Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor

A recurring question of mine is, are all the other people in the world figments of my imagination? I think that everyone around me doesn’t exist until I need to interact with them. My mom doesn’t walk into my room until my brain decides she should. It’s an idea that I hate, but also love; my favorite contradictory thought.

My brain looks a little like this when it happens: Is my brother actually showering right now? Or am I just making up the noise of the shower and the sound of the shampoo falling? Is everything in my life a façade? Am I in a coma and this is my dream?

One day as my older brother was driving me home from school, I told him of my theory. Of course, he just loves to debunk all of my creative theories and fantasies. He told me that there is in fact a philosophical law that’s called Occam’s Razor that completely overturns my discovery.

Basically, if there is more proof and less doubt that one hypothesis is true over the others, then that hypothesis is correct. For example, the sky is blue. More people have said it is blue than people who have said it is red so it is blue. Also there is more scientific data to prove that the sky is reflecting the blue color, or whatever it is that makes the sky blue.

He went on to brutally tell me I’m wrong and stupid. He didn’t actually do that, but that’s how it felt. It does take more reasoning and explanation to prove my theory than it does to just accept that everyone around me is alive and exists just like I do. It kind of sucks though, I thought I was a genius for figuring out life. But I guess that wouldn’t have amounted to anything if everyone else around me didn’t exist?

Or maybe, I just made this up so I wouldn’t burn down my mind palace (@ Sherlock).

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With Liberty and Justice Not For All

The Pledge of Allegiance

I don’t consider myself unpatriotic. I respect America and enjoy the comforts of living in a secure and prosperous nation. The kids in my AP U.S. History class have other ideas.

Recently I have refrained from saying the Pledge of Allegiance, something I have wanted to do for awhile, but I’ve been too afraid that I would be ostracized. It wasn’t until I noticed that one of my closest friends had stopped saying it, that I built up the courage to stop as well.

The first time I actively didn’t participate in pledging my allegiance a huge surge of adrenaline swept through my body, and I couldn’t stop the nervous, but excited, tremors from convulsing my body. I was extremely conscious of those around me; my eyes searched the room for those who dared to fight me. During the national anthem, I was preparing my arguments for the anticipated backlash, but it never came.

When the kids start blindly chanting the national anthem today while I remain standing but silent, I’m no longer afraid of being called out. Those who have noticed don’t seem to care, besides the group of 4 in the back of my history class. Ironically, it’s my American history class that has brought the most trouble. Actually, I guess that isn’t irony, it’s more like the exact opposite of irony. Trouble is used loosely; I haven’t been openly confronted by anyone.

“If she doesn’t say that again I’ll be so mad.” Is it possible that they are talking about me? No, I must be over sensitive. “She’s american and she can’t even say the pledge.” Oh my gosh, they are talking about me. I would be lying if I didn’t say I smirked and took a little pleasure in the acknowledgment of my silent rebellion. Their “threats” don’t intimidate me because I wholeheartedly believe in my cause.

There is a time and a place for everything, including the Pledge of Allegiance. But that time and place is not 7:25 am in my first period class. If you see me at an official event or military memorial service, I’ll be one of the first people to stand up and place my hand over my heart. I respect my country and the women and men fighting for my nation every day. Even when I’m not saying the pledge, I still stand respectfully and remain quiet. My aim is not to become a traitor to my country, but rather to be honest.

It has become a force of habit to stand and recite the pledge with no questions asked. Is that really being faithful to your country? Those kids who were talking, literally, behind my back don’t say the pledge with meaning. Every morning they half-ass their words and diction and if the entire class is quietly ghosting the pledge, they are probably mouthing along with the words. What is the difference between me not saying the pledge every morning because I don’t truly mean it and the kid saying the pledge without any enthusiasm? The only one I can think of is one of us is lying and the other is not.

Each morning these kids are pledging their allegiance to a government they know little about without hesitation. As young as 5, children are being tricked into believing that they have to say the pledge every morning. Few school children are reciting it out of respect. I admit, there are some children who pledge with conviction for whatever reason, but the majority of them are not. Is this really what we want as a country? No real dedicated followers?

There are some other qualms I have with the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance. I disagree with pledging under God. It goes against a fundamental principle our nation is built on. We pride ourselves in being a religiously free and diverse nation. Religious freedom is in the first constitutional amendment. Yet those who have faith in a being or beings other than God are obligated to take an oath in his name. Ever since 1954, when God was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance, there has been a huge controversy on whether or not God should remain. Personally I believe that as our Constitution insists, religion should remain separate from the government, although this has never happened in the history of the United States.

I don’t want to delve too far into my personal issues with the pledge out of concern that it will invalidate my argument. However, after World War II, the salute to the flag was taken out of the pledge because it resembled the Nazi salute too much. It’s slightly concerning that my fellow students are unconsciously reciting a pledge, which they don’t truly mean, because they feel pressured into it. The pledge reminds me of a Terms & Conditions Agreement that is so lengthy that no one ever reads, but still signs. We are signing our life away without hesitation because we don’t want to be considered a traitor.

