Give It Your All – Then Give Some More

by John Holbo on July 31, 2014

Everyone’s complaining about the dumbness of the use-100%-of-your-brain premise for Lucy. (Which I expect is a bad movie.) I have an idea for a superhero that I think fixes this problem. Coaches are always yelling at players that they need to ‘give 110 percent!’ out on the field. So: what if someone actually figured out a way for you to do that? (Makes you think, eh!) You could have these amazing scenes where, after the super-sciencey treatment, the hero is being tested. Running on the treadmill, solving math problems, stacking raisins. In each case the guys in labcoats, gathered around the readouts are smiling, amazed. ‘Sir, we’ve done it! He’s using 110% of capacity!’

The point being: this guy (or gal!) is going to be able to beat Lucy, whoever she is. End of story. Mischief managed.



Matt 07.31.14 at 12:37 am

Lucy seems to be operating on Comic Book Science. That’s just an artistic decision, and I’m fine with it. The Fifth Element and The Avengers are scientifically ridiculous too but that shouldn’t keep you from enjoying them on their own terms. Are reviewers confused/angered because the Comic Book Science of this movie didn’t actually appear in print first?

Reality-warping brain powers aren’t exactly unprecedented in science fiction. The Lathe of Heaven and Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said immediately come to mind. And in Policeman the reality warping powers actually came from drug use, like in Lucy. I’m sure others can name additional stories.


John Holbo 07.31.14 at 12:49 am

“Lucy seems to be operating on Comic Book Science. That’s just an artistic decision, and I’m fine with it.”

I quite agree about how it’s obviously a comic book science premise, so I’m open to there being a so-dumb-it’s-brilliant side to the film. If he played it like “Sharknado” I would have no problem. And imagine if the folks behind “Sharknado” were playing it with a very straight face, making the whole movie like this is a serious possibility? That could produce a special kind of brilliance. I dunno. I think I’ll wait for it to come out on iTunes.

As to classic sf, Ted Chiang’s great short story “Understand” has a somewhat similar storyline (I gather from film reviews) so no doubt this sort of thing could be great. Guy gets mental powers from an experimental drug. Guy gets too smart. Authorities are chasing him. Guy needs to get more of the drug to boost himself more. But Chiang’s story is written in an amazing, anti-action movie style – even though the guy does have action movie powers. That’s what makes it a great story.


Gabriel 07.31.14 at 12:54 am

I don’t know about Lucy, but Ted Chiang is a superhero who uses 100 percent of his brain.


Shatterface 07.31.14 at 1:02 am

Creating a superhero with 110% powers is easy – you just turn the gamma ray machine up to 11.


Matt 07.31.14 at 1:06 am

stacking raisins.

There were some Morlochs who had powers like this- to become as thin as paper, or to turn into any flavor of ice cream (and then melt, slide under a door, and reform! Maybe this one was in a parody version. I can’t remember for sure.) Still, who knows what you could do with raisins stacked in the right way. Maybe something like The Interior League from The Enigma comic series. (I’ll admit that, while almost no one knows of them, I find The Interior League to be the most frightening comic book bad guys of all time. No joke.)

the other Matt said,
The Fifth Element … [was]scientifically ridiculous
If that had been the only way that movie was ridiculous, it would have been fine. Sadly, that was the least of it.


Shatterface 07.31.14 at 1:09 am

I don’t think any superhero can top the lactokinesis featured in an episode of Misfits. You can’t defeat a villain who can turn any milk product against you.


John Holbo 07.31.14 at 1:28 am

Come to think of it, a really good use for 110% man is as a battery or basic energy source. For every unit of energy in, you get 1.1 units out. Very useful.


