Research Ethics

Personal Interviews
If you are interviewed as part of the research for this project, either in person or by electronic means, I would be grateful if you would read and sign this document Download Wild Surmise Research Ethics Letter for Participants and return it to me at the address below.

The website
This and other related Wild
Surmise websites are designed to gather material for a research project
towards a book and other writings. I’m assuming that by posting comments and answering survey
questions where you post your email address you are agreeing to allow me
to use excerpts from your replies in my published research online and
in print. You are at liberty to withdraw your text at any time. Email
me at sue.thomas at
to withdraw. NB: Anonymous posts are not
subject to such agreement and can be freely quoted.

My research is
bound by the Ethics Code of De Montfort University, available here. If you have any questions about this research please contact me

Professor Sue Thomas
Faculty of Humanities
De Montfort
The Gateway
sue.thomas at

A road trip with Google Maps

Google_mapsCan’t resist posting this cartoon from xkcd. Although it’s not strictly about cyberspace, it could be!

(via Bill Thompson on Facebook)

Richard Feynman – the inconceivable nature of nature

This entire film is wonderful but I want to draw your attention to the section roughly from 34 to 40 minutes where physicist Richard Feynman explains what he calls the ‘inconceivable nature of nature’.

I found this video via Web 2.0 – Twitter, to be precise, from a tweet by Tim O’Reilly.

Tim O'Reilly

  Retwt @Werner: Listening to Feynman is like watching Magic.For those who don’t know him this  documentary is a start.


I picked up the tweet, watched the film, and as a result wrote this post. This is how information spreads and is reprocessed via the internet.

In the particular section I’d like you to watch, which runs from around 34 mins into the film, to around 40 mins,  Feynman gives a very clear and graphic explanation of the way that radio and light waves work What really struck me about his explanation is how it is resonant it is of the (much much less than his example) complexity of Web 2.0, what Clay Shirky has called ‘the mess’.  One of the objections to Web 2.0 is that it is more complex and messy than any human can cope with, but Feynman’s talk on how we separate out visual and audio signals specific to our own interests whilst simply not noticing all the other personally irrelevant data reinforces the fact that humans are able to filter and sort very large quantities of material.

But his account also makes me wonder.  Light and sound waves are, I believe, naturally occurring, whereas the media of the web (words, images, etc) are highly processed, and perhaps this is getting in the way just as over-processed food can be hard to digest. Let me try to explain my thought. Feynman’s account describes the many waves occurring in the space of a room, but I am wondering whether it might be possible, some time in the distant future, to use the internet to extend that ‘room’, or sensorium,  beyond its brick walls to the entire world, or even the universe, beyond? So that we swim in an even larger pool of information yet are still able to filter out what we need in the manner he describes here? This world would certainly not be trapped inside any kind of screen, but would more resemble what Feynman calls ‘the inconceivable nature of nature’. Most importantly, it would not be an intellectual experience, but something totally and inconceivably sensory akin to what happens when, as in Feynman’s example, we choose to tune in to a radio station. If we turn off the radio, the radio waves are still there – we’re simply not listening to them anymore. Can you imagine how it be for the internet to work like that? Wow! [And in fact this is quite close to an essay I wrote in 2005, Virtuality as Air, which is a pretty similar notion. Looks like I’m going round in circles. Oh well!]

Richard Feynman – The Last Journey Of A Genius (1988) Producer: Christopher Sykes

(warning: pls ignore his unfortunate opening sexist comment – this was 1983, I guess that’s the excuse)

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