Defamiliarization or ostranenie (остранение) is the artistic technique of presenting to audiences common things in an unfamiliar or strange way, in order to enhance perception of the familiar.
On the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics
The opening of a famous essay by Eugene Wigner:
There is a story about two friends, who were classmates in high school, talking about their jobs. One of them became a statistician and was working on population trends. He showed a reprint to his former classmate. The reprint started, as usual, with the Gaussian distribution and the statistician explained to his former classmate the meaning of the symbols for the actual population, for the average population, and so on. His classmate was a bit incredulous and was not quite sure whether the statistician was pulling his leg. "How can you know that?" was his query. "And what is this symbol here?" "Oh," said the statistician, "this is pi." "What is that?" "The ratio of the circumference of the circle to its diameter." "Well, now you are pushing your joke too far," said the classmate, "surely the population has nothing to do with the circumference of the circle."
Review of the DSM-5 as a piece of dystopian fiction
If the novel has an overbearing literary influence, it’s undoubtedly Jorge Luis Borges. The American Psychiatric Association takes his technique of lifting quotes from or writing faux-serious reviews for entirely imagined books and pushes it to the limit: Here, we have an entire book, something that purports to be a kind of encyclopedia of madness, a Library of Babel for the mind, containing everything that can possibly be wrong with a human being. Perhaps as an attempt to ward off the uncommitted reader, the novel begins with a lengthy account of the system of classifications used – one with an obvious debt to the Borgesian Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, in which animals are exhaustively classified according to such sets as “those belonging to the Emperor,” “those that, at a distance, resemble flies,” and “those that are included in this classification.”
This vision of humanity’s predicament has echoes of Samuel Beckett at some of his more nihilistic moments – except that Beckett allows his tramps to speak for themselves, and when they do they’re often quite cheerful. The sufferers of DSM-5, meanwhile, have no voice; they’re only interrogated by a pitiless system of categorizations with no ability to speak back. As you read, you slowly grow aware that the book’s real object of fascination isn’t the various sicknesses described in its pages, but the sickness inherent in their arrangement.
From Book of Lamentations by Sam Kriss
Oliver Emberton, "You should be amazed"
Like millions of people I was carried to work today in a comfortable metal box by the controlled explosion of 600 million year old dinosaur juice. (You call that petrol).
I avoided unexpected traffic on my way thanks to flying machines orbiting the earth, which talked to a metal and glass supercomputer in my pocket smaller than a bar of soap. (You call that a phone).
My pocket supercomputer is – of course – wirelessly connected to the entirety of humanity’s knowledge. The entirety of humanity’s knowledge is – of course – free. And I can search all of it as fast as I can type.
None of this is even interesting to anyone anymore.
At work I help make software, which is to say I am able to benefit the lives of people mostly by thinking, and occasionally pressing some buttons on a surface. Somehow, I am paid for this.
At the supermarket I look for bananas, which have been transported five thousand miles for my convenience, yet remain fresh, tasty, and so cheap I don’t even notice their price (12 pence). I enjoy food without even considering the possibility that it might be diseased, or toxic, or fatal. I buy a plump, delicious chicken – the byproduct of a thousand years of careful breeding – and let machines scan my choices with beams of light and pay them with a thin piece of plastic. If I run out of money, there are whole industries competing to loan me some, for a price.
From egg_dog (HT: Robert):
kids have you applied the minty paste to the exposed part of your skeleton? yes? well now it is time to lie down in a dark room for hours
From The Archdruid Report:
Ordinarily, computer programs are designed to obey some human desire, whether that desire involves editing a document, sending an email, viewing pictures of people with their clothes off, snooping on people who are viewing pictures of people with their clothes off, or what have you.
Something about "viewing pictures of people with their clothes off" as a human desire alongside "sending an email" really highlights for me the strangeness of our species.
"Human World" (get's a little NSFW at the end, but the first two thirds are great):