Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Moleskines and other notebook thingees

Are you the kind of person who buys a shiny, expensive notebook journal and faithfully writes profound thoughts in it for a few days, then forgets about it and never uses it again? I have several expensive Moleskine and Paperblanks journals that only have the first couple of pages filled out. It's quite sad, really.

And yet I want to get another one and start again, afresh. I have this need to write things down as I read; or if I make some resolution about a new way to do things, I need to write it down. I believe Thomas David Baker keeps a daily journal - Tom, how do you keep it up? Anyway, I'm not talking about something daily here - I'm talking about occasional jottings.

I thought I could do this on my PDA. But electronic does not cut it for this sort of thing. It has to be pencil on paper (yes, pencil for me, not pen - I need the ability to erase). It can't be on a luminous screen or touchpad. No automatic backups, alas, but real paper - fibrous, ligneous, blottable pulp.

So I am thinking about buying, yet again, an expensive Moleskine thingee. I'm thinking a mini one (2.5×4) for my wallet, and a small but skinny one (the 3.5×5.5 ones that come in a three-pack) for my profound inner thoughts at my desk. To avoid the phenomenon of journals that are barely started then discarded, these journals are going to be mixed purpose: rather than dedicating a volume to a single purpose (such as "Reflections" or "Notes From Lectures" or "Comments on Scriptures"), they will have all of these things smushed together - separated only by dates. So they will be a stream of different things that I need to write down. Perhaps never to be read again - the act of writing it down is what is needed.

Or I could take up one of my existing barely-filled-in journals and continue using those.


On the meaning of "Have a Great Summer"

I saw this on the signboard of Claremont High School today: "HAVE A GREAT SUMMER". If we were to take this seriously, what would it mean? Different people have different ideas of what it means to have a great time. For some, it could be watching lots of TV. For others, it could be visiting museums and studying great books. For others, it might be spending each day high on drugs.

What does it mean for something to be great? I think a good answer is to be found in Aristotle and Aquinas. I will be learning more about this later, but from the very little I have read on "natural law theory", what is good for a thing is anything that develops the thing toward its true nature. The nature of a human being is to be a rational animal. So anything that makes us more fully a rational animal will be good for us.

From our three examples above, (1) the visits to the museum and the reading of good books will develop our rationality. Good thing. (2) Watching TV? Depends on the programs, I guess. Could be good, could be not so good. (3) Getting high on drugs? This hampers the animal quality of human nature, so, not good. On the other hand, getting exercise and eating healthy food benefits the animal quality of human nature, so those would be good.

Have a great summer!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cursocommentarial reading, or how to stay awake while reading heavy stuff

I have recently been feeling frustrated with reading some heavy books and, after a day or two, completely forgetting what I read. It's as if the hard work I put into understanding the text was vaporized.

But now I'm trying something new. The idea is basically to annotate each page of the book with a sentence or two, at the bottom, with a key insight or summary for the page. You could also add clarifications from the web or from other books, or pretty much whatever you like.

In effect, you're keeping a sort of running commentary in the bottom margin of the book. "Running commentary" in Latin is "Commentarius cursor", so I think that an appropriate name for this method would be cursocommentarial reading.

Why do it? It keeps you awake, since you must pay attention to get the key insight from each page. As a bonus, you can come back weeks later and instantly refresh your memory about the book by glancing down at your annotations. Note that this will slow down your reading (which is not necessarily a bad thing), so you will want to save this technique for books that deserve a close reading.

Below is an example of cursocommentarial reading. Note the brief annotations that I put at the bottom of each page.

Two (annotated) pages from Aquinas by Edward Feser

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Recent must-read comments

During my accidental neglect of comments building up in the moderation queue for this blog, there were some great comments left by some people. I had the pleasure of reading through them recently, including:

  • Darius recommends Bohnanza as a great game for 4+ people.
  • David wonders if the mind is a purely physical thing. 
  • Chris Sivori enjoyed the video series The Western Tradition and also recommends Kenneth Clarke's Civilisation.
  • Thomas David Baker quotes Wendy Cope's A Nursery Rhyme, As It Might Have Been Written By TS Eliot
  • Alex Ksikes and w demonstrate that they haven't forgotten their calculus.
  • あじ and Jeff Werner give their views on the definition of postmodernism.
  • And Andrey suggests that a good way to disagree with someone is to say “False”.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Apologies for not responding to blog comments

I'm terribly sorry for not responding to blog comments - it seems that the have been queued up for moderation and I wasn't getting email notifications about them. There are some juicy ones in there, and I am definitely going to reply to them this evening.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Turning adjectives into nouns

I recently came across this title in my reading: "The problem of temporary intrinsics". Temporary intrinsics sounds cool, but we also have no idea what it means. I would like to propose that if you need a new word for something, an option available to you is to take an adjective and turn it into a noun (as "intrinsic" was above). Chances are that no-one will have done it before, so you will have your new noun. And it will have the advantage of sounding esoteric. But as with most esoteric words, it can turn off your readers.

For example, suppose you are doing some sociological work, and you need a special term for something that has to do with relationships. What's a similar adjective? How about "relational"? Now treat that as a noun and you've got your new word: a relational. The relational in the blah blah. Several relationals. Relationals in the Historical Contexts of Social Agent Consciousness.

Relational isn't a noun in the dictionary. It's all yours.

Another example. You are writing a paper on poetry or some sort of imaginative literature, and you need a special term for things that are fantastic or out of this world. You choose the adjective "atypical". Turn it into a noun: Atypicals in Dante's Purgatorio. The atypical shown above is the blah blah. A characteristic example of an atypical is Dante's use of...

Atypical ain't no noun in the dictionary. It's all yours, baby.

Adjectives which have been turned into nouns (which shall henceforth be known as potents) work better for some adjectives than others. For example, if we examine the thesaurus for synonyms for changeable, we see that "fickles", "uncertains", and "varyings" don't make great potents, whereas "transitionals", "commutatives", and "spasmodics" are more promising. They have that technical, hard-to-understand vibe to them.

I suspect that adjectives ending in -ic, -al, -ent (think referent), and a short list of others would make good candidates for potents.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

History in the Movies

This is neat. Paul Halsall has an extensive webpage listing ancient history in the movies, medieval history in the movies, and modern history in the movies. Could be an entertaining way to get a bit more familiarity with the history of the world.