The Tragedy of Perception

Cogitation’s quest

In which Marjory Cogitation begins a life-long quest to determine the relationship between Grumble Factor and Comprehension Factor.

Forty-two years ago in a town called Perception, a spree of twenty-three murders were allegedly committed by Able Carver. During that summer, of 1944, the town was rampant with speculative tongue-wagging while, day by day, the trial of Carver progressed. At the point when the community’s tongues were at their most athletic, an opinion poll was published in The Perception Daily Chronicle. It reported that twenty percent of the people questioned had a sneaky feeling (and when asked to quantify the degree of their sneaky feeling, they said it was an extremely strong sneaky feeling) that urban stress was the sole cause of mass murder. Five people were questioned and the margin of error in the poll’s results was absolutely gigantic. Nevertheless, as a result of this poll, the Urban Stress Faculty was set up in the town’s university, and Marjory Cogitation was appointed its professor. Her task was to study stress in the community.

Her first breakthrough occurred while conducting experiments on six residents. Stressful states were clinically induced in the group, and vital signs monitored. Nothing unexpected was recorded. But then she accidentally administered an overdose of an hallucinatory drug and the group experienced fatally stressful hallucinations, emitting the most horrendous screams imaginable, followed by a rapid succession of alarmingly violent convulsions, and every member of the group then—mercifully—passed on into death and the immediate onset of rigor mortis. The professor noted that this produced an unusually high level of bowel activity in the laboratory mascot, Percy the goldfish.

After two years of further research, Professor Cogitation published her full findings in a scholarly (and impressively thick) paper. Here’s the concluding section:


Two factors are involved in the production of stress—the Comprehension Factor and the Grumble Factor.

A fall in one factor always leads to a rise in the other. Grumbles are therefore created in a person by a sudden lowering of his Comprehension Factor.

Once created, a Grumble cannot usually be destroyed—a person may only lower his own Grumble Factor by passing on the Grumble to somebody else. The recipient then experiences a rapid drop in his level of Comprehension Factor in order to accommodate his increased Grumble Factor.

Because of this, the level of Grumble Factor in the community (the collective Grumbliness of the population) can only usually increase. But there is one known method of reducing it:

When a Grumble is expressed near to a goldfish, it passes from the person to the fish, undergoes a chemical change within the fish’s gut, induces bowel activity, is then passed out of the fish and decomposes, slowly emitting Comprehension Factor back into the atmosphere.

I conclude that the large-scale deployment of goldfish in any community would reduce the level of Grumble Factor, and thus the urban stress. And since urban stress (as shown by The Perception Daily Chronicle’s opinion poll of two years ago) is the sole cause of mass murder, then it is predicted that this scheme would dramatically reduce the instances of murder in that community. QED.


On the publication of Cogitation’s scholarly (and impressively thick) paper forty years ago, the local government passed a bylaw, making it illegal for any household to not possess a goldfish, and ordered Cogitation to test her findings in Perception and the surrounding county. But they required her to do this single‑handedly, because they found her paper so impressively thick that they did not want to waste any money on her ridiculous project.

She conducted her research for the past forty years, and now, at the age of seventy‑one, was nearing the completion of her trial. Near the beginning, she noticed that because Grumble Factor was slowly being converted into Comprehension Factor in the goldfish bowls, an imbalance was caused between these Factors in the community. To bring the system into balance, the residents started to produce a new type of Factor. This Factor only existed for a short while in a person and she called it Trivial Grumble Factor—because it produced in the person a Grumble concerned with an apparently trivial topic.

Over the past forty years, the residents needed to produce so much of this Trivial Grumble Factor that they had no time to spare for committing crimes. This gradually caused the police force to become incompetent in all matters except the entertaining activity of thinking up stimulating things to now use their truncheons for.

Then, one month ago, the residents awoke to find a second murderer loose amongst them. Cries of alarm and of panic‑stricken terror were rife. But the loudest of these came from the county’s police stations. This went on for a whole week, by which time the death toll had reached six people. That afternoon—amid glorious sunshine, the tweeting of birds and much wafting about of warm air—the mayor of Perception (one Ivor Medallion, whose middle name was rumoured to be Silver) finally stormed into 121 Misapprehension Lane (the police force’s headquarters—otherwise known as Bright Spark House) he stormed in—he’d had enough; by golly, he’d had enough!—and he stamped his foot several times—and rather firmly, too—and shouted that it was their job to apprehend the murderer.

In the face of this shocking outrage, half the force resigned. The numbed residue were sent on a rigorous three‑week training course and then two days’ recuperation at Clacton‑on‑Sea. On their return to duty the death toll in Perception (perhaps not surprisingly, since the entire constabulary had been absent for three weeks) had reached twenty‑one people.

This brings us to the present day in July of 1986. The mass murderer was still loose and many of the citizens had by now become somewhat hysterical.



© Copyright Fletcher Kovich 1995-2016