Saturday, December 18, 2010

Too bad they don't follow it

Turns out that the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (whose capacity for skeptical inquiry has historically left me unimpressed) actually has a set of guidelines for proper skeptical criticism, and it's not bullshit!

During CSICOP’s first decade of existence, members of the Executive Council often found themselves devoting most of their available time to damage control-precipitated by the careless remarks of fellow skeptics-instead of toward the common cause of explaining the skeptical agenda.

Unfortunately, at this time, there are no courses on the proper way to criticize paranormal claims. So far as I know, no manuals or books or rules are currently available to guide us. Until such courses and guide books come into being, what can we do to ensure that our criticisms are both effective and responsible?

I would be irresponsible if I told you I had an easy solution. The problem is complicated and there are no quick fixes. But I do believe we all could improve our contributions to responsible criticism by keeping a few principles always in mind.

We can make enormous improvements in our collective and individual efforts by simply trying to adhere to those standards that we profess to admire and that we believe that many peddlers of the paranormal violate. If we envision ourselves as the champions of rationality, science, and objectivity, then we ought to display these very same qualities in our criticism. Just by trying to speak and write in the spirit of precision, science, logic, and rationality-those attributes we supposedly admire-we would raise the quality of our critiques by at least one order of magnitude.

The failure to consistently live up to these standards exposes us to a number of hazards. We can find ourselves going beyond the facts at hand. We may fail to communicate exactly what we intended. We can confuse the public about what skeptics are trying to achieve. We can unwittingly put paranormal proponents in the position of the underdogs and create sympathy for them. And, as I already mentioned, we can make the task much more difficult for other skeptics.

What, then, can skeptics do to upgrade the quality of their criticism? What follows are just a few suggestions. It is hoped they will stimulate further thought and discussion.
  1. Be prepared.

    Good criticism is a skill that requires practice, work, and level-headedness. Your response to a sudden challenge is much more likely to be appropriate if you have already anticipated similar challenges. Try to prepare in advance effective and short answers to those questions you are most likely to be asked. Be ready to answer why skeptical activity is important, why people should listen to your views, why false beliefs can be harmful, and the many similar questions that invariably are raised. A useful project would be to compile a list of the most frequently occurring questions along with possible answers.

    Whenever possible try your ideas out on friends and “enemies” before offering them in the public arena. An effective exercise is to rehearse your arguments with fellow skeptics. Some of you can take the role of the psychic claimants while others play the role of critics. And, for more general preparation, read books on critical thinking, effective writing, and argumentation.

  2. Clarify your objectives.

    Before you try to cope with a paranormal claim, ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. Are you trying to release pent-up resentment? Are you trying to belittle your opponent? Are you trying to gain publicity for your viewpoint? Do you want to demonstrate that the claim lacks reasonable justification? Do you hope to educate the public about what constitutes adequate evidence? Often our objectives, upon examination, turn out to be mixed. And, especially when we act impulsively, some of our objectives conflict with one another.

    The difference between short-term and long-term objectives can be especially important. Most skeptics, I believe, would agree that our long-term goal is to educate the public so that it can more effectively cope with various claims. Sometimes this long-range goal is sacrificed because of the desire to expose or debunk a current claim.

    Part of clarifying our objectives is to decide who our audience is. Hard-nosed, strident attacks on paranormal claims rarely change opinions, but they do stroke the egos of those who are already skeptics. Arguments that may persuade the readers of the National Enquirer may offend academics and important opinion-makers.

    Try to make it clear that you are attacking the claim and not the claimant. Avoid, at all costs, creating the impression that you are trying to interfere with someone’s civil liberties. Do not try to get someone fired from his or her job. Do not try to have courses dropped or otherwise be put in the position of advocating censorship. Being for rationality and reason should not force us into the position to seeming to be against academic freedom and civil liberties.

  3. Do your homework.

    Again, this goes hand in hand with the advice about being prepared. Whenever possible, you should not try to counter a specific paranormal claim without getting as many of the relevant facts as possible. Along the way, you should carefully document your sources. Do not depend upon a report in the media either for what is being claimed or for facts relevant to the claim. Try to get the specifics of the claim directly from the claimant.

