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Rovers - He Or She?
hendric
post Jun 22 2005, 02:42 AM
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Mike,
Oh come on, anything that

1. Stops talking to you for days, for no reason you can figure out.

2. Breaks a wheel, and has to limp around.

3. Is totally beautiful.

4. Shows you things you've never seen before ahem.

and

5. Constantly looks at themselves to check on how they look...

...simply must be feminine!


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"The engineers, as usual, made a tremendous fuss. Again as usual, they did the job in half the time they had dismissed as being absolutely impossible." --Rescue Party, Arthur C Clarke
Mother Nature is the final inspector of all quality.
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Guest_Richard Trigaux_*
post Jun 22 2005, 05:57 AM
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QUOTE (dvandorn)
But in a very real sense, these plucky rovers *are* vessels -- of our imaginations, hopes and dreams.


Thank you for this discution, especially dvandorn for the poetical quote above. After all, being scienific and "rational" does not forbid to be human beings with hopes, emotions and dreams. And what a wonderful dream is going true, with the rovers on Mars.

But to solve the matter itself, I suggest to come back to the scientific method: observation. Wait that a russian "he" rover meets an american "she" rover, and look what happens.
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helvick
post Jun 22 2005, 05:58 AM
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QUOTE (dvandorn @ Jun 21 2005, 08:02 PM)
And you're right, I think only the Russians (at least of the European societies) refer to a ship as "he."

Americans (and, to a lesser extent, the British) have embraced scientific rationalism to the extent that they've tried to distance the English language from such non-rational concepts as a female chair or a male shovel, and I'm sure that more Americans refer to Spirit or Opportunity as "it" than they do "him" or "her"... but there is still enough irrationality to our language that we can safely use feminine pronouns for the rovers.

-the other Doug
*


Just watching a BBC snippet on Cosmos-1 and they're referring to Cosmos-1 as "she", clearly just having a Russian launcher isn't sufficient to force a gender change.
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djellison
post Jun 22 2005, 07:18 AM
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Yup - Vessels of exploration are always female smile.gif

Doug
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edstrick
post Jun 22 2005, 07:31 AM
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Would it then be: Ms Opportunity and Ms Spirit?

<ducks and runs>
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Guest_Richard Trigaux_*
post Jun 22 2005, 08:33 AM
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QUOTE (edstrick @ Jun 22 2005, 07:31 AM)
Would it then be: Ms Opportunity and Ms Spirit?
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That depends if she is married or not.
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Guest_Richard Trigaux_*
post Jun 22 2005, 08:48 AM
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QUOTE (dvandorn @ Jun 21 2005 @ 08:02 PM)
Americans (and, to a lesser extent, the British) have embraced scientific rationalism to the extent that they've tried to distance the English language from such non-rational concepts as a female chair or a male shovel, and I'm sure that more Americans refer to Spirit or Opportunity as "it" than they do "him" or "her"... but there is still enough irrationality to our language that we can safely use feminine pronouns for the rovers.

-the other Doug




Seriously, I do not think it would be more "rational" to abandon the use of some of our poetical language tips. This may lead us to some scientistist fundamentalism, with no guaranties of better science results. Some among the greatest scientists were interested in poetry, peace, spirituality, etc... So I think there is no harm to have some pranks like this in a serious science forum. And some jest in very serious science reviews would make them more accessible to ordinary persons.
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djellison
post Jun 22 2005, 09:07 AM
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Hands up - I actually got complaints about this stuff being OT ( fair enough ) and being obscene (bit excessive me thinks ) which is why I just dragged the whole lot into here smile.gif

I've grown fond of these rovers, and somehow the female phraseology seems appropriate, as it does with my totally non-sexual Venus Fly Trap who is also a 'she' smile.gif

Doug
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edstrick
post Jun 22 2005, 09:24 AM
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Trigaux said "..... Some among the greatest scientists were interested in poetry, peace, spirituality, etc..."

Decades ago, C.P. <I think> Snow wrote about the "2 Cultures" of the arts and sciences and the deep divide between them. Others have pointed out repeatedly that scientists are frequently deeply interested in the arts (I *don't* know about engineers...).

