The other week I was confronted in a supermarket by another customer who appeared out of nowhere, boiling with anger and screaming at me to apologise to them. It turned out my trolley had accidentally touched theirs, some time earlier. It happens a lot in supermarkets, but to this customer it was a mortal insult, … More A disturbing lesson about human aggression
One of the ways that George Orwell exposed the reality of authoritarian dictatorship in his novel 1984 was through the way his Big Brother authorities twisted the truth. They didn’t just lie in blatantly transparent ways – they demanded that their ‘alternative facts’ be taken as gospel, irrespective of any evidence to the contrary. If … More Orwell’s ‘1984’ and the alternative truth
When I was at primary school in Napier, New Zealand, all the kids – including me – were terrified of a particular teacher, the ‘go to’ disciplinarian who was invoked when other teachers wanted a kid especially punished. This bellowing drill-sergeant of a teacher demanded total submission to his power, even down to punishing kids … More How authoritarian bullies get away with it
It always intrigues me how humans tend to imagine matters of opinion to be empirically true – as if matters of fact – even when they are not. It’s a cognitive issue, one that I suspect is linked to the way some people validate themselves. And it leads to a logical disconnect, a favourite of … More When the conclusion doesn’t follow the premise it’s called – stupidity?
Some of the ‘brain teaser’ puzzles doing the rounds at the moment annoy me. The problem is that if you don’t know the parameters on which the question is posed, you can’t get the ‘right’ answer. Take the one involving apples (10 points each), bananas and coconuts. Depending on how you read it, a banana … More Why I get annoyed with Facebook brain-teaser puzzles
The other day I threw a crumpled bag into a bin and almost missed. It hung on the edge for a while. Quite suddenly it began collapsing into the bin, flexing as it did so. In a strict sense this was all understandable; I’d crushed the bag, meaning the energy of my fingers was stored … More Do humans see patterns where there aren’t any? Let’s talk…