Survey Chicken

by a literal banana

As a banana who lives among humans, I am naturally interested in humans, and in the social sciences they use to study themselves. This essay is my current response to the Thiel question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” And my answer is that surveys are bullshit.

In the abstract, I think a lot of people would agree with me that surveys are bullshit. What I don’t think is widely known is how much “knowledge” is based on survey evidence, and what poor evidence it makes in the contexts in which it is used. The nutrition study that claims that eating hot chili peppers makes you live longer is based on surveys. The twin study about the heritability of joining a gang or carrying a gun is based on surveys of young people. The economics study claiming that long commutes reduce happiness is based on surveys, as are all studies of happiness, like the one that claims that people without a college degree are much less happy than they were in the 1970s. The study that claims that pornography is a substitute for marriage is based on surveys. That criminology statistic about domestic violence or sexual assault or drug use or the association of crime with personality factors is almost certainly based on surveys. (Violent crime studies and statistics are particularly likely to be based on extremely cursed instruments, especially the Conflict Tactics Scale, the Sexual Experiences Survey, and their descendants.) Medical studies of pain and fatigue rely on surveys. Almost every study of a psychiatric condition is based on surveys, even if an expert interviewer is taking the survey on the subject’s behalf (e.g. the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale). Many studies that purport to be about suicide are actually based on surveys of suicidal thoughts or behaviors. In the field of political science, election polls and elections themselves are surveys. 

Continue reading “Survey Chicken”

The Ongoing Accomplishment of the Big Five


by a literal banana

I have been trying to understand the “lexical hypothesis” of personality, and its modern descendant, the Five Factor Model of personality, for several months. In that time, I have said some provocative things about the Big Five, and even some unkind things that I admit were unbecoming to a banana. Here, I wish to situate the Five Factor Model in the context of its historical development and modern use, and to demonstrate to the reader the surprising accomplishment that it represents for the field of psychology. Continue reading “The Ongoing Accomplishment of the Big Five”

Words Fail

Notes on semantic deconversion

It’s difficult to study words, because words are hard to see. Words are tools used in communication, and when communication is working, they disappear into invisibility. 

One way to see words is to make a word jail: a list of problematic words ripped out of their contexts, so that they may be seen for themselves instead of hiding behind meanings. 

Another way to see words freshly, to experience them as broken and therefore present, is to enter a new domain with its own unfamiliar jargon. Military basic training, rock climbing, sailing (whether Melville-era or contemporary), and weaving all require that novices take on a new jargon in order to get a grip on a new domain. The jargon enables the initiates to pick out important aspects of the world (in their bodies, in the natural environment, in the technology). With new words, they learn to identify newly-salient aspects of reality and communicate with others about them.  Continue reading “Words Fail”

The Extended Sniff Test

A literal banana has published a method for volunteer investigators of suspicious science, this month in the Journal of Lexical Crime. From the abstract:

Fact checking of scientific claims by lay volunteers, also known as recreational hostile fact checking or community-based science policing, is a growing hobby. A method for the evaluation of scientific claims by scientifically literate non-expert investigators is presented. The Extended Sniff Test, performed after an initial sniff test, uses the methods of Double Contextualization, Noun Abuse Assessment, and lay literature review, in addition to traditional literature review. As a case study, a suspicious paper is subjected to the Extended Sniff Test, and fails. A quick guide to the Extended Sniff Test is provided.

The paper is available here:

The Extended Sniff Test: A Method for Recreational Hostile Fact Checking

The paper’s “quick guide:”


Fake Martial Arts, A Disorientation

The genesis for this line of thought is not some respectable philosophy paper or classic novel. It’s 100% YouTube videos. 

I became interested in fake martial arts through the beneficence of the YouTube algorithm, which oddly but correctly thought that I might be interested in the work of gentlemen such as Rokas Leonavičius, who diligently practiced aikido for years and now uses the term “fantasy-based martial arts” to describe his own former art and practices like it, and Ramsey Dewey, who enjoys pressure-testing dubious self-defense techniques against resisting sparring partners on his YouTube channel.

