Cognitive load, kayaks, cartography and caricatures

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the first in a short series about things that look complex, but which derive from a few simple underlying principles. Often, those principles involve strategies for reducing cognitive load. These articles are speculative, but they give some interesting new insights.

I’ll start with Inuit tactile maps, because they make the underlying point particularly clearly. I’ll then look at how they share the same deep structure as satirical caricatures, and then consider the implications for other apparently complex and sophisticated human activities that are actually based on very simple processes.

By Gustav Holm, Vilhelm Garde – http://books.google.com/books?id=iDspAAAAYAAJ, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8386260

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Why Hollywood gets it wrong, part 4

By Gordon Rugg

The first article in this short series examined how conflicting conventions and requirements can lead to a movie being unrealistic. The second article explored the pressures driving movie scripts towards unrealistically high signal to noise ratios, with few of the extraneous details that occur in real conversations. The third in the series examined how and why movies depict a world which requires the word “very” to describe it.

All of those themes are arguably about movies either selecting versions of reality, or depicting versions of reality which are simplified and/or unlikely. Those versions are unrealistic, but not actively wrong in the strict sense of the word. The underlying common theme is that they’re simplifying reality and/or exaggerating features of it.

Today’s article looks at a different aspect, where movies and games portray the world in a way that flatters and reassures the audience, regardless of how simplified or exaggerated the accompanying portrayal of the world might be. This takes us into the concepts of vicarious experience, of vicarious affiliations, and of why Wagner’s music isn’t as bad as it sounds. It also takes us into the horribly addictive pleasures of TV tropes…

Horrors of the apocalypse, and Wagner…

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Why Hollywood gets it wrong, part 3

By Gordon Rugg

The first article in this short series examined how conflicting conventions and requirements can lead to a movie being unrealistic. The second article explored the pressures driving movie scripts towards unrealistically high signal to noise ratios, with few of the extraneous details that occur in real conversations.

Today’s article, the third in the series, addresses another way in which movies are different from reality. Movies depict a world which features the word “very” a lot. Sometimes it’s the characters who are very bad, or very good, or very attractive, or whatever; sometimes it’s the situations they encounter which are very exciting or very frightening or very memorable; sometimes it’s the settings which are very beautiful, or very downbeat, or very strange. Whatever the form that it takes, the “very” will almost always be in there somewhere prominent.

Why does this happen? It’s a phenomenon that’s well recognised in the media, well summed up in a quote attributed to Walt Disney, where he allegedly said that his animations could be better than reality.

When you think of it from that perspective, then it makes sense for movies to show something different from reality, since we can see reality easily enough every day without needing to watch a movie. This raises other questions, though, such as in which directions movies tend to be different from reality, and how big those differences tend to be.

That’s the main topic of this article.

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Teacher Humour: Why spelling matters

By Gordon Rugg

If one of your students ever complains that you’re making too much fuss about correct spelling…

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https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/573223858803590270/

(Image used under fair use terms, as a humorous low-resolution copy of an image already widely circulated)

If you want a more detailed explanation, this previous article goes into more depth (but is less artistically striking…)

 

Intrinsic, extrinsic, and the magic of association

By Gordon Rugg

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have an awed respect for the ability of Ancient Greek philosophers to spot a really important point, and to then produce an extremely plausible but only partially correct explanation, sending everyone else off in the wrong direction for the next couple of thousand years.

Today’s article is about one of those points, where the Ancient Greeks didn’t actually get anything wrong, but where they laid out a concept that’s only part of the story. It involves a concept that can be very useful for making sense of consumer preferences and life choices, namely the difference between intrinsic properties in the broad sense, and extrinsic properties in the broad sense.

Here’s an example. The image below shows a pair of Zippo lighters. One of them is worth a few dollars; the other is worth tens of thousands of dollars, even though it’s physically indistinguishable from the first one. Why the difference? The answer is below…

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People in architectural drawings, part 3; requirements, obsolescence and fashions

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the third in a short series about finding out what people would really like in life, by looking at images of dream buildings.

In the first article, I looked at why the obvious approach doesn’t work very well. If you just ask people what they want, you tend to get either no answer, because people don’t know, or to get low-aspiration responses, for various reasons that are well known in requirements acquisition research. If, however, you instead show people a range of possibilities, including possibilities that they would probably never have thought of, then their preferences can change dramatically.

So, in this series I’m looking at fantasy and concept art images of buildings, which explore as broad a range of possibilities as the artists and architects can imagine. I’m looking at them to see what regularities emerge within those dream buildings; what sort of world do the creators of those images, and the people who like those images, desire?

In the second article, I looked at how human biases affect our aesthetic preferences. I concluded that a lot of people like really, really big buildings. Those buildings look awe-inspiring, but when you stop to think about details like how anyone is going to clean the windows, you start to realise that maybe those buildings aren’t terribly practical. However, how can you tell what will be practical within the lifetime of a building, when the available technology and the functions of the building are likely to change? There’s the related risk that tastes will change, and that today’s beautiful building will become tomorrow’s eyesore.

In this article, the third in the series, I’ll look at the issue of practicality versus obsolescence, and at changes in fashion.

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Thomas Cole, the Titan’s Goblet, and a Vauban fortification; full image credits at the end of this article

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Why Hollywood gets it wrong: Conflicting conventions

By Gordon Rugg

Movies wilfully ignore and distort facts and truth for a wide range of reasons, most of them all too familiar. The usual suspects include:

  • Cost
  • Ignorance/not caring
  • Going for even bigger special effects than the last movie
  • Soul-less studio executives over-riding the director and/or scriptwriter
  • Going for the perceived lowest common denominator/broadest audience

In this article, I’ll resist the temptation to rant at length about those reasons, and will instead look at a less obvious problem which has some interesting underlying theory. It takes us on a journey across thousands of years of art, via some detours into geometry. It’s a variant on the problem of social perspective clashing with linear perspective (which might possibly be why it hasn’t received much attention in the past). Anyway, here’s an image that incorporates some key examples, after which I’ll unpack the concepts involved, and briefly outline some of their implications for cinema and for the wider world.

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