Tag Archives: science

Evolution of Language

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We know that statistics (which is different from mathematics) plays an important role in various other sciences (mathematics is not a science, it’s an art). But still I would like to discuss one very interesting application to linguistics. Consider the following two excerpts from an article by Bob Holmes:

1. ….The researchers were able to mathematically predict the likely “mutation rate” for each word, based on its frequency. The most frequently used words, they predict, are likely to remain stable for over 10,000 years, making these cultural artifacts, or “memes”, more stable than some genes…..

2. ….The most frequently used verbs (such as “be”, “have”, “come”, “go” and “take”) remained irregular. The less often a verb is used, the more likely it was to have been regularised. Of the rarest verbs in their list, including “bide”, “delve”, “hew”, “snip” and “wreak”, 91% have regularised over the past 1200 years…….

The first paragraph refers to  the work done by evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel and his colleagues at the University of Reading, UK. Also, “mathematically predicted” refers to the results of the statistical model analysing the frequency of use of words used to express 200 different meanings in 87 different languages. They found the more frequently the meaning is used in speech, the less change in the words used to express it.

The second paragraph refers to the work done by Erez Lieberman, Jean-Baptiste Michel and others at Harvard University, USA.  All people in this group have mathematical training.

I found this article interesting since I never expected biologists and mathematicians spending time on understanding evolution of language and publishing the findings in Nature journal. But this reminds me of the frequency analysis technique used in cryptanalysis:

Revision 1: Inquisitive Mathematical Thinking

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In this post I wish to expand my understanding about, “asking Why?“.

In 1930, David Hilbert gave radio address lecture. I want to discuss following paragraph from that lecture (when translated to English):

With astonishing sharpness, the great mathematician POINCARÉ once attacked TOLSTOY, who had suggested that pursuing “science for science’s sake” is foolish. The achievements of industry, for example, would never have seen the light of day had the practical-minded existed alone and had not these advances been pursued by disinterested fools.

Science exists because we (human beings) want to find reason for everything happening around us (like how air molecules interact, which bacteria is harmful…) . We claim that this will enrich our understanding of the nature thus enabling us to make rational decisions (like when should I invest my money in stock market, from how much hight I can jump without hurting myself…).

Let me illustrate the point I want to make: Mathematicians make observations about real/abstract objects (shape of universe/klein bottle) and try to explain them using logical arguments based on some accepted truths (axioms/postulates). But today we have “science” for almost every academic discipline possible. Therefore, we (human beings) have become so much obsessed with finding reasons for everything that we even want to know why the things happened a moment ago so that we are able to predict what will happen in a moment from now. So the question is:

Should there be a reason for everything?

Can’t some thing just be happening around us for no reason. Why we try to model everything using psedo-randomness and try to extract a meaning from it? In case you are thinking that probability helps us understanding purely random events, you are wrong. We assume events to be purely random, we are never sure of their randomness and based on this assumption we determine chances of that event to happen which infact tells nothing about future (like an event with 85% chances of happening may not happen in next trial).

In same spirit, I can ask: “Should there be reason for you being victim of a terrorist attack?” We can surely track down a chain of past events (and even the bio-chemical pathways) leading to the attack and you being a victim of it.

Why we try to give “luck” as reason for some events? Is this our way of acknowledging randomness or our inability to find reason?

Moreover, David Hilbert ends his lecture with following slogan (in German):

Wir müssen wissen, Wir werden wissen.

which  when translated to English means: “We must know, we will know.”.