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Korean Counterfactuals

So I was just reading about North Korea threatening to pull out of the armistice. It worries me that Kim Jong Il might just be nutty enough to actually launch a preemptive strike. I thought to myself, "I'm glad I don't live in Seoul." And then I thought, "Hm. Well, I suppose I'm even more glad I don't live in North Korea," given that life pretty much really sucks there.

In Gödel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter talks about the issue of "counterfactuals". We tend to view some hypothetical events as "more likely" than others. For instance, if a football player misses a pass, we are likely to say, "If only the quarterback threw the ball a tad bit lighter!" We aren't as likely to say, "If only it were raining, causing the runner to run slower, and making the quarterback be more careful about his throw!" We are even less likely to say, "If only the Earth had more mass, making gravity stronger, and thus causing the pass to travel a bit less far!" In a sense, all of those simply aren't true, and it's pointless to argue which is "more likely". But of course intuitive sense that some things require a smaller mental adjustment than others does make a lot of sense.

So why did I think of being in Seoul first? I'm not actually considering living in either country, so the odds of both are virtually nil. In fact, I was born in a Communist country, so I could easily have thought in those terms; I could have decided that I was "more likely" to have been born in Pyongyang than in Seoul. But I didn't. This is probably because South Korea is a "modern Westernized" society; it's on that basis that I could much more easily picture myself living there than in North Korea. It means that I saw capitalist Westernism as a bigger part of me than Communism.

This is hardly an Earth-shattering revelation, of course, but I found it kind of interesting to do a little analysis rather than just take it for granted. Besides, the issues about counterfactuals that Hofstadter discusses are what inspired me to call my site subjunctive.net in the first place. :)

Comments (1)

I like this entry!

That's all. I didn't really have anything to add. =)

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