Category Archives: Education

Writing and Inversion

Executive summary: The “voice” of a transitive verb may be active or passive. A piece of writing may be vigorous or torpid. There is not an exact correspondence between passive verbs and torpid writing. However, a passive verb is used to effect inversion of subject and object. One may also invert subject and auxiliary verb, subject and predicate, or two clauses, always adding new words. Each inversion may lead to torpid writing. This is what Strunk warned about in The Elements of Style, by issuing the command, “Use the active voice.” The command must be followed with discretion. Williams makes the same case, more elaborately, in Style: Towards Clarity and Grace. There is no foolproof executive summary of how to write well.


When E. B. White revised William Strunk’s original Elements of Style, he did not retain Strunk’s “Introductory,” whose first paragraph said of the book,

The experience of its writer has been that once past the essentials, students profit most by individual instruction based on the problems of their own work, and that each instructor has his own body of theory, which he may prefer to that offered by any textbook.

Perhaps many students today cannot receive individual instruction. They are just given textbooks that try to spell out everything. I have sensed this in mathematics, where new calculus books seem a lot bigger than those of 1950 and earlier. Continue reading

A New Kind of Science

Some sciences are not recognized for what they are. The sciences themselves are not new, but a proper understanding of them may be new to some of us, including myself.

Here I supplement, and thus update, my 2012 article, “Strunk and White.” There I took issue with a professional linguist’s attacks on William Strunk’s “little book” (53 pages), which was made slightly less little (71 pages) by E. B. White: The Elements of Style. In The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (1842 pages), Geoffrey Pullum and Rodney Huddleston claim to present their subject descriptively; in an essay called “50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice,” Pullum thinks Strunk and White fail to understand the standard description of English grammar, even as they give a prescriptive account of its use. Continue reading

What Philosophy Is

The essay below has been edited and expanded from an email of June 2, 2015. With my presumptuous title, I imitate Arthur Danto’s What Art Is (2013), mentioned in my last post, “Some Say Poetry.” The book is fine, and I have learned from it; but Danto could have learned from Collingwood’s Principles of Art.

Picasso, The Tragedy (1903), National Gallery of Art, Washington Continue reading

Some Say Poetry

Potted palms with plaster farm animals on hillside behind

Kuzguncuk, 2017.11.05

I originally set out to preserve here, for future reference, a poetry review that I liked. A remark on being a student had drawn my attention:

In My Poets, a work of autobiographical criticism with occasional ventriloquial interludes, McLane recalls two “early impasses in reading,” freshman-year encounters with Charles Olson and Frank O’Hara. She writes about not “getting it” but wanting to get it, about a desire to get it that was left wanting by code-breaking and analysis and satisfied by hearing and feeling.

I shall try to say more about learning and creating, in poetry and also in mathematics, after quoting the review in its entirety. It constitutes the second half of a “New Books” column by Christine Smallwood, in the Reviews section of Harper’s, July 2017.

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NL XXV: The Three Laws of Politics

Index to this series

A pervading theme of the New Leviathan is freedom of will. Whether we actually have it is only a pseudo-problem (13. 17). Some persons have been fooled into thinking it a problem, perhaps by the misleading myth that free will is a divine gift, like life itself, breathed into our nostrils when, in Genesis 2:7, God forms us of the dust of the ground. As Collingwood observes at the end of Chapter XXIII, “The Family As a Society,” we are born neither free nor in chains. We have to grow up. Growing up is becoming free.

The Book of Genesis Illustrated by Robert Crumb (New York: Norton, 2009)

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Hypomnesis

When is a help a hindrance? The Muses have provoked this question. They did this through their agents, the cicadas, who sang around the European Cultural Center of Delphi, during the 11th Panhellenic Logic Symposium, July 12–5, 2017.

     Cicada, European Cultural Center of Delphi, 2017.07.15     
Cicada, European Cultural Center of Delphi, 2017.07.15

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Victor Vasarely

Tophane-i Amire
Tophane-i Amire, 2017.03.25

Last week I wrote about the Turkish Impressionist Feyhaman Duran, born in 1886. Now my subject is the Hungarian-French Op Artist born twenty years later as Győző Vásárhelyi. His “Rétrospective en Turquie” is at the Tophane-i Amire Culture and Art Center in an Ottoman cannon foundry.

Vasarely show Continue reading

Freedom to Listen

“It’s a free country, so shut up!”

On Thursday, February 16 of this year (2017), at Bosphorus University, a talk on the subject of freedom of speech was given by a Guardian columnist who was a history professor at Oxford. This was Timothy Garton Ash, who observed that freedom of speech and of the press had been severely curtailed in Turkey. For a defender of the regime, the accusation might be belied by the speaker’s freedom to make it. Academics can still come from abroad and give their critical talks. However, as Professor Garton Ash detailed, many Turkish academics have been fired from their positions; many journalists have been imprisoned; other journalists cannot get their articles published. Continue reading

Confessions

This is about G. H. Hardy and Sylvia Plath: Hardy quâ author of A Mathematician’s Apology (1940); Plath, The Bell Jar (1963).

Photo: the Hardy and Plath books

I first read Plath only recently, after encountering The Bell Jar by chance in the Istanbul bookshop called Pandora. Continue reading

The geometry of numbers in Euclid

This is about how the Elements of Euclid shed light, even on the most basic mathematical activity, which is counting. I have tried to assume no more in the reader than elementary-school knowledge of how whole numbers are added and multiplied.

How come 7 ⋅ 13 = 13 ⋅ 7? We can understand the product 7 ⋅ 13 as the number of objects that can be arranged into seven rows of thirteen each.

Seven times thirteen

Seven times thirteen

If we turn the rows into columns, then we end up with thirteen rows of seven each; now the number of objects is 13 ⋅ 7. Continue reading