Life of Pi, Only 3.14% Accurate

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Life of Pi,

Only 3.14% Accurate

Scott Symington

An interesting encounter at sea is reported in the Naval Institute’s official magazine, Proceedings. A battleship had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather. A lookout reported a light in the distance, so the captain had the signalman send a message: “We are on a collision course. Advise you change course 20 degrees.” Minutes later a signal came back: “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.” The captain angrily ordered that another signal be sent: “I’m a captain. Change course 20 degrees.” Again came a reply: “I’m a seaman, second class. You had better change course 20 degrees.” Furious by this point, the captain barked a final threat: “I’m a battleship with a full naval escort. Change course 20 degrees!” The signal came back: “I’m a lighthouse.” The captain changed his course.1

Truth is like a lighthouse, both in the way we may stand on it as a foundation in the midst of the waves life consistently brings, and in the guidance it offers to navigate effectively through life. There are many sources of power, which that light of truth can draw upon, two of which, science and religion, are focused upon in Yann Martel’s, Life of Pi.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I expect it to be interesting, touching, an opportunity for incredible visuals, and a thoughtful movie – as long as you leave your logic at the concessions stand. Throughout the story, phenomenal symbolism and beauty are used in this fictional account to put a favorable spotlight on postmodernism, the belief that includes ideas such as: there is no absolute truth or authority to provide objective truth about reality, and all ideas are equally open to interpretation. Hinduism, relativism and other beliefs have added corollaries, such as: it is warranted to stand on whatever belief you want, and all beliefs can lead to the same top of the mountain experience. This article follows the tradition of countless prior works, which attempt to close the curtain on this nice sounding, but invalid belief, and will do so in three parts: 1) explain the beliefs the Life of Pi preaches, 2) discuss the appeal and 3.14% accuracy of that belief, 3) and briefly note why the incoherence of this idea needs to be recognized for the good of your non-fictional life.

Pi’s Postmodernism

Pi (his birth name comes to be replaced by this mathematical term) is raised in India by his parents, who are portrayed as secular modernists believing primarily in the power of science. Science comes into play often in the zoo his parents run. Pi’s favorite teacher shares the worship of science in his atheism. In addition, part one of the book also shows Pi as thirsting for spiritual knowledge, and after a visit to a Hindu temple, a Catholic church, and a visit with a Muslim baker, converts to all three faiths. Well “converts” isn’t the right word, because Pi accepts and incorporates all three faiths.

In one fortuitous incident, Pi’s pandit (Hindu scholar), priest, and imam (a Muslim leader) all run into Pi at the same time and argue over both him, and whose religion is best. Pi ends the embarrassing display by answering, “Bapu Ghandi said, ‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God.”2 Pi is shown as meekly giving a heartfelt answer, and simultaneously silencing all discussion on the issue, which endears the audience to him and his views.

Pi evidently doesn’t care to, or even realize that such a claim can be tested for validity and philosophical soundness. His statement is treated in the book as a conversation ender, but that is where real thinking, and scientific, historical, and philosophical interaction with the differing ideas need to engage. Instead of any mental heavy-lifting with these issues, Pi is just supplied with religious appearances and pantheist unity with nature experiences.

So now we have a mathematically named child from secular upbringing, who simultaneously is so spiritual (whatever the author means by “spiritual”) that he adheres to three other worldviews. This is grasping postmodernism by the horns and attempting to ride that bull through the life struggles that follow. Will having one foot (well, one foot on one, one foot on another, and each hand on the remaining two worldviews, like worldview twister) on four different worldview foundations benefit or harm Pi, and validate or invalidate postmodernism? The remainder of the book places Pi in the fantastic position of having to survive on a lifeboat in the Pacific, and with a Bengal tiger passenger – postmodernism is put to the test – fictionally, which is fitting.

Part two of the book covers over two hundred days at sea, with numerous instances that require the productive utility of science and faith. Pi uses science to keep the tiger tamed, and provide food and water. But even with that use of science, at times survival seems lost, requiring Pi to utilize resources from religion, including religious experiences. So based on the experiences of Pi, all worldviews seem to have truth, great things to offer, and can all harmoniously be used for the benefit of one’s life: science to explain how things work in life, and when it reaches a limit, all the religions come into appropriate use for guiding one’s life.

