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Clicked, where the cow was
June 19, 2014 11:12 AM   Subscribe

Ian Bogost in the Atlantic, on Darmok. Ian Bogost, creator of Cow Clicker and noted contrarian, looks at the TNG episode Darmok.
posted by mwhybark (81 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Caesar at Alesia, his walls strong.

I think it'd be fun to make a human history based Darmok type language.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 11:15 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Also, the Daystrom Institute on reddit had a pretty good thread re: this episode.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 11:16 AM on June 19


jessamyn in I/P thread fighting flames.
posted by gwint at 11:28 AM on June 19 [8 favorites]


Fave fave fave episode.
posted by azarbayejani at 11:29 AM on June 19


I read this yesterday, and I thought it was (like other Bogost i've read) an interesting bunch of premises, but felt not-quite-fully explicated. Thanks for posting it; i'd love to hear what other people have to say about his take.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:30 AM on June 19


This episode has been part of so many metafilter FPPs recently it is almost the stuff of legend.

Right, so now someone please translate the above sentence into Darmok lingo. I thought I could do it but alas, my brain doesn't want to play.
posted by marienbad at 11:35 AM on June 19


Fave fave fave episode.

Mine too!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:38 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Early MeFites, their cameras cheap.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:39 AM on June 19 [11 favorites]


Picard, his adventure recursive.
posted by bleep at 11:40 AM on June 19 [7 favorites]


Scott Adams, his puppet revealed.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:40 AM on June 19 [7 favorites]


Mattowie, his filter meta.
posted by bleep at 11:41 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


There's another interesting, and rather more critical, analysis at the linguistics blog Tenser, said the Tensor: "Darmok". It focuses on the difficulty of conveying precision in Tamarian:
At the end of the episode, in fact, the first officer orders his ship to warp out of orbit with "Mirab, with sails unfurled", which is used several times in the episode to mean something like 'go'. Shouldn't the helmsman reply, "Mirab-with-sails-unfurled factor what, sir?".
It's like trying to express It's like trying to express "The cat's not eating; take it to the vet" as "Saint Vitus in the arena. Androcles in the forest." without the ability say, "Ask them about FIV vaccination, and pay them the £13.75 we owe them."

Memory Alpha explains in its Tamarian language article, non-canonical fiction has filled in explanatory detail of non-verbal elements and a musical bolt-on to the language for precise technical discussion.

Nevertheless, superb episode.
posted by raygirvan at 11:41 AM on June 19 [7 favorites]


I think it'd be fun to make a human history based Darmok type language.

Just last night I was watching an episode from the new (2013) Father Brown series that had a form of this trope, a mental patient who only communicated using Biblical references - requiring a priest to understand her, of course.

IIRC a college professor said that the Chinese Classic^ the Shi Jing was used this way during some periods in history: at the mention of the name of a poem or even just a line from one, an educated person was expected to recognize it and be familiar enough with it to understand what was being communicated by the reference.
posted by XMLicious at 11:46 AM on June 19


My hubby and i are like that with Corner Gas jokes.
posted by bleep at 11:49 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Beans, plated.
posted by ckape at 11:49 AM on June 19 [6 favorites]


I clicked the link and RTFA. (Ian Bogost. His sails unfurled.)

I see the references to myth, metaphor and allegory. And to Grand Theft Auto. But can't you make an argument that the Tamarian language is just callback? It's situationally appropriate cultural shorthand for the 24th century. We just don't get it because we haven't read the same indie space myths before they sold out. Could you have had Arrested Development or Archer without Darmok?

DATHON:Danger zone.
PICARD: There's always money in the banana stand.
DATHON: That's how you get ants.
PICARD: That's how you get ants.
Both hug
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:50 AM on June 19 [37 favorites]


Cats, in scanners.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:51 AM on June 19


Homer, his bowling ball to Marge.
posted by vibrotronica at 11:57 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]


Just last night I was watching an episode from the new (2013) Father Brown series that had a form of this trope, a mental patient who only communicated using Biblical references - requiring a priest to understand her, of course.

