02 May, 2004

My_Friend, Chapstick, & The Death Of Logic

I was contacted today by an old acquaintance that I haven't spoken to in nearly a year. The IM conversation started as you might imagine it to start -- with friendly banter and an update on one another's status. But, after a slight lull in the conversaton, he mentioned his old girlfriend, Z-. Last I heard, he was about to ask her to marry him. They seemed to be a quite happy couple, and I can recall being very happy for them way back when.

But the conversation was about to take on a rather negative turn.

(The name of my friend and his contemporaris have been changed for the sake of anonymity.)

--begin copied text (w/ minor alterations)--
My_Friend: Back in September, our [Z- and his] friend K- went missing
My_Friend: About 3 weeks later, in early October, they found her body
My_Friend: I flew down for the funeral
My_Friend: And then about a week after that, Z- and her friend D- were arrested for doing it
My_Friend: And they're still in jail, awaiting trial
My_Friend: Bail is in the millions somewhere, so it's out of the question
Eric J Herboso: That... sounds like a rather extreme situation.
My_Friend: You have a gift for understatement, lol
Eric J Herboso: They've been awaiting trial since October?
My_Friend: yeah
My_Friend: They've been waiving the speedy trial thing
My_Friend: To give their lawyers more time to prepare, I guess
My_Friend: It looks like her lawyer is going to the DA with a deal sometime this week
My_Friend: With that deal, it'd be 10 years plus 3, 6, or 11 years, served concurrently
Eric J Herboso: Wow.
My_Friend: If it goes to trial, it could be as much as 50 to life
My_Friend: heh, I had the ring picked out and everything
Eric J Herboso: Compared to fifty years, I suppose a deal would be preferable... But it still seems like such a very large chuck of time.
My_Friend: It's a huge chunk of time
My_Friend: We're 20
My_Friend: That's a longass time
Eric J Herboso: I cannot imagine the progression of dealing with this kind of situation from when you first found out to now...
Eric J Herboso: Just the utter intitial shock of it all would... overwhelm me.
My_Friend: Honestly, things haven't changed too much for me on that front
My_Friend: Everyone was so angry with her
My_Friend: And my first thought was "Fuck. How can I help?"
My_Friend: And that's still basically my only thought, it's just frustrating as hell because there's nothing I can do
Eric J Herboso: For you, this has been a part of your reality for months now. I cannot... cannot even imagine...
My_Friend: yeah, it blows
My_Friend: But I refuse to be unhappy
My_Friend: heh, to quote myself...
My_Friend: "I am invincible. I have to be. I choose to be, because I have no choice."
My_Friend: If I'm not, who will be? I have to hold everything together
Eric J Herboso: I suppose... you may be right at that. Still, I just...
Eric J Herboso: ...wow.
My_Friend: It was an accident, though... just to clarify
Eric J Herboso: What happened?
My_Friend: They were playing a prank on her, trying to scare her a bit. D- brought his gun. For some reason, there were bullets in it and the safety was off. It went off in his hand when Z- and K- both had their backs turned to him. K- got hit in the back of the head. The coroner concluded that she was dead before she hit the ground. Z- saw her body twitching and, thinking she was in pain, shot her again to let her go
--end copied text--

I could not believe my eyes. What a situation to be in....

It really made me think, y'know? About how lucky I am to have all that I do. I mean.... I'm attending college at a small Jesuit institution, I have my entire family begging me to visit them during the summer vacation, I am able to enjoy the company of the love of my life nearly every day, I am financially comfortable and am in perfect health....

Sometimes, I get stressed out by the world around me. By the guy that rearranges ketchup bottles every day, and the distance between myself and the one I care about most... By final exams and healthy vegan meal options... By capitalism and war and -- well, pretty much everything, I guess.

But reading My_Friend's account of what happened with him in the past six months really struck home with me. It made me really think about how appreciative I should be to be in the situation that I am in. Where I am is not that bad at all, actually. I'd go so far as to consider myself quite lucky, in fact.

I am reminded of a previous journal entry I wrote once, a long while back.

(The following is copied (with minor aesthetic corrections) from an earlier journal entry retitled "The Chapstick Conspiracy" made on 15OCT02.)

--begin copied text (w/ minor alterations)--

My lips never chap.

I don't mean to say that my lips are superior to others, but I've never experienced chapped lips.

I never really noticed this fact until I started the dating game oh so many years ago... Nearly every girl I've gone out with, you see, is the type that uses makeup only very sparingly, and only then if the occasion is overly formal. That's just always been my preference with women. Anyway, I noticed the fact that even these women used clear 'lipstick' at times, and I remember asking the purpose of applying lipstick that had no color. I was informed that it wasn't lipstick they were using; rather it was chapstick. I was completely ignorant to even the idea of chapstick back then, so I had to actually ask what the purpose of chapstick was.

It was then that I realized that my lips have never ever in all of my entire life ever been chapped.

Could it be, I remember asking myself, whether chapstick might have an agent in it that makes your lips chapped days later, so as to make a person who uses chapstick addicted to life on the stuff? But no, that was ignorance talking. (At least I hope so.) Still, I've never touched chapstick in all this time. I've refused to kiss people that have chapstick on solely for the fear that perhaps coming into contact with the stuff even once will cause me to purchase chapstick for the rest of my life.

