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making sense of the absurd

By Liar in Culture
Wed May 16, 2007 at 12:00:00 PM EST
Tags: absurdity, religion, science, everything in between (all tags)

1. You're about 60 years old and you've spent your entire life as a carpenter. You come home one day after a long backbreaking day spent planing a piece of wood. Your young bride has some news for you. She's pregnant. Now, you haven't slept with her (at your age the only wood you play with is at the office) and so you ask, "Who have you been sleeping with?" She says, "No one." Do you:

    A) Call her a lying slut.
    B) Say to yourself, "Joseph, we must remember the Lord works in mysterious ways."
    C) Say to her, "I don't believe you but this better be the LAST son of God."

With this audience, it's an easy guess that most people will go with option A). In fact, I'd hazard a guess that even if we know that Mary (the mother) is a virgin bearing God's child, many of us still would go with that option. My goal in this discursion is not to convince you that the other options are reasonable, viable, or are even true but rather to try to examine a bit more closely the role absurdity has in life and perhaps to encourage people to be more forgiving of the absurdities embraced by others. It's fun to examine the blatant absurdities so let's chuckle a bit more at this slice stolen from Wikipedia:
    2. Seventy-five million years ago, Xenu was the ruler of a Galactic Confederacy which consisted of 26 stars and 76 planets including Earth, which was then known as Teegeeack. The planets were overpopulated, each having on average 178 billion people. The Galactic Confederacy's civilization was comparable to our own, with people "walking around in clothes which looked very remarkably like the clothes they wear this very minute" and using cars, trains and boats looking exactly the same as those "circa 1950, 1960" on Earth.
I guess if I were to found a religion, I'd hope for something better than bad science fiction as its basis and yet Scientology continues to grow. Suddenly, declaring oneself a follower of Jedi practices doesn't seem quite so absurd.

This is fun. Let's try something perhaps a bit more close to home.
    3. We can prove that the earth moves through the heavens by examination of tides.
Is this an absurd statement? Well, knowing what we know now, it is. In 1632, Galileo did not seem to think it absurd. In part, it was for holding the theory that tidal action proves the motion of the earth that Galileo was committed to house arrest while others who proposed theories compatible with both Galileo's and the accepted doctrine experienced no such persecution.

But 3. is an interesting statement. We might think of it as absurd because it is incompatible with other (and better) explanations for the motion of the earth. But if absurdity was merely about theoretical compatibility or with accordance to reality, then we could say that all lies are absurd. But let's look at the next statement:
    4. That dress doesn't make you look fat.
There's not a husband alive who would call it absurd to utter that statement when it is false. Or...
    5. Generals will hold command on alternating days.
This was one of the policies held by the Roman Republic during the Hannibalic wars and part of the reason for some of their more spectacular defeats early in that conflict. It's also a ridiculously absurd proposition.

Absurdity is not demarcated by either truth or utility. Absurdity, according to the philosopher Søren Kirkegaard who is one of the men most closely associated with it's technical use, implies a state where an proposition is ultimately not backed by reason. Kirkegaard would later claim that all activities involve an act of faith and therefore all human activity is marked by absurdity. Let's keep this nugget in the back of our mind for now. Instead, let's be bold and propose a more audacious absurdity:
    6. 2 + 2 = 4
I could spend an entire essay pointing out the absurdity of both this statement as well as a permutation like "2 + 2 = 5". However, to get there, let's take a look at a similar statement and measure it's level of absurdity.
    7. Parallel lines never meet.
    8. The sum of the interior angles of a triangle is 180°.
Well, these aren't quite accurate. There's an implicit constraint on these statements that they are true only in euclidean (planar) geometry. In non-euclidean geometry, these statements can take wild turns. For example, on the surface of a sphere like our own planet, we can start at the north pole, walk south 1 mile, east 1 mile and north 1 mile and return exactly to our starting point. Our turns were approximately right angles and our return also consists of a right angle, meaning that the triangle we walked had interior angles summing up to almost 270° (to the nit-picky, this isn't strictly true--in order to get exactly 270°, we'd need to walk all the way down to the equator, but I'm too lazy to walk that far). And while we're talking about the globe, we can observe the long parallel longitudinal lines to see that they can indeed meet twice: once at each pole. In other more intriguing spaces, such as lobechevskian space whose shape is often compared to that of a saddle, we can find parallel lines that intersect exactly once. And if the real-world example of the globe isn't enough to discredit the universality of propositions 7 & 8, we could look at the math supporting Einstein's theory of special relativity which relies on non-euclidean math to derive its results.

The universe does not adhere to our arbitrary attributions of triangles and parallel lines, even if life would be so much easier to understand were they the case. It's not that 7 & 8 apply situationally that makes them absurd, it's that they are extremely arbitrary in their situational use. Under one set of circumstances, one geometry applies. In another circumstance, different and incompatible models must be used for little other reason than the math only works that way.

Let's take a look at one more example which I think we all accept as true, but few of us (and certainly not me) can really explain:
    9. If I turn on a flashlight while going 99% the speed of light, it doesn't emit at 199% the speed of light.
I accept this statement as true because a lot of bright people I know accept this as true. It is neither practical, convenient, nor affordable for me to spend the years of study that I could to verify this statement--not just in study of the math but also the time in doing the experiments. Such a fantastic proposition is the culmination of a great deal of thought by capable thinkers and because it's easier in my life to focus on things other than special relativity I explain away two contradictory statements that 99+100=199 and 99+100=100. And yet, isn't this considered an eerliy orwellian phenomena?

We assume that science is nowhere near doublethink. If I were a pessimist, I could say that I was bribed by the fruits of science through it's application in medicine, cell phones, and television to accept whatever lie the scientific community agreed to impose, like, say, that man is nothing special and is a branch of the primate tree. The argument that anyone can reproduce the experiments in order to validate the results has obviously never tried to build a cylcotron at home. Such tools are reserved for the highest in the scientific order who have achieved a great enough ranking in the orthodoxy to be permitted the right to use its sanctum sanctorum and to thereby explain the nature of the universe to the laity. I am not a pessimist, though and such conspiracies are as thoroughly absurd as the idea of a faked moon landing.

But this does display a fundamental difficulty with scientific explanations. As science has progressed, its explanations have become increasingly less common sensical while claiming to be more reasonable. It is not non sense, but they are intelligible only by accepting a reality that is only superficially experienced by our normal senses.
    10. Even the most dense materials are mostly empty space.
    11. Light behaves as a particle and a wave.
    12. "In mathematics, particularly differential geometry, a Finsler manifold is a differentiable manifold M with a Banach norm defined over each tangent space such that the Banach norm as a function of position is smooth."
It does little good to rail against them and say they make no sense. To those who accept these propositions, they make perfectly clear sense. But to those who do not accept them, it will take a great deal of effort to have them make sense. And yet, for some people, there is nothing more important to them than in having the whole world accept particular truths.

