Monthly Archives: March 2014

Occupy has a point

The economies of the United States, Canada, and the UK are controlled by a tiny minority at the expense of the masses. This is the conclusion of these reports leaked from the major international bank “Citigroup” in 2005 and 2006. If you don’t have much time, just look at report 1, especially the yellow bits and figure 4. In figure 4 you even can pinpoint the takeover of Britain’s economy by the super rich to Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 election victory:

http://pissedoffwoman.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/citigroup-plutonomy-report-part-1.pdf

http://pissedoffwoman.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/citigroup-plutonomy-report-part-2.pdf

http://pissedoffwoman.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/citigroup-plutonomy-report-part-3.pdf

Also, internationally, the tendency is for those who live in more equal societies to be more socially mobile:

Contrary to popular perception, the United States has one of the rich world’s lowest rates of social mobility, second only to Britain. About half of the advantages of having a parent with a high income are passed down in Britain, compared with 15% in Denmark:

There are intuitive reasons to believe these facts are linked – greater gaps are usually harder to cross. This gap is the reason Occupy has slogans like “We are the 99%”. A lot of people get angry with Occupy because Occupy claims to be “anti-capitalist”. A common argument from Occupy’s opponents is that it is not capitalism’s fault that things are so bad, it is the corrupted form of capitalism we live under that is responsible. This is a viewpoint that I can have some sympathy for, but Occupy’s point that the political system and the economy are dominated by the top 1% at the expense of the other 99% still stands. Graphs like this:

http://www.u.arizona.edu/~lkenwor/inequalitygraph.pdf

Give some flavour of the problem. This is brief, but my intention is to spark your interest, and to give some credence to the notion that more equal is often preferable to less equal.

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Addiction

I’ve just come out of an addiction and I feel amazing. For the past few weeks I have been trapped playing Assassin’s creed IV – the one with pirates. For those who haven’t heard of Assassin’s Creed, it’s a series of video games about a series of men who kill people in the past. There are assassins, knight’s Templars, conspiracies, and pseudoscience.

Asscreed IV – that’s not my abbreviation I heard it from someone much cooler than me – takes place in 17something in the Caribbean and like all action video games it follows a weird logic in which you murder more people than George Bush but are still supposed to believe that you’re the hero. The bad guys like to prance about in expensive looking clothes waiting for you to kill them and making cringeworthy public pronouncements about slavery as if they’re trying to get into UKIP. Only this time you’re kind of the bad guy because you like money more than death but then you redeem yourself by joining an order of murderers and there are some yellow laser beams and you’re actually a spy working for a computer game company in the present and they’re evil but they’re not but they are and humans were made by aliens or robots or earlier humans or something. I don’t know. The point is, stuff happens and it’s fun. Or at least it was. And this is why I’m writing this post.

Because Asscreed is both brilliant and awful. It symbolic of what is both right and wrong with games, what is both right and wrong with me, and as this essay will hopefully demonstrate, what is both right and wrong with our civilisation.

Asscreed is moderately engaging from the start. It’s not exactly Shakespeare but it offers us a character with a motivation – he wants to find a magical observatory which he can use to extort money from the rich and powerful. Asscreed then provides what a film or a book cannot provide – interactivity. You play as Edward Kenway. You become Edward Kenway. You can even make yourself spin around in circles while the game is loading as Edward Kenway. This is part of the enduring appeal of video games.

I’m not a video game spokesman. I recognise that most games are awful. There have been some great artistic games but they are rare. Asscreed is not a masterpiece. For all its joyful sadistic wonderment, people won’t care about it in ten years time – not the way they care about Toy Story and old Simpsons and Red Dwarf. But it is an experience to be relished today. Because Asscreed gives the player control. And more than that, it gives them mysteries.

If you collect enough money, you can buy upgrades for your ship. You can get bonus armour for collecting things. There are side missions, hidden treasures, Assassination contracts, warehouses to rob, whales to puncture and so on. All of these give you money and allow you to buy new guns and rams and sails and so on. But what’s important is that you don’t know exactly how some of these upgrades will work or feel until you buy them, so there’s a mystery which draws you in to perform tasks which you otherwise might find boring.

