Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Perils of Opposite Day

Tyrone (Tyler’s alter ego) has made another Opposite Day post, this time on free will. Liam (Will’s alter ego) will soon be defending equality of opportunity. And Yglesias is taking requests for his own Opposite Day.

This meme seems to be taking off, and it brings back memories of a time when I had a whole Opposite Month in college. I can remember it like it was thirteen years ago... *

I was having lunch with my friend M, who made some criticism (can’t remember what) of Aristotle. I responded with my opinion of Aristotle -- I probably had a much stronger opinion then than I do now -- to which M replied, “You know, that is exactly what I would have expected Glen Whitman to say about Aristotle.” He then opined that my logical consistency had made me too predictable, and that I needed “to adopt some radically inconsistent philosophies” just for the sake of interest.

We agreed that, as a social experiment, I ought to pick one inconsistent belief and try to convince our circle of friends that I really held it. After dismissing a number of potential beliefs I was already on record as opposing, and others so far out that our friends would sniff out the scam instantly, we finally settled on reincarnation. Over the next couple of weeks, I began casually dropping references to past lives into conversations. Most of these passed without comment. A couple of friends looked at me funny, and one of them, W, even asked me about it: “Wait... you believe in reincarnation?” “Yeah, sure.” “But you... oh, never mind.” He was in a hurry and didn’t have time to get into it.

Finally, one evening while we were chatting in the Tavern, my “belief” in reincarnation somehow came up. Most of my friends expressed surprise, then dropped it. But J wouldn’t let go. J, you see, was devoutly religious. Not in a rude or pushy way – he would never beat us over the heads with it – but in a genuine and serious way. J engaged me in a long, spirited discussion on the religious implications of reincarnation. At first, I tried to defend reincarnation on naturalistic grounds (e.g., the conservation of mass and energy means that whatever gives us “life” can’t simply disappear but must continue to exist in some form). But that didn’t last long. To buttress my belief in reincarnation, I was compelled to adopt additional beliefs one by one to avoid getting caught in a contradiction. For example, my claim that some part of “me” could outlast my material body forced me to admit the existence of something akin to a “soul.” And since this soul could not be destroyed (conservation of mass and energy, remember?), I had to admit that this “soul” was immortal. And so on.

As the conversation progressed, a curious expression overtook J.’s face. Disbelief? No, that wasn’t it. I could see it in his eyes: J thought he was witnessing a spiritual conversion! I tried to hold out a while longer, but finally the cognitive dissonance was too great to bear. “I’m sorry, J,” I confessed, “but this is all bullshit!” And I told him all about M’s and my agreement. J’s disappointment was palpable, so much so that I even felt a tiny pang of guilt.

But I got over it.

* It’s not plagiarism, it’s a tribute to Neal!

1 comment:

Jeff Brown said...

That was hysterical.