The difficulty in this is that absurdity has a great deal of pragmatic utility. Robert Frost once quipped that writing free verse (non-rhyming, unmetered poetry) was akin to playing tennis with the net down. For Frost, the arbitrariness of structured verse was both a barrier in poetry as well as its essence. The structure demonstrates the worthiness of the appellation "poet" better than an environment where there is no challenge. There is a lesson here for absurdism: the world's absurdity demands greater attention. Routine and de jour is humdrum; the absurd captivates our imagination. Drew Curtis has made a profession of pointing out the hundreds of corner cases that defy our day-to-day experience starting with a well-hung squirrel to hundreds of daily submissions from the strange and abnormal factoids of the world. Surely there is a reasonability to each and every Darwin award nominee, but maybe that reason is just stupid; no doubt each case is classic absurdity.

Two different approaches of absurdity seem common. The first is incredulity often accompanied by a feeling of superiority for not having been in the middle of such circumstances. The second approach is curiousity. For those of a scientific mind, this is the most common approach. If spacetime behaves in a noneuclidean way, we could dismiss it as those of the first incredulous behavior or we could explore it and find greater awe in the natural world. This respectful, sisyphean approach is a tricky approach: on one side is a universe which could exist no other way except where 99+100=100 but on the other side is Xenu. For many of us, we'd prefer to be curious about 99+100=100 but dismissive of Xenu or even the Christ story. And while I would concede that, I cannot help but be moved by stained glass windows and the work of John Milton. Could we have had these without all of the religious orthodoxy? Perhaps but perhaps not. The tragedy of this is that perhaps our most deeply embraced absurdities give us the ability to do better than without. Perhaps Beethoven could have written his Ninth Symphony if he had not lost his hearing, but I doubt it.

I'm a fairly secular Catholic and it's not revelatory experience that moves me but contemplation of the absurdity of my faith. For example, by accepting transubstantiation, I know I'm a cannibal but I also know that sharing a loaf of bread with some stranger in a restaurant can never create the same degree of fellowship as the experience of eating a dry biscuit and sipping some bad wine in church. I look out at the secular world and see much less fellowship; there's hardly a compelling reason to completely abandon what is otherwise a ridiculous and savage tradition. Call me weak-willed, but a stronger will recognizes the propositions which I hold true as absurdly important, importantly absurd, and such a will is much stronger than the will to reject the basic absurdity inherent in just about everything in existence in the first place.

The world is absurdity. Embracing absurdity, it would seem, is no laughing matter. But I'd like to make one final absurdist claim:
    14. There will be some who object to my nonstandard capitalization in the title or the absence of a proposition numbered 13.
The latter because I have no problem being superstitious about harmless things.


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Related Links
o Xenu
o examinatio n of tides
o others
o 2 + 2 = 4
o Parallel lines
o lobechevsk ian
o eerliy orwellian phenomena
o a Finsler manifold
o some people
o Drew Curtis
o sisyphean approach
o Also by Liar

Display: Sort:
making sense of the absurd | 80 comments (62 topical, 18 editorial, 3 hidden)
on the absurdity of faith (2.60 / 10) (#3)
by circletimessquare on Thu May 17, 2007 at 12:15:45 AM EST

i've had a change of heart on religion

it's something along the line's of seneca's famous quote:

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful"

of course, religion is a crock of shit, but it makes no sense in pointing that out. just accept it. if all of the world's religions were magically annhilated today, poeple would not all suddenly become tolerant loving secular humanists. new religions would simply spring into being to fill the void. because venal intolerant social conservatism and the zealous desire to enforce that on other people is just an unfortunate, undeniable ugly trait of humanity.

religion is a phenomenon of human social existence, and it is never going away. think of people in groups as a sociological experiment: religion emerges from it. always. you need to make peace with the fact it exists... you do NOT need to make peace with the fact that it should dominate your life. the point is to endlessly disallow the religious twits from controlling the government, but you can never eradicate religion, and so ultraconservative twits hellbent on dominating you will always spring anew, and must always be smacked down anew, for all time going forward

and, i actually view the "wise" in the seneca quote to be the defective ones, not the common people

for example, consider the movie "rain man", where the autisitc savant in the movie can read into a 7 card shoe at a casino, but thinks a candy bar and a car both cost about $100. in one respect he is a genius, in another respect he is a moron

same with those who laugh at religion. i call these people brittle literalists, or socially autistic: it's not a matter of how truthful religion is, it is a matter of how useful it is. duh.

it's like going to a wedding and knowing from her past that the bride is a promiscuous slut, and keeping your mouth shut and your face straight when the groom talks about her purity and innocence: you do it out of social intelligence

if the groom were delivering that speech, and some twit stood up in the middle of the speech and said "no, actually she's a crackwhore slut who sucks off 5 guys at a time" is that twit an intelligent person in your mind?

well, he's telling the truth, but is he SMART?

no, of course not. well: same with brittle emotionally autistic eggheads who think pointing out that there is no invisble skyman is supposed to be important!

if some people need to believe in invisible skymen in order to believe right and wrong should be respected, for crying out loud, shut the fuck up and keep a straight face. yes, you and i act moral because it is important for a cohesive society and your own well being. some people aren't so deep thinking as you and i though. so if invisible skymen is what keeps them from raping or killing or buying a paris hilton cd, then for crying the fuck out loud, let them have their invisible skymen!

what's mor eimportant to you? social cohesion? or being brittle and literal about every fucking thing in life? in a way, that's a form of fundamentalism: not alloiwng othe rpeople to think in ways different from you. well, if some guy is a good decent man who never hurts anyone his entire life, but happens to believe in an invisble skyman, i have a WHOLE hell of a lot more respect for him than some venal egghead who has to prosecute the guy just on that stupid point about his life

of COURSE there are rleigious assholes who do great evil in the name of religion. point is, prosecute them, not the religion! not the 99% who believe in invisible skymen and never hurt a fly. get it?

in other words, for the sake of a handful of socially inept eggheads arranging their world according to being 100% matehmatically pure, i am not ready to deny the legions more less literally intelligent their invisible skymen, just for the sake of cognitive dissonance of some fucking egghead. i'd rather tell the eggheads not to be so socially inept, and just shut the fuck up already. we get it. there is no skyman. duh. now shut the fuck up already, because you don't fuckign get the more important point:

yes, you are right. but just like the twit who has to announce to the world that it is a slut getting married to mr. naive and clueless, sometimes being right isn't the fucking point

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Agree and Disagree (3.00 / 5) (#10)
by virg on Thu May 17, 2007 at 10:23:16 AM EST

I tend to agree with your points, but you've got a flaw in your logic, and that's in the "not the 99% who believe in invisible skymen and never hurt a fly" part. The problem is that the invisible skyman keeps them from raping and killing perhaps, but they also go to the polls and vote to outlaw gay marriage because the invisible skyman's agents told them to do it. It's this sort of thing that leaves me little choice but to decry religion if I'm pressed to it. Prosecuting the big offenders doesn't prevent the thousand little influences that jump up from the thousands of believers who "wouldn't hurt a fly" but use their collective actions to mold society to their skyman's glory. I'll stop hassling the religious everyman when selling alcohol on a Sunday or marrying more than one person is no longer punishable by jail time.

