Hating exceptions

Why do we search for patterns in everything, when we keep discovering exceptions?

Because we want to know what’s going to happen next.

A definition of pattern from a human’s point of view:

Something happens.

I think like this:

After some time, the same thing happens.

It is good to know this.

A definition for exception:

Something happens.

I think like this:

After some time, the same thing happens.

After some time, I see that something else happens.

Kaizen requires that we tolerate exceptions and allow pattern-interruptions to enter our awareness.

Isn’t it crazy how people insist on getting Rules that are absolute in character?

When people learn a foreign language, typically they would manifest a desire for Rules that are applicable in 100% of the cases. Everybody hates fucking Exceptions, right?

I’ve just used the F word, were you offended by it?

It’s an adjective, it’s not necessarily a bad word.

Here, it’s a statement-of-the-obvious word, used when people feel like “Ah, damn! Not another exception”.

Exceptions. You know you don’t want to be told about hundreds of exceptions when you learn a language. The teacher starts by explaining the rules:

Okay, so in general, if you like to count many things:

  1. if we have one then it’s just NOUN,
  2. but if you have more than one, then you put an ’s’ to the end: NOUNs.

Okay, that’s a good Rule, so just put an “s” to the end if we have more than one.

So we have child… children? Didn’t you say “s”?

It’s an Exception.

Okay but they’re not many, right?

Man… men?!

What’s the, oh, different spelling. Pronunciation, men-maen-men? Which one is the “many”?

WOMEN?!? Are we still talking about a general Rule?

That’s the question everybody asks: How many Exceptions?

Water… waters?

No, “waters” is not very common, it does exist but it has a slightly different meaning; you could say the “rushing waters of a river” and you think about the water flowing like a stream, in some ways separated in parts.

In the sea, are there waters? No, it doesn’t work well for the sea.

“Ocean waters”? Nah, it’s strange, you think “waves”, we have other names for these parts, but it’s not “waters”.

What do we call huge waves? The Roaring Forties, a band of ocean off the South American coast (Argentina-wise), is a place where waves are like five-story buildings.

The Roaring Forties (might drift up-down to the twenties or sixties)

The Roaring Forties (might drift up-down to the sixties in my confused speech)

The search for a pattern remains; we want to know the Rules and the search for 100% applicable Rules tells you that there is a deep, intrinsic need in many people for stability.

What we don’t realise is that we’re constantly learning a little bit more about the Exceptions.

We used to think the Earth is the centre of the universe and we had laws for that.

The Sun moves around us. I mean, look at it! We had a law for that.

What did we call that system? The Greek [Ptolemaic] system?

How about the Sun? The sun is in the sky and his name is Apollo. That is the rule at that time.

What do we call it now? Sun, a star.

The Sun used to be seen as a planet, etymologically, because it was seen as ‘wandering’ across the Sky (Greek planasthai ‘to wander’) before Copernicus.

The sun doesn’t begin to be the centre of the universe in everybody’s consciousness until a couple of hundred years ago, when we found another Exception to our Rule

“The Systeme of the world: In Four Dialogues. Wherein the Two Grand Systemes of Ptolomy and Copernicus are largely discoursed of; And the Reasons, both Phylosophical and Physical, as well on the one side as the other, impartially and indefinitely propounded.”

Now, we know that gravity [as formulated by Galileo and Newton] has Exceptions.

What do we call these? Black holes, big bang, quantum dynamics. These are new Exceptions.

How do we know that these Exceptions are real? If you just use Newtonian Physics, you get a certain trajectory (a line drawn in the Sky) which shows how a certain small thing [Mercury] is supposed to move; however, this line in the Sky is better predicted by a new kind of Physics: Einstein, general relativity, space-time curvature. We found another Exception.

It’s the same in English: There are many Exceptions to our understanding of how we communicate.

The search is not to create the perfect grammar; the search is to come up with new meanings.

Very few people appreciate the following utterance, usually delivered in the first lecture in a course on Linguistics:

“It is relatively easy to create a sentence that has never been uttered in this exact order, using this exact combination of words”

This may apply even to individual words. You’re trying to communicate a meaning and you come up with a Pattern [water]. Later, you might want to communicate a new, slightly different meaning, so now you have an Exception [waters].

