April 04, 2005

Other: 2+4=Banana

For the most part, I like to think of myself as a reasonably tolerant person. Everyone gets to share their unique vision of the world, even if their views are contrary to my own, because I know that perspectives are a personal thing. We can never actually feel what someone else is feeling, because we cannot be that person; all we have for mutual understanding is the limited, heavily filtered communication of language and vision (both, in the case of writing).

That's how I like to think of myself.

Alas, the truth of the matter is all too frequently different.

The odd belief of giving anyones opinion an equal weight was never more visible than in the Schiavo trial (this will be my LAST mention of it, promise). Somehow, everyone who had an opinion found someone to take them seriously: often it was several someones. When one media outlet found out that some asshat "expert" had been interviewed by CBS (or the NY Times or whomever), that expert attained a measure of gravitas that made them a favorite target for other outlets. And if these "experts" brought their own audience (hello, John Edward) then so much the better. There was a cry, a few decades back, for the necessity of neutrality in the media. This is bullshit. As long as there are humans directing, editing, writing, and presenting information, it cannot be neutral. As long as you're aware that there is a bias, you can consider it; if you are not aware of it, then you are at its mercy.

A short digression: the Germans have a term, schadenfreude, which means taking pleasure (Freude) from someone elses misfortune (schaden). Knowing this, allow me to link to the transcript of a somewhat surprising interview on the hackshow Scarborough Country. I say that like there's anything on MSNBC that isn't a hackshow... Notice how he ends the piece, after the agumentative doctor is no longer on the air:

"...I am not claiming that this doctor is a charlatan. I don't know his body of work. I am not claiming that he is a hired gun. But too many doctors out there can be bought off by attorneys on either side. And then they come out, instead of telling you the facts, you get into debate like you are talking to an attorney..."

Uh, Joe? He told you the facts. Over and over. If you don't listen, that's your problem, not his. And it's interesting how those folks hired by the husband (and appointed by the courts) are the ones who can be "bought off", without mentioning those hired by the family. Moron.

The fact that any old flake can rattle off whatever story they want and get an audience is nothing new, of course. The challenge is to know enough to use muliple sources for your information: anyone who relies on a single source is at the mercy of that source. The most valuble tool that we can use is communication, and it comes with the same caveat that remarks upon freedom: that there is a cost, and it is eternal vigilance.

The truth is a tricky thing to pin down, because it relies on perspective. Reality, on the other hand, is what exists whether we believe in it or not. But we can't be in every place at every time, so we rely on communication from others, which naturally carries their perspective.

So what does this have to do with bananas?

This is what it has to do with bananas.

This film is spirituality in a scientific pretext. Feel-good, squishy soft spirituality at that. "What the Fuck Do We Know?" was financed by a student from the Ramtha School of Enlightenment in Washington State. Don't know who Ramtha is? Well, don't worry: he's been dead for 35,000 years, give or take. Oh, and he's also a god from Atlantis. Any questions? No? Well, there bloody well should be!

There is a consistent bleat from the True Believers of this: "Well, it COULD happen/have happened!" To quote a pathologist during the first episode of Law & Order: "Death rays from Mars COULD have killed him; but I don't think so."

There really are certain things that are just not going to happen. Animals won't be able to live without food of some kind; the Rapture isn't coming; and you can't build a dinosaur from DNA found in a mosquito.

The common rejoinder is: "Well, that's YOUR opinion, and that doesn't mean it's right!" As a sentence alone, disassociated from any context, that's true. But when I say "Two plus four cannot equal a banana", will the response be the same? Yes, but in a slightly more obfuscated manner. Here's what I'd hear next:

"Well, if there was this person who gave out bananas for saying the number six, then that would mean 2+4=Banana, right? So it could happen!"

This is where my patience slips a little.

Any nonsense can get spouted at any time, and a construct can be built around it to "prove" that it might, at some point, possibly be true in a Paralell Universe. If you should point out that this doesn't happen, they'll tell you about their uncle Bob, who had a teacher who would give out little prizes to children for getting math quizzes right, and the teacher gave uncle Bob a banana magnet one time that he has at home on his fridge right now so there. And no, you can't meet uncle Bob. So shut up.

Then you could ask them to state aloud the phrase "Two plus four = six", and see if a banana appears, they'll say it's not appropriate in public. If you offer to say the phrase, they'll say it doesn't work for you because you don't believe, or that you're doing it wrong, or there are too many negative vibrations. But if you'd like to come over to their place for a demonstration (after a quick trip to the market), and wait blindfolded in a darkened room until they're ready, then that should be proof enough that 2+4=banana, right? Or at the very least, you'll have to admit the sometimes 2+4=banana. So they're right at least some of the time. And sometimes is good enough for them to accept it as proof. Plus it means you're not always right, so there.

When you point out that all mathematics is a theoretical consturct with internally consistent laws that serve as the framework for its existence with only representatives in the real world, and that if a decision is reached to change the meaning of numbers, then that will destroy their functionality, they'll glaze over a bit before saying "That means I'm right, though, right?"

And that will provide enough of an excuse to call the retroactive abortion clinic, making the world a slightly more intelligent place.


posted by Thursday at 2:40 pm


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