OUT-OF-BODY EXPERIENCE: Anamoe's beauty transcends poems and philosophies.

Thoroughbreds give us a peep into spiritual realms


In steaming heat and claustrophobic humidity, a TV racing commentator on Saturday said he felt ‘a hint of autumn in the air’. I was sweating copiously at the time, a result of swatting flies. I did not feel any breezes of autumn.

Then a horse filled my screen and suddenly I was reciting Keats’ Ode to Autumn: ‘Season of mist and mellow fruitfulness …’ For there was Godolphin’s super colt, Anamoe, having a hit-out over 1200 in preparation for the glorious Sydney Autumn Racing Carnival.

The thrills for me come via the intellectual challenges racing offers, and the thrill of participating in top-class turf events. I cannot afford to buy an Anamoe, but through my wagers I can participate in his brilliance through an affordable punt.  For a few thrilling minutes, Anamoe is my colt and I can luxuriate in his triumph while also pocketing, say, a Trifecta divided. 

The financial fillip is not the main thing. It is the joy of reading the universe aright, and siding with its love of class competitors. In Plato’s World of Forms stands a perfect version of Anamoe, and every time the earthly Anamoe wins in style, we get a peep into the realm beyond.

The challenge of reading the universe ‘as it is’ has not been lost on our planet’s brains trust. Indeed, in 2017, the Bet of the Century was struck on a web site called Long Bets (longbets.org). Two of the world’s brightest blokes wagered $400 for and against a proposition one of them had framed. The money did not matter (both bettors pledged their winnings to charity). At stake was the intellectual pride of each man as he attempted to read the universe correctly.

The closing date for the bet’s outcome was 31 December 2020. And yet we still don’t know which of the men has won! Why the hell not? Let me tell you the story and you’ll understand.

British astrophysicist Martin Rees, aka Baron Rees, looked at certain data and offered this wager on the Long Bets website:

The world’s ultimate optimist, Steven Pinker, a cognitive psychologist and psycholinguist, took a $400 bet with Rees that such a biological catastrophe would not take place.

Egghead Pinker’s book Enlightenment Now (2018) argues that human progress has become so thoroughgoing that human beings have never had it so good, and doomsday prophets cannot frighten us with their pessimistic prognostications. Of course, problems and disasters arise, but overall – the data and graphs show – we are on an upward curve and life is getting better and better (there are 233 uses of the word ‘better’ in Pinker’s text).

All was looking good for Pinker’s punt when suddenly, completely out of left field, the coronavirus struck in late 2019.

I can assure you, after reading Enlightenment Now, that Pinker had no inkling that a global pandemic could arise in the 21st century. His book even says that these days, ‘disease outbreaks don’t become pandemics’ (p. 141 of my Kindle edition). He had clearly been sipping too liberally on the happy juice.

Ironically, though, Pinker is still optimistic about winning the bet with Rees. Everything depends on whether the coronavirus was man-made (originating in a lab) or crossed over from an animal species.  For Rees to win, there must have been ‘bioterror or bioerror’). So, to collect, Rees needs Covid to be a man-made virus, and Pinker an animal virus. Until that issue is definitively decided, neither bloke can be paid out.

To me, it is obvious that Rees has the moral victory. Near as damnit, he foresaw Covid striking before the end of 2020. This was a true Nostradamus moment and a bet exciting enough to empty life’s pockets of boredom and fill them with the wonders of intellectual brilliance. I love it!

My thrill also comes from the sense that the pessimist was more prescient than the optimist. Right now, I’d keep following intellectual tipsters with dark visions. After all, Putin’s troops are about to invade the Ukraine, Taiwan faces a similar invasion from China, Covid is still biting hard, climate change is threatening our planet (not to mention our Great Barrier Reef), and Democracy is tottering on matchstick legs in the USA. There is only peril on the horizon.

Anyone want to join me to put a date on the Russian invasion? I’m sure Steven Pinker would bet against us while drawling, ‘It’ll never happen!’ He may be the world’s smartest man, but we can still take him to the cleaners!  -IRC.

STEVEN Pinker contemplates his next punt.  (pic: opendemocracy.net)

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