More presents arrived in the mail. I have definitely gotten used to this. If I ever fall from the present lists, I will begin to feel hard done by, I can tell. Central Office sent me some sea-green kitchen utensils and a new Greek spice blend. I could just keep it on my desk and smell it occasionally, to let it remind me of summer while it is so cold outside.
Amazon Vine sent me an enormous new biography of Napoleon and the book Kluge, by Gary Marcus. Yesterday, I merely went to the gym, worked, and then in the evening (since my show was canceled) began reading the Marcus book. He seems like a nice guy. His premise is that the human brain, which we all think is so great, really isn’t. It isn’t good enough to have been designed by anyone.
It may be that I am too familiar with the topic to find his book fascinating, or it may be that his real point is a defense of evolution, which doesn’t need any defending around my house, but so far it seems to me that the book is a string of old anecdotes and cheap shots (are you really prepared to believe that the absence of ham in hamburgers tells us something significant about the human brain?). He also seems to believe that computers are better than human brains, and that the fact that we don’t operate like computers is evidence that there is no God.
However, there were a few new stories, and I was reading them out to the family, and we were discussing them while the boys played Wii. I got to the part about how people from nonliterate societies don’t get syllogisms. I remember learning that in school 30 years ago and finding it fascinating, because syllogisms do seem at first glance to be the kind of thing that everyone would agree upon.
Back then, I didn’t know anyone from a nonliterate society, but when I was reminded of it last night my husband was right there. He can read, but most people in his country cannot. And, as I may have mentioned before, my husband has made no effort whatsoever to assimilate into our modern culture. He remains serenely uninvolved.
So I presented to him the example question in the book.
I’d been doing that all along. Now, this is unreasonable of me, but I think I am not the only one who does it. When I read some announcement about human beings, my immediate response is to compare it with my own experience, and if I can’t confirm it that way, then I like to ask around among people I know. I am aware that, even if all three people in the room are counterexamples, that fact will not affect the results of a well-ordered study with a large sample. I still do it.
So I asked my husband. “All the bears in Siberia are white. A neighbor of ours went to Siberia and saw a bear. What color was the bear?”
People in literate societies will immediately answer this question, “White.” They will then look at you oddly. As #2 son says, it seems like common sense.
People from nonliterate countries ignore the syllogism and answer these questions as though they were real questions. They go with their own experience, suggesting that the asker should find the neighbor and ask, or otherwise focussing on the question of the bear rather than the syllogism. My husband said that the bear would have been black. All the bears he has seen have been black.
Later, I read out from the section on why people continue to smoke, even though there is no question at all that smoking is a bad idea. My husband said that old people didn’t smoke as much. And also dead people didn’t smoke much.
Dead people don’t smoke much? I asked. #1 son kept his face carefully blank, though his eyes were darting from me to his dad. They smoke only at parties, my husband assured us.
We were all staring at him by this time. I may have been laughing.
Dead people have parties, my husband insisted. Hadn’t I ever seen the parties in the little cemetery out by our country place? He couldn’t imagine how the people living near there weren’t bothered by the noise. They would sit there, “just like people,” smoking and having parties.
Every now and then my husband will tell us something like this. We never know quite how to respond.
“Do they have parties in the cemetery here?” I asked, because we have a cemetery at the end of the road. He has never seen a party there, my husband admitted. But the dead don’t have parties just all the time. They have them when the moon is full, or on special days.
“You’re lucky you can’t see them,” he told me, shivering dramatically.
He headed out for his tournament. I returned to the book, which was I believe repeating the story about The Prisoner’s Dilemma. It seemed less exciting by comparison. I will have to sniff Greek spice mix occasionally as I read it…
I will be up at the store today, and #1 daughter is supposed to come home, if the weather doesn’t prevent her. Her brother intends to make her remove all the handbags and scented candles and other girly stuff from the bedroom which is now his again. I intend to get all the details on her new job. I have the weekend off, except for rehearsal and church, and am looking forward to it.