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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Absolute? Nonsense.

(I bedo, you bedo, we all bedo for albedo!

Okay, probably we don’t. But if you want to see what all(-bedo) the fuss is about, hop over to Secondhand SCIENCE for this week’s lowdown. It’ll brighten your day. You can (al-)bet on it.)

I don’t believe in absolutes.

Unless saying I don’t believe in any absolutes is an absolute. Because then I couldn’t say that, because I wouldn’t believe it. How’s this:

I don’t believe in any absolutes I’ve heard of, but if some new absolute wandered by tomorrow, would I be flexible about it? Absolutely.

That seems better. Will not fit on a T-shirt. But better.

I know a lot of people feel differently. They believe in Right-with-a-capital-R, Truth-with-a-capital-T and assorted other Big-Important-Tremendously-Cosmic-Hypotheses-with-a-capital-B-I-T-C-H.

Me? I don’t see it.

But two plus two, a mathematician might protest, looking smug. Two plus two is Always — that’s capital-Always — four. You can’t argue math. It’s always true. Absolutely.

Except really, it isn’t. Math is an abstraction, a model that perfectly explains a perfect existence in a perfect vacuum. Not our existence, which is a messy tumble through a goopy universe full of weirdness and fraught with Kardashians. Math starts breaking down when circles aren’t absolutely perfect; you really think it can handle this shitshow we’re soaking in? No.

“To say, absolutely, that two plus two is immutably four, you have to ignore certain factors of everyday life. Like, all of them. Time. Temperature. Tony Danza fans.”

The problem with math is what it leaves out. To say, absolutely, that two plus two is immutably four, you have to ignore certain factors of everyday life. Like, all of them. Time. Temperature. Tony Danza fans. So while “2 + 2” is, on paper, always equal to “4”, that doesn’t always translate into the real world. For instance:

Two ice cubes plus two ice cubes in a word problem equals four ice cubes. Two ice cubes plus two ice cubes in a volcano equals no ice cubes, and probably a severe need for aloe vera.

Two bunnies plus two bunnies on paper gives you four bunnies. With a bit of time, two bunnies plus two bunnies in the real world gives you enough furballs to reenact the Tribbles episode from the original Star Trek.

(Note: This apparently also works with Tony Danza fans. Please don’t try this at home.)

What I’m saying is, context is important. The whole point of math is to strip away context completely and think about numbers; but in everyday life, we can’t do that. Context is like taxes, or death, or 2016 presidential candidates. You can’t escape it forever.

Other people appeal to some higher authority for their capital-A Absolutes. But really, are the “absolutes” in things like religion really that absolute to begin with?

Take the old “thou shalt not kill” rule. It makes sense. Nobody’s arguing it as a general guideline. But even in the book it comes from, there seem to be exceptions. Thou shalt not kill, except you can stone somebody who doesn’t follow the rules. Or thou shalt not kill, unless Goliath gets his chocolate in your peanut butter, or your peanut butter winds up on his fun-sized chocolate.

(Full disclosure: I haven’t really read the Bible since I was a kid, so it’s possible I’m getting the details mixed up with commercials that ran between Saturday morning cartoons. If Hershey’s chocolate company doesn’t actually sponsor the Old Testament, then sorry about that. But you get the gist.

Also, if it isn’t, then that’s totally an opportunity missed. If Ahab who begat Moab who begat Jeremiah had begat Almond Joy, the Nazareth nut-lover’s treat, it would’ve broken up the monotony a little. I’m just saying.)

Some might counter that all those funky rules and nearly-mostly-all-the-time “rules” changed, back when Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed or possibly Tony Danza showed up to set things straight. And that’s cool, sure. But there’s still the time factor. You’re basically saying:

We have rules that are capital-A-Absolute and immutable, starting… now.

Oh, no, wait. I forgot. There’s this other delicious animal nobody should eat, for some reason. Okay, starting… NOW. Absolutes!

Yeah. Seems legit.

Maybe there are Absolutes out there somewhere. Truthy Truths that no one can question, someone who’s so reliably Right you can set your atomic clock and your moral compass by them, and Beauty that would make every man, woman, child, dog, petunia, tree moss and nine-legged aquasaurus from Tau Ceti weep in awe. I’d like to think I’d know one of those when I saw it. But I haven’t yet.

And before you ask, fan clubbers: yes, that includes Tony Danza. Jesus. You people need a new hobby.

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