Things people think

By Gordon Rugg

There’s a wryly humorous summary of models of humanity that floats around in academia. It appears in various forms; the one below has an astute punch line that highlights the amount of implicit assumption in the early models.

Models of humankind:

  • Man the fallen creation (the Bible)
  • Man the thinker (the Enlightenment)
  • Heroic man (Nietzsche)
  • Economic man (Marx)
  • Man the rat (Skinner)
  • Man the woman (feminism)

It’s humorous, but it cuts to the heart of the matter. The models that shape our lives – political models, religious models, economic models – are based on underlying assumptions about how people think and what people want. As is often the case with models, these assumptions are often demonstrably wrong.

In this article, I’ll examine some common assumptions, and I’ll discuss some other ways of thinking about what people are really like.


Images from Wikipedia and Wikimedia; details at the end of this article

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What’s it like at Uni? The people…

By Gordon Rugg

If you’re about to start your first year at university, and you’re feeling unsure and nervous, then you’ve got plenty of company. Most new students feel that way, though not all of them show it. This is the first in a short series of articles for people in your situation, about key information that should make your life easier.

This article is about roles at university. The American cartoon below summarises them pretty accurately.

academic muppetsImage from Twitter

So what are the roles other than “Elmo the undergrad” and how are they likely to affect you?

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The Uncanny Valley, Proust, Segways and the living dead

By Gordon Rugg

I recently visited my old university town after being away for more than twenty years. It was a very unsettling experience; the town I saw was very different from the one I remembered, and those differences stirred up a lot of emotional turmoil.

I had uncomfortable visions of spending years coming to terms with those feelings, and with the deep subconscious issues that would probably be involved, about memories of my past and of days that could never be re-lived. It had all the makings of a great novel, until I mentioned it to Sue Gerrard, who said that more likely it was just a case of the uncanny valley.

She was right.

And that is why I’m now unlikely to write this century’s answer to À la recherche du temps perdu.

So what is the uncanny valley anyway, and why does it mean that the world will have to settle for this blog article instead of a literary masterpiece? The answer takes us through a surprisingly broad range of phenomena that individually look difficult to explain, but which might be explicable together as the effects of some simple cognitive processes.


Images from Wikipedia; links are at the end of this article.

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Monday mood lifter: The case of the sinister buttocks

By Gordon Rugg

Poetic justice can be a wonderful thing. Mano Singham at Freethought Blogs has a delightful account of what happens when students attempt to outwit plagiarism detection software by using a thesaurus. It doesn’t end well for them…


The mathematics of desire

By Gordon Rugg

When I was an undergrad, back in the day, a lot of the campus graffiti looked as if it had been written by someone who had dropped acid shortly beforehand. One example read: “The Tao that can be expressed in words is not the eternal Tao”.

Another said: “Tell me what you want, and I will give you what you need”. That particular concept stuck in my mind, and it’s one I still use in my work on requirements.

What do people want, and what do they crave, and what do they need, and what are the implications? Those are questions central to our world and our values, and they’ve been around for millennia, but they’ve never been properly answered. In recent years, though, research has produced some fascinating new insights into these old questions.

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Monday mood lifter: Alaskan flat tyre

The title says it all…

alaskan flat tire

Compassionate readers will be reassured to know that no animals were harmed during the making of this image – the grin on the face of the man on the sledge is a giveaway that this is just another case of huskies being huskies. If you want to know what “huskies being huskies” means, then you could try doing an image search for “Moon Moon”. The results will be suitable for work, but might make you spit coffee over your keyboard, so be careful…