January 31, 2014

Horse 1608 - Lunar New Year - The Year Of The Hamster

Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year if you want to be more inclusive was officially yesterday. It is with much celebration that we proclaim The Year of the Horse! Perhaps to be more precise the Year of the Wooden Horse.
You will recall that famous statement by the Trojan priest Laocoon as recalled by Virgil in the Aeneid: "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes". Which in English is usually translated as "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts" but is actually in the first person and should by rights be translated as "I fear the Greeks, even when bringing gifts."
Of course it is written in Latin because as Bernard from Yes Minister points out "that just as the Trojan horse was in fact Greek, what you describe as a Greek tag is in fact Latin. It's obvious, really: the Greeks would never suggest bewaring of themselves".
Anyway this being the Year Of The Wooden Horse, it might be useful to look at the Chinese Zodiac a second time.

There are 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. In order they are:
Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.
There are stories about the Rat tricking the Cat about the day that The Jade Emperor of Heaven was selecting the animals for the zodiac and so the cat slept and that's why there is no year of the cat. More likely though is that in Ancient China, cats just weren't very common. It would be like having a year of the Kangaroo or something.

Just like the western zodiac, because everyone is reasonably egocentric, you can write any old horse plap that you like and people will take it on board. The entire of astrology falls into the domain of of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Suppose for instance that you've bought a new car. Suddenly, you'll start to notice other people who drive the same make and model as yours for no other reason than you now currently own one. It's part of a deeper cognitive process called "selection bias" and it actually sometimes serves a useful function, such as picking out a family member in a large crowd, or noticing trends in very large data sets.
Also just like the western zodiac, people who are familiar with it, tend to associate personality traits with people to claim to be of that particular zodiac animal for no other reason than mass "selection bias" when it comes to confirmation of those traits.
Asking someone which zodiac sign though, serves another useful function in that you can more or less guess how old someone is by knowing their animal and simply counting through the relevant years.

So now that you know this, if someone does happen to ask you what year that you were born in, why not slide a metaphorical Wooden Horse past the gates? Say that you were born in the year of the Cat, or Badger, or Mole, or Toad, or Elephant, or Kangaroo... see how "selection bias" and conformation works then.

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