Saturday, August 12, 2006

Creating What If? questions: conversion by degree

This technique can be used to create "What if?" questions such as:

What if animals became more intelligent than people?
What if we had edible clothing?
What if gravity were twice as strong?
What if your sense of smell amplified by a factor of 100?
What if diamonds became the most fragile substance?
What if all the children suddenly became adults?
What if farm animals stopped reproducing?
What if all the dead people came back to life?
What if all your daydreams became public?

Five stages

There are five stages to conversion by degree:

1) Choosing a subject
2) Asking "How X is the subject"?
3) Providing the "X" for part two by creating a list of adjectives
4) Increasing or decreasing the degree of the "X"
5) Forming the "What if?" questions

1) Choosing a subject

To choose a subject I use the naming/listing technique. For this example, my subject is "accidents". The random word "green" creates a naming/listing directive:

Name green accidents

Which could be: accidents that affect the environment = oil spills.

For this example "oil spills" is my subject.

2) Asking "How X is the subject?"

At this stage I ask:

How X are oil spills?

I need an adjective for the "X".

3) Providing the "X" for part two by creating a list of adjectives

There are systematic techniques I can use to create a list of adjectives. Using some of those techniques for this example I create the adjectives:

Silent, allowed, recorded, red, pretentious, nasty, patriotic, small

I randomly choose one of these adjectives -- allowed -- and complete my question thus:

How allowed are oil spills?

I can consider that oil spills are legal, but frowned upon.

4) Increasing or decreasing the degree of the "X"

Next I increase or decrease the degree of the adjective -- in this case: allowed. I can opt to either slightly change the degree or change it by an extreme amount.

5) Forming the "What if?" question

I can form my "What if?" question from considerations resulting from a slight or extreme change of degree. With the oil-spill example I opt for an extreme decrease in the degree to which oil spills are allowed:

What if oil spills were totally forbidden and punishment for offenders is draconian?

More examples

1) Choose subject: Name a cash word = money.
2) Ask "How X is subject?"
3) Provide adjective(s): decent, toxic, automatic, friendly.
"Toxic" gives: How toxic is money?
4) Increasing/decreasing the adjective: money becomes fatally toxic
5) Form "What if?" question: What if handling money were fatal?

1) Subject: Articulated lorries
2) How X are articulated lorries?
3) Adjective = "lazy" gives: How lazy are articulated lorries?
4) Increase degree: articulated lorries become so "lazy" that they stop moving.
Decrease degree: articulated lorries become less lazy (energetic) to the point that they never stop moving
5) "What if?" questions:
What if all the articulated lorries stopped working?
What if it became impossible to stop all lorries?
or (with a little imagination): What if articulated lorries didn't need petrol?

1) Subject: Name horse accident = falling off a horse
2) How X is falling off a horse?
3) Adjective = "speedy". How speedy is falling off a horse?
4) Increase degree: Your fall from a horse is so fast that you are sure to be hurt
Decrease degree: As soon as you fall from a horse you float to the ground in slow-motion
5) "What if?" questions:
What if all falls from a horse were fatal or resulted in serious injuries?
What if you knew that you couldn't be injured while horse riding?

By-products and imagination

Notice how WI? questions can be the by-product of other WI? questions. A little imagination can lead to interesting considerations:

What if we stayed drunk for a week?
What if intoxication only lasted an hour?
(Both products of changing the degree of longevity of intoxication)

can lead to questions such as:

What if pills could be taken to reduce levels of intoxication?
What if you couldn't work for a week?
What if hangovers lasted a week?
What if you could get drunk instantly?

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