And this is where the game turns evil. Because at first, you hunt for treasure to see what hunting for treasure is like. Then you hunt for treasure to get enough money to buy a mortar to see what firing a mortar is like. Then you try and get a better mortar so you can kill a better ship. And then, by the time you have plenty of money and don’t need another mortar, you’ve built up a habit. Hunting for treasure made you feel good in the past. Now it’s something you have to do. You have to get all the treasure. All the mortars. Everything. You have to complete the game.

And I mean complete it. Every mission. Every treasure. Every upgrade. Every Templar hunt. 100%. They even have a completion bar on the main menu. You’ve started a process you have to finish. Because there are boxes to be uncovered. Viewing posts to be viewed. Airborne sea shanties to be caught. It’s not fun by this stage. It’s becoming more and more boring. More and more of a job to be done. A chore to be completed. You make a list – “go to seminar, pick up textbooks, read chapters 23 and 24 of Capital, collect everything on Iguana island, kill target in Havana, hunt the HMS Fearless, brush teeth, email Landlady, check timetable, take out native guards using only fists” and it becomes more and more of a burden hanging over you. It has to be done. It’s not fun. But that’s not the point. It’s on your list. It has to be completed. Not playing it makes you feel guilty.

I know most people reading this will be thinking “That’s ridiculous. It’s not the game’s fault. It’s your response to the game. If you hate it so much, just stop playing. No one else has this problem.” But this is where games are evil. They’re designed to be addictive. That’s what “achievements” are about. They grab hold of your completionist instincts and command them to play. If you’re always being scored and monitored, then you want to perform, even if you don’t like to.

I can’t go into too much depth here, but the addictive nature of the “achievement” system is confirmed by science. It may not affect you. In fact it probably doesn’t impact on most of those who are reading this piece. But in explaining myself I may hopefully bring some insight into other habits that you may have, perhaps to do with Facebook, or weed, or alcohol, or anything really because almost anything can become addictive. And if I don’t then at least it may help you to understand my situation.

Anyway. This is my problem. I enjoyed playing at first. But I increasingly felt like I had to play it. And the awful thing about addiction with a game is that there is one clear answer to the problem – which is exactly what the designers wanted – which is to complete the game. Once you’re done, you’re done. At least, that’s my experience. It’s not a satisfying experience to have just finished a game. Normally the weight of everything you’ve been putting off falls back on you. But it is a liberating experience. The screen no longer has power over you. You can do what you want. You can start to cross the other things you need to do off your list again.

I’m not just joking when I say I hope this might shed light on our civilisation. We live in an addicted society. Alcoholism and addiction to sugar are worse than they have ever been. The obesity epidemic is largely an epidemic of addiction to obese modes of behaviour. The internet is an addiction machine. We’re fed the things we love to read and watch by corporations and our friends, and we’re hyper-stimulated by endless brief distractions. I’m a big fan of civilisation, but today there’s a blurring line between engaging the human mind and exploiting its weaknesses.

The worst part of this addiction explosion is that a lot of it is built on what should be good parts of our psychology. The desire to complete tasks and the mechanisms surrounding that desire should be helping us to do things, to avoid procrastination, and to become who we want to be. But it’s the “I must always be running” part of my brain that chains me to my television and makes my eyes sting when I look away and realize the sun has come down.

If I still choose to play games then the only personal solution is to take control of my time for myself. That’s often a much easier thing to say than it is to do. The good thing is that when you do it you feel great. You can be amazed at how much time there is in a day. Personally, right now, I’ve stopped, and I’m much happier. So if this problem is facing you and you’re reading this piece out of a desire to make sure that you’ve read everything there is to read, the only advice I can try to offer is this:

You’re at the end. Stop.

Atomic Giraffe and Bio Giraffe

This is the story of two giraffes. One is called Jemima. She is made of atoms. The other is also called Jemima. She is made of blood vessels and hair and bones and such. They are, as far as anyone can tell, entirely physically identical. Atomic Jemima’s atoms are arranged in such a way that they form a brain, liver, long neck, big rough purple tongue and long, dark eye lashes, along with all the other parts of a giraffe. When we look at Bio Jemima through an electron microscope we discover that just like atomic Jemima she is made of atoms. In fact, even the zoo keeper cannot tell if he is looking at Jemima or Jemima. It is all very confusing.

