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The School Exam, 1859, Friedrich Peter Hiddemann
"Reality seems a belief-based initiative, or so our scientists insist."

Sedona sits nestled beside the seemingly insignificant Oak Creek, a watercourse which has over countless millennia carved an admirable red rock canyon, leaving soaring sandstone spires surrounding it. It seems both the most unlikely and dramatic setting for a small city. Its airport sits atop a mesa. It's reputed to hold several 'vortexes,' places where mysterious energies converge to impart special powers upon those who can tap them. Tourists—as near as I could tell in passing, the same tourists we encountered at The Grand Canyon—flock to these special spots, climbing red rock trails to bask in something not immediately obvious. The Muse, The Otter, and I slid up a slippery rock trail to find what, precisely, at the top? As Mad Magazine used to proclaim about its writing staff, The Usual Gang Of Idiots, ourselves prominently among them. A small plane practiced touch-and-goes out of the adjacent airport, buzzing the crowd of seekers. It felt like a cut-rate Lourdes without the water source. We, and supposedly everyone around us, stumbled back to our cars underwhelmed by our brush with touted greatness. We climbed up there As-If we might experience something life-changing but left feeling as though we'd suckered ourselves. As-Iffing sometimes works like this.

We returned to the car, then headed ourselves in the general direction of Phoenix, just As-If we might actually be able to drive there.
A thousand little encumbrances emerged over the following two hours, yet we managed to arrive pretty much on projected time. We entered a parking lot As-If we might find a parking spot there, but found none, so we drove around the block before coming upon one on the other side of the block, just As-If someone had reserved the perfect spot just for us. We took this experience As-If as evidence of our parking karma, more birthright than chance, As-If some benevolent being watched over and guided us. The Schooner had run a test during the trip, a test which judging by the rush hour traffic we encountered as we entered the city, at least a million other cars were also conducting. A few vehicles failed the test, though their drivers doubtless initiated their test As-If that test would not fail. Those drivers might have cursed the same entity we thanked for our safe passage, just As-If that benevolent being had been there guiding. Even a rush hour breakdown couldn't convince some that their usually reliable watchman wasn't there watching over them.

Scientists professionally engage in As-Iffing. They pose a hypothesis then engage As-If that hypothesis were true. Their results amount to Seems To or Seems Not, for no single experiment conclusively proves anything, but suggests something instead. Over time, through repeated examination, a body of observations emerges from which scientists conclude As-If something had been proven. Every freaking time I fire up the old Schooner for another drive, ten thousand little experiments ensue, any one of which could fail to produce the results I've grown so accustomed to. So stands truth in our mechanical world. Failure shaved down to infinitesimal likelihoods, we proceed As-If failure were unlikely, as so it usually seems to be. I'd say it 'usually is,' but I'd need more data to confidently predict, so I proceed just As-If I probably will succeed, though I understand somewhere buried deep down inside me, that I won't always succeed. Fortunately, I believe in a benevolent watchman overseeing everything.

We seem at root ridiculous beings. We easily impart what we simply cannot know and so believe we understand. We rarely catch ourselves in the act of imparting, so firmly do we hold our curious beliefs. Our beliefs don't even seem all that curious anymore, having seemingly repeatedly proven their own validity to our full satisfaction. We experience little of our actual choosing, though we choose to believe almost everything we hold as true. I revere those who hold their beliefs with great tenacity. I also fear them, for they seem capable of justifying any otherwise unthinkable act in the name of God, country, or some other great and overwhelming As-If.

My As-Iffing seems capable of offending some. I once rather too proudly proclaimed that I don't believe that organizations exist except as notional convictions in the members' and observers' minds. I had not realized that I was sitting in a room half-filled with Organizational Consultants, who took umbrage at what they interpreted as my slight. I meant no disrespect, and had honestly thought my comment quite uncontroversial. I naively assumed that everyone already understood that organizations exist only in the minds of their members and observers, and that the great art to survival within any organization lay in engaging As-If they did exist without letting the idea that they don't actually exist impair engagement. Others seem to need to believe that an entity 'really' exists before they can fully engage with it—be it God, Country, or Organization—when all of it might more probably qualify as complete fiction. If I engage As-If these notions were real without falling into the traps insisting that these realities remain immutable, I seem somehow more resilient. I preserve agency to believe, but not the spurious agency to believe that I'm not believing. Reality seems a belief-based initiative, or so our scientists insist.

An inquisition of sorts ensued. The Organizational Consultants took to trying to convince me that I'd held contempt in my heart when I'd insisted that there was no such thing as an organization. They just wanted me to confess, then they would be satisfied. I could sanctify their beliefs or be held in considerable contempt. I could not relent and they could not accept, and we would have parted enemies had I not confessed to never having understood that nobody else could have ever considered organizations real. I apologized for my presumption without excusing my conclusion, and we parted almost having reached an agreement. They believed me deluded and I forgave them. My life continued As-If.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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