Monday, 29 July 2013

The Same Difference

I have been lazy, haven't I? As usual, I skipped over the weekend and wound up behind schedule. Actually, although I've missed one post, according to my calendar I'm exactly halfway between "The Unearthly Pilot" and the next episode, so I'm right on time!
But never mind that now. At the moment, I've got a post to write, and I've been going heavy on fiction-writing theory, so I'm going to cool things down with some (relatively) simple pseudo-philosophy. Because all morning I was thinking about a word that used to baffle me in my youth. The Word of the Day is: 'OPPOSITE'.

Opposite /'opəsət/ adj. 1. Placed or lying against or facing something else: They were seated at opposite ends of a room; opposite to our house. 2. Completely different, as in nature, qualities, result, etc. ♦n. 3. Someone or something that is opposite or contrary: My opinion is the opposite to his. 4. → Antonym. ♦prep. 5. Facing: She sat opposite to me. 6. In a position creating a unity with some other position: She played opposite a famous actor. ♦adv. 7. On opposite sides.

When I was young, I never understood Opposite Day. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's a really stupid children's joke, often told in primary school. Often it's used as a retort when one child runs out of intelligent things to say in an argument (much like an 'Everything-Proof Shield'). For instance, if one child says "You're stupid", they can reply with "Nuh-uh! It's Opposite Day." meaning that the original statement is inverted (i.e., You're not stupid) and then everything said (or done) from that point on means the opposite of it's intended meaning.
Saying Hello means Goodbye; Saying No means Yes; Saying Awesome means Not Awesome; Saying Love means Hate & Saying 'I don't want to play this stupid game' means 'I am not cool'.
But even as a seven-year old child, I never liked this game, because the first statement was always wrong: "Today is Opposite Day"
If that were the case, then you wouldn't be allowed to say that. It's like the Liar's Paradox, the phrase itself negates the credibility of the phrase. My favourite part is that when I explained this to the other kids, they would then say: "Well, then, today's NOT Opposite Day."
Then I'd say: "Good," then smile knowingly, and walk away knowing I'd bested my opponent . . . actually, I was seven years old, so I probably did something less subtle like laugh in the face of the other kid while stuttering and telling them that I was smarter than them; because all seven-year olds are morons.
See, as a child, my issue with the idea of Opposite Day was that (as I saw it) it would cancel itself out. After all, if EVERYTHING is opposite, then nothing would be. Let me show you.

Let's say that someone who isn't playing the game asks me a question with an obvious answer: "Do you like nachos?"
The correct answer is Yes, so on Opposite Day I should say "No", right? Wrong. If everything is opposite, then the meaning of the word "No" would also be the opposite, so when I say "No" the meaning of the word is Yes. So the correct answer is No. So, as I saw it, on Opposite Day the correct answer would be "Yes", because the two oppositions would cancel one another out.
It was some pretty high-tier thinking, so none of the other kids new what the hell I was talking about.

However, as I got older, I started to see another layer to the Opposite Day conundrum. If Everything is Opposite, then what about me?
When asked the question "Do you like nachos?" I would tell the truth, because I love nachos and enjoy sharing my appreciation of nachos with others. However, on Opposite Day, doesn't that mean I should lie?
Of course! So the answer would, again, become "No".
However, on Opposite Day, wouldn't the concept of lying itself become inverted? So when I would tell the truth, I should lie; but the concept of lying itself would be 'to tell the truth'. So, again, the answer is "Yes", because again the oppositions cancel out . . .

In fact, you can do this kind of thing until eternity, finding the ways in which things may be negated, opposed, inverted or cancelled out due to a no-holds-barred, ubiquitous concept of "Opposition".

But of course, I didn't stop there. Because then I started asking deeper questions. If everything is opposite, then doesn't that mean that I should hear the opposite of the question being asked of me? If everything is opposite, then the wiring of my brain, too, should be inverted, so of course I would hear the question opposite to the way it's being said to me. But that left me with a big problem.
What exactly is the opposite of the question "Do you like nachos?"?

