Saturday, November 19, 2011

Woman the Shopper. Man the Scientist. A Funny Sci-Fi Story

You can read it in the Nature magazine. It is about two extremely intelligent science guys sent out to buy girls' knickers/panties by the wife of one of them, and how these extremely intelligent gentlemen could not find those knickers anywhere, even though their wives easily could. Which means that the knickers are brought in from a parallel universes only women can access. But at least men can do abstract science!

The flavor of the story:
At this point I must digress, and mention, for those who are not aware, the profound differences in strategy between Men Going Shopping and Women Going Shopping. In any general shopping situation, men hunt: that is, they go into a complex environment with a few clear objectives, achieve those, and leave. Women, on the other hand, gather: such that any mission to buy just bread and milk could turn into an extended foraging expedition that also snares a to-die-for pair of discounted shoes; a useful new mop; three sorts of new cook-in sauces; and possibly a selection of frozen fish.
And the interesting thing is — and this is what sparked the discovery — that any male would be very hard pressed to say where she got some of these things, even if he accompanied her.

Verrry good! I like those clear objectives Men The Hunters have, how they enter a complex environment, catch their animal and return home. Now contrast this to the next part of the story:
So there we were, looking for knickers, and a rather wary woman asked if she could help, given that we looked lost and hopeless. Russell explained to her exactly what we were looking for, and her wariness seemed to become mild alarm, until we hastened to reassure her that this was in fact a commission for the mother of said child. She then said, with what seemed to be great satisfaction, “Oh, no; you'll never find those in here — you'll have to go down to [some remote location],” which we had no chance of achieving before they closed, so the whole mission was now a failure.
Mmm. Yes, I know all this falls under the Humorous Stories About Blundering Men. But really, where were those clear objectives and simple strategies?

Others have written about the hidden message in this story to women who would be scientists, so it might be more useful if I wrote about the role practice has here.

Like in practicing by finding where certain items are sold. That practice usually comes from having to do that shopping, over and over and over again. After a while one miraculously learns (from a parallel universe, most likely) that girls' knickers are not available at the fish counter of the local supermarket! Or that the local pharmacy/chemist does not sell snow tires for your car.

And after you learn about those snow tires, you might, while waiting for your car to be shod with them, also pick up some new windshield/windscreen wipers and this neat little snow-scraping appliance which also defrosts the keyholes of the car and serves as an extra flashlight/torch! All that comes from a parallel universe which you can only access through repeated practice and by being on the lookout for certain products.

I astonish myself! I am ruining a perfectly good funny-sci-fi story by pointing out that it's not really that funny if you are not like that smart science guy whose practice in shopping for children's clothing consists of mostly making evo-psycho explanations for why women seem innately better at it.

But it's worth ruining because of the real parallel universe lurking behind this story. In that universe, men are such blundering fools when it comes to shopping or finding their socks that it is really very cute! Besides, no man need ever get any better at those skills because they are innate blunderings, though nicely balanced out by men's scientific superiority.