Nominative Determinism

Originally the concept of nominative determinism arose as a humorous feedback thread in New Scientist Magazine as readers observed how authors names reflected their research topics.  Polar explorations by Daniel Snowman,  a urology article by Splatt and Weedon.

This was a build from joke books of my youth.  “The Tower of Pisa” by Eileen Over.  “Legal Jurisprudence” by Argue and Phibbs.  “Treating Tennis Injuries” by Savage, Racquet and Ball. There are lot of those:  Funny books and authors  

Erik the Red, who founded the Viking colony on Iceland wanted to keep the island for his own people.  To dissuade other Norsemen from following he gave his colony an unattractive name.  His son, Lief Eriksson, did the opposite in an attempt to encourage colonists to settle in his new discovery, Greenland.

Some people have begun to take nominative determinism more seriously.  Some pointed to the fact that many names originated in the middle ages when people were named for their trade, and families stayed within a trade.  Thatchers roofed houses.  Wrights made wheels.  Smiths beat metal.  Fletchers made arrows.  Is there a genetic disposition to excellence in a field of endeavour?

A family that has genetically poor eyesight will not survive long in the lacemaking trade.  Do genetic traits in agility, intelligence, strength etc contribute to our aptitude for certain careers?

Then there is the environment.  The child of a musician is raised in a world of music practice, has a learned knowledge of what harmonies work well, grows up playing with musical instruments.  Learning to read music comes easier than learning to read language.  Smiths know the techniques for tempering steel, learned over many generations and passed orally from Father to Son.  Fletchers know how to make good glue.  Dyers know the recipes for pigments that stain cloth but do not fade rapidly in sunlight.  Tanners are used to the smell of piss and shit.

So in the modern world, when we are socially mobile, does our heritage still carry cues to our abilities.  Is nominative determinism a real thing?

For me the funniest example of nominative determinism is given in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch 22.  With a surname of Major a vindictive father stepped in when his wife was comatose after childbirth and named his son Major Major Major.  The child is drafted into the US Air Force in WW2 as Private Major Major Major.  It is only the work of a short time and standard military bureaucracy before the Private is promoted, by clerical error, and assigned as Major Major Major Major.

Miniver Cheevy; by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam’s neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the medieval grace
Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.

 

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Chimurenga name.

Bp_ndebelewarrior_1896

Sketch of an Ndebele Warrior by Robert Baden Powell founder of the Scouting Movement.

Chimurenga is a Shona word which translates as “revolutionary struggle”.  The first Chimurenga was a revolt by the Ndebele (Matabele) and Shona peoples of Matabeleland (now Zimbabwe).  The revolt failed after initial successes, and Matabeleland became Rhodesia.

In the 1960’s and ’70’s the revolt of the Ndebele (PF) and Shona (Zanu) against white rule became the Second Chimurenga.  This one succeeded.  Robert Mugabe, leader of Zanu then united the Shona and Ndebele factions into the Zanu-PF party which has ruled independent Zimbabwe ever since.

Leaders in the brutal guerrilla bush war often adopted war names to enhance their ferocity.  Gentle intellectuals went through over a year of tough bush training at the hands of North Korean and Chinese instructors.  They hardened up and so did their names.  They took cues from movies such as James Bond, Cowboy films, from music icons like Bob Marley, from sportsmen like Muhammad Ali, political leaders like Hitler, Stalin and even Indira Gandhi.

“What’s in a name?” asks Juliette from the Shakespeare play.  “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Bart Simpson suggests “Not if you call it a stink blossom or a crap weed”.

Nominative determinism, the theory that our actions or career tend to fit our names, will see a job as a mechanic go to John Wright instead of Fred Taylor.  Do Chimurenga names work?

Who would you fear more?  Someone called John Oboyo or the guy beside him called Commander Comrade Mao?  Would you prefer to be interrogated by Ariston Ford or by Machete Footchopper?

More to follow on this theme.

Happy Birthday Bruce Dawe

dawefox

Aged 88 and still going strong.  Happy birthday Bruce and may you enjoy many more.

Homo Suburbiensis : by Donald Bruce Dawe

One constant in a world of variables
– A man alone in the evening in his patch of vegetables,
and all the things he takes down with him there

Where the easement runs along the back fence and the air
smells of tomato-vines, and the hoarse rasping tendrils
of pumpkin flourish clumsy whips and their foliage sprawls

Over the compost-box, poising rampant upon
the palings …
He stands there, lost in a green
confusion, smelling the smoke of somebody’s rubbish

Burning, hearing vaguely the clatter of a disk
in a sink that could be his, hearing a dog, a kid,
a far whisper of traffic, and offering up instead

Not much but as much as any man can offer
– time, pain, love, hate, age, ware, death, laughter, fever.

Bit of a commotion.

Cole

Back in the 1980’s it was very important for musicians to look serious about their craft.  Otherwise they would be lumped in with Wham or Yazz.  The way to look like a serious musician was to have a portrait of yourself or band in black and white, staring into the distance.  Very cool, very artistic.

Lloyd Cole was born on this day in 1961.  He is probably best remembered for that Lost Weekend in a Hotel room in Amsterdam.  That’s how I remember him anyway, from those days in the college disco, throwing shapes in front of girls, mouthing the lyrics, staring into the distance, artistically.

