Surface structure and deep structure

By Gordon Rugg

The concepts of surface structure and deep structure are taken for granted in some disciplines, such as linguistics and media studies, but little known in others. This article is a brief overview of these concepts, with examples from literature, film, physics and human error.

The core concept

A simple initial example is that the surface structure of Fred kisses Ginger is an instantiation of the deep structure the hero kisses the heroine. That same deep structure can appear as many surface structures, such as Rhett kisses Scarlett or Mr Darcy kisses Elizabeth Bennet.

There are various ways of representing surface and deep structure. One useful representation is putting brackets around each chunk of surface structure, to clarify which bits of surface structure map onto which bits of deep structure; for example, [Mr Darcy] [kisses] [Elizabeth Bennet].

Another useful representation shows the surface structure mapped onto the deep structure visually. One way of doing this is as a table, like the one below.

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The simplicity beyond complexity

By Gordon Rugg

The simplicity beyond complexity is a concept attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. It appears in at least a couple of forms, as described below.

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” This quote, which on the Holmes Sr page has “my right arm” instead of “my life,” is one for which I haven’t found the source so far, and so I will leave this quote as it is on both pages. – InvisibleSun 18:05, 10 October 2006 (UTC)

It’s interpreted in at least a couple of ways.

One way, which I won’t go into here, is about working out how to solve a problem, and then hiding the complexity of the solution from the user, so that the product is simple to use.

The other way, which I will go into below, is about why apparently sensible simple explanations often don’t work, and about why there’s often a different but better simple explanation that only emerges after a lot of complexity, confusion and investigation.

Adapted from:

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Explosive leaf level fan out

By Gordon Rugg

Often in life a beautiful idea is brought low by an awkward reality. Explosive leaf level fan out is one of those awkward realities (though it does have a really impressive sounding name, which may be some consolation).

So, what is it, and why is it a problem? Can it be a solution, as well as a problem? These, and other questions, are answered below.

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Pattern matching

By Gordon Rugg

Note: This article is a slightly edited version of an article originally posted on our Search Visualiser blog on May 17, 2012. I’ve updated it to address recent claims about how Artificial Intelligence might revolutionise research.

So what is pattern matching, and why should anyone care about it?

First picture: Two individuals who don’t care about pattern matching (Pom’s the mainly white one, and Tiddles is the mainly black one (names have been changed to protect the innocent…)


Pattern matching is important because it’s at the heart of the digital revolution. Google made its fortune largely from the simplest form of pattern matching. Computers can’t manage the more complex forms of pattern matching yet, but humans can handle them easily. A major goal in computer science research is finding a way for computers to handle those more complex forms of pattern matching. A major challenge in information management is figuring out how to split a task between what the computer does and what the human does.

So, there are good reasons for knowing about pattern matching, and for trying to get a better understanding of it.

As for what pattern matching is: The phrase is used to refer to several concepts which look similar enough to cause confusion, but which are actually very different from each other, and which have very different implications.

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By Gordon Rugg

So what is referencing anyway, and why should anyone care about it? What’s the difference between the Harvard system and the Vancouver system and the assorted other systems? How do you choose references that send out the right signal about you?

The answers to these and numerous other questions are in the article below. Short spoiler: If you do your referencing right, it gets you better marks, and you come across as an honest, capable individual who is highly employable and promotable. Why does it do this? Find out below…

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Ways of stating the obvious

By Gordon Rugg

Stating the obvious is an activity unlikely to win you many friends, or to influence many people in a direction that you would like. However, sometimes you have to do it.

So, why do you sometimes have to state the obvious, and how can you turn this problem to advantage? That’s the topic of this post. I’ll use the worked example of risks, both obvious and less obvious. (Reassuring note: I don’t go into scary details…)

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Sending the right signals at interview

By Gordon Rugg

On the surface, a lot of the advice that you’ll see about sending the right signals at job interviews is either pretty obvious (e.g. “dress smartly”) or subjective (e.g. “dress smartly”) or social convention with no relation to what you’ll actually be doing in the job (e.g. “dress smartly”).

Below the surface, however, there are regularities that make a lot more sense of what’s going on. Once you know what those regularities are, you’re in a better position to send out the signals that you want, with the minimum of wasted effort and of misunderstanding on both sides.

So, what are those regularities, and where do they come from? The answer takes us into the reasons for Irish elk having huge antlers, and peacocks having huge tails, and monarchs having huge crowns.

Images from Wikipedia; credits at the end of this article

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