"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
well said (2.00 / 3) (#11)
by circletimessquare on Thu May 17, 2007 at 10:31:55 AM EST

however, if people are dimwitted, they are dimwitted. not much you can do about it. yes, they are manipulated by the fundamentalists, but if you remove the fundamentalists, they will merely be manipulated by someone else with an equally unsavory agenda. it is a constant across all human cultures and all human periods of history that a lot of weak willed ill-informed dim-witted folk are readily avaiable to lend supprt to the vilest bullshit

what can you do about it? do what the wise have always done: count on the support of the enlightened. and if that's not enough, that's not enough. life is not certain, and sometimes the ignorant win. but not forever, and not completely

i guess in a way i'm a manichean: the struggle between good and evil is balanced, and never settled, and always ongoing

so maybe i'm not against religion, so much as a champion of a dead religion killed by the monotheists! ;-P

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

by the example (none / 1) (#22)
by raduga on Thu May 17, 2007 at 12:02:54 PM EST

of your beliefs, your life, and your path,
YOU, CircleTimesSquare, serve as one of the most excellent arguments for why neither good nor evil should prevail.

If you win, we are lost.

If you lose, we are lost.

If I were a theist, I'd thank God for you;
as it is, I can only thank you.

[ Parent ]

my ass contains truth nt (none / 0) (#25)
by circletimessquare on Thu May 17, 2007 at 01:27:04 PM EST

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]
easy solution (none / 0) (#53)
by ishark on Sat May 19, 2007 at 04:25:18 AM EST

what can you do about it?

Well, the answer comes immediately to mind after reading your first paragraph: you can manipulate them.
After all, if most of the people can be manipulated by fundamentalists for their own ends, why not join the game and manipulate them for your own ends?

[ Parent ]

The short answer to "why not"... (2.50 / 2) (#55)
by debillitatus on Sat May 19, 2007 at 01:23:21 PM EST

is "CTS is totally and completely full of shit".

Damn you and your daily doubles, you brigand!
[ Parent ]

presumably unless there were secular reasons (2.75 / 4) (#12)
by Liar on Thu May 17, 2007 at 10:41:13 AM EST

For example, in Mexico, no alcohol is sold on election day ostensibly because they don't want drunkards at the polls. One could argue that since alcohol is bad for people that it's in society's interest to encourage moderation by, say, perhaps making it more difficult to acquire on one day a week to give people the smallest opportunity to step out of their stupor and perhaps decide to quit.

Alternatively, bans against polygamy may be reflecting the basic human need for companionship--a sort of "spread the wealth" strategy for husbands and wives. Thus, it's as much of a social norm than a religious prohibition.

Just because it's mentioned in the Bible doesn't make it a bad thing. That's part of my point. Yes, it is seemingly arbitrary and absurd but a little acceptance and a little reflection will sometimes make it easier to understand and even a little easier to know how to limit it just as accepting the concept of gravity is what permits us to fly.

I think you have a problem with those who do no such contemplation at all and those come in all religious or irreligious persuasions.

I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
you seem to be positing (2.33 / 3) (#45)
by postDigital on Fri May 18, 2007 at 09:30:34 AM EST

that religion tends to stunt humans' moral development, incapacitating its advancement past a pre-adolescence stage.

If you act humanely only because you think you'll get to live forever doing it, your morality is predicated on the same logic of an eight year old child who eats their broccoli, because its the only steep and narrow path to desert.

A human adult's morality should based upon a realistic sense of {right/wrong}-+-{good/evil}, not a distorted notion of crime and punishment, borne from a fantasy so improbable, betting your 401-K savings on the lottery is a solid investment in comparison.

[ Parent ]
Positation (none / 0) (#46)
by virg on Fri May 18, 2007 at 09:53:50 AM EST

I'll revise my comment to change how I meant the directives thusly:

It's this sort of thing that leaves me little choice but to decry religion in governance if I'm pressed to it.

I'll stop hassling the religious everyman about influencing politics when selling alcohol on a Sunday or marrying more than one person is no longer punishable by jail time.

That makes it closer to my original meaning. I don't think that using religion as a personal moral guide is infantile at all, I think that making laws to force society at large to conform to your religious beliefs because your skyman said so is wrong. You'd have a hard time convincing me that polygamy is illegal in the U.S. for any reason other than the fact that it's against Christian doctrine, and Blue Laws were written because church temperance leagues fought to put them in place.

"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
It all makes sense now (3.00 / 5) (#32)
by Sgt York on Thu May 17, 2007 at 02:41:16 PM EST

cts is a closet Bokononist. TO THE HOOK WITH HIM!

(and yes, I recently found an old box full of novels. Among them was some Vonnegut.)

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

Eh. (none / 0) (#56)
by Ravear on Sat May 19, 2007 at 07:49:07 PM EST

"i've had a change of heart on religion"

Well said. It's not much of a logical argument. "Go along with the crowd because it's rly gud & if u dont ur defective."

[ Parent ]

Boronx (none / 0) (#73)
by Boronx on Wed May 30, 2007 at 04:42:40 AM EST

Because the problems of the world are too great and too pressing for people to go on thinking, like children, that Daddy is looking out for them in some sense.
[ Parent ]
disagree (none / 0) (#78)
by eraserewind on Tue Jun 12, 2007 at 08:34:56 AM EST

of COURSE there are rleigious assholes who do great evil in the name of religion. point is, prosecute them, not the religion! not the 99% who believe in invisible skymen and never hurt a fly. get it?
Unfortunately you can't reasonably expect to prosecute somebody who does something in the name of religion so long as that religion is seen as having a monopoly on truth and right, particularly when a majority happen to believe it. That's not to say there isn't a time and a place, but really just because it's inappropriate to harp on about something at certain particular times, doesn't mean it has to be dropped entirely, or that pursuing it with vigor is something to be necessarily sneered at. Secondly, the liberty you have to be so casual about religion is because people have pursued the point. Your "skyman" talk would have had you burned alive in the not so distant past.

[ Parent ]
absurdity is to difficult to understand (1.50 / 2) (#5)
by United Fools on Thu May 17, 2007 at 12:41:20 AM EST

We have trouble understanding something so abstract...

We are united, we are fools, and we are America!
Regarding the speed of light (2.66 / 12) (#14)
by MichaelCrawford on Thu May 17, 2007 at 10:53:41 AM EST

You pointed out that the light from a flashlight moving at 99% of the speed of light doesn't go at 199% of the speed as one would expect.

It was originally thought that it would; it was found otherwise by an experiment that went unexplained until Einstein formulated the Special Theory of Relativity.

It's very easy to demonstrate the wave nature of light, for example by punching two tiny pinholes in a piece of foil, then shining a light through them. The light will diffract around the edges of the holes, that is, it will be bent outwards by them.

If you then place a light-colored surface a little ways behind the foil, you'll see interference fringes, that is, patterns of light and dark caused by the light waves either adding to each other, or cancelling each other out.

However, most kinds of wave motion are movements of some kind of medium - ocean waves have water for its medium. Light seems to not require a medium, because it can be transmitted through a vacuum.

Before Einstein, it was speculated that some as-yet undetected substance called "the ether" was the medium light waves propagated through.

A couple physicists named Michelson and Morley had the idea that they could find the velocity at which the Earth traveled through the ether by measuring the speed of light in various directions. But what they found was that the speed of light was constant in every direction! This despite the fact that the Earth was known to rotate, and to orbit about the Sun.

