Sometimes I am terrified by how well I have learned to bullshit. It's amazing how much energy and a confident attitude can compensate for everything else. Like... preparation. Or facts.
Les and Kelsey decided to tackle the topic of misconceptions in our "Theories of Thinking and Development in Engineering" class by dividing students into teams and having us debate two hypotheses on the same theory on the spot. My team was tasked with arguing that lunar phases were caused by the shadow of the Earth on the Moon. We immediately protested that we knew that was false, how were we supposed to even have a serious debate on that when the other team was tasked with defending what we all knew was the right answer? Les and Kelsey told us to give it a shot anyway.
What the heck, I thought. Why not? So:
- I'm on Earth.
- If I see the Moon, it means that it's in front of me -- on the same side of Earth as I am.
- If it's night, that means the Sun is behind me -- on the opposite side of Earth as I am.
- I always see the Moon at night.
- Therefore, the Earth must be between the Moon and the Sun when I see the Moon.
- The Sun is a light source.
- The Earth is solid.
- When a solid thing is in between a light source and another thing, it casts a shadow on the other-thing.
- What would that look like on the Moon? That's right, phases.
- Therefore, phases of the moon are caused by the shadow of the Earth.
The other team blinked. Well, that's... wrong, they said. Phases of the Moon weren't caused by the shadow of the Earth. But they weren't able to prove it on the spot; they'd either never had to work out how lunar phases work, or they'd forgotten the explanation they'd been given. They knew, but they didn't know. And the hesitation was obvious; they made their argument in a haphazard and floundering manner, with the main point mostly being "because we know it's true."
And we did. We all knew my "shadow of the Earth" presentation was utter bullshit. But it was compelling because I delivered it with conviction -- and indeed, at the end of our mini-debate, the consensus of our judges was that they knew shadow-of-the-Earth was wrong, but it was argued so convincingly compared to the other side's "truth" that they had to give us the victory anyway.
It's an interesting ability to have. It's something I definitely didn't have a decade ago; I'm trying to figure out how exactly I picked it up, and I know I'm by no means the only person to have it (nor the best at having it), and that I need to make sure to use this only to accentuate the truth, and not to cover up my own lack of preparation or anything of the sort. But it's neat to realize I can do that.
By the way, if you're still wondering how lunar phases work, here you go -- but try to figure it out first.