January 2009

Do we have a word in English to the effect “totally having the very same things in mind while writing the article about understanding science, but there was no way I could express my points as eloquently. I mean, dude!” Well, we should. So I humbly nominate the word ‘to yong’ for that purpose, after ScienceBlogs blogger Ed Yong with his site Not Exactly Rocket Science, as I felt very much yonged (smoothest transition from coinage to the loss of scare quotes ever) after reading his recent article, what’s science’s rightful place? That’s a question put forward by the same ScienceBlogs in the form of The Rightful Place Project, in response to Obama’s inaugural address and his promise to ‘restore science to its rightful place’. A scientifically inclined politician, it turns out, is not contradiction in terms.. Who knew?

But where is this rightful place? Yong’s answer to that in his article is very much in the spirit of what I wrote, and then some. He distinguishes principles of science from the details of science and he argues that the former is deeply essential to our progress while the latter is important but incidental. To cope with the picture of reality put forward by science, we have to be affiliated by its methods. We have to learn the value of evidence and reason, we have to learn to think in statistical terms, we have to internalize the ability to change our minds if it’s due. And scientific approach takes these concepts pretty much as given. So acquaintance with these principles, he argues, is much more important than acquaintance with its epiphenomenal and fleeting details. His point is aptly summarised with this: “But underneath all of the detail lie some basic principles that science is built upon and these, I feel, ought to be more mainstream than they perhaps are.” which is precisely my point. Free inquiry, rational deductions from observed data, disrespect to authority, unyielding dedication to facts, wherever they may lead us; a society lacking these notions is bound to lose sight of what it truly means to be human. And, he further argues, as I too argued in my post, it’s not that we are incapable of getting these notions up and running, it’s not that critical thinking is an acquired taste for us, they are second nature to us in the vast majority of the things we do. Their application is what makes us human: to seek causal patterns and evalute them in a way that makes optimum explanatory sense. “The principles are a way of thinking, whether people think about it or not, and they are everywhere.” And their proper application is what’s going to make us a better society. Scientists are simply better equiped in using them than you and I, but our difference is not a qualitative one.

We happen to have a word for critically examining the nature at large: science. But we may as well not have, because that word denotes nothing more than “the long history of learning how to not fool ourselves”, as the physicist Richard Feynman used to say. Science is simply the enhancement and purification of that mental appetite we humans, by our species’ very definition (remember? Sapiens?), all along have sought to fulfill. And not fooling ourselves was always the point of this ball game, wasn’t it?




If trees could philosophise, surely some of them would ask, ‘If a massive star goes supernova and no plant was ever in its future light cone to use the light in photosynthesis, does it emit light?’ Oh the substrate neutrality of idiocy, how could I live without you?

$1000 for a complete genome sequence! Wow, where do I sign up? More to the point, when can I sign up? Today you can get a full genome analysis for about $100.000. A wee bit too expensive for my blood. I wonder when it will be feasible for officious science geeks like myself.. Dawkins thinks it won’t be later than 2050. Hmm, I might just live to see it. It would be cool to be in league with the likes of Steven Pinker. Not to mention the euphoria that you’ll feel from reading the transcription and interpretation of your ultimate material make up, the full recipe of your bodily machinery. Talk about a holy book!

People of this beauty shouldn’t talk about science:

Nor should they play Chopin’s Ballad No. 1!

Heaven forbid, they’ll make these sound…interesting or cool or something..

This is an age old conundrum among musicians and performers. When playing Bach, should you prefer legato or staccato? For those uninitiated in musical terminology, Legato (Italian for “tied together”) is defined, in Wikipedia, as “legato indicates that musical notes are played together. That is, in transitioning from note to note, there should be no intervening silence.” And staccato (Italian for “detached”) as “staccato indicates that notes are separated in a detached and distinctly seperate manner, with silence making up the latter part of the time allocated to each note.” So basically if you bind some of the (denoted) notes together and play them continuously with no silence between each of them, that is legato. And if you play notes as a feeding pigeon would move his head up and down, with sudden and punctuated strokes (punctuated by silence), that is staccato. And their preferential application to Bach is the focal point of our discussion today. 

bach_mass_1_mIn fact this should’ve been a non-question, as Bach himself had an uncompromising tendency to use legato, as shown in left. You see the curly lines below most of the notes? That’s the official sign of legato, encompassing all legato notes (the sign of staccato is a single dot above the note that’s deemed to be played staccato). I chose this handwritten partition at random, but it’s a fair representative of Bach’s own preference. As you can see it’s rife with legato signs. Indeed you actually have to look hard to find a note that is not denoted explicitly as legato (something that’s by no means compulsory, you don’t have to designate one of the two to each and every note), let alone find one that is staccato. Not only that, even his handwriting is indicative of a bias towards legato, it’s as if his notes are floating in the wind, like a legato floats unbrokenly from one end to another. Obviously this guy wanted to keep his notes tied.

