Opus Introduction

Like, what is this?


My name is Tom Veatch. Shall I introduce myself and tomveatch.com to you?


Many prefer for folks to be and stay in a box. If that's you, okay, here: 60 year old, "white", American, male, former Stanford (visiting assistant) professor, cognitive scientist, with many interests and four careers: academics, tech, plumbing, and real estate. Many writings. You choose! Just click the logo and enjoy! Boom, done.


Introductions are so fraught! My Christian family members, I am afraid to tell them I'm a Hindu. My Hindu friends, I'm afraid to tell them I'm an atheist. Who will support me if I say I have a Guru? Then there's academia. Linguist friends, I'm afraid to tell them I do Humor Theory. My Humor Theory friends, I have a hard time getting acceptance for working on Bliss Theory. My academic friends, I'm afraid to tell them I'm a plumber. My plumber friends, I'm afraid to tell them I'm an academic. Where does it stop?

Everyone kind of likes to be in their box, and it seems easiest to relate to people as something like what they are. Of course, everyone thinks they are the center of the universe, everyone is ready to be offended by difference, yet everyone is also delighted by a sympathetic capacity to include difference, if you start from their own perspective.

So, indeed, the phonologists do think I'm a phonologist; the syntacticians consider me a syntactician, the semanticists talk to me like I'm a semanticist, the sociolinguists think I'm a sociolinguist, and the phoneticians think I'm a phonetician -- and they are the ones that are right, although my branch is actually "socio-phonetics": I used the term in 1991 in my thesis, possibly the coining of the term, and I'm delighted to discover it is now a subfield of linguistics. I'm just a f***ing pleaser.

On the other hand, when I do tell most folks some aspect of this, it's often a little sparkling bit of wonderfulness. Everyone is happy to meet a plumber. Church ladies actually like to hear about the Theory of Bliss, and I've had Mormon missionaries high-fiving me because of our coalignment on the psychology of religion. Whoever it is, once you're established as like them or with them -- sympathetic -- then people tend to be curious and a little excited about the travels you've been on, and what you can bring back for them to enjoy vicariously. So being in a box is a milder kind of problem, unless used to ignore or dismiss.

Here, without context, I find myself going on at length, like this, about nothing. Maybe you are, maybe you aren't, interested in all the things I've been interested in. If not, it's best if you would give me some clues, some context, where you're coming from, then I can best share something with you. (That's called, Clicking "All Subjects", then clicking on a Subject, then picking out something in that area. Rinse, repeat, enjoy!)

Writings, Temperament, Motivation, History, Audience

So I want to introduce you to the opus here at tomveatch.com, which is mostly written ideas.

Forgive me, I'm a reader and a writer. I believe that human knowledge preservation and transfer is best in the form of writing and reading, contrary to the modern claim that a picture is worth a thousand words, and contrary to the postmodern market in which video is the preferred if not exclusive medium. Audio and video are okay for a cursory overview, for banter, and for introductory, slow-pace, non-technical education, and of course for enjoyable storyline consumption, but not very fast or precise or mentally captureable for complex ideas. You won't become an empowered person with new skills and a new identity through a new capability by watching YouTube. You have to do the homework, which mostly means, to read, and to write.

The primary purpose of civilization, like that of organisms, is self-reproduction, and that is not achieveable by Tiktok, as much as our highly entertained and decreasingly hopeful selves wish it could be. No. So: Read, folks, read! You'll have a more active experience of the world of ideas, and you'll get more out of it and be able to contribute more to it. Reading books can change who you are. Doing the homework, as you go through the whole curriculum of a series of classes, can make you a new kind of person, a whole new category like Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer, to take some examples. Or don't, and stay at the same mental age you were when you first started drinking alcohol or smoking weed, now and for the rest of your life, while grinding away at some crappy low-end job or eking out a life of welfare or dependency, at best a tool of the gaming and media industries, enjoying increasingly short movies on the screen, in your hand, on your goggles. That's a choice, even often my choice. But not my best choice. Sorry for the rant. It's not a criticism, please don't be offended, but it's what I'm coming to, an honest thought after too much consumption thataway, so just think about it and only take it to heart if it makes sense to you.


Where were we? Ah, on the topic of me! (Not good; Bliss Theory says self-talk is the path away from bliss! And it's not attractive, nor even very nice to be around.) Let's make it a him, then, instead of a me.

So Veatch, that guy, he is probably best known for A Theory of Humor (Veatch 1998), with its >500 citations on Google Scholar. Lately he's been excited about generalizing Humor Theory to cover bliss and irrational emotion, but that is a neverending thread, pulled on, it drags out logic, then cognitive science, then this deep stack of conceptual dependencies from logic in reality to evolution to logic in psychology. There's a lot there, and he's just finishing the groundwork, there's a whole edifice to build on it still to go, though the outline is here. I invite you to poke around, poke at it, and kibitz; please do!

Temperament. In Myers Briggs I'm ENTP, Inventor, and in Big 5 I'm OCEAN, all five, including N for Neurotic, as I'm a bit sensitive to negative emotion, or you might say, high strung, intellectually speaking. Perhaps due to a metabolic sugar response I've had a lifetime of nightmares and what can only be called generalized anxiety since there is NOTHING to be anxious about. But I do find it baseline quite miserable to be in this skin, and the redeeming joy for me has been the anesthetic quality of dopamine: when I'm chasing something with interest and curiosity, with serious intent, I feel no pain, am unaware of hunger or sleeplessness, and I'm excited by my quest. So this has been a great driver of thought for me, and the result is what you see before you.