If you think the question would be "Do you dislike nachos?" then you are not as deep a thinker as seven-year old me, because I went deeper than that, asking the big questions, like: "What is the opposite of nachos?"
That question, and others like it, started to unravel my entire understanding of opposites.

You see, when we talk about opposites, we're generally talking about 'binary opposition'. One thing opposing another, because it's the only other option. Like 1s and 0s in a binary system, meaning on or off. On is 1, Off is 0. Whatever you talk about, it either is, or it isn't.
If it's not it isn't, when it's not isn't, it is. So, No is the opposite of Yes, because not Yes is No. It's quite simple, really.

But, so often, we simplify things down too far, and start seeing things in a binary system, even when they're not. I mean, what is the Opposite of Right?
There are actually two answers here: Left or Wrong.
Okay, okay, I'm sort of cheating on that one (although Left and Right still aren't binary). But what about this fun thought experiment:
What is the opposite of Black?
Most people would say 'White'. Not to mention the racial connotations of that statement, this is wrong for many small reasons that can be explained by this big one: When you mix White and Black together, you get Grey.
So, what is the Opposite of Grey?

What? No answer? Grey is a colour, just like black or white [don't get me started with that shade/tint/pigment bullshit], so why would it be so hard to find the opposite of Grey?
But as well as grey, what about blue, red or yellow? Then, what of magenta? Or puce? Many people can find the chromatic opposite, as it lies on the colour wheel (red opposes green, blue opposes orange & yellow opposes purple) but that's not all that accurate. Because when you get down to it, it's just a way of creating binary opposition where none exists.
For Black and White there's no binary system, but rather a sliding scale, so how can we find opposites there? Then, with colour, how can we find opposites when there isn't even a sliding scale, but rather a hexidecimal scale of Reds Blues & Yellows.

And we do this all the time, creating binary opposition where none exists, just look at these common, everyday examples of "opposites":
Men/Women -  There are a lot of people that would disagree with that.
Up/Down - I'm pretty sure we live on the middle level somewhere.
Left/Right - . . . and Centre.
Love/Hate - I always thought the opposite of Love was Heartbreak.
Good/Evil - Oh, come on now . . .

It is the very definition of a False Dichotomy.

All of this used to confuse the hell out of me as a kid. Especially when I learned about anti-matter. I mean, anti-matter is diametrically opposed to matter. When they come into contact, they both cease to exist. But everything is made of matter. So is the opposite of nachos, anti-matter?
Or is there, perhaps, the more specific anti-nachos? And what would it taste like?

. . .

But, you know, I'm a little older, these days, and a little wiser. See, a lot of this can be explained somewhat by what I call Denotational Confusion (which is totally not a term I just made up). Basically, the issue here is that we're compounding the many meanings of Opposite, found in the definition above, which causes a paradox.

Black is the opposite colour to White, due to definition above, it is on the opposing side of the chromatic spectrum to White. This is the same with Up and Down; Left and Right, they're on opposite sides.
Yes is the opposite of No, due to definition 3, it is contrary to No.
Men and Women are opposed in many ways, and so they are opposite as per definition 5 (and, potentially 1).
Meanwhile, Good and Evil are opposites due to definition 2. They are completely different as in nature, qualities, result, etc.

As a child, I thought that the true meaning of Opposite was "Completely Different", so to me saying North was the Opposite of South was ridiculous, because they were both directions. Shouldn't the opposite of North be something unrelated, like Symmetry, Casablanca or Potato?
After all, North and South aren't completely different. They're actually pretty similar, since you'll always find both on a compass. In fact, they both have exactly the same difference.
But, more often than not, that's what Opposite means.

You know, it occurs to me that this wasn't the most informative post. I was hoping it would be somewhat educational and informative - but it was mostly me complaining about how little I used the dictionary when I was seven-years old.
I was a little short-sighted in my youth. Actually, I'm a lot more short-sighted today, I have to wear glasses or I can't see beyond a metre. But my point - and the point of this blog post - is that, despite my misconception, I don't regret my naïveté, because it helped open my eyes to a new way of thinking.

After all, the world's not all Black & White. There are many shades of grey.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time, I'm going to experiment to see if I can create a recipe for anti-nachos.

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