This week, hot on the heels of Halloween, a stimulus about spooky fiction from Grace Lockrobin of who is one of our team at We used it our online classes this week.

It shows a film audience reacting to a scary movie, Paranormal Activity 2. There’s a certain amount of tension even in watching them tense up! You can’t see the movie itself at all, so shouldn’t be any issues showing it in class, but watch to the end and pause before the screaming if you see fit!

Paranormal Activity 2 | in theater audience reactions (2010)Video

Why be scared of what we know doesn’t exist?

Fear is an unpleasant emotion. So why do we seek out scary fiction in stories and on film? And why should we be scared of something that doesn’t exist anyway?

You could present the class with this argument, modelled on one by philosopher Colin Radford.

1.    It makes no sense to be scared of things that you know don’t exist.
2.    If you know something is fiction, you know it doesn’t exist.
3.    We do get scared by fiction.
C:    Therefore, we make no sense.

A good way to use such arguments is to display them, talk in pairs, and then ask the class to write on whiteboards which parts they agree with, leaving off the ones they don’t. Then you can easily see the spectrum of opinion within the class and ask for their reasons. 

They might challenge 1 because you can be scared of things that could exist, or scared for a character rather than of a monster, so that it’s a matter of empathy; or 2 because a good film manages to convince you, while you are watching it, that it does exist; or 3 because we don’t so much get scared as “pretend scared” – although that is undermined by the fact that we can’t turn off our feelings of fear after a scary movie!


Poetry for Neanderthals

On a lighter note, our Speak of the Week in Debate Club this week turned into a very enjoyable debate of its own. The initial game was “The Thing that Does the Thing”, giving definitions of objects using only words of one syllable, for example:

The thing like a big cloth bag in which you put the big soft thing you use to keep warm in bed so you can wash the big cloth bag and not the big soft thing which is hard to wash.

After they’d had a go (it’s great fun being tripped up by words like “only” or “eating”, or finding ways round the traps) one suggested having a debate in the same vein, which became “This house thinks you can say all you need to say with short words such as these and that you do not need to use long words to say what you want to say.” The Yes side must get you to think yes with just short words; contrastingly, negative-supporting speakers receive encouragement towards elaborate vocabulary with the occasional short word allowed so that they avoid paralysing themselves!

Some of our brightest debaters took particular delight in this theme – it’s one of those cases where having a constraint to work to pushes your creativity. As I’ve said before, I’m very up for doing workshops in schools with a mix of philosophy and debating, to provide an extra challenge for your brightest students. In many schools they really seem to be languishing at the moment, with catch-up being more of a priority than striving ahead.

For all kids, this game could work well too as a thing you can write down. I think it might be good if you want to teach new ways to make a set of words more long and rich, and to play with the way one word goes first and the next word goes next, as it is all a case of how the words fit and still sound right. It might get the hard bit of long words out of the way and let kids see how words fit each to each or do not!

To my annoyance, someone has already turned this into a card game, Poetry for Neanderthals, so I will have to make my fortune some other way…

Best wishes,


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