Tagged: Ideas


“Orwell famously suggested that language preceded thought, such that if the word ‘freedom’, for example, is removed from the dictionary, then the very idea of freedom will disappear with it be and be lost to humanity. A smart tyranny, he said, would remove words like justice, fairness, liberty and right from usage. But my thought occurred to me when I saw a graffito which took up a whole gable end wall in London the other day. It proclaimed, in great big strokes of white paint: “One nation under CCTV”. A good angry point – the American dictum ‘one nation under god’ sardonically replaced with a comment about Britain’s unenviable position as the Closed Circuit Television capital of the world. But … the satirical shout all but fails for one simple reason: CCTV is such a bland, clumsy, rhythmically null and phonically forgettable word, if you can call it a word, that the swipe lacks real punch. If one believed in conspiracy theories, you could almost call it genius that there is no more powerful word for the complex and frightening system of electronic surveillance that we lump into that weedy bundle of initials. For if CCTV was called … I don’t know …. something like SCUNT (Surveillance Camera Universal NeTwork, or whatever) then the acronyms might have passed into our language and its simple denotation would have taken on all the dark connotations which would allow “One nation under scunt” to have much more impact as a resistance slogan than “One nation under CCTV”. “Damn, I was scunted as I walked home,” “they’ve just erected a series of scunts in the street outside,” “Britain is the most scunted country in the world” … etc etc. Or maybe, just maybe, we should stick to the idea of initials and borrow a set that have already taken on the darkest possible connotations of evil and tyranny. Surveillance System. SS. ‘Britain’s SS is bigger than that of any other country.’ ‘The SS has taken over the UK’.”

(Stephen Fry, Don’t Mind Your Language, November 2008)


Theorist's theories versus punter's theories: a theory

  1. Theorists develop theories of punters.
  2. Punters develop theories of punters.
  3. Theorists’ theories tend to be
    1. more detailed than punters’,
    2. yet still influenced by punters’ theories,
    3. use funnier terminology, and
    4. often point out inadequacies of punters’ theories.
  4. Theorists occasionally have to communicate their theories to punters (to show the economic validity of their work, for instance), thus
    1. encouraging punter-to-theorist transformation, and
    2. modifying some punters’ theories so they
      1. are more detailed than other punters’,
      2. yet still influenced by other punters’ theories,
      3. use funnier terminology than other punters, and
      4. often point out inadequacies of other punters’ theories.
  5. All theorists are punters, the punters believe.
  6. Some punters are not theorists, the theorists believe.
  7. Phenomenology is A Bit Funny.
  8. The map is not the territory (and those who don’t get this will become ill).
  9. All theorists and punters want to find a niche for purposes of
    1. money (food, shelter, etc) and
    2. sex.
  10. The degree to which they find this niche is influenced by the relationship between their theories and the theories believed by those in their environment.

Messaging in non-standard places

Here’s two for starters:

  1. The “Reference” bit in a money transfer, e.g. as accessible by RBOS’s internet banking service. (Any short text; will cost you.)
  2. Morse-code by telephone ring (advanced level).

Rock Paper Scissors for the 21st century

Recall if you will the classic Rock Paper Scissors game.

Rock [symbol]!
Scissors [symbol]!
(Rock wins)

Paper [symbol]!
Rock [symbol]!
(Paper wins)

An update for the 21st century: instead of being limited to rock, paper, and scissors, you name a crime, any crime, and the most serious crime wins. For instance

Petty theft of a mars bar from a corner shop [symbol]!
Unlawful acquisition of an OAP’s liver [symbol]!

Here “Unlawful acquisition of an OAP’s liver” is more serious and thus the player who threw that would win.

Early players of the game have observed problems. One is that now you have to learn signs for arbitrarily complex crimes. BSL users would find this okay, I guess, or you could just write the crimes down on some paper. Another problem is that it may sometimes be difficult to determine which crime is more serious. This is easily solved by employing a team of legal experts to adjudicate.

On first glance there is a more serious problem: initially players will throw signs for relatively reasonable crimes, e.g. arson, but after an iteration or two will head towards nuclear holocaust and other impossible to defeat acts, thus making draws inevitable. This is actually a crucial feature of the game and not a problem (cf. Kahn’s Escalation Ladder or Blair’s views on Trident or Iran’s situation or Korea’s situation).


I have a few silly ideas I’d like to investigate but I don’t have the time. Here are five of them:

1. (One’s experience of) time flies when you’re having fun and slows down when you’re bored (or scared – David Eagleman has done a pilot experiment on this involving scaring the bejesus out of his PhD student: see the video here). Would be nice to find the time (tehe) to review the research on what kind of events affect time perception. The secret to a happy life would then involve multiplexed misery/fright: mixing in whatever unpleasantness slows things down in a carefully controlled manner so that the experience of the pleasant bits of life could be stretched out a bit. I’d hope the curve of time-stretchedness would impinge a bit on the good bits when the bad bit had ended.

Not sure what form this would take. A self-help guide? A very quantitative one. “Just after you kiss it’s important that you scare the shit out of your partner. Chapter 3 has a selection of ideas, and a random number table using which you can ensure your partner doesn’t become habituated.”

2. A (logicist and connectionist?) cognitive model of the bladder and connected systems. An existential proof that there’s more to cognition than stuff philosophers care about and that it’s not only about stuff we’re conscious of. The model would have to take into consideration the likes of paruresis, the interaction between the internal sphincter muscle and conscious awareness of the need to urinate, and so on. The distinction between the personal and sub-personal levels of analysis would be important.

3. An empirical investigation of the effect of table and chair arrangement on meeting randomites in cafes, pubs, and other public spaces. I’m running a pilot of this at the moment somewhere in Edinburgh… :-) Data collection only possible when I’m having a cup of tea and since I haven’t got ethical clearance I can’t actually record anything, so it’s not a particularly good pilot. It’s really just moving tables around and drinking tea.

4. An alternative to relationship counselling: ex-committee counselling. This is pretty easy. You just get together a load of your exes (only those who are now in a healthy relationship) and they answer your questions and give you advice. Exes are likely to know you better than anyone else so would be full of deep insight. They may also want to make you cry which could be a problem. Anyway, a questionnaire would be handy and would feature standard questions such as “What would you tell future partners to help them to understand me and why?”

5. Much communication is nonverbal but yet we’re scared to death of awkward silence. So let’s embrace the silence. Get a load of people together in a cafe or whatever and don’t speak. See what would happen. Communication is still allowed, but not explicit communication. For instance you wouldn’t be allowed look at someone and blink a message in morse code or sign in BSL, but you could look at someone, think something, and as a side-effect of that thought blush, or, say, have dilated pupils. Perhaps given enough practice we’d all become better at guessing what such signs mean.