The Real Char­lie Lives—At Our Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By

Ozzy King

And yet it moves— re­put­edly the first words spo­ken by Galileo upon be­ing freed af­ter his ar­rest by the Ro­man In­qui­si­tion for hold­ing the “hereti­cal” view that the Earth re­volves around the sun—seems accidentally rel­e­vant to the dis­cus­sion of a hoax that has ap­par­ently robbed St. Lu­cians of our wits. This hoax, and the han­dling of it, di­rects the mind to Galileo in an even more sig­nif­i­cant way, for some­thing redo­lent of the In­qui­si­tion seems to be in the process of for­ma­tion; some­thing determined to drag us back to the 17th cen­tury.

The hoax of which I speak is the oth­er­wise in­nocu­ous game known as the “Char­lie Char­lie” chal­lenge. The game (in per­haps its most popular form) con­sists of cross­ing two pen­cils at right an­gles to cre­ate a grid with quad­rants al­ter­nately la­beled “yes” and “no.” Upon pos­ing a ques­tion (typ­i­cally “Char­lie, Char­lie can we play?”) to a “de­mon” named Char­lie, the top pen­cil is ex­pected to ro­tate as the al­leged means of com­mu­ni­cat­ing Char­lie’s “yes” or “no”.

It is ev­i­dent to any­one learned in a lit­tle physics– or a morsel of com­mon­sense– that two pen­cils so ar­ranged re­sult in the place­ment of the top pen­cil in what physi­cists term “un­sta­ble equi­lib­rium.” This ef­fec­tively means the slight­est en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­tur­bance—even the at­mo­spheric dis­tur­bance pro­duced by the ut­ter­ance of the “mag­i­cal words” “Char­lie, Char­lie can we play?”—may be suf­fi­cient to dis­place the pen­cil and cause it to ro­tate. And let us be re­minded that if it does ro­tate, it must in­evitably ro­tate into ei­ther the “yes” or “no” re­gion—a log­i­cal in­evitabil­ity mas­querad­ing as “com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

An­other way to con­cep­tu­al­ize the ex­pla­na­tion is to imag­ine re­plac­ing the two pen­cils with a sin­gle pen­cil made to bal­ance on its tip (at the in­ter­sec­tion of two lines form­ing the “yes-no” grid. This may be in­ter­preted as a highly sen­si­tive ver­sion of the “Char­lie, Char­lie” chal­lenge and we ex­pect that even the slight­est dis­tur­bance—in­clud­ing the way we re­lease the pen­cil—is enough to cause it to top­ple.

Of course with such a setup the ex­tent of the in­sta­bil­ity is so great that one need not even ut­ter “Char­lie” in or­der to top­ple the pen­cil. If any­one doubts this ex­pla­na­tion, try do­ing the “chal­lenge” with two 30 cm rulers or per­haps two sheets of ply­wood. Or why not re­ally chal­lenge “Char­lie” and pose such ques­tions as “Char­lie, Char­lie is my shirt red?” (which will yield, on av­er­age, a “yes” as of­ten as it yields a “no” and has mean­ing only if you are in fact wear­ing a shirt!). Fur­ther­more, the de­pen­dence of the “chal­lenge” on such a sen­si­tive sys­tem as the two-pen­cil ar­range­ment alone should make one sus­pi­cious of the silly ex­pla­na­tion: “com­mu­ni­ca­tion with demons.” There are count­less ways to set up the chal­lenge to in­val­i­date the de­mon in­ter­pre­ta­tion. I will leave it to the reader to ex­er­cise some imag­i­na­tion in that di­rec­tion.

Apart from the be­lief in su­per­sti­tion (but­tressed by reli­gion) at the heart of the gulli­bil­ity unashamedly man­i­fested in the popular in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the “Char­lie Char­lie” chal­lenge, one must rec­og­nize the con­tri­bu­tion of a phe­nom­e­non known as “fram­ing.” The par­tic­i­pants in the “Char­lie Char­lie” chal­lenge are pre­dis­posed to per­ceive move­ments of the pen­cil as con­fir­ma­tion of the pres­ence of a de­mon, sim­ply be­cause the game has al­ready been framed in such terms.

Sub­tract the yes/no grid and sub­sti­tute the in­vo­ca­tion of Char­lie with an ex­per­i­ment to as­sess the sen­si­tiv­ity of the crossed ar­range­ment of pen­cils into small dis­tur­bances and the very same re­sult would have been judged from the com­mon­sense per­spec­tive that ob­jects in un­sta­ble equi­lib­rium will move upon per­tur­ba­tion by small dis­tur­bances.

Out of the sort of pride that does not wish to lend the oxy­gen of re­spectabil­ity to non­sen­si­cal­ity, I was ini­tially determined not to par­tic­i­pate in the “Char­lie Char­lie” chal­lenge. How­ever, the level of le­git­imiza­tion given by school and gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties to a lazy, philis­tine and danger­ous in­ter­pre­ta­tion of an oth­er­wise in­nocu­ous game has com­pelled a few words against the bar­bar­ity of think­ing tol­er­ated in an age which boasts of ci­vil­ity.

As a science teacher, it is my ex­press re­spon­si­bil­ity to cor­rect mis­con­cep­tions— es­pe­cially mis­con­cep­tions that lie con­spic­u­ously within the domain of science. I as­sert with ut­most con­fi­dence that I have en­deav­ored to train my stu­dents well enough that they would not aban­don crit­i­cal think­ing in the face of ir­ra­tional­ity (for that is pre­cisely when it is most needed).

