First off, I’d like to apologise for the break in posting. It does have a reason, but now that the week is drawing to an end, it should wind down a bit and give me time to write some more.
The other day a friend showed me an interesting prank website, Peter Answers. At the risk of spoiling it for most of the readers, I’m just going to point out how it works:
Peter is a self-described oracle. The person at the keyboard types in a petition for an answer, then a question with a specific answer and Peter churns out eerily accurate answers. Only the trick lies with the person who’s at the keyboard – he has to press a key combination, and then writes the answer to the question he’s going to ask next. The person sitting next to him won’t see anything because the cursor will have been hidden by the small text field. The question then magically produces the ‘answer’ the typist wrote in before, leaving the other person utterly amazed.
I tricked my 14 year old brother with Peter Answers. We spent perhaps a good 10 to 15 minutes asking questions, and all the time the oracle got it right. Now, he’s a smart kid, and he tried to figure it out. Is it listening to the microphone? Is it chance? Generic answers? I debunked all of his scepticisms by blocking the iBook microphone and writing the next question in silence, by asking specific questions (that gave horrendously specific answers), I did a little ‘fortune telling’. By the 10th question his scepticism was relegated to a lower priority than it should have been.
Then came the grand finale. He’s a rebellious kid, and we’ve never been religious, so he’s never believed in God, although probably more out of rebelliousness towards some of his classmates than out of reasoned out scepticism.
So I asked: “Are you God?”. The answer came back “No”. I asked: “Is there a God?”. The answer came back “No”. By now my brother was seriously confused. I asked: “So how on Earth does this work?”. The answer came back: “The dude at the keyboard is typing it all out”. Slowly it hit home. I took the chance his mental processes were giving me to say:
“See how scepticism is the only truly correct position? When someone tells you something stupendously radical and possibly unbelievable your first reaction has got to be one of questioning. Whether someone tells you that the Solar System decides your fate, that God exists, that humans are warming the Earth or that this website is a real oracle, your first reaction has got to be one of question. Short and simple. Look at the evidence. Find the truth. Question. Some claims will be true, others won’t be. But you won’t know if you take it all for granted.”
I watched the look of realisation on my brother’s face, and it was beautiful – I planted the seed of scepticism in my brother and I honestly think he’s much the better for it.
So thank you, Peter Answers.