Posts written by Bill M. Mak

Unmasking the prejudice against masks

I have a bad feeling about all the “experts” in the Western media telling citizens not to wear masks. It’s incredible how people just blindly follow advices without any lateral thinking and common sense. The YouTube comment section is filled with skeptics who surprisingly ask all the right questions and point out all the poor logic and blatant contradictions of those who argue against mask-wearing. Every other sentence of this “health editor” is either plainly wrong or contradictory. This is not just a question of health and hygiene, but one of authority, belief, and cultural prejudice. Masks are not effective because they are difficult to wear correctly? Then learn to wear it properly! They make people think that they are safe when in fact they aren’t? Tell them they aren’t! The most obvious fail: If the mask is dangerous because one may touch the virus collected on it? That means the mask is doing the job by blocking it! I would give this lady a big red FAIL if I have to give her speech a mark.

Sadly it is useless to explain to my Western friends. Some are fixated about the ineffectiveness of the masks. Just because 80% of virus can pass through around or even through the mask, it still stops 20% plus the droplets. But masks work for more than just one “scientific” reason. If it is known that the virus is contracted through exposure on the respiratory membrane, then covering your mouth and nose is just plain common sense, whether it stops droplets from landing on them or you touching your face with your potentially virus-laden hands. Surprisingly the most useful aspect of asking everyone to wear mask is not just because it blocks airborne virus, but that it creates a culture where those who should wear masks would be encouraged to do so. Otherwise you will keep seeing ridiculous scenes where people keep coughing and sneezing at each other while manically sanitizing their hands. Yes, they should not be out and about. But the fact remains that they are. And that’s why a mask-wearing culture prevents a massive outbreak.

But this is not about following advices. The saddest truth is that this reluctance is largely driven by a kind of prejudice one does not see or want to admit. Many Westerners simply see masking-wearing as some kind of Asian joke, unscientific and imbecile crowd mentality. In North America people may say that in front of your face. Here in the UK, people are too polite. But it doesn’t stop people from thinking the same.

This is a very high price for prejudice. Now is not the time for an ego game. Intelligent people are especially in danger because they tend to justify whatever they want to believe. I am still surrounded by local colleagues who are esteemed scholars in their fields, but would give me a million reasons not to wear masks instead of considering one reason to, that is, simply to save life.

Slowly the messages change, however. Now some say that masks are effective for stopping virus from spreading after all. Of course they are. A few stubborn ones would refuse to ever be wrong. A few would continue to complain how things are poorly explained to them without realizing that they themselves didn’t make enough effort to understand and to sort out the right from the wrong. Once the mortality rate spikes, however, everyone will forget about these ridiculously harmful advices and put on their masks readily just like what the Italians did, albeit too late.

Lecture seminar at NRI: The (Non-)Transmission of the Jiuzhi li in China

14th February 2020

3.30pm

Needham Research Institute, 8 Sylvester Road, Cambridge CB3 9AF

 NRI202002

Lecture seminar at NRI: The (Non-)Transmission of the Jiuzhi li in China

 

The Jiuzhi li 九執曆, composed in Chinese by Qutan Xida (*Gautamasiddhārtha) 瞿曇悉達 in 718 C.E., is to date the most advanced treatise extant on classical Indian mathematical astronomy. Commissioned by Emperor Xuanzong 玄宗, the text was known to Yixing 一行 and other court astronomers, as well as some Chinese Buddhists during the Tang Period. Despite its advanced mathematical (such as trigonometry) and astronomical content (such as nodal precession), the work was poorly received among the Chinese contemporaries and was eventually lost until it was rediscovered in the Ming Dynasty. The Chinese historian of science Chen Jiujin 陳久金 thus lamented how the Indian work was unfairly treated and its contribution to Chinese astronomy unrecognized, and as a result its non-transmission was a missed opportunity for what could have been a major advance in Chinese science. The annotated translation of Yabuuti Kiyosi is considered to date the most comprehensive study of this text, though many riddles connected to its content remain unsolved. A short passage from the beginning of the Jiuzhi li on Indian calendrical calculation will be read in this session. Philological issues related to the provenance, technical vocabulary, and translation style of the text will also be examined.

https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/iNTTZWBy9V-7UP22j3nQlA

 

20191230 文禮小記(5)