Lost Weekend

 

Serendipity

Serendip

In the year 1754, on this day, Horace Walpole invented the word Serendipity.  He was an art historian who discovered a lost painting.  In a letter to his friend Horace Mann he explained the fortunate discovery by reference to the fable of the 3 princes of Serendip.

Serendip is an old name for Sri Lanka.  The three princes in question had many adventures where they made good fortunes by figuring out things by good chance or through wisdom.  Some of the stories are a bit like Sherlock Homes stories where they use logic to figure out puzzles.

Serendipity is considered to be one of the most difficult words in the English language to translate.  It is a ‘fortunate and unplanned happy coincidence’.

I wish a serendipitous 2018 to anyone patient enough to read my scribbles.  Hope you enjoy them.

Now, since the word was written from one Horace to another we have to end with another Horace.  This time THE Horace, the Roman poet.  A poem on a similar theme.  Live in the now, let the future come and may it be serendipitous.

Ode I. 11: by Horace (Burton Raffel, Trans)

Leucon, no one’s allowed to know his fate,
not you, not me: don’t ask, don’t hunt for answers
in tea leaves or palms. Be patient with whatever comes.
This could be our last winter, it could be many
more, pounding the Tuscan Sea on these rocks:
Do what you must, be wise, cut your vines
and forget about hope. Time goes running, even
as we talk. Take the present, the future’s no one’s affair.

 

 

Can womens clothes drive men mad?

Short answer: Sexy outfits get men interested but there is never an excuse for assault.

Beautiful naked person standing before you in the supermarket, clutching a large knife?

“Sexy fun time” is the wrong response here.

Slut

Misguided outfit choice by Missguided

Extract from article in Guardian newspaper by Dean Burnett:

Original Article

EXTRACT:  So, is it biologically possible for a typical man to be sufficiently aroused by the sight of woman that it overwhelms his restraint? To answer this, you need to look at exactly what’s going on in the brain when we experience arousal.

We’re still far from a thorough understanding, but current evidence suggests that arousal, or perhaps more accurately “desire”, has many cognitive components, beyond the basic physical characteristics. We observe something, our prefrontal cortex – via links to the more fundamental emotional and reward systems – analyses it and determines if it’s sexual in nature, and if so, if it is “sufficiently” sexual (eg we find some people sexy, but not others). If it is, our attention is directed towards it, and emotional and motivation processes are activated via our amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex respectively. It’s incredibly complex in detail, but the neurological systems that regulate arousal and desire do indeed have many potent effects via important regions throughout our brains.

One thing that could be said to support the notion that men are vulnerable to being sexually aroused by appearance, is evidence that suggests male arousal is far more visual in nature than female arousal. It does seem that the old stereotypes about men having less sophisticated sexual desires than women (men like porn, women like erotica etc) has some basis in fact. Some might argue that this is because males have evolved to “spread their seed” with whoever is available and desirable, whereas females, who do all the childrearing, evolved to look for more complex, enduring qualities in a partner, beyond just visual characteristics. Of course, this explanation relies on only one half of our species evolving to be monogamous (pair bonding, in scientific parlance). That seems … unlikely. Maybe the whole notion is just reverse engineered from modern stereotypes? Who can say.

There are more plausible explanations for this gender-asymmetry. Perhaps it’s due to the different sex-hormone makeup? Or maybe it’s a result of the fact that our sexual desires and the systems that support them develop along with the rest of our brain, so are influenced by the world around us. And in the world around us, the sexualised female form features so often in almost every medium that it’s essentially a type of punctuation. You could argue that the reason men have a stronger visual element to their sexual arousal is because we live in a world where sexy images for men to see are everywhere, whereas women have tended to need to be more creative, and the brain develops accordingly. Perhaps this is changing too, what with women now being regularly presented with marvels of sexy buff Chris’s (Hemsworth) on a regular basis.

And yes, I’ve decided that the collective noun for sexy Chris’s is a “marvel”, for obvious reasons.

So yes, it’s arguably easier for men to be aroused by a sexy appearance. But does that mean they can be provoked beyond self-control?

Not exactly, no. Sexual arousal may be a powerful thing, but the brain also has many processes that counter it. The orbitofrontal cortex, for example, is implicated in regulating/suppressing sexual behaviour. One of the more sophisticated neurological regions, it’s the part that says “this isn’t a good idea, don’t do it” when you’re aroused or excited by an opportunity, particularly a sexual one, which won’t have great long-term consequences.

The amygdala, mentioned earlier, also seems to play a role in determining appropriateness of arousal in context. Beautiful naked person standing before you in your bedroom? Sure, be aroused. Beautiful naked person standing before you in the supermarket, clutching a large knife? “Sexy fun time” is the wrong response here. And it’s the amygdala that’s believed to work this out.

However, it’s possible for these restraining systems to be compromised. Alcohol can hinder the higher, complex areas like the orbitofrontal cortex while leaving the more primitive urges governing arousal intact. And the amygdala does what it can, but can only work with the information available. If the situation is ambiguous, or uncertain, it may make the wrong call.

Does this mean that men who sexually harass/assault women for what they’re wearing are innocent after all?

No, of course not. A woman may choose to wear an alluring outfit, but it’s still the man’s choice to grope her without permission or invitation. If he’s too drunk to hold back, it was his choice to get that drunk. “I couldn’t help myself” is never an acceptable excuse for things like drink driving, and the same is true here.