Desire is a major driver of human activity, but because it takes numerous forms, it tends not to be studied as a unified whole.

We are working on the underlying connections and commonalities in desire, with the aim of producing an integrated framework to describe it.

For example, our consultancy includes analysis of film and of sports. Although these may look very different at a surface level, there are deep underlying similarities in terms of the balance between predictable regularity on the one hand (e.g. well established genres in film; well-established rules in sport that are a key part of the game) and novelty on the other hand (e.g. an unexpected plot twist in a film, or an unexpected sequence of moves in a game).

This feature of film and sport can be analysed formally using approaches such as information theory.

Another example, which is well known in the research community, but not so well known outside it, is the structural regularity at the heart of humour and also at the heart of horror. One of our blog posts explores this systematically, and shows the structural relationship between humour and horror.

We’re also interested in mathematical regularities involved in aesthetic preferences, where there appears to be a trend to favour values that are between one and two standard deviations from the mean.

In addition, we’re interested in what happens when you look systematically at the dozen or so human senses (e.g. proprioception) and how they map on to sports and leisure activities (e.g. bungee jumping). We suspect that people each have their own preferred sensory diet in terms of how much stimulation they want for each of their senses over a period of time (e.g. the pattern of a predictable, non-stimulating day job through the week, followed by intense sensory stimulation at weekends).

A consistent feature in our work so far is that people dislike having to use deliberate, explicit, serial processing of information for any non-trivial purpose, and prefer to use parallel processing and pattern matching wherever possible.

Example: Expectations and outcomes

The diagram above shows how initial expectations can be mapped onto different outcomes in a way that corresponds to ‘mental puzzle’ humour (e.g. puns), as well as ‘relief’ humour, and shock/horror, plus despair.

The issue of uncertainty about categorisation is a major issue in how humans view the world. We’ve blogged about liminality in this post, looking at how the concept of liminality (places between two very different worlds, such as the gateway to a sacred space) also applies to a wide range of other situations that make people feel uncomfortable.

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