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October 14th, 2018
Young Lucilius was sitting in a diner with a young woman. They had just ordered their breakfasts and Lucilius was pausing for the briefest of moments in anticipation of the smell and taste of coffee as he took a hot sip. His date smiled, watching him.
“I’ve never seen anyone enjoy coffee as much as you do.”
“Ambrosia of the underworld,” Lucilius said in response. “What’s the line about having fun with sinners instead of crying with the saints?” Lucilius raised his mug of coffee to cheers. The mugs clinked.
“What were you saying about belief yesterday?” The girl queried.
“Hm. I don’t know, what was I saying?” Lucilius asked, and laughed.
“You said that belief is like a symbol, and that it isn’t really the thing that you believe in.”
“I said that?” Lucilius laughed.
“Yea, you said it was like a veil that we throw on things.”
“Oh yea, well, like, think of a stickbug for a second. It looks exactly like a stick, and when it stays real still, it acts just like stick. Why does it do that?”
“It’s camouflage, isn’t it?”
“Camouflage for what?”
“From birds right?”
“And why does it work?”
“Because the birds can’t see the stickbug?”
“They can’t? Does it turn invisible when the bird looks at the stickbug?”
“Well no, they just don’t realize that they’re looking at a stickbug.”
Lucilius pondered for a moment, his gaze gently sliding off into the distance.
“See that chair?”
His date turned around and looked at the chair he indicated.
“What can you tell me about that chair?”
“It’s made of wood. It has four legs and it has some fabric attached to the seat and back.”
“Are you sure? Have you sawed into the wooden legs and looked at the grain pattern under the surface? Have you touched the fabric and ripped it open to see what is stuffed underneath?”
“Then how can you tell these things?”
“I can see them.”
“Just as the bird sees a stick instead of a bug. Imagine if you walked up to that chair and once you were close enough it unraveled in some strange way and it tried to snap at you, and it was clear it was actually a creature, what could we say about your ideas about that chair before you realized it was alive?”
“Well they were wrong.”
“You believed it was a chair. When you were a young little toddler, you investigated a few chairs quite closely, and once you decoded the similarities, then you stopped investigating all chairs and took their visual similarities at face value because the fidelity among chairs as being chairs is high enough that you can release a sense of curiosity or skepticism.”
Lucilius’ date pondered this.
“Here, this is the best example I can think of when it comes to belief being a sort of thing we put onto other things.”
Lucilius pulled out his wallet and opened it and feathered out some green bills. He selected a single dollar and held it up.
“What is this?”
“What does it mean?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Well, what can I do with it?”
“You can spend it.”
“Yea, it’s fungible, I can spend it on a stick of gum or a lighter or whatever anyone else bleieves is worth a dollar, right?”
“Here’s the best way I know to get a visceral sense of what a belief is, and what it feels like.”
Lucilius took the dollar bill between his fingers, paused, and looking at the young girl, he smiled. Then he quickly, and violently ripped the dollar bill in half. The girl jolted in her seat, gasping a little, her eyes going wide for a moment.
“What?” Lucilius asked. “It’s just paper, or cotton really. But the thing is you believe it’s something else.”
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