The English Learners' Blog

A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!

Aristotle and the Philosophy of Everyday Life

Many of the sayings we use daily were first coined by Aristotle (384-BC – 322 BC).
His studies in living the Good Life (nothing to do with Felicity Kendall looking seductive in dungarees and wellies) included advice like; moderation in all things, friends are worth more than gold and one swallow doesn’t make a summer. Fair enough, but how can we stop just quoting him and start living Aristotle’s Good Life? Much of his thinking seems surprisingly contemporary. He covers mindfulness, the value of teachers (his habit of wandering around the grounds of the school he founded, the Lyceum, in Athens, with his pupils trotting after him, led his pupils to be referred to as ‘the peripatetics”, or “people who travel about”) and the difficulties of adolescence.
So here’s BBC Radio 4’s guide to Aristotle’s ‘Good Life’

1. Value your friends

“For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.”

2. Keep learning

Aristotle considered happiness to come more often from “those who are highly cultivated in their minds and in their character, and have only a moderate share of external goods, than among those who possess external goods to a useless extent but are deficient in higher qualities.” So that’s something to bear in mind when you go over your overdraft limit.

3. Reward yourself for overcoming personal struggles

“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.”

4. Value teachers

The mean-spirited phrase ‘those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach” is a corruption of Aristotle’s ‘those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.” Aristotle saw happiness, fulfilment and a sense of civic duty all arising from education, and felt that “those who educate children well are more to be honoured than parents, for these only gave life, those the art of living well.”

5. Do it, don’t just talk about it

Actions speak louder than words. “Virtue is more clearly shown in the performance of fine actions than in the non-performance of base ones.”

6. Practise mindful meditation

A thought is just a thought. It doesn’t need to be acted upon. “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

7. And finally…

Aristotle’s ultimate, and most difficult realisation. “Happiness depends upon ourselves.”
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Filed under: 1►TO DO, 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, ■ Books, ■ The Path of Metaphor, ■ Thinking Space

Congratulations Are in Order! David Crystal is Going Global

This post is dedicated to David Crystal, who has recently inaugurated his brand new website.

Here is the story behind it, in the great man’s own words.

The pregnancy is over. The conception was nine months ago, and I have been observing the slow but steady progress of the foetal website ever since. Yesterday and today saw its birth – two days because of the time it takes for the server to point everything in the new direction. This post is the equivalent of a birth announcement, except there is no gender or weight. You will find the baby here.

And also a response to a few correspondents who have asked me why a new site was needed. The motivation was actually the idea which became the Crystal Books Project, a feature of the new site. I am frequently asked for ways of obtaining some of my books which have gone out of print, and there was no easy solution. So the CBP is a way of solving that problem. The intention is to make available, in electronic form, my out-of-print back list. It will take a while for them all to get up there, because in the case of the older books they have to be rekeyed. No convenient electronic files in the 1960s – or even the 80s. Indeed, in the case of one of my books, published in 1976, I see that my first draft is entirely in handwriting – something I find inconceivable now!

The first few books are now available, in e-book form, and will shortly also be available as pdfs and as print-on-demand copies. The publishing firm that has provided the platform for the website, Librios, is exploring the best options as I write. Four e-books are now ready: the two Language A-to-Z books for schools (student and teacher book), which went out of print about 15 years ago; the Penguin book Language Play, which went o/p in the UK somewhere around 2005; and Words on Words, the anthology of language quotations, which went o/p at more or less the same time. All have a search function added, in their e-book incarnations.

 There is a complete bibliographical listing of books and articles on the new website, as there was on the old one, but with better search facilities. One can now order searches by title or by publication date. And there is a more sophisticated range of filters – for example, one can search for Shakespeare + books, or Shakespeare + articles, and so on. We’ll be refining the filter list in the light of experience.

You’ll notice that most of the articles are downloadable. The ones that aren’t are those I don’t have a copy of. So, if anyone ‘out there’ notices a missing download and realises they have a copy of it, would they let me know? We can then arrange a way of getting the text online?

And with a new website comes new e-publishing opportunities. I haven’t used the medium in this way myself yet, but I do have in mind some projects which simply would not work in traditional publishing terms, but which would suit an electronic medium. More on this in due course. In the meantime, Hilary Crystal has chosen e-publication for her first children’s novel, The Memors, and that is available on the site too. This is a techno-fantasy tale aimed chiefly at that awkward-to-write-for group, the 10-14-year-olds, or tweenagers, as they are so often called these days. This is very much an experiment on our part. For it to work, the news of the new product needs to travel. So, if readers of this blog have tweenage contacts, do tell them about it.

… which is what we proudly did! 🙂

Filed under: 9►EXTRA, ■ Books, ■ Celebrations, ■ David Crystal, ■ Generations, ■ GLOBAL, ►12.OFF THE MAP▼

Brain Plasticity and Empathy, Dealing With “The Impossible” and Other Thoughts

Imagine  A number of documentaries I watched recently on BBC Knowledge and Discovery have led me to an interesting net-surfing experience, in search of more info on two topics that I, among many others, find absolutely fascinating: the plasticity of the human brain – its causes and effects, as well as its connections with feelings like empathy. Listed below you will find some interesting links and quotes I came across during my search. Feel free to add to it any other sources/ links you consider of relevance.