MIT has a pretty damnfine symphony orchestra. I doubt *any* musical conservatories, at least in the US, have chemistry labs or minors in astronomy. The divide is far wider on one side than the other.
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Guest_Richard Trigaux_*
post Jun 22 2005, 05:19 PM
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QUOTE (edstrick @ Jun 22 2005, 09:24 AM)
Decades ago, C.P. <I think> Snow wrote about the "2 Cultures" of the arts and sciences and the deep divide between them.  Others have pointed out repeatedly that scientists are frequently deeply interested in the arts  (I *don't* know about engineers...).
*



What I think is that there is only one life, and one universe, and various aspects of it to explore by different means. Arts and science are nothing but two means to explore different parts of the universe, our inner spirit with music, the outer world with science. So I think anybody really interested in one will at least have some casual interest in the other. Of course, if one choose to be a scientist just because he is good in math, he can become a good scientist and even make discoveries, but never become a visionary genius like Leonardo da Vinci, one of the rare to be a genius in both science and arts.

If I understood well, the Freudian concept of libido is not just what we usually understand with this word: it encompasses anny desire to explore the universe and to experience all its aspects. I have tears in my eyes when I hear beautiful music, and also when I see Saturn moons and Titan ground.

QUOTE (edstrick @ Jun 22 2005, 09:24 AM)
MIT has a pretty damnfine symphony orchestra.  I doubt *any* musical conservatories, at least in the US, have chemistry labs or minors in astronomy.  The divide is far wider on one side than the other.
*


Alas this remark is true. In ancient times it was not, for instance the Gaelic druids were a group of art, music and technology studiers, there was no "domains". Today we put too many divisions, science would be "serious" and art "leisure", or on the countrary art would be "good" and science only "materialistic". Worse, since some tens of years, at least in my country France, there is a "stalinism" of intellectual art, with heavy state buying of "modern art" and a regular shunning of popular art, progressist art, etc. Of course these persons are proud to declare science "intellectual" or things like that, and it is, I think, the main reason why the divide is larger on one side. But if you look among true artists, you will find persons interested in science. Same for spirituality.

Real culture is not divided.
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JRehling
post Jun 22 2005, 05:33 PM
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QUOTE (Richard Trigaux @ Jun 22 2005, 01:48 AM)
Seriously, I do not think it would be more "rational" to abandon the use of some of our poetical language tips. This may lead us to some scientistist fundamentalism, with no guaranties of better science results. Some among the greatest scientists were interested in poetry, peace, spirituality, etc... So I think there is no harm to have some pranks like this in a serious science forum. And some jest in very serious science reviews would make them more accessible to ordinary persons.
*


I echo Richard's comment, but add this:

I've been disturbed by some of the talk in this thread; gender in language is not irrational. It disambiguates items in certain sentences, allowing comprehensibility to take place with shorter sentences, and thus increasing signal/time. It also provides redundancy with no added content, assisting comprehension in the presence of noise.
The purpose of pronouns in general is to "compress" messages, so you don't have to say, "I asked my stock broker and my stock broker said that my stock broker's car was available for use later if I ask my stock broker."
Pronouns turn that four-syllable phrase into a one-syllable word, cutting nine syllables out of that 34-syllable sentence -- a nice reduction!
When you get two pronouns in the same sentence, gender gives you a 50% chance that you can leave both as monosyllables without "expanding" either. If you have more noun classes (German, Latin, and the Slavic languages have three; some languages have more), the chances of a "gender collision" are even lower, so pronoun use (and brevity) can be maximized. This is human language utilizing one of the same principles used in file compression. How is that irrational?

Gender in adjectives adds a bit or two of redundancy to a noun phrase to assist in comprehension. In fact, it often allows the noun to be dropped altogether, and then you again get a shorter message with the same comprehensibility.

This is true whether or not the classification system has anything to do with biological gender. Most language families that have such systems do not tie them to biological gender, but the IndoEuropean languages usually do, and it's a rather brilliant solution to a problem: Since many of the nouns in human speech refer to people, and it is desirable to get the same disambiguation benefit you get with things, it's valuable to have people fall into different classes, and to have the split be as close as possible to 50-50. Ta da, gender.

(You might ask if this mechanism is all so beneficial, why don't all languages have it? That's a question that runs across all the varied properties of different languages. They usually play trade-offs, and end up with a good solution, not necessarily an ideal one, and it turns out there are infinitely many good solutions, and if there is an ideal language design, it is either elusive or is negligibly better than the existing cases.)

