Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Category Archives: Procrastination

Insomnia [Updated After Some Sleep...]

Updated to add, after more sleep and a chance to backtrack the history in a way I couldn’t stay awake to do at 4 a.m., I’m backing cautiously away from the sympathetic read of the piece as satire. Which is a pity, since replicating standard psychology experimental methods in a way that so successfully draws out the limitations of some common problematic research practices would have been just brilliant – much more brilliant than a “straight” read of the paper… (What can I say – my tendency to look for sarcasm has a wish-fulfilment element: I want more brilliant things in the world – and many things would in fact be more brilliant – if only they were written as satires…) The rebuttal gets it right nevertheless:

Do these results mean that psi can now be considered real, replicable, and reliable?

We think that the answer to this question is negative, and that the take home message of Bem’s research is in fact of a completely different nature. One of the discussants of the Utts review paper made the insightful remark that “Parapsychology is worth serious study. (…) if it is wrong [i.e., psi does not exist], it offers a truly alarming massive case study of how statistics can mislead and be misused.” (Diaconis, 1991, p. 386). And this, we suggest, is precisely what Bem’s research really shows. Instead of revising our beliefs regarding psi, Bem’s research should instead cause us to revise our beliefs on methodology: the field of psychology currently uses methodological and statistical strategies that are too weak, too malleable, and offer far too many opportunities for researchers to befuddle themselves and their peers.


I try to keep this off the blog, but, in my spare time – and sometimes in time that shouldn’t be so spared – I read sort of absurd quantities of research in the “hard” sciences. I’m particularly fond of medical research, but I’ll read more or less anything that I can manage to follow – it’s a sort of indiscriminate, unfocused, random consumption of indifferent scientific research. Often, this reading starts informally enough, trawling through the science sections of newspapers – a quick read usually generates at least one article in an average science section that just doesn’t feel right, and I backtrack from there to the original studies (some easier to find than others…). Sometimes the gratification is just working out what the news account got wrong; sometimes the gratification comes in the form of irritation at a badly designed study that was, unfortunately, pretty accurately reported in the press; sometimes the research will be genuinely interesting and well designed – and then I often end up tracking from the paper where I landed, to other material written on the field. This gives me scattered tidbits of information on all sorts of random stuff, without much expertise in anything in particular. But I enjoy it. It’s how I relax. Read more of this post

The Accident of Design

impromptu light fixtures attached to the ceilingSo for the past few weeks, when I’ve been able to fight the crowds to get to my usual spot in my coffee shop (as I type this, one of my postgrad students has walked past and casually asked, “Oh! So is this your office?” I’m getting emails from people I don’t even know, asking whether I’m in my “office”, where the emailer clearly means this place… The regular use of this term for this place has to come from students talking to one another, since I don’t advertise it – er… other than writing about it to the entire net, of course… But no one gets their information from the internet, do they?), my view as I look upward is something like this.

I’m taking these photos on the webcam built in to my laptop, which is not what one would normally call a high resolution device… So, in case it’s impossible to tell what this is a picture of, the photo is meant to show the padded tiles along the walls (yes, folks, I voluntarily place myself in a padded room on a regular basis), looking up toward the purple ceiling. You can see the previously-blogged ceiling power point – the white cord dangling down is the extension I’ve donated to the place, so I can plug in my laptop without scaling the furniture. For some weeks, my extension cord was the only thing regularly suspended from that power point. But recently there have been a couple of additions – the two light fixtures (presently turned off) that have been plugged into the power point, and then clipped with random office supplies to the beam that runs across the ceiling.

garden of eden muralThis gives my regular table a veritable wealth of light sources (all the others have one at most) – the fruits, I suppose, of sitting under a power point. But who am I to argue. I’m used to the interior of this place changing quite often, as the owner stumbles across new objects from which he creates found art. There are some fixtures, such as the Garden of Eden mural next to where I normally sit, which are constants.

But most of these bits and pieces on the ceiling, for example, are new. I’ll just walk in one morning and find – as shown in this photo – that someone has strung a flag, or hung up lots of clear plastic streamers with glistening foil fish taped to them, or found a convenient spot to prop a pair of stray blue legs…

objects dangling from the ceiling

In context, the fact that my table suddenly sprouted two new light fixtures in addition to the one it’s always had… not really that strange…

So I didn’t ask.

This morning, though, the owner wandered over personally with my coffee. His eyes followed the line from my laptop, to the extension board, up the way to the ceiling power point, and then, leaping back – “WTF?! Where did those lights come from?!”

“I thought you put them up,” I said, startled.

“No – no – not mine,” he stepped back to appraise them from different angles. “I like though… I like… They’re very nice…”

And off he wandered, looking pleased.