1.  You can watch a short video on the BBC Virtual Revolution Blog from 2009, in which Baroness Susan Greenfield approaches the question: Is the web changing us? The transcript is available on the site. Here’s an excerpt:

One of the most important issues I think, as well as the good thing about IQ going up, is the issue of risk. Obama said that the current financial crisis is attributable in part to greed and recklessness. Now greed are recklessness occur as part of something called a frontal syndrome, when the frontal part of the brain is less active in various conditions.
Could it be – and also this frontal part of the brain only comes on stream in late teenage years – could it be, given the brain is so obliging in the way it adapts, that if you’re putting it in a situation where you are living for the moment in a rather infant-like way with lots of sensory experiences, that that could be being changed? And I think that’s one of the things that would be very interesting to look at.
My final issue is identity, and it does stun me, Twitter for example, where the banality of some of the things that people feel they need to transmit to other human beings. Now what does this say about how you see yourself? Does this say anything about how secure you feel about yourself? Is it not marginally reminiscent of a small child saying “Look at me, look at me mummy! Now I’ve put my sock on. Now I’ve got my other sock on,” you know? And I’m just being neutral here, I’m just asking questions, right… What does this say about you as a person?

2. On Top Documentary Films you can read about and watch for free brilliant documentaries. Take another great series by the same insightful Susan Greenfield, called Brain Story.

The greatest numbers of documentaries on this site belong to the categories of Science (350) and Society (304). However, these are only 2 of the 25 categories you can browse, so plenty of resources to delve into.

3.  On the topic of visual illusions, I think it is safe to presume that we all prefer and appreciate watching well-produced special effects in pretty much any kind of movie. The quality of the special effects in a science fiction movie is, for instance, what makes the difference between an A and a B movie  for meHollywood award ceremonies never fail to highlight the best special effects in movies on a regular basis. This being said, I was surprised to find out that Harvard University also has an awarding ceremony called: “The Best Illusion of the Year Contest”! 🙂

Here‘s the winning illusion for 2011. The effect is called  “silencing by motion” and its source is Professor Michael Bach’s “Optical Illusions and Visual Phenomena”.  

Click this link to visit Professor Bach’s site and get access to 101 such illusions and phenomena. 

4. The link up next leads to a 2012 scientific research study from the biannual journal Essays in Philosophy  whose intriguing title instantly caught my eye: “On Being Stereoblind in an Era of 3D Movies”, by Cynthia Freeland. Put on a scientist’s hat, or any other kind that is comfortable and feel free to investigate its content.

5.  Can we adapt to unimaginable situations? How does our brain deal with catastrophes beyond our worst nightmares? The Impossible - UK Poster Such questions are the subject of a movie that reached the Polish cinemas this month and that I warmly recommend, called The Impossible (2102).

You can read about the real story that inspired the movie in this article from The Mirror: “Seemingly impossible: Miracle survival of family who inspired new tsunami movie”.

Last but not least on today’s list, the following article from the Health section of the Times investigating “How Disasters and Trauma Can Affect Children’s Empathy” can be placed in the same category of the effects that surviving catastrophes can have on the human brain and the human behaviour – in this particular case, on kids aged 6, 9, and 12. I selected below some of the findings of the studies discussed in the article. 

“There are developmental differences in empathy,[…] and younger children may not be able to regulate their emotions as well as older ones because the prefrontal regions in the brain responsible for such control are less mature. Faced with extreme stress, their self-regulation capacities regress even further. “Adverse events appear to cause six-year-olds to revert back to selfish ways typical of early childhood,” the authors write. Even in situations with less tragic consequences, but which are nonetheless stressful, such as living through a divorce, or getting lost in a public place, many children may resort to more immature tendencies.

By age nine, however, most youngsters have mature enough brains to not only recognize the feelings of others, but to try to mitigate bad ones. Their increased altruism during distress reflects what has been seen in many disasters, from man-made ones such as the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., to natural catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy. […]

While the results support the intuitive sense that the personal experience of pain can increase compassion, there are cases when it can have the opposite effect. Indeed, research shows that if suffering occurs too early in life, when young brains are not equipped to process the experience, or if the pain is too overwhelming, it can make people less sensitive and more focused on self-preservation, such as often occurs in cases of child abuse and neglect. “Painful experiences may increase empathy and care, provided that one can regulate one’s own emotion,” Decety says. The findings suggest that our social and biological structures may be biased toward cooperation and empathy for others: “Without caring for others, we would not survive as a species,” he says.

It would be interesting to compare the findings of this article with the development of Lucas, one of the heroes in The Impossible, who is only 10, in the face of the sixth deadliest natural disaster in recorded history, the 2004 tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean, affecting Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and the Maldives and killing nearly 300 000 people. The earthquake which caused the tsunami was the 3rd largest in recorded history measuring a magnitude of 9.19.3

Compared to being caught right in the middle of it,  it is much easier to make sense of “the impossible” from a desk in the living-room or from a cinema seat, which is why I wish you all safe trips to the cinema :),  tsunami-free vacations and peaceful school experiences, no guns involved… 

May you be safe, show empathy, and, regardless of situation, always navigate through unpredictable changes with fresh new breaths of faith!

Filed under: 0►TRUST, 9►EXTRA, ■ BBC: The Virtual Revolution Blog, ■ Books, ■ Brain Plasticity, ■ China, ■ Empathy, ■ Movies, ■ News, ■ The Mirror, ■ TIME, ■ TOP Documentary Films

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