I won't go into the details (which I'm afraid I've mostly forgotten), but Einstein suggested that we should just assume the speed of light is always constant, even if we are moving relative to its source, and that the laws of physics always remain the same even if one is moving at a constant, linear velocity.

This is called the Principle of Relativity. If one makes this assumption, it can be shown that both time and distance are altered if one is moving. If one travels at great speed, one experiences only a short interval of time while those who remain at rest experience a long interval. Also those who remain at rest observe that one who is moving is compressed along the direction of movement.

Now, for the really cool part... if you use the principle of relativity to calculate what happens to an electric field whose source is in motion, you find that a new field arises that goes in circles around its direction of motion. This is the magnetic field.

And if you oscillate a charged particle back and forth, it will have an oscillating electric field that, when relativity is taken into account, generates an oscillating magnetic field. The oscillating magnetic field generates an oscillating electric field in turn.

This turns out to be classical physics' explanation of light propagation - the interacting fields propagate each other, without any medium or ether being involved!

From the same principle of relativity it is straightforward to derive that mass can be converted to energy according to the formula E=mC^2, where C is the speed of light. It's a very large number, and a collossal one when squared. This is what powers atomic bombs - the mass that the Hiroshima bomb converted to energy was about as heavy as an American ten cent piece.

Special Relativity is "Special" because it only considers the case of unaccellerated, linear motion. Some years later Einstein followed this up by the Principle of General Relativity, which called for the equivalence of gravity and accelleration.

That is, if you were in a closed room and could feel your weight pulling you towards the floor, there would be no way for you to know whether it was due to gravity, or due to the room being accellerated upwards.

The mathematics of General Relativity is much more complex; Special Relativity is a topic for freshman physics, but General Relativity is usually taught in graduate school.

Looking for some free songs?

Mostly right. (2.40 / 5) (#27)
by vectro on Thu May 17, 2007 at 02:16:49 PM EST

I don't know anything about the classical explanation for light diffraction, but I do know that you've got E=MC2 wrong.

The idea is not so much that you can convert mass to energy, so much as that they are the same thing; mass just represents stored energy, or energy represents potential mass. If you compress a spring, its mass will increase (infintessimally, of course).

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]

Boronx (none / 0) (#74)
by Boronx on Wed May 30, 2007 at 04:46:16 AM EST

...light from a flashlight moving at 99% of the speed of light doesn't go at 199% of the speed as one would expect. This statement isn't true because it's absurd to specify the velocity of the flashlight so.
[ Parent ]
+1 FP for the lulz (3.00 / 1) (#16)
by duckroll on Thu May 17, 2007 at 10:59:26 AM EST

I didn't read it but I noticed you referenced my seminal paper.

loved that article /nt (none / 0) (#18)
by Liar on Thu May 17, 2007 at 11:07:53 AM EST

I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
You haven't got it right. (2.88 / 9) (#23)
by starX on Thu May 17, 2007 at 01:03:40 PM EST

What makes you think that Joseph just accepted the situation? In Matthew I:19-I:24 we are given an image of Joseph as being visibly distraught. He knows that the penalty for infidelity would be stoning, and he loves his new wife. For whatever reason. He doesn't want any harm to come to her, but knows that he can't keep her, and is desperate to come to some solution, and decides that it will be best to send her away and pursue a quiet divorce. Until the Angel of the Lord intervenes, of course.

Mark and John don't include the Nativity, and Luke doesn't say anything about Joseph's role in the Incarnation, so from the only Biblical source that does tell Joseph's story, I would argue that your interpretation is a bit off. Before you can examine the absurdity in any text, and I am speaking from the literary point of view and not the religious, you'll need to pay closer attention to the texts themselves.  

"I like you starX, you disagree without sounding like a fanatic from a rock-solid point of view. Highfive." --WonderJoust

well, i'm casting you in the role of joseph (3.00 / 4) (#24)
by Liar on Thu May 17, 2007 at 01:22:49 PM EST

I'm not talking about the historical person and what he actually did. I'm talking about how you would react to the news that your wife is claiming an immaculate conception.

I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
And that's part of the problem (3.00 / 5) (#26)
by starX on Thu May 17, 2007 at 02:05:15 PM EST

It's out of context speculation. Absurdity is always specific to a given event. Go back in time to 1776, and I'm sure George Washington would fine George Bush II's foreign policy patently absurd. Then again, he would also take similar issue with Wilson and Roosevelt (both). Lacking specific context, you can't make judgments as to what does or does not make sense within a given context.

You are, for example, casting "me" as Joseph, but you don't know anything about me. Furthermore, since you are leaving so much unsaid (who's my leading lady?), you're leaving too much to my imagination to do so successfully. In a specific context, it makes a great deal of sense. In another specific context, it does not. The details are everything.

I'm talking about how you would react to the news that your wife is claiming an immaculate conception

The Immaculate Conception is actually what led Mary to be born without sin. What you're talking about is the Incarnation of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit within the body of the Virgin Mary. Again, the details.

"I like you starX, you disagree without sounding like a fanatic from a rock-solid point of view. Highfive." --WonderJoust
[ Parent ]

Not really out of context (2.75 / 4) (#29)
by Liar on Thu May 17, 2007 at 02:24:05 PM EST

It's absurd even within context--that the universe and the deity would operate in such a way. Absurdity doesn't imply that something is meritless. It's absurd that race car drivers cannot speed on the roads while a police officer of less skill is permitted to do so. Curfews are absurd. The need for law is absurd. Unprecidented miracle conceptions are absurd.

Your focusing too much on this and missing the entire point of the discussion. Anyway, best of luck to you.

I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Let me try again (2.75 / 4) (#33)
by starX on Thu May 17, 2007 at 03:16:58 PM EST

It's absurd even within context

It is ONLY possible for something to be absurd within a given context.

that the universe and the deity would operate in such a way.

No... no it isn't.

Absurdity doesn't imply that something is meritless.

True. Absurdity, as such, is a tool that artists of many sorts have used to demonstrate a truth behind the mask. To intentionally create an absurd situation for the purposes of revealing inner truths, real truths, universal truths, whatever academic-sounding buzz word you want to use, fueled an entire movement in the arts.

It's absurd that race car drivers cannot speed on the roads while a police officer of less skill is permitted to do so.

No; the race car driver is used to driving within a very limited context where certain things, including an elevated amount of risk, are a given. Police officers are, in the best of circumstances, trained to drive at higher speeds on common roadways while responding to emergencies, and perhaps more importantly, civilian drivers are trained to get out of their way.

Curfews are absurd.

In what context? Are you suggesting it is absurd for a parent to regulate when their child should be home in bed?

The need for law is absurd.

That statement is, in and of itself, absurd. The need for law enforcement could be seen as a lamentable commentary on the human condition, but even in a perfect situation where there was no need for such enforcement, everyone would still be following laws. In a perfect world, everyone knows those laws, understands their reasoning, sees their necessity, and obeys them of their own volition. It would be impossible for anything without rules governing behavior, and not just in the sense of ethics or jurisprudence. The universe itself is governed by laws of physics, if the basic building blocks of energy and matter didn't behave in a certain way, you as a human being would simply not be possible.