Matt 07.31.14 at 1:28 am

Older written science fiction commonly incorporated mental superpower tropes that mostly don’t appear in print SF any more (or at least print unaccompanied by illustrations): telepathy, telekinesis, pyrokinesis, etc. I think that had become uncommon by the 1980s for writers consciously working in the genre. The burst of Technological Singularity fiction that appeared in the 1990s seemed to revive this trope in somewhat altered form: superintelligence can grant the power to rewrite the laws of physics, at least to a limited degree: tweak the Fine Structure Constant, tap energy from the first minute of the Big Bang, violate causality. Weirdly I have encountered people near the Life Extension/Extropian/High Frontier nexus who seem to believe this can happen in the real world. The light speed limit and irreversibility of time will be overcome, because human imagination is the ultimate power and nature has no business putting limits on it.

Even further afield, I’m reminded of fantasy worlds where Good and Evil are forms of energy. Evil is a common fuel for monster propulsion in worlds lacking fossil fuels, but you could theoretically use it to power a toaster or a grain mill. An evil grain mill, that is. Intelligence that can be applied as a force of its own seems to be in the same tradition, with the advantage that you don’t need to worry about plugging it in backwards. In the engineering traditions of fantasy science, Good and Evil are direct current systems with opposite conventions for + and -, whereas Intelligence is alternating current.


Bloix 07.31.14 at 1:32 am

Lance Armstrong figured out how to give more than 110%. Literally:

“Where riders such as Greg LeMond measured outputs of 400w … many former drug cheats such as Lance Armstrong, Marco Pantani and Alberto Contador regularly averaged power outputs of 430-450 watts.

“…data from the sports most prestigious climb, Alpe d’Huez….:

1995 -Marco Pantani – time 36’50”- 468 watts (‘mutant’ threshold’)
2011 –Lance Armstrong–time 38’38″- 450 watts (‘miraculous’ threshold’)
1995 -Richard Virenque – time 40’30″ – 417 watts (‘suspicious’ threshold’)
1989 -Greg LeMond – time 42’30″ – 394 watts (‘normal’ threshold’)


Billikin 07.31.14 at 1:36 am

You are 111% right!


Joshua W. Burton 07.31.14 at 1:54 am

Most people use only 10% of their brains. Whereas I use 10% of my brain.


Pascal Leduc 07.31.14 at 1:55 am

If Lucy had just been a movie about an illicit drug that hyper evolves somebody it might have been better. The explicit mention of this old trope, combined with the pages and pages and pages of atrocious dialog to try and connect this concept to what is happening on screen combined with the fact that half the dialog was said by somebody who was ordered to present their lines in the flattest way humanly possible turned the whole experience into an exercise in frustration.

Admittedly without the brain angle it would have been even more like Akira. So now we are at what? 3 movies this summer with Transhumanist ideas and 2 based off a Manga?


Matt Stevens 07.31.14 at 2:07 am

“Sir, you have to see this… she’s adding probabilities of non-mutually-exclusive events!”
“That’s impossible!”
“No,” says Doctor Freeman, “not for Miss 110-Percent.”


Anderson 07.31.14 at 3:18 am

Matt is correct. The bogus science isn’t a problem, unless we’re going to judge this flick more harshly because it has a female lead.

My problem was that Besson seemed to think his movie needed to be more than an action flick. Besides giving a trite view of what “using more of your brain” includes (telekinesis, but no emotions?), he also seemed to lose interest in the action plot towards the end, as did Lucy herself, in favor of a weird parallel to Under the Skin: the beautiful Johansson has to have her body hideously transmuted. Not sure WTF is up with that.


stevenjohnson 07.31.14 at 3:28 am

Limitless starring Bradley Cooper had a protagonist developing super-intelligence using a new drug nicknamed Focus that simply enabled the user to concentrate. The movie failed. Like Transcendence it didn’t make sure who was the hero and who was the villain and it wasn’t an action movie. But as for the key question of whether this guy could beat Lucy? You must remember these things are largely decided by sexiness quotient, and Scarjo will always beat Bradley Cooper. Cooper is probably quietly suspected of playing for the wrong team.


b9n10nt 07.31.14 at 4:43 am

I got my schooling in the trope of hyper-functional-brain-leads-to-metaphysical-revelation via Phenomenon (starring John Travolta) and the Steven King-based Lawnmower Man.

