Activities, Knitting, Music, Personal, Philosophy, Politics, Psychology, Representation, Word Nerdery

Sittin’ and Knittin’ … and Thinkin’

One of my favorite activities, especially in winter, is knitting. In addition to getting a usable item out of it, knitting provides lots of time for thinking… and I do enjoy observing what comes up from the depths.

Before I get into that, though, here’s a new feature I expect to use regularly: music of the day. Today’s MotD is from Avenged Sevenfold—“So Far Away”.

The line “Time still turns the pages of the book it’s burned” hits me hard every time.

I recently finished knitting a sweater for my son. Even though the pattern was straightforward, it took a fair bit of time—a sweater is a big project, and using a finer yarn, as I did for this one, means more stitches and therefore more time. The repetitive motions of knitting create a rhythm and pattern that for me, gives my mind just enough to focus on while also allowing for deeper thoughts to emerge from all that thinking. I’ve tried to organize the things I want to remember, but these are loose categories at best.


In my previous post, I commemorated the first anniversary of the Russian war on Ukraine. It’s important to me for several reasons. First and most important is there are people I care about on both sides of the conflict. Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to travel to Lithuania, Latvia, and Belarus as part of a group teaching young people about Western culture and economics. Ukrainian students participated too, as did (comparatively few) Russians.

The energy and optimism of most of them buoyed me. I remember one young Ukrainian man particularly well and fondly; he participated in a few of my presentations and was quite interested in creating healthier cultures and communities, including the family. For a while, I kept in touch with several of them, but the distance, both temporal and physical, made that increasingly difficult. The senseless violence, and the atrocities inflicted on civilians, make my heart ache. It’s hard to see how anything good will come from it, and so much has been lost already.

Built into language is a nested structure of categories, or concepts. They make thinking and communication faster and easier (well, that’s the hope). In addition, they can oversimplify: they encourage us/them thinking; and they can obscure the reality that conceptual boundaries are dynamic. They are often blurry, and they’re dynamic.

The war demonstrates all this: Putin apparently believes that Ukrainians are at most a subset of Russian culture, so therefore the country should be forcibly assimilated back into Russia. The Ukrainians see it very differently, and from my limited understanding, rightly so. Kyiv is much older than Moscow and was very important in the development of Slavic culture. There’s clearly been a cultural and linguistic divergence over the centuries between Ukraine and Russia; trying to force reunification will not end well.


For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a word nerd. I deeply enjoy exploring the intricacies of English, as well as the other languages I’ve learned (Russian and Swedish). I jumped on the Wordle craze early and although I’ve been off for some time now, my mind still likes to explore challenging aspects of the game. It’s one thing to identify the five letters, and another to put them in the correct sequence to solve the puzzle. Is there a combination of five letters that can form six or more distinct words, thus making it a double challenge to solve a Wordle using them? So far, the most words I’ve come up with is five. (One of the words from this set is “lapse.”)

The RobWords YouTube channel has rekindled my interest in etymology and the quirks of English. Does any other language have as many homonyms and homographs as English? How did the morpheme –s/–es get its different functions? Has anyone started to create a better way of teaching English to native speakers, instead of the “rules” that have enough exceptions to make them pretty useless?


I’ve already touched on my primary difficulty with psychology; all I can add to that is my frustration and disappointment has deepened as I’ve explored more of the current theories and work, and reflected on how psychology is taught.

Nearly all introductory psychology books I’ve seen over all my years of teaching focus on new research findings: why? Students need a context for understanding psychological research in general, and the theories and issues in specific areas, before they can hope to understand current research. Too often, major theories in a specific area are presented as facts, with little critique accompanying them. In some areas, major theories are ignored altogether—Gibson’s ecological theory of perceiving and acting, for example. Without a solid historical context, it’s difficult to develop a cohesive view of psychological theories and research. Without that, critical thinking is practically impossible.

Intro psych has also been constricted to fit into academic schedules. When I taught it at Ohio State as a grad student, it was a 5-credit course over one quarter. It’s now 3 credits over one quarter. I’ve also taught it as two 3-credit courses over two quarters; 4 credits over one semester; and 3 credits over one semester. The last seems to be the common structure now; and it isn’t nearly enough time to do justice to each major area. At my last teaching job, certain foundational chapters were skipped completely. How does this serve students?

Since there’s been a lot of political talk centering on teaching “facts,” I’ve been wondering if anything in psychology could be considered a genuine fact—something that is universally true for all healthy individuals. Even the psychophysics of our perceptual systems show much individual variability, and their functioning changes over time.

Representation has become even more of a political hot button of late, often along with intersectionality. To me, these concepts aren’t new; the new terms are more precise. The importance of having models—and even simply seeing people—like oneself in positive roles and situations is well known. I think this helps everyone realize the complexity and variability of human experience, which can decrease negative stereotypes and increase empathy and positive engagement. Representation isn’t a zero-sum situation.

“Intersectionality” is a more precise descriptor of complexity, to my mind. Each of us has multiple identifiers: sex; race; ethnicity; culture; religion; nationality; etc., and our experience of each is influenced by the other elements. They can be dynamic over time, too… consider the differences through generations over just the past 100 years. Trying to understand these complexities in all of us, and especially those who have been marginalized in some context(s), is a good thing.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc may be the most pernicious logical fallacy going today. Projection may be a close second … but I think it can be countered by understanding and remembering basic aspects of human existence: the only experience we ever know is our own; each person is a unique, dynamic individual; and unless shown otherwise, we should take others with good faith.


I’m getting ready for my next knitting project: a cardigan with a complex stranded colorwork yoke. Knitting the yoke may not afford much thinking time, but the rest of the project will be simple knitting … I’m looking forward to the results of those sessions of sitting, knitting, and thinking.

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