Unprecidented miracle conceptions are absurd.

First of all, there was precedent. Second of all, I can imagine a context in which it makes sense. The event is only absurd within a certain context. The idea, for example, that God would Incarnate himself in the body of a virgin, is absurd in a context that does not acknowledge the existence of a God. It is also absurd in a context that does not acknowledge the existence of virginity, and I'm sure I could find several people willing to argue that both of those contexts are absurd within the confines of the world you and I perceive.

Your focusing too much on this and missing the entire point of the discussion.

No I'm not. Your discussion is predicated on accepting statements that are simply not true. I'm ignoring the rest of your discussion because you haven't even got the introduction of your argument right.

"I like you starX, you disagree without sounding like a fanatic from a rock-solid point of view. Highfive." --WonderJoust
[ Parent ]

That explains it (3.00 / 2) (#35)
by Liar on Thu May 17, 2007 at 03:44:46 PM EST

I'll bet you didn't realize this article was ultimately a defense of the Christ and Xenu story. Look at it this way: you say that I got Joseph's position wrong when I never really talk about Joseph's position. Then you say that I'm providing incomplete information about the virgin birth when I'm intentionally making the time and location of the story ambiguous. Actually, I was going to present this story in modern day Albany, but decided to leave just enough details that the story would be familiar, wanting to put the emphasis on what you would do if presented with this situation.

You're assuming I'm talking about Jesus and the gospels. I'm not. I'm talking about the presence of immaculate conception itself--a proposition that strains credulity to modern sensibility.

I suspect that I cannot convince you of this, but I'd encourage you to be more openminded to understanding what a person is talking before imposing a strict interpretation. You might even be able to read this piece as a defense of religious convictions, which ultimately it is.

I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
You're not paying attention (3.00 / 3) (#37)
by starX on Thu May 17, 2007 at 04:47:02 PM EST

Your understanding of absurdity itself is what I'm calling into question. I don't care about defending religious convictions or supporting any interpretations of anything. I'm saying that your piece is factually inaccurate. And yes, you are talking about Jesus and the Gospels. You cite the Nativity directly in your opening.

And why should the Immaculate Conception perforce strain credulity when every Roman Catholic, as a matter of the doctrine of their faith, professes belief in this doctrine? Keep in mind that Immaculate Conception itself refers to being born without "original sin," which is in and of itself unquantifiable.

There are too many logical fallacies in everything you've said here for me to want to continue. To try arguing logical points with someone who is so outwardly logical would be absurd :P

"I like you starX, you disagree without sounding like a fanatic from a rock-solid point of view. Highfive." --WonderJoust
[ Parent ]

more interested in talking than understanding? (3.00 / 3) (#38)
by Liar on Thu May 17, 2007 at 05:07:40 PM EST

interestingly enough, I offer a definition of absurdity and a virgin birth does indeed qualify under that definition. You've called nothing into question.

I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Stoning (none / 0) (#70)
by Xptic on Thu May 24, 2007 at 04:40:49 AM EST

During that time, the Romans controlled the government there.  To stone his bride, he would have fallen afoul of Roman law.

When the adulteress was brought before Jesus, they were trying to get him to say that Jewish law was more important than Roman law.  That would have given the Romans a reason to kill him.  If he had said Roman law is more important, the Jews would have lost respect for him.

His response was that, if the priests had caught her in the act, why had they not stoned her right away.  If you allow someone to get away with a crime, you are also guilty.  Adultery is so wrong in Mosaic law that God demanded they stone her right away.  They didn't.  Therefore, they were allowing her to commit adultery.

Everyone standing before Jesus at that moment (at least the ones claiming to have caught her) were guilty of adultery.

[ Parent ]

Interesting argument (none / 0) (#72)
by starX on Fri May 25, 2007 at 04:08:32 PM EST

But my understanding is that Romans typically allowed the populations they conquered to continue to practice their own law as long as they didn't run afoul of Roman law, and so there were effectively two governments. Pilate, for example, tried passing Jesus to Herod for punishment because Jewish law would not allow for his execution, and Roman law did. Joseph could therefore punish his wife without running afoul of Roman law.

Also, important distinction: Roman law applied to Roman citizens. If a client populace committed a crime against a Roman citizen, they could be expected to be punished under Roman law, and as Mary was not a Roman citizen, this would not apply. Roman citizens would likewise be punished for committing a crime under the auspices of Roman law, which was likely to turn a blind eye to the plight of what it viewed as a slave population. But Joseph, of course, wasn't a Roman citizen, so that doesn't really matter.

The only other reason for the intervention of Roman law would in circumstances where the client government was unable to maintain order. Chaos is bad for business, after all, but I don't think that Joseph stoning his wife would have fallen under this category.

More to my point, if Joseph had made a big to do about divorcing Mary, he would have had to explain his actions, and with her becoming heavy with child (as they used to say), the reason would have soon become apparent. As you said, Jewish law was not especially forgiving, so if Joseph did not wish her to be killed, he would need to keep the whole matter quiet.

I need to find a reference on Roman law governing provincial subjects now...

"I like you starX, you disagree without sounding like a fanatic from a rock-solid point of view. Highfive." --WonderJoust
[ Parent ]

And the angel said 'Mary, let God into your life.. (3.00 / 3) (#36)
by it certainly is on Thu May 17, 2007 at 04:09:19 PM EST

...and your pants'

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.

Epsitemology is funny thing (3.00 / 3) (#40)
by spooked on Fri May 18, 2007 at 12:35:34 AM EST

And the discourse of western scientism isn't without its faults. However, it seems to me that you're stating that absurdity for you is the realization that something that seems simple and/or common is at second glance complex and strange. Like when you notice that the literal connotation doesn't grok well, and then the sudden strangeness of understanding the symbolic denotation. Just layers, nothing too absurd.

not quite (2.00 / 3) (#41)
by Liar on Fri May 18, 2007 at 02:33:32 AM EST

Did you find it unsatisfactory when you asked your parents why you couldn't do something and they said, "Because I said so!" Well, the universe does that to us all the time.

I'm a fan of Kirkegaard's definition, that absurdity is more or less that which lacks a reason. For example, we can explain that nothing may go faster than the speed of light, but we fail to explain why that must be the case. There's no reason for it, that's just how the universe is constructed. It's an arbitrary and seemingly capricious rule.

I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
really? (2.50 / 2) (#48)
by livus on Fri May 18, 2007 at 10:03:30 AM EST

to me this implies that you conceptualised your parents' comments as causing what was really the cause of the comments; is this really the case?

HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]
Just because it isn't apparent (2.75 / 4) (#51)
by spooked on Sat May 19, 2007 at 12:01:35 AM EST

doesn't mean it doesn't exist or lacks a reason.

And besides, that line of inquiry doesn't work. Knowledge doesn't seem to be based on flawless foundations but -at best- coherency. Which permits a God, whereas straight foundationalist reasoning wouldn't.

Which is why I find it funny, that both you and Kirkegaard adhere to both Christian dogma and, seemingly, foundationalist epistemological views. Not too funny though.

