The Inverted Popularity of This Aspie’s Phobias and Philias, Part I: An Explanation

phobias and philias

The image above contains three colors: white, black, and red. The words appear in red because I see it as a color denoting positive or negative intensity, and phobias and philias are both certainly intense. To “see red,” I have learned, does not usually mean what it would mean if I said it myself. Consistent with Asperger’s Syndrome, which I have, I tend to be almost completely literal in the words I use, while the non-Aspie majority often uses words in confusing (to me) non-literal ways. Over the years, I have figured out that this phrase means, when non-Aspies say it,  that they are extremely angry. (I, however, would only say “I see red” if I was actually seeing light with the wavelength-range, ~620 to ~740 nm, which our species has labeled, in English, as “red.”) On the other hand, red roses and Valentine’s Day hearts are popularly used to symbolize romantic love, which is an intensely positive emotion, while extreme anger is extremely negative. White and black, the other colors above, in much of the world, are commonly associated with, respectively, positive and negative things. I, on the other hand, view these colors the opposite way: I have avoided sunlight for much of my life, and continue to do so (to the point where I need to take supplements of vitamin D), while also reveling in darkness, in much the same way that I revel in my “Aspieness.” Right now, it is daytime here, and I am writing this inside, in a dark room, with the only artificial light reaching me coming from computer screens.

It is a common misconception that Aspies (an informal term many people with Asperger’s use for ourselves) are non-emotional. After all, two well-known fictional characters from different incarnations of Star Trek, Spock and Data, are based, in my opinion, on Aspie stereotypes. Stereotypes, I have observed, are usually based on some real phenomenon, and in this case, that phenomenon is that many Aspies experience emotions in radically different ways from the non-Aspie majority — so differently that we are sometimes perceived by non-Aspies to be emotionless, although that is not the case. This causes a considerable amount of tension, and no small amount of outright hostility, between the community of Aspies and the non-Aspie majority. When I write on the subject of Asperger’s Syndrome, I try to do so with the goal of explaining and understanding our differences, in order to reduce Aspie/non-Aspie misunderstanding, which is both common and unhelpful — in both directions. This is the reason I use the factual, non-hostile term “non-Aspie,” in place of the unhelpful and perjorative term “neurotypical” (a word in common use within the Aspie community), one of three unfortunate words discussed in this post.

Explaining my choices of colors in the image above was a prelude to a personal, mathematical analysis of the inverted popularity of my own phobias and philias. I have long observed that I have an intense, inexplicable affinity (in many cases, reaching the level of a “philia,” an often-misunderstood word and suffix, for reasons I will discuss below) for things which the majority, in my part of the world (the American South) hates and/or fears. Examples include spiders, cats, the number thirteen (and all other prime numbers), mathematics in general, geometry in particular (strangely, even many people who like mathematics still dislike the subfield of geometry), being different from those around me, darkness, the color black, night, the physical sciences, evolution (which happens, like it or not), enclosed spaces, heights, flying on airplanes, women, and Muslims. I have also struggled with phobias, working (with professional help) on eliminating them, one by one, but they tend to be less common. Examples of targets for my current and past phobias include light, especially sunlight, to the point where I actually have to take vitamin D supplements; as well as voice calls on cell phones (human voices coming out of small boxes freak me out); death; the life sciences; insurance; sports (and related events, such as pep rallies); loud noises; efforts to control me; and, since my mother died, last November 16, the 16th day of any month, especially at, and after, six months after her death.

I’m a teacher, and it’s the 16th of July, and I simply do not have the option of falling apart on the 16th of every month when school starts again next month, at a new school, with new students, for, as the saying goes, the students will arrive — whether I’m ready or not. That’s no way to start a school year.

I have much to be optimistic about, for I will be teaching in a different building, but on a much-improved schedule, with far fewer different subjects to prepare for each day than I had last year. When I fell asleep last night, after completing four full days of training to teach Pre-AP Physical Science for the first time, starting next month, some part of me knew that mental health improvement — before the 16th hit again, today — was essential. Was that something about which I was consciously thinking? No. I apparently rewrote my mental software (again) last night, an ability I have worked on developing for over thirty-five years. When this brain-software-debugging process first became evident, a few years back, it was happening in my sleep, just as happened again last night, and it took some time for me to figure out exactly what was going on, and how my ability to rapidly adapt to change had improved. 