Which reminds me of the subtype of priests in the Dragon Age videogames who cannot speak unless quoting scripture and so are endlessly reciting verses that sound sort of vaguely relevant to the situation at hand.
posted by Naberius at 11:59 AM on June 19


10Forward, when the Riker sat.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:03 PM on June 19 [10 favorites]


I want to see cortex delete a thread with the reason being "The river Temarc, in winter" now.
posted by nubs at 12:10 PM on June 19 [12 favorites]


Which reminds me of the subtype of priests in the Dragon Age videogames who cannot speak unless quoting scripture

That sounds oddly like the magic system in the Christian RPG DragonRaid.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:14 PM on June 19


Talking casually to someone who does not know classic Simpsons references is literally like speaking over a language divide.
posted by The Whelk at 12:22 PM on June 19 [9 favorites]


Best episode evuuurrrrrr...

It's like trying to express It's like trying to express "The cat's not eating; take it to the vet" as "Saint Vitus in the arena. Androcles in the forest." without the ability say, "Ask them about FIV vaccination, and pay them the £13.75 we owe them."

My hack for this is that actually the Tamarians have two languages-- one purely mathematical, expressing logical and numerical relationships; and one purely made up of allusions, with only proper names and very simple nouns and prepositions. They use one language for science, and the other for human (rather, Tamarian), feelings, relationships, social interactions, ambiguities. Sort of a left-brain/right-brain thing.
posted by Erasmouse at 12:33 PM on June 19


Yes, that's canon:
The children of Tama use a musical language to convey maths and equations and number.

Also there are more subtle vocal layers and gestures to the languages which the universal translator was all Kadir beneath Mo Moteh about.
(See the story "Friends with the Sparrows" from the TNG anthology The Sky's the Limit.)
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 12:40 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


This article reinforces my belief that China Mieville's Embassytown is really just a very elaborate Darmok fanfic.
posted by Zarkonnen at 12:49 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


At the end of the episode, in fact, the first officer orders his ship to warp out of orbit with "Mirab, with sails unfurled", which is used several times in the episode to mean something like 'go'. Shouldn't the helmsman reply, "Mirab-with-sails-unfurled factor what, sir?"


There could easily be entirely different references for different warp factors, not necessarily requiring a numeric scale. "Mirab-with-sails-unfurled" might be maximum warp, but something like "Fleebarp-upon-the-mizzen-mast" could be an intermediate warp factor. "Meecrab-departs-the-sheltered-cove" might be full impulse, and still be perfectly cromulent to a native speaker.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:50 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


Just watched this episode for the first time a couple months ago. Really wonderful premise, though of course the specifics are open to sniping since they only had an hour to sketch it out. I think the difficulties are easily imagined away.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:58 PM on June 19


> My hack for this is that actually the Tamarians have two languages-- one purely mathematical, expressing logical and numerical relationships; and one purely made up of allusions, with only proper names and very simple nouns and prepositions.

Heck, we do that now, although it's at the level of jargon, not language.

Business Guy: Get me the 300 top salesmen for cheese.
IT: cat sales dot text pipe grep cheese pipe sort dash kay plus four are en pipe head dash three hundred (i.e. cat sales.txt | grep cheese | grep sort -k +4rn | head -300)

Now just imagine the Business Guy saying "Leonidas at Thermopylae. Wallace and Gromit at table.", and the IT folk sighing and saying "Good lord they talk weird. Okay, cat sales pipe ....".
posted by benito.strauss at 1:01 PM on June 19 [11 favorites]


We also tend not to realize how much of our English involves knowing names for things that are arbitrary except for what they allude to. If you take a bit of American Sign Language you see that in ASL there's a lot more of "describe the thing", in contrast to "remember the name of the thing". My favorite example is "venetian blinds". Here's the ASL. (That's actually British SL, but it's close enough). Compare that to using the phrase "venetian blinds". There's no way you can figure out what the phrase is referring to without just being told. It's much closer to Tamarian that we think of English being.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:08 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


I like the idea that the Tamarians have simply excised what Bogost calls "explicit, low-level discourse like instructions and requests." Seems like it implies a lot of trust between the Tamarians: instead of indulging in a lot of detail, they go for abstraction and trust that everyone will act to fulfill that abstraction as they see fit. That has a certain elegance.
posted by yasaman at 1:08 PM on June 19 [10 favorites]


It shocked me the day I learned people didn't like that episode. It's easily one of my favorites.
posted by eamondaly at 1:10 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I like the idea that the Tamarians have simply excised what Bogost calls "explicit, low-level discourse like instructions and requests."