What drives us is  the search for Patterns, for predictions about what’s going to happen next, predictions which match as close to 100% of observed instances as possible.

What happened in the past? Who are we? What do we make of our world?

The Sun is a planet, then a star, so it’s not a god: That’s one god down. We’ve been slowly abandoning many, many gods…

Except in Japan, where the goddess Amaterasu (天照) is the Sky that Shines.

Did you know that teru (照る ‘to shine’) which you find in teriyaki (照り焼き) sauce is also used in combination with Sky to create the meaning Sun, shining a light and, eventually, grilling?

ama is also read as ten, as in the combination tenchi (天地) Sky-Earth, or as in the combination tenki (天気) Sky-Ki, which is blandly rendered as “weather” in English.

terasu (照らす ‘to shine’) includes elements for Fire (火), Sun (日) and Summoning (召).

This is a different Pattern of language because we use Chinese-Characters (kanji 漢字).

Why are there any exceptions at all? Sometimes we need another way so we can add more meaning.

There are no 180 100% applicable rules. Why did I say 180? Slip of the tongue. Patterns.

We say that “I had a slip of the tongue”, not “I had a slide of the tongue”. Who made this Rule?

That’s the beautiful thing in linguistics: “colourless green ideas sleep furiously”.

Remember Chomsky? They chose it because it’s perfectly correct in terms of grammatical Rules, but completely illogical in terms of the meanings.

The meanings don’t match, so they guessed that it hadn’t been uttered before.

How do we know that it hasn’t been uttered before? Well, there are no written records pre-dating 1957. We’re sure about it, right? Unless somebody else was trying to make a point in a conversation about language that you can create a new combination of words (to deliver some new meaning), using these words in a completely novel, never-uttered before, way.

Who else said “colourless green ideas sleep furiously”? Nobody said “sleep furiously” because it’s a contradiction in terms!

You could sleep furiously: It’s if it’s a slip of the tongue.

Originality is where we’re breaking the Patterns and we’re creating Exceptions.

Interestingly, Patterns include the Automatic Subconscious Procedures (ASPs), which I have mentioned in a previous recording. We expect ASPs to be Patterns. Are they Patterns in Reality? Up to a point, yes.

You keep on doing the same thing, walking the same way, living the same way, working the same way, until something breaks the Pattern.

What is the Something that can break the Pattern? Well, an earthquake could break the Pattern, if you live in Japan. Or in New Zealand.

People who have been living in these earthquake-prone places for thousands of years would have a culture that passed down this awareness of the breaks, of the really-frequent breaks in the Patterns around us.

If these breaks [=Exceptions] occur with a certain frequency, then the rules [=Patterns] you need have to do with “what you do in the next minute, in the immediate”. You have to concentrate on the immediate, you have to be able to communicate meaning quickly, you have to improve the way you deal with this frequent Pattern of the earth shaking and moving everything around you (the Planet may have just shifted its axis).

How did we explain earthquakes before we had the scientific field of seismology?

It was about a huge fish known as namazu (鯰 ‘catfish’) whose thrashings caused quakes.

Right now it’s about a tectonic plate, which somehow still feels like a fish because it’s almost alive in its unpredictability, although it doesn’t have consciousness like a fish would.

Unless you subscribe to the Gaia thesis (Earth-as-a-Planet having a mind and a soul) and you conceive the tectonic plate as  just one scale among the many scales covering Gaia.

From time to time, certain plates move. What happens then? At the seams of these plates, you’ve got a lot of interruption of Patterns, which might include our own little goings and comings on these plates.

Occasionally, this little movement of plates could cause a tsunami (津波 Harbor-Wave).

“Little” on whose scale? On the scale of the really big fish? On the scale of a big plate floating on lava?

We discovered new Patterns, new Exceptions to what we think are the Rules at a given moment. That’s how we improve our thinking, our knowledge about how to deal with the infinite number of Patterns out there.

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