Photo by Carlos de Toro @carlosdetoro

Some make us look foolish,

and some make us look wise.

We are imperfect mirrors

for each other’s lives.


Both involve materials, planning, rough cuts and polish

Photo by Sándor Szabó on Unsplash

The materials come from memories,
big, sturdy ones like oak,
common ones like pine and spruce,
elegant ones like ebony,
light, flexible ones like balsa,
versatile ones like bamboo,
and ones as rare and hard as lignum vitae.

Then there’s the plan.
Do you want a durable structure
to house some large ideas,
a temporary thing
to express a fleeting thought,
or perhaps a little work of art
to hang up on your wall?
Each requires its own design.

Next comes the execution,
selecting, cutting, and combining words and phrases. …


It’s distributed through social grids; can we distribute it more equitably?

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

“Lucky, lucky, lucky me
I’m a lucky son of a gun
I work eight hours and sleep eight hours
That leaves eight hours for fun”
(Milton Berle / Buddy Arnold)

If we are ever to solve the problem of equitable wealth distribution, it may help to understand money as a form of stored energy. …


Photo by Andy Beales on Unsplash

I have answered many of the big questions of life to my personal satisfaction, but some outstandingly interesting ones are left, for which our grandchildren may learn answers, but people my age probably won’t:

  • How do the language capabilities of our brains work in detail in comparison with the brains of other animals?
  • Will we humans stop global warming before it becomes catastrophically irreversible, and how will we accomplish that?
  • Will we ever achieve long-lasting, fair human rights, including equitable wealth distribution, and how will that happen?
  • Will we make communicative contact with more advanced civilizations from whom we can…

It’s not the trip, but preparing for the trip, that matters

Photo by author

Warm summer sunshine,
Crisp winter snow,
Green spring and golden autumn,
I can have those till I go.

And warm conversations
Shared over food
With good friends and family
Will brighten my mood.

I sometimes joke that my longevity is a matter of negotiation between my doctor and my pension manager. As of now I reckon that I have about five good years left before serious bodily and financial decline set in, culminating in the trip to nowhere. So I am beginning to unpack for the trip.

Since I…


It’s mainly bottom-up but with expectations

Phrase structure for “two hundred and twelve thousand” parsed when expecting a CARDINAL number. Vertical arrows mean “consists of”, and horizontal arrows mean “followed by”. — Diagram by author

I believe that the process of parsing sentences is just a special case of a general process by which our brains parse our experiences.

When we read a sentence, we “parse” it into words and phrases, assembling a meaning representation for the sentence from meaning representations of its components. I have experience with details of that process, having written a computer program to emulate it. (See http://www.yorku.ca/jmason/ASDParserOverview.html .) …


The age-old question of chance, causation, and free will

Photo by Hadija Saidi on Unsplash

Why did I decide to write this essay, and why did you decide to read it? We like to think those were conscious, free-will decisions. Yet those particular questions are just special cases of a question that people, especially philosophers, have been asking for ages: Are events ultimately just random, or are there deeper reasons why things happen?

Causation is a very useful concept in many situations. If we learn that one kind of event is usually followed by another kind of event, that knowledge can be very helpful for keeping…


All politicians need positive images, but some are just actors

Photo by Alberto Bigoni on Unsplash

Ronald Reagan was the first Acting President. He made his reputation as a movie and television actor and in television commercials, and he went on to use the images of the characters he played as his political image — the soft-spoken, straight-talking, modest (“aw shucks”) tough guy.

Donald J. Trump was the second Acting President. For years he portrayed an astute, successful businessman on television. …


Actions based on ignorance, no matter how well-intentioned, are dangerous.

Photo by Azzedine Rouichi on Unsplash

After the longest war in its history, the United States is withdrawing its military forces from Afghanistan, with all of the sad, predictable consequences that will entail. Why did U.S. government leaders think it would end otherwise — that an alien, external culture could transform Afghanistan from a tribal society into a “modern” democracy?

That decision was based on ignorance, both of Afghan history and, ironically, of American society. Recent events have demonstrated that American democracy is not as solid and well-functioning as even Americans used to believe.

That’s not…

Jim Mason

Studies language, cognition, and humans as social animals

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