It bugs me when scientists and would-be scientists assume that their rational world view is complete, tidy, and that anything outside of it is wrong. Sometimes when such a person believes that a circumstance is like that, it's not the world that's wrong. None of this is pure silliness. It's damn fine engineering of an information-transmission scheme.
It also happens to have aesthetic qualities.
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helvick
post Jun 22 2005, 08:54 PM
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QUOTE (JRehling @ Jun 22 2005, 06:33 PM)
...gender in language is not irrational. It disambiguates items in certain sentences, allowing comprehensibility to take place with shorter sentences, and thus increasing signal/time. It also provides redundancy with no added content, assisting comprehension in the presence of noise.
  ...
  It also happens to have aesthetic qualities.
*


Excellent comment.

Aesthetics aside I don't see that there is much disambiguity\compression to be had by having genderised pronouns. "Gender" neutral language in english that merely avoids genderised pronouns sounds a bit stilted at times but isn't wasteful of bandwidth (I think). Also it seems to me that human languages tend to be significantly redundant, sufficient comprehension of meaning rarely requires more than 60% of content. Not my field at all though so this is just uninformed supposition on my part.
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JRehling
post Jun 22 2005, 09:39 PM
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[quote=helvick,Jun 22 2005, 01:54 PM]
Excellent comment.

Aesthetics aside I don't see that there is much disambiguity\compression to be had by having genderised pronouns. "Gender" neutral language in english that merely avoids genderised pronouns sounds a bit stilted at times but isn't wasteful of bandwidth (I think).
[/unquote]

Sure it is. In many cases. An example without the power of brevity that pronouns bestow.

"They hoped that David Smith's mother could give them a ride, and they asked David Smith's mother, but David Smith's mother said that David Smith's mother could not. They ended up coming back to David Smith's mother with David Smith's mother finally saying yes when they asked David Frank's father and when David Frank's father absolutely refused, David Smith's mother agreed."

With pronouns:

"They hoped that David Smith's mother could give them a ride, and they asked her, but she said that she could not. They ended up coming back to her with her finally saying yes when they asked David Frank's father and when he absolutely refused, she agreed."

The brevity that the six pronoun substitutions provides is obvious. But if the gender of the two participants were the same, you couldn't perform all six. To assure full clarity, you would have to expand the last two noun phrases to full form (or try to do something tricky with the tone of your voice). So, with gender (in this case, which will happen about 50% of the time!), you can make six substitutions. Without gender, you can only make four. So in instances like this, you will average 5.0 substitutions with gender in your language, and only average 4.0 without it. Not a tremendous gain, but then, it's not a tremendous cost: the pronoun use above is quite easy to perform.

[quote]
Also it seems to me that human languages tend to be significantly redundant, sufficient comprehension of meaning rarely requires more than 60% of content. Not my field at all though so this is just uninformed supposition on my part.
*

[/quote]

There is a wide variety in terms of how comprehensible speech acts are. A math teacher might say something and have less than half the students understand. Likewise, a Texan in Scotland might lose a lot of what is being heard due to the accent and vocabulary differences. So the transmission of content is often less than 1.0 what is necessary, not more than 1.0. Difficulty can come from the topic being unfamiliar to the listener, or background noise, speech production errors, etc, etc. We are surely all familiar with the circumstance of having someone speak, and we can only marginally understand them. Redundancy can help overcome those problems; it's not just there for the heck of it.
In circumstances wherein the problems are all gone, then you often see unneeded redundancy... the same is true of engineering in general. You're often happier to have an unneeded backup than to lack a needed one-of-a-kind part that failed. My spare tire isn't an irrational burden in my car, nor was Galileo's low-gain antenna. Gender is like that. It provides information without (in the case of English pronouns) adding to utterance length, and that may be helpful for any of the above reasons.
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helvick
post Jun 22 2005, 10:16 PM
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Nice response.

The specific "choice" of using genderised pronouns in English to provide this occassional brevity has been the cause of much heated debate in the past (see below). I have to own up to having been somewhat of a troll in a very ancient online debate where this was a personal favourite of mine but I'm not going to go down that road now that I'm a lot older and more sensible.

So on this let me be clear I'm 100% with you, nice argument and well made.

For the curious, and I'm not going to be further drawn into this topic on this forum, you can have some fun reading Douglas Hofstadter's - A Person Paper on Purity in Language.
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JRehling
post Jun 22 2005, 10:28 PM
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QUOTE (helvick @ Jun 22 2005, 03:16 PM)
For the curious, and I'm not going to be further drawn into this topic on this forum, you can have some fun reading Douglas Hofstadter's - A Person Paper on Purity in Language.
*


Doug was my PhD advisor smile.gif
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