  4. Do not go beyond your level of competence.

    No one, especially in our times, can credibly claim to be an expert on all subjects. Whenever possible, you should consult appropriate experts. We, understandably, are highly critical of paranormal claimants who make assertions that are obviously beyond their competence. We should be just as demanding on ourselves. A critic’s worst sin is to go beyond the facts and the available evidence.

    In this regard, always ask yourself if you really have something to say. Sometimes it is better to remain silent than to jump into an argument that involves aspects that are beyond your present competence. When it is appropriate, do not be afraid to say, “I don't know.”

  5. Let the facts speak for themselves.

    If you have done your homework and have collected an adequate supply of facts, the audience rarely will need your help in reaching an appropriate conclusion. Indeed, your case is made much stronger if the audience is allowed to draw its own conclusions from the facts. Say that Madame X claims to have psychically located Mrs. A’s missing daughter and you have obtained a statement from the police to the effect that her contributions did not help. Under these circumstances it can be counterproductive to assert that Madame X lied about her contribution or that her claim was “fraudulent.” For one thing, Madame X may sincerely, if mistakenly, believe that her contributions did in fact help. In addition, some listeners may be offended by the tone of the criticism and become sympathetic to Madame X. However, if you simply report what Madame X claimed along with the response of the police, you not only are sticking to the facts, but your listeners will more likely come the appropriate conclusion.

  6. Be precise.

    Good criticism requires precision and care in the use of language. Because, in challenging psychic claims, we are appealing to objectivity and fairness, we have a special obligation to be as honest and accurate in our own statements as possible. We should take special pains to avoid making assertions about paranormal claims that cannot be backed up with hard evidence. We should be especially careful in this regard when being interviewed by the media. Every effort should be made to ensure that the media understand precisely what we are and are not saying.

  7. Use the principle of charity.

    I know that many of my fellow critics will find this principle to be unpalatable. To some, the paranormalists are the “enemy,” and it seems inconsistent to lean over backward to give them the benefit of the doubt. But being charitable to paranormal claims is simply the other side of being honest and fair. The principle of charity implies that, whenever there is doubt or ambiguity about a paranormal claim, we should try to resolve the ambiguity in favor of the claimant until we acquire strong reasons for not doing so. In this respect, we should carefully distinguish between being wrong and being dishonest.

    We often can challenge the accuracy or validity of a given paranormal claim. But rarely are we in a position to know if the claimant is deliberately lying or is self-deceived. Furthermore, we often have a choice in how to interpret or represent an opponent’s arguments. The principle tell us to convey the opponent’s position in a fair, objective, and non-emotional manner.

  8. Avoid loaded words and sensationalism.

    All these principles are interrelated. The ones previous stated imply that we should avoid using loaded and prejudicial words in our criticisms. If the proponents happen to resort to emotionally laden terms and sensationalism, we should avoid stooping to their level. We should not respond in kind.

    This is not a matter of simply turning the other cheek. We want to gain credibility for our cause. In the short run, emotional charges and sensationalistic challenges might garner quickly publicity. But most of us see our mission as a long-run effort. We would like to persuade the media and the public that we have a serious and important message to get across. And we would like to earn their their trust as a credible and reliable source. Such a task requires always keeping in mind the scientific principles and standards of rationality and integrity that we would like to make universal.


As readers of this blog should be aware, this is precisely the kind of thing I've advised for researchers of the paranormal and the fortean. The main difference here is the assumption made by the author of this text that those being debunked are wrong (and that following these rules, consequently, will prove them wrong without giving the impression that they didn't get a fair trial), whereas a good anomalist will strive to be agnostic about the claim being investigated.

Many of the guidelines noted above pertain to reigning in the ego, which is of tantamount importance to anyone who would like to get to the truth (rather than simply convince other people that their existing worldview is correct).

It is telling that these guidelines have until now not been distributed to the Skeptical Inquirer; I personally could not tell you whether the problems I've had with the methods of CSICOP have been due to initiated members with access to this document or with amateur-types reading the SI and being over-anxious about debunking (except in the case of Mr Randi, whose capacity for reason seems terribly impaired even in the most favourable light), but so long as this document is followed by CSICOP members, I cannot foresee having any problems with them.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The 2011 No-Budget Film Contest

In an effort to fight back against what I saw as the disgusting substitution of money for taste in both big-budget and independent films, last year I held the first annual No-Budget Film Contest. This was a success, and we received two wonderful submissions. With slight clarifications and modifications made to the rules, I announce the second annual contest.