But it is not the stu­dents who need the guid­ance as much as it is the teach­ers and the school ad­min­is­tra­tion—for in some I have di­vined the mut­ter­ing of the In­qui­si­tion that in sub­tle ways tries to sug­gest teach­ers should en­dorse the prim­i­tive and sub-hu­man in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a child’s game. I do not doubt that this pat­tern re­peats it­self across our schools. And though I am will­ing to en­force the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion’s ban on the play­ing of the game in schools, I am in no way go­ing to re­lent on ad­vanc­ing a ra­tio­nal ex­pla­na­tion of the prin­ci­ples un­der­ly­ing the game (which ap­pears to some, an in­vis­i­ble corol­lary of the Min­istry’s prohibition).

And to all who have cow­ered un­der the prohibition and ab­ne­gated free­dom of speech and thought and wish to play it safe be­cause of the fear of un­writ­ten ret­ri­bu­tion, I want to make it clear that a ban on the game does not im­ply a prohibition of the sci­en­tific ex­pla­na­tion of it—it is not a li­cense to hold your tongue and pack away your brain.

It is an em­bar­rass­ment that the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, though it felt the need to ban the game on premises that can­not be jus­ti­fied, felt no ur­gency to com­bat, with ra­tio­nal ex­pla­na­tion, the de­gen­er­ate think­ing that keeps the game alive. The stated ac­tion of the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion has the three-fold ef­fect of 1) en­dors­ing and for­ti­fy­ing the be­lief that the ex­pla­na­tion of an oth­er­wise in­nocu­ous game lies in oc­cult be­lief; 2) con­trary to its in­tent, im­bu­ing the game with the se­duc­tion of the for­bid­den fruit and thereby strength­en­ing the temp­ta­tion to play the game and 3) ex­ac­er­bat­ing the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects (real and imag­ined) by way of bol­ster­ing the be­lief in the haz­ardous con­se­quences of play­ing the game.

Had the Min­istry not in­ter­vened, I dare­say the “Char­lie” game would have been a pass­ing fad. By re­peat­edly ex­per­i­ment­ing with the game, chil­dren would soon dis­cover its ex­clu­sive re­liance on sci­en­tific prin­ci­ples, and its in­nocu­ous­ness.

The me­dia can­not go un­chas­tised. For while the “de­mon” ori­gin of the game and its per­ceived ef­fects have been sen­sa­tion­al­ized with much zeal, there has been no demon­strated at­tempt at sup­ply­ing a ra­tio­nal per­spec­tive. What is the pur­pose of the me­dia if not to en­lighten?

No sur­prise that the church has used the op­por­tu­nity to mar­ket it­self. It would be su­per­flu­ous to say it has stepped in, for it is the church it­self that self­ishly orig­i­nated and for­ti­fied the silly in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

But the big­gest af­front to hu­man in­tel­li­gence con­cern­ing the “Char­lie Char­lie” chal­lenge takes the form of teach­ers— even science teach­ers—who im­plic­itly and ex­plic­itly en­dorse the bar­baric and cred­u­lous in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the game. Teach­ers are sup­posed to teach, to en­lighten—to shed light on dark­ness of thought, to dis­si­pate the fog of su­per­sti­tion that par­a­lyzes judg­ment and crip­ples nov­elty. The “chal­lenge,” on the ba­sis of the child-like sim­plic­ity of its fraud­u­lence, does not war­rant any so­phis­ti­cated knowl­edge of science for its dis­si­pa­tion. Even the thresh­old crit­i­cal­ity of thought im­per­a­tive to the teach­ing pro­fes­sion is suf­fi­cient to shield all teach­ers from be­com­ing dupes of a bad joke. This speaks vol­umes about the goals of the teach­ing pro­fes­sion and the qual­ity of our ed­u­ca­tion. Who would ever be­lieve that such back­ward­ness could be sanc­tioned by our very schools!

As to the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects of the game, there is much that can­not be dis­en­tan­gled from sen­sa­tional ru­mor and bla­tant lies. What mo­ti­vates hys­te­ria may be as un­real as the ghosts we di­vine in the nightly shad­ows. Yet we must ad­mit that the ef­fects of hys­te­ria are al­ways real. The source of the hys­te­ria is not that the game equates to the in­vo­ca­tion of de­monic forces but rather the be­lief that the game has such an ef­fect. And the rem­edy to the hys­te­ria is not a ban on the game but a na­tion­wide ex­pla­na­tion of the ba­sic sci­en­tific prin­ci­ples un­der­ly­ing the game. Oth­er­wise, what we ac­com­plish is not a real prohibition but an ex­ac­er­ba­tion of the hys­te­ria by driv­ing the phe­nom­e­non un­der­ground (for cer­tainly we are with­out the vig­i­lance to en­force the ban at all times and in all places). As to the re­ports of lev­i­ta­tions and other such ab­sur­di­ties, it seems quite con­ve­nient that, in an age where a plethora of triv­i­al­i­ties are cap­tured on cam­era, we have not had the good for­tune of cap­tur­ing a sin­gle cred­i­ble in­stance of the al­leged lev­i­ta­tions.

Should I end in shame or op­ti­mism? Vi­car­i­ous shame for the fact that the adults of our so­ci­ety have sur­ren­dered their wits in the face of a tale so tall that it seems fit for con­sump­tion by only the most unimag­i­na­tive chil­dren, or op­ti­mism (hope?) that this post will in­spire oth­ers to break off from the herd and seek the soli­tude within which the truth al­ready lies.

The “Char­lie, Char­lie” chal­lenge: was it a hoax or not?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Saint Lucia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.