The author is drawing an animated picture of the NOMA theory of the late Harvard professor, Stephen J. Gould, who provided a good description of a very common thought regarding science and theology. Gould claims that the two great tools of human understanding (science and religion) compliment each other in their totally separate realms: science as gaining knowledge and understanding about the factual state of the natural world, and religion when considering spiritual meaning and ethical values. While the eminent professor has credentials longer than this article, he was simply wrong, and in a four-part article I will post later, NOMA will be disproven and the real relationship between science and theology (a Symbiotic relationship, SOMA) will be explained.

Martel, however, has boarded Gould’s boat. The two characters, Pi and Richard Parker (name of the tiger) are on opposite sides of the boat on their journey, yet they have to get along. This is an allegory symbolizing science and religion being separated. Now I am unsure if Pi represents the spiritual side, as this kid is so super-spiritual he has three faiths, and the tiger is the science of raw nature, or the tiger represents divine-like beauty and power, and Pi represents science as he uses it on the tiger and ocean to survive. But either way, both science and faith are used to get along, and Pi even becomes more like Richard Parker along the journey.

A further connection is made within Pi himself, as the two passengers he carries within himself, science and faith, are reconciled during the journey.

Part three of the story brings another promotion of postmodernism. Investigators question Pi about the ordeal. Initially Pi tells the story, but the detectives do not believe him. Pi comments how our perceptions determine much or reality, which is right out of the postmodernist handbook, but eventually retells the story without the animals. That second story is terrible. Instead of the animals involved, his mom, a cruel cook, a young sailor, and a lot of beastly actions are involved.

Now the question is posed to the investigators, and to us, what story do you prefer? And while there are details in the account with the animals that are problematic, such as the carnivorous island, the readers, and the investigators in their final report, are challenged and encouraged to accept the “better story.” And so it goes with God is the connection we are encouraged to make in our own lives. Maybe science is all that is needed to explain the story, but we have to force faith to fit in too, because it makes for a better, more easily livable story.

Bottom-line: Pi shows no need to make a decision between contradicting belief systems, on the contrary, it is actually useful to bring them all into the boat. This is an apologetic for NOMA, Hinduism, and postmodernism.

 

Pi is 3.14% Accurate

There are appealing features of Pi’s postmodern approach: you can believe whatever you want; all ideas have inherent validity and value; others who disagree with you do so only from their perspective, not from truth, facts or real knowledge. It’s like a world where we are all of the same political party, or rooting for the same team. A nice thought, the only problem with it is logic and reality. The comfortable features may be what allows this idea to survive longer than actual merit warrants.

Don’t take this the wrong way, I would argue that every person has inherent value, and even those whom we disagree with must be treated with the dignity, respect and love that follows from their inherent worth. However, while all people are created equal, all ideas are not, and as Frank Turek has noted, ideas are in the free marketplace, where cross-examination is appropriate and beneficial. Tolerance does not mean we cannot disagree, on the contrary, tolerance occurs when we disagree with someone, yet still treat them as we hope others will treat us. In fact, if one cares about another person, they will not hold up, but instead put down inaccurate beliefs, which have a reasonable likelihood of leading to negative consequences. Caring for and respecting Pi would be especially easy, he is a lovable character, and Martel even writes in a soft, but insightful and engaging way. Excellent read, but the message leaves a bad taste in the mouth, err, mind.

Examination of Martel and Pi’s perspective reveals a small percentage of truth. There are some good things in each of those religions, but is that surprising? If nothing appealing were in those belief systems, those systems would likely have folded long ago. Also, religious beliefs, even if false, may provide “spiritual” feelings, experiences, and even hope in a situation where one has nothing else – an actual Marxist opiate. The non-controversial point that science provides factual knowledge about the physical world is also included, but not central to the primary postmodernist contention. These account for the approximately 3.141592% accuracy in the primary claim being promoted through Pi’s experience. I round off to 3.14% because I do not want to exaggerate my level of certainty. After all, you can make numbers say anything you want, 31.4% of all people know that. Seriously, a quantitative approach is not really applicable here, and the belief in postmodernism is refuted at an even more basic level, logic.