This is because I lied earlier. There are not two Jemimas. There is only one. I am sorry I misled you, I had to in order to prove my point. A giraffe is made of both atoms and biological parts. If we are to believe modern physics, she is also a collection of unimaginably small strings. Amazingly, she is all these things at once. Such are the miraculous qualities of the giraffe.

As well as being a material creature, made of long legs and atoms, she is also an emotional creature. That does not mean that she is prone to extreme mood swings. Jemima is calm and quietly determined. She cares for her fellow giraffes and she never gives in to peer pressure. What I mean by “emotional” is that she has a depth of feeling that only one who sees the world from such a hight as a giraffe can.

Jemima loves green leaves, and she can never resist a delicious pomegranate. She also has a brain. Whenever she thinks of pomegranates, part of her brain sends out electrical signals and she gets a feeling of achievement. Whenever she thinks of the savannah, another part of her brain becomes active and she feels nostalgia.

When the zoo keeper meets Jemima, he meets the physical Jemima. He knows that when she sees green leaves she licks her lips, he knows that when she eats pomegranate she makes an “mmmm” sound, and he also notices that whenever he mentions the savannah she seems to raise her head and look south, towards the land she used to call her home.

At the same time, there is a psychic zoo keeper. He has never met Jemima. In fact he lives miles away, let’s say on the moon. He knows Jemima’s thoughts and feelings – her love of green leaves, her sweet tooth for pomegranate, and her theories on realist literature. He knows her only in terms of her feelings.

One day, the psychic zoo keeper leaves his psychic brother in charge of the moon and flies back to earth to buy some crackers. As he passes through the planet’s electromagnetic field his psychic powers are temporarily suppressed. Now he can no longer perceive animal thoughts directly. Instead, he can only use his x-ray vision and perfect logical mind to deduce animal thoughts and feelings. He can do this because they exactly correlate with certain brain states and he knows all possible animal brain states and their corresponding associated feelings.

On his way to the cracker shop, he passes the giraffe house in the zoo. He shivers with foreshadowing. He goes into the giraffe house and sees the tallest, softest, most serene looking giraffe he has ever encountered. He looks at her brain and sees brain states associated with feelings of recognition. At the same time, the psychic zoo keeper’s psychic brother uses his psychic powers to perceive Jemima’s thoughts directly from the moon. The psychic brother perceives her feelings of recognition.

The psychic zoo keeper then buys his crackers and returns to the moon. There, his psychic brother tells him about the feelings of recognition he perceived. The psychic zoo keeper says he saw brain states associated with those exact same feelings. They look at each other with raised eyebrows. That night, the two brothers put out a personal ad in the New Yorker asking if any animals would come to the moon to further the aims of science and philosophy. As they tuck themselves into bed, a shooting star twinkles with foreshadowing.

The psychic zoo keeper awakes to see some of the longest eyelashes he’d ever encountered, just a few inches away from his face, blinking at him. His psychic powers tell him he is confronted with a being who longs to return to the savannah and discuss Middlemarch. His x-ray vision shows him the brain states associated with a giraffe who longs to return to the savannah and discuss Middlemarch. He looks with his psychic powers, and then with his x-ray vision, and then with his psychic powers again, but he can see no difference. Even the psychic zoo keeper cannot tell if he is looking at brain states or feelings. It is all very confusing.

This is because Descartes confused us earlier. I didn’t mention him, but he’s been lurking behind the theory of mind presented in this story so far. As far as Descartes was concerned, there are two kinds of substance, mind, and matter. The mind has certain kinds of properties – it exists outside of time and space, it is indivisible, and it is basically conscious. Matter, on the other hand, always exists in a place at a certain time, can be broken up, and is not conscious. But this kind of separation of substances into different classes is a hindrance to understanding the issues at stake. It leads us to think that thoughts and brain states are different things, and need to be accounted for in different ways. It is as much of a confusion as my previous theory that there is a difference between a giraffe made of atoms and a giraffe made of organs and hair and eyelashes.

