Scrutability: The PPT



If you don't know what the acronym "PPT" means, consider yourself lucky that you have avoided a work or social context where doing presentations is required.  If you are like me, the power of those three letters to inspire dread is almost unparalleled.  The phrase 'Can you put together some slides...' evokes panic, fear and nausea made worse only when accompanied by 'What's the business case?'

For those who don't know, "PPT" is short for "PowerPoint" and more commonly a "PowerPoint Presentation".  PowerPoint is a Microsoft Office application used for creating visual presentations.  It allows for the presentation of information in text, visual, graphical and audio/visual format through a slide-show series of pages.  

Now, PowerPoint as a tool is neither good nor bad; it's my experience in having to use it which has given me the negative connotations.  In fact, creating presentations with the intent of conveying information to a broad and diverse audience can be a terrific exercise in sharpening one's thinking, messaging and arguments.  It requires one to boil down extended proof points into limited and concise statements; select only the most salient supporting data; make explicit what the idea/goal/desired outcome is and how the data and argument support it.

As such I have long felt that philosophers would do well to try and express the contents of convoluted papers and books in a presentation format - much like they would if they were teaching a class.  I surmise that many such presentation examples exist on hard drives, USB keys and university intranets around the world but precious few make their way out into the public domain.

Thus my surprise and delight to find a presentation by David Chalmers on Scrutability.  Not having the interest in reading his book and participating in the podcast, I did want to be partially responsible and at least get a basic understanding of some of the key theses.  I can't say that having the argument presented in this format makes it any more appealing but it certainly makes it more compact.  V-Truth D indeed.  Now if we can just get philosophers to use more pictures and videos...



  1. says

    Philosophers seem not to be an especially visual sort of thinker, but some of Daniel Dennett’s presentations, viewable on Youtube, may be a paradigm of what you’re talking about. (Not that I necessary endorse Dennett’s philosophical views or outlook.)

    • Profile photo of Frtiz Donaro says

      I always remember John Searle during a Google talk saying with real feeling how much he can’t stand power point and I picture Dennett’s frequent power point presentations, so they don’t agree on that either! Actually Searle’s a much better speaker than Dennett, imo. More engaging.

  2. Jplat says

    Couldn’t agree more about PPT and about the potential applications for philosophers. I use it quite a bit at work and we’ve had an outside consultant tell us that there should be zero text on a powerpoint slide (all charts/graphs). He says that it convolutes the slide when you have to read bullet points. He prefers keeping it all visual. Not sure whether or not I agree but for a philosophy presentation it certainly has some interesting applications.

  3. says

    There’s a possibly apocryphal story that the reason why NASA fell into tough technical times with the space shuttle is the prevalence of PowerPoint for conveying information.

    Microsoft has tried to sex it up in recent years with XML and adding an “x” to .pptx and .docx and, help us all, xlsx but we won’t be fooled!

    There are many learning styles: hands-on, auditory, visual, and so on. But great zombie Jesus when a presenter starts reading aloud, verbatim, what is already on the slide in front of the room it makes me so mad I could bite.

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