What Martel, and unfortunately many readers and movie goers, fails to realize is the real contrast wasn’t horizontally in the boat between the boy and the tiger, it was vertically between the very deep ocean and the very shallow thinking in the boat. Five examples are given below.

The Shallow Thinking in the Deep Ocean

First, Pi buys into the shallow connotation of “faith” common in our culture. Many have come to believe faith means having some vague or insubstantial belief, based on feelings or just hopes, entirely empty of supportive reasons. While that type of “faith” is demonstrated by people in diverse areas of life, to conflate all “faith” into that version is very narrow-sighted. Faith always has three parts: 1) The object of faith (for example, a chair), 2) The content of the faith (I believe the chair will support me), 3) And the reason(s) for the faith (haven’t been dropped by a chair yet, it looks sturdy, I don’t see Ashton Kutcher from Punk’d).

When Pi accepts the three religions, he does so based on a singular experience or feeling, because he liked something he saw, or felt and wanted to satisfy a spiritual need. He had a paucity of reasons, and simply assumed that was inherent with faith in a religion. Good thing Pi didn’t run into Marshall Applewhite of the Heaven’s Gate cult, or before ever getting on that fateful boat we may have found Pi laying on a bed wearing Nike’s and with an empty glass of poisoned Kool-Aid.

If we make a choice without any supportive reasons, aside from feelings or wishful thinking, then we are acting in the “blind faith” fitting both what our culture commonly associates with faith, and Pi’s acceptance of three religions. Sometimes we even believe in something against the available evidence, which is another type of faith, delusional faith. But, when we do not have certainty, and trust in something based on supportive reasons, then that is the most common faith we operate on throughout life – a reasoned faith.

We do not claim to be sitting or career agnostics, and refrain from using chairs or working a job because we lack certainty. We use the reasons we do have, and make our choices. Pi never attaches faith to science though (unless I missed it), event in his later studies in science and religion. Yet even those working in science recognize that many of their understandings and beliefs are far from certain, but can be trusted or used for direction based upon sufficient supportive reasons. We all exercise faith in almost all the decisions we make, and even Pi’s atheist dad and teacher exercised faith in animal taming and teaching biology theories respectively. Pi himself, in utilizing science to survive, was exercising faith that those techniques would work. Therefore, to relegate only the religious beliefs to faith, and to assume it must be blind faith is short-sighted. Belief in God (called theism), belief there is no God (atheism), belief we cannot know if God exists or not (agnosticism) are ALL faith beliefs.

Religious beliefs make claims about the factual state of reality, and therefore, can be tested scientifically, historically, philosophically, etc. Pi was given only religious appearances or subjective experiences to bolster his faith, which fits right in line with postmodern claims. If those experiences are the only support for his beliefs in God, then the kid should consider a psychiatric visit as his contradictory beliefs cannot all be true and validated. This brings us to a second error in Pi’s reasoning.

Second, the belief in the three contradictory religions is not blind faith, but delusional. Ghandi may have been a social-activist-visionary, but logic was not his strong point when it came to beliefs. “All religions are true,” violates a basic law of thought or logic, the law of non-contradiction. Contradictions are impossible, like a one-ended stick, or “My biological sister is an only child.”

Different paths to the top of a mountain are possible because they do not contradict each other, but different beliefs do. Wherever beliefs contradict each other, only one at most can fit reality and be true. The world religions may have some similarities, but it’s the differences that make all the difference.

You are offered two pills: both are white, the same size, color, smell, and taste, except that one is aspirin, and the other includes arsenic. So, one will cure a headache, and the other can kill you. The difference(s) make all the difference. If worldviews differ on even one of the big questions in life, tremendous impacts will follow, and religions differ not in marginal areas, but in the central points.

I personally would want to know the false ingredients, even in the belief I currently accept. If Jesus was crucified for our justification and resurrected, then there is truth and reality supporting a life lived on that foundation. If not, as Islam, atheism and other belief systems claim, that is catastrophic to Christian beliefs, and if one does not want their choices, thoughts, responses, priorities, goals, and direction in life to fall into the consequences of inaccurate guidance, then another foundation better be sought.

A third entirely false idea is the Hindu, relativist, and postmodern claim that there is no absolute truth. Two simple tests expose this idea. First, apply the claim to itself, in any of its common iterations, as shown below, and in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.