When there is a one to one correlation between the causes and effects of two objects, and this relationship always seems to hold, it makes sense to regard them as the same object, whether they are a pair of giraffes or a brain state and a thought.

The psychic zoo keeper looked into Jemima’s eyes and he smiled. Jemima was smiling on the inside too. And the keeper didn’t need to use his powers to see that.

With love,

Mungo

The Conflict

This article annoys me:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/aug/29/womans-place-elisabeth-badinter-review

Hewitt’s argument is that the drive for natural motherhood – breastfeeding, co-sleeping, natural birth and so on, is unscientific ideology, and is in fact bad for women. The naturalist account is supposedly wrong both about what is natural and the benefits of a natural approach. She is contradicted by the medical community, the scientific community, and the evidence.

The World Health Organisation (1), NHS (2), American Academy of Paediatrics (3), andUnited States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (4) all support breastfeeding. Breastfed babies suffer from fewer middle ear infections (5), half as much diarrhoea (6), fewer upper respiratory tract infections (7), and fewer urinary tract infections (8) than those which are not breastfed, among other health benefits (9). The longer an infant is breastfed, the less likely they are to suffer from depression and other psychological conditions (10). Breastfeeding also improves cognitive development – breastfed babies become more intelligent than those who are not breastfed (11).

Co-sleeping involves risks as well as benefits, so in America it is recommended that infants and parents share the same room but not the same bed. Nonetheless children who co-slept as infants are happier, less anxious, have higher self-esteem, are more comfortable with intimacy, and are generally more independent as adults (12) (13)(14) (15).

Evidence suggests that home birth with a midwife is just as safe as hospital birth, except in a small percentage of high-risk cases (16).

Hewitt’s arguments about breastfeeding, like arguments against the reality of man-made climate change, are characterised as being in favour of science but in fact contradictprevailing scientific evidence. She accuses her opponents of being ideologues, and then comes up with a spree of irrelevant attacks that provide no counter to the fact that breastfeeding works. It provides innumerable benefits with very little risk. Breastfeeding is obviously natural, but what is more important is that it is effective.

Hewitt is worried that women are disadvantaged in the workplace. But the best response to that problem is not to view breastfeeding, co-sleeping, “natural birth” (use of that phrase tars all alternatives to medicated birth with the same brush, and is worth an article of its own), and anything else that smells anti-modern as evil. The answer is to work out how best to use those benefits and accommodate them with the rest of our lives.

References:

1    http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2003/9241562218.pdf

2    http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/why-breastfeed.aspx#close

3    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/115/2/496

4    http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/promotion/index.htm

5    http://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(05)80843-1/abstract

6    http://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(95)70395-0/abstract

7    http://www.nature.com/jp/journal/v22/n5/full/7210742a.html

8    http://dx.doi.org/10.1080%2F08035250310007402

9    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK38337/

10  http://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(09)01036-1/abstract

11  http://jhl.sagepub.com/content/18/4/361

12  Crawford, M. “Parenting practices in the Basque Country: Implications of infant and child-hood sleeping location for personality development”, Ethos, 1994, 22, 1: 42–82.

13  Forbes, J.F. et al.. “The cosleeping habits of military children”. Military medicine 1992: 196–200.

14  Heron, P. “Non-reactive cosleeping and child behavior: Getting a good night’s sleep all night, every night”, Master’s thesis, Department of Psychology, University of Bristol, 1994

15  Keller, M.A., and W.A. Goldberg (2004). “Co-sleeping: Help or hindrance for young children’s independence?”. Infant and Child Development 13 (December): 369–388.

16  Durand, Mark A. (1992). “The Safety of Home Birth: The Farm Study”. American Journal of Public Health

Bad Editor

A few weeks ago I wrote a review on www.nouse.co.uk.

When I reread it today the first paragraph seemed unfamiliar.

I checked my computer to verify whether it had been re-edited.

