Monday, April 11, 2011

why do you keep apologecizing

I like mad libs. If you don't know what mad libs are, they're a sort of a word game that was especially popular in the 80's, and less so in the 90's. The intrigue of this little activity came from the fact that you (the reader) were given the opportunity to obliviously insert your own choice of words (as long as it was the correct part of speech), into these pre-determined blanks. It was a play on the term "ad lib", which is short for the latin phrase ad libitum or "at one's pleasure". In a more practical sense, it used this phrase to conjugate itself with the idea of improvised comedy (also popular at the time). Some mad libs books perhaps gave you a title or a topic with which to guide you on your choice of words, but otherwise it was a laissez-faire carnivale of word soup by the time your words had been chosen (hence the "improv" part). As you read the story, you would then insert your nobly-chosen syntactic vittles when prompted and absurdity-based hilarity would ensue (hence the word "mad"). Those were craaaaaaaaazy times!

Aside from the anarchic comedy that results, I always found it fun and fascinating how plausible the stories ended up being. Really, the humor came not simply from the absurdity, but rather, how absurdly awesome the result was. What if I really did find a hoe stuffed beneath my friend's summer dress which we subsequently used to putt a barrel full of endangered hedgehogs down a rolling green hill on a sweet and sticky summer's day? What if the Power Rangers really did drive their radioactive bumblebee cars in to my house when I called the electrician to fix my fireplace that ran on old dishwasher rag water? Awesome, that's what if.

Which brings me to my point. Why were mad libs so absurd? You might say because it took words out of context, or because it mischaracterized certain people, or because it was just "made that way". I suppose all of that is true, but it still makes me wonder why it was absurd. Why did I find it absurd? All the words were words that I had used before, in sentences that "made sense" according to the rules of grammar (though there were exceptions). The situations were often commonplace and ordinary, like shopping at the supermarket or spending the day cooking. What was so absurd then? Was it the simple ridiculousness of a gelatin hummingbird splashing out of your boiling pot of apple juice?

If I were to present the story to someone who didn't know English, it would cease to be funny. It would also cease to be absurd. It would cease to contain any significance or structure or point because that person would have no grounds on which to analyze it. It only makes sense when you know that it doesn't make any sense at all.

In CS Lewis' Miracles, he talks about the opposing viewpoints of naturalism and supernaturalism, and how, if one believes in naturalism, no miracles are possible. Beyond that, thinking itself is impossible. In a naturalistic worldview, everything is an effect due to a cause which is in itself an effect of a cause, etc. etc. etc. In this view, there is no guiding direction or reasonable force behind these causes and effects (how could there be? If every cause an effect and each effect a cause, what could possibly be responsible for the first effect? Is there a first effect? If so, what is the first cause?) Science itself would be impossible, because scientists could no longer believe themselves to be fully in control of any given cause, given that their own actions are in fact effects and not causes. The conclusivity of a result of an experiment hinges on its assertion of exclusiveness of cause and effect.And yet, here we are, with science continually proving our hypotheses not incorrect.

Supernaturalism, on the other hand, assumes an outside force apart from the natural world of causes and effects that can (and did) in fact cause something without itself being caused (at least not by anything in the natural world). If you (ironically) think about it, this is what scientists (and most laypeople), mean when they speak of "objectivity". Only an with uncaused (impartial, objective) cause or causor can we conclude that there are true and real causes and effects between entities. In naturalism, if I say "I think", what I must mean, in order to remain philosophically honest, is that something is causing me to have a feeling or sensation of thought that is causing me to speak. In supernaturalism, if I say "I think", I mean exactly that. Even die-hard naturalists often miss the point when they "think" about what everything is all about.

What I mean to say through all this is that there is something undeniably absurd about this life.

Don't you think?