‘Member those?


Gabriel 07.31.14 at 4:47 am

For a classic of the genre, see AE van Vogt’s ‘Slan’, which was important to both SF and SF fandom, as it reflected/reinforced fans’ opinions of their ostracism and superiority. ‘Fans are Slans’ etc.


John Holbo 07.31.14 at 5:13 am

Good old Slan!


TheSophist 07.31.14 at 5:42 am

“Well, that was spectacular nonsense”, is what I said to my friend as the credits rolled. I really wouldn’t recommend it – quite apart from the “science” there were plot holes I could steer an aircraft carrier through, using only 10% of my brain.

I also spent the whole movie thinking of the Simpsons episode where Bart takes the drug focusin (yes, that’s what it’s called) – “Lisa, scientists say that most people only use 10% of their brains. I am now one of them.”

On the other hand, I just got back from “A Most Wanted Man” which was the best movie I’ve seen in a long, long time. Thoroughly recommended.


Murc 07.31.14 at 6:42 am

You know, I don’t care how bad it is, I want Lucy to do well simply because maybe then we’ll get a goddamned Black Widow movie.


Tim Chambers 07.31.14 at 11:15 am

How many of those demanding 110% from others ever give even 90% of themselves?


bill benzon 07.31.14 at 11:22 am

Just turn the amp up to 11.


Trader Joe 07.31.14 at 11:31 am

According to my old little league coach – the phrase giving 110% is actually fully possible.

Its meant to describing giving 100% of your physical best and using 10% of your brain as maximum mental power so: max phyiscal 100% + max mental 10% = 110%.

I’ve no idea the truth of the derivation, but it always made sense to me that some coach could have dreamed up a formula and that it would make perfect sense to the average jock.


Anderson 07.31.14 at 12:00 pm

20: definitely. Hell, I may need to go see it again. (Except that Most Wanted Man &
Guardians are up next.)


Ed 07.31.14 at 1:35 pm

“According to my old little league coach – the phrase giving 110% is actually fully possible. ”

Yes and no. You can always borrow from the future and get more resources than your present circumstances normally would give you, at the cost of having less than you otherwise would in the future. In physical sports, this translates into being exhausted or injured and having to sit out the next few plays or next game.

This is often a good strategy, if the use of resources in the present is really, really important, or you have some confidence that you won’t need to or for some reason be able to use them in the future.

However, in the sense that there is always some hidden reserve that is fairly cost-free to use that the player is not tapping into because of insufficient willpower, the idea is nonesense.


Scott Martens 07.31.14 at 3:33 pm

Luc Besson did once make cool movies, I swear. Go rent Léon (sometimes sold in America as The Professional) starring Jean Reno and a very, very young Natalie Portman, or if you can handle subtitles (friends do not let friends rent dubbed movies), the original version of Nikita with Anne Parillaud is hard to beat. His Le grand bleu, which has never been my favourite, has plenty of fans. Hell, even Taxi (the original French one, not that thing with Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifa), which he wrote and produced but didn’t direct, at least has a very satisfying pay-off in the final climactic stunt that makes it all worth it, despite the idiotic premise. Besson was once an avatar of the cinéma du look, right up there with Beineix (go rent Diva – NO DUBBING!!!).

I know, the “100%-of-your-brain” thing is dumb and could have been trivially removed: ScarJo gets futuristic drug. Funky things fallow. Violence. Wire-Fu. Tight outfits that highlight her bum, maybe some of them torn in PG-13-rated places. I’d probably have paid to see it.

I’m not sure its dumber than the premise to The Matrix, but at least I know the Wachowskis know better and their studios mode them use it. With Besson… I think he just got lazy.


Omega Centauri 07.31.14 at 3:59 pm

I’d prefer more realism about superhuman cognition. I remember a short SciFi story by a Russian author whose name I haven’t a clue of (only accessing 9.1% of my brain is a bitch isn’t it). In any case the protagonist was using neutrinos (the physics is totally wrong, but neutrinos are appropraited mysterious) to boost his brain. They found him dead at his desk, and the investigation showed he died of a massive brain hemorage whilst trying to telekinetically move a match-head.