[ Parent ]
well (none / 1) (#57)
by Liar on Sat May 19, 2007 at 08:02:07 PM EST

inherent in your first sentence is an enormous assumption that all things have reasons and that's a pretty big assumption.

Why must F=ma? Why does matter exist? Why is the speed of light 186,000 miles/second and not 300,000 miles/second?

Now, you can make an assumption that there are reasons behind these things, but that's exactly the type of leap of faith that Kirkegaard is talking about.

I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Granted. (2.66 / 3) (#59)
by spooked on Sun May 20, 2007 at 04:09:41 AM EST

Yes, there are about a dozen logical assumptions one must make. Things exist, they are causally connected some how, &c. F only equals ma in a very specific dialog [western scientism] and it's not that it must be so, but that it appears to be so. It could be different but it isn't. In fact it may be different, but not in this branch of the universe at this moment.

As for matter, why does it exist? No one knows. Thus a more useful question might be what is matter? or better yet what is the fundamental substance of reality?

I don't think I've made myself clear, but I'll attempt to. I don't believe that there is some sort of Platonic reason or Confucian Way or Law that everything obeys or must follow. That makes out that it is as if matter has a choice, that it could be otherwise but isn't. That's my contention with the tone of your argument, your bafflement at apprehending your own imposed notion of arbitrariness or absurdity. It simply is; things are. I've never known anything to be anything but itself. Any cognitive dissonance lies within the observer and not the observed.

[ Parent ]
You're somewhat restating my argument (2.00 / 2) (#63)
by Liar on Mon May 21, 2007 at 09:19:58 AM EST

Ask a strict determinist why he doesn't think free will exists, and he'll point to the orderliness of the universe and how everything else appears to be determined and that the appearance of free will will likely be deduced to its constituent phenomena.

I'm not so much baffled by the absurdity of the universe, but just accepting the assumption which a great many people already accept that there is order to the universe. Even accepting it, though, we end up with many so-call arbitrary/absurd phenomena such as the ones I listed. You may characterize it as "bafflement" but it's accepting that the universe is organized to a degree but there's a point beyond which we'll never get beyond. We may push those barriers back but we'll never know why the universe acts as one model instead of as another, merely that it does. In this sense, we're actually in agreement.

However, when you say that "It simply is, things are," while I agree, I think we're being slighly disingenuous or overly simplistic. Things are anything but simply existing but get wrapped up in our notions of causality and integration with all other things--what you characterize as a dissonance within the observer as though every child distinguishes it and that you've never failed to experience ("I've never known anything to be anything but itself"). But I doubt that you've failed to simply apprehend your hand, for example, as simply existing except as part of your body. Meanwhile, your body does not exist but in relation to the world. The world does not exist but in relation to the separation of earth and space. And these relations hold both externally (the hand to the body) and internally (the hand to its own composition). I think such sentiments that "things simply are" is not strictly speaking being honest. They are, but not simply and it's there that I think the cognitive dissonance lies.

Our minds tie these things together, draws conclusions and creates models. Only at the limits of these models can we really declare that things are just the way they are for no real reason. And the limits work in two directions: outwardly toward the furthest limits of our theories and inwardly toward the simplest of our physical perceptions. The speed of light is arbitrary (and we've talked about it ad nauseum) and my perception just now of black shapes on a white background is arbitrary. I have a theory that these black markings denote words that presumably will be received and understood by someone else, and this theory is one that is very strong--stronger than the atomic theory. But it is essentially built upon 30-someodd years of sense data and I may have some of the details wrong.

Thus the simplicity of existence lies only at the extremities but everything in between is decidedly not simple.

Now, if we look back at your original sentiment: "I've never known anything to be anything but itself." That's a pretty good theory and one that I adopt, too, but appropriately speaking it's an assumption.

I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
Absurd Explanation (none / 0) (#76)
by Boronx on Wed May 30, 2007 at 05:31:35 AM EST

First you write

<i>I'm a fan of Kirkegaard's definition, that absurdity is more or less that which lacks a reason.</i>

, but then you write

Even accepting it, though, we end up with many so-call arbitrary/absurd phenomena such as the ones I listed.</i>

It's not those phenomena that are absurd, but our explanations are absurd by that definition.  If you want a phenomenon that is itself absurd, just look at a quantum particle whose individual fate from one moment to the next is theoretically impervious to reason.
[ Parent ]

Known (none / 0) (#75)
by Boronx on Wed May 30, 2007 at 05:07:41 AM EST

Why must F=ma?

Because they are the same thing. Why is the speed of light 186,000 miles/second and not 300,000 miles/second?

Because distance and time are the same thing and that's how our man-made units match up.
[ Parent ]

My Two Cents (none / 0) (#43)
by brain in a jar on Fri May 18, 2007 at 06:33:49 AM EST

On the subject of belief can be found in this rather ancient Kuro5hin story.

In short, some beliefs can be proved or disproved based on observations, but for others the only way to decide on whether a belief is good or not, is by examining how holding it will effect our wellbeing and that of others.

Life is too important, to be taken entirely seriously.

Absurdity is in the eye of the beholder. (2.66 / 3) (#52)
by Pentashagon on Sat May 19, 2007 at 04:20:23 AM EST

Absurdity is just the unexpected or unexplainable. Why do humans think they can expect certain things to happen and other things not to happen? They assume the universe has natural laws that don't change (noticeably) and conclude that things should not be unexpected or unexplainable. I think the anthropic principle is the proper explanation for this fact. The more orderly a universe is, the more likely an intelligent organism will think that the universe is orderly. More importantly, the appearance of orderliness at a given level does not imply orderliness on all levels. The universe at a high level is rather orderly; there are galaxies with stars with rocks orbiting the stars. This is simplistic, because some of those rocks model a significant portion of the visible universe in abstract form. Further still, the rock's abstractions rely on even more complex internals of the universe that are not yet modeled by the rock. It's all perfectly natural. So is a virgin birth. So is a God. They are perfectly natural consequences of some universe with a particular beginning and specific natural laws. Natural selection just chose the way we think to match the universe we live in.

Is a universe ruled by a god who caused a virgin to give birth to himself inherently absurd? Self causation is not inherently absurd; it only implies self reference and a different sort of causation than we are familiar with. Self reference is everywhere, especially in mathematics. The fact that axiomatic set theory can be formulated using the symbols of axiomatic set theory does not mean that it is absurd. Likewise, a god that causes itself is merely self referential. Should we be able to tell a universe ruled by a god from one that is not ruled by a god? Is there a difference between a universe that a god winds up and sets in operation and a universe that exists on its own but with the same contents and outcome? Clearly not; the same things happen in both universes. It could equally be said that a god, in creating such a universe, is merely discovering one of the infinite possible universes and enumerating its operation. Ultimately, even a universe in which a god interferes with the natural laws of one universe is just spawning an instance of a different universe with natural laws and initial conditions matching the actions of the god. In essence, gods can be seen as a property of the universes they rule, and vice versa.

