Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why Is Philosophy

When someone asks what philosophy is, ask them why until they get it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

So what if the cake is a lie?

The scientastic storytellers over at WNYC Radiolab released a new short today, "The Bus Stop". In ten minutes they weave a beautifully bittersweet tale about a simple way of coping with the 'necessary evils' involved in helping dementia and Alzheimer's sufferers.

Elderly patients often wander away into dangerous scenarios due to temporary confusion or disorientation. In serious cases, it becomes enough of a problem that patients have to be locked in for their own safety, a decision hard on patients and caretakers alike. The Benrath Senior Center in Düsseldorf, Germany came up with "an idea so simple you almost think it wouldn't work."

Here's the full Radiolab short:


The bus stop idea is a beautiful method of mitigating a widespread fear of assisted living. I love this story and I especially like the idea Radiolab is conveying here about natural, personal, ways of assisting the confused or delirious.

In that spirit of support, however, I would object to Lulu and Jad’s stated assumption that the bus stop is a "lie". No one deliberately deceives the patients into waiting at the bench or tells them that something is going to happen if they go there. We think of it as a lie because, to us, the important part is our expectations about the bus: when it comes and where it goes. It’s a lie to have a bench and a sign marking a bus stop if you deceive me into not getting home from work on time.

For the seniors, the important part is only that a bus will (probably) come. They have a sense of urgency or deep anxiety that needs to be resolved, and the bus stop is a symbolic destination signaling that they’ve begun to solve the problem by taking action. They see a familiar roadside bench that symbolizes “going places” without actually going anyplace. While you’re waiting for the bus, that’s as fast and as far as you can go; you have to wait because you can’t control the bus and nothing you do matters until it arrives, so you might as well relax. That's why there's a bench.

The bench and the sign are first and foremost physical truths and lies second, insofar as our superficial expectation. This bench relaxes anxious minds as much as bodies. A burden is lifted because there’s no sense worrying until the bus comes, so a forgetful mind easily ambles along to enjoy the beautiful outdoors for a while...

Putting it another way, the bus stop is at least a “truth” in the patient’s dream-world as Lulu and the nurse Regine describe. I hope this kind of remedial mental treatment catches on and more people learn about the success of simple, non-invasive solutions like the bus stop.

Lab notes: "The Bus Stop" and "Do I Know You?" podcast shorts follow the most recent Radiolab episode, "Lucy".

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What do you mean he's not singing? Just look!

Эдуард Анатольевич Хиль (Edward Anatolevich Hill) is gaining fame again for a once-forgotten performance in Soviet Russia over thirty years ago in 1976. Back then it was considered genuine pop TV entertainment, but in today's culture it has resurfaced as the "trololo" internet meme because of its strangeness more than its catchy tune. Why it is strange to modern viewers isn't hard to see once you start watching:




I realize many of you don't speak Russian, so I've transcribed the complete lyrics here so you can follow along:

Ahhhhh ya ya yaaaah, ya ya yaaah, yaaah, ya yah.
Ohohohoooo! Oh ya yaaah, ya ya yaaah, yaaah, ya yah.
Ye-ye-ye-ye-yeh ye-ye-yeh ye-ye-yeh, oh hohohoh.
*
Ye-ye-ye-ye-yeh ye-ye-yeh ye-ye-yeh, oh hohohooooooooooo!
-aaaaoooooh, aaaooo hooo haha


Nah-nah-nah-nah-nuh-nuh, nah nuh-nuh, nah nuh-nuh, nah nuh-nuh, nuh-nah.
Nah-nah-nah-nun, nun-ah-nah, nun-ah-nah, nah-nah-nah-nah-nah!
Nah-nah-nah-nah-naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Dah dah daaaaaaaaah...
Da-da-daaah, daaah, daa-daah.

Lololololoooooooo! La la-laaaaaah, la la laah, lol, haha.
Oh-ho-ho-ho-ho, ho-ho-ho, ho-ho-ho, oh-ho-ho-ho-ho!
Oh-ho-ho-ho, ho-ho-ho, ho-ho-ho, lo-lo-loooo!

AAIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-eee-eee-EEEE!
*
Luh luh lah, lah, lah-lah.
Oh-ho-ho-ho-hoooooo!-BOPahdududuh-dah-dadudaaah!
Da-da-daaah, daaah, daa-daah.

Lololololo, lololo, lololol, la la la la yaah!
Trolololo la, la-la-la, la-la-la-
Oh hahahaho! Hahaheheho! Hohohoheho! Hahahaheho!
Lolololololololo, lololololololol, lololololololol, lololo LOL!
*

Ahhhhh! La-la-laaah! La la-laaah, laaah, la-la.
Oh-ho-ho-ho-hoooooo! La, la-laaaah, lalala, lol, haha.
Lolololo-lololo-lololo, oh-ho-ho-ho-ho!
Lolololo-lololo-lololo, oh-ho-ho-ho hooooooooooooooooooooo!
(Wave goodbye)
Note: Transcribing these lyrics took longer than you might think.
Note: You can download Trololo Sing Along with the lyrics from
Vimeo for free (see About This Video).
-------

Getting serious now, why does a song like this, with no discernible words (vokaliz style) still work as a music video? Body language! Eduard isn't using words, but he's a recognizable performer singing a story about a feeling, Ostrovskii's "I Am So Happy to Finally Be Back Home"(Cyrillic: Я очень рад, ведь я, наконец, возвращаюсь домой), using his facial expression, posture, and tonality.

It's a strange sight in contrast to modern Western norms, but considering that human communication is more non-verbal than verbal, a singer lip-syncing to non-words is actually saying a lot.

Edit 3/7/10: Looks like since this writing the meme has picked up enough momentum to generate an English Wikipedia page for Eduard Khil' (in addition to its Russian counterpart). There's an interesting quote from Hill, now living in St. Petersburg Russia, who was asked about his new-found internet fame by a Russian news outlet recently. Here's his reply:

I haven't heard anything about it. It's nice, of course! ...
Thereby hangs a tale about this song. Lyrics were written for it, but they were poor. I mean, they were good, but one couldn't publish them at that time. They contained words like these: "I'm riding my stallion, so-and-so mustang, and my beloved Mary is thousand miles away knitting a stocking for me". Of course, we failed to publish it at that time, and we, Arkady Ostrovsky and I, decided to make it a vocalise. But the essence remained in the title. Yes, it's a little prankish – it has no lyrics, so we had to make up something for people would listen to it, and so there was an interesting arrangement.
Eduard Khil, Life News (Russian)

Edit 3/15/10: Eduard has been further pressed by Russian media and he seems to be gladly embracing the new popularity trend. He's even posted a video address to the world and recently sat down to watch YouTube parodies on live TV.

Addendum 4/14/10: Read more about trololo and the reasoning behind the vocal lyrics in the new thought posted here.

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