Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Expressing Oneself in a Foreign Language

Some of you may know that I'm currently attending a special Korean language program in Korea.  I'm studying at Kyunghee University (경희대학교) in Seoul.  It's funny, even as I'm trying to type the name of the university in English, I'm having trouble, because I only see it in my mind's eye as 경희.  Well anyways, I LOVE IT!  One of the best things has been the friends that I've made already.  I'll be honest, I could get the same classwork/teaching in Japan (on Okinawa), they occasionally have teachers come and they put on a great class!  But, the real benefit of coming here to Korea is the chance to interact with it everyday and everywhere, especially as I make friends.  If I were going to class on Okinawa, sure it'd be able to go home to my family every night, but my use of the language would be limited outside of class.  While I'm here I have to use Korean all the time!  I use it to do laundry, turn on/off the heater in my room, order coffee at the coffee shop (though they use a lot of English there), order food at every restaurant, at the grocery (that was tough, I don't deal with food that much in English, so it was much harder in Korean), etc. etc.

Really the best part though, is making Korean friends.  The very first night I was here, I had eaten dinner and was looking for a bar that the waiter had recommended.  I was lost, and as I walked I was looking for someone from which to get directions.  I saw a young(ish) looking man walking my way and we made eye contact and I guess my face said I had a question before my voice did, because he stopped, pulled out his earphones and greeted me in English.  I generally make it a habit to not try to talk to people wearing earphones so after telling him I had a question I appologised for interrupting him.  I told him what I was looking for, and in true Korean style, he said that he would go with me looking for it.  Well, quite easily, we found the bar and he came in with me, sat down and we talked for hours, even though he had been at work since early that morning.  Turns out, he's a writer for a Korean newspaper the "Segye Daily [News]" ("세계일보").  We chatted for a long time, exchange contact information and went our merry ways, though we've gotten together again since at a beautiful little cafe that has more LPs than one could ever hope to finish, at which he introduced me to a friend from high school (or middle school I don't remember).  Since that first chance meeting I've made many other friends, some of which replied (within minutes) to an ad I posted on Craigslist (odd, I know I've never used Craigslist before).

Which brings me to the point of this whole entry:

I was chatting with my newest language exchange partner (언어교환친구) and we started talking about communication.  Let me tell you, this was really difficult with my limited vocabulary!  Try communicating something like this:

Chart Credit:
In a different language!  Talk about meta!  Talking about communicating whilst communicating and dealing with the worst types of interference.  It's not pictured on this particular diagram, but anyone who's studied communication knows that it's never this simple.  There's so much interference between each step.  The "sender" has interference in translating thoughts into words, or in my case into words in different languages.  Then there's interference in the channel/media, maybe the "receiver" doesn't hear the whole message, maybe the receiver is seeing one visual/non-verbal message but receiving a different message, etc. etc.  Well, I love this kind of thing and the only thing that I don't like about spending time here is the constant reminder/humbling I receive showing me just how much I don't know when it comes to expressing myself in Korean.

Sunset from Seoul Tower

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Just Who is Making Extraordinary Claims?

I just read this great blog entry by +Rob Lundberg and I wanted to put in my thoughts on this interesting challenge.

The idea, as Rob so clearly presents it, comes from the late Carl Sagan and the preface to Peter Boghossian’s book, A Manual for Creating Atheists.  I can't say that I've actually had this challenge levied at me before, but I've seen it in many an online discussion.  Honestly, I don't have nearly as much to say on this matter but I did want to ask a question.  Who is making the truly extraordinary claim?

Take this analogy.  You're watching a magic show and you see the stage magician pull a live rabbit out of an empty hat, you'd think (and you'd be right) that the magician is making an extraordinary claim.  That is, the ability to make something, the rabbit, out of nothing, the air in the hat (which is technically not 'nothing,' but for the sake of this argument let's leave it there).  Now, that is not unlike the claim of theists.  I know, I know, before all the apologists that happen to read this send me nasty grams, let me explain.  Keep the image of the magic show...  Only this time, there is no magician.  There is no hat.  There really is no stage either, but let's stop it there.  And, with no intervention by anyone at any time.  A rabbit appears on the stage.  THAT is the atheist's claim.  Now, without any formal philosophical training or anything, just the regular guy doing regular life.  Which one seems more extraordinary?  Keep in mind, that technically the analogy falls short, it's not a rabbit that is pulled from the hat.  It's the entire universe created ex nihilo (from nothing).

So, I know there are going to be some objections.  Let me approach some now.  Some claim that the universe has always existed.  Let's apply the same analogy.  This time, there is no magician still, and no hat.  Only a rabbit.  That never gets old or when it does get old it suddenly implodes and becomes a baby again, and then continues this cycle of getting older and then popping back into youth and never being born and never dying.  Is that more reasonable than the previous claim?  Is that verifiable?  Okay let's look at another.  There are an infinite number of universes out there.  Now, our stage and the extraordinary claim hasn't gotten any easier or more rational.  If anything we've now multiplied the extraordinary claim by an infinite.  And I don't know what you learned in math, but I'm pretty sure anything times an infinite is an infinite.  So now we have either an infinite number of sequential rabbits popping onto an infinite number of stages one at at time popping into existence living an unknown amount of time and then dying in an unknown way for no reason.  Or, we have no magician and no hat and an infinite number of rabbits all popping into existence at the same time.

So again I ask, Who is really making extraordinary claims and is really required to provide extraordinary evidence?

Seoul Tower near sunset
There's millions (maybe I didn't count them) of these locks with wishes/messages of love by Seoul Tower.