Sure enough, this:

Nouse typically reviews plays on a scale of three to four stars. Four stars either means the show is good or a student journalist is trying out a particularly enthusiastic style of writing. The Knight of the Burning Pestle gets three stars because it is good enough. It is a silly, shallow comedy executed very well and the result is a slightly better than average barn show.”

Had been changed into this:

The Knight of the Burning Pestle crafts a good play out of a bad one. Mungo Tatton-Brown reviews

The Knight of the Burning Pestle takes three stars. It is ‘good enough’. It is silly, it is shallow, but it is a well-executed comedy that entertains, even if it doesn’t set the Barn alight.”

There are at least three problems with this. First of all, I was never informed that the content of my article had been edited. Secondly, the paragraph has been rewritten in a way which suggests I was less favourable to the play than I was. Third, the opening paragraph is now both less interesting and less informative.

When a student submits an article to a student newspaper, it does not become the property of the editor. Unless the article is especially inflammatory, the content is not the editor’s responsibility. The writer will be judged on what they have written, not the editor. Formatting corrections and corrections to spelling or grammar where the writer’s intended meaning is clear are appropriate. But in this case, the paragraph that is now on the Nouse website is not the one I wrote. When that paragraph is presented as the one I wrote that is dishonest, especially when I am not informed.

At no point in my article did I say that The Knight of The Burning Pestle was a “bad one”. It is unnecessary to introduce a review which already has an introductory paragraph, especially with a tag line with such ambiguous meaning as “The Knight of the Burning Pestle crafts a good play out of a bad one.” – Was it the direction that improved the play? The performance? Was it a successful rewrite of an inferior work? I don’t know and I’m supposed to have been the reviewer.

The opening lines of the original review introduce it with a light-hearted tone. It suggests an awareness that student reviewers are not always highly respected by their readers. Ironically, removing these lines suggests they are not always respected by editors either.

Changing “The Knight of the Burning Pestle gets three stars because it is good enough.” to “It is ‘good enough’.” Changes the meaning of the sentence. The quotation marks indicate that I’m either quoting someone that is not mentioned, which is both vague and false, or that I am being sarcastic, which is also false. The same cheap effect could be made by writing that this review was altered by an editor of the Nouse ‘newspaper’.

The final line has a completely different meaning in the edited version. “a slightly better than average barn show” is informative – the reader knows exactly what quality to expect. “…entertains, even if it doesn’t set the Barn alight” only tells the reader that it was not amazing. It could have been anything from good to terrible according to that sentence.

I don’t talk or write in vague idioms. “it doesn’t set the barn alight” is a phrase I would never use unless I was trying and failing to commit arson.

The edited review can be found here:

http://www.nouse.co.uk/2013/05/18/review-the-knight-of-the-burning-pestle/

I tried

What makes us deserve a reward? Is it our effort? Many people try hard for years and fail. 33% of small businesses fail in the first ten years of operation. Do all those people deserve a slice of the economic pie because of their efforts? What about all the failed actors and artists and writers who ended up doing other jobs? At some point everyone tries to do something that doesn’t work out right. Trying and failing is part of being a human. One reward for failure is knowledge. We know more about ourselves and about the task at hand. We can better approach it next time. Perhaps we find out something about our motivations. Do I really want to own an ice cream shop on Balliol Avenue? Do people deserve an economic reward for effort? I’ll try not to be negative here, but the answer is no.

There are two important reasons for this. First of all, if it were possible to reward conscientious effort (which it isn’t), doing so would reward people for trying at anything, regardless of how good the result was. This undermines the main reason why incentives exist in a capitalist system. Now, contrary to what your economics professor will tell you, incentives are not there to reward effort and make people try hard. It turns out most people try hard at things for a lot of other reasons – they want to compete with their colleagues, they want to help their colleagues, they feel like they are achieving something, the alternative is really boring, when they’re lazy people treat them like arseholes, they have some lingering sense of public-spiritedness, or whatever. If you don’t believe me about this think about your time at university. Most of you will have a hobby or two along with your course – maybe it’s a society you’re involved in or some personal project at home – and a lot of you also have jobs. My question to you is this; do you work harder at your job, or your coursework, or your hobby? Almost all of us put our hobby first, then our coursework, and the job is something we just have to slog through to pay the bills, and most of the time when we’re we’re supposed to be concentrating on some task we’re thinking about Monster Much or whatever it is young people are interested in these days.

