Paris, Charles de Gaulle
I like things that aren’t even wrong. They make me giggle.
Interestingly, my body detect when things aren’t even wrong before my mind does. This often happens right in the middle of conversations. My mind directs me towards asking follow up questions in attempts to untangle the logic. Meanwhile, a sensation of tingling joyous bewilderment spreads in my body. Then my mind catches up, and we have reached full blown Not Even Wrong:ness.
These situations occur when things are so completely and utterly surreal that the only proper response is a hearty laugh and then off to the pub to down a few pints. You know, those “Right! Frakk this!” – moments we’ve all experienced.
This happens when things make so little sense that it’s impossible to place them on any scale of right and wrong. When there’s no ground to stand on to deduce if anyone anywhere can demonstrate a logical chain with premises or assumptions that can be proven valid or invalid. It’s a massive brain breakdown resulting in untraceable logic. It’s a hoot.
There’s an old Zen story about a monk who is asked “what is the essence of Zen”. Upon hearing the question the monk takes of one of his shoes, places the shoe on his head (as you do) and walks out of the room backwards. As the story goes, the person inquiring did not go “what the what?”, as you might expect. He was more like “Ooooh” and was enlightened right there on the spot. Fascinating.
I’m telling you this because I like that story for the same reason that I like things that aren’t even wrong. There’s much amusement to be found in the strange and surreal. And perhaps even a pinch of enlightenment. Problem is, things that aren’t even wrong also cause a lot of trouble. Especially at work.
Now, when speaking in terms of “right” and “wrong” I become a bit uncomfortable. Those are judgmental words, and I try to avoid them if I can. Because I’m cuddly, you see. I’d like to stress that what I’m searching for is validity. Coherent logic that makes the chain of thought valid. This is not the case when things aren’t even wrong. But that explanation is not sufficient to fully grasp what Not Even Wrong means. Take for instance a non sequitur. A non sequitur is a logically false statement, where the stated conclusion is not supported by its premise. Now, I enjoy those too, but that’s not actually Not Even Wrong. Not Even Wrong is operating on a whole different level. It’s more like this:
Someone: We will focus aggressively on building this here gizmo.
Someone: Because sallad and ball truffles strange yesterday.
You: What? Wait..but how?
Someone: Halibut downward likes don’t it just cat hello
You: Just tell me…what do you want to have happen?
Someone: Table playground love to succulent sediment thorny enjoy boat venison twin
You: Right! I’m out.
And then for the pints.
The phrase “Not Even Wrong” is usually attributed to a German scientist named Wolfgang Pauli. He is credited with the colorful statement “Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig, es ist nicht einmal falsch!”. Powerful stuff! It translates to “It is not only not right, it is not even wrong”. It sounds funnier in German. Most things do.
Another way of understanding this is that those things that aren’t even wrong “cannot be used to make predictions about the natural world”. We will get back to that. Suffice it to say, things that aren’t even wrong have a basic nonsensicality about them. Which is cute, but useless.
I have a feeling that much of the way work is done today is Not Even Wrong. And that’s a bit scary. Because, you know, we work a lot.
And that is both the subject – and the title – of the book I’m writing.
Earlier posts on “Not Even Wrong”