Now I’m finding myself reappraising the interior: how much of this place, exactly, has he deliberately created? I’ve seen him do some of it – I had assumed it was all his… Now I’m wondering… How much of the regular, ongoing transformation of this place comes from people like me – people who decide to make… just a little change… add just that little bit… to feel more at home… A cord… a light fixture… a pair of blue legs tucked in the corner just so… Maybe even a mural of mutual temptation… Found objects… donated ones… deliberate designs… detritus… How much of this place did the owner discover one morning, to his surprise, and then accept with a pleased “I like… They’re very nice…”

Resolve and Resignation

Mikhail Emelianov from Perverse Egalitarianism has a new post up on New (Academic) Year Resolutions – a post which he has spun mimetically, asking for responses from a few of us who are known to lurk around those parts… Mikhail resolves to (or wishes for the ability to?) include more complex material in his courses, spend more time on research, and wear a bow tie: what more could any academic want?

Since I live in an inverted country, Mikhail’s tap actually hits me in the middle of my academic year, rather than at the start – making me uncertain whether this gives me an advantage, in that, whatever resolutions I make, I only have to keep for something like another seven weeks… Or whether, weighed down as I am from the detritus of this year and this term, it simply makes it more difficult for me to find any resolve whatsoever… I find myself wondering whether I should perhaps make resolutions about what I would like to have achieved… before the next academic year begins?

First… there is a veritable mountain (well… perhaps more an imposing molehill… but still…) of pieces I need to finalise, in order to send them off for review, where kind reviewers will no doubt shoot them back to me with quite a lot more work still pending than I would hope. I consider this a short-term resolution: something I have resolved to do during this term – during, in fact, the next few weeks… Resolution: that I will actually keep my own deadline.

Second… the current draft of the thesis needs to be completed. Notice the lack of agency in that sentence. The thesis is the actor… It needs to be completed. My resolution, evidently, is agnostic about who, specifically, needs to do the completing… Nevertheless. Completion needs to happen. Actually, technically, it doesn’t – not quite yet – I have more time. But I don’t want more time. So my resolution, I suppose, is to stick to my own deadline, rather than waiting for impending administrative doom to compel completion. So: resolution: thesis, by the end of the Australian summer.

Third… to choose something genuinely removed from my control: I would like to know, before the beginning of the next academic year, that I have a “next academic year”… My current contract ends with the proper calendar year, and so I must soon begin sorting through that overwhelming deluge of desperate job offers that immediately confronts all academics from the humanities and social sciences, as soon as they enter the job market… Right. Resolution: that someone else will resolve that I shouldn’t be summarily expelled from academic space.

So… two resolutions about keeping my own deadlines, and one… wild gesture of random hope…

Not sure whether Mikhail intends this to be passed along further… I’ll open it to the gallery – feel free to add your own resolutions here and elsewhere, if the mood strikes…

The (Updated) Gist

For those who have despaired of finding time to read my thesis drafts, perhaps a Wordle of the first chapter might convey the gist:

word cloud of the first thesis chapter

Hat tip Dead Voles.

I wonder if I can submit one of these in place of an abstract? Perhaps I should ask Wildly, who has a post up with the alarming words: “Yesterday, when I made the final change to my thesis”… Does this mean there is a new doctor in the ‘sphere? :-)

Updated to add that Carl from Dead Voles suggests a pedagogical application for Wordle:

I imagine requiring students a week before an early-semester paper is due to come to class with a wordle printout of their introductory paragraph. I would then put them in work groups and have them attempt to interpret each others’ wordles to see how close they could get to the author’s intended meaning. In the process I think they would be clarifying in their own minds what ‘extra’ is needed beyond mere words to communicate a meaning and frame an argument. The additional benefit is that this would move their procrastination window up a week.

(Perhaps I shouldn’t mention that there is a certain… resemblance between Carl’s suggestion, and one of my actual assessment tasks this term, which allows students to post extremely rough and schematic notes about course assessments to a blog – precisely with the intention, as Carl phrases it above, to move up the procrastination window… My version is significantly less attractive for students to distribute to their peers…)

Carl also suggests a group exercise for the readers of both blogs: comparing only the wordles of Carl’s dissertation chapters, and my own – what would readers suggest are the primary differences between our work? :-)

And Carl suggests a different sort of exercise – one that seems strangely topical for the dissertations of L Magee or G Gollings: how would one redesign Wordle to take into account relations, as well as frequencies, among the words?

Flying Furby

Blogging may be light this week, as I have travelled to the wilds of Sydney in advance of the Derrida Today conference. I have a severe cold, which will hopefully have subsided before I need to present, but which is currently enabling me to view my surroundings through a disjointed, slightly surreal, lens. So en route to Sydney I found myself distracted by the following sign posted near the Skybus boarding area:

Skybus regrets that food, drink and pets are not allowed on board.