My point is, the job is the thing you are paid to do, and often you are paid more when you try harder, but it’s usually the thing you put the least effort into. You don’t put nearly as much effort into your job as your pokemon collection because unlike your job the pokemon collection actually means something to you. If at this stage in the article you’re someone who actually cares about your job and is screaming at me through your monitor, then the chances are it’s not because of the money you get from it. You probably really like your co-workers, or whatever it is you have to do. That or I’m just wrong. Anyway money matters, but not nearly as much as economists would like you to believe.

My point about financial incentives is that they don’t make you try hard. What they do is make you do something that is useful, and there is often a big difference. The coffee shop doesn’t care if you try to be a good waiter, they care if you are a good waiter. Some people will do a good job with effort, some will do a good job without it, and those who do badly will hopefully be offered work elsewhere. That’s the way capitalism works.

So what happens if the system starts rewarding effort? If we ignore the fact that this is practically impossible to do, it’s a terrible idea. Conscientious, well-meaning, hard working people fail all the time. It’s a part of life. I fail. You fail. Even Barack Obama gets some things wrong. It’s part of being a human being. If we think about how much effort is put into things that don’t work out, and compare it to how much effort that turns into success, the success looks almost insignificant. If the economic system started rewarding every single attempt at success that didn’t work out, there would be nothing left to reward success with.

Now I don’t want this to make people to think I’m some kind of miserable libertarian individualist who wants everyone to be exactly the same as me. I also have an important important positive message for you here. The truth is, failing doesn’t matter. No-one cares if you screw up. I’ve written so many half-plays and plot outlines that came to nothing I’ve stopped counting. But that doesn’t doesn’t mean anything to anyone. I don’t have to show other people my efforts if I don’t want to. Out of these failures come a few successes, and they wipe all the failures away. Think of your favourite idol. Whoever they are, they weren’t always what you admire them for. At some point they were just an ordinary boy or girl. They probably were pretty useless at whatever you admire them for at some point, even if it was only when they were a child. (Have you heard the sonatas Mozart wrote when he was five? Utter bollocks!). You don’t blame them for all those failures, because they don’t matter. What matters are the things you admire them for.

This doesn’t mean I’m some kind of Nietzsche-inspired superman theorist either. Success isn’t just about greatness. Some of the most enduring feelings of success come from the smallest of things. Today I had pasta with my brother and there was just enough pasta left in the packet to feed both of us without having to open another one. That’s a pretty big win in my book. The point is that we’re all a mixture of success and failure and that’s fine.

So, back to the problems with rewarding effort. There’s a moral problem with rewarding effort as well as a variety of practical ones. That’s not to say that effort is not intrinsically valuable. Of course effort matters. That’s where the phrase “at least I tried” comes from. If someone really tries their hardest, and that includes looking back, searching for answers, and if necessary asking for help, then they’ve done all they can. But we shouldn’t reward effort with money for the same reason we don’t reward it with anything else. If I want to go out with a girl and I write her poems and make her cakes and tell her the best jokes ever conceived in history, build a spaceship, fly her to the moon and then we literally play among the stars, but she just doesn’t like me, she won’t say, “Well you tried hard so I’ll go out with you”. In the end, it’s up to her to decide what she wants and needs. If I don’t fulfil that I can’t make myself deserve it by trying hard. People try at things all the time. Effort only really means anything to the person who makes it.

Again, I don’t want this to sound like negativity. My point is, you don’t need to worry about not succeeding. Everybody does nothing but not succeed until eventually they do succeed. And we shouldn’t give up on trying just because trying isn’t enough to deserve a reward. Unless we’re lucky, effort is the only thing we can do which gives us any chance of eventually getting a reward. And failure brings a lot of positives too, like knowledge, and …err… well, not much else. So much for avoiding negativity. Happy Christmas!

Who Stole My Brain?

I have been sitting at this desk for five hours, and every minute has been wasted. I’ve checked Facebook almost a thousand times. I’ve read twelve articles on Cracked.com. I’ve scrolled through hundreds of stories on the guardian‘s website.

