New thinkers start here
What is a Cognolog?
A cognolog is a series of short statements from me alternating with responses from you. My bit is designed to be provocative. Your job is to think about it in whatever way you want. Suppose I write The One True God is a 7000 year old frog that lives on the bottom of a pond in Bishops Stortford what bones can you pick out of that? Different people will be struck by different initial thoughts and follow them through differently. How about Why not Plymouth? or This is obviously nonsense... ...but so are the other religious fantasies or Gods tend to be ancient... ...what if gods had human lifespans... ...that's weird... why is it weird? and plenty more.

The normal presentation of a cognolog is a series of five, one a day. I set the scene and develop a theme that takes my fancy, while you discuss it over coffee or think about it on the train each day, going off at your own tangents. There are no ‘right answers' but you'll still be curious to see which twist my thoughts have taken and what loose end I'm unravelling the next day.

In a world of soundbites, news avalanche and fill-space opinions the ability to pause, ponder and stand up to such bombardments can become alarmingly withered. Like lots of things, the skill of spotting issues behind the words and pulling at interesting looking threads improves with practice. It is essential to take a little time to explore - It can't be done in thirty seconds. The important bit is what happens at your end, I'm just an agent provocateur. This isn't just pure mental exercise, cognologs try to explore all the intellectual areas. A simple practice is given on the right where you might go to the dictionary, start sketching, chuckle with colleagues and develop an allergy to modern brand names.

Cognologs were originally intended for the dead-tree press but they didn't seem to be interested. Strange really because I'd have thought that the format of Monday to Friday with reader's correspondence on Saturday would have just suited them. Lots of papers would like to say they catered for the 'brainer' readership but ignored the opportunity to cater for it.

Peter Fox, sometimes known as 'prof', is a freelance computer programmer/designer/advisor. He lives in Essex, England with hos cats, loves real ale and real pubs and fools about for the Morris dancers. He can be contacted via his website.

An example for practice
Me:"Cognolog" is derived from the English for "toothed wheel and felled tree".
You: • Is it? No you're pulling my leg! Curiosity leads you to check the Cogno- bit and the Log bit in the dictionary (when did you last do that?) to find their roots and come across ‘Coggle' ... Interestingly there appears to be a lot of Scots (Scandinavian?) influence on the ‘English' cog-. • You may (or may not) have spotted the origins of the word but what percentage of the population would? • And anyway what are the real roots of the name?
Me: Ha ha! I was pulling your leg. If you need a name for something that you want recognised how do you go about selecting one?
You: • Memorable. • Simple. • Appeals to target audience. • Doesn't confuse. • Is clever ... umm what about all those cliche names for hairdressers - are they amusing or awful after the first time? • Is ‘modern' ... arghhh! I want a weekly season ticket not a "West Whereshire Transport Solution Package".
Me:Did you twig the potential for corporate branding bullshit? Perhaps you recall the Consignia fiasco and the small fortunes companies pay consultants for logos such as the 2012 Olympics. Today's (difficult, but not so serious) task is to come up with some sketches for "Cognologs - International belly-button care" re-branding and the public relations puffery to go with it.
You: • Help! I'm no good at art ... ...but this will be an amusing thing to talk to Maxine about ... She suggests a competition at your works for your company with the prize of a golden bull and a mock presentation ceremony at the Christmas lunch - Nothing like some fun at the management's expense! • How do executives get away with spending all this money? What does it say about the true degree of shareholder or voter control. • What are the really rubbish ones of recent times? • Some of those alternative Olympic 2012 logos were brilliant ... I wonder if I can find them on the web again? • Umm.. What makes a ‘good' logo? Have all the good ones been used? • I can't do selling clothespegs to a gipsy but on the basis that the fools with money don't deserve it, perhaps I should have a try... ...Where to start? Who to ask? (... and so you learnt the two rules of selling.)
In this practice cognolog you've seen how I've goaded you and offered you some direction but when I appear to have been ‘telling you what to think' that's just a "Hold on a mo!" from you and off you go doing your own thinking. You've also seen how these bring ‘issues' to the fore which might help you clarify your own views and be the basis for discussion with other people. Finally you had a difficult, practical, task. You could have given up on it, or used it as prompt for tapping other people's skills and knowledge and seeing what mischief ensues. Hopefully you'll be doing a lot of this good thoughtful fun.
Have fun - be curious
There are no tests, few answers, and how much you get out of it depends on you. Some of the tasks could develop into lifelong interests if they hit your curiosity spot. Because there are no real answers you'll soon start trusting your own investigative instincts to the bare statements of others. To the question "Why are the holes in salt and pepper pots different?" the stock answer is "Pepper has finer grains than salt - next question" but the full answer is ... (There might be 3 layers of answer here - It could take time for you to get the confidence and mental crowbar to break into them.)

After a couple of weeks you'll find your thinking cells are fizzing and your attention to detail sharpened. Cat-like, your sense of curiosity will be telling you which things are worth another look, you'll have a sharp sense of smell for bogus waffle, and you'll be able to see things that the average human can't. Cognologs will be your fluffy toys.
Start now

Start now!
One a day
Here is another pseudo-cognolog example On the
that is
Explore the rest of this website You don't need me
to tell you it is
infested with things
for thinkers.
  • Brief words Brief questions about some fundamental language structures.
  • Carpets Inappropriate floor coverings - Why
  • Collecting for charity The psychology and emotions
  • Danger The psychology of risk-taking from a social point of view.
  • Double lives Is having a double life natural and what are the associated issues for general well-being?
  • Dowsing What makes something 'believable' and then a 'belief'. Can factual investigations be done - if so why, how and are they effective ?
  • End of the world A simple introduction to organised thinking.
  • Gardening What's special about gardening and how to 'get the bug'?
  • Giving advice How to become an advisor.
  • Gossip and quotes The importance of who said what.
  • Grains of truth Assertions that when looked at in a certain way might hold water but as general definitions are flawed.
  • Household efficiency Odd bits about domestic matters.
  • Intelligence testing What is good, bad, indifferent? Arriving at a definition we're happy with.
  • Medical progress Drug discovery as an example of resource exploitation. Myths. Unsung science with purpose.
  • Memory Exploring the difficulty of accurate recall.
  • Modern (and ancient) art If 'modern art is rubbish' then what is it we want anyway?
  • Practical simple science Simple science demonstrations Task to set up something domestic and consider all realms of science. Thinking about what the minimum-science list is and finally packaging a demonstration as a gateway into the garden of science.
  • Prob-er-lem Compelling variations in spelling but how does language get 'improved'.
  • Remakes What's the point Wiz-Oz, Mona lisa what's lost but why not 'do better'. Finishing off Schubert's last symphony.
  • Santa Claus is dead First introduction with lots of hand-holding.
  • Sewage - Something we should all know a bit more about Exploring ignored infrastructure and official sources.
  • Songs A romp through different song genres.
  • Taking advice How to get people to take your advice.
  • The desert tower The romance of history and themes, and the art of writing.
  • The One Line Limerick Rhythm and rule-breaking in verse and worse.
  • The press-up club What makes joining the club special.
  • Where is this going? (1 of 2) How major works can be revisited.
  • Where is this going? (2 of 2) Draft Using fiction to illuminate the way we live and attitudes.
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