ADVICE: The Science of Halloween

Every week, New York City’s own party messiah takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution in his new weekly advice column in The Village Voice. Read the latest edition of Ask Andrew W.K. below or by clicking HERE.

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October 29th, 2014

Hi, Andrew!

Believe it or not, I really don’t like Halloween. Out of all my friends and family, I’m the only one who dreads this time of year and doesn’t get excited about dressing up or going out and doing “spooky” stuff. I’ve always been this way. I just don’t believe in this sort of stuff — like ghosts, goblins, haunted houses, and all that supernatural nonsense. I believe in rational thought and science, and to be honest, it creeps me out to see so many millions of people allow themselves to get into such an obviously shallow frame of mind every year during this “holiday.” How can I participate in Halloween without bringing everyone else down, while at the same time not compromising my belief that all this is moronic?

Halloween Hater

Dear Halloween Hater,

You don’t need to enjoy dressing up for Halloween, and you certainly don’t need to believe in stuff you don’t want to. But maybe you can celebrate Halloween in a different way: For you, maybe Halloween can be the time of the year where you allow yourself to not believe in your beliefs. Even if just for one day, see what it feels like to doubt that which you think is undoubtable. Embrace the horrifying spirit of the unknown, the untested, and the unproven. Allow yourself to be skeptical of everything, even the idea of skepticism.

On Halloween, allow yourself to live in a world — for one day — where certain things cannot be explained, wrapped up, or proven. Allow yourself to exist between the known and the unknown, the rational and the irrational, the heavens and the earth, the earth and hell, the human and monstrous, the demonic and angelic, the tangible and ghostly, the good and the evil. Just because you don’t believe in something — “supernatural nonsense” — doesn’t mean it isn’t real, or maybe even beyond the very concept of “real”. This is the spirit of Halloween, and it’s a science all its own.

The arrogance of those who believe only in science and rationality doesn’t stem from any flaw in science or rationality itself, but from a flaw in the believer’s belief that their belief in these things is somehow not a belief at all — that it is a “true knowing.” The primary error in this thinking isn’t simply based on the belief that science is “better” than religion or immaterial philosophy, but in believing that science is ultimately separated or removed from other disciplines of investigation entirely. The more science becomes a rigid, dogmatic, and totalitarian world belief, the more it just becomes another frame through which to view the world — the more of an ideology it becomes — and the closer it gets to that which it claims to be furthest from. This attitude actually hurts the progress of science rather than helps it. All methods of investigating, quantifying, and interpreting the world around us are valid to a degree — and as much as it frustrates us, none of them is definitive. This is nearly impossible for us to understand, which is part of the very essence of the unknowable roots of nature. We can never know everything, and it’s infuriating.

Some modes of explaining the world work better at describing how the world behaves in certain situations, but no mode of investigation should ever be mistaken for being the actual world itself. And all modes should be seen as being a lens with which to interpret the view, and not the view itself.

It takes a truly open mind to maintain having a truly open mind. Our mind’s impulse is to solve the world. But just because our mind thinks it has solved the world doesn’t mean the world is solved. The gods laugh not at our desire for truth, but at our haste in declaring that we have figured the truth out, once and for all. Throughout history, our hubris has unnecessarily hindered our imagination and ability to gain deeper insights. This is an unnecessary tragedy.

Science and that which is not science are more closely related than many of us care to realize. The material and the immaterial are made of each other. The empty space allows for the things which fill the space. This is the threatening and uncomfortable idea that motivates our hunger for knowledge, but which is ultimately insatiable, by the very nature of the tools we are using to extract meaning from the world.

We must not forget that science is of the world, and not above it. We can only learn so much about our minds, because we are using our minds to do so. This is something to celebrate and encourage and delight in, and not something to fear or resent or try to eliminate. Science must make room for the rest of the world. Our beliefs must make room for possibility, the unknown, and unexplainable. And most of all, our mind must make room for itself.

Happy Halloween!

Your friend, Andrew W.K.