1. There is no truth . . . Is THAT true?

2. You can’t know truth . . . How do you then know that is truth?

3. All truth is relative . . . Is that a relative truth?

4. It’s all just opinions . . . Is that just your opinion, or is that truth?

5. No one has the truth . . . But one, you, claim to have the truth?

6. It’s true for you, but not for me . . . Is that true for everybody, including you and me?

7. You ought not judge, or be intolerant . . . Isn’t that a judgmental statement, intolerant of those who do show judgment?

8. Whatever, I’ll do what I want . . . Cannot argue that, you can do what you want,

and you will slam against the hard reality of ignored truth.

There is also the Hindu belief in maya: ultimate realities are an illusion. If so, how does one holding this belief claim the ultimate reality of maya, if ultimate realities are not knowable?  Maybe they are falling for an illusion in believing maya. The claims are contradictory, and their proof would be their disproof. While Pi is an irrational number, it doesn’t contradict itself as Martel’s Pi repeatedly does in trying to support his belief claims.

Another test is to attempt to use any of these claims in court, when trying to fight a ticket for being clocked at 100 in a 50 mph zone. After a third oncologist notifies you of your serious stage of cancer, which needs to be dealt with, will declaring no one knows the truth, there is no truth, you ought not judge, or any other variation alter the reality of your situation? The claim doesn’t work in reality.

If there is one instance of absolute truth, then absolute truth exists. Anything that goes against something that is true – goes against reality – and is excluded from being true. Some people expected the Patriots to win the Super Bowl for the 2011 NFL season, others really wanted the Giants, and some sad fans even hoped the Lions would win. There were even similarities between the three teams, but there were also differences, and the differences are going to play out on the day where it counts. The bottom-line is that final scoreboard. The Giants won that year, that truth is universal, true for all people, in all places and times, and excludes ALL contrary claims. It is not being narrow-minded, intolerant, arrogant, or mean, it is simply the truth.

The beliefs espoused by Pi would also reject universal truth. Universal truth is true for all people, in all places, and at all times. But universality is in the nature of truth. People may look at things with different opinions, cultural perspectives, or hypotheses, but different views do not change the truth. Do not confuse truth and reality with opinions, perceptions, etc. Different cultures and times may not believe an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan – but the truth that it did happen is still the reality for all people, in all places, and for all time.

The fourth error is another logic mistake, a false dilemma. Pi supposedly sat in his boat on the horns of a dilemma, science or faith, as though believing in either was mutually exclusive to the other. The whole dichotomy between science on one side and faith on the other, both in the boat and within Pi, is a false dichotomy. A third option splits the horns of the dilemma: science and theology could already be joined together in a mutually supportive view of reality. This third option I support in an article on NOMA v. SOMA, mentioned earlier.

For now, we can point out that the conflict Pi was experiencing was not between science and faith as he supposed, it was between atheist naturalism, which atheists and naturalists like to equate with science, and theism and pantheism. Resolution of that conflict is impossible as atheism and theism contradict each other; one is true, the other false.

Pi, however, resolves the conflict by not even challenging atheist naturalism, assuming science explains everything in the physical world just fine without God, and simply hypothesizes spiritual things can and must exist outside the grasp or limits of science. This resolution is supported by Martel providing untestable religious experiences, and almost desperate claims that we need the spiritual when all other hope is lost, or to make sense of an otherwise terrible world. This all amounts to a very strained plea for the postmodern case, which is all the support such a delusional belief can hope to have.

It’s desirable to hear that we all create our own realities, there is never one true story, and since we have a choice, why not chose the more beautiful one and just add God in on the side (where God won’t interfere with what you want). However, wants do not create truth. If they did, then Lebron would be both in Miami, and in Cleveland still.

Instead Pi should have applied science, history, philosophy, and other fields of study on all four worldviews involved: Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and atheist naturalism (scientism and relativism could be included too), to ensure he was founded on truth, which would not melt away when reality and consequences washed up against him. But that would not make for a best-selling book, exciting movie, or pander to what the public seems to be hungry to hear. Bringing us to the fifth problem.