Now whenever I say the Pledge of Allegiance, I know I am only saying it because I truly believe in the cause. My dedication to my nation is more honest and passionate than that of a kid who says the pledge faithfully everyday with no truth behind the words.

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Paris Letters – Janice MacLeod

Paris Letters:

To put it quite simply, Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod is absolutely magnifique, a perfect book for anyone who dreams of traveling the world.

The story follows the author’s -Janice’s- adventures once she quits her dull, 9-5- job, packs up her belongings into a single suitcase and travels to Europe. She arrives in Paris, where she falls in love with both the city’s undeniable charm, and an equally charming, Polish butcher named Christophe. The novel chronicles Janice’s journey of self discovery as she learns to rethink her lifestyle and embrace adventure in a foreign land.

I finished this book in nearly one sitting, as it’s rather short, only about 250 pages, and I cannot imagine reading it any other way. The story, for me, was more about Janice’s journey and the mood of Paris, than her actual travels. The letters included throughout the novel completely enrich the reading experience, and her writing takes you away along with her to Paris and beyond.

Although I couldn’t relate that much to the main character- understandably since I am 20 years younger- it didn’t hinder my ability to become enthralled in the story and find myself nodding my head as I read about her experiences. What makes this novel truly brilliant is the picture it paints of travel, and the mood that is so concretely installed within the text. The way MacLeod describes Paris, her struggles with the language barrier, and the pickpockets that roam the streets, seems so realistic and yet incredibly enchanting, making you believe in the magic of the French.

Since I’ve never been to Paris, I wouldn’t know whether or not her descriptions are accurate representations of the city, but Paris Letters made me want to immediately pack my bags and head off to the City of Love.  She talks a lot about minimalism and avoiding the urge to travel like a tourist. I felt myself encouraged to throw away my schedule, and spend time lounging by the Seine with a journal instead of rushing off to the Louvre. In many ways, her approach to travel is greatly influenced by her Paris lover, Christophe, but she adopts her own roaming style as she becomes adapted to the city and her newfound freedom.

Whenever somebody wants to travel, the immediate question is always related to money, and MacLeod deals with the topic quite honestly. She explains how she saved money to quit her job and jet off to Europe, and she doesn’t sugar coat anything and say that it’s easy. I think that the issue of money is always people’s number one problem when trying to travel, but there are many tips and tricks wound throughout the story, as well as a handy guide to earning extra money located in the back of the book. She explains that you can earn money doing what you love, not just what you’re good at, and can cater your job around your travels.

Overall, Paris Letters left me with an ache in my heart, amplifying my excitement to one day experience Paris for myself along with the rest of the world. I couldn’t have read this novel at a better time, and although some parts are a bit slow, they center around the creation of a mood that will make you close your eyes and dream of crêperies and antique bookshops glowing in the Paris sun.

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What Stress is Worth It

What Stress is Worth it? 

If you are or ever have been a student, then you have probably experienced stress at some point during your high school career. This stress affects some people far more than others, however I have no doubt that every human being alive today can name at least one stressful situation that they’ve had to endure recently. As humans, stress and stress responses are hard wired into our DNA, and as a result, we have numerous behavioral mechanisms, both physiological and psychological, that are prepared to help us combat this underrated epidemic.  

The fight or flight response. This is something that we’ve all heard of and probably experienced before, so if you don’t mind, I am going to skip explaining all of the biological processes behind this phenomenon since I don’t particularly like science, and I would prefer to  just move ahead to why stress = bad. According to the theory of fight or flight, we have two options when faced with a stressful situation, run away or tough it out.  When I mention cutting stress out of your life, I don’t mean to just run away from every problem or test that starts to bug your brain; that would qualify as a “flight” reaction, and sometimes they can be just as emotionally taxing as a three and a half hour AP Physics exam. You see, running away from your problems can seem extremely beneficial at the time being, but there is an underlying effect that people rarely consider when fleeing from a problem… regret.

Oh regret, the sharp edged knife that cuts deep into our chest whenever we make a tough decision. Regret is arguably the most humane emotion that we experience, and it’s crippling. Regret lies heavy in the hearts of many and can drive madness into the minds of anyone who cannot bear the weight. “What if I had studied more for that test?” “What if I didn’t go out with my friends last night?”  “What would have happened?” These questions make us all wish we had reset buttons that could turn back the clock, but since such an object has yet to be invented, we are forced to drudge through our doubts and uneasiness until we can move on. Sometimes that process takes minutes, hours, or days, and sometimes, weeks, months, or even years to complete, and still the memory of that heaviness remains in our hearts.

So, if fighting through stress is painful, but suffering through regret is equally torturous, then how do we win our battles against this pesky little devil?  If you were expecting a clear answer, I hate to tell you this, but I don’t exactly have one.

Personally, I try to gauge my stress levels by prioritizing certain tasks, and letting go of my unreasonable expectations. By this, I mean choosing a few immediate goals and working to accomplish them one by one. Also, I have to accept that there are some things more important than tests, or essays, like my mental health, for example.

