The Oracle

Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. This was published in the July 14, 2010 edition of the Business Mirror, page A10.

The less we know, the longer the explanation. – Unknown

Paul the octopus was 100% correct in picking the winners of this year’s World Cup. If I had a little more faith in his mojo, I would now have enough money to attend the next World Cup. Anyway, I’m glad Spain won. They played football against a team that thought they were in a UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) bout. But this article is not about a game everyone saw. It’s about Paul.

Wikipedia, the font of all human knowledge, explained how Paul picks winners: “During a divination, Paul is presented with two boxes containing food in the form of a mussel, each marked with the flag of a national football team in an upcoming match. The box which Paul opens first (and eats the contents of) is judged to be the predicted winner of the game.”

Apparently Paul does not pick flags. He picks mussels. The question then is should credit therefore go to whoever flagged the mussels?

In the 2008 Euro Cup matches, Paul missed Germany’s defeat to Croatia in the group stage and to Spain in the championship match. The logical question then is who was the idiot who flagged the mussels in 2008?

Paul lives in the Sea Life Center in Oberhausen, Germany but he was hatched in the Sea Life Center in Weymouth, England. It is not known whether he is now a naturalized German but that really does not matter to the animal rights organization accusing the Germans of mistreating Paul. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is into animal rights, not citizenship.

PETA wants Paul released from captivity immediately so he can roam the oceans as a free octopus. But the Germans, animal lovers themselves, deemed PETA’s demand unwise. They invoked the White Man’s Burden. They said Paul was born in captivity so he cannot take care of himself just yet. In that case, I say a ten-year commonwealth period to prepare Paul for eventual independence is in order.

Meanwhile, rationalists insist there is a logical explanation for Paul’s mojo.

One group of academics compared Paul’s incredible string of right choices to tossing a coin: 50/50 chance of predicting a winner and 1/64 chance of picking six consecutively. Unfortunately coin-toss theory does not explain how or why Paul defied the odds and got it right every time.

Nevertheless coin-toss proponents will argue that their theory will be proven right eventually; in the long run Paul will make mistakes. But there is a simpler explanation if and when Paul finally falters: he lost his mojo.

Another group advanced the “flag-shape” theory: octopuses are color blind but they can “distinguish brightness as well as an object’s size, shape, and orientation.” Octopuses are therefore “drawn” to flags that sport horizontal stripes. Unfortunately flag-shape theory cannot explain why, despite the fact that the flags of Serbia, Spain, and Germany have horizontal stripes, Paul still picked the winner when they played against each other.

A third group, two biologists actually, came up with the “trained-animal” theory: “Octopus vulgaris is also equipped with sensitive chemoreceptors on its tentacles, which are used to taste food and “smell” the water…minor chemical differences on the surface of each box might account for Paul’s decisions,” said one. The other added, “Paul could be ‘easily trained’ to choose the right box by smell.” So Paul was trained, then how does the theory explain the perfect record of Paul’s trainer?

Anyway, the point of all this is to share my three insights from the world’s brush with Paul. First, mojo cannot be explained rationally so let it be. Second, those like me who are still drinking three days after Spain’s victory will soon believe that Paul doesn’t pick winners he actually makes teams win. Third, when such thoughts begin to suggest themselves, it’s time to put down the bottle and pick up a pot of steaming hot coffee.

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