what happened in the game is merely the physical manifestation of a deeper reality, shadows on the wall of Plato's cave. Baseball fans are chained to the wall, seeing only the shadows. It is up to the sabermetrician as philosopher to break the chains so that fans can see that deeper reality.

What Is Your AQ? Take the Test

For many years I have known that I have some of the personal qualities associated with Asperger syndrome. I don't have any of the symptoms in the extreme, and one of the primary ones I don't have at all (reduced empathy), but all the rest I have in mild or moderate amount. Occasionally I'll acknowledge that I may be a borderline Asperger case. When I told that to my girlfriend a while back, she opined that I'm not borderline at all; she thinks I'm certifiable. She may be right. I've never been analyzed for it, but the classification is defined as a pattern of symptoms, with no particular ones being required for diagnosis.

I'm no psychiatrist, but as far as I can tell Asperger syndrome has a fuzzy definition, which blurs easily into related conditions like high-functioning autism and various other lesser-known disorders. A decade ago, Wired magazine published a story on the increase of autism and related ailments in America generally and Silicon Valley specifically. In true magazine style, they provided an accompanying test so geeky readers could measure their own "autism quotient".

You can take the test here. My good friends on AN may enjoy answering this one for me:

39. People often tell me that I keep going on and on about the same thing.
There is, of course, the obligatory note that it is not a true diagnostic tool, but the accompanying text helpfully informs us that 16.4 is the average score and if you score 32 or more you may be autistic.

When I took the test a few weeks ago I scored 33. When I tried it again just now, I scored 41. Wow. I know I'm an outlier, but it seems like this test is rigged to catch nerds. Does anyone here actually score below the supposed average of 16?

Food Porn (No, Really)

Finally, for geeks and non-geeks more interested in ass burgers than Asperger's, be sure to wait until you go home before looking at this picture because it is most definitely NOT safe for work.

Have a great fortnight, and dump away!

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