Monday, August 08, 2005

A strategy to find assumptions

About this post

Type of technique: assumption finding

Technique in a nutshell: Say you want to list assumptions about the moon, for example. You can set a directive 'name assumptions about the moon'. But you can also modify that directive with set words (such as time, place, person). Thus: 'Name person assumptions about the moon'. Possible answers: we assume only people have visited the moon, we assume that people have gone to the moon.

A Strategy to Find Assumptions

I've been using this approach to help find assumptions.

Imagine a bomb-damaged tree at an old WWII air base - such as Biggin Hill. A number of assumptions are automatically made about the bomb-damaged tree. In the search for assumptions a directive such as:

List assumptions about the bomb-damaged tree

can be made. However, this can be modified using the category headings:

Time (duration) Place (area) Thing (object) Person Doing (Activity) Being (Is) Having (Has) Saying (utterance) Knowledge

If I select 'time' from the category headings I can rewrite the directive thus:

List time-assumptions about the bomb-damaged tree

I reckon that my first time-assumption is that the bomb damage occured during WWII. Maybe the damage could have occured at some other time?

If I select the 'duration' part of the category I make the directive:

List duration-assumptions about the bomb-damaged tree

Which makes me realise I assume the damage occured at one time. Maybe the tree could have been damaged on more than one occasion in the war or whenever.

Using 'person(s)' gives the directive:

List person(s)-assumptions about the bomb-damaged tree

which makes me realise I'd assumed the damage was caused by German bombers. Maybe the tree could have been damaged by a plane colliding with it and detonating its bombs etc.

Saturday, August 06, 2005


About this post

Type of technique: breaking rules and forming thought experiments

Technique in a nutshell: write a simple fact about something. Example: cows produce milk. Then force a conditional aspect using 'if': cows produce milk IF they are alive. Experiment with replacement for the 'alive': dead, elderly, male etc.


I've been finding that this IF-forcing approach can lead to ideas. Especially simple ideas. I start by writing down a fact about the subject and then working out how the fact is conditional by using 'if'.

So, for example, with subject 'gun' I write down a fact about a gun:

a gun fires.

Using 'if' to find the conditional aspect gives:

A gun fires if you pull the trigger.

Then I can play about with the condition or parts of the condition. I can remove the subsequent part of the sentence giving:

A gun fires if...

and then consider alternatives such as:

A gun fires if you breathe onto it
A gun fires if you hold it above your head
A gun fires if you point it towards yourself

That last one is an interesting concept for fiction. A gun could be made in a way that makes a bullet fly in the opposite direction. So the 'baddie' can put the gun in their mouth to look as though they are about to shoot themselves when really the bullet will fly in the normal direction.

I can keep the sentence as it stands:

A gun fires if you pull the trigger

and opt to change just one word:

A gun fires if you pull TWO triggers.

Which would be a more secure gun.

It's worth writing down as many conditional aspects as possible:

A gun fires if it is loaded
A gun fires if it has a barrel
A gun fires if it works
A gun fires if you are carrying one in the first place
A gun fires if you have fingers
A gun fires if the bullet is live

It's quite a simple yet effective method for finding assumptions.