Anderson 07.31.14 at 4:08 pm

Scott: I think Besson mainly wanted those “__%” title cards.


bianca steele 07.31.14 at 4:32 pm

Limitless was interesting, but I agree. It tried to show what “Focus” (and being addicted to it) would be like, and that was a mess. And I don’t think a viewer should wonder how much of the “authorities” being unconvincing was due to casting.


Donald Johnson 07.31.14 at 5:07 pm

The 110 percent thing will be the basis for a sequel. Since there is no largest number, the possibilities for a franchise are limitless.


Plume 07.31.14 at 6:52 pm

I saw it the day it came out. It was interesting, at least at first, but then got carried away with itself. Too violent, too much CGI, but that’s Luc Besson’s thing, and his violence porn has worked better in the past (The Professional). But I still like seeing ScarJo take on these crazy roles. Quite the change from her Girl with the Pearl Earring, which while a bit slow, was beautifully done.

My biggest problem was not the movie itself, though. It was the audience in the theater. Why do people insist on giving play by play narrations? Do they think they’re sitting at home, in their living rooms, and not disturbing others in the process? Every time Besson put the percentage of brain usage on the screen, for instance, someone was sure to read it aloud. And then the person in front of me kept turning on his smartphone, with a powerful light, etc. etc. I suppose he wanted to make sure others were as distracted as he was while watching.

People in the theater all too often make it better to wait for the DVD.


JimV 07.31.14 at 8:07 pm

My problem is how dumb do these moviemakers think we are? I went home after seeing the trailer (before watching some other, better movie) and did a Google search on “only use 10% of our brains” and the page immediately filled with myth, myth, myth, …, myth, just as I vaguely remembered from a Reader’s Digest article about 50 years ago.

A) They (the moviemakers) are too lazy/dumb themselves to check before basing a whole movie (she’s at 28%, she’s at 35%, etc.) on a myth; B) They think dumbness sells and don’t care that they are contributing to it; C) ?

This applies to you, Morgan Freeman, and you, Scarlett Johansson, and everybody else who read the script or filmed the scenes, not just the director and screenwriters and producers. You have revealed yourselves as part of the problem. It’s like my man said in “Broadcast News”, the devil will give us flash and sexiness so we don’t notice he is eroding our standards where it counts, bit by bit.

(I had a couple minor problems with “Gravity” also, but it is a 100-times-better movie. Don’t get me started on “Inception”.)


Donald Johnson 07.31.14 at 8:24 pm

It’s just a movie, JimV. Apparently not a very good one, but people can make entertaining movies out of crap science. I seem to recall something called Star Wars, for instance.

I get more frustrated when a movie violates common sense or its own logic. I really wanted to like “Prometheus”, and it was perfectly believable that a biologist would feel affection and awe when he first sees what looks like an alien moray eel, but these biologists aren’t wearing any kind of protection from alien bacteria and even a mere terrestrial moray eel lacking super alien strength (another norm in movie science) can be pretty dangerous. There was no reason to have a plot where a bunch of ostensibly brilliant people go to an alien planet and then act like morons. Shouldn’t the point be that really smart people encountering an alien civilization might still find themselves utterly outmatched?


dsquared 07.31.14 at 8:29 pm

I have a chapter on this in my forthcoming book. It’s perfectly possible to give 110%, as long as you realise what 100% is 100% of. For a factory or production unit, it’s 100% of optimal output, consistent with a sensible maintenance schedule and the optimum life in service. For an athlete, it’s 100% of the sustainable output of energy, consistent with no more than a reasonable risk of injury.

