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2) Useful Conceits


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While conceits have inherent limitations and pitfalls, many have practical uses and we couldn't function without them. The following are just a few examples.

* While having a law that requires automobiles to drive on the right instead of the left side of the road involves arbitrariness, the usefulness of the law should be clear. This is a case where the powers that be had to pick one side or the other, perhaps flipping a coin. In Britain the coin must have fallen differently.

* Before I go to bed, I make sure my keys are placed in the middle of the kitchen table. I came up with this rule after several hectic mornings looking for the damn things.

* Standard games and sports require conceits to work. Whether an American football field is supposed to be 95, 100 or 105 yards long, you have to pick a length so it is known when someone has scored a touchdown … Whether a basketball field goal layup counts as 1, 2, 4, 5 or other points, you have to pick an amount before the game starts … For a tennis match and soccer game, it has to be agreed upon whether on-the-line is in bounds or out of bounds.

* One of the most important uses of conceits is they can save us time. Your pre-set rules for clothes you put on in the morning involve personal biases and arbitrary choices. However, without these and other trite rules you might be unable to leave your house before 4 p.m. This would be a problem if your job starts and 9 a.m. and you're supposed to pick of your kids from kindergarten at 3 p.m.

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Many conceits don't have practical uses, but are harmless feel goods. Sometimes feeling good is practical, such as when your doctor has suggested you lower your blood pressure.

* If you grew up dreaming your house would have a white picket fence and a big oak tree, there's nothing wrong with putting up a white picket fence and planting an oak tree on the land you bought.

* If you just bought a sports car and think that it should have bold racing stripes, there's nothing wrong with asking the dealer to add bold racing stripes.

* If you need the theatre effect to enjoy a movie and set up your entertainment room in the basement to look like a movie theatre with theatre seats and a popcorn machine, that sounds cool to me.

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