If one wanted to think, say, or do precisely the worst thing, how would he or she go about doing so? This paper looks into that question:
“How to Think, Say, or Do Precisely the Worst Thing for Any Occasion,” Daniel M. Wegner [pictured here], Science, vol. 325, July 3, 2009, pp. 48-50. The author, intentionally or not at Harvard University, begins:
“There are many kinds of errors. We can fall short, overreach, or skitter off the edge, of course, but we can also miss by a mile, take our eyes off the prize, throw the baby out with the bath water—and otherwise foul up in a disturbingly wide variety of ways. Standing out in this assortment of would-be wreckage, though, is one kind of error that is special: the precisely counterintentional error. This is when we manage to do the worst possible thing, the blunder so outrageous that we think about it in advance and resolve not to let that happen.
“And then it does…
Elsewhere, Wegman looks at other questions, including this one: “How do we know when something has a mind? We’re fairly certain that rocks and beer cans don’t, of course, and most of us are also convinced that we ourselves have minds–but what about the gray areas?”
Alas, Professor Wegner passed on recently. Brian Marquard of the Boston Globe wrote an appreciation of him.
(Thanks to Carolyn Johnson for bringing this to our attention.)
BONUS: Professor Wegner’s web page of pictures of monsters carrying women
BONUS: Professor Wegner’s “Hidden Brain Damage Scale“, of which he wrote: “Of the many psychometric devices designed to measure the dimensions of human variation, the Hidden Brain Damage Scale stands alone as the only instrument capable of predicting preference for pimento loaf.”