Monday, November 11, 2013

Non-sense

Let's suppose there's a door in front of you. You have the option to open the door or to let the door stay closed.

Now, immediately, what kind of handle does the door have? Is it a wood or metal door, or is it sliding? Is it a paper door, translucent, or glass, transparent? Is the door very far away, or within arm's reach, or a few steps away? Would it open inward or outward? Or would it dissolve?

Philosophical thought experiments are perfect opportunities to trace out the implicit ideas lurking in our minds, but we rest too easily in the setup, being too focused on what we think are the salient points.

But descriptions and how things work tells us much more about the person when we let them reveal themselves. Or, if we're trying to be clever, we go ahead and build out the scenario as a story-teller needs to.

Let's suppose there's a glass door in front of you, about three paces away, in a wall stretching left and right all the way to the horizon but only four stories high. The sky is partly cloudy, and it feels like an afternoon sun even though you don't know which way is east. Through the glass you see a dim outline of a shape moving back, maybe 'and forth' but nothing establishes certainty. You have the option to open the door or to let the door stay closed.

The details help to set not only the mood, but the urgency of the choice.

Let's suppose there's a wooden door in front of you as you stand on the greyed front porch of an old cabin surrounded by longleaf pines and the shadows playing underneath. You hear the creaking of footsteps, feel the bending planks beneath your feet, smell the stale offense of low brand cigarettes, and sweat at the brow of your head. You have the option to open the door or to let the door stay closed.

Imagination is a powerful device for shaping how reason persuades. Reason is only persuasive and moving when it finds the right emotional leverage. Otherwise, it has no power to move.

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