I am a crazy man.

Intellectually, I know there is no 'chapstick conspiracy'. But why then do I still avoid chapstick? Nowadays, when I am offered the stuff, I still say no, but my inner reasoning is because I imagine the stuff will taste or feel nasty on my lips. Never once have I tried it, though. Not even a smidgen. Am I nuts?

Still, you have to admit that I have never had chapped lips, so maybe there is something to my insane strategy here...

::sigh:: No, I'm just crazy, that's all. I think one thing intellectually, and yet I act another way entirely. How can I let this happen to myself? How can I, a totally and completely logical person who thrives on proof and sound reason be reduced to a person that refuses chapstick at all costs?

Perhaps I should try chapstick, just once. That would prove that I believe in reason, and not fantasy.

But is there anything wrong with believing in fantasy? What harm is there in believing that there are gremlins inside your computer? Or that your vehicle has a personality? How is it that I can discriminate so harshly against these things when I myself refuse chapstick? Furthermore, why cannot I just avoid chapstick for the rest of my life and think nothing of it? Why does everything have to turn into an argument with me, even when I am talking to myself?

Ach... There are so many questions, and yet so few answers.

"All or none, Eric."
All or none? What do you mean?
"If you wish to believe in reason, then you must wholly believe in reason. To accept one single flaw is to negate your entire belief."
But why? Is there not room in logic for simple play? Can I not just pretend that there is a chapstick conspiracy?
"Not if you wish to pursue logic. Logic accepts no flaw. One single fallacy makes the entire system fall apart."

::sigh:: I'm right, you know. All or none. And yet I have such a desire for it to be none... Oh, how free I would be if I threw away my logic and flew amongst the faeries, dancing in the wind and singing to the pixies... How wonderful life would be if I never had to argue again, but rather could accept anything I wished as the utmost truth and free from disrepute of any kind... How lovely thou wouldst seem, were reason not my claim to fame...

Alas, I am logical. To a fault.

And yet...

But --
"I said no."

::sigh:: I truly am an intellectual dreamer... I wish for one thing, and yet praise another. But the saddest part is that I know the logic side of me is right, no matter how much I wish the dreaming side were instead. I know that my logic side is right because of infallible arguments. It is impossible to argue against logical truths. I wish it were not so, but wishing does not change anything. Logic conquers all. And there is nothing I can do to stop it.

I think I should be committed. I am, after all, only partly sane. ::sigh:: I am scared to go to a mental health doctor because I am afraid that I would be locked away from society. I am afraid that if a professional were to see the real me, they would be too scared to allow me existence in the public domain.

Perhaps it is this same belief that makes truly too crazy to be allowed outside.

I would never kill anyone. At least I don't think I would. I would like to believe that if my emotional side ever wanted to kill, then my logical side would not permit it. And if my logical side wanted to kill, then my emotional side would not permit it. But what proof have I that such a scenario might pan out in just such a way?

"Eric, I have a hypothetical question for you."
Go ahead.
"If killing were legal, and you would not be punished for murder by society or by survivors of the victim, would you kill?"
Not if I had no reason to.
"Pretend you hated the guy. Would you kill him?"
Killing him would not solve my hatred for him. Rather, I would prefer to convince him that he was wrong and I right in whatever dispute started this hatred.
"What if someone you loved asked you to kill him? Would you do it?"
You mean what if my true love asked me to do it?
"Yes, that is what I mean exactly."
Hell, yes, I would kill him, and without a second thought. For my true love, I would do anything. Anything at all.

I would be committed, wouldn't I?


--end copied text--

Who I am has changed much in the intervening years. Just the other day, I was having an argument (as I am oft wont to do) with my friends at the dinner table, and the topic of logic came up. Said I:
"If I were to drop one french fry from each hand onto the table, how many french fries would then be on the table? Logic would tell us two; but what right has logic to say this? On what basis does logic make this determination? Recall that the reason logic states this is empirical in nature, and not logical."

"But, Eric," they invariably reply, "surely you would not say that 1+1=2 is eexperimental in nature at all! It is perfectly logical to maintain that the concept of 1+1=2 without looking at any physical objects whatsoever!"

"But this is exactly what I am saying! Think about how math originally came to be -- you have these cavemen, and they see one and one come together numerous times, and each time they see it happen, they see two objects as the result. It is from these numrous 'experiments' that simple addition is originally based upon, and nothing more."

"I may grant that fact," Russ admits, "but it does you no help with proving your point. Perhaps humans did come to perceive the concept of simple addition via crude empirical methods, but once discovered, the conception of addition holds true regardless of experimentation."

"You forget that if mathematics is not applied to a thing, then it is purely hypothetical in nature. But I will dismiss that, too, and get to the core of what I am saying. Just because 1+1 has always been shown to equal 2 in the past does not mean that it will continue to do so in the future. I have dropped these friench fries onto the table numerous time already, and each time, after I dropped them, there were two french fries on the table. But so what? I cannot see into the future, and neither can you. How can you say with such utter certainty that the next time I drop the french fries, it will still be two on the table? Is it not possible that after dropping the french fries, there would be three?"

