Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus

Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum

Most people will look at Saturday’s failed rapture and feel a sense of smug satisfaction in accurately dismissing Harold Camping’s latest destructive fiction. The legion of detractors will come from every direction. An unfortunate number will be confident that the precision of their own eschatology eclipses that of Camping. A larger number will simply have dismissed Camping’s claims because he is not prominent in the order of theological authority which prioritizes their system of belief. Too few will enter the tent through the flap marked “it just sounded batshit crazy”. A lucky few doubters will stumble in wondering what the tent is for, and hoping there are refreshments.

"The wound of peace is surety,
Surety secure; but modest doubt is call'd
The beacon of the wise, the tent that searches
To the bottom of the worst."Shakespeare Troilus and Cressida Act II Scene II


I can only hope I have the intestinal fortitude to duck out of the “batshit crazy” line and dance in, perhaps ass first, with the doubting few. Unfortunately the claims of end times are so ridiculous that it is enormously hard to doubt anything about their fallacy. The idea that rapture could occur on Saturday is buried under so many layers of batshit crazy irrational thoughts that I cannot think of where to begin digging. I only scratch the surface when I deride Camping’s numerology. In order to imaginer Camping had a slight chance of getting it correct I would have to believe that “it” had some probability of occurring at all. In this case the “it” is itself entangled in a theology encrusted with iron and bronze-age warts. Each layer of incredulity makes it geometrically harder to preserve doubt concerning Saturday.

"There is no lady of more softer bowels,
More spongy to suck in the sense of fear,
More ready to cry out 'Who knows what follows?'" .—Shakespeare Troilus and Cressida Act II Scene II
This sounds like certainty, but it is not. I am human. I am flesh and blood. I am constrained by the resolution with which I can actionably distinguish between certainty and miniscule doubt. It is so infinitesimally probable that a rapture event will occur on Saturday that I am unable to rationally foster recognizable doubt concerning it.

“Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt.” Clarence Darrow

Doubt is, however, such a enviable quality of thought that it is worth ritualistically feigning it in the face of absurd possibilities. I usually reserve this ritual for those times when I watch very bad low-budget science fiction movies. I have a DVD of “Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus” in my collection. There is a scene in this movie where the hundred-foot-long-just-freed-from-its-icy-prison-prehistoric Mega-Shark leaps thousands of feet into the air to bite a jumbo jet in half. Every time I see this scene I ignore the ham-handed excuse for cgi, and think: “cool”. The plane biting scene has nothing to do with the “plot” progression of the movie, so I cannot blame my enjoyment of the scene on being blinded by context. I suspend disbelief. In this case I may be using the psychological equivalent of futuristic cryogenic storage facilities with steaming pipes, flashing blue lights, scantily clad death-ray-armed ninja guards, and tanker trucks of liquid nitrogen; but I am suspending belief. Perhaps I can do the same for Saturday’s rapture.

Mega-Shark vs Plane

Besides it’s obvious (and suspect) entertainment value doubt is an important part of reason. How sure are we of anything? What can we know, and what value is it in making particular decisions? What part of my understanding is critical in minimizing specific doubts? Do I believe, or am I just afraid of doubting?

Doubt is not a pleasant condition but certainty is an absurd one.”– Voltaire

Though I may be essentially certain of things like gravity and Sunday’s sunrise most of my life is a patchwork of doubt. Much of that doubt I would like to reduce. Most of my words are spoken into a featureless void where simple echoes give substance to the dark. If I could reduce that doubt to near certainty I would begin to treasure what doubt I could retain. I might even playact fantastical situations where the doubt became manifest.

If the Mega-Shark of the apocalypse is arriving this Saturday, all I can say is:

“Bite Me!”



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