“During the course of an exchange of fire, we took prisoner a French lieutenant colonel whose name I have now forgotten. To this officer’s ill-fortune, nature had bestowed on him a nose of extraordinary size, and to make matters worse, this nose had been shot through with an arrow which was embedded to half its length. We helped the lieutenant colonel down from his horse and set him on the ground so that we could free him of this distressing adornment.
A few Bashkirs were among the curious people who gathered around the sufferer. Our medic grabbed a saw and prepared to cut the arrow in two so as to remove it painlessly from either side of the enormous pierced nose, when one of the Bashkirs recognised the weapon as one of his own and seized the medic by both hands.
‘No,’ said he, ‘my good sir, I won’t let you cut my arrow. Don’t offend me, sir. Please don’t. It is my arrow. I’ll take it out myself.’
‘Are you raving?’ we said to the fellow. ‘How will you get it out?’
‘Well, sir, I’ll take one end and pull it out, and the arrow will stay in one piece.’
‘And the nose?’ we inquired.
‘And the nose,’ he answered, ‘the devil take it!’
You can imagine the roar of laughter that greeted his words. Meanwhile, the French officer, not understanding a word of Russian, was trying to guess what was going on. He begged us to chase the Bashkir away, which we did; the affair was settled, and in the end the French nose triumphed over the Bashkir arrow.”
– Memoirs of Denis Davidov
Are you good at writing stories, be they fictional or real?
Where do you start?
Photo by Henry Chuy on Unsplash
I have a lot of respect for Seth Godin, Nassim Taleb and Richard Feynman for one reason: they seem to detest best lists. Feynman accepted his Nobel prize but was reluctant at first – he spoke about how it is just a form of “epaulettes”: oftentimes overvalued markers of authority that give people certainty where there is none.
The New York Times bestseller list can be gamed, this seems to be widespread knowledge. Seth Godin even said it was a scam. Maybe that’s too much, but it seems to give authority to The New York Times as much as it does to the books. It is a kind of marketing operation – like the Oscars. I mean how did it take what seems like 1000 years to give Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar – and Johnny Depp still doesn’t have one, as of 2016!?
The worst thing about authority is how blindly people follow it. People are often told to not doubt themselves – but it seems to instrumental to doubt yourself on certain things. People have an aversion to questioning things and are naturally terribly uncomfortable with uncertainty. This is probably the reason why most people choose to be in employment rather than take a leap into the unknown by pursuing what they love. I think the blatant truth is that there is no certainty – and politicians have forever been selling the dream of certainty to gullible voters who seem to be gotten by it every single time.
Napoleon let the cat out of the bag when he said: “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of coloured ribbon.” This same logic is used by schools who condition people to be delighted with a star on their homework and subsequently by corporations who offer the dream of personal development and professional progress – because promotions can get too expensive. What a play on people’s yearning for validation. Could this apply to the reader?
It is terrifying that science has become a new religion. In the wake of disillusionment with organised religion, people choose to fulfil their need for certainty with science. The whole premise of science is to take nothing for granted, to always look for holes in an argument, to not shut down devil’s advocates – but to engage with them in an open-minded fashion in a communal effort to chisel away at data until we get to our best attempt at describing reality.
Even the distinguished gentlemen listed above aren’t the uncontested angels of great opinions. I quote people and tend to work off their opinions because they give me inspiration – not because I take them for granted. The celebrated Mr Feynman is more or less the guy behind the Manhattan project – which stills my blood. He had a turbulent relationship with alcohol. This doesn’t diminish Richard Feynman’s opinions and contribution to science and society in any way, shape of form. It is just a reminder that the halo effect wreaks havoc with our brain for the same reason – the need for certainty. This brings me back to the one quote that I really love: “I know one thing: that I know nothing.” I never thought that this was a paradox. I mean the words seem to imply it is one, but really, it makes perfect sense.
This gives rise to another interesting question. Seemingly, I am an ENTP. The stuff I preach is the stuff that the likes of Socrates and Feynman stand behind. They are, psychologists profess, also ENTPs. This is about to get a little meta… Why is it that I am so drawn to identify with their opinions? I guess I am drawn to the certainty that somebody sees the world in the same way that I do. Is this just the variety of certainty that I am hooked on? Being certain that certainty doesn’t exist is a form of hiding of a nihilistic variety and I don’t want to fall down that rabbit hole. I guess certainty does exist, but it is really conditional on a lot of things and there has to be a balance between practicality and over-simplification.