1) Your film must be yours. I won't accept mashups of other people's video (well... I might, but you will have to impress the judges a lot more). Likewise, don't do anything illegal in the films, or pornographic -- I don't want to get in trouble.
2) You must not buy or rent anything specifically for this film (with an exception for a camera, if you don't own one). You also cannot have any paid actors. In other words, no budget allowed.
3) You may do it in live action or animation. Really, you can do it with any method you choose.
4) Submissions start January 23 and end February 13. If you send your submission in outside of this time slot, it might not be considered. You do not need to make the film during this period; any films you have made with no budget and have not yet submitted are applicable.
5) I will announce the winners by March 15. First prize will be $5 transferred via paypal. The top three submissions (judged any way I like) will be posted on this blog, and will get the titles of Best No-Budget Film of 2011, Second Best No-Budget Film of 2011, and Third Best No-Budget Film of 2011. They will also get a picture of a golden coin trophy.

How to submit:
Upload your finished films to youtube or vimeo (or some other streaming video site), and send the link to The films may be of any length, and you can enter as many times as you like.

You can see last year's winners here.

The Zalgo Continuum

Presumably, you have all heard of ZALGO, the 4chan meme (or out-of-control viral marketing test project) who lurks behind the walls has been making the rounds for quite some time. The popularity of internet memes is difficult to attribute, but I will make the argument that this one has survived because it neatly integrates two other long-lived ideas: the cosmic horror and the cosmic schmuck.

Cosmic horror (and its poster-thing, H.P. Lovecraft's posthumous flagship Cthulu) has seen an upshot in popularity lately, perhaps piggybacking on uncertain times or future shock or the generally negative social and political vibes floating around. Whatever the reason, analysts (including Lovecraft himself) generally agree on one thing: cosmic horror derives its power not from the uncanny or from the unknown but from the unknowable. Cosmic horror is a recollectivisation of existential angst: not only are you insignificant (everyone is) and your actions meaningless (everything is), but there are things just beyond your reach that are so utterly alien and incomprehensible that they can destroy your mind just by daring to think about them. Not only that, but even on their much higher scale of existence they too are insignificant and their actions meaningless. Furthermore, cosmic horror is epistemic horror: each of the scholar-protagonists, after great efforts, briefly part the veil of Maya and have a short peek out of Plato's cave, and they quickly realize that everything they ever knew (and everything they ever could know) is wrong. Cosmic horror is, to the individual, what quantum mechanics and relativity were to the entirety of theoretical physics: a fundamental paradigm shift so extreme that it invalidated all bodies of speculation into its domain that had previously existed.

On the flipside, you have the cosmic schmuck. This idea, put forth first (as far as I can tell) by Robert Anton Wilson, is a bit more lighthearted. The cosmic schmuck has a completely wrong model of the universe, unknowingly. He doesn't know that his model is wrong because he hasn't tested the parts of it that are wrong. His quality of life may or may not be affected by the way in which his model of the universe is skewed, but he can't determine that because he doesn't know that it's skewed. The cosmic schmuck can become less of a cosmic schmuck by assuming that he is more of a cosmic schmuck than he thinks he is, because the mark of a cosmic schmuck is his unfounded confidence in his own model of reality. While Wilson attends to the aspect of introspective and epistemic terror involved in becoming less of a cosmic schmuck in Cosmic Trigger I, one still gets the general idea that becoming less of a cosmic schmuck is a good idea -- and presumably it was for Wilson, since he survived it with much of his sanity intact and made a pretty penny selling a book based on his experiences in seeking the Real Shit (which he insists is both plural and mutable).

Zalgo, given its origins (or at least the petri dish from which it eventually sprang, after a long incubation period), is firmly grounded in humour. It is more specifically grounded in what Wilson called the 'put-on', and what the internet calls 'trolling'. The creepypasta, taking copious obvious inspiration from cosmic horror and the Lovecraft style, purports to be true, or at least honest. Those who take it seriously (I am not sure there are many cases of this level of fail, Doctor) are prime subjects for ridicule, or at least identifiable as good targets for more put-ons. Those who pick up on it can play along or repeat the gag in another context. But, arguably, this meme has a ha-ha-only-serious nature embedded in the subtext. Cosmic horror is here in a far more pure form than that of your standard Lovecraft tie-in, and arguably in even more pure a form than the original works, which were still put forth in bindings marked 'fiction'. The Strange Times are upon us, and it is increasingly difficult to determine whether or not any given thing popping up on the internet is plausible, let alone legitimate. Zalgo reminds us that just beyond our mundane sphere of attention lurks things so alien that we cannot imagine them, and that even our most cherished icons of purity are not safe from the unknown and unknowable.

