the semantic web is somebody else's problem
By bblfish on Aug 14, 2008
A little further it is revealed that the spaceship uses some very clever technology to make this work:
"Something's on your mind, isn't it?" said Arthur.
"I think," said Ford in a tone of voice which Arthur by now recognized as one which presaged something utterly unintelligible, "that there's an SEP over there."
He pointed. Curiously enough, the direction he pointed in was not the one in which he was looking. Arthur looked in the one direction, which was towards the sight-screens, and in the other which was at the field of play. He nodded, he shrugged. He shrugged again.
"A what?" he said.
"An S ...?"
"And what's that?"
"Somebody Else's Problem."
"Ah, good," said Arthur and relaxed. He had no idea what all that was about, but at least it seemed to be over. It wasn't.
"Over there," said Ford, again pointing at the sight-screens and looking at the pitch.
"Where?" said Arthur.
"There!" said Ford.
"I see," said Arthur, who didn't.
"You do?" said Ford.
"What?" said Arthur.
"Can you see," said Ford patiently, "the SEP?"
"I thought you said that was somebody else's problem."
Arthur nodded slowly, carefully and with an air of immense stupidity.
"And I want to know," said Ford, "if you can see it."
"What," said Arthur, "does it look like?"
"Well, how should I know, you fool?" shouted Ford. "If you can see it, you tell me."
Arthur experienced that dull throbbing sensation just behind the temples which was a hallmark of so many of his conversations with Ford. His brain lurked like a frightened puppy in its kennel. Ford took him by the arm.
"An SEP," he said, "is something that we can't see, or don't see, or our brain doesn't let us see, because we think that it's somebody else's problem. That's what SEP means. Somebody Else's Problem. The brain just edits it out, it's like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won't see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye."
"Ah," said Arthur, "then that's why ..."
"Yes," said Ford, who knew what Arthur was going to say.
"... you've been jumping up and ..."
"... down, and blinking ..."
"... and ..."
"I think you've got the message."
"I can see it," said Arthur, "it's a spaceship."
The second strangest thing about the ship was watching the Somebody Else's Problem field at work. They could now clearly see the ship for what it was simply because they knew it was there. It was quite apparent, however, that nobody else could. This wasn't because it was actually invisible or anything hyper-impossible like that. The technology involved in making anything invisible is so infinitely complex that nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand million, nine hundred and ninety-nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of a billion it is much simpler and more effective just to take the thing away and do without it.[snip]
The Somebody Else's Problem field is much simpler and more effective, and what's more can be run for over a hundred years on a single torch battery. This is because it relies on people's natural disposition not to see anything they don't want to, weren't expecting, or can't explain. If Effrafax had painted the mountain pink and erected a cheap and simple Somebody Else's Problem field on it, then people would have walked past the mountain, round it, even over it, and simply never have noticed that the thing was there.
And this is precisely what was happening with Slartibartfast's ship. It wasn't pink, but if it had been, that would have been the least of its visual problems and people were simply ignoring it like anything.
The most extraordinary thing about it was that it looked only partly like a spaceship with guidance fins, rocket engines and escape hatches and so on, and a great deal like a small upended Italian bistro.
You have to believe it to see it. And of course when it does become visible, it will seem so very like other things that have existed before.