Not sure I buy that. The Tamarian conversations we see are either bridge crew (who presumably are used to shorthand jargon) and the Captain doing the equivalent of TALKING. LOUD. AND. SLOW. to the moron who can't figure out simple instructions.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:29 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I liked that part in the article where it compared Geordi's instruction to the crew member with the Tamarians. The Tamarian captain gave a complex directive with a short reference and trusted them to carry it out. Whereas Geordi felt the need to give his underling the precise value to adjust the tech tech as if she were just part of the computer or some intern and couldn't possibly know what the adjustment should be. Geordi didn't believe that she did. Seems like a dangerous way to run a complex organization. I wonder if they still have Crew Resource Management in the future.
posted by bleep at 1:42 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


We're doing a TNG rewatch and we're in the middle of season three. I just looked up the episode to see when we'll be encountering it (so far to go...) and discoverered it's Ashley Judd's acting debut. I love her! I have only the faintest of memories of her on this show. So excited for this for many reasons!
posted by danabanana at 1:46 PM on June 19


Now the people here need to do a long string of justifications for why the Voyager episode "Threshold" is the best episode ever, and totally makes scientific sense. It shouldn't be too different than the handwaving for "Darmok".
posted by happyroach at 1:57 PM on June 19


What? This kind of allusive linguistic shorthand would never work in real life

facepalm.gif
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:58 PM on June 19 [21 favorites]


The plot hole is not the language itself, but that the Tamarians expect the Enterprise to understand it. Surely they'd have puppet shows or holo-shows for their own children?
posted by Erasmouse at 1:59 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Funny I never made the comparison before, but it kinda reminds me of Sublett from Virtual Light, with his movie religion.
Trying to start conversations with, "Race With The Devil. Peter Fonda, 1975", or whatever.

Or, I guess,

"Sublett, his skin pale, his movies old."
posted by Mister Moofoo at 2:01 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


But how many lights do you see?
posted by Fizz at 2:02 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Yeah, there's no denotive language used by the Children of Tama. It's a huge plot hole only if you take it exactly literally. But in a way, Star Trek itself can be taken as either literal stories, or as allegorical references. The whole show - the entire TNG series, really, is about humanity dealing with the unknown and becoming better for the struggle.

This article is missing the forest for one small part of the bark of one tree.
posted by notsnot at 2:12 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Erasmouse: Surely they'd have puppet shows or holo-shows for their own children?

I'm not sure if it was my idea, or I picked it up somewhere, but I like the theory that the Tamarians have a more normal language that they speak to children and as children, and then they abandon it as juvenile as they reach adulthood, and would not consider going back to it, except under extreme duress -- just as a modern westerner shits in a special pouch in his pants as a child, but would never do that as an adult, even when badly wounded or incapacitated.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:12 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Given that all the Tamarians talk in terms of heroes and myths, they must all share a common culture. I keep trying to come up with examples that would work for all Americans but not for people in say, Thailand, but I'm failing to come up with something that all Americans would understand as a shorthand for something else. We have a couple of cultural touchstones (Santa and Thanksgiving come to mind), but no quick and easy way of suggesting an action with a phrase. The Tamarians must be incredibly culturally homogenous, to the point that other cultures are not just unintelligible, but actively a threat. What happens when they interpret your myths to mean something else? So there must have been a mass destruction of culture, a cultural genocide, if not a literal one. So at best the Tamarians have to contend with thought crime and at worse they are space nazis. And the Federation is attempting to be friends with them.

I always figured this for "the transporter won't work for [technobabble]" for the universal translator. When you have have a babble fish and you want to create an issue around understanding, you need to create a language that does not work the way all human languages do. Thus, Tamarian.
posted by Hactar at 2:25 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


So has anyone like, bothered to read the article? Because it's fascinating, and I only understand like half of it. And counter to what the majority of comments here reduce it to, Bogost's thesis specifically is built around the idea that the Children's language isn't merely metaphor/allegory/imagery-based (i.e., descriptive), but that it references logic directly. And that the behavior the language conveys/requests is an emergent property of the underlying logic, rather than the primary payload. (So you don't need to specify which warp factor; that specificity is irrelevant.)

