• Joia

Today's rhaps is on ... Flatlanders


Flatland, 1884, by Edwin Abbott

This book made an enormous impression on me when I was a kid. I loved Geometry because of it. Axioms, theorems, proofs, dimensions, invisible lines paralleling off into infinity, the numerical perfection of each polygonal angle ... I was enthralled. Then I remembered the apple, a 3-dimensional sphere passing through the 2-dimensional Flatland universe, and how it looked to its cartoon-squashed inhabitants: all they saw was a series of nearly imperceptible red lines, starting out small, growing larger, back to small.


That made me think of why some brains latch on to conspiracy theories while most other brains immediately reject the bad logic. Okay, kind of a leap, but hear me out.


People who believe outrageous untruths still manage to drive cars, bake cookies, and send in their taxes. So they haven't jettisoned their critical faculties completely, just in selective areas. Unfortunately they tend to be very noisy in these areas, and they further tend to select places with terrible acoustics. Like religion and politics. And regardless of recent improvements in audio engineering, they continue to prefer the more primitive sound systems.


So here's my thought: what if one were to describe a society of people who rejected logic all of the time? Like Flatlanders stuck in two dimensions, these poor reactionaries would no longer be able to drive cars or bake cookies, much less engage in convoluted tax law. They would not be able to learn from experience, memorize a sequence of events, judge sets of evidence, or trust ... anything. Or anybody.


That elevator could take me anywhere!

This car never starts.

How do I know these ingredients will turn into toll-house cookies?

Who are you again?


Describing a day in the life of such an unfortunate person would be ... well, sad. We would feel profound pity for their neurological difficulties. We've probably only met such characters in Oliver Sachs' books, patients who lack the epistemology of the simplest nervous system. Removing all logical function from a human brain would also eliminate linguistic capability, along with the capacity to attribute and remember names of things and the temporal/spatial relations between them.


So what is happening in a brain that functions normally throughout most of the day only to halt all critical discernment as soon as certain TV channels are on, particular voices are heard, or specific individuals cross their paths? Moments before they would amicably agree on departing 25 minutes before picking you up at the airport, and suddenly 2 + 2 = 5? Really? What on earth happened?


If this kind of fugue state happens repeatedly in a friend or neighbor, we tend to back off and keep our distance. The sea has now been parted. It's painful to watch them spending more and more time with people who like this silly math, and we find ourselves retreating to persons and pundits who provide the dependable inferences.


Zombie and body-snatcher movies have been presenting this horror for years, but it seems the phenomenon has accelerated of late. Washington, Brazil, Austria, Poland, even the EU elections today in Brussels are scary. What is going on? Is there some invisible Uranus-moon pulling political gravity into whacky orbital perturbations, some porn-mistress of Bolsonaro or Trump with horoscope power over nearby astroids? Why would our lovable aunts and uncles periodically morph into these Foxlike caricatures of their former selves?


I've read that amygdalas are largely in charge of this sort of thing, flooding the brain with a kind of metastasized fear that quickly permeates other organs. So if our normally hardy relatives suddenly succumb to this inundation, were they in some way predisposed? Was it the milk-toast meals during the Depression, the bad fumbling sex of virgin-marriages? Or the ungrateful sarcasm of the Grateful Dead? Lennon's arrogance? Yoko's? What, then? Who pissed them off so much that they would consider us normal educated folks the elite, the enemy, evil epicureans brazenly enjoying a godless democracy?


I give up. The answer probably lies somewhere in the notes of an adjunct professor's lecture on Determinism and Free Will, on some yellowed legal pad shoved between the corners of a desk flap and the fake-paneled veneer of an RV diner table. While the homeless philosophy instructor snores, his rescued terrier, resting with one ear cocked, trembles while dreaming of a giant red frisbee gently coursing through his canine consciousness, floating slowly to a halt in front of a Pythagorean ... no, a Fibonacci spiral ... winding small, then large, then ever shrinking and dimming into the horizon of a distant truth.

30 MAY 2019


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