free lunch

yes no
good bad
light dark
day night
right wrong
life death
white black
hot cold
love hate
positive negative
existence non-existence
real unreal

Here's a very strange and interesting experiment: For each pair of words, choose which word goes in which column, so that each column contains words of a similar nature, following the example of the first three pairs in the table at the right. Ready?

Ok, here goes: "night" and "day". Next pair: "right" and "wrong". Next: "black" and "white". Next: "life" and "death". Next: "cold" and "hot". Next: "hate" and "love". Next: "positive" and "negative". Next: "on" and "off".

I'm pretty sure you would put all of the "good" words in one column and all of the "bad" words in the other. But how do you know to do that? What do you know that enables you to do that? What do the "good" words and the "bad" words respectively have in common with each other? Over the years, I've asked a number of people to do the experiment: same outcome every time. Nor has anyone given me a good rationale for zir grouping. It seems that everyone, every time, groups the words in the same way. And nobody can explain why ze does it that way. It seems to be more about intuition (whatever that means) than logic. We place the words in their columns according to whether "it feels right" or not.

The philosopher Leibniz in his "Principles of Nature and Grace" asks "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

Leibniz answers his own question by stating that nothing is simpler and easier than something. Which seems to imply the counter-intuitive result that "something" belongs in the "bad" column and "nothing" in the "good" column. Why? Because simplicity and ease both would seem to belong in the "good" column.

However, the existence of existence is the most curious thing in existence. Existence is "better" than non-existence, isn't it? If so, then "existence" belongs in the "good" column, and "nothingness" in the "bad" column. But does it therefore follow that "god" (whatever that is) is a logical necessity? It would depend on your definition of "god".

Another Leibniz quote: "omnibus ex nihil ducendis suficit unum" (one has all from nothing made) which stands in contrast to the philosopher Lucretius' principle that "ex nihilo nihil fit" (out of nothing comes nothing). Or in other words, "there's no such thing as a free lunch". Actually, there is. In fact, the whole of reality is a free lunch. According to quantum physicists, "virtual" (ie non-real) particles jump in and out of existence, but only endure for an extremely short space of time. Because otherwise the books of the universe would not balance. And the more energetic the particle is that springs from the vacuum, the shorter its existence. So, yes, you can have something from nothing, but only very quickly: too quickly to be noticed.

But I have roamed far from the original question: without consulting each other how or why do people know which words "belong" in one column and which in another? And what does the answer to that question say about the nature of reality?

(Actually, there's at least one flaw in the argument: that in some cultures, white is the color of death and evil and therefore belongs in the column that includes "black", "night" and "wrong". In other cultures, the opposite applies.)


Nessa said...

Human being are always putting things in categories and I think good and bad are the simplest based on our basic survival needs and since we read from left to right it makes sense to me that we'd put the "good" of each pair first.

Come Get Your Sunshine

chook said...

Hey Cosmic,surely it's a case of conditioning or the situation you are in at the time. We are conditioned to think that life is better than death but a suicide bomber is conditioned to think that the glory of death is better than life. A man dying in a desert would probably put cold before hot.
But also the list itself can be flawed. If you start it with something that is obviously good and bad (life and death) people will follow that example and put what they think is good under good. If it starts with something ambivalent (to me hot and cold) then the outcome would be different.

masterymistery said...

Hi Guys, thanks for stopping by. Your comments are clear, hard and sharp with merciless and unforgiving logic (well, not quite as over the top as that) that pricks the bubble of my flights of fancy and leaves me staring at handfuls of cold ash, wondering where the magic has gone. Sufficeth it to say that I won't be exploring the "free lunch" experiment any time soon, if ever again!

Lily Strange said...

Yes, it's all about what we're taught from the start. This affects what we perceive as "good" and "bad." Sometimes we learn to think beyond that, sometimes not.