Grand Unified Theories

By Gordon Rugg

If you’re a researcher, there’s a strong temptation to find a Grand Unified Theory for whatever you’re studying, whether you’re a geologist or a physicist or psychologist or from some other field.

That temptation is understandable. There’s the intellectual satisfaction of making sense of something that had previously been formless chaos; there’s the moral satisfaction of giving new insights into long-established problems; for the less lofty-minded, there’s the prospect of having a law or theory named after oneself.

Just because it’s understandable, however, doesn’t mean that it’s always a good idea. For every Grand Unified Theory that tidies up some part of the natural world, there’s at least one screwed-up bad idea that will waste other people’s time, and quite possibly increase chaos and unpleasantness.

This article explores some of the issues involved. As worked examples, I’ll start with an ancient stone map of Rome, and move on later to a Galloway dyke, illustrated below.

bannerv2Sources for original images are given at the end of this article

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Doomsday predictions as expressive behaviour

By Gordon Rugg

There was a classic article on Pharyngula recently about a group who donned bright yellow t-shirts to announce the imminent end of the world. It’s far from the first time that this announcement has been made; it’s probably not going to be the last.

So why do people keep making this announcement? Do they really believe that this time is going to be different, or is there something deeper going on?

As you might have guessed, usually there’s something deeper going on. The same underlying principle crops up in a wide range of forms, and is particularly prominent in politics, where it can cause a lot of problems.

The explanation begins with a topic that we discussed recently on this blog, namely expressive behaviour. It then moves on to systems theory, luxury, sex and power. The end of the world is a fine, rich topic…

end of world

http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2015/10/07/they-had-t-shirts-made/

Originally posted on: http://www.rifuture.org/world-ends-today-see-you-tomorrow.html

(Image used under fair use terms, as part of an academic article about background theory.)

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Strange places

By Gordon Rugg

There’s a scene in the movie Byzantium where a vampire hesitates at a threshold, waiting for her intended victim to invite her inside. The setting is a run-down seaside town, out of season. It’s a scene that combines several types of unsettling strangeness, which makes it a good starting point for today’s article about strange places.

bannerv1Two boundary spaces: Image credits are at the end of this article.

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Heroism, hagiography, and management theory

By Gordon Rugg

Popular management texts can be wonderful if you’re having a bad day. You simply dip into an accessibly-written text, and soon you encounter uplifting, edifying stories about real people who went through experiences much more traumatic than your bad day, and who then went on to accomplish amazing things. Stories like those can lift the spirits wonderfully, and fill you with new resolve and hope, at least until the next email or phone call comes along to plunge you back into the here and now.

Or, if you’re of a cynical nature, stories like those can leave you wondering whether you might be able to sell some gold bricks to anyone who believes the aforesaid tales.

So where does the truth lie? That’s the topic of this article, which takes us from management theory into the lives of saints, and into good old schema theory and cherry picking.

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Images from Wikipedia; details at the end of this article

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Categorisation of gender: Gordon’s art exhibition, part 2

By Gordon Rugg

I have an art exhibition at Keele University until October 25th. The exhibition consists of twelve canvases.

The first six examine depictions of women in epic texts, described in my previous article.

Canvases seven to twelve examine ways of categorising gender, which will be the topic of this article. image8

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