And that's the really interesting idea that the episode suggests (but doesn't actually contain): that Picard et al. completely misunderstands them. The Children are alien and advanced because their language totally bypasses description and specificity, something we have trouble even conceptualizing. That's the real alienness, not that they talk in references.
posted by danny the boy at 2:27 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


Darmok and your Mom at Tinagra.
posted by No-sword at 2:29 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


I always wondered how Tanagrans told the original stories, and how Tanagran children acquired their native language. In order to have the shorthand versions that are used, people need to hear the whole story. We could use shorthands like, "Juliet on her balcony" because we've read or seen the entire play Romeo & Juliet, which requires a fuller language—one with lots of verbs and adjectives, for instance. You can't tell Romeo & Juliet with an allusive shorthand language, or, if you can, there's some other story that first had to be told, and if you think about it for a minute you realize it's stories all the way down and there's no starting point for this type of language to have developed.

And even if you think "Juliet on her balcony" is a good shorthand for "romance," it might perhaps even more represent "yearning" or "wishfulness" or "youthful idealism" or "the fateful moment before a chain of events leading to catastrophe is set into motion."

Even if there is some way to tell the stories that are behind the shorthand, children don't need the stories. They'll pick up the meaning directly from the shorthand. Just like human children are able to map the arbitray utterances that make up languages to both concrete and abstract meanings, to nouns and verbs and adverbs and so on, Tanagran children don't need to hear the story to know that "Mirab, with sails unfurled," means "go." They'll pick that up from their elders saying to them, "Let's Mirab, with sails unfurled to the park! Are you ready to Mirab, with sails unfurled to bed?" Just like human kids do.

And, because people are parsimonious with language and take short cuts, it wouldn't take long for "mirab" or "unfurled" to be sufficient to convey the meaning. So a little further down the timeline, you've got the verb "mrab," meaning "to go," and the original stories don't matter anymore.

benito.strauss said up-thread that the BSL sign for "venetian blind" is more intellibigle than the spoken English sign. But it's actually not. If you know what venetian blinds are and how they work, the BSL sign is a clever representation of them. But without that context, what do two hands held out and flipped rapidly front-to-back twice mean? Does it represent an abstract concept like "flip flip," that you might use to refer to a politician whose opinions change with the wind, for instance? ASL signs often have an element that is representative in some way; the ASL sign for "boy" for instance, is said to have originated as a representation of the bill of a boy's cap. But the bill of a cap is not the only or the most obvious way to represent "boy." People might have used flexing a muscle, indicating the wearing of pants, or miming playing with a popular boys' toy of the time to represent "boy." In this way, ASL signs are just as arbitrary as the words in any other language.

The old sign for "credit card" involved one hand open, palm up. The other hand, in a fist, starts at the meaty end of the palm and slides up to the fingertips and quickly back. If I showed you this sign, you wouldn't know what it meant. If I then said, "it means credit card," you'd go, "Oh! It's the card machine!" But the fact that the sign represented the action of the card machine doesn't mean it's not an arbitrary sign, or that it's a gesture that is intelligible to people who don't know the language. (This sign for "credit card" has been widely replaced by one that represents swiping a card.)
posted by not that girl at 2:31 PM on June 19 [12 favorites]


99% of English is idioms (colloquial metaphor) as per Archer.
posted by bleep at 2:34 PM on June 19


Kittenplan and Ingersoll at Eschaton.

Alan Moore and the fanboys, their blood pressure rising.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:35 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


This article is missing the forest for one small part of the bark of one tree.

Metafilter, the beans plated.
posted by nubs at 2:36 PM on June 19


Shit, I mean "Archer, his translator flummoxed."
posted by bleep at 2:37 PM on June 19


For the fun of pointing out inconsistencies, (and ignoring how it's not really what the show's all about), if it got around that the universal translator machine works for all of the galaxy, except this one planet, they would be overrun with Linguistics grad students so quickly and so massively that their economy would implode.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:47 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


Given that all the Tamarians talk in terms of heroes and myths, they must all share a common culture.
Well, I guess it would help, but I don't think it's true that it's necessary. One can understand that "brobdingnagian" means "huge" without having ever read Gulliver's Travels, or even having ever heard of it. And it's not just obscure words that are like this; one can understand what a nine volt battery is without having ever heard of Allesandro Volta. And I'm sure it's not just individual words, but idioms too, that can fall into this category of things that etymologically refer to some person or myth or other cultural reference and that are often understood in meaning without necessarily being understood in etymology.
posted by Flunkie at 3:03 PM on June 19


