George Mallory is famously supposed to have responded “Because it is there” when asked “Why climb Everest?”. More recently some have criticized this as the essential colonial impulse to conquer and tame anything that appears enigmatic, challenging or out of reach. The question is at least as intriguing as the answer. Recently, I ask myself the question “Why write?”. This question belongs among a generic class of questions such as “Why run?”, “Why learn a new dance?”, “Why learn to ski?”, “Why live?” or “Why do anything at all?”. This classification reminds me of the concept of NP-completeness in complexity theory.
I attempt an allegorical answer. Suppose you have blue litmus, and a solution. You can either let the litmus stay blue, or you can attempt to learn something about the solution, i.e. its possible acidity. But not both. You already know that the litmus is blue, but when you risk the changing of its colour, that is when you learn something about the nature of something. Of course, you’ll astutely observe that this raises the question “Why learn something about something?”, and we are back in the realm of our above basket of questions.
Pegging as an impediment to learning.
Pegging, the way I use it here, is the active endeavour of the mind to hold on to old patterns and experiences while attempting to learn something new, be it an activity such as skiing, or a language such as Spanish. It is the neurotic drive to relate what we learn to something we already know – this manifests in “trying not to go down too fast” while attempting skiing (“too fast” is relative to our earlier experiences of walking/running etc.), and trying to discover parallels and similarities with English usages while attempting to pick up a new Spanish construct. This inner neurotic struggle continues as we try to further peg what we have already learnt in a field, and resist learning anything that violates a pre-established “rule” which represents our current state of knowledge. Thus, we are doomed to progress in a ladder-rung like climbing manner, where every bout of learning must be neurotically resisted, and then followed by pegging to establish patterns that can oppose further learning. The other option of choosing ungroundedness may offer opportunities for uncontrolled learning, but one runs the risk of skiing off the precipice of sanity.
Contrarianism during discussions.
Contrarianism is the proclivity to oppose a mainstream or prevalent idea. To swim against the current. For some, this comes naturally, or habitually. Habitual contrarians love argumentation, and hence like to take a position of maximum contrariness in a debate, are anti-establishment (rebellious), like the under-dog over the top-dog and so on. They attack stereotypes, and preferentially oppose qualitative assertions. Regarding the former, – almost anything nontrivial that is ever said to convey meaning is a generalization i.e. a stereotype. In fact, considering every stereotype evil is itself a generalization performed by such a contrarian. (This is a bit more meaningful and less self-serving than the speciously clever ‘The statement “Every rule has an exception” being a rule, must have an exception as well’.)