In both cases, for special occasions, you can go above the 100% threshold – for a factory, you just postpone maintenance and run extra shifts, for example. Most of US industry was running at more than 100% of capacity for a lot of the time during the Second World War. Chris Boardman, the cyclist, used to explain it well when he talked about how he went about managing his effort in time trials – he noted that he would ask himself “can I sustain this pace?”. If the answer was “no”, then he was in trouble – it was unsustainable. If the answer was “yes”, then he was in trouble – he wasn’t giving enough and would have spare energy once he crossed the finish line. What he always wanted to be thinking was “Maybe”.

What you can’t do is “always give 110%”. That means that you’re burning yourself out. So bosses who occasionally ask for 110% are OK – in industries like programming or the theatre it’s probably impossible not to require such short bursts of effort. But someone claiming to systematically give 110% is probably to be avoided.


de stijl 07.31.14 at 8:32 pm

Along the lines of “using 100% of your brain” and “giving 110%” let me bring up “failure is not an option.”

I actually heard the sponsor of a overly ambitious and unrealistically scheduled data warehousing project use that exact phrase during the kick-off meeting. Sure enough, death march.

I’m with the Mythbuster guys: failure is always an option.


Anderson 07.31.14 at 8:37 pm

33: so true, the script to Prometheus was the laziest thing I’ve suffered through in a long while. Lucy was better than Prometheus.


Lacero 07.31.14 at 8:44 pm

@Donald Johnson

I’m a bit reluctant to recommend it, as it’s not amazing, but Europa Report has some intelligent people going to space looking for life and it has a really smart take on it all. But you have to watch the whole thing to see it and if it’s a bit too cheap and ropey for you you may not make it that far.

And of course you can read Blindsight, but they’ll never make a movie of that..


bianca steele 07.31.14 at 8:45 pm

What I think I’d like is to consistently give 50%, say go years without exercising, so at compound rates I’ll have greater than normal energy in my golden years. Unfortunately, knees don’t work that way.


Kiwanda 07.31.14 at 9:05 pm

I can never tell when a movie will unsuspend my disbelief to a distracting extent. The absurd “human battery” scheme of The Matrix didn’t, or the ridiculous orbital mechanics of Gravity. But the “elevator through the center of the earth” of the newer Total Recall did, and the current action-flick motif of “jump from one moving car to another one off in the distance” always does. It broke my engagement when the Man of Steel had trouble holding his breath in Kryptonian air, even though he could fly in outer space for long periods. Not sure what does it exactly.


Lee A. Arnold 07.31.14 at 9:22 pm

Haven’t seen Lucy, but I will speak up in defense of “The Fifth Element”. It is 100 to 110% confection. The “fifth element” turns out to be the addition of “love”. I find it hard to misinterpret the intention of that film. It is a romantic-comedy slapstick actioner, dressed as a sci-fi burlesque. “Burlesque” clearly includes “over the top”. It barely hews to logic, but then, it stops everything for an aria from Donizetti sung by a blue alien, voice by Inva Mula. Movies rarely go into such lovely diversions, much less to introduce new audiences to an extended portion of something beautiful they really ought to hear. Why anyone would criticize this movie for not being a serious sci-fi pic says more about the audience than about Besson! Judging it on its own intentions? The romantic problem-line is subdued until too late. Science-fiction burlesques, perhaps a French confection starting at “Barbarella”, are a difficult cross-genre, difficult to avoid campiness. Although, had Fellini lived longer, perhaps he might have used it to point out your own ridiculous nature.


Plume 07.31.14 at 9:26 pm

“Prometheus” had promise, and the art work was strong, for the most part. But I think the director tried too hard to merge two stories and keep the Alien thing in play. The Chariots of the Gods aspect could have been pretty cool. But, yeah, they did unsuspend my disbelief with their lack of prep before leaving their ship. I suppose the writers and director just thought if they did the smart thing, there wouldn’t have been any “drama,” so they bagged that. I guess they thought it better if the scientists really did use just 10% of their capacities, etc.


Lee A. Arnold 07.31.14 at 9:27 pm



Plume 07.31.14 at 9:30 pm


I like “The Fifth Element,” too, and that operatic moment was sensational.