I mean, we even have commonly understood idioms that no one currently alive understands etymologically. "The whole nine yards", for example.
posted by Flunkie at 3:06 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I would watch the hell out of a Darmok and Jalad movie performed in the original Tamarian.
posted by ckape at 3:07 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


This is my favourite TNG episode. I skimmed the article but probably won't get toreally read it until a few weeks when I have more time. However, here is my last comment on mefi about darmok again - which still says alot of the things I want to day about this incredible thing they gave us.

Darmok is fantastic.... It is the finest tradition of star trek, to bold go - to seek out and meet truly alien new life and new civilizations. Aliens who are actually alien, about how they interact and survive even through mutual incomprehension. It is about fear, wonder and empathy. Staring the universe in the face and rising to meet its challenge.

But Peter Bright is a nerd, what he cares about is bullshit science, how the universal translator works and how plausible the language of darmok is. This is nerdery. These things DON'T MATTER, they have no effect on the emotional resonance or drama of the story they are just background noise necessary to put Stewart and Winfield together on that planet and let them act out those fantastic scenes. Caring about it is like caring about midichlorian counts.

posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 3:08 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


Paul Winfield, the scenery chewed. His voice missed.
posted by Splunge at 3:40 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


If it's OK to self-quote, a while back I ran into some very Tamarian-style allusions in a little book of Maori proverbs.
... a large number of the sayings (whakatauki) are rooted in placename, personal or mythological references that are impossible for an outsider to deduce. Some are explicable; some not. "The ear-lobes of Rotu" = we've got nothing for you to eat (i.e. in Rotorua we've no food to offer unless we cut off our ears for you). "So you are rushing off to Orutai!" = you're getting thinner (Orutai being a place that had suffered from famine). "Climbing the mountain of Ruhaine" = growing older. "The fine weather of Hewa" = a state of inner anxiety when things appear outwardly normal. "The plug of Taumarere has come out" = it's crowded here. "The fine weather of Ruhi is spread everywhere" = peace prevails.
- Maori, Mac Cruislig and Mirab
posted by raygirvan at 4:09 PM on June 19 [8 favorites]


The presence of "ranks" seems a bit at odds with the idea that details do not need to be communicated.

Your "pilot", the person who actually whisks the starship around, presumably is the expert at it. When you drop your metaphorical snippet on them, they can infer from it your destination, speed, urgency, etc. As the expert, they know everything there is to know that affects their job: how much energy is available, hazards, ship-board contingencies, planned destinations, etc., etc. The captain doesn't need to say "set course 356 dash 32, warp six" because that's "well, duh".

Presumably the being who seems to be a "captain" does that job because it's their specialty, but it's no different in importance, necessary training or responsibility than any other specialty. The sheer level of trust in such a system, and its flat hierarchy, would make it incomprehensible to us.
posted by maxwelton at 4:16 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I'm reminded of the Ascian language, As spoken by "Loyal to the Group of Seventeen" in Gene Wolfe's Citadel of the Autarch. In this language, all speech is quotation from official propaganda--something like Mao's little Red Book.
posted by librosegretti at 4:39 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


Seriously, the article is really clever.

Claim: Picard still doesn't understand how the Tamarian language works at the end of the episode. Their sentences aren't metaphors or mental images, they're expressions of intention in the context of a specified mental model of how a course of action will produce a result.

“Strategy” is perhaps the best metaphor of all for the Tamarian phenomenon the Federation misnames metaphor.

One example from the article: SimCity

"SimCity, the smokestacks near the slums."
"Jane Jacobs, the streets bustling at midnight."

That's an entire argument about urban planning wrapped into two sentences. Are mixed-use neighborhoods good or bad? Why? What variables are relevant to this case? The two speakers are announcing what model of urban planning they're using while simultaneously implying what course of action makes sense following the logic of that model.

From the article: Everything that takes place on the bridge of the Tamarian vessel during the episode is encapsulated into the single move, “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.” So dense and rich is Tamarian speech, that these five words are sufficient to direct a whole crew to carry out an entire stratagem over two days’ time, and not by following a script, but by embracing it as a guiding abstraction.

