The Laursonian Institute

The Laursonian Institute

An exercise in thoroughness

The Laursonian Institute RSS Feed

Archive for May, 2010

We both saw this coming.

It’s on, tomorrow.  It’s my last scan.  My last bit of data collection.

My life is snowballing, thundering down a gully toward some unknowable future.  It’s all coming at me so fast.  My route branching in a thousand directions, each segment of which terminates in some unseeable end.   Every juncture presents me with the opportunity to alter my future, and every juncture reminds me that I’m already on the way to some result, some destination.

This week my brain caught fire again – a conflagration of ideas.  These moments are my most high-spirited, my most optimistic, my most productive, and to my own eyes, almost oppressively important.  The essence of my life shifts, albeit minutely, to putting in the work the last mental pyre set up.  There’s not much stopping my momentum when this spark takes, but it’s worrisome knowing that my intellectual life depends on these randomly distributed flames.  Though in all honesty it’s not as barren as that; the simple fact is that no fire burns without fuel, and with enough fuel and my brain as flint, something will catch sooner or later.

I’m sinking back into PDP modeling,  I find connectionism to hold great sway over me, and it captures my imagination better as a model of neural networks and cognitive processing abilities than any others I’m familiar with.  To make matters worse, I have been completely unenamored with phonological theory since my existential falling-out with Optimality Theory several years back.  It surprises me a great deal that some of the progenitors of OT also have a background in PDP, since the two are not particularly compatible.

I keep putting connectionism behind me as a child’s model – an intellectual fantasy that is too inherently appealing to be taken seriously.   I can’t tell if trying to work in a connectionist framework damns me to an outsiders future, but I can’t help but dabble.  I’m in this PhD business to indulge my intellectual fantasies, and hopefully to do some good research along the way.  I know myself too well to think I could very long justify giving up a model I like because it does not hold a prominent place in linguistics or cognitive science at the moment.

Today I made the first move in the new direction.  I solicited a professor with the architectural blue prints of my second qualifying paper, the first approximation of a connectionist model that incorporates the better part of several other theories in an interesting and potentially tenable way to model perception and sound change.   If it’s accepted as a topic – which I’ll more or less know by the end of the week – I’m afraid I have to formally hand in my structural linguistics passport and ally myself instead with that scourge of that theoretical social sciences…  I’m going to have to declare myself a card-carrying psycholinguistic sympathizer.  Even my former plans for myself can’t escape my brain fire.

Formal phonological theory, I’m breaking up with you.  You do not have the grounding in cognitive principles I need.   So long as you can’t fulfill my needs, I must look elsewhere.  And that elsewhere is neural modeling and neurolinguistics.  Places where there’s more to life than a well-warn philosophers armchair.   Where there is data – quantitative data!  Measurable outcomes!  Biological correlates!  You’ve told me the truth is not out there – but it is.  It’s inside every language user at every moment, and it’s there for the taking.  I’m sorry it didn’t work out between us, but I need more than you can give.  I’ll never forget you and all you taught me.  I’ll carry forth those lessons into these new and exiting lands.  But you’re holding me back.  And I have so much to accomplish.