Archive for October 2nd, 2011

This year’s first Nobel winner, John Perry – 15 years late!

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011
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John Perry on "Philosophy Talk" (Photo: Steve Fyffe)

In a few hours it begins: Nobel week.  In the wee hours, the Nobel Committee in Stockholm will announce the first of the science recipients this year.

Too late!  It’s been upstaged by the 2011 Ig Nobel Prizes, which were awarded last Thursday at Harvard, by seven “real” Nobel winners.  The awards are sponsored by the  Annals of Improbable Research, a science-humor magazine, which each year salutes “achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.”

This year’s Ig Nobel for Literature goes to Stanford philosopher John Perry (with Ken Taylor, he hosts the syndicated radio show “Philosophy Talk“).  The award, too, is late – about 15 years late – but that’s altogether fitting for the achievement itself, an essay on procrastination that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 1996.

“All my fantastic contributions to understanding the human condition as a philosopher seem to have had minimal impact compared to this thing,” he told the Chronicle of Higher Ed.  He admitted he still receives a couple of guilty e-mails each week from fellow shirkers.

More from the Chron:

Mr. Perry, who spoke to The Chronicle this week in advance of the ceremony, deemed the tardiness of his award “quite appropriate” given the nature of his essay, which grew from an experience in 1995.

“One day I was deeply depressed about procrastinating, and I thought, It’s kind of funny because everybody at Stanford thinks I’m somebody who gets a lot of stuff done,” he said. “How can that be?”

He realized that in the course of avoiding seemingly important duties that he’d laid out for himself, he had diverted his energy to any number of other tasks and had inadvertently become quite productive.

The key, he said, is self-deception: find some worthy task that you’re going to avoid, and put it at the top of the list.  Think of Tibetan irregular verbs.  Or thank-you letters from last Christmas.  Or, in my case, cleaning the kitchen floor, or any other room of the house.

Bingo!  You’ll find you’re finally tackling that long-postponed essay, or book review, or letter to your creditors.

Somewhere along the way, no doubt while avoiding some more pressing matter, Mr. Perry set to work expanding his essay into a book. “But of course I never finished it,” he said.

Evidently it rose to the top of his “to do” list, and there it remains.

This is the art of “structured procrastination.” He calls it in the essay “an amazing strategy I have discovered that converts procrastinators into effective human beings, respected and admired for all that they can accomplish and the good use they make of time.”

Other winners this year include:

For the peace prize, Arturas Zuokas, mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, for demonstrating that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armored tank.

And in mathematics (Ig Nobels don’t correspond entirely to the categories of the mainstream Nobels), Dorothy Martin, who predicted the world would end in 1954; Pat Robertson, who predicted the world would end in 1982; Elizabeth Clare Prophet, who predicted the world would end in 1990; Harold Camping, who predicted the world would end on September 6, 1994, and later predicted that the world will end on October 21, 2011; South Korea’s Lee Jang Rim, who predicted the world would end in 1992; and Uganda’s Credonia Mwerinde,  who predicted the world would end in 1999.

Meanwhile, see this year’s peace prize winner below: