Friday, June 24, 2016

Philosophy vs. Farts: When High-Brow Meets Low-Brow

I had a tough time choosing a topic for this week's column.

It started out easy. I was going to write about Elon Musk's recent statement that it's possible we're all living inside a video game simulation created by a more advanced civilization, and we're all just figments of that gaming system.

Then I read about a Swedish soccer player who was given a red card and thrown out of a game for farting on the field.

What to do, what to do?

On the one hand, Musk's idea is an interesting thought experiment. He said that, based on how video games have improved in 40 years, we'll have games that are indistinguishable from reality in 10,000 years. More importantly, how do we know we're not already in a game in a society 10,000 years more advanced than ours?

On the other hand, fart jokes.

Do you see my struggle?

On the one hand, if we actually live in a video game simulation, it's terrible. It's quite literally the Worst. Game. Ever.

There are no cheat codes, we don't get bonus lives, and I don't have a single super power. I can't jump 30 feet into the air, and I can't shoot energy beams from my hands. I'm not rescuing princesses or dodging barrels thrown by gorillas. Instead, society is full of violence, anger, and a presidential campaign between Crooked Hillary and Cheeto Jesus.

Worst. Game. Ever.

However, I don't have to fight villains just to get to the bathroom. I don't jump onto moving platforms to go to work. And I don't have to face a big boss every year to advance to the next level.

Just normal bosses who make me wish I could do the energy beams thing.

On the other hand, "I had a bad stomach, so I simply let it go," said Adam Ljungkvist, a left back for Pershagen SK.

After receiving his second yellow card of the match, followed by a red card, Ljungkvist asked, "What, am I not allowed to break wind a little?"

Portrait of René Descartes
René Descartes
The referee said it wasn't allowed, but I think he may have overstepped his bounds. In all my years playing soccer, no one ever mentioned any prohibition against farting on the field.

"Maybe he thought I farted in my hand and threw it at him," said Ljungkvist. "But I did not."

Farted in his hand? Who does that? Is that even a thing? I had honestly never heard of this, so I Googled it to see if anyone had by chance written about it.

There were 698,000 entries on the subject. That means nearly 700,000 people have written about throwing farts.

Worst. Game. Ever.

On the one hand, Elon Musk shared his idea with thousands of people at a conference, and it has been written about, shared, and read by millions of people around the world.

On the other hand, Kristoffer Linde, the other team's striker, said "I was standing a good distance away, but I heard the fart loud and clear."

On the one hand, Musk's idea reminds me of my college Philosophy classes, where we studied the French philosopher, René Descartes. He believed that nothing existed outside his own mind, and that everything he encountered was a creation of his own brain.

This is where "I think, therefore I am" came from.

It's called solipsism, which is basically Latin for "self alone." It says that only one's mind, one's "self," could be real. Anything outside that cannot be known with certainty, and might not actually exist. And the things outside your immediate sensory experience, like things outside your house or office, don't exist at all until you create them when you step outside.

It may seem like utter nonsense, but can you be sure? Can you be sure I actually wrote this, or did your mind just create it all?

On the other hand, Adam Ljungkvist thought that what happened to him was nonsense. "To provoke anyone with a fart is not particularly smart or normal," he said. "It's nonsense. I just broke wind and got a red card."

Ultimately, I couldn't decide. Choosing between the two topics was becoming a real dilemma, until I discovered a common thread running through both stories.

It turns out Musk's idea is based on a famous thought experiment in 2003 by Nick Bostrom at the University of Oxford called "Are You Living In a Computer Simulation?"

Bostrom's home country? It's the same place where René Descartes died.


Let's just say I was blown away by the coincidence.

Photo credit: Portrait of René Descartes, by Frans Hals (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

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1 comment:

  1. Thrown out of the game for farting, I thought farting might be a requirement in Russia with a leader named Putin's machismo at work. I had a good laugh. But no fart, go figure.


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