To which someone had added the convincingly stencilled amendment:

People are permitted, reluctantly

Flying Furby ToyThen on board the plane, I noticed the following list of items “Prohibited at all times on board the aircraft”:

Cellular phones, transceivers, FM/AM radios, pocket pagers, radio controlled devices, printers, television receivers, audio equipment with wireless controls and Furby toys

Never much liked Furby toys myself…

Weekend Relations

My coffee shop has recently begun opening on weekends. Read more of this post

When in Rome…

Planning trips provides all manner of opportunities for procrastination. As I’ve mentioned previously, in late May and June I’ll be in Europe – initially at a conference in Rome, and then over to Warwick for the Hegel conference in late May, and then back to London for an event on the 3rd of June – I may still arrange a few other things before returning to Melbourne in mid-June – haven’t decided. Soon, I’ll begin tossing some materials on the blog in relation to the talks I’ll be delivering. First, of course, I have to stop procrastinating over things like where I’ll be staying… ;-P

I am apparently easily entertained by advertisements for lodgings. One place offers all its guests “use of a communal chicken”. Another provides an opportunity to experience something like that communal chicken’s point of view, advertising that its “host will dine on guests at breakfast”.

Unfortunately, even the place with the cannibalistic host is charging more than I was hoping to spend… Any tips on reasonable accommodation in Rome would be much appreciated…

Great(er) Scott!

So it’s finally happened. Prompted by an email asking him to identify his secret blog, Scott Eric Kaufman has just outed himself as the hitherto faux-donymous author of what in the hell…:

My real name is Scott Eric Kaufman. I have a public blog that you may have read. You may ask yourself, why is the public blog so much better written than the pseudonymous blog? The answer is that I never intended this blog for public consumption. An email I received prompted some soul-searching, after which I feel it is unethical to continue this charade.

The depths of Scott’s deception – the intensity of his betrayal of those of us who have interacted with him over the years as both “himself” and as his alter ego “Nate” – can perhaps best be illustrated by the extent Scott took to conceal this identity, when my own identity was called into question some months back. As “Scott”, Scott wrote:

One student insists N. Pepperell’s fictional, and I’m inclined to agree. No actual person could write that much that quickly and remain sane.

As “Nate”, however:

I’m under the impression we have an implied contract for mutual belief, which obligates me to affirm the proposition “N. Pepperell is a real person” and to not have truck with any speculation to the contrary.

So which is it… “Scott”? Which is it?

Europe in May/June – Suggestions?

I’ll be presenting to a conference in Rome in late May, and am hoping to be able to stay in Europe for at least a few weeks after. I hadn’t initially been certain this trip would happen – otherwise, I would have liked to put in proposals for other events. I’ll be at a point where it would be helpful to have opportunities to workshop thesis-related materials. Unfortunately, it’s a bit late to put in proposals to present to other events of which I’m aware. I’m not planning to spend the entire visit in Italy, but am trying to decide where else I might wander. That decision might boil down to whether there are interesting critical theory related events to sit in on, while I’m in the vicinity. If anyone knows of events that might be of interest, feel free to pass things on. (And, yes, in fact, critical theory events are actually what I do for leisure, even in Melbourne… ;-P)

Cold Reading

So Nate has tagged me for a meme on a day when I am feeling flat and uninspired – and, amusingly, the meme sends me to an article I’ve been meaning to re-read for the longest time – it’s like the universe is conspiring against my procrastination. Next to me on the desk is Diane Elson’s “The Value Theory of Labour”, from Value: The Representation of Labour in Capitalism (1979, CSE Books, ed. Elson). The meme commands:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

There is some slight ambiguity over what constitutes the fifth sentence – do I count the fragment spilling over from the previous page? I’ll start with the first whole sentence… The three sentences (in some ways less interesting than the previous ones) are:

This does not mean that Marx was not concerned with price, nor its relation to the magnitude of value, but that the phenomena of exchange are not the object of the theory. (Again this is not a completely new thought, see Hussain, this volume, p. 84.) My argument is that the object of Marx’s theory of value was labour.

I really should take this opportunity to discuss what Elson means here, and the relationship between my position and hers. But I haven’t had coffee yet – and have a pile of Badiou to read today (note that, in spite of this, somehow Being and Event didn’t manage to be the book closest to me when I read Nate’s request… ;-P). So Badiou is coming with me for coffee, and I’ll have to write on Elson some other time…

But now I’m meant to tag people… My least favourite part of all memes… ;-P How about I pick on Tom, Ryan/Aless (by the way R/A, I’ve been meaning for ages to reply to your post on Ideology, and still intend to do so – I’ve just been caught up in other obligations), Alexei, L Magee (from whom I’m really wanting a promised post on the concept of sublation, but maybe this will get things started… ;-P), and Praxis.


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