by Kim Pederson…….
Merriam-Webster announced recently that its “Word of the Year” for 2016 is “surreal.” MW chose this word because…well, let them explain:
Surreal is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year because it was looked up significantly more frequently by users in 2016 than it was in previous years, and because there were multiple occasions on which this word was the one clearly driving people to their dictionary.
The MW editors also note that there were three major look-up spikes for surreal in 2016: one after the Brussels terror attack in March, one after the attempted coup in Turkey in July, and one, yep, after the US election in November.
MW defines surreal as “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream: outlandishly or disconcertingly strange or fantastic in a way that seems unreal or dreamlike.” If this feels like the world you are living in at the moment, you might be looking for an escape. I know I am and I have the solution: get unreal. Or to put it more understandably, know and take comfort from the fact that everything you know is not real.
At least it isn’t according to David Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at UC-Irvine. As related by Amanda Gefter in “The Case Against Reality, after three decades of study, Hoffman has concluded that “the world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality.” To “clarify,” Gefter quotes physicist John Wheeler, who says, “Useful as it is under ordinary circumstances to say that the world exists ‘out there’ independent of us, that view can no longer be upheld.” Then she goes back to Hoffman:
Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that allow us to survive. They guide adaptive behaviors. But part of that involves hiding from us the stuff we don’t need to know. And that’s pretty much all of reality, whatever reality might be. If you had to spend all that time figuring it out, the tiger would eat you.
This sounds promising. Having no desire to be eaten by a tiger or by anyone or anything vaguely colored like a tiger, I read on as Hoffman explained how communication between humans works:
I can talk to you about my headache and believe that I am communicating effectively with you, because you’ve had your own headaches. The same thing is true as apples and the moon and the sun and the universe. Just like you have your own headache, you have your own moon. But I assume it’s relevantly similar to mine. That’s an assumption that could be false, but that’s the source of my communication, and that’s the best we can do in terms of public physical objects and objective science.
So, now I get it. It’s really pretty simple really. I’m in the Matrix and so are you, you, and you. For all of our lives, we have been blissful ingesters of the blue pill. But recently, much to the chagrin and dismay of many, we have had the red pill shoved forcibly down our throats. As Neo might say, “Whoa!”
After all this I think I know what the Word of the Year for 2017 will be. No spoilers here but I’ll give you one hint. If you’re a fan of The Princess Bride and/or Wallace Shawn, you’ll know it. Now we just have to wait and see if my lexicolition [word intuition] pans out.
* Actually this is L’Ange Du Foyer Ou Le Triomphe Du Surrealisme by Max Ernst, 1937. Public Domain. This brief yet pithy explanation from seems apropos: “The title literally translates to The Angel From Home Or The Triumph Of Surrealism. However, this painting is commonly known as The Fireside Angel. It is one of Ernst’s rare yet poignant political commentaries. It depicts a fiery monster that represents the wave of fascism that overtook Europe in the mid-twentieth-century. Ernst saw Surrealism as a means of transcendence from the horrors of war.” If that’s true, we need to mass produce Dali, now.
Visit Kim Pederson’s blog RatBlurt: Mostly Random Short-Attention-Span Musings.