In Part II of this post, I will analyze, mathematically, the inverted popularity of my phobias, compared to the most common phobias, ranked by incidence among the population. First, however, it is necessary for me to explain what I mean — and do not mean — by the word “philia.” There is a serious problem with this word, in English, when it appears as a suffix, and that is due to an unfortunate linguistic error: the incorrect application of a Greek idea, and word, to the horrific, disgusting, and criminal behavior of child molesters, as well as those who have sex with corpses. The ancient Greeks, as is well-known, used four different words for different kinds of love, and “philia” (φιλία) referred specifically to fraternal, or “brotherly,” love. This was not a word the ancient Greeks used for any type of sexual act. The words “pedophilia” and “necrophilia” are, for this reason, historical anomalies. Both terms are misnomers, meaning, simply, that they are messed-up words, and their existence creates the potential for misunderstanding. A philia, properly understood, is simply the opposite of a phobia. Phobias are better-understood, of course, and require no detailed explanation. 

One example of what I mean by my own philias should suffice. I have, for many years, had an abnormally strong fascination with spiders. I like them — a lot — so much so, in fact, that I actually have a tattoo of a spider, and often wear a spider necklace, to express how much I like this one biological order, the largest within the class of arachnids. Despite my strong affinity for spiders, however, I have zero sexual interest in them. It is accurate to call me an arachnophiliac, which is the opposite of an arachnophobe.

It is now near 9 pm on Saturday, November 16, and Friday night’s sleep therapy gave me the energy to work on the needed improvements to my mental health during the day today, by using reflective writing as a therapeutic technique. I also have a new appreciation for sleep, which will come soon. Part II will be posted soon, but it will not be written until after I have enjoyed a full night of sleep — starting, hopefully, in a few minutes. Goodnight, and thank you for reading Part I.

[Update, July 17: Part II is now posted here.]

A Plea for Consistency in the Use of Numerical Prefixes

consistency

First, let’s face facts: the numerical prefixes currently in use, in English, are a horrible mess. Most of the ones used with polyhedra, for example, such as tetra- (4) and penta- (5), are derived from Greek. For polygons, however, a four-sided figure is usually called a quadrilateral, with “quad-” derived from Latin, just as it is in “quadrillion,” or “quadruplets.” Why use two prefixes for the number four? It would be more consistent (and therefore better), since four-faced polyhedra are called tetrahedra, for four-sided polygons to be called tetragons, just as we call five-sided polygons pentagons. Consistency improves comprehension, simply by reducing the number of prefixes one needs to understand, and can therefore aid in both teaching and learning. Inconsistency, though, has the opposite effect, and that benefits no one.

The Greek-based prefix for 5, “penta-,” has a Latin-based rival, also: “quint-,” as in quintuplets, or the number quintillion. It doesn’t make sense to use two different prefixes for the same thing, for both English, and mathematics, are complicated enough without adding unnecessary complications. The necessary complications are quite enough!

My preference is for Greek-based prefixes, for two reasons: (1) more of them are in use than their Latin counterparts, and (2) the Latin-speaking Romans appropriated ideas from the ancient Greeks, not the other way around.

Even the number one is not immune from this problem. For one, we use “mono-,” “uni-,” “un-,” “uni-,” “en-, “and “hen-,” all to mean “one,” and each has at least a slightly different derivation. Examples include “monomer,” “monologue,” “unicycle,” “undecillion,” “undecagon,” “endecagon,” and “hendecagon,” the last three of which all name the same polygon. (Also, these last three prefixes are for 11, actually, formed by combining a prefix for the one with the Greek-based “deca-” prefix for ten. Combinations of prefixes will be addressed later.) I call 11-sided polygons “hendecagons,” for both prefixes in that word are derived from Greek.

Prefixes for the number two are also unnecessarily numerous, as well as ambiguous. “Bi-” is used in “bicycle,” “binary,” and “billion,” but that’s a horrible idea, since “bi-” is also used, in some cases, for ½. This shows up, for example, in chemistry: the bulk of a carbonic acid molecule, if fully ionized, is called the carbonate ion. However, if it is only half-ionized, it is often called the bicarbonate ion, as in sodium bicarbonate, better-known as baking soda. In chemistry, “di-” is used for two, as in carbon dioxide, a molecule containing two oxygen atoms. “Do-” and “duo-” are also both used for the number two, with the first derived from Greek, and the second from Latin. When combined with the Greek prefix for ten, to make twelve, these prefixes appear in words such as “dodecagon,” “dodecahedron,” and “duodecimal.” I find the word “duodecimal” particular irritating, for it combines Greek and Latin prefixes in a single word. If one person had deliberately designed this entire system, with the goal of causing confusion, it would have taken a lot of work to invent a system more confusing than the one we actually use.

If, for ½, we only used “bi-,” that would be nice, but that isn’t what we do. Half a circle is a semicircle, and then half a sphere is a hemisphere. Since it originates from Greek, my preference is for “hemi-.”

