Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Unrealistic Logic

"In THAT direction," the Cat said, waving its right paw round, "lives a Hatter: and in THAT direction," waving the other paw, "lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they're both mad."

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.

"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."

"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.

"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."

Alice didn't think that proved it at all; however, she went on...
~Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll.

School today was relatively uneventful, except for the last bit. The final two periods of school every Tuesday is Bahasa Melayu - Malay Language. Today we did a bit of grammar, or 'tatabahasa', and we were taught something that would otherwise have been simple enough. We were to convert sentences from 'conversation structure' to ordinary text. After giving a few pointers to keep in mind, teacher gave us a short exercise. It went like this, only in BM:

Abu: Where are you going?
Ali: I'm just going for a walk.
Abu: Why do you ask? Do you want to follow?
Ali: No, I was just asking out of curiosity.

Now, we have to convert them into ordinary, narrative text form. For instance, the first sentence would be changed to "Abu asked Ali about his destination", or something like that.

However, upon reading the dialogue again, something jumps out as really not quite right. Abu was the one who asked Ali where he was going. So why does Ali say he was the one asking the question?

Of course, we addressed the question to our teacher. She explained, slowly, that she had not made a literary mistake, but that she wanted to test how completely we understood the concept, by giving an illogical situation. She told us not to question the logic of the conversation, but to just convert it like we were supposed to. After all, she said, this is a conversation between humans. They can say anything they want, and even if it doesn't make sense, no one can say it wasn't a legitimate conversation.

This made perfect sense to me. Unfortuantely, it didn't do it for any of the other 24 students in class. From that point in time, until the school bell rang for the end of school, plus some dozen minutes after, none of the students would give our teacher any peace of mind until she satisfactorily explained why Abu and Ali weren't making any sense, or until she changed the dialogue. In the meantime, I sat at my seat and promptly finished that fairly simple assignment. By the time I put my pen down and looked up, and saw them still arguing over something that made such simple sense, I was like "Is this what Malaysia is made of?"

As I was leaving the class with my backpack over my shoulder, I had to pass by the whiteboard where Teacher had written the question, and about a dozen of the more persistent students were pointing at the board and arguing with Teacher loudly. There is no logic in the conversation, the argued. Abu is speaking Ali's lines, they argued. It does not make any sense, they argued. I stopped there for a while and looked on with pity for both the students and Teacher, and finally decided to intervene.

Standing a small way outside the group, I called their attention to myself. Then I spoke the following words: "Look here, look here, if you're still having trouble understanding it, then look at it this way: Abu and Ali are nuts. That sufficiently explains everything."

Having delivered that nugget of wisdom, and having done my part, I left the class and came home.



  1. haha! i had a profile pic recently with that quote of cheshire cat's "we're all mad here".

    that apart, i think it's good on your side to have intervened, otherwise the classmates might have started sounding like ali and abu themselves!

    interesting write-up =)

    1. Update on the situation. It looks like I've been made a fool out of. I guess I'm the mad one. Heheh. Thanks anyway!