"Of course, it's not possible!" This time it is Jay that speaks up to the defense of reason. "How can you even attempt to maintain such a thing?"

"Let me give an example of what I mean, and perhaps it will be made more clear.

"Imagine a hypothetical universe identical to our own, except for one slight variance: whenever a coin is tossed, it comes up heads 75% of the time. By this, of course, I mean that the chances of anything occurring have been altered in this fashion, and not just coins. A die, for example, would give unequal odds for each face, and so on.

"(To help with the usefulness of this example, consider that if there are multiple universes, then there might exist two universes differing only in the number of heads flipped in relation to tails. While the "true" probability of throwing a head might be 50%, in the first universe, there might be 10 heads thrown for every 9 tails, and in the second, there might be 9 heads thrown for every 10 tails. Following the bell curve of universes with differing coin tosses, there must exist a universe way on the fringe of the bell curve such that in its universe, there might be 10 heads thrown for every 1 tails. You get the idea.)

"Now, imagine how probability would have been observed in this universe. Notice that the first mathematicians would notice the frequency of heads over tails, and they would note the frequency with care. Whereas in our universe, we determined rather early on that the frequency of heads to tails was due to surface area and weight disposition, in this hypothetical universe, an explanation might be longer in coming. But rest assured that they would find an explanation. And I don't mean something magical or mysterious. It would never even be a mystery. It would be commonplace to them, for that is how it would be for them all of the time. And one day in their history, some bright mathematician would "discover" some rule of probability which governs their world, and that rule would be fully consistent with everything else they mathematically 'knew' in that universe.

"Now, if you will admit to the possibility of this situation, and I'm sure that you must, then you must admit to the arbitrary nature that probability in our universe is described by. And if I can make you doubt probability, how far away am I from causing you to doubt simple addition, too?

"If you imagine another hypothetical universe where whenever someone dropped a french fry from each hand onto the table, there was always three french fries on the table afterward, then can you imagine their mathematicians tring to describe their world?

"It is no wonder, then, why I call mathematics arbitrary, and completely dependent upon experiment. And anything dependent upon experiment cannot and should not be counted upon to further apply in the future, even if it always has in the past."

Ever since I first read Gödel in my freshman year of college, I've been torn with the concept of mathematics as either incomplete or inconsistent. It bothered me a great deal. But after delving more and more into Descartes and thinking more and more about what constitutes true reality, I came to the stark realization that I was moving toward something even worse than pure nihlism: I was becoming agnostic in every sense of the word, even in reference to logic.

I have reached a state in this point of my life where even conceptual ideas seem rather suspect, and what little remains of my life is there merely from feeling, rather than thought. I truly am an intellectual dreamer, but in a way different from how I thought I meant it years ago. Instead of the phrase being rather doublespeak in nature, I have come to realize that I intellect those things that I dream.

(I say "come to realize" rather than "have changed to thinking" because in reality, this is what I've been doing all along -- I just never realized it. In Heideggerian terms, I finally 'glimpsed' of the truth of my existence. Of course, don't tell anyone you saw me reference Heidegger -- to be frank, I think he's pretty full of shit.)

Am I fully sane? Probably not. But what has changed is my outlook on the meaning of 'sanity'. What constitutes a sane person is the same conceptualization as what constituted the "better race" so many years ago. The scientific community once accepted and even revered the work of Franz Boas, who "proved" that the white race was superior to all other races, due to brain size. (His findings assumed a bigger brain mass meant a superior being, and it also assumed that the shape of the cranium was a final determinant of brain size. Both assumptions are untrue.) But one cannot look at what amounts of some chemical most people have in their brains, and then say that other people with differing amounts must have a "chemical imbalance". It is imbalanced precisely because the conderation for "well-balanced" people is what the majority of people have. Now, I'm not saying that different levels of chemicals do not affect things, but I am saying that the decision of which is correct is determined not by science, but by the arbitrary definition of what most people have.

Would I kill a person, if everything wrong with killing were removed? Probably not. But what has changed is not my thought processes, but rather my definition of 'right' and 'wrong'. I admit that my consideration of what is 'right' has come to me via a rather awkward route of Nietzsche, but at least I have that concept of morality now. Given the same set of questions as before, I can honestly say that I would still not kill. Not because of Kant's categorical imperative, or Plato's idea of The Good, but because I chose my own horizon, and its view of morality is such that I cannot kill.

Does that make me hypocritical, what with my horizon being arbitrary and all? I don't think it does. The reason I say this is because it is my horizon, and I am within it. To me, it is not arbitrary at all, for it has already been chosen. It is like Lincoln saying "four score and seven years ago", or Machiavelli advising rulers to build their castle walls with bricks sticking out on the sides. I know that this sparse explanation is not enough to explain what I mean, but I must postpone a full explanation of why I think it is not arbitrary until another day. And I promise to tie up the loose end of Lincoln and Machiavelli when I do that, too.

Until then, I have final exams to study for.... ::sigh::

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