As I first noted almost a decade ago in another place, the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges is famous for the classification of animals supposedly to be found in the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge:
- those that belong to the Emperor,
- embalmed ones,
- those that are trained,
- suckling pigs,
- fabulous ones,
- stray dogs,
- those included in the present classification,
- those that tremble as if they were mad,
- innumerable ones,
- those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
- those that have just broken a flower vase,
- those that from a long way off look like flies.
I am always reminded of it when people start talking about classification systems (and of David Weinberger’s insight that Everything is Miscellaneous).
And I was reminded it again confronted by the survey conjured together by Randall Munroe’s inimitable xkcd:
The individual questions in the survey range from the apparently normal to the decidedly odd – just like the items in Borges’ list. But like the list, it is the set as a whole which is quite gloriously surreal. This is a tiny sample, but I do urge you to look at the whole thing, complete it and revel in it.
I don’t know how long the survey will remain open – its purpose is apparently “to create an interesting and unusual data set for people to play with”. If the questions disappear, I’ll add a screenshot of the whole thing, but as it’s just short of 8,000 pixels long, I won’t if I don’t have to. In the meantime, here’s a final teaser. But the whole thing is better.
Update: The survey has closed and the questions have vanished (at least for now). So here is the full thing. Scroll down – a long way – to get to comments.
2 thoughts on “A questionnaire in the style of Borges”
Hi! Do you by any chance have a screenshot of the whole thing? It seems to be down now, and I’m thinking of using some examples from it to teach about social science data (and wishing I’d taken a screenshot…) Thanks!
Yes I do – now added to the original post.