I also happen to practice Roman Catholicism. Is that absurd? In some universes yes, in others no. Can I actually enumerate all possible universes and base my actions on all possible outcomes? No, that is the basis of the human condition; being awash in a sea of unknowing, having to choose what seems best and living with the consequences. I do not reject science, I intend on living forever (or a reasonable approximation thereof) in this universe with the aid of science. However, I will also not be disappointed or surprised if I die and am greeted by the Virgin Mary, Jesus, Xenu, and Cthulhu all engaged in lively conversation. In fact, I would welcome the excitement. After all, the statistically most likely place for my consciousness to exist after my physical body has died is in some universe where the deities feel like reanimating corpses.

Another reason... (none / 1) (#60)
by debillitatus on Sun May 20, 2007 at 11:50:08 AM EST

to (shortly) explain why humans look for patterns in nature or in our observations is that we are hard-wired to do so, since doing so has given us a survival advantage.

Damn you and your daily doubles, you brigand!
[ Parent ]

Yes, the anthropic principle. (none / 0) (#61)
by Pentashagon on Sun May 20, 2007 at 07:36:17 PM EST

What we see and experience and think and believe matches the universe because only those visions, experiences, thoughts, and beliefs allow us to survive in it. People who think it's a good idea to live next to the benevolent volcano gods get roasted in pyroclastic flows, and people who think it's a good idea to live below sea level often drown. That's not to say that exceptional niches don't exist where humans can thrive against common sense, but that just further reinforces the anthropic principle; the people living in those niches think it's perfectly normal.

[ Parent ]
A Joke... (3.00 / 7) (#54)
by claes on Sat May 19, 2007 at 10:06:15 AM EST

So God and Lucifer are talking about God's summer vacation plans:

Lucifer: Have you thought about saturn?
God: It's pretty, sure, but it's too cold and dark.
Lucifer: Mercury?
God: Too hot.
Lucifer: Mars?
God: Too dusty.
Lucifer: I've got it! How about Earth.
God: Earth! Forget it! The natives are terrible gossips. I knocked up a jewish chick there 2000 years ago and they're still talking about it!

I'm here all week folks.

sacrilicious $ (3.00 / 2) (#58)
by ClaimJumper on Sun May 20, 2007 at 01:31:17 AM EST

[ Parent ]
OP commits equivocal fallacy (2.75 / 4) (#62)
by Good Intentions on Sun May 20, 2007 at 08:31:16 PM EST

Sorry to be boring, but there is something very basic at fault with this story:  it commits the equivocal fallacy: it uses a word one way in one part, and another way in another part, and then denies any difference. Let's look at what the article makes 'absurd' mean at every point:

The absurdity of the religious statements 1 and 2 it starts off with are used in the sense of "incredulous", like on "come on, why do you believe that?".

The absurdity of example 3 is entirely different, and absurd is a bad way to describe it. It's mistaken, rather than basically unbelievable. You could say that absurd here is used to mean "fundamentally mistaken", though that would be a very uncharitable way to look at a piece of interesting speculation. There are other things wrong with using this example, I think it's a rather off-side attempt to influence people's opinion through appealing to the authority of Galileo to back up his thesis of absurdity. But anyway, on with the show.

Example 4 is absurd in no way I would use the term. It might be wilfully mistaken, and if you insisted on using absurdity there, it would mean "wilfully mistaken".

Example 5 is more absurd in a common way you would use the word, in doing something for really strange and counterproductive motivations. It's a lot like the absurd in 1 and 2, so I'll be charitable and say that it's the same (it isn't quite the same - the type of belief in 1 and 2 are fundamental beliefs, whereas generals ruling on alternating days is the product of a number of commitments the Republican Romans had, but they're close enough).

Example 6 is a huge cop-out on the author's part. He could write an essay, but he doesn't, he expects us to just hand him this fact, which he bases his argument on, in lieu of him justifying his statement. This alone instantly disqualifies the article as being of interest.

Example 7 and 8 just makes the non-answer in 6 more telling, since the author goes into some length about the absurdity of Euclidean geometry. This isn't an absuridty at all, btw, it's something that isn't of universal validity. Absurd is here stretched really, really far to mean "not the absolute truth", but it's a damn sight more than is offered at example 6.

In example 9 the author's case is overstated - the statement is easily explained by the speed of light being constant, which is an experimental result. It seems to me the author uses this fact to shoehorn in an unrelated discussion, but one that might motivate readers to agree with his sympathies. Anyway, absurd here means "contrary to intuition", which is one way of using absurd, but one might wonder how apt its use is here.

Examples 10-12 goes on along that tangent, but they're different from each other. 10 is also a counter-intuitive statement, and 11 and 12 are remarks that most people would not have opinions on, since discussing the point requires some knowledge about the subject that most people wouldn't bother with. So absurd means "contrary to intuition" in 10 and "not discussed in normal conversation" in 11 and 12. I'll ignore example 14.

So, we have absurd used in six distinct ways - to accept the meaningfulness of the argument, we have to accept that "incredulous" = "fundamentally mistaken" = "wilfully mistaken" = "not the absolute truth" = "contrary to intuition" = "not discussed in normal conversation" . If all of these are true, then the author's claim that all beliefs are absurd in the same way holds true. I'm unconvinced. It's especially the jump between historical and commonplace absurdities to scientific ones that is badly explained, especially example 6. In what way is example 6 absurd? He makes his different uses of the term absurd equivalent when they aren't (the equivocal fallacy is a fallacy because just 'cause you say a is like b doesn't mean a is like b), thereby making his argument fallacious, or he argues that they are different degrees of the same thing, but doesn't actually go any distance to showing that this is the fact, in which case his conclusion is unsupported by his argument.

points taken (2.00 / 2) (#68)
by Liar on Tue May 22, 2007 at 02:16:17 PM EST

except that you forgot to account that I'm using Kirkegaard's definition of absurdity ("lacking a reason"). Re-read it from that point of view and I think you'll see that I'm actually approaching absurdity in a consistent way. It seems inconsistent because I start off seemingly using the word in the common way of something silly or incorrect but only later introduce Kirkegaard, but that's because I see a common absurdity behind both precepts of faith and the tenets of science. One difference though is that tenets of science are external absurdities while precepts of faith are internal absurdities, but that's ultimately a moot point: we employ the absurd to achieve more pragmatic ends.

I do find it interesting, though, that you provide such care in exploring these various different usages of absurdity but omit the one definition that I actually provide.

I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
points apparently not taken (none / 0) (#77)
by Good Intentions on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 02:22:11 AM EST

No, there is still a large distance between the way you use the word and the way you claim to use it. We'll go through the examples one by one to see whether they are consistent with 'lacking in reason'.

In example 1, your use is consistent - it is after all exactly this type of statement Kierkegaard tries to capture with his idea of absurdity.

In 2, we have the same. So what I first described as "incredulous" can also be described as "without reason". Seems fair to me.

In 3, however, your claim to consistency falls very flat very fast. Gallileo had a hosts of reasons to believe what he did, which he described at great length in his Dialogue. He had good reasons, given the information that he had, to at least seriously consider the view that the tides are a product of the earth moving. His reasons just turned out not be good enough. C'est la vie, you try something, it doesn't always work, but that doesn't make all instrumental activity absurd. The claim that life is absurd, I feel the need to point out here, is based on life not being instrumental for anything except life, ie that it serves no higher purpose. There was certainly a higher purpose in Gallileo's discussion of tides, a reason (motivation) for doing so and a reason (intelligence) that guided it. "Fundamentally mistaken" does not equal "without reason" - the reason is merely the wrong one.

