Friday, April 15, 2011

Why the world confuses me

I am not good at idle chit-chat, perhaps because I over-think the questions I'm asked and find myself stumped as to how to respond.

Three examples:

1. There's a common question asked to determine if the responder is an optimist or a pessimist: "Do you see the glass as half full or half empty?"

I see the question as fundamentally flawed. The glass is always 100% full. It is partially filled with a liquid and partially filled with a gas.

My response makes me neither optimist nor pessimist but an irritating nit-picker.

2. I took a multiple-choice test once that asked "Which of these three do not belong: the sun, the moon, and a candle?"

Everyone I've spoken to insists the candle does not belong. I say because the question is multiple choice, it lacks sufficient information to determine the proper response.

I can make a reasonable argument to exclude any one of the three choices.

For example:

The sun and the moon are heavenly bodies. A candle is not. Therefore, the candle does not belong.

The sun and a candle give off heat and light. The moon only reflects light. Therefore, the moon does not belong.

The moon and a candle have been touched by man. The sun has not been touched by man. Therefore, the sun does not belong.

Because the test was multiple choice, there was no opportunity to justify whichever choice I selected and no way to determine the answer the test creator intended.

3. In a college-level grammar class the instructor wrote "He ate Wednesday" on the blackboard and insisted there was only one correct way to read this sentence:

He (a man) ate (consumed a meal of some sort) Wednesday (on a specific day of the week).

I say that without context there is no way to know exactly what that sentence means.

For example:

"He" may or may not refer to a human male and, in addition to being the name of a day of the week, "Wednesday" is also a woman's name.

Therefore, in a story about cannibalism, "He ate Wednesday" could describe the consumption of a woman.

In an erotic story, "He ate Wednesday" could refer to a sexual act.

In a fantasy, "He ate Wednesday" could refer to a mythical being that actually consumes time.*

Therefore, I say the meaning of the sentence is determined by context, not by the sentence itself standing alone.

Alas, because I over-think these questions/situations, and because these questions/situations occur on a daily basis, I regularly find myself stumped by things that the person I'm with sees as black-and-white/yes-or-no questions/situations and I see as lacking sufficient information to answer or as having so many shades of gray that the response requires an essay and not a multiple choice selection from an overly simplistic list of options.



*Note: I'm actually trying to write this story.


Brian Drake said...

Michael, If your musings on these questions make you an irritating nit-picker, then you have plenty of company. Between the two of us we can nit-pick enough for the whole world!

Kevin R. Tipple said...

And then there were three.

I would argue that the sun has been touched by man as probes have circled it and crashed into it.

By the way, there is a series about a mythical creature that can eat time. It would eat a day of the week making everything that happened on a certain day vanish as well as the related events caused by what would have happened that day. By eating time, the matters of the creature would ultimately be rid of mankind. I read them years ago in the time of teenager hood. If the name and/or author comes to me, I will post back.

Delia said...

And that last one should read, "He at ON Wednesday."

Nits of the world, watch your backs.

Michael Bracken said...

Hot damn! With help like this I'll have that field of nits picked in no time.

And thanks for letting me know there are no original ideas, Kevin. What you describe is--more or less--the story I wanted to write. Chances are I read the same story as a teenager, back when I read a great deal of SF and fantasy, and was channeling the basic idea.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

And not a bad thing to write either. I used to read a lot of science fiction and fantasy during my teen years as well and find myself constantly disappointed by modern reality.