The storyline of the Coyote and the Roadrunner is pretty straight forward and, generally speaking, goes as follows:
- Coyote designs an elaborate plan to capture the Roadrunner
- Coyote poorly executes the elaborate plan
- The Roadrunner is dismissive of the Coyote and taunts him with a Beep Beep
- The Coyote is met with a tragic, yet humorous, demise.
- Rinse and repeat.
As a viewer of this repetition of failure it seems to border on absurdity, as it seems obvious that the Coyote should eventually learn from his failures. However, I do not think the absurdity is rooted in his failure, but more in his lack of success. For example, if a rabbit wanders into a specific area of the forest in search for food and the discovery renders no food and the rabbit continues to show up every single day, after previous fails- this would be akin to the Coyote. However, if the rabbit found food in this spot every day for its entire life, and then after hundreds of successful trips, the food is gone. How many times will the rabbit return before it comes to the conclusion that food is no longer there? Is the rabbit no longer acting absurd, if it was previously successful?
Hypothesis: In area X there is food to eat.
Trial: Four hundred successful trials of hypothesis, followed by ten failed trials.
We would exhibit that the rabbit would eventually stop visiting area X in search of food and we would not consider the rabbit acting absurd. So in the case of the Coyote and the Roadrunner, it is only absurd because the coyote repeats a failed strategy in hopes of success without any past experience of success to illustrate that success is a reasonable outcome.
This behavior is also exhibited in humans:
I have heard lots of good things about a new restaurant that I want to try and all my friends are talking about how good it is. I decide to try it. Prior to eating at this place I have implicitly created the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis: I will enjoy eating at restaurant X
After eating at this restaurant there will be numerous possible outcomes, but for simplicity sake I will use only 3:
- I will enjoy eating there
- I kind of enjoying eating there
- I do not enjoy eating there
Option 1 matches my hypothesis and hence, my hypothesis is a success. Options 2 and 3 counter my hypothesis and will force me to refine my hypothesis to either 2 or 3. Since 2 borders between 1 and 3, it may require I retest my original hypothesis. If the outcome is 3 then I will revise to 3 and never eat there again. It would be absurd if I responded with 3, but then continued to eat there over and over again with perpetually repeated failures of my hypothesis.
A child that unfortunately grows up in a hostile home environment with parents who were constantly fighting will have a higher probability of being in a hostile relationship as either the abuser or abusee in their future relationships.
Hypothesis: A loving relationship is inclusive of physical or emotional abuse
Trials: an entire childhood of observed successful trials of hypothesis
Now, say our example identifies as the abusee and as an adult has a tendency to end up in relationships where he/she is abused. His/her friends who are aware of the abuse should challenge this hypothesis. Let’s put this example on the backburner for a moment.
Back to the rabbit:
As rabbits are prey to other animals the aforementioned hypothesis could also be seen as the following, as the rabbit must always consider its own safety:
Hypothesis: In area X there is food to eat and it is safe
This hypothesis is satisfied when there is both food and safety.
This hypothesis is falsified if there is not food or if it is unsafe (both are sufficient conditions for falsification). The rabbit will respond to a falsified hypothesis with (3) of the following possible outcomes:
- Revision of hypothesis (X does not have food, and/or X is not safe)
- Fight (Continue to search for food and exhaust all possible food possibilities in X, and/or physically fight the safety threat)
- Flight (flee X (because of no food or because of threat))
If the rabbit reasons with 1, the rabbit will leave and never return, as the hypothesis has been revised.
If the rabbit reasons with 2 then the rabbit will either successfully fight (find food or destroy the threat) and hence the rabbit can reason that the original hypothesis is successful and depending on the difficulty of the fight the rabbit may or may not attempt another trial; or unsuccessfully fight, which will end in no food and/or death. But considering that animals rarely engage in fight unless they have a high chance of survival (a rabbit would not engage a coyote in a fight, but a rabbit may engage a mouse), then it is likely that the rabbit will return. If fighting has a low probability of success then the rabbit will flee, but if the flee option is not possible it will fight as a last resort. Fight is always a last resort, unless there is an obvious high probability of success.
If the rabbit reasons with 3 then the rabbit will run away and if rabbit runs away successfully the rabbit may or may not retry the hypothesis, dependent on the difficulty of the flee and the quantity of successful trials prior to this falsified trial.
