Chinese characters are often composed of abstractly stylized pictograms. For instance, the word “home” in Chinese is “Jia1” (click the link to see 43 other words with this sound–the number one means that sound is made with the first tone.). The beauty of characters is that people of different languages can see character and read in their own language. So Jia1 [the Chinese pronunciation] is pronounce “ie” in Japanese.
I made this diagram to the right to illustrate who the character for “home” is composed of two simpler symbols: roof & pig.
I found a picture of a pig to put over the character to give you an idea of how the symbol could have evolved. It is as if I performed a retro-pareidolia to find pictures to match the Chinese characters. The actual character is really a stylized version of a much simpler figure.
But speaking of pareidolia, religious people often see their favorite saints and founders in the oddest places: toast, window panes and clouds. And atheists love making fun of these pareidolia as if the phenomena is an unforgivable cognitive defect. But I contend that seeing familiarity amidst noise is a useful memory trick and thus a desirable cognitive skill (although it is frequently misused). For instance, it is pareidolia thinking that let humans see mythic figures in the sky to help them memorize the stars to use for navigation and calendars.
Anyway, back to my story: In ancient China, and still in rural china, families raise their animals below or near their house. Thus a building with animals is typically a home. And we know that many human viruses jump to us from places where animals live close to humans — as in China.
But I guess you don’t have to live with the animals to be affected by them. Chinese people would not kiss a pig. But Americans with all their public displays of affectionate behavior could be the culprits too (smile).
I am not trying to add to the Swine flu mania — and I trust it remains an exaggerated threat used by everyone from religious groups to governments to better themselves. But all the talk of the flu reminded me about how the Chinese character for “home” is a good mnemonic for flu vectors and this was good springboard to speak of pareidolia. So there you go! Hope someone enjoyed it.
Egyptian Government Actions
When disaster occurs, it is classic human behavior to rid yourself of outliers–we seek scapegoats. History is replete with examples. So it is not surprising that the Egypt government would use the Swine Flu issue to single out Christian pig farmers. But we do know that human-animal close contact is a source of virus mutation and transmission of pandemic organisms. And indeed, many successful public health improvements have been aimed at correcting certain cultural norms that allow encourage these close. And pigs are one of the major vectors of the flu virus. But though they may not be the major cause in this strain, Egypt’s action, though obviously dramatic and persecutory, is mildly understandable.