I’ve recently decided to seriously learn and study cooking (on my own, not formally). It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself and those around you. You have to eat several times a day so you might as well learn how to do it well. It’s endlessly complicated and sometimes so simple, and often both at the same time. Perfect for an obsessive mind like mine. It’s equal parts art and science and you get fast feedback compared to say gardening which can take months to get decisive feedback. And you get to eat your work. Very satisfying. I’m trying to follow something like a curriculum you’d find at a professional chef’s school and will learn from other more experienced cooks I come in contact with. I’m taking a mathematical approach focusing on precise ratios and combining flavors over remembering recipes, and learning the physics and chemistry of the most common thermal, chemical, and mechanical processes, studying the physiology of the sense organs and gustatory mechanisms, the cultural traditions and background ecology of my favorite food traditions, and of course techniques and fundamental flavor combinations. These are my personal roots of Vietnamese, American Southern/ Southwestern cuisine, and my preference for the Mediterranean. Also I feel obligated to learn Italian, French, and Czech aspects considering my location in central Europe. Since I’m more of a linguistic it’s easiest to begin my journey conceptual with concepts and ideas that are well established like those in the French tradition listed here. I know a lot of my friends are amazing cooks so I’m always happy to learn from others.
I think a lot in terms of analogies. The shape or structure of something can resemble something else and if they work in the similar ways one structure can be used to understand a second. I’ve been exploring food science lately and the analogy of the protein molecule and the verb seemed to stand out to me repeatedly as I learned how these molecules function in cooking. They just kept reminding me of how verbs work in a sentence.
I’m thinking about this analogy in terms of cooking. Sugars and fats don’t do a whole lot compared to what happens with protein. They’re mostly just stored energy (something like semantic content waiting to manipulated by the predicate). Much of the action when you’re cooking something comes from how protein molecules link up to other food molecules. When proteins are heated they unfold exposing more charged atoms to other food particles in the mix, and these newly exposed molecules (amino acids) bond with other food molecules especially sugars, to form flavor and browning in the Maillard reactions.
In sentences verbs link subjects to objects, as you know, it’s the syntactic structure of language that causes verb phrases to hook up to other linguistic particles and function as the keystones of sentence structure and understanding.
Phonemes are like atoms, which bond together into molecules, which are like words (actually morphemes) generally, and verb phrases are like proteins in that they interface with other parts to form the essential structure that becomes the food or language.
You can create syntactically correct sentences with verbs alone just as your body can get the sugars and fats it needs from metabolizing only protein (though the chemical reactions leave you with excess ammonia in the body when this occurs). It gets the job done but your left with something very redundant and boring and in need of spice.
The analogy breaks down pretty fast if you torture it enough. Geometry matters more in chemistry where language is more linear and algebraic. Language unfolds linearly in time while chemical reactions can occur simultaneous across different parts of a string of atoms.
I haven’t been very active on this blog lately and I’m planning on refocusing it to hopefully make it more interesting. I’m going to start focusing on things that I am personally learning or am interested in and then using that to help readers and myself increase our knowledge of various topics. I’m quite into gardening, cooking, psychology, and philosophy so I plan to write about these topics with the intention of helping us learn the explicit topic of a particular post, while in the background still focusing on key areas like learning language, improving ourselves, and becoming happier. But I’d also like it to be useful for people not trying to learn English as a second language and will keep much of the language teaching in the background for much of the time. So the main point of this blog is learn interesting things that make our lives better.
If you’re upset by all of the horror going on in the world recently then watch this. It offers valuable perspective about how we’re living in the most peaceful time in human history despite it seeming the very opposite. Steven Pinker, psycholinguistics professor at MIT, goes into the cold hard facts and a little informed speculation about why life in the past was so violent and deadly and that in fact we are living in extremely peaceful times. He points out the fact that our standards about human life has changed, so even though violent death is far more rare, we’re actually more outraged by it. This is a good thing as it was routine for humans to witness and participate in public executions, vendetta killings, tit for tat violence of warring communities, slavery, and so on. This is not to minimize the horrendous events of late that we should very much be paying attention to and doing whatever we can to change things in order to make the world even more peaceful, its just to give us perspective and let us appreciate the peace and stability we actually enjoy on a daily basis. The problem is the vividness of these negative events causes the emotional parts of the brain to override and shape our memory. If we have many negative high impact memories then what we think about and expect from the world is heavily influencing since thinking and understanding is basically the processing of memories and perceptions. Take the following example:
1. Here is a 5 minute video where Prof. Noam Chomsky explains that language actually isn’t for communication; Communication is just a byproduct of language. Watch to see what he thinks it’s really for.
2. He also says language doesn’t pick out actual objects in the word. What does it do then? Watch and find out:
Here is a fun activity for the language classroom:
- Look at the following picture and describe what you see. What are they wearing and how would you describe their expression?
- What do you think might be going on in the background and what do you think the baby is feeling?
- Create a dialogue or thought bubble for each image.
- Take two or more of the images and create a story based on them:
How do we know which emotions are what? What parts of the face tell us the most?
Which parts of the face moves for each emotion you can think of? Use a the photos to discuss these.
Photos via Scout Cheat Sheet
Many Americans mistakenly view Mexicans as foreign. In fact, the indigenous people of Mexico have called North America home for a whole lot longer than the Europeans who first started populating the Americas at the close of the fifteenth century. As a reminder, here’s 13 words in Nahuatl, the language of the Mexica people of Central Mexico, that English speakers use all the time — many without knowing it.
Passed into English by way of the Spanish word “aguacate,” the word originates from the Nahuatl term “āhuacatl,” meaning both “avocado” and “testicle,” according to Merriam-Webster.