Skepticism and the Sincere Anomalist

The typical group 'investigating' a claim of the paranormal (or anything that could be considered 'high strangeness') is well-known to everyone: half the group is the Mulder camp, and half is the Scully camp. In real life, these two types don't get along as well as they do on television, but they exhibit the same characteristics: the Mulder group insists, regardless of evidence to the contrary, that the phenomenon in question is something strange (if not completely supernatural), while the Scully group insists, regardless of evidence to the contrary, that there is a 'rational' explanation (where 'rational' here goes by some definition known only to pseudoskeptics and kept far away from any apparent consistency). But, again unlike television, these two types (both together and on their own) are almost completely incapable of understanding anything legitimately outside of their existing scope of knowledge: they are both varieties of true believers.

In the fortean community, the Scully type is typically called the 'pseudoskeptic'. This is a reactionary type, living to 'debunk' anything that runs counter to his or her existing model of reality. The 'debunking', upon close inspection, loses its thin pretense of rationality and is exposed as a simple mammalian response to threat. In the case of the pseudoskeptic, the threat is typically conflict with whatever they learned in high school science class, and it highly resembles the response of a religious fanatic when dogma is directly conflicted.

In the skeptic community, the Mulder type is typically called a 'woo'. This type is also a reactionary type, living to 'prove' the existence of something that runs counter to the consensus model of reality. This 'proof', upon close inspection, loses its thin pretense of truth-seeking and is exposed as an application of wishful thinking on a large scale: the 'woo' wants to believe, and will ignore any evidence to the contrary.

These two types are actually not terribly dissimilar. They are both true believers, living to validate their own personal views of the universe. The main difference is that the pseudoskeptic has a model of the universe very close to that of the consensus, while the woo has a model of the universe that is very different. It doesn't matter whether or not the models are correct or have predictive value; truth ceases to matter once belief takes the stage. Despite the cries of the pseudoskeptic, neither of these types are skeptical, either. The skeptic actively questions both assumptions and claims, while the pseudoskeptic merely 'debunks' them.

Fortean anomalism is on the fringe of known science, and can be expected to stay there indefinitely; anomalists seek the fringe of the known, and inhabit the borderland between the mundane and the batshit darkness just beyond it. This doesn't make skepticism less important: it makes skepticism more important, and makes belief even more dangerous. There is a tendency for the mind to see what it expects; the mental model affects perception as much as perception affects the mental model. Since the anomalist deals with the unknown, the tendency to see the expected (be it a weather balloon or a piladean missile defense system) has the ability to completely incapacitate the anomalist's ability to see what's really there. Carl Sagan once said that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", but that is no more an excuse for pseudoskepticism than it is for woo: the anomalist seeks what evidence exists, and if the anomalist is handicapped by a need to see something either more or less extraordinary than that which is there, who will find such evidence?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nobody likes a golden age

If ideas spread like viruses, pop-culture is like those freezers that the CDC keeps full of plague bacteria. The past is full of interesting sights and sounds... most of the time. Some of the most information-rich stuff is camp material, but not for the reasons you might think. Camp material is bizarre, which means that it's novel -- and novelty, you should remember, is information. But, camp is unique in that it's bizarre now but wasn't bizarre when it was most popular. Camp is full of information that was once relatively ubiquitous but has since been lost to time; it grows organically out of the most volatile and virile ideas, and represents a snapshot of a mutation of normalcy.

