Linguist I

19 03 2008

I’ve recently developed a fascination with words, types of words and origins of words. Just in my surfing, I picked up a few new things.

Déjà vu – (from Merriam-Webster) 1 a : the illusion of remembering scenes and events when experienced for the first time

The literal French is “already seen“. According to Wikipedia, what’s more commonly experienced is Déjà vécu, the sensation of having already lived. According to a poorly cited source, as much as 70% of the global population has experienced Déjà vécu.

Jamais vu (“never seen”) is the condition of not recognizing a situation, place or person as familiar despite the knowledge that such a thing has been experienced before. A Times report cited by Wikipedia explains one example:

Chris Moulin, of Leeds University, asked 92 volunteers to write out “door” 30 times in 60 seconds. At the International Conference on Memory in Sydney last week he reported that 68 per cent of his guinea pigs showed symptoms of jamais vu, such as beginning to doubt that “door” was a real word. Dr Moulin believes that a similar brain fatigue underlies a phenomenon observed in some schizophrenia patients: that a familiar person has been replaced by an impostor. Dr Moulin suggests they could be suffering from chronic jamais vu.

Presque vu is the sensation of having something on the tip of your tongue. Try impressing your friends with that phrase… just don’t forget what it is.





What’s in a Name? University of Wisconsin’s rich history

5 03 2008

I was sitting in my intro microbiology lecture, taught by professor Stephen Barclay, and a thought struck me. This man lecturing before me, though somewhat rambling and dry at times, had a real passion for the history of science, particularly at our university, UW-Madison. Every important scientist in the field of microbiology, it seems, came from, started at or had a hand in research at UW.

Of course, that statement isn’t entirely true, but Barclay’s boasts speak to a rich history of research and scientific breakthroughs that make the UW one of the top public universities research-wise. What makes it all even more fascinating is that the departments of these breakthrough scientists are housed in a college of the university called the “College of Agriculture and Life Sciences” (CALS). If some administrators had their way, the school would just scratch the agriculture part and be on it’s way.

But there is no denying that CALS would not have such funding for biofuels, stem cell research and the like had it not led the way in prior agricultural research followed by groundbreaking genetics, biochemistry and microbiology findings. In my next few posts, I intend (for my own knowledge as well as that of any readers that may show) to give some overview into the significance of names seen on and around campus including Temin, Babcock, Steenbock, Elvehjem and more.

As I was listening to Barclay speak, I remembered back to how many science professors I’ve had who have proclaimed the greatness of some of the world’s most amazing scientists. Their stories are fascinating, and you begin to realize that the history of our scientific discoveries is nearly as fascinating as the discoveries themselves. Past, present and future are all importantly linked.

We’ve discovered the secret of life.  – Francis Crick