The Right Hand Clapping

I recently picked up a book, well to be clear, today I randomly picked up a book on the way out the door because the thought of standing in shopping aisles with nothing to do but stare at cucumbers, peas and coleslaw makes my head explode. While waiting outside a shop I started reading bits of it and I was hooked. I started chuckling to myself and got a few funny looks from people, and I think I might have frightened a few small children. But it is an utterly fascinating book, and I haven’t been able to put it down. Its a puzzle book, and I love puzzles. Its called

There Are

Two Errors  In The

The Title of

This Book

(By Robert M. Martin)

The first error is easy to spot – there are two definite articles in the title. the second is more devious and naughty. The second error is that there is no second error in the title of the book, which is in itself an error. Whoever this person Robert Martin was – I liked him immediately. Like all sharp thinkers, Martin displayed a finely developed sense of humour and of the absurd. The book has chapter titles like – Two ways to kill Granny, or Why its not certain you will be in a plane crash and Why believing in God is a good bet. A few of the puzzles I had run into before, which in no way implied I was able to solve them now any more than the first time I ran into them. The best puzzles are those that leave you thinking, the kinds of ideas that don’t have easy solutions, puzzles  that are metaphors for the big questions. My personal favourite was the chapters that dealt with relational differences. Imagine if the universe got bigger, right down to the size of a sub atomic particle. This means that all the clocks, all the weights and measures, all distances, everything was bigger, by, say a factor of three. Could we tell the difference? How can we know everything is suddenly bigger if everything is bigger within five minutes, down to every scinitilla of historical and scientific data?  I mean this is a thought experiment, but in real terms, how would one know the difference between the larger and the smaller universe? Who can measure it?  what criterion would or could be used?It’s easy to dismiss this kind of question pragmatically by saying it has no relevance whatever to everyday life, but to dismiss it on pragmatic grounds is the very opposite of true pragmatism, because realistically to not look on how we view reality, how we interpret the world, and how limited our view of the world is, is a deeply unpragmatic and limited approach to the world. R. Martin takes it a step further, borrowing from Kant’s Critique. Imagine, he says, if the entire universe was taken up with one right hand. Just one right hand stretched across the fabric of space-time, floating eternally (hilarious and kind of a scary thought really). Imagine, he says, another parallel universe where there is only one left hand. How can we tell the difference? One would have to hypothetically know the difference between right and left, then visit each universe and explain to the hand (obviously somehow sentient) the concept of handedness, alternative universes and the idea of chirality. But that aside, there are thinkers who would argue, that as there is no criterion for handedness within the confines of each universe, then the notion makes no sense and is moot in that universe. Decide for yourself which part you choose makes most sense. Such notions have implications for all kinds of ways of looking at the world. Take for instance the notion of culture and belief systems. If certain philosophical or religious notions do not for instance exist in particular worldviews and cultures, can we hold people to account for breaking rules they do not believe to be valid?  It certainly begs the question. Food for thought. One can hear the right hand clapping in that universe right now.