When you look at any 'golden age', you'll see some of its ideas all around you. That's why it's golden: it had an inordinate quantity of good (or at least sustainable) ideas. Golden ages also tend to be (or tend to portray themselves as being, or tend to be portrayed as being) happy times. All together, this makes golden ages boring. There is no camp; there is merely an overflow of kitsch and cheese. Camp is spontaneously creative as a baseline; like the flu, it conquers half the population regardless of immunizations, disappears after a few weeks, and then comes back in a nearly unrecognizable new strain the following year. Cheese, on the other hand, lacks the soul and vitality; it is merely dated kitsch, and ages far slower. Happy (or rather, contented) people don't feel the need to replace their stable status quo with the kind of destructive fashions that mutate into camp. While some 'golden ages' have, due to historical events causing sudden shifts in the perception of acceptability attributed to the ideas from which they sprung, become camp material (the golden age of science fiction in the 1930s comes to mind, as does the golden age of comics), as a rule they become as boring as the reign of Augustus.

Is it worth it? People are happy (or, at least, content). Things are stable.

But, in addition to boring the living hell out of whoever is reading about them, golden ages typically bring bunkum to the table aside from new (for the period) status quos and zombie-twinkie-kitsch that won't die. The creation of a system that isn't replaced for a thousand years can be interpreted as the creation of a good, stable system that 'just works', or it can be interpreted as the creation of a system that, regardless of how good it is, manages to stifle competition and brings a thousand years of stagnation in that area when ten will do.

Special Report

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Venus Defense

Pseudo-Skeptic: You didn’t see a UFO. What you saw was the planet Venus.

Contactee: The planet Venus is not covered with flashing lights. It is not twice the apparent size of the moon. It does not move faster than a jet.

Pseudo-Skeptic: How would you know what the planet Venus looks like? You’re just a crazy who thinks he sees UFOs.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Infictive infections and working subversion

An excellent post by Deloras at Chaos Marxism has sparked much discussion, and I suppose I should probably expand and clarify my $0.02 on the subject.

We live mostly not in reality, but in fictional projections of our models of reality. Whenever we make a conscious decision, we are consulting models of reality formed from several sources of information:
1) previous direct experience in analogous situations
2) indirect experience of analogous situations (stories)
3) the interaction between existing models and new experiences (received directly or indirectly) as they interacted at the time of absorption

Now, our models occasionally reject direct experience that conflicts completely with our models. This is useful; our sense organs produce spurious noise much of the time, and so it is very important in a life-or-death situation to have the kind of brain function that will tell you that the shape in the corner of the room is NOT a ghost or a shroud-eater or some even-scarier beast you have been raised to think does not exist, since otherwise you may run into the mouth of a more immediate danger while fleeing a chimera. The veto mechanism can be abused, as is seen in practice by many highly dogmatic systems of thought (obvious examples include the creationists, the Randites, the Randiites, the lifestyle canon-marxists, apple fans, microsoft fans, linux fans, breatharians, and fluffybunny pagan types, but pretty much any subculture with a name consists partially if not mostly of people who will ignore reality that conflicts with their pet models).

There are other ways these systems can be hacked, though. Robert Anton Wilson's epistemological pan-agnosticism, like some less-metaphorical Neo, tries to save people from their own nervous system firewalls by demonstrating how much nonsense they can generate. Unfortunately, dogmatic memeplexes have some pretty intense and potent self-defense systems. Cognitive dissonance may not be a good route either. While I am all for people freeing their minds, a grass-roots free-your-mind movement is probably destined for as much success as the yippie movement's grassroots free-your-mind movement; trickle-up enlightenment is likely to be blocked subconsciously by the < href="">memeplexes that have already infiltrated the highest levels of society. On the other hand, the most active adepts in today's world have already realized how to get people to suspend disbelief long enough to feed them autotoxic memeplexes.

Everyone partakes of fiction, more or less. Fiction provides a language in which the shorthand forms of the everyday umwelt can be slipped to the uninitiated, and designed in such a way that subversions should slip under the radar. All communication is subversion in a sense, and the spectacle can be infected in such a way that it will promote the manipulation of reality tunnels. Like any other living creature, the spectacle will do anything to survive, or die trying. The infectious detournment of fiction made possible by the extensive classification by tropers of the sub-liminal language of modern narrative will not only affect fiction but affect reality.

