Outside Context Problem

From Academic Kids

An Outside Context Problem or an OCP is any problem with an immediate, ubiquitous and lasting impact upon an entire culture or civilisation, such as where a less technologically advanced society encounters a much more sophisticated civilisation. An OCP is "outside the context" as it is generally not considered until it occurs, and the capacity to actually conceive of or consider the OCP in the first place may not be possbile or very limited (ie. one may not have the knowledge or ability to realize that the OCP can arise). The term was coined by Iain M. Banks in his novel Excession:

"An Outside Context Problem was the sort of thing most civilisations encountered just once, and which they tended to encounter rather in the same way a sentence encountered a full stop. The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you'd tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbours were cooperative or enslaved but at any rate peaceful and you were busy raising temples to yourself with all the excess productive capacity you had, you were in a position of near-absolute power and control which your hallowed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass... when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you've just been discovered, you're all subjects of the Emperor now, he's keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests."

For a small civilization dealing with their own problems, suddenly being threatened by a much larger, more technologically sophisticated civilization would be an OCP. There have been some examples of cultures encountering such problems in the course of human history, such as the scenario alluded to by Banks, where tribes of islanders have been visited by ships from advanced civilizations of which they were not previously aware.

A hypothetical example of an OCP would be where two-dimensional beings encountered three-dimensional beings.

See also

Reference

  • Banks, Ian, Excession
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