To Learn Mandarin is To Explore

20 May

To learn Mandarin is, in the sense of Progenies complex system analysis, to boldly go where no man has gone before. What does Mandarin studies and Star Trek have to do with an Indian noble price winner?

To learn Mandarin is to be an explorer. Maybe not in the traditional sense of the word, you wont need a triangular hat or a scimitar. You will however need a sense of adventure. To explore China on China’s terms, in Mandarin Chinese is probably as adventurous it is possible to get in the world today. You could of course to go trekking in the Amazon – but what point is it in that? Getting bitten by mosquitoes in the jungle or getting mauled by polar bears on the poles is not going to teach you a thing about life. Meeting a new culture will, and trust me, there is no culture on earth more different from the one you originate in, than China.

To boldly go where no man has gone before. This introductory text was spoken at the beginning of many Star Trek television episodes and films, from 1996 and onwards. Humanity has always benefited from our explorative nature. Gordon Gecko calls it greed but I don’t think that we need to be quite so negative about our lust for exploration. Every major discovery in our species mankind, be it the discovery of the American continent by Europeans, the discovery of the concept of irrigation or the birth of the silicon computer – has resulted in a non linear leverage of potential. Prigogine, a Nobel price-winning individual that kicked of the paradigm of complex systems, coined the term non-linear leverage.

It means that the whole is greater than the sum of it its individual pieces. It makes sense. To understand the benefits of two people interacting one cannot simply list each person’s attributes and then feel that the situation is accurately described. We need to go further to capture reality: we need to understand the non-linear leverage that exists in any system by understanding the effect each person has on the other person, and the effect of these effects on the other effects that are in play.

The problem with complexity theory is that it really can’t be modeled by determinism. It is physically impossible to build a computer that can even model the interactions between three gravitational bodies in empty space. I don’t understand why but very smart people say that even if we had a computer that was growing at the speed of light in all directors and worked at the speed of light on the smallest distances possible, it would still not be fast enough to capture the complexity of the most simple complex system.

So when we speak about the discovery of irrigation, a social system that encompass millions of factors, we can be forgiven for not understanding how precisely this lead to the birth of modern man. What we can conclude is this: the addition of leverage in the form of irrigation, on other facets of society, was such that the input of new technology was greatly over powered by the benefits derived to society as a whole. New things are good. When many people are doing something new it is good. There are of course complications. No one will say that the integration between America and Europe was easy. What everyone will agree upon however, in the end, is that it carried with it a great deal of positive change in humanities ability to live on earth.

To boldly go where no man has gone before is privilege that usually carries with it extra ordinary personal benefits. The personal leverage is tied to what you can contribute to society by going on such a journey. You can, today, literally be one of the first people from your home country to speak Mandarin. Not the first. Not one of the hundred or even thousand first. But you can probably be one of the five thousand first ever individuals from your home country to speak fluent Mandarin, and in terms of non-liner leverage in a complex system as complicated as the globalized world, the benefits are enormous.

Rui Ming works for a Mandarin language Academy in Beijing that is a great option for those that want to learn mandarin in China. If you are interested in more information about the best way to learn Chinese, please see his summary of the key ideas involved.


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