There are side notes to this, which might be best explored later. I will note them now:
1) One can utilize tvtropes outside of the standard narrative hypersigil workings, since these documents show correlations between entities, qualities, and rituals, as understood under the radar by the hoi polloi.
2) Fiction affects reality through methods not directly mediated by humans. The most obvious example is google-bombing, which on a much more subtle level any piece of fiction that is archived by a search engine as sophisticated as google's will end up doing to some extent -- slightly modifying the results of searches, ad targeting, and even translations.
3) TvTropes itself is highly mutable. Any tvtropes-inspired subversion that gains notability will eventually modify tvtropes itself, and even non-notable narratives can subvert pieces of the narrative spectacle.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

i.i.kuse: a toy conlang with postfix notation

I find constructed languages like Lojban and Ithkuil terribly interesting, but they are a bit too complex for me to actually pick up. So, being a programmer and a fan of FORTH, I decided to make a toy constructed language combining postfix notation and predicate logic.

The grammar here is very simple. There are two types of words: verbs and non-verbs. Verbs always start with a K, and non-verbs never start with a K. Verbs in general describe a relationship between the last non-verb said before the verb and the rest of the non-verbs. Verbs are of the form:

Argument count prefixkakukokike

root (ends with a vowel)
suffix (optional)

Non-verbs include some pronouns:
  • i - it or itself
  • me - I/me/myself
  • vi - he/she/herself/himself

Some basic verb roots:
  • a - belongs to the set [last arg]
  • la - has attribute [last arg]
  • lo - group args together (in case something needs more than five args)
  • di - constitutes meaning of [last arg] (for defining)
  • sa - goes to [last arg]
  • so - comes from [last arg] or is caused by [last arg]
  • si - sees [last arg]
  • se - says [last arg]
  • du - makes [last arg]

Pronunciation guide:

ao in sOck
iee in sEE
oow in lOW
uew in dEW
eay in sAY
ll in Lamb
dd in Dog
ss in Saw
mm in Man
kk in Kick
vv in Voice

Note: doubled vowels and doubled consonants should be separated by a glottal stop, designated by a period.

Example sentences:
  • me i kusin - I saw it
  • vi i kuduk - s/he will make it
  • me vi i kudun kusis - I see that s/he made it
  • vi me vi i kudun kusis vi i kudun kudis kuses - s/he says that the fact that I saw that s/he made it means that s/he made it
  • me vi i.i.kuse kolos kases kalas koas - s/he and I belong to the set of i.i.kuse speakers.
  • me vi i.i.kuse kolos kasen kalas koas - s/he and I belong to the set of former i.i.kuse speakers.
  • me vi i.i.kuse kolos kases kalas koan - s/he and I used to belong to the set of i.i.kuse speakers.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Culture Bomb

this was mined with minimal changes from a thread

I may or may not have come up with this idea. I suspect I may have stolen it from GM through crypomnesia, prediction, wanking, following the same line of thought, or quantum telepathy dongs.

You all might be aware of the idea of memebombs. I frame memebombs in a slightly different structure than the Discordian Power Elite (whoever they are), so I'll summarize my model: you've got at least one memeplex (a bunch of ideas that play nice together) and one of them is probably dominant most of the time. A memebomb is a short slogan that targets common dominant memeplexes and subverts them in such a way that they either self-annihilate, become patently absurd, or mutate into something else entirely (ideally). You more or less want to target a memeplex and get behind its defenses, and then poke it until it explodes, loses an eye, or grows a new eye. In the BIP metaphor, a memebomb blows up a wall, leaving shrapnel everywhere to use for remodeling.

Alright. But there are a couple problems with memebombs. One problem is that, being short slogans, one can recognize them for what they are more often and just block them out. Another is that they only target one memeplex -- if you hit the dominant one, the next most dominant will probably try to take over, and if you hit a non-dominant one it may just give the others more power over the behavior of the person. Three, there's only so much distribution it can get before being subverted itself. Four, the form tends to make people think that anything short and clever-sounding counts as a memebomb, which is why the SOMA is full of dreck.

Alright. So, what's a culture bomb? Well, a culture is more or less a whole ecosystem of memeplexes fed to children (and adults). A culture is somewhat like a genre in fiction -- a set of cliched yet not necessarily negative or counterfactual tropes (in this case, ideology or psychology tropes) that are often found together more or less for hysterical rasins (tradition or whatever). A culture bomb is the nonfiction equivalent of a deconstructor fleet, and the memebomb equivalent of a kiloton nuke full of anthrax and mercury. The culture bomb is a full work of fiction disguised as a genre piece that, hypersigil-like, subverts or mutates entire aspects of the culture of the target audience only after the reader has had enough time to finish it, chew on it, and recommend it to friends.

