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Say It Right Series

Chinese IS a blackhole (some not-so-motivating but humous look at Chinese)

Posted by rich December 4, 2007 in the Group General Discussion.

Something I received from a friend today (a guy named Rob) that is so true as I get into the stage where new words so DO NOT stick with me:

           I have as of late been reading a book by Kip Thorne called
/Black Holes and Time Warps/ which discusses, well, black holes and time
warps.  Many of you don't know that when I was younger I was an
astronomy nerd and had intentions towards being an astrophysicist which
I grew up.  When it turned out that I had the same chance of mastering
the necessary mathematics as a one-legged man has of winning a bronze in
the decathlon, I shifted my astronomy interests to the hobby stage.
Last summer I rediscovered this inner nerdness, hence my perusal of a
book about theoretical physics for non-science types.  Anyway, if you
haven't read anything about black holes they're fascinating things with
profound implications for the way we understand the world around us.  I
will discuss these momentarily.

            There are several pertinent aspects to black holes which I
would like to describe here before I get to the crux of my E-mail.
First, the intense gravity of black holes warps space and time to the
point where both essentially cease to exist.  The concept of a black
hole was rejected for years by the science community as absurd because
it meant you could have something in space which doesn't exist.  Because
the theory of relativity states that time moves differently depending on
your inertial frame (Ha!  I know what an inertial frame is.  Do you?
I'm not going to tell you, because it makes me feel smart.), if you were
to stand some distance off from a black hole and watch a particle fall
into it, time would be warped to such an extent that the particle would
seem to never actually fall in.  It would reach the event horizon (the
limit beyond which nothing can escape), and would hover there forever.
Time has been warped such that you would never see it move again.
Second, if you were to fall into a black hole and look back at space as
you fell, you would see the entire universe, or at least your view of
it, shrink to the size of a pin, almost as though you were being wrapped
up in a blanket.  Space and gravity would have been warped so profoundly
that you would no longer be able to see anything in its normal fashion.
Third, were you to hang out next to a black hole for a few years, when
you tried to return home you would realize that in fact millions of
years had passed because relativity would again insist that time has
passed differently for you in the intense gravitation of a black hole
than in regular space.  As I read all this I suddenly had an epiphany.
Walk through it with me.  There's a relative inability to ever reach the
end. . .in the midst of it you can't see back out except in warped
versions. . .time itself has no meaning. . .wait for it. . .wait for it. . .

            The Chinese language is a black hole.

            And I don't mean that figuratively, like "the Chinese
language is LIKE a black hole."  No, I mean it is literally a nexus in
spacetime within which the laws of the universe cease to function.  Just
yesterday I was chatting (or trying to) with a cab driver whose accent
was so thick I'm not entirely sure he wasn't from Venus, and I remember
thinking: "This is ridiculous.  I study and I study, but I never seem to
make any progress."  Well, now we know why.  It's not because Chinese is
hard.  It's because the language is literally a gravity well near which
nothing actually moves.  In nature as an object approaches the speed of
light its inertia must slow (I think) because nothing can go faster than
the speed of light.  See the parallel?  The better you get at Chinese,
the slower you improve, to the point where from your vantage point
you're not moving at all.  How many times have you studied a specific
character, or heard a certain word, then forgotten it ten minutes
later?  Take heart.  It isn't your fault.  It's the fault of nature.

              Too, have you ever studied Chinese for multiple hours on
end and then tried to function in normal time the rest of the day?
Doesn't work.  On Tuesdays I study all morning, then go to a three-hour
literature class in the afternoon, and sometimes have dinner with some
Chinese friends.  At the end of it all I swear I can feel my brain
imploding, to the extent that once after class my eyeballs actually
hurt.  When you come out of something like that you can look at a page
of English and think, "What the heck is that?"  Seriously, it's exactly
like being wrapped up in a blanket, like I just described.  Before we
just attributed it to mental fatigue.  When we said our brains were
drained, or crushed, or dead, we were speaking figuratively.  Little did
we know that we were actually hitting upon a literal scientific concept,
and that the tissue of our brains was literally being pulled apart by
the excruciating gravitic force of the Chinese language.  Stars are
drained of their thermal energy and counter by imploding in order to
maintain equilibrium in their cores.  Chinese drains us of energy and
our brains respond by imploding.  I mean, seriously, how have we missed

            Then there's the time thing.  I know I'm not the only one
who's experienced relativistic time when staring at a page of Chinese
text.  You stare at a sentence. . .and stare at it.  You look up a word,
you frown because the character you just looked up has 87 definitions
which span the linguistic spectrum from "man" to "classical
philosophical school" and can be pronounced just about any way you
want.  You squeeze your eyes shut, hoping that maybe when you open them
the entire text will have been translated into English by some sort of
language fairy.  But alas.  Then you look at the electronic clock on
your computer and realize that it's now the year 2023.  Given a Chinese
sentence with enough complexity, I'm almost certain a vortex would open
in spacetime and a person could travel through time merely by staring at
the page for a few minutes.

            So there you have it.  Stephen Hawking can keep his
fancy-pants research and his bestselling books.  And all those overpaid
astrophysicists can rot their brains out at the eyepieces of their
telescopes.  We've got our own black hole.

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