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

December 04, 2007, 11:17 PM posted in 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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December 04, 2007, 11:38 PM

Hehe, I loooved General Relativity (and the associated geometry) when I did it, but unfortunately it transpired there is no way in hell I was ever going to do a PhD in GR, so I gave up and started learning Chinese instead. That's as close as I'm getting to asserting Chinese is a black hole :D

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December 06, 2007, 05:53 PM

Mandomikey, although I like Yves answer also.

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December 05, 2007, 05:25 AM

Um, maybe just a nuetron star.

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December 05, 2007, 06:32 AM

Left alone that we all hope that this rips a hole into space/time so we can move through to another dimension . Although in reality we are of course just being thinned out and ripped apart. You should boldy acquire some advanced math and formalize your thoughts. Maybe you place the theory in some A+ journal...

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December 05, 2007, 09:52 AM

Rich, I have always thought of the brain as a computer that operates on a quantum mechanical level. Perhaps you need to unify your theory.

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December 05, 2007, 09:53 PM

I'm beginning to wonder if there is a correlation between physics types and mandarin learners...

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December 06, 2007, 05:44 AM

While the number of posters to this thread does not likely constitute a statistically significant portion of the Chinese Pod community to say that there is a strong correlation, I would say that intellectual challenge of learning Chinese is similar to the intellectual challenge of Theoretical Physics and Non-Euclidean Geometries.

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December 06, 2007, 05:48 AM

sibire, as much as quantum theory is trying to describe the physical universe, it is essentially heavy duty maths rather than physics to me...

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December 06, 2007, 05:48 AM

I will agree that physics type have some attraction to Chinese and other Eastern languages. Count me in as another one.

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December 06, 2007, 07:10 AM

There is hope though. Hawking Radiation, which if I remember correct states that there are constantly pairs of particles and anti-particles forming from nothing and then annihilating each other through out space. If this occurs near the event horizon, an anti-particle can fall in the blackhole and it's pair can survive on it's own, forming a new particle. The anti-particle also reduces the mass of the blackhole.

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December 05, 2007, 05:09 AM

You've certainly done some heavy thinking! *giggle* No pun intended. Have a listen to an show Kip Thorne did on Australian radio here:

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December 06, 2007, 07:28 AM

Oh, I wanted to comment, that while you can't take the population of poddies reading this to say that most are scientists or whatever, but I have found, when in Tianjin studying at the same language school in which Westerners of different trades (usually to later go help with charity work west China), it seems so many were computer scientists and engineers! I really think Chinese is an object-oriented language, at least that's the way I think as you can see from my character posts on

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December 06, 2007, 07:46 AM

Rich, Chinese aside, it should be no surprise that many people participating in blogs/forums and deciding to learn a language online would be nerds, computer scientists and such like. I'm sure there's lots of other indicators you'd find in common if you could open the CPod vault, interesting stuff for market research there (and the business school case study that will undoubtedly come out one day)

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December 06, 2007, 07:55 AM

being more a maths than physics type, and not to bring in any neuroscience complexity to the debate, I'd say that the main difficulty with Chinese is its n+1 dimension. However many dimensions you think language learning entails, 汉字 brings one more. Not that I think it's inherently difficult, it's even be the main magnet to me, I'd never had started Chinese without, but I constantly experience a complete lack of correlation between what I can read/write vs speech understanding /production. How's that for black holes?

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December 06, 2007, 07:57 AM

But I am not talking about ChinesePod, I am taking about like the school where I studied at ( not to say that they were ALLL "nerds" :P But I think the ones who grasp the characters best (not that I am saying we all can't or aren't, but those who had less difficulty) or those who were most likely to just learn Chinese on their own for the mere challenge of it (like I originally started) are those visual, nerdy learners. :) (nerd as in a good sense, but very technical people.... have I put myself in any more hot water? ha ha)

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December 06, 2007, 10:04 AM

Obviously Chinese is not for the intellectually weak. Therefore by default those that remain are probably brighter than the general population and in this group I would expect a greater number of science types. These are also the people that like a challenge. Goulniky is right - I wouldnt say there is no correlation with speech but I understand your point. I have no doubt that I will be able to read Chinese one day very well but I still have doubts about ever being able to speak well. Im not sure its a black hole but definitely a bottomless pit. A life long venture. Rich I agree that stepping back and taking a different approach for a while usually helps. -Rj

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December 06, 2007, 10:21 AM

There is a theory that we are all born with trillions of neural connections and in the first few years of life we keep those we need (use) and the rest atrophy and dissappear. I have often wondered if the Chinese people, faced with learning a more difficult language and one that uses both sides of the brain instead of just one, end up on average with higher intelligence because of this.

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December 06, 2007, 04:44 PM

Chinese requires both hemispheres to be learned? How do you figure that?

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December 06, 2007, 05:42 PM

mandomikey, most Chinese live in the Northen hemisphere but they are increasingly present in the Africa nowadays, not to mention Australia that has lots of 华侨 :-)

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December 06, 2007, 07:26 AM

Again, at the top of my post, I said I got it from a friend, so not my theory, but it did make quite a lot of sense to me!! I have found it a lot more useful actually (can argue about it I guess) to go aaaaalllll the way back to the beginner state of Chinese and learn from there.... well, that is what I was forced to do to get a masters in Chinese studies with 6 classmates who just started learning the language. You may think that would be a bore for me, but not... the class moves so fast (they have to be pretty much conversationally fluent, at least for asking a teacher for details or a person for general information) but I am learning from a different book, and they even teach different words. To make it challenging for me, I write down everything the teacher says from their 20-characters a lesson (1 1/2 lessons a week), and so my writing has improved greatly. My whole point is that I had to pull away from this "black hole" and take another spin on things, and so I highly recommend it... of course maybe not so easy for the 自学 Chinese learner, or even in classes. Again, I don't regret having to relearn all the basic grammar and words.... so much I had long forgotten and had picked up bad Chinese practices from Chinese friends (just like we actually often say bad English grammar). I still am in a blackhole when it comes to learning new advanced words, from reading the news paper or a Chinese novel. These words never seek in because it seems like there is a zillion uses for the new characters and a zilion ways to say such-and-such word. Ugh. (English is probably just the same though)