bloke down the pub told me

blokes in pub discussing Descartes
blokes in pub discussing Descartes

Christmas is coming. This means many things to look forward to, most of them accompanied by television. You can't get away from it, that benign cancer. So take what you can, because you can't give television anything. When I was young, we used to look through the Christmas edition of the Radio Times, not to see if, but when the Wizard of Oz was on, usually Christmas Day or Boxing Day afternoon. Then everyone in the house would moan: "Not the Wizard of Oz again. Every year, the Wizard of Oz." And fall asleep.

It's a great film of a great story with a great lesson: believe in yourself. The cowardly lion is given a medal for bravery by the Wizard. He was cowardly, now he is brave. How does this work? Because he believes it to be true, it is true. Rene Descartes nailed it. The Tin Man thinks he hasn't got a heart, so the Wizard pins one on him. The Scarecrow thinks he hasn't got a brain, so the Wizard gives him a diploma. This is my favourite part: how many dimwits have you met who have been educated for 16 years and still know nothing? They have certificates, diplomas, qualifications, bits of paper which say they are clever. Some of them still cross the road without looking.

So our Scarecrow is now officially brainy and because he believes it, he is. Descartes would have loved it, but he never got to see the Wizard of Oz, having died prematurely in 1650. Cogito ergo dead. I'm sure he would have enjoyed reading the Wizard of Oz, then watching the film and comparing the two. But he went and died. So who's the clever guy? You and I, as stupid as we are, have managed to stay alive and that idiot Descartes went and died. In 1650. Idiot. If he had only thought, or believed: "I think I will live to be 400 years old," he would be here to give us his wisdom about the world today.

Descartes was obviously influenced by Hans Christian Andersen, who was born 185 year after Descartes died. Andersen wrote the brilliant Emperor's New Clothes. Andersen must have adapted many dollops of folklore for his stories, but this one sits on your shoulder every time you are trapped with a liar. Yes, the Emperor may be naked at the end, but he believes he is wearing the most beautiful clothes made from the most... etc. And more importantly, so does everyone else in the story. Except one.

The Emperor believes, so he is both wearing the clothes and not wearing the clothes at the same time, This is quantum mechanics flashing in your face. How can he be both wearing and not wearing these clothes? At the same time? Because you and I have wasted our lives, you reading and me writing, and didn't dedicate our lives to particle physics. So don't be insulted if I call you an idiot, because I'm one. too. And so was (is) Rene Descartes.

I used to believe everything I was told. Why would anyone want to tell me a lie? It doesn't make sense. It's sidetracking, irritating, insulting and loses any friends you may have. Lying wastes people's time and none of us have any to waste. I won't bother to think of an explanation for the urban myth, or the Chinese whisper.

A woman fleeing from would-be murderers jumped over an eight-foot wall, holding her baby. Two Dobermans or Rottweillers held a burglar captured, taking turns to eat and defecate, until the householders returned two weeks later. Of course this is/is not true.

The empty shop on the corner of the Broadway and Leigh Hill, once the Broadway Wine Stores, is going to be a tattoo parlour. No it's not. Yes it is. It must be true: bloke down the pub told me. So we carry on believing things until we learn that they are not true. Then we believe these previously true things are untrue, until we are told that they were all true in the first place. So we believe what we want to believe. We think, therefore we are. Then we all die, like Descartes.

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