Gulliver visits the academy in Lagado which is housed in several decrepit buildings along a street. He encounters men, called projectors, engaged in many bizarre projects: one is working on extracting sunbeams from cucumbers; one on turning human excrement back into food; one on turning calcine ice into gunpowder; one on building houses from the roof down; one on learning to identify paint colors by smell and texture; one on training hogs to plow fields; one on training spiders to spin colored webs; one on treating colic by pumping air into people’s anuses. Gulliver observes that while all of the projectors are working cheerfully, none of them seem to be making any progress.
The projectors, who value theory above all else, aren’t assessing the practicality of their experiments and are thus blissfully blind to their projects’ blatant futility, though this futility is plainly apparent to Gulliver. Swift’s description of the academy is also a not-so-subtle attack on the newly founded Royal Academy in contemporary London, an institution Swift felt was uselessly devoted to abstract knowledge.
Gulliver goes on to visit the educational wing of the academy where projector professors are giving lessons on how to write books using a mechanic word randomizer and how to learn mathematics by eating wafers with equations written on them. They are also discussing a new strategy to enable people to stop speaking (since speech stresses the lungs and shortens the lifespan) and communicate only by showing each other the actual objects they wanted to refer to. This plan has been strongly contested by “women, in conjunction with the vulgar and illiterate” who object to the huge bulk of objects it forces people to carry around.
The projectors continue to devote themselves to projects that are, as Gulliver and the reader can see, a waste of time. The projects are worse than useless. The implementation of these projectors’ theories would only hinder society, not help it. Women, who lack the men’s abstract knowledge, are the only citizens with the common sense perspective to resist the projectors’ plans.