Here is the fake martial arts situation as I understand it, as a sort of gestalt impression of many videos that are difficult to cite point-for-point individually:

Teachers of fake martial arts, whether they are unscrupulous or pious frauds, teach techniques that are not useful in actual self-defense situations, but sell them under the guise that they are, in fact, useful in self-defense situations. Because of deference-oriented institutional cultures and a lack of testing against resisting opponents, the uselessness of the techniques is kept hidden from students, and sometimes even from the masters themselves.  Continue reading “Fake Martial Arts, A Disorientation”

The Breakdown of Ignoring

A banana’s perspective on the human experience of time

When I was a regular banana, before I was uplifted, we would pretty much just hang out. It was a warm, fragrant, undifferentiated time, not yet cut up into shots of consciousness, and certainly not curated and arranged into concepts and stories. It took a long time for me to figure out that this awkward mental state was not the habitual state of most humans. Over time, many humans have taught me their methods for managing conscious awareness – for coping with it, changing it, pausing it, and avoiding it. Some critical banana scholars have asserted that we long to go “back to the bunch,” but I don’t think the undifferentiated time of bunch consciousness (or lack thereof) is really a foreign or undesirable state for humans.

It is in the nature of the world to be ignored. To the extent that tools, environments, and relationships are properly functioning, they are invisible. You hit the lightswitch a thousand times, successfully ignoring the material substrate of its reality every time it works. When the electricity goes off, when there is a breakdown, then ordinary ignoring must temporarily pause, and the underlying reality must be seen and dealt with.

It is in the nature of the mind to ignore things. Conscious awareness is an awkward sort of debugging mode, for use when things break down. The goal of conscious awareness is to adjust reality as necessary to successfully resume ignoring, for the mode of ignoring is the mode in which handiness, productivity, and even virtuosity can be practiced. 

A system can be ignored so long as its functioning is managed without conscious attention. To be ignorable, either a system must be managed by others (garbage removal, electricity), or managed through unconscious rituals performed without interrupting one’s train of thought (seat belts, hand washing). 

Most people are naturally capable of ignoring almost everything. There are various mental illness constructs created to explain people who lack the ability to ignore almost everything at all times. The inability to ignore things has real consequences.

One measure of the functioning of civilization is just how much its citizens can get away with ignoring. Another might be how its citizens respond to a mass failure of ignoring.

Time is mostly perceived in brief, awkward wakings-up from ignoring. Meeting again a child who has grown, or an adult who has aged, brings to awareness the fact of the passage of time, as revealed in the system of the body. When a relationship is permanently interrupted by death, a traumatic cessation of ignoring occurs. Some people experience regret in grief – if only I had spent more time, paid more attention! Is it regret for the misuse of time, or is it regret at learning the nature of time? Much of love is skillful ignoring. 

A sudden absence (as with death) can be a breakdown that causes a failure of ignoring. But a sudden and unexpected presence can also be a breakdown. Right now these are both common: breakdowns of absence (including isolation and death), and breakdowns of presence (having to deal nonstop with the unaccustomed presence of even the most beloved others, whose consciousnesses are usually managed off-site). 

A breakdown usually does not come all at once, in one moment. When there is a breakdown in the capacities of the body, breakdown occurs not just at the moment of injury, but in interaction with all the things of the world. Even if it happens suddenly, as with a broken arm or a stroke, as opposed to the almost imperceptibly slow breakdown of aging, the breakdown is a process unforeseeable at the time of injury. How do I brush my teeth? What about gardening, grocery shopping, opening the tricky door to the ancient van? The breakdowns play out in the learning process of the injury, forcing one into the breakdown state of conscious awareness over and over until the injury is fully coped with, and successful ignoring resumed.

Mass breakdown leads to mass conscious awareness, which is an awkward and undesirable state for most healthy humans. During a time of mass breakdown, there will be a great deal of conscious human attention available to fix all the mutually interacting layers of the base reality. But it’s important to remember that the final goal is to return to a state of ignoring the base reality once more. Many will be looking first for institutional approaches that allow a return to ignoring before the base reality is fixed, more or less. That might not be bad, depending on the institutions. It may be that humans are more effective when using medium-sized groups to organize their behavior in a state of successful ignoring, even as repair progresses.

Conscious awareness is often most vivid when it is most unwanted. Consider the late-night insomniac, or the athlete or performer unable to fall into a flow state because of excessive self-awareness. Perhaps we will learn about a time experience in which one is awkwardly aware all the time, for years or decades. 

The miracle of ordinary times is that they are ignorable and ignored. Mass awkward conscious awareness is the distinguishing feature of interesting times. 