Your humorous example 4 is the same as 3 in this regard. It is again an activity directed at a goal (with a reason) as prescribed by understanding the situation (in accordance with reasoning). It's a little silly, but sensible nonetheless. It's mistaken, but it's "wilfully mistaken", as I called it, and this deciding to say one thing even if you know that it is false disqualifies it from being "without reason". A husband hasd a very good reason not to call his wife fat. Also remember that while Kierkegaard says that you can't absolutely qualify having a faith, he doesn't characterise his absurdity to mean lying to yourself.

Taken this way, example 5 is significantly different from 1 and 2 (in my first reply, I pointed out a way in which 1+2 and 5 is the same, because I was being charitable). It seems to us to be a strange thing, to have two generals command on alternating days, but much like the white lie of the husband this commitment of the Republican Romans to power sharing was well-founded and well-reasoned. Unlike a domestic white lie, it was not well suited to the purpose it was supposed to serve.

In 6, you still have gone no distance in explaining the absurdity of mathematics. "Internal absurdities" - tosh! It is not enough to wave your hand at a problem and wish it away, not when you base your argument on it, not when you are doing so appealing to reason. Mathematicians, scratch that, everybody that has counted on their fingers has fantastically good reasons to believe simple arithmatic statements you pick out. Your article is still disqualified from being interesting.

From here on everything falls to pieces. You have gone no distance to show how any of the 'scientific absurdities' are absurd in the way you mean, and until you do so your article will remain guilty of the equivocal fallacy, as my earlier response has shown.

[ Parent ]

#4 is always true in my world. (none / 1) (#65)
by rpresser on Mon May 21, 2007 at 11:41:28 AM EST

true, as in, that dress doesn't make her look fat. You see, my wife is fat. Everybody agrees with this, although some weaklings flinch at the word "fat". No dress makes her look any fatter than any other.

"In terms of both hyperbolic overreaching and eventual wrongness, the Permanent [Republican] Majority has set a new, and truly difficult to beat, standard." --rusty
Your wife has really boring clothing then (none / 0) (#71)
by sholden on Fri May 25, 2007 at 10:19:27 AM EST

Since there a lots of optical illusions that can be used by clothing to make someone look fatter or thinner than they really are. A central vertical line is the obvious example, diagonal lines another. Hence a dress that doesn't provide such an optical trick will make her look fatter than one that doesn't.

Though I guess there's a size threshold where all the options still count as "fat".

The world's dullest web page

[ Parent ]
Judging absurdity is itself absurd (none / 1) (#66)
by redelm on Mon May 21, 2007 at 12:31:55 PM EST

Most (if not all) of these examples are wonderful cases of ignorence being confounded with absurdity. Jumping to conclusions shouldn't be an aerobic exercise!

Something exists or at least is believed. It either matters or it does not. It is either dis/proveable or it is not. When it exists, matters and is proveable then it is foolish to consider such an entity absurd. Just because you don't understand doesn't mean it cannot be understood.

how 0.99 + 1.00 = 1.00 (none / 1) (#67)
by glor on Tue May 22, 2007 at 01:19:26 PM EST

You seem to be under the impression that the mathematics that leads to this is complicated. Actually it's as simple as
vtotal = (v1 + v2) / (1 + v1*v2)
Usually v1 and v2 are both very small. For example, if I throw a paper airplane from the back to the front of a moving car, the relevant speeds are 10-7 and 10-8 of the speed of light. In that case, the denominator is 1 + 10-15, which is not measureably different from having no relativistic correction at all, vtotal = v1 + v2.

However, if v1 or v2 is 1, the numerator and denominator become the same and the total speed is always 1.

Deriving this is a little more complicated, but it takes about 20 minutes if I can draw you a picture.

Disclaimer: I am not the most intelligent kuron.

a dictionary destroys this article (3.00 / 2) (#69)
by asolipsist on Tue May 22, 2007 at 10:16:28 PM EST

"Søren Kirkegaard who is one of the men most closely associated with it's technical use, implies a state where an proposition is ultimately not backed by reason"

I think you've made the (embarrasing) mistake of thinking that:


  1.  The capacity for logical, rational, and analytic thought; intelligence.
  2. Good judgment; sound sense.

is the same as, or requires an infinite regression of:

'a' reason, reasons

1.  The basis or motive for an action, decision, or conviction. See Usage Notes at because, why.

What of the "Leap of Faith"? (none / 0) (#79)
by Sangermaine on Tue Jun 19, 2007 at 12:43:23 AM EST

Your essay makes a different argument than I think you intended it to.  What you're saying is that religious "absurdity" is useful in some ways:

"The difficulty in this is that absurdity has a great deal of pragmatic utility."


"I look out at the secular world and see much less fellowship; there's hardly a compelling reason to completely abandon what is otherwise a ridiculous and savage tradition. Call me weak-willed, but a stronger will recognizes the propositions which I hold true as absurdly important, importantly absurd, and such a will is much stronger than the will to reject the basic absurdity inherent in just about everything in existence in the first place."

But you make the mistake of using the usefulness of the absurdity to justify it.  Useful absurdity is still absurd, and you wrongly try to make the scientific and religious views exist on equally absurd grounds, which is wrong.  You reference Kierkegaard, but you forget the great notion that his investigation into absurdity leads him to: the leap of faith (or leap to faith, as he put it).  The paradoxes inherent in Christianity (and to generalize, all religions) are so great that logic/reason fails and one must make a qualitative leap from non-believer to believer on faith alone.  This is the key difference between religion and science, because science requires no such leap; science builds itself on reason alone, a "path of reason" if you will.  You note this yourself:

"But this does display a fundamental difficulty with scientific explanations. As science has progressed, its explanations have become increasingly less common sensical while claiming to be more reasonable."

This is a difficulty, yes, that modern theories venture into ever more esoteric and complex areas, but this does not represent a leap of faith.  Common sense is a demonstrably false way of viewing the world, and just because something violates it doesn't make the thing false.  Just because you feel something to be true doesn't make it so; it must be empirically verified.  Science is difficult, and many people do just take what scientists say on face value.  But you don't have to:

"It is neither practical, convenient, nor affordable for me to spend the years of study that I could to verify this statement--not just in study of the math but also the time in doing the experiments."

Practical or no, you can test every single theory and concept if you wanted to take the time to do so.  The fact that you don't is a matter of your own initiative; it says nothing about science itself, unless you're saying that the only "non-absurd" claims are ones that are instantly obvious or testable with no effort.  (I'd also like to note that you can build a cyclotron at home, if you wanted to...)

Thus, the difference between science and religion is this leap, this break from reason and the world that the religious like yourself choose to make.  And I don't think you should be faulted for this, because religion has many good uses, like making people feel like they are part of something grander, part of a community, providing emotional support in hard times, etc.  But please don't try to justify your faith by saying science is equivalent, because it isn't.  Faith and science operate in fundamentally different ways.

making sense of the absurd | 80 comments (62 topical, 18 editorial, 3 hidden)
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