Monday, May 5, 2008

Outside context problem

Though I am loath to credit Mel Gibson with anything, as the Mel is either despicable or crazy or both (my guess) based on his drunken ramblings, this scene from Apocolypto best illustrates the concept of a challenge that is entierly outside a given group's set of experiences.

The term was coined and perhaps best described by Iaian M Banks in his novel Excision:

An Outside Context Problem was the sort of thing most civilisations would encounter just once, and which they tended to encounter rather in the same way a sentence encountered a full stop. The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you'd tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbours were cooperative or enslaved but at any rate peaceful and you were busy raising temples to yourself with all the excess productive capacity you had, you were in a position of near-absolute power and control which your hallowed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass... when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you've just been discovered, you're all subjects of the Emperor now, he's keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests.

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