Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Critique of Pure Idiocy

A professor of mine once patiently tried to explain to me that in his Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant was not trying to tear down reason, but rather was attempting to better understand and define when reason is a legitimate tool of cognition by exploring the outer edges of reason’s ability. You can better understand when a method is successful if you know exactly when it fails. As a statistician, I accept such explorations as the only path to certain truth. The famous parable of the seven blind people touching an elephant comes to mind: only when all of the edges are defined do you truly know what you’re looking at.

I like to live on the edge because the edge is the only place where I have any hope of figuring out where I am. It’s not hard to know that there’s an edge nearby, but pinning it down with military-grade GPS accuracy is a challenge. At first it seems like you’re straddling the Grand Canyon, then the San Andreas fault, then a small gorge, then finally a hairline crack in the sidewalk that you can walk along with ease, secure in the knowledge that your mother’s back is out of danger.

The problem with spending so much time on the edge is that you inevitably end up spending some time on the wrong side, often a good portion of your time. You have to go through too hot and too cold before getting to just right. Though you always emerge from your jaunt on the Dark Side better informed and better prepared than before, the chagrin you feel from realizing that you crossed over the line without noticing, if even for a second, can be quite strong.

Of course this never happens to me. I am always right about everything all the time. But say hypothetically that this were to happen to some hypothetical person who often walks the line between reason and stupidity quite closely, both for the sake of humor and the sheer thrill of teetering on the brink of morality. That hypothetical person might hypothetically want to make a blanket apology in advance for any people, places, things or ideas s/he may mock and deride unfairly in the future while in the process of finding that precise line.

This is all to say that I am not interested in cherry-picking. I will of course continue to relentlessly lash the more obvious forms of stupid with my wit (religion and modern poetry come to mind), but what I really want to find is that edge, that minute line where smart becomes stupid and reason becomes insanity.

When my circumnavigation is complete, we shall know without a doubt whether we are dealing with a hat or a boa constrictor that swallowed an elephant.

Yours, etc.,

S. Misanthrope

No comments:

Post a Comment