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Author Topic: Chinese Whispers  (Read 3716 times)

Offline pantodragon

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Chinese Whispers
« on: 31/12/2012 14:19:14 »
I first noticed this phenomenon in connection with children’s colouring-in books.

Modern versions are obviously made using clip-art.  This is obvious from the mistakes and distortions that one sees.  For example, one might see a penguin roosting in a tree, or a polar bear eating bananas while pushing its way through the jungle!  And then there are the images that have obviously been stretched or skewed to make them fit the space, and so you get these really weird, distorted objects or animals.  And then there is relative proportion, where you can get a flower standing alongside a tree which is smaller than the flower, and perspective, where you get something small and high in the picture, indicating that it is supposed to be in the background, but it actually sits in front of something that is supposed to be part of the foreground.  What children make of these things I do not know, but their colouring-in books are becoming increasingly surreal!

Another place I have noticed this sort of thing is in children’s text books.  Recently I noticed that in two separate books dealing with early civilisations the illustrations of Sumerian temples showed the doors to have arches.  Well, among the many things, such as straight roads that go on for ever, that the Romans are credited with inventing is The Arch.  Sumerian civilisation was long gone by the time the Romans came on the scene.  They knew nothing of arches. 

I suppose the illustrator of the first Sumerian temple did not know enough about the subject and so made the mistake of giving the doors arches.  Even the editors and writers were not on the ball enough to notice the mistake (though it is a glaring mistake – I am no expert and no nit-picker and yet I noticed it).  Then what happens?  These were books from different publishers, yet somehow the mistake had transmitted, and may well be still transmitting.  Quite possibly illustrators use each other’s work.  I mean, it is so much easier to use the work already done by other people than to start from scratch, so it would make sense for an illustrator to look at the work already done on Sumerian temples and then base his own work on that.

This is a sort of Chinese whispers problem, where a mistake made by one person gets copied and passed on.  The process is cumulative so that mistakes mount up until what is being passed on is a very distorted version of the original true one.

Finally, I recently noticed what, I presume, is a sort of clip-art distortion creeping into film: it was a film located in the frozen north, where, in a night-time scene the background noise was of cicadas singing!!!  No, you do not get cicadas in the north, and especially not in snow.  I suspect that whoever was in charge of providing background sound effects just thought, ‘night-time’, perhaps thought of the kind of atmosphere he wanted to create, and then went to the sound-effects clip-art library and found ‘cicadas singing’ and thought, ‘that will do’.

The point is that I am seeing more and more of this sort of thing in more and more places.  It is obviously a problem that occurs because people are relying on memory or memory devices rather than on their own experience.

One has then to wonder about the academic world, where things are handed on from paper to review article to paper to review article to text-book to text-book to text-book ad infinitum.  And the problem of checking all one’s fact right back to source is daunting to say the least.  You only have to walk into the departmental library of any university department and you will quail at the very thought.  And that supposes that the original writers/researchers did not make mistakes, which they do.

One is therefore faced with the uncomfortable thought that Chinese whispers are having an increasing effect on everything one learns from books – rather than, say, from personal experience.  That the world as portrayed to us in academic, as well as popularised, text-books is becoming increasing weird, untrue and surreal, just like the pictures in children’s colouring-in books!


 

Offline RD

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Re: Chinese Whispers
« Reply #1 on: 31/12/2012 19:07:32 »
... I recently noticed what, I presume, is a sort of clip-art distortion creeping into film: it was a film located in the frozen north, where, in a night-time scene the background noise was of cicadas singing!!!  No, you do not get cicadas in the north, and especially not in snow.  I suspect that whoever was in charge of providing background sound effects just thought, ‘night-time’, perhaps thought of the kind of atmosphere he wanted to create, and then went to the sound-effects clip-art library and found ‘cicadas singing’ and thought, ‘that will do’.

Frogs too ...

Quote
The call of the Baja California Treefrog is known throughout the world through its wide use as a nighttime background sound in old Hollywood movies, even those which are set in areas well outside the range of this frog.
http://www.californiaherps.com/frogs/pages/p.regilla.sounds.html
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Chinese Whispers
« Reply #2 on: 31/12/2012 19:49:29 »
I'm not sure about the origin of the arches.  I'm seeing several photos of Etruscan arches, perhaps restored over time. 

Anyway, the pasting of illustrations into articles is a problem with modern editing, and perhaps lazy editors.  Illustrated stories look so much better, especially on the internet.  I was looking on the internet for Sumerian arches and temples and found this with the title:A Sumerian Temple at Ur.

If I'm right, the photo doesn't look like a Sumerian temple at all.  In fact, the photo looks like it is one of the most famous non-religious buildings the middle of ROME!!!

However, with a bit of additional research, I found this, which apparently is a (Sumerian) arch in the city of Ur from about 6000 BC. 

There seem to be two ways to make ancient arches, a true arch with keystones as above, as well as using large stones that have been sculpted into an arch shape.

I'm also seeing several photos of arched ceilings in tombs on the internet, although I'm not sure of the origins of all the photos.

Here is one that has always bugged me.

Polar Bears Found Swimming Miles From Alaskan Coast


Well, the title may actually be quite representative of the photo, as I'm pretty sure the Polar Bear is happily swimming about 2000 miles away from Alaska ... in the San Diego Zoo.  But, any implications that this guy would be at any danger from his swimming pool would be clearly incorrect.
« Last Edit: 31/12/2012 19:52:00 by CliffordK »
 

Offline pantodragon

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Re: Chinese Whispers
« Reply #3 on: 12/01/2013 16:45:39 »
CliffordK:

An interesting post.  I agree with you about the Sumerian temple, it does look like a well known Roman building in Rome!

The subject of arches in ancient architecture seems to have advanced since last I looked at it.
 

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Re: Chinese Whispers
« Reply #3 on: 12/01/2013 16:45:39 »

 

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