Finally, Pi argues that we should believe what makes for a more comfortable life and good story now, rather than concerning ourselves with truth and consequences overall. Pi exclaims, “I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story.”3 He is onto something, there is endless evidence of people frequently placing a higher priority on comfort – what they want to believe – than on the truth and overall consequences. Smokers or people in bad relationships come to mind. Those believing the link to cancer is not proven, or that he will treat me better once we get married, and letting confirmation bias take over, are people who want to stay in comfort in the short-term, regardless of evidence of long-term consequences. This can be observed with people in their worldview beliefs too. My contention is that one would only accept the beliefs espoused by Pi for exactly the reasons given in Pi’s quote above.

Pi’s last two sentences lead into the purpose for the quote. He used that quote with the investigators in part three of the book, and is basically saying the factual experiences won’t be changed whether you believe the story with the animals or without, however, the story with the animals is more appealing, and that is reason enough to accept it. The same applies to God, in his view. He is arguing that if there is something beyond the physical universe, we can’t know, and it won’t have an impact except to make for a better view of life. How does he know that we can’t know? Has he looked into the evidence available?

In the classic book by the renowned authority Huston Smith, the following observation is given: “If we were to take Hinduism as a whole – its vast literature, its complicated rituals, its sprawling folkways, its opulent art – and compress it into a single affirmation, we would find it saying: You can have what you want.”4 Isn’t that true of Pi’s perspective? Isn’t that the case with postmodernism in general? And true in all of us to an extent, but there need to be limits. Do you really want to be so open-minded your mind falls out? The limit should be when the belief will have significant consequences on our lives, or the lives of others, and when it is shown to be invalid or inferior to a better-supported belief.

If I were one of those investigators, I would investigate. Has a tiger been found in Mexico where the boat landed, what’s on the ship’s manifest, examine Pi’s boat, search for a carnivorous island, and obtain psychological examination supporting either the animal or non-animal account? The findings may not impact me much, whichever account I found to be true. On the other hand, how much more should we investigate the claims of the worldview we ourselves stand on? Whether an almighty authority created us with a purpose and has expectations of us, or not, will have an impact on us. Whether we are basing our choices, actions, responses, priorities, goals and direction in life on a worldview that is accurate, or one that is inaccurate – will have serious consequences on us.

Conclusion 

Postmodernism, Hinduism, and Pi paint a nice story, but is it accurate and reliable? Based on just the handful of errors presented in this article, it seems the answer is no. While it may have helped Pi in his boat, all of us are in our own survival and growth journey. And when talking about our real lives, we want the ending that is best for us, and that depends on founding lives on valid ideas.

Every decision takes us down different paths. Sure there are similarities regardless of the path, but the differences make all the difference. So the worldview you take (trying to take them all is also a path, a twisted one) will carry you along a specific path, and every path brings different overall consequences, good and bad, to your life, and possible after-life.

I can predict this overall impact of worldview choice on you, your own scoreboard, and present this an a much briefer blog to be posted later, Your Obituary in Advance: The 4 Quad Approach.

It seems that our culture is still stuck in modernism, and I heard it argued that the last bastion academically for postmodernism is the English Literature department, but postmodern talk does flare up when some people attempt to appear politically correct, and in some popular media. It is legitimate for an author to explore different ideas, encouraging others to further evaluate potentially useful and relevant ideas. The problem with Life of Pi, and the motivation for this article is, postmodernism is neither relevant nor beneficial, and is evidentially bankrupt. In fact, bringing up an idea that has been disproven long ago through proof of logical incoherence, adds to the confusion and dumbing down of culture. Present any foolish idea in a catchy way, and some will be caught, as Goebbels displayed. People can sometimes be as shallow in their search as Pi, especially when reinforced with the idea that no authoritative truth exists anyway (except that authoritative truth).

I was actually on a ship that ran into a lighthouse. The judgment-impaired captain followed an incorrect path. Worldview truth can be just another immovable obstacle that we may ram up against in our existence, and in the collision between us and truth, we receive all the consequences. Or, truth can be a lighthouse to found our decisions and path upon, and provide the reliable foundation of support to ensure we are traveling a path that is best for us, and for those close to us.

Notes

1)   Frank Koch, Proceedings, as cited in Max Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm, Word Publishing, 1991, p. 153.

2)    Yann Martel, Life of Pi, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2001, p. 69

3)    Martel, p. 302

4)     Huston Smith, The World’s Religions, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991, p.13.

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