Something most folks don’t know. Milla Jovovich made one really great (and truly original) album when she was 18, and I highly, highly recommend it. I’ve been a fan ever since.


Brian 07.31.14 at 10:27 pm

I think the problem with the 10% as a plot device is not that the “science” is any more ridiculous and untenable than the other sci-fi movies mentioned, but that it’s based on something mythical rather than on an actual scientific idea. The Enterprise or the Millennium Falcon may travel at light speed or faster, but the leap is that they’ve found a way around this – they don’t misunderstand the concept of faster-than-light travel in the first place. It’s hard to think of a really apt analogy here, but the Lucy premise seems more like if some movie plot were predicated on some amazing advance in the geocentric model of the solar system.


yabonn 07.31.14 at 10:35 pm

It seem to be the most important thing these days : is this sf sciencey enough ? And is it sciencey in the right way? And how do the “as you know Sam… ” bits hold up?

It feels weird because I remember I liked my Verne or Van Vogt all right, without worrying about it at all. Maybe it was just me.

Scott Martens @ 26 : if you’re at early Besson and Diva and stuff and haven’t tried “Subway” : do so.


stevenjohnson 07.31.14 at 10:54 pm

Fake science in scifi needs to be done with style. Blatant stupidity is just slovenliness. We want to suspend disbelief and not even trying to help us out is hackwork.

I just saw the movie this afternoon. In a way, it was kind of delightful sitting there thinking, “Is Scarlett Johansson really going there?” And wow! She did!

You all do realize this is a wish fulfilment project for Scarjo, who is now officially The Diva.


AW74 08.01.14 at 12:31 am

My school rugby coach (a former international player) once famously gave an inspirational speech to the team ending with the phrase “Just remember – rugby is only 20% about strength, and 90% about intelligence”…


Bill Murray 08.01.14 at 3:16 am

dsquared @ 34

You might as well have just said that the makers of Lucy defined 10% as the amount of brain power each person uses. Defining things like Humpty Dumpty is certainly a standard economics trick to try and conflate their theory terms with the common definition of the terms to make their theories seem more acceptable, but sophistry is usually a bad foundation for an argument. So, monkeys can fly from my butt if i define monkeys as the waste products that emerge from that orifice. Sure hardly anyone else defines monkeys that way but that doesn’t matter when I can create our own reality and I get to decide the what the definition of is, is.


Donald Johnson 08.01.14 at 4:44 am

Lacero–I loved Blindsight. I was thinking of that book when I mentioned really smart people totally out of their depth. I wish they would make a movie of it, but it is unlikely.

I think Watts is writing a sequel, or whatever you’d call a book about what is going on at the same time (back on earth).


Donald Johnson 08.01.14 at 4:54 am

““Prometheus” had promise, and the art work was strong, for the most part”

It did and the mythic part was good,but I couldn’t get over how stupid the scientists acted, like stereotypical dumb teenagers in the horror movies I have never watched but have heard about. I still half-want to see a sequel if they make it, where what’s-her-name tracks down our alien progenitors and asks what the hate is all about. But they’d probably blow that one too.


rdb 08.01.14 at 5:25 am


Matt 08.01.14 at 6:23 am

Here’s the Echopraxia Kirkus review; it seems broken in the comment above:

I’m so excited! I didn’t even know there was a Blindsight sequel in the works, and it’s going to be published soon. As far as Big Ideas SF novels go, Blindsight is probably the best thing I encountered that decade.


Niall McAuley 08.01.14 at 8:51 am

But “Prometheus” was a prequel to “Alien”, which is a “Split up and look for the cat” horror movie, not a “clever people overwhelmed by alien odds” SF movie.


jake the antisoshul soshulist 08.01.14 at 2:07 pm

110 % always reminds me of a story from my working days.
There were two maintenance workers at the facility. Both were rather slow moving
and quite “laid back”. When their supervisor was remonstrating with them about their lackadaisical work ethic, one responded that he always gave 110%, to which the other
replied, “If he gives 110%, I give 220.”

