An american man believed very strongly in the mystic powers of the pyramids. Finally, enraged with the disbelief of the people around him, he went to egypt and, over his girlfriend's protests, jumped off a pyramid, insisting fervently that the gods would grant him the power to fly as he leaped. He fell to his death.

Moral: belief in strange things does not guarantee that strange things will believe in you.

The man was "enraged with the disbelief of the people around him" - And he was likely enraged with their disbelief when he did fly and no one believed him and thus saw him fall to his death. He may still be flying. - says TheDeadGuy.

The Illuminatus Trilogy asks an interesting question:

Is the thought of a unicorn a real thought?

Got your answer? Good. Are you sure? Maybe you should read it once more. Really, really sure this time?

This is offered as perhaps the central question of modern philosophy, as well as an underlying force behind all the "mystery" organizations that supposedly wield power behind-the-scenes.

Okay, a unicorn is fictional, therefore it isn't real. But clearly the thought of a unicorn is real, right? Well, an empiricist would naturally ask you to point to the "thought of a unicorn" and when you are unable to do so, suggest that your thought of a "thought of a unicorn" is as unreal as the one-horned creature is purports to represent. Like qualia, the mental representation is, at best, ephemeral.

How about the "thought of a horse"? Real, unreal?

Now, who would you side with, in an argument between Jack, who asserts a real unicorn would also have the attribute of immortality, and Jill, who is sure only horse-like-ness and a single horn is sufficient for something to be a unicorn? Is one of them right? Neither? Both?

Let's take our unicorn and put him on the flag of some of the most influential concepts and social movements that have directed human history.

Say, democracy.

Nope, never existed. There has never been a true rule-by-majority of a state in history. Not even a rule-by-the-majority's-representatives, if you really look at the nature of this "representation". And if it never existed, how can we say it even can exist, or that we know what we are talking about when we use that term?

Yet, millions of people have pontificated, sacrificed and died in the name of this particular unicorn, and many, many others.

The argument continues that it doesn't really matter if "democracy" or "socialism" or the "CIA" or the "Illuminati" exist, they have power. The power to direct people's lives, money, and energy. Having existence is not a necessary attribute of an entity's power.

Hmm... I need to get back to hunting my unicorn. I know it's here somewhere, darting and hiding in the wide, open fields of metaphysics, epistemology, mythology, politics...

In an interestingly unrelated example, consider the general depressed cubic equation a*x^3 + b*x + c = 0. The algorithm that solves this equation is capable of producing "imaginary" numbers at intermediate steps. While these imaginary numbers are imaginary in a significantly different sense than a unicorn is, they provide an interesting analogy.

Of course, any mathematician will tell you that imaginary numbers are no more imaginary than negative numbers, or square roots or what have you. What confuses most of us is that in general, we can not find an intuitive physical counterpart to offer an explanation as to what imaginary numbers are trying to describe. And thus, we have the reason for the unfortunate nomenclature.

What makes this whole deal interesting is the fact that, although imaginary numbers are honestly no more abstractly ridiculous than any other numbers, we usually have to regard an imaginary solution to a real problem as meaningless.

If we define things as unreal, they may still be real in their consequences; encountering a "meaningless" value in the course of solving an equation does not guarantee that the technique you're using is invalid. The procedure for solving general, cubic equations with real coefficients does exactly this, and it works perfectly every time.

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