Don’t Read This!
By William Bezanson
What? Are you still reading this? What did the title say?
Ah! I can guess that you are a rebel. You’re probably a wet paint toucher, too. If a sign says “Wet Paint”, you likely touch the painted object to check if the sign is correct.
I’m that way also. I’m a literalist. I saw a sign on a bridge once, stating “Do Not Pass”! So I stopped driving. I obeyed the sign. (It horrified my wife beside me. She thought I might cause an accident.)
In this article I’m going to write about being a literalist and how to handle various situations where you and I might respond differently from the great masses out there.
So, what does all that have to do with OMTimes, with spirituality, or with metaphysics? A great deal, to my mind.
Let me explain. We readers of OMTimes are a special breed. We weird folk see things differently from what “normal” people see. We approach the world from a higher vantage point, we see into the truth of things, and we try to understand the spiritual aspects of everyday happenings. We constantly ask “Why?” We recognize that the World consists not only of the physical plane, but also a spiritual plane, and perhaps others.
So, now let me give you some examples of some word plays and literalisms that amuse me and that perhaps illustrate my points above. I hope that you can gain some amusement from them also.
First, let us look as some simple self-referential sentences. These refer to themselves, and are great fun to ponder:
This sentence is false.
The preceding sentence is true.
When you are not reading it, this sentence is in Spanish.
This sentence contains exactly threee erors.
You can’t have “your cake” and spell it “too”.
Disobey this command!
I am the thought you are now thinking.
Do you think that anybody has ever had precisely this thought before?
Hey, out there—Is that you reading me or is it someone else?
The reader of this sentence exists only while reading me.
The above examples are taken from Douglas Hofstadter’s wonderful book Metamagical Themas (New York, Basic Books, 1985). I find endless (or “beginningful”) pleasure in reading them, plus the many other self-referential sentences that he has in his book, such as “The rest of this sentence is written in”, and the brilliant “This sentence would be seven words long if it were six words shorter.”
I believe that the sort of people who read OMTimes have their heads in the clouds, and their feet on the ground, to the point that they appreciate the humour in self-referential sentences, and that their appreciation is a form of spiritual experience.
Another form of spiritual experience comes from examining signs that should not be, such as the “Do Not Pass” sign mentioned earlier. How about this one, which I have seen on the entrance doors at a local hospital:
Keep doors closed at all times
Really? So how do I get in? Or if I am already in, how do I get back out? I complained to the hospital, pointing out that if they make a fundamental mistake with a simple door sign, my confidence in their competence is undermined; maybe they might make mistakes with pill dosages, blood pressure measurements, and EEG readings. In all such cases I explain that I am not complaining, but offering suggestions for improvement. (The good news here is that they listened and removed the signs. Indeed, the sign was not only stupid, but also redundant, because the doors were automatically self-closing.)
Here’s another one, this time on an office building entrance door:
Door Alarmed After Hours
Oh! That poor, dear door! I also would be nervous and worried after dark, when nobody is around and I am all alone!
Here’s a (real) highway sign that makes you guess what it means:
Left turning vehicles in left lane
Again, I complained, because the last thing you want to do while driving at high speeds is to second-guess the sign designer, pondering the several meanings of a sign, trying to decide what to do.
So, I suggest that this really is a spiritual practice, playing with self-referential sentences and ambiguous signs. It exercises a part of your brain that perhaps gets under-utilized. It makes you alert to mistakes in many aspects of life, thereby broadening your perceptions. And it provides a chance to give back … to help contribute to clearer thinking in the world, and perhaps even to prevent accidents.
And, besides, it is fun to have such intellectual entertainment; that’s also a form of spiritual growth.
And, yes, it is OK to read this article, now that you’ve got this far.
William Bezanson writes a regular column for OMTimes. His latest book is I Believe: A Rosicrucian Looks at Christianity and Spirituality. He lives with his wife in Ottawa, Canada, and is active in esoteric orders. His website is www3.sympatico.ca/bezanson1 .