Sokath, his eyes opened.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:44 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


Mirab-with-sails-unfurled factor what, sir?

Mirab, with sails unfurled; [subtle inclination of the left eyebrow meaning "to the factor of"] Murdoch, at the steering wheel.
posted by sfenders at 5:00 PM on June 19


Well, if he was in a hurry he would have said "Donald, his ass aflame", so just whatever speed seems reasonable.

You know, fly casual.
posted by ckape at 5:06 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


The presence of "ranks" seems a bit at odds with the idea that details do not need to be communicated

In many real-life armies, junior officers are given vague orders and a lot of initiative about how to interpret them. (an approach inspired by the German army in WWI-WWII). Generals don't think about whether a group of five tanks should go right or left around an obstacle; they're several layers of abstraction away from that sort of decision. "Flank the enemy" and figure out for yourself how to do that.

In a fit of self-indulgence I sketched out what that might look like on a Tamarian ship.

Assumption: Tamarian sentences are expressions of intention in the context of a specified mental model of how a course of action will produce a result.

Captain: "Churchill, the Australians at Gallipoli"
Science Officer: "Nimitz, his Catalinas at Midway"
Ensign: "Penelope, her fingers outstretched to Troy"

Translation:

"Churchill, the Australians at Gallipoli"

In short, this means see the world the way Churchill saw it at that time and act based on the methods of reasoning Churchill would have used. To translate this, we need to unpack Churchill's whole worldview. That's why the language is ridiculously dense. At full length, a translation might be this:

The decision being contemplated has both operational level and strategic level implications

Strategic:
That entity should be understood to be an enemy to be defeated by force (not a friend, not a guest...)
Defeat means collapse of its organizational structure (Model of conflict: Clausewitzian conflict between states, not a boxing match, not a genocide)
The enemy is to be understood as a coalition (Great Powers alliance model of relationships between its members, not interrelated like the body parts of an animal, not like a loose pile of stones)
The goal of our next series of actions is to force the weakest member out of the coalition

Operational:
We are seeking a decisive outcome, not grinding attrition
Frontal attacks cannot achieve a decisive outcome in these circumstances(WWI Model of Tactics: the enemy can move reinforcements to the threatened area faster than we can follow up an attack)
Therefore, strike with surprise at a vulnerable undefended area
The first wave of attacking units may be considered expendable (British-Colonial military relationships)

Science officer: "Nimitz, his Catalinas at Midway"

Logic of the science officer's order: WWII carrier combat model
Implications:
We have been ordered to locate the enemy's vulnerable point
The vulnerable point is a cluster of targets
The vulnerable point is somewhere inside a large search area (large relative to the speed of our ship)
We must locate the enemy without being seen ourselves
The enemy's vulnerable point can be expected to take active countermeasures against our search
etc.

Ensign: "Penelope, her fingers outstretched to Troy"
Launch drones (approximate range implied by "Troy")
Use a deceptive, backtracking search pattern intended to conceal our intentions

If the individual sailors can't do their jobs in the context of knowing the plan at that level of detail then "The Sergeant from Full Metal Jacket, Pyle's major malfunction."
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:18 PM on June 19 [23 favorites]


I liked the article but I have a problem with the author's use of the term "logic". He says a "behavior" is, at the most abstract, a "logic", but then a couple paragraphs later says "a logic is also a behavior"; it's not that the two assertions are incompatible but either a) it's a confusing way of presenting an equivalence, or b) they're not equivalent and it needs to be revised for clarity.

Similarly first he claims that SimCity "translates logics into logics", but the rest of the paragraph only gives evidence that SimCity is a single, one-time translation of one logic (the theoretical model of an urban city) into another logic (a computer simulation). So the whatever is significant about SimCity, it's not what it's doing when it executes on your PC, but that there was translation effort that was done by human beings.

Again, neat article, but this advocacy of systems/computational thinking would be more persuasive if the abstract parts of the article were written as clear as possible.
posted by polymodus at 5:23 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Heh, I just realized that the Ringing Valers in Anathem used allusive references to co-ordinate battle strategies like this.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 5:43 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


GLaDOS and the cake.
posted by egypturnash at 6:05 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


There could easily be entirely different references for different warp factors, not necessarily requiring a numeric scale.