One way that I have gone about eliminating stress is by deciding what in my life matters most to me, especially when it comes to school. I know for a fact that I care far more about learning foreign languages and studying our government as opposed to science and math, so I decided to cut myself a little slack when it came to my grades in those latter subjects. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel that pang of panic before any test, no matter the subject, but I tell myself that it doesn’t matter that much in the end. I know, I know, I can feel the eye rolls from behind the screen, but this strategy has worked for me in the past.

Once I set my priorities, I started chopping away at my schedule. I knew that I wanted more time to read for pleasure, study my various languages, and keep up to date on basically everything on CNN, so this meant that looking up the results of the Indiana Presidential Primary and studying for my French exam took priority over spending countless hours reviewing the differences between RNA transcription and translation. I made sure I was familiar with those topics, but then I focused my attention elsewhere. I also decided that doing two sports at the same time competitively was just not going to work anymore. It was hard, and I definitely felt that annoying regret settling in for a bit, but in the end, I treasure those extra two hours I get everyday when I don’t need to drive 40 minutes to a sport that I simply don’t love the way I used to.

I had to realize that my life was going to be okay if I didn’t participate in everything. I wasn’t going to fail at life because I dropped from an AP science class down to an honors, and colleges were not going to reject me solely because I cut winter track out of my schedule. I’m still working on accepting these new changes into my life, but so far, I’m really enjoying the extra hours of sleep, and the clear mist that blocks out the panic when I take a math test. For me, this isn’t a flight response, it’s a fight. I had to sit down and really think about what I cared most about and what I could risk losing, I had to work through those feelings. I have determined where I want to go in this world, and found the most efficient way to get there.

My interests may change and fade with time as hobbies do, and so my priorities will develop along with them. Stress may be inevitable, but we can choose the extent to which we allow it to control our lives. If we enjoy our stressful activities, are we really stressed at all?

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Fluency: An Unobtainable Goal

Fluency: An Unobtainable Goal

You would think that after living in the United States for 16 years and growing up in a monolingual English speaking family, I would be fluent in English. But if I really sit down and think about it, I’m not so sure that I am.

There is this sort of opinion in the world, or at least in the educational community, that the ultimate goal of language learning is fluency. But fluency is a vague idea, and it is very difficult to define. Some people say that to be truly fluent in a language, you need to be able to speak, write, read, and understand what is being said in that target language with a level of security and comfort that what you are saying is clear and comprehensible.

If this is the case, then I suppose I am fluent in English and probably French as well, but when I think about myself communicating day to day, I doubt whether or not I would be able to express all of my ideas in both languages. Obviously, as I am a native English speaker, there is little that I cannot discuss in English, however certain topics in French would be nearly impossible for me to talk about. Then again, those incomprehensible topics exist in English as well.

Say, for example, that you are talking to me about astrophysics. I know that you’re speaking a language that I understand, I recognize the sounds of the words and the inflection in your voice, but I have no idea what you’re talking about. God forbid I try to contribute to the conversation. Astrophysics is a language in itself, and I am certainly not fluent.

If I don’t recognize half of the words in a sentence and the topic of the conversation is completely foreign to me, then I am not an effective communicator. If I am not an effective communicator, than I cannot truly define myself as fluent. Language is the broad umbrella under which we group the words that we use to speak a language and to understand the thoughts of others. Language is a tool we use to communicate effectively, a tool that we wield so that we can understand subjects like astrophysics, l’astrophysique, or астрофи́зика. Astrophysics is a language all on its own, and it can be expressed in many different tongues.

Most avid language learners will all agree that fluency is not a concrete objective, and it is certainly difficult to determine when exactly you qualify as fluent. There is no official fluency test that you need to pass to declare yourself a fluent speaker, and since language is constantly advancing and evolving, it isn’t possible to know every word or phrase. Understanding a language grammatically is completely different than knowing a language culturally, as many words have different connotations depending on the region where they are spoken.

Some of my personal role models in the polyglot/language learning community have great ideas about what it means to really speak a language, and constantly ask the question; “At what point can we truly consider ourselves masters of a second language?” Nearly all of them are tagged with labels like “Teenage Genius speaks 20 languages!” and “Twin brothers speak 10 languages a piece!” however, most of these people only consider themselves truly fluent in a few of those dozens they have studied.

I find it extremely curious and fascinating that it is the people who have not actually learned any languages that categorize these levels of fluency, and they tend to always over exaggerate the abilities of others. Many monolingual people tend to give very simple definitions when it comes to fluency, normally citing “speaking another language” as the main criteria for bilingualism. Anyone who has studied numerous languages at a relatively high level will be able to tell you anyone can speak another language, but it is their ability to understand what they are saying in that second language that makes them bilingual.

Overall, I would define fluency as the ability to effectively communicate with others about a wide variety of topics, and to understand the cultural context of the language in which you are speaking. I think that as language learners, effective communication is our true, obtainable goal. Fluency, on the other hand, is more of the asymptote for our ability equation. We will forever inch closer and closer to the illusive idea, but we will never quite reach it. Try as we might, there will always be more words to learn, more dialects to explore, and more people to enlighten us.

Here are a view video’s of some of my favorite polyglots describing fluency in their own terms.

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