Motivation. My motivations are truth and significance. I'm really curious to know what's true; unfortunately, I'm not always so good at proving or explaining it to others. I want the intuition, the right idea. And my north star is about what's important: Mostly people and their feelings but not exclusively. I tend to get excited in queer corners where things are not what they seem, because it is there that the right ideas have greatest significance. A few times I have danced and cried for the amazing mountaintop I find myself on, with a new vista, a new idea that will change this world.

Trajectory. Mine (as author) went like this. An academic career ending as a sociophonetician ("English Vowels"). I applied to every job in the English-speaking world for which I was remotely qualified, as a world expert in Vowels, three years in a row, all 17 of them, and stopped after Stanford decided not to hire me for a full-time job out of my postdoc there, close but no cigar. Later, after I was out selling modems I published the N+V Theory of Humor.

But around that time, I decided my audience wasn't the academic audience that reviews drafts for publication or CVs for promotion. How could it be? They weren't paying my salary; they were, shall we say, weakly supportive, with the dyspeptic (and weak) objections to N+V, or the weak ass lack of even reading my whole dissertation, come on folks. I mean I love my dissertation, I go back and read it, and I rarely see possible improvements, and I find the whole thing an exciting journey. But the total number of pages that were read by my entire thesis committee was probably less than the total number of pages in the thesis. So that's not my audience.

My audience had to be the general intellectual and curious audience of people like you, academic or not, who might want to know some things that are surprising, true, and important. The interest, controversy, and excitement of the ideas themselves had to govern and carry my presentation, not its list of references and the IRB. So I've been writing what I like, when I get a chance, ever since. I'm only sort of an academic. Really, I'm just curious.

Why so late?

Starting in 1993 as the web arrived I registered tomveatch.com and learned HTML, which is my native document-writing form (yes, I use emacs) and over time the LAMP stack, Javascript of course, whatever is needed.

I'm all in with this new model of, have website, self-publish without restriction.

My post-academic tech career was honest and mildly fruitful but ended around 2005. By then I had a few web services and language related software type things, like Teachionary or my Literacy (on a sheet of paper) project. I rarely worked for others, even though (I'd like to think) I do play well with others. But when I couldn't bring home the bacon as an independent speech geek I switched horses, or horse races, from the tech business to the real (estate) world, to increase the probability of success. The third career started with a union plumbing apprenticeship and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training, then a one man shop, which pretty soon paid off my house and suddenly converted me from plumber into landlord (fourth career).

If I did it, anyone can do it: you can certainly do it.

But decades of keeping my eye on the ball financially diverted me from writing essays here, which is the legacy and the important part of my life. (As an issueless uncle, Benefax maximization is primarily via knowledge creation, if not business creation.) Don't you, too, feel deeply responsible for having your financial house in order? My model is to start with health insurance when I'm 90, and work back from there. With three houses paid for, that's covered. So now I can finally spare the time to write, and tighten up and share all the things I was thinking about while carrying pipes across job sites, or after the meditation program ends and there is a moment to draw some conclusions.


So here is Tom, arrived before you, raw and earnest: Ecce Homo, no more or less than yourself or anyone. I do believe in honest and thorough intellectual engagement. A wide range of acquaintance makes me aim for broad readability. A wide education supports a sense of current assumptions and therefore of what might contradict accepted views in various areas. Hopefully my thoughts are not just shiny, new, accessible, and useful, but actually different.

No, I'm not (the great) Jordan Peterson, I'm not telling you how to organize your life or become responsible. I'm more of a kibitzer on the right way to think about things, just certain things. But no, there are no limits to what things. And no, I think you shouldn't acknowledge limits to yours either. Maybe if all some poor clod can do is barely remember the rules and follow them religiously, then that's the best they can do. If the conventional rules capture some useful knowledge, it could be worse. But rules originally came from someone's fresh idea of how things are and ought to be, and they actually have no value outside that fresh idea -- that's the enormous, civilization-changing power of a fresh new (better) idea, after all! Fresh reconsideration might result in something different, and hooray for progress. Or at least would result in a deeper appreciation for the value of valid old ideas, as more than mere conventions to box us in, but with a living spirit in them, appropriate to current circumstances as well as old ones. Maybe you can think about things fresh yourself, and come to your own conclusions, too. That's what I'm encouraging, hopefully exemplifying, thrilled about.

One of the deep truths about human nature is that people emotionally synchronize to each other. So an angry, in-your-face person will find others to be angry and in his or her face, whereas a curious, sympathetic listener will find others to be curious and sympathetic listeners. So all this wandering (on my part) is by way of saying, maybe, that you can wander and explore too. It's okay, the water is warm here, in the wandering pool of life. If you have your house in order (get your house in order) you are free to come out and wade, or swim! You can do it.

If I did it, anyone can do it.

Introduction complete. Please go back to tomveatch.com: Click on my logo, the logoslogo, The Logos Logo[tm] in the corner, which always takes you to the top level home page. Then click on All Subjects, pick out any subject you like, browse away. I promise you I enjoyed writing it, and I tried to make it controversial, surprising, and true, all at once, yet without that reactive obnoxiousness that habitually denies all conventional truth. Worst case, you will have an even better idea. So enjoy!

And if you don't mind, please give me feedback. Things could always be better!

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Copyright © 2000 - 2023 Thomas C. Veatch. All rights reserved.
Written 2/9/22; Lightly edited: 3/23/23