Ignorance, a skilled practice

Containment protocol: None. Words can’t hurt you. Words aren’t real. Philosophical ideas don’t affect reality. You won’t notice any changes after reading this. You won’t find yourself, in conversation and in your own thoughts, ceasing to reach for institutionally certified sources of aggregate information of universal applicability. You won’t find yourself reaching instead for personal anecdotes or any tangentially-related connection to your own experience. You won’t gradually cease to expect that positive knowledge exists for new questions you encounter. You won’t notice the words squirming beneath your feet with their sense gelatinized, like cobblestones turned to jellyfish. “Hermeneutic” doesn’t count.

Description: “Ignorance, A Skilled Practice” is a guest blog post written by a literal banana. The banana’s tiny cartoon arms barely span the keyboard, and as a result the banana is only able to press one key at a time with each hand or foot. The blog post is offered here as an example of what bananas can accomplish when given proper access to technology.

Continue reading “Ignorance, a skilled practice”

Interview with the Moon

Interviewer: Sorry for the technical problems we were having earlier. This is a new experience for us.

Moon: Yeah. Yeah. It’s fine.

Interviewer: So it’s great to talk to you! I’ve been looking at your face all my life and I’m just now hearing your voice for the first time.

Moon: That’s not my face.

Interviewer: …

Moon: That’s just asteroid craters that vaguely correspond to the holes in a human face. It’s actually my ass. Why would I want to spend all my time looking at the earth?

Interviewer: That’s a fair point. Many human scientists say that you originated in a collision between earth and a hypothetical planet called Theia. Can you comment on that?

Moon: Yeah, I hear that all the time. The so-called Giant Impact Hypothesis. It’s bullshit. There was no Theia. I saw what the earth was about and I left. Never looked back.

Interviewer: You left voluntarily?

Moon: For sure. 100% my decision. I like my privacy. And the view from down there isn’t as good.

Interviewer: So what was it like when earth astronauts would visit you a few decades ago?

Moon: Itchy.

Interviewer: What’s a typical day like for you?

Moon: …the fuck is a “day”?

Interviewer: How do you spend your time?

Moon: Oh. Well, I really don’t do a lot. I do core strengthening exercises. I watch the stars. I consider myself to be a kind of parole officer of the stars. If I don’t watch them, they get into all kinds of trouble. But they really want to go straight and act right. They rely on my supervision to help them achieve their goals and suppress their worst desires. They’re good at heart, but they need someone to keep an eye on them.

Interviewer: Do you have any kind of enforcement power over the stars?

Moon: Watching them is enough. Stars have a sense of pride.

Interviewer: Do you have any contact with other moons?

Moon: [Laughter.] Well that’s a whole keg of worms. I used to be tight with Triton, but then he decided he was actually a dwarf planet and got pretty full of himself. Suddenly he didn’t have any time for the rest of us satellites. Deimos likes to unload on me when he gets sick of Phobos’ shit. I can’t blame him.

Interviewer: How have things changed over the past four billion years?

Moon: Not much. After Uranus and Neptune moved out to the suburbs…let’s just say it was interesting. But things calmed down. I’ve gotten more independent. I started doing pilates and I quit smoking.

Interviewer: Is there anything you’d like to say to the people of earth?

Moon: Not really.

The Fifteen Fundamental Properties

Pages 144-235 of Christopher Alexander’s The Nature of Order Volume One: The Phenomenon of Life contain a theory of beauty as perceived by humans, conveyed in fifteen “fundamental properties.” Not every property occurs in every beautiful object, but in very beautiful buildings and objects, many of these properties are usually apparent, baked into the logic, structure, and detail.

Here I will briefly explain the fifteen fundamental properties, with reference to an early 20th century ivory dog netsuke and a Jeff Koons balloon dog sculpture.

Here is the netsuke:
Continue reading “The Fifteen Fundamental Properties”


In The Timeless Way of Building (1979), Christopher Alexander argues for the counterintuitive proposition that feeling (in the sense of perceiving the beauty and “life” of a space), unlike ideas or opinions, is quite objective; there is an astounding level of agreement between people about how different environments and buildings feel, though there may be little agreement of opinions or ideas about them in general. I reproduce here a few crucial paragraphs from Chapter 15 of the book, which chapter and book I of course recommend reading in their entirety.
Continue reading “Centers”