But it’s important to keep in mind that Bach did not compose most of his keyboard pieces for piano. Pianoforte was a brand new novelty in his time (it was invented in 1711 by a guy named Cristofori when Bach was 26. He (Bach) lived another 39 years). He wrote mainly for harpsichord (and for organ of course, he was an organist above all). And intonation is a whole different ball game in piano than in harpsichord. So it’s not entirely clear how Bach would react to our modern musical context and its enhancements. That being said, everthing we know of Bach tells us that he was a man of connectedness. We have no reason to think that he wanted anything less than full-blown legato for his pieces, as shown in the image.

But then along comes a smart ass and ruins the picnic. I said this should’ve been a non-question and so it would’ve been, were it not for one ingenious and, sadly, late Canadian and his insidious and audacious usage of staccato. I hate Glenn Gould. Or rather, I wish I was able to hate him. Or I wish I could just ignore him. But I’m not and I can’t. I love him. Without him Bach, in and of himself, would make absolutely perfect sense and with him and the contrast he provides by his unorthodox style, Bach obtains new and unchartered meanings. His second recording of The Goldberg Variations is yet to be superseded in classical recording. He’s like general relativity to our otherwise perfect Standard Model: You know it’s fundamentally wrong, but it makes perfect explanatory sense if you invoke it.

Here’s a typical example of the usage of legato, which is, as I said, the norm whilst playing Bach. You shouldn’t even dream of playing this piece anything even remotely resembling staccato! The piece is one of my favorite preludes of the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, No. 8, BWV 853:

Very good. More relevantly, very Bachian. But then I listen to the staccato version (a blasphemy!) of the same prelude from Gould… :

… And I remain mesmerized. Damn you Gould!

Arada sırada yetersizliklerinizi, sanki onlar birer yetersizlik değilmişcesine, insanların ilgi ve alakasını hakeden şeylermeşcesine,  aslında gayette içerik ve bütünsellikten yoksun şeyler olduklarını sanki bilmiyormuşcosuna tüm blogosfer alemine duyurmadıktan, onları da bu şuursuzluğun bir parçası yapmadıktan sonra bir blog işletmenin ne manası var ki sorarım sizlere a dostlar, b yurttaşlar, c romalılar? 24 saate yakın süredir uyumamışken, cem efendinin de gazıyla, sırasıyla bach, beethoven, beethoven ve mozart’ı hunharca katlederken, montajsız görüntüler (senkronizasyondaki sorun beni de aşan bir sorun, youtube dedik yasak dedik, vimeo’yalım dedik sanatsal bütünlüğümüzle oynadı. “you are not artistic, and you have no integrity“):

Ve bu da gerçek bir fevkalbeşer çalışma sekansı nasıl olabilebilir ve hatta olmalıdıra, olsundur ulana, niye olmuyo ulan reva mı banaya bir örnek:

When you say disrespectful things about people’s cherished beliefs, people tend to get edgy. But if you say the very same things in a musical medium, people tend to get anything but edgy. Case in point, meet Tim Minchin. He’s a pianist, he’s a singer, he’s an atheist, he’s a realist (that is, he manages to distinguish what’s real from what’s not. Not something you can say for many singers), he’s as bright as a button and no holds are barred in his songs, which is simply awesome. I’ve ran into his videos recently and I find it very refreshing to see that there is a rational, sensible and science savvy singer out there, one that isn’t apologetic about these but bloody proud of them. Here are my favorite songs of his, check youtube for more:

Not Perfect


If I Didn’t Have You


            Peace Anthem For Palestine


10 Foot Cock & A Few Hundred Virgins


If You Open Your Mind Too Much,

Your Mind Will Fall Out (Take My Wife)


Rock ‘n Roll Nerd


Inflatable You


F Sharp


Some People Have It Worse Than Me


Donnie Darko Song






Mitsubishi Colt


Angry (Feet) (this one’s a poem)

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