I never set out to do any of those things. I didn’t care that Ben Gray went back to sleep as soon as he woke up. I didn’t want to see what the twelve most ridiculous old-timey inventions were. And I didn’t need to click on a headline entitled “Everything you need to know about the skydive from space” to realise that nobody needs to know anything about the skydive from space. Except perhaps the skydiver. But I clicked the headline anyway. And then I saw more things to click on. And I clicked on them. And further passages of pointless investigation opened up before me. I had gone down the rabbit hole, and I’ve been wandering through this burrow for five hours. I’m more tired, I have more gunk clogging up my head, and I’m five hours closer to the grave.

I’m here to write a play. I’ve plotted the whole story on a pad of paper. I’ve written the first four scenes. I’ve even written the ending. This should be the easiest job in the world. If I had a brain I’d be hammering this script out like a coked up woodpecker tapping out an angry telegraph. But I can’t do that because someone stole my brain. My question is; who?

The most obvious suspect is modern technology. After all, if it weren’t for the internet I would never have been able to distract myself with the useless observations of people I don’t know on Facebook. I wouldn’t have to tear myself away from Cracked‘s enticing lists of “five of the most hilariously awful/awesome reasons” for everything in this strange world. But there they are, floating behind my screen, beckoning me to go to them like some lazy horror movie villain. And I always go to them. I’ve gorged myself on the cyberspace buffet so thoroughly I’ve became a fact fatty.

But I’m not actually a fact fatty. When it comes to pub quiz machines, I’m the lemon who tries to conceal his surprise when he is informed that Britain’s Prime Minister is not called Davy Cameroon or Dated Cameraman. So looking at all this pointless information hasn’t made me any more informed. Maybe technology didn’t steal my brain. Maybe I never had a brain.

That makes this easy. My investigation is moot. No-one can steal something if it never existed. I was a mindless drone all along. Plodding about like those lobotomised zombies who complain that women aren’t interested in nice guys like them with no discernible personality. It’s such a convincing theory, that I never had a brain. I don’t need one for everything. I certainly don’t think when I’m jogging. Nothing more than “Breathe, keep moving, don’t fall over, embrace the pain”. I survived school days that started at eight thirty and didn’t finish until four o’clock in the afternoon. Surely no-one with a brain could do that?

But there are so many things I had to have a brain to do. After all, I got halfway through writing a play. And I wrote three other plays earlier this year. And then there’s a dream I had, in which after I ran out of credit, I topped up by stuffing pound coins in my ears. That’s a sign of a brain. Not a good brain. If it were a car, it would probably have three wheels and a propeller, and be held together with rubber bands. I must have had some kind of a brain though, because I’ve done so many things that needed a brain. The no brain theory isn’t quite the no brainer it first appeared to be.

Perhaps my brain was tired from overuse. A morning spent rehearsing and remembering lines. Yesterday was sweated away in a script writing marathon. I read the first thirty four pages of Dune at lunch.

But I’ve read more than thirty four pages in one sitting before. The rehearsal was just one run through, less than two hours in length. Plus, I slept the night through, quieter than a hibernating alcoholic bear.

Suddenly, like a flash of lightning hitting a baseball batter, it strikes me. My play stole my brain. I wasn’t at the easy part. There is no easy part in crafting a story. I had believed that once I had an outline, a destination, and a collection of unique and emotionally driven characters, the script would write itself. Or if not that, inspiration would leap out at me like an aggressively loveable kitten.

Since inspiration kept her tiny claws withdrawn, my brain must have been left – stranded and alone. The play had found my brain, taken it in hand, and then strolled down the information highway in search of something they could hitch a narrative ride from. Perhaps there was a pile-up somewhere along the way, a heap of angry opinions colliding in a fiery explosion of passive-aggressive defensiveness and patronising moral snobbery.

I don’t begrudge my brain for wanting to surf the crashing waves of great nothings that make up the internet. We all need to escape and have fun sometimes. I just wish I could say one thing to my brain. “If you’re there. If you’re getting this message. Please come home soon.”