If this happens to be the first trial, or the first time the rabbit sought food in area X then the rabbit would peer from the brush and see ‘no food’ and/or ‘threat’ and immediately leave. Hypothesis failed, hence hypothesis revised. The rabbit’s proclivity to fight/flight when the hypothesis is challenged is dependent on the quantity of previous success.
Back to the abusive relationship:
If his/her friends challenge the hypothesis “a loving relationship is inclusive of physical or emotional abuse” the abuser and abusee will both have a proclivity to fight/flight1 instead of merely revising their hypothesis. They will exhibit fight by arguing with the challenge and attempting to reason (rationalize) the abuse or they will exhibit flight by intentionally avoiding the friends who challenge the hypothesis. Like the rabbit, flight will be the natural tendency unless fight has a high probability of success.
The hypothesis of existence:
Upon birth every human becomes cognizant of their own existence, which is exhibited in their own consciousness. Or as Descarte claimed, the ability to think is proof of existence, in short: I think, therefore I am2. Our entire life we are testing the trial of the hypothesis: I AM. And each and everyday we live is a successful trial of the hypothesis of existence (I am). This makes death, in essence, a falsification of the hypothesis of I am. And unlike all other hypotheses, we are aware of this falsification before it happens- it is certain. Being aware of the looming falsification of the hypothesis of existence allows us to respond to the falsification in advance with the following: revision of hypothesis, fight or flight.
A person may fight the certainty of death and try to challenge it, or flight and avoid the question altogether. Like the rabbit, if successful engagement of fight seems improbable, then the rabbit will have a tendency to flight, and will only fight as a last resort. As exhibited in humans, children tend to act as they will live forever (flight) and risky behavior tends to continue through adolescence and slowly the proclivity to flight declines. It could even be argued that the desire to have children is a fight response to the falsification of the hypothesis I am, as it represents a challenge to death.
In the case of terminally ill patients, upon becoming more explicitly aware of the falsification of their existence they will go through the following process3:
- Denial (flight)4
- Anger (transition from flight to fight)
- Bargaining (fight)
- Depression (transition from fight to hypothesis revision)
- Acceptance (revision of hypothesis)
Original hypothesis: I am
Revised hypothesis: I am, until I am not.
The Genesis of God:
Unlike the rabbit, humans have one supreme advantage: we have the ability to write down our hypotheses, trials and results. And more so, we can communicate them to other humans. We can learn from the mistakes/successes of other people. In the rabbit, most hypotheses that the rabbit makes always includes survival and the falsification of a hypothesis, which results in death, can’t be communicated to other rabbits, and even if rabbit survives, the rabbits (along with all animals) do not have the ability to communicate anywhere near the capacity of human communication- as humans can communicate through reading/writing/math5.
So humans, for the entire history of human existence, have tended with the ultimate hypothesis of I am. And just like humans are able to communicate and write down theories in math and science and continuously build off the success of their predecessors, as is the case with the hypothesis of I am. The notion of God and afterlife could be perceived as a revision of the hypothesis from I am, to I am, forever. A fortiori, the hypothesis: life is meaningless becomes (with god) life has meaning.
This revised hypothesis is written down and is taught and transferred from generation to generation as a revision to the previous hypothesis, which will ultimately be falsified. The revised hypothesis is incapable of falsification by design and because of this, it will be promoted as a viable revision to the hypothesis of existence indefinitely.
Alas, God is a theory for the hypothesis of existence- a theory that cannot be proved or disproved. As the Coyote tries and fails over and over to the point of absurdity, as do humans persist on accepting a theory without evidence on the sole notion that “I am, forever” feels better than “I am, until I am not”. This may be true, but feelings do not prove theories.
As is the case with plants, animals and humans alike:
I am, until I am not.
1 Fight/flight could also be perceived as an aggressive/passive response from the ego as a defense mechanism to protect oneself from harm and is innate to nature.
2 Descartes, Rene. Discourse on the method of rightly conducting the reason, and seeking truth in the sciences. Raleigh, N.C.: Alex Catalogue, 199. Print.
3 Ross, Elisabeth. On death and dying. New York: Macmillan, 1969. Print.
4 The parenthetical notes to the Five Stages of Grief are my own comments and not the ideas of Elisabeth Ross.
5 Popper, Karl R.. All life is problem solving. London: Routledge, 1999. Print.