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Monday, September 22, 2008

You Say Potato, I Say Chips

The theoretical realist improperly assumes that the most homeocentric or perceived static entity is necessarily the default concept. Take for instance our Earth. When our predecessors saw the sun moving around us, they took it to mean that our Earth was the ultimate reference point, and they trusted our senses to tell them that the sun was moving and the Earth was stable. It wouldn’t have made sense anyway, because spinning at 1000 miles an hour while rotating around the sun through space at 60,000 miles an hour, yet only seeing 30 mph winds as a result would be hard to fathom. Not only that, but how am I supposed to feel secure about any real estate holdings under such conditions? Homeocentric is a little more reassuring, and a much better marketing tool. But eventually, Galileo blew the top off the real estate industry, and domicile prices plummeted. Galileo had proposed that a free-falling body would descend with uniform acceleration having negligible resistance, and for the time being he was close enough.

As far as default concepts go, take this example. I put a key in a lock. It does not fit. Rather straightforward, right? Not so simple. The default cause of it not fitting seems to be that it was the wrong key. But that is not a good assumption to make, because it's not necessarily the case. It could be instead that it was the wrong lock. Maybe the key is right. Why do we assume that when the two do not match, that it's the key that must be at fault? We somehow say "the key doesn't fit," but we don't ever say "the lock doesn't fit." But why should the lock necessarily define the relationship? It shouldn't. The lock has no intrinsic authority. The only authority it has is whatever we assign to it. Thus, it's an arbitrary designation to assume that it would always take precedence as the default entity.

Since a lock is not as ambulatory as a key, we tend to lend more credibility to locks than we do to keys. It’s the unwritten law of precedence. It can appear in all sorts of manifestations. If two entities are approaching one another, the faster of the two is expected to move out of the way, because they can remove themselves from the path more quickly and easily, or because the slower of the two is the sympathetic figure to which more respect is given. This is innately understood, and we’re not even aware that we understand it. If a pedestrian and a bicyclist are converging on a pathway, it doesn’t work as well for the pedestrian to make the first move to the left or the right. If attempting to do this, the pedestrian may not properly anticipate the cyclist’s moves, and end up in the same alternate path. A pedestrian’s maneuverability is often about 25% of the cyclist’s, which means that starting to walk in another direction can take four times as long to reach a certain spot for the pedestrian. A pedestrian could be halfway through this maneuver only to find that the cyclist has just started in the same direction, with the cyclist beginning later and ending sooner in the new trajectory. That’s why it’s best to defer to the faster entity. Let them make the first move.

This would not apply to territorial concerns. A car has the assumed right of passage in its well-defined street lanes. Even on unmarked streets, the car is to maintain a position on the right side just to the right of an imaginary center line. But all else being equal, if a car were coming down a path toward a cyclist, the car is the one that should move out of the way. The fact that cars can’t usually take alternate routes or go onto the sidewalk is an ancillary matter not affecting this premise. Taking the faster vehicle hypothesis, a speeding car shouldn’t expect a car already going 70 mph to get out of the way for them. A lot of times they don’t even realize that you have no room to pull over into the next lane, and in order to accommodate them, you’d have to increase your speed by 5 mph to be able to get up into an empty pocket. But I’ve noticed something peculiar about civilian vehicles. They don’t have the capability of giving you a ticket, so I don’t lend them as much credence as I would a radar-toting, ticket-ready officer of the law. In any event, it all comes down to our reference points. Take a look at them and you may find that some of the objective ones turn out to be more subjective.

And then there’s the holiday conundrum. New Year’s Day, as an institution, is confusing to me. But I guess if you don’t think about it, it doesn’t have to be confusing. Alas, it’s too late for me now, and anybody else who’s reading this, so we can’t very well stop at this point. The basic idea is that we’re celebrating the new year. Think about that — we’re celebrating something we haven’t experienced yet. What if it turns out to be a really lousy year? We should wait to see how it materializes before we make such a big deal out of it. It should be conditional on how good it was. Have a pre-nup with the coming year so that we can have a sort of safety net.

But even beyond all that, why are we celebrating another year coming? Because we’re happy we’re getting older? Maybe it’s the impending tax returns we’re anticipating. I can’t think of what else it could be. I hereby propose instead a salute of Old Year’s Day. If 2008 ends up being a decent year (as Ed Grimley must say), let’s have a party in its honor, rather than shoving it out the door at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Reverse engineering is the key. Or maybe it’s the lock, I can’t remember. Either way, stay in school and don’t do drugs, that’s the bottom line.

For literal theorists, logic is always that default concept which trumps all else. To them, everything revolves around logic, because it appears so static. They never consider that logic could be subject to some other set of laws. So when they see a contradiction, they never think that it may actually be the logical structure itself that is faulty (meaning human interpretation of logic). Curiously, we have various versions of what entails being a realist, which answers fewer questions than it asks. What is the alternative to being a traditional realist? If you’re not living in the real world, are you therefore a fantasist? If you shun reality, what kind of psychiatric slew of denials is that? Sure, I’m willing to face up to all my fears, but as long as I can carry on my operations in Tomorrowland, and watch as the frightful fears go by before my face.

In the end, some say humans discovered logic. Others say humans invented it. If we discovered logic, that would presume that it exists apart from us and does not require thinking agents in order for it to be. If instead we invented it, then that would mean it has limitations just like we do, which would place us right back at square one.

It’s like in the song… I can’t remember the words or who sang it, but it goes right along with this whole principle.

So the message is don’t take things at face value. When they tell you that an obscure burger is back at Wendy’s, question it. Ask why it ever left in the first place. Ask where it went. Ask if it’s going to do the same thing again later and be one of those deadbeat for-a-limited-time-only entrées. They say “limited time only” as if that’s a good thing, but it’s a very, very bad thing. It means they’re dangling it in front of you to grab at, and then when you just start to get comfortable with it, they’re going to yank it away, leaving you on your own in a veritable fast food wasteland. Those are not pretty sights, by the way. That’s what marketing is all about. Keep the consumer wanting more. That’s why Disney magically pulls movies out of its vault, as if done only through pixie dust. But the fact of the matter is that it was three overweight sweaty guys in a boardroom calculating marginal returns on the company’s investments. They took Tinkerbell and locked her in the drawer. And what we’re finding is that it always comes back to a key (and the lock in the background).

Not succumbing to the aforementioned assumptions is called thinking outside of the box, and that's what philosophical skepticism does. So then what can we learn from all this? Actually, it’s more like de-learning, when we realize that we know less than we thought we did. We’re more informed, now knowing that we’re less informed than previously suspected. That’s logic turned on itself, right?

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