There are several possible media for culture bombs. I'll suggest a few I'm considering, along with pros and cons.

American comics
Pro: absurdly rich source of material to play with, some established names who might play along, already the home of plenty of successful hypersigils both accidental and on purpose
Con: difficult to get in on, big names (big red arrow pointing to you), still kinda fringe, ascended fanboys at the gates

Pros: subverts an existing canon and promulgates your ideas in fanon if you're lucky, easy access to a reasonably wide audience, relative anonymity
Cons: thirteen year old girls aren't exactly the pinnacle of society, ideas may mutate to subvert your original intent or just sterilize it in derivative works, you need to be a fan to start out with, you have to write actually good fanfiction, anne rice might sue you

Pros: potentially huge audience, easily time-segmented so that people can be brought into the fold by fans before the intent is even fulfilled, potentially madly obsessive fans
Cons: may be even less mainstream than american comics, you need to be able to draw probably, everyone else had the same idea too after they made their blog and wiki and joined twitter

Pro: tendency towards high-frequency high-feedback communication within an imageboard can refine ideas
Con: tendency towards high-frequency high-feedback communication within an imageboard can subvert and/or sterilize intent, tldr responses

Bonus: the idea of a culturebomb might itself be a culturebomb if introduced in the right context. I'm planning to work it into a later chapter of a story.

You might consider a number of existing phenomena (historically) to be culturebombs. In fact, particular ideas have drastically modified the cultures from which they were born, in absurd and unpredictable ways.

* Nuclear weapons -- caused the cold war, the idea of mutually assured destruction, deterrent-based warfare, "purity of essence"
* The holy trinity -- people can be monotheists and polytheists simultaenously by not knowing how to count, a man can be his own son and a ghost at the same time
* Darwinian natural selection -- led to memetics, was used as an excuse by businessmen and nazis, caused some groups of creationists to ask very strange questions about monkeys

Any piece of good art can be considered a culturebomb to some extent, but culturebombs are more often accidental. This might be because people are bad at making them on purpose, or it might be because people weren't thinking about them in a way that's conducive to making them. It might also be because no one wants to make them.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Winners of the First Annual No-Budget Film Contest

Despite only getting two entries, this year was a tough race. The two are quite evenly matched, though fundamentally different. They actually represent what I was looking for when I came up with the contest, and so I'm happy with the results.

Because they are so evenly matched, the second place winner will also be getting third place.

So, without further ado, here are the results:

(b) I.T.C.H by Matthew Allen & The Skeleton Project

This is a great film, and although it drags slightly in the beginning, the plot and the visuals are top-notch. From what I understand, there is a higher resolution version available.

Zoetope by Alexa Burrell

This film is shorter, but the cinematography is great, as is the music. The dearth of lines allowed for better acting. Although a plot is hinted to, it is not clear.

Congratulations to both our winners.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The MIB and the frontal lobotomy

For a few weeks, I have been trying to associate MIB report encounters with frontal lobotomies. Many of the indicators of MIB are shared with patients post-lobotomy: the dark glasses given to patients to hide the dark circles around their eyes, the disorientation and general strange activity, the thought disorder that the lobotomy was supposed to 'cure'... I thought for a while that at least some of the MIB encounters might in fact be encounters with wayward lobotomy patients, forming a basis at least until tulpic phenomena could take care of the rest. After all, the direct association with UFO activity was not a common thing until later.

I haven't come into contact with any convincing evidence either way, but I have run across a few fun facts:
  • Gray Barker's well-known published encounter happened in 1953, the year before the approval of chlorpromazine that marked the downturn in popularity of lobotomies

  • According to Wikipedia, modern sightings started in 1947. The first trans-orbital lobotomy was in 1946.

  • "Post-operative blunting of the personality, apathy, and irresponsibility are the rule rather than the exception. Other side effects include distractibility, childishness, facetiousness, lack of tact or discipline, and post-operative incontinence."[42]

    Now, what does that remind you of?

In terms of popular culture associations, I am certainly not the first to make a link. In the film Repo Man, the character J. Frank Parnell is closer to the typical representation of an MIB than the characters cast as MIBs -- he is a former government employee who defected and got (you guessed it) a lobotomy.