Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Language of Science

My daily exposure to geek-speak is pretty high: if geek-speak were the Black Death, I'd be near one of the major epicenters. I.e., Milan, rather than Venice--pretty extensive damage, but survival is possible, and on a good day, likely. Monday and Tuesday of this week, though, the Radboud University of Nijmegen held a symposium, which I was more or less required to attend--I didn't even know about it until the last moment, when my boss asked me, "So, are you excited for the meeting on Monday?" Fortunately there's only one right way to answer that. I spent two whole days listening to talks given by the giants of the field, covering topics such as neonatal diabetes, mechanosensory receptors, the latest in crystal structure developments, etc. In short, I entered Venice, and the bodies were piled high.

The truly frightening thing, now that I think about it, is that for the most part, I wasn't dreadfully lost, despite my ignorance in the field. In the sea of graphs and fluorescent images, I somehow managed to find an intellectual footing for all of the talks. There were some truly fantastic speakers amongst the bunch, not the least of whom was the Nobel-Prize-winner Erwin Neher.

My Dutch courses take place on Tuesday night, so immediately after the very last talk on the second day, I hightailed it out of the symposium to the other side of the campus, where my inburgeringscursus takes place. Where I was confronted with my class--and the class clown, who spends the evenings asking the strangest questions and pretending not to understand the most basic concepts (at least, I hope he's pretending). Maybe I was especially peevish, since I normally walk something like 8 miles a day (so says the [Company that sponsored the symposium] pedometer that I picked up), and I'd just spent two days stuck in a chair. Or maybe my sense of humor was taking a vacation to Hawaii.

Aside: those of you who thought high school was over when you turn 18? Haven't been to an inburgeringscursus. High school is never over.

It wasn't until I got home later that night when I finally fathomed the reason for my irritation: I'd been stuck in "Science", when ordinarily, by the time I make it to my class in the evening, I'm so tired that I'm in "English". I've only been stuck in "Dutch" a few times, but it does happen, sometimes. Apparently, for me, Science is a language. It certainly requires a LOT of abstract thinking to make any sense of anything you read in a scientific journal these days, just as it requires a lot of...well, it's not concrete thinking, exactly. For me, putting things into Dutch (and indeed, even Spanish) has less to do with fixating on the grammar than it does with structuring the sentence correctly.

Science and Dutch--they're really just a state of mind.

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