Some time ago, I started collecting "notes" on topics. Sometimes these are just links or paragraph excepts, sometimes these are thoughts-in-progress. Sometimes these notes will be arranged into a full essay and other times they may remain just as notes, but no less valuable to me or others for it. So consider this a 'work-in-progress' post and updates will be added as I come across things.


Hypocognition "means missing and being unable to communicate cognitive and linguistic representations because there are no words for particular concepts."

I didn't have a word for it before, but I think it neatly sums up the Rumsfeldian "unknown unknowns" – the things you don't know you don't know, and how that can affect you. Learning new concepts sometimes gives you an entire new mental tool for looking at and interacting with the world.

First came across this in an interview with David Dunning (of the Dunning-Kruger effect):

... and the best way to explain it is if you don’t know what hypocognition is, congratulations, you’ve just experienced hypocognition.

Hypocognition is not having a concept, if you will. So not having the idea of unknown unknowns. In the financial – a lot of people invest, but they don’t really have the concept of exponential growth or compound interest.

[Or regarding scientists:] you don’t have the idea of control condition, random assignment, I can go on and on. You can’t cherry-pick. People don’t know these rules. And as a consequence, they think scientists are just some professors in their office dreaming up a conclusion and then collecting some data to window address it, for example.


The technique of presenting common things in an unfamiliar way in order to enhance perception of the familiar.

LintonArt, "About My Work"

Defamiliarization or ostranenie is the artistic technique of presenting to audiences common things in an unfamiliar or strange way in order to enhance perception of the familiar. A central concept in 20th-century art and theory, ranging over movements including Dada, postmodernism, epic theatre, and science fiction, it is also used as a tactic by recent movements such as culture jamming.

"The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects 'unfamiliar,' to make forms difficult to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged." (Shklovsky 16)

Wikipedia, "Defamiliarization"

Art can be completely obscure. Even I sometimes don't understand it at all, as if it's deliberately hard to understand. And yes, the other type is a sort of benign, soft art. The real issue for art at the moment is that not only has it not changed the world for better, it may partially be responsible for the counterreaction from Trump supporters. The elitist, obscure, rather smug art that we'e had over the last five or six years is part of the sort of metropolitan stubbornness that Brexit reacted against in my country, and that the Trump voters reacted against in your country.

I'm not criticizing the actual art that many people produce. Some of it is very good, and beautiful, and moving. It's just that the way in which it's done, through self-expression, tends to actually have a much deeper effect on society than what the artist necessarily intended.

What I'm really questioning is whether the function of art is to change the world, or whether its function is really to express what is happening in the world in a really clear way. Ever since the 1960s there has been this idea that the function of art is to change the world, and it will do so by changing the way people think and see. Whereas I think, if you look at the history of art, really brilliant art steps back and shows to you clearly what really is going on in the world you live in, in a vivid, imaginative way.

Adam Curtis, ArtSpace Q&A