Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Just some fun stuff from the archive. I found my rune files.

Here are the runes. I created these documents about 15 years ago when I discovered this nice drawing program. I also have fonts of the English/Saxon set that I made.

The first document is all sets - Gothic, English, Scandinavian, Danish pointed, Helsinge/Haelsinga, etc., showing variations. So, for example, Danish Pointed has a B for the sound B, and a B with two dots in it for the sound P, whereas Saxon/English has something like the letter Pi on its side (looks a bit like C). The central row is Gothic/Standard, all else are variations.

The second document is the standard Viking set (16 characters). Because it was shorter, they used the same letters for voiced and unvoiced sounds, so V/F, D/T/TH, P/B, S/Z, etc. So for example siklt in Old Norse Runes = seglode in Old English ("sailed", pronounced something like "sayloada").

The character -R is NOT the same as r. -R is the ending -uR seen in Old Norse and Icelandic, signifying a noun. I suspect the Gothic (east Germanic) pronunciation was closer to Z, or modern Swedish sj, since modern Icelandic has an R and Latin has an S (which by Grimm's law is related to Z, hence the R/Z confusion. Interestingly, the same confusion occurs in Arabic: the letter for R and Z in Arabic are both a kind of j, but one has a dot and one doesn't.).

Obviously, many of the letters derive from Latin, hence R, T, B, S, F, U, C, A, H, I, M. But some derive from Greek, Hence OE (looks like Omega), L looks like Lambda, and NG, which is a double-G (runic G is an X, so runic NG is a double X), just like in Greek where they use a double-gamma for "ng", ie Angelos = aggelos in the Greek alphabet.

My understanding is that they have this angular appearance to make it easier to carve into wood, which is what the Germanic people preferred for their monuments etc., since they hung round in pine forests and liked log cabins. Obviously the majority of the surviving examples are on stone memorials.

The Helsinge set appears, as I understand it, in one particular place in Scandinavia, and it represents a shorthand or simplified version of the scandinavian set. Probably the first shorthand script ever, other than Demotic Egyptian.

Interestingly, the modern-day Asatru cult still uses the runes, and many adherents of Wicca do as well, however, they consider them to have magical properties. Presumably, in ancient times, writing would have seemed magical because it would convey thoughts over distances. It's not a coincidence that in English, a "spell" is magic, and "spelling" is writing.

Apparently the word "rune" comes from an old Germanic word meaning whisper or magic. "Raunen" is German for "murmur".

I hope you enjoyed this little essay. Here are the tables:

Monday, 16 August 2010

Free-will is like an appendix

If the appendix has no function, why do we have it?

The same goes for conscious "choice". It's a side-effect, not a causal agent. Libet (1982) found that there's a certain time threshold for sensations to be perceived. If a contact/touch/whatever sensation does not endure for longer than, if I recall correctly, 80-200 milliseconds, we don't register it at all. The longer it persists, the more we become aware of it. So, when the brain is busy deciding to do something, once the decision state has existed for longer than the threshold of consciousness' minimum, then we become aware of it. It's a question of persistence of a state.

Are we automated machines influenced by outside factors? Yes. Think about it. You only respond to outer stimuli. Inner stimuli are, generally, memories. And memories are simplified reduced versions of previous outer stimuli, so they're still outer stimuli. The only inner stimuli we're aware of are neurological, e.g. When you have a headache. But we still have no control over those things; they 'happen to us'.

Why do we internalise outer factors? This is because our brains do process information even if it is non-conscious. I'm not saying they don't. What I'm saying is something like this: consciousness, as we know it, is a bit like a child in a trolley (shopping cart, for my American readers) - with a fake steering wheel. He's being pushed around in the trolley but he can still see where he's going, and his mom tells him as she pushes him round the shop, what she's doing. So she turns into the breakfast cereal aisle and says "now we're looking at breakfast cereals". He gets notified about what is going on after the decision has been taken. He has a fake steering wheel which he frantically turns, but it doesn't actually do anything. It just gives him the illusion of control. Sometimes his trolley goes the direction he turns it, sometimes it doesn't. He doesn't understand why, but when it does go the way he turns it, he thinks he's the one that did it, and gets a thrill of being in control.

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