500,000 shades of grey

“Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Saying that someone will argue that black is white is normally convenient conversational shorthand for indicating that they’re the kind of dickhead who will argue about anything and in the face of all evidence that they’re wrong, but supposing we took it literally for a minute.

If you were offered some ridiculous sum, say £500,000 to convince people that black was white (and, I guess, vice-versa) then how would you go about it?

Literally the same

Obviously you can’t just wave that show-card in people’s faces and yell that they’re identical, because unless they actually fear you’re about to get violent it’s unlikely that many people would agree with you. A more “scientific” approach is needed.

You could point out that colours are, literally, a spectrum. If it’s a spectrum then every colour sort of flows into every other one, doesn’t it? How can you have a spectrum and say any colour is completely disconnected from all the other colours? It being a spectrum practically proves that black and white are the same thing.

Probably make a good logo as well

No? Well how about the colour-blind, they surely wouldn’t mind being roped in to help out. Colour blindness proves that the whole thing is subjective. Sure, you and I might agree that something is black, but a colour-blind guy might see it as white (NB. Don’t bother taking any time to research colour-blindness. It’s the principle that’s important, not the specifics)

If you’re arguing all of this on Twitter then you’re going to get some push-back, because social media is full of the kind of people who will argue that black is wh…hang on, nearly got myself caught in a loop there. Social media is full of the kind of people who will argue anything, so you need a way of shutting them up.

A good way of doing that would be to make your supporters feel clever for being on your side, and give them a way to belittle those on the other side.

I know, we could tell them that they don’t understand the science!

Let’s be fair, the science is really, really complicated. Colours are all to do with photons being reflected off things, which means you have all kinds of quantum effects, and any scientist will happily tell you that there’s loads we don’t understand about quantum physics. I mean, it could all be string. Can your opponents, with their GCSE understanding of science explain why it’s all string? Of course they can’t.

That’s before we even get into the biology of how the eye captures those photons and how the brain interprets them as colours. That’s proper PhD neuroscience stuff there.

A neuro-man, pictured yesterday

With a bit of science behind us we could even argue that those opposing us are anti-science. Oooo, that’s going to sting.

Of course, that does rather depend on no one noticing that what we’re doing is the exact opposite of science. Starting out with a ridiculous proposition you wish to defend, and cherry-picking only the pieces of evidence that might support it isn’t science. Deliberately using complexity to obfuscate isn’t science. Ignoring big bits of evidence (Exhibit A – the first image in this blog, showing black and white to be different colours) isn’t science. Seeking refuge in it all being too complicate to explain isn’t science. It’s not even mysticism. It’s barely above what you’d get from a bunch of stoned English lit. freshers.

Let’s just call it Woo and, like all woo, if you follow it long enough it will take you through science, into science fiction and then out into the wide open pastures of just plain fiction, and you end up arguing that our consciousness is a soul, because of quantum.

Yeah, we really have to hope that people don’t notice that, because while being anti-science is bad, being anti-woo is a noble position, especially in these times when there is so much woo. Perhaps that anti-science barb will sting so badly that nobody will question whether what I’m doing is really science.

Of course, all of this is hypothetical, because nobody’s really offering ½ a million quid to people just to distort science. That would be crazy.

Crossed fingers – the indication that somebody’s lying to you


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