Word order matters, in English at least!

First some biography: as I mentioned in the first part of my series on the German language, I spoke English as a child, with a smattering of German and Portuguese (father German, mother Portuguese-Indian). I went to English schools and when, in my late teens, I decided to live in Germany, I took part in a refresher course for children of Germans who had been displaced by the War. I learned German grammar in a very intense and thorough way, becoming completely bilingual in the process, married to a bilingual wife and bringing up two perfectly bilingual sons.

So unlike…

Do you know the film “Alien,” saw how a deadly extraterrestrial decimated the crew of a spaceship? Compare that to a predator in the insect world.

My previous article dealt with the pure cruelty that animals often display— the unbearable, pitiless suffering they can inflict on fellow creatures. Today the latest edition of Scientific American reminded me of another case of unadulterated cruelty in the animal world. As a young boy my father showed me it happening, although at the time I did not catch all the details. The Siam article supplied these, and it is a story I am going to retell. In the end you will feel sympathy and compassion for — want to guess? — the common cockroach! …

Evolution has generated some of the most beautiful creatures imaginable. One thing it missed is the feeling of pity.

I grew up with nature, in tropical jungles no less. I learned to understand all kinds of animals, reptiles, insects. So I love nature in general. But one thing I saw: there is hardly an animal that is not hunted or hideously plagued by some other creature, sometimes quite fortuitously. And this can cause unimaginable suffering, making the lives of the victims pure misery.

Some years ago I spent a summer vacation in northern Sweden — to see the midnight sun. One memorable encounter was with indigenous reindeer — gentle and friendly animals. But as the evening came they were…

The electric train riddle and more

Over Christmas I traditionally run a chess puzzle contest on the news page of my company. The problems have to be “computer resistant” — it has become trivially easy, and also very tempting, to simply switch on a “chess engine” to get the solution in seconds. So I use unorthodox variants of the game, like “checkless chess” (checks are not allowed except when it is checkmate), or selfmate (White forces Black to mate him, Black tries his best to avoid that), or add-a-piece. Let me give you a taste of this last one:

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In these “twin” problems (by Bengt Giöbel)…

Some are doubtlessly genuine, but some are easy to learn

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Everyone knows Rain Man, the 1988 film telling the story of an autistic savant, wonderfully played by Dustin Hoffman. The character Raymond was modelled on was the autistic “mega savant” Kim Peek, who displayed mind blowing feats of mental skill. You can search for him on YouTube and watch him perform — it is quite extraordinary.

Except I am not convinced that all of it is true. Kim, who has mental and neurophysiological problems, is clearly not autistic. His memory is remarkable, and he can recite large passages of Shakespeare, memorize the data of cities and highways, and many other…

It is astounding how early a comprehension of the mechanisms of language sets in, and how sophisticated it is

I have always been interested in language development. In my university studies I specialized in linguistic philosophy—where you attempt to define and solve age-old philosophical problems by looking at the linguistic structure of the questions posed. I also studied ethology (animal behaviour and communication), and language development in human infants and children, following the work of Jean Piaget on this subject. I naturally used my two sons as subjects for my studies, and am now doing the same, albeit it informally, with my two grandsons. That is what I will write about today.

Enders, the older grandson, has remarkable linguistic…

We cannot afford not to.

We are in the middle of a hideous pandemic. It has cost the world between ten and fifteen trillion dollars so far — and disrupted the social lives of billions of people. And it has not peaked yet. But help is in sight: the first vaccines have been developed (in record time!), so there is a chance that, in a year or so, our lives could return to some form of normality. However, we cannot let our guard down. There are two things we need to do. Urgently.

1. Urge people to accept vaccination

Fortunately there are vaccines to combat the current Covid-19 pandemic, and they…

In 1970 I wrote the introduction to a TV documentary on artificial intelligence. It was very clever — but completely wrong!

As a preamble I need to tell you this: when my originally intended career as a teacher of philosophy ground to a halt (I realized that there would be no vacancy for me at university to get a post — ever) I embarked on an alternate path. I became a science journalist, making documentaries for German TV. That is described in this article, which might be of interest.

Well, after making half a dozen documentaries on science subjects — for instance on how the pyramids of Egypt were built, on superconducting materials, Rubik’s cube, debunking astrology — I was commissioned…

What Bangalore, the “Silicon Valley of India,” was like fifty years ago — absolutely nothing like today!

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In the previous story, Journey to the East (3), we had completed the arduous journey, by train, bus and car, to the South Indian “garden city” of Bangalore. There my mother and brother lived, in a beautiful villa, built in British times. We repeated the journey a few more times, and spent weeks exploring the city and the surroundings. Later our son Martin, and then his younger brother Tommy joined us. There were adventures galore — today I will tell you a little about the earliest of our trips.

Bangalore was called the “Garden City of India.” It is located…

It is dispassionate and brutal — and it is not taking place in humans. My provocative view on the subject.

There are two reasons for this article: on the one hand the grandkids want to know, in Covid times, why there are viruses (short answer: because it is possible), and also why every six years the grounds are covered in acorns. Secondly, Discover Magazine recently published a story telling us that we can see human evolution in action even today. They describe an example:

“More and more people are being born with an extra artery in their forearms, one that usually disappears in utero. …

The Friedel Chronicles

Frederic Alois Friedel, born in 1945, science journalist, co-founder of ChessBase, studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford.

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