At least three’s prefix is usually consistent, with “tri-” being all-but-universal. The only exception I know of appears when “tri-” is combined with “deca-,” to create a prefix for thirteen, and the Greek work for “and,” which is “kai,” often appears with it, as in triskaidecaphobia, the fear of the number thirteen — in this word, “tri-” is modified to “tris-.” However, a thirteen-sided polygon is simply called a “tridecagon,” with no “s” attached to “tri-,” and the “kai” omitted.

I don’t actually care if we use “kai,” or not, in numerical prefixes, but we should pick one or the other, and stick with it. It makes no sense that a fifteen-sided polygon is usually called a “pentadecagon,” while sometimes called a “pentakaidecagon.” Why do we not simply choose just one?

Six and seven are similarly troublesome. The numbers “sextillion” and “septillion,” as well as the month of September, all use Latin-derived prefixes for these numbers. I prefer the Greek-derived prefixes used with polygons and polyhedra: “hexa-,” and “hepta-.” With eight, though, as in the case of three, English-speakers lucked out, with “octopus,” “octillion,” “octagon,” and “octahedron” all starting with the same three letters.

With nine, however, our system falls apart again. In high school, geometry students are taught the Latin-prefix-containing word “nonagon” for a nine-sided polygon, and “November” contains yet another Latin-based prefix meaning nine. (It was named the ninth month, rather than the eleventh, because the start of each new year was marked with the first day of Spring in ancient times, rather than the first day of January.) A professional mathematician, however, is more likely to call a nonagon an “enneagon,” for “ennea-” is derived from Greek, making “enneagon” consistent with its “neighbors,” the octagon and the decagon. Ten is not a problem, though, for the Greek-based “deca-” was simply appropriated by the Latin-speaking Romans, who named their tenth month December — using a prefix close enough to “deca-” that it is unlikely to cause confusion.

One numbers exceed ten, though, a new problem is encountered, in addition to the issue of whether or not we use “kai.” Numbers such as 12 and 24 require us to combine prefixes, but there is no consistency in the order in which this is done. For example, a twelve-faced polyhedron is a “dodecahedron” — using a prefix for two, followed by a prefix for ten: the smaller number, and then the larger number. We continue this practice with words such as “pentadecagon,” already described above. Then, however, we have this thing, the dual of the snub cube:

Penta Icositetra

The faces of this polyhedron are 24 pentagons, and it isn’t the only well-known polyhedron with 24 faces, so “pentagonal” is part of this polyhedron’s name, which makes sense. However, if its name followed the pattern in the paragraph above, that would make it a “pentagonal tetraicosahedron,” or perhaps a “pentagonal tetrakaiicosahedron” — the smaller “tetra-,” meaning “four,” would come before the larger “icosa,” meaning twenty. At least both these prefixes originated in the Greek language, but, for mysterious reasons, the prefixes are put in the reverse order, relative to the order used for the dodecahedron: it is called the “pentagonal icositetrahedron.” Polyhedral names are hard enough to learn without arbitrary switches between “smaller, then larger,” and its opposite, “larger, then smaller.” We should choose a method, one or the other, and then stick to it.

[Note: the rotating polyhedron above was created using Stella 4d, software you can buy, or try for free, at this website.]

In chemistry, naming-disputes (what to call a newly-synthesized element, for example) are settled by the IUPAC: the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. I know of no organization with a corresponding role in the field of mathematics, but, if one were created, perhaps that would help get this mess cleaned up.

The Eleven Oddball Symbols on the Periodic Table of the Elements

periodic table oddballs

Most symbols for elements on the periodic table are easy to learn, such as those for carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen:  C, O, and N. There are eleven “oddballs,” though, because their symbols originated in other languages (Latin, mostly), and do not match their English names. Here’s a list of them, by atomic number, with an explanation for each.

11. Na stands for sodium because this element used to be called natrium.

19. K stands for potassium, for this element’s name used to be kalium.

26. Fe stands for iron because this element was formerly named ferrum.

29. Cu stands for copper because it used to be called cuprum.

47. Ag’s (silver’s) old name was argentum.

50. Sn’s (tin’s) name used to be stannum.

51. Antimony’s symbol, Sb, came from its former name, stibium.

74. Tungsten, with the symbol W, was once called wolfram. In some parts of the world, it still goes by that name, in fact.

79. Gold (Au) was called aurum in past centuries.

80. Mercury’s (Hg’s) old name is impossible (for me, anyway) to say five times, quickly:  hydrargyrum.

82. Lead (Pb) was once called plumbum because plumbers used it to weight the lower end of plumb-lines.

I think learning things is easier, with longer retention, if one knows the reasons behind the facts, rather than simply attempting rote memorization.