So anything less that 220 % is a substandard effort.


Donald Johnson 08.01.14 at 2:24 pm

“Prometheus” was a prequel to “Alien”, which is a “Split up and look for the cat” horror movie, not a “clever people overwhelmed by alien odds” SF movie”

It had greater ambitions than that. Two themes, as someone pointed out above. But even on the level of “ohmigod a monster is going to eat us” level it was not well done.


Niall McAuley 08.01.14 at 2:27 pm

The less said about the Space Jockey being just a big bad-tempered blue human in a suit the better.


TheSophist 08.01.14 at 7:24 pm

AW74’s rugby coach may well have been a fan of the baseball player and ursine namesake Yogi Berra – baseball is 90% mental, the other half’s physical.


dsquared 08.01.14 at 8:36 pm

#48: actually anyone who is genuinely interested in the maximum output of a machine defines its capacity in the way I described, but whatevs, I’m sure you know better.


Zamfir 08.02.14 at 3:27 am

in my experience, 100% nearly always refers to a rated maximum sustainable output of a machine or process. A number supplied by the manufacturer on theoretical grounds or on experience with earlier builds, not on detailed experiments with the particular machine at hand. It’s typically a guarantee, not an observation.

As such, it’s nearly always a conservative number, and experienced operators can typically run a machine continuously at more than 100%.

Perhaps this is Humpty-Dumptism, but in practice there is rarely a well-defined, objectively measurably ‘maximum’ to a performance. I suspect that both junior league coaches and machine operators understand this better than people who complain that 100% should be a tautologically unbreakable limit.


John Holbo 08.02.14 at 3:37 am

“I suspect that both junior league coaches and machine operators understand this better than people who complain that 100% should be a tautologically unbreakable limit.”

It is somewhat awkward to say so, but – well, here goes: Zamfir, the OP was actually intended as a kind of joke, not a serious proposal for a cool movie, nor as a serious critique of the rhetoric of little league coaches. I just think it’s funny to think that there could be a hardwired absolute limit on how well we can stack raisins (for example) such that you could program a machine to register when someone has broken that hardwired limit. (Ah, explaining jokes. As Oscar said, we always kill the ones we love.)


Zamfir 08.02.14 at 4:37 am

Hmm, that was really more aimed at the generic group of people who complain a out such things, not to your OP particularly. I am afraid that at this point in a comment discussion, I am liable to forget the details of the beginning…

On the topic of raisin stacking, is the goal maximum density or maximum height?


AW74 08.02.14 at 6:58 am

TheSophist – amusing in retrospect to think of the coach as a fount of Yogi Berra style wisecracks but he wasn’t really that kind of guy. I suspect the selection process for 1980s international rugby forwards didn’t place a high value on intellectual tomfoolery


John Holbo 08.02.14 at 7:19 am

“On the topic of raisin stacking, is the goal maximum density or maximum height?”

That’s the thing, innit? How would the machine be able to tell which answer is right? So how could the machine know that you were giving %100, let alone %110! I think Isaiah Berlin writes about this problem somewhere in his discussion of the incommensurability of values. The dream that you could program a machine to solve this problem is a scientistic, Platonic fantasy – a fantasy, I’m telling you!

(They said I was mad, MAD!)


AW74 08.02.14 at 7:52 am

John – so have you just recapitulated the plot and lesson of “Red Plenty” in a single paragraph? Using raisins? Nice work.

Francis Spufford must be annoyed he spent all that time on turning it into book form


bianca steele 08.04.14 at 1:40 am

Zamfir has just eliminated my last complaint about the implausibility of Star Trek. Obviously, Kirk knew perfectly well that the documented capacities of the warp drive were unduly conservative, whatever Scotty might say. And when Torres things like “Cap’n Janeway, the thrusters just won’t take that much stress,” she wasn’t being refreshingly realistic, she was just being a whiner (Seven would have shut up and done it already).

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