Concrete Mystery

Concrete Mystery October 26, 2020

What is a concrete mystery? It is not understanding what is real. I have always wanted to know how stuff works. It is probably because my father is an engineer. My son has the same drive. How does it work? Or more often why is it not working? And what made it work before it broke down? As always questions must be examined.

The Mystery In A Lie

“It was working just fine the day before.” If this statement leads to the question of why it is not working now, it is probably a lie. When someone makes this claim, the mystery is not why it broke. More likely it is why didn’t the person notice something was wrong? The machine stopped because the machine was breaking down gradually. The operator did not notice the problem because they had gotten used to the slight whine or small grinding noise. The noise increased perceptibly to those who had not adapted themselves to listening to it.

“It runs fine. You just need a few minor adjustments.” This is the salesman’s lie. There is no mystery why the salesman tells the lie. But that person is not necessarily wrong in their assertion. Some repair may help the device work. The repairs will take more than “a few minor adjustments.”

The Mystery When Something is Not Broken

I don’t understand how something works. But I think I can explain it. For millennia, human being have gotten things wrong. I have copies of the ancient physicians Galen and Hippocrates. Some of their conclusions are laughable but only in the light of modern medical knowledge. Yet, some of their remedies work. Sneezing does cure hiccups most of the time.

Claiming that an automobile engine operates based on a demonic presence is wrong. Most of modern people have a basic idea how that works. Electronic computing is a little more mysterious to some of us. The majority of us do not assume some spiritual entity is at work. Why? Because we are used to machines working in some way that is physically explainable even if it is a mystery.


One way we solve concrete mysteries is by interpolation. We reason from what we know to explain why something is working. Spiritualism and sorcery tend to work this way. We see something happen that is out of the ordinary or difficult for us to explain. We logically assume something happened. But what was it? We respond to the question in some way or other.

A medium claims knowledge that cannot be gained other than by “supernatural” means. The conclusions do not come from the normal means of reason. Or it seems that way. When I worked in a factory, we joked bitterly that our machines would break down and then mysteriously begin to work when the mechanic arrived. The problem would not be fixed because there were no “symptoms” of it. Stephen King’s novel Christine was based on this kind of incongruity. Something bad is happening with a machine. But it works for one special person for some sinister person.

Mystery Without Knowledge

Information and knowledge are not the same thing. Information can be either wrong or untrue. Gossip is information. It is often untrue because of malice. As I said earlier, sorcery works by interpolating from knowledge from established understanding. But it does not truly work. Why? Let’s have an example. Someone I know tells the story that as a young man in High School he was interested in a girl at his school. He had an interest in supernatural things and placed a “love spell” on his class ring. The “next day” he overhears a conversation this girl has with her boyfriend. “I don’t know why,” she begins, ‘but I feel we should break up.” My friend was so upset by the event that he took off his ring and placed it in his pocket and never wore it again.

Here are the bare facts. A teenaged boy placed a love spell on his class ring. The girl he wants breaks up with her boyfriend. At that time, a “class ring” was offered to a beloved person to show that the two people formed a romantic relationship. This is why he chose that particular object. He interpolated taking the ring off broke the spell and is why the girl did not turn around and immediately declare her love for this person.  The spell obviously worked.

The conclusion is false. Teenaged people often take actions without fully understanding why they do something. It is part of the maturing process. However, this person continues to hold to his superstition. It was set into his mind before he gained knowledge of teenaged psychology.

Conspiratorial Arrogance

Mysteries are fun so long as they have no bearing on our personal situations. Television programs like Dateline that provide “true mysteries” are more entertaining than mysteries that are admittedly works of fiction. It is the claim that they are true that makes them more interesting. We forget that how a story is told is more important for the entertainer than the facts of the case.

Conspiracy theories work like spiritualism and sorcery. Information that threatens the perceived conclusion is dangerous to how a person views the world. My former sorcerer friend is more likely to dismiss the insight from psychology. A person who had been awed by a medium is likely to defend the fraud once it has been exposed. Why? Because the information is a threat to the worldview. Reason is then abandoned for not providing the solution we want. “Two plus two equals five.”

No Mystery

I enjoy solving concrete mysteries. Learning how stuff works is fun. It is no mystery why I write this today. Halloween is approaching. A Presidential election where conspiracy theories are front center is upon us. And the late great James Randi has just died. Defending reality has never been more important. And there is no greater evil than rationalized ignorance.

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