How to Defeat the Devil in the Detail
Hi everyone, it’s bonus content time. I’ve written more about Loki’s Wager, a concept from my recent newsletter on scepticism. The next free 3 Ideas in 2 Minutes will come out on Wednesday and will be all about writing.
Macbeth is horrified. The prophecy was clear. He would never be defeated until the local woods came up to his castle. Trees could not move so surely he was safe, the tragic hero of Shakespeare's famous play thought. Only now he's facing the army of his adversary, which is advancing towards his castle using branches from the woods as camouflage. The devil is in the detail, as they say. And Loki’s Wager is a terrific illustration of that phenomenon.
In this essay, we’re going to explore the mythological fallacy about shortsighted agreements, misguided trust and losing one's head. Things may seem simple enough. It’s only when the particularities catch up with us that we realise they are much more complicated.
What Is Loki’s Wager?
Loki’s Wager is a verbal fallacy that occurs when someone tries to obscure a concept by claiming it could not be defined. It’s of course named after Loki, the god from Norse mythology. As you may know from watching too many Marvel movies, Loki’s reputation was that of a cunning trickster. He loved to play pranks on friends as well as foes. The story that inspired our wager went as follows.
Loki made a bet with a dwarf named Brokkr. The Norse god wagered nothing less than his head. If he lost the bet, Brokkr could sever it from Loki’s shoulders. And low and behold, the divine prankster did lose. Although in a dramatic turn of events, he kept his head. And it wasn’t because Loki refused to accept the result.
Loki kept his head thanks to a cunning linguistic trick. The god was happy to oblige and have his head severed from the rest of his body. He only insisted that, in doing so, Brokkr must not take parts of his neck. But where exactly do the neck end and the head begin? The two couldn’t come to an agreement so the matter was discussed indefinitely.
Implications of Loki’s Wager
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