This is a great point, since, if you think about it, our own way of talking about numbers and measurement is pretty abstract, itself.

I mean, ten feet? Obviously "feet" is a sort of metaphor that now has an agreed upon meaning, but was once something to do with the human foot. If aliens arrived on Earth and you said, "This is a cup of milk", that would be absolutely inscrutable, in much the same way "Darmok and Jalad, at Tanagra" is in the TNG episode.
posted by Sara C. at 9:16 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


And I'm sure it's not just individual words, but idioms too, that can fall into this category of things that etymologically refer to some person or myth or other cultural reference and that are often understood in meaning without necessarily being understood in etymology.

Well, sure. The term "venetian blinds" is a perfect example of a sort of "Tamarian English", buried so deep that we rarely think about it at all.

I mean, what we're really saying when we say "venetian blinds" is "blinds of Venice". But, of course, there's a strong chance the handyman you hire to install said blinds has no idea where Venice is.

But it doesn't end there. The word "blinds", itself, is a sort of metaphor. Because it means "objects that are used to render the outside invisible to the inside, and the inside invisible to the outside". You are "blinded" from seeing the things the blinds hide from your vision.

"Could you please shut the venetian blinds?" might as well be Tamarian.

That said, one wonders why the translator wouldn't be able to handle Tamarian, if it could handle "venetian blinds."
posted by Sara C. at 9:27 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


That said, one wonders why the translator wouldn't be able to handle Tamarian, if it could handle "venetian blinds."

In context of the article, the technological premise (or conceit) of the episode is the positing of the Universal Translator as a computational oracle that is able to translate all the alien "languages", with the limit that it cannot deal with meta-languages, of which Tamarian is an example of. I think that's what he was trying to get across when he said "logic of logics". In turn he also suggests the idea: hey look, if we lift off this suspension of disbelief and apply the episode to to real life, we see that our languages are filled with this kind of hidden logic, too. In that, while the lay-thinking is of metaphors and art being strictly alogical/antilogical, but actually, there is a logic to them, and in the end he suggests that perhaps society could benefit (he says "intervention" which I take to mean political action) from this more computational way of looking at the world, e.g. his "procedural rhetoric", blah blah.
posted by polymodus at 10:13 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Isn't this what those image-macro memes are?

If I used the phrase 'goatse' or 'grumpy cat' or 'keybaord cat', would you know what I meant?
posted by Wild_Eep at 6:55 AM on June 20


raygirvan: "There's another interesting, and rather more critical, analysis at the linguistics blog Tenser, said the Tensor"

That was a great blog, I miss it.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:58 AM on June 20


A wooden horse, given to Troy
Pyyrhus of Epirus, victorious
Doctor Faustus, his bargain sealed
Sisyphus, completing his work
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:01 AM on June 20 [3 favorites]


A wooden horse, given to Troy
Pyyrhus of Epirus, victorious
Doctor Faustus, his bargain sealed
Sisyphus, completing his work.


So I wonder how, given that Troy is a metaphor, you would say "Troy". As in, I live in Troy". Or say, "A wooden horse in Troy".
posted by happyroach at 1:26 PM on June 20


You would just say Troy. Venetian blinds don't make Venice any less of a place. Though I can see it being confusing to buy blinds in northeastern Italy.
posted by Sara C. at 4:14 PM on June 20


They probably call them Parisian Blinds.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:59 PM on June 20 [2 favorites]


Wild Eep, in some cases. The one that strikes me as most like that is Admiral Ackbar (the lobster dude from Star Wars who says, "it's a trap!") posted in thread to indicate that a prior poster is trolling.

So if we were to translate that into Tamarian, I guess that would be "Admiral Ackbar, at Endor, his eyes wide."
posted by mwhybark at 10:29 PM on June 21 [6 favorites]


Fry, his eyes narrow.
posted by bleep at 8:58 AM on June 22 [5 favorites]


A baby, his fist pumped.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:59 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


Yo.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:24 PM on June 23


Arthur Dent at the Nutri-matic{Is it possible}
Jesus, On the mount {To Communicate / share / discuss, overtones of teach}
Newton, Struck by an Apple {new ideas, specifically paradigm breaking ones, arrived at by yourself}
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:02 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


oops,I didn't mean to post that. I was still working on a decent translation of Is it Possible.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:02 AM on June 24


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