週一。梵語課今天內容是「南北字母系統」。梵語本來只是語言,文字是後來添加上去的。沒有文字語言還是會延續下去,特別是印度幾千年來諷誦的傳統,都不依賴文字。印度文字的出現一般說法從阿育王時代開始,即公元前三世紀,大約佛滅後兩三百年。現存各地的阿育王石柱,用當地不同的方言記載當時的王令,而印度方言用的就是婆羅迷字母,即是現存最早的文字。這種文字結構簡單,有些字母看起來像幾何圖形,感覺像篆書。後來不同年代不同地域發展出不同的字體。

同學問,為什麼會發展出那麼多不同的字體呢?其實我國的漢字也有不同的字體,有些轉變的原因是類似的,比如說書寫的工具還有書寫的媒體。金石的話幾何圖形方便。毛筆跟紙張的話可能會考慮到線條粗幼、連貫性和筆順等。印度文字主要分南北兩派。北方文字橫豎較多,南方文字以圈和曲線為主,後者考慮到貝葉脆弱,刻字時太多橫豎筆畫會吧葉子弄破。北方寫本一般是直接用墨,沒有刻字加炭這個工序。

又有同學問,印度各地都是用天城體,為什麼印度還保留著那麼多字體呢?印度自古以來都有很多不同的方言,梵語可以說是印度的雅言,知識份子的共同語。現在印度官方國語是印地語。但母語為印地語的人只佔印度人口約四分之一,特別是南印度,很多方言並不屬於印歐語系。大家都希望保留自己的母語,而很多方言都有他們自己的字體。像泰戈爾的作品很多都是用他的母語孟加拉語寫成的,書寫孟加拉語當然就會用孟加拉字體。看一下印度盧比上面寫上的十七種語言便知道印度語言的多樣性(其中包括英語和梵語!)。

古代流傳到漢地的梵字只有三種,悉曇體、城體和藍札體。悉曇體盛行於唐代,相信自南北朝始,漢人學習梵字都是用這一種字體,後來空海把悉曇書法傳到日本去,流傳至今。漢地一般已經找不到悉曇體的寫本和文物。自五代始,悉曇體被城體取而代之。雲南梵字銘文一般都是介乎悉曇和城體的字體。而後來佛經引用梵字時用的一般都是城體。藍札體年代最晚,是藏傳佛教所用的梵字字體,在藏傳佛教的廟宇裡到處可見,特別是咒語和種子字。

一位同學問我如何學習僧伽羅語和僧伽羅文。國內有僧伽羅語的教材。過去我跟一位法師學過僧伽羅語和僧伽羅文。我覺得僧伽羅文很美。不過學來有什麼用呢?記得昨天英語課下課後一位來自台灣的同學問我如何學習德語和義大利語。為什麼要學那麼多語言呢?沒錯,我確實認真學過二十多門語言。因為我本來是學語言學專業的,還有對語言特別感興趣。不過說實話還是浪費了很多時間。東西越學得多就代表學每樣東西的時間越少。現在大家英語還沒完全學好,我不鼓勵大家學那麼多語言,除非碰到特別好的老師或非常殊勝的機會,否則自學外語往往事倍功半。

傍晚英語課,我跟大家說俊揚會跟大家讀蘇格拉底,那就不用我跟大家讀了。我給同學複印了一份南華早報的書評,還有胡適的一篇英語論文,讓大家輪流念讀,然後翻譯成中文。八位同學當中一半英語水平尚佳,閱讀和理解能力都沒有問題,中文翻譯可以做得更準確。另一半同學讀解能力尚未達標,沒有完全把英語語法弄明白,一句句子找不到主語和賓語。有同學覺得讀英文都讀懂,但是不懂翻。翻譯是一門藝術,需要長時間的鍛鍊。不過英語翻不出來很多時候是因為英語原文沒有完全看懂。每一個字的字義必須根據上下文來判斷。Reflect可以是反映,也可以是反思。必須先把整句讀通,然後才能決定哪個意思才是正確。

過去幾天同學讀英語讀起來都很輕鬆,很快樂。因為大家進書院前已經把十萬字的英語教材背下來。背了不代表懂了。現在要過第二關感覺很苦,有挫敗感。但是我鼓勵同學要繼續努力。按照同學的情況和進度,一般堅持下去一年到兩年,英語便可以說是流利了。當然有機會出國則更好,三個月、六個月甚至九個月。一年的話可能太長,影響到他們這邊的學業。