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Education Extended writing Framing Gender Reading Lists

Why I am a feminist: A reading list

I became a feminist because a woman once told me not to be an idiot and I decided that it was good advice. That was in 1998. But I was all ready to be a feminist long before that, so it really just took a small push to get me over the hump. I was […]

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Extended writing Scholarship Writing

The nonsense of style: Academic writing should be scrupulous not stylish

The problem with writing advice The problem with the likes of Steven Pinker and Helen Sword is that they like their own writing way too much. But I don’t. Like their writing, that is. [1] I want to get some information from them and I want to get examples and counterexamples for the points they […]

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Extended writing Framing Metaphor

Metaphors and freedom: On Tolkien’s notion of allegory vs applicability

On rereading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, I was struck by this passage in his foreword to the second edition: I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability […]

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Education Extended writing

No back row, no corridor: Metaphors for online teaching and learning

Publication note An earlier version of this was published in the Oxford Magazine No 422.  This post expands certain sections based on questions and feedback I received following the first publication of the piece. It is also available on Medium. The state of digital dislocation The current state of digital dislocation is forcing us to reevaluate what […]

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Anthropology Extended writing History

It’s not personal, it’s family: Kin, strangers, guests, and the complexity of social obligation

Brooks on the alternatives to nuclear family Tyler Cowen called the extended essay by David Brooks called ‘The nuclear family was a mistake’ a “so far the best essay of the year with many fine and subtle points”. And he’s not wrong. Brooks who has frequently been caught embellishing data to make a point does a […]

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Education Extended writing Linguistics Writing

How to actually write a sentence: The building blocks of written language

Some time ago, Thomas Basbøll followed up his excellent post on how to write a paragraph with a much more daring endeavour on how to write a sentence. And while the post is a pleasure to read, I think it did not quite overcome the challenge the author stated at the start: “it is substantially more […]

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Extended writing Knowledge Metaphor Philosophy

Potemkin wisdoms, phronesis and Pixar: How wise sayings protect us from meaning

TL;DR This is an exploration of the difference between wisdom and practical wisdom (phronesis) triggered by this quote from a talk by Ed Catmull: “Once one can articulate an important idea into a concise statement, then one can use this statement, and not have to have the fear of changing behavior.” The main lesson is: if […]

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Extended writing History Scholarship

So you think you have a historical analogy? Revisionist history and anthropology reading list

What is this about How badly we’re getting history While the world of history and anthropology of the last 30-40 years has completely redrawn the picture of our past, the common perception of the overall shape of history and the development of humanity is still firmly rooted in the view that took hold in the […]

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AI Extended writing Linguistics

Turing tests in Chinese rooms: What does it mean for AI to outperform humans

TLDR; Reports that AI beat humans on certain benchmarks or very specialised tasks don’t mean that AI is actually better at those tasks than any individual human. They certainly don’t mean that AI is approaching the task with any of the same understanding of the world people do. People actually perform 100% on the tasks […]

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Extended writing Linguistics Metaphor

Fruit loops and metaphors: Metaphors are not about explaining the abstract through concrete but about the dynamic process of negotiated sensemaking

Note: This is a slightly edited version of a post that first appeared on Medium. It elaborates and exemplifies examples I gave in the more recent posts on metaphor and explanation and understanding. One of the less fortunate consequences of the popularity of the conceptual metaphor paradigm (which is also the one I by and large work […]