Sunday, August 26, 2012

Fantasy and the miracles of this life

It seems to me that some people are so engaged with their imaginations that they let themselves be too unaware of life as it is.  It is more difficult and more challenging to see the magic in our bodies, our friendships, our failures and successes, our achievements and losses, than it is to see magic and charm in being shrunken to the size of a thimble (for moderns who don't sew, shorter than an iPod Shuffle) or expanded to being larger than a skyscraper (the Empire State building is about the height of a American football field standing on end, if you don't count the antenna on top of the building).  

It would be surprising to be small enough to ride a mouse or a pigeon or large enough to step over all of downtown Manhattan.  We are wired to notice things that seem out of place or odd.  Since we have no experience of such little or big people, the very thought is arresting.  The human eye, the functioning of the muscles, lungs, heart, liver, kidneys and brain happen all the time and so do not trip our astonishment trigger.  

I don't think it is true that everything that is very improbable but still happens is wonderful or positive.  Earthquakes or tsunamis that kill hundreds at a time might be said to be nasty but perhaps are so unexpected that they might be considered miracles in some sense.  I feel pretty sure that if such a calamity falls on group or tribe A that if group or tribe Z hates the A's, they may well consider the event to be a miracle.

Since money and other wealth is important in our lives, I like my brother-in-law's perspective.  He is the one who, experiencing the creation and birth of his children, opined that if he were told how the process worked from a business perspective, he would not believe it possible enough to invest in it.  "Markets in everything" such as the Iowa Electronic Markets and some procedures in Bayesian statistical analysis involve similar questions, that boil down to the question "Do you think the event likely enough to bet on it?".  One can use money too to bet against something that seems impossible or very highly unlikely to happen.  

A term sometimes used these days for an unlikely but very damaging event is a "black swan", popularized by the book of that name.

The chapter of "Orthodoxy" by Chesterton, titled, "The Logic of Elfland" attempts to defend fairy tales as aids to seeing the world as it is in all its surprising fullness.  I imagine for a few people, hearing that golden pears grow on fairy trees does help to focus attention on the real and edible pears that actually grown on our trees.  But I bet most kids and most people put down golden pears as the desirable ones and look down on the real thing that takes a long time to ripen and then rots.  

But you could give it a try.  Ask a hypnotist to give you new eyes that are not so used to your family and friends.  Leave your place for a week and live elsewhere.  Try a slum of Calcutta or Nairobi or Milwaukee and then check out your usual place again.  Do one of those experiments that some high school or college students do, where you live with a blindfold or in a wheelchair for a while.  When you return to your normality, you may be amazed at what you have, how loved you are, what a wonderful world you live in.

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