Coffee and Contemplation: Critical Thinking (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Make Friends with a Snail...)

Sep 04, 2018 at 11:35 am by The Old Wolf


“You and a super-intelligent snail both get a million dollars and you both become immortal. However, you die if the snail touches you. It always knows where you are and slowly crawls towards you. What is your plan?’

This is from a meme someone posted on Facebook and it intrigued me. Was it a trick question? Was it a clever puzzle? Was there a right answer?

In the end, I think the point of the scenario was not to answer the question per se, but it was a social experiment. In giving your answer, what elements from the meme did you consider? Which did you disregard? Did you alter any of the elements to suit your own perception? This was an experiment in critical thinking by my estimation and I learned a lot about how the scenario was approached by the variety of answers given by others.

Most treated the snail as if they would an ordinary snail, giving simple answers like “salt.” Some ignored or overlooked aspects of the snail’s makeup like the immortality or intelligence. Other’s took note of the snail’s qualities but downplayed them tremendously. After all, it’s a snail, right?

Not one answer I saw in a quite lengthy thread treated the snail as a credible threat.

Why was that?

I think it was a lack of critical thinking. If the question of defeating the snail’s advance were that simple, what would be the point of the question? Where’s the cleverness so many of these types of memes embrace? 

It states that the snail advances on you and always knows where you are and that if it touches you, you will die. It makes no statement about the snail desiring to touch you if it were to catch you. It can kill you, but is that the intent? Does the snail have the ability to manifest intent?

Observation and critical thinking. Most people responded as if most of the modifying factors were not there. How do I get away from a snail? The degrees of humor and cleverness were varied, but ultimately the snail was treated as a non-threat.

By the time you’ve read this far, you’ve read the scenario above and likely formulated an answer. I bet you did so before moving on to the rest of this article.

What was it? Please leave your answer and any other thoughts you have on this below in the comments.

Here’s my answer

The snail is super intelligent, while no mention of an increase in mental acumen is apparent in the deal for you.

Thus, it is a necessary assumption that any plan you could devise to safeguard against the snail touching you would be thwarted by the snail. This is the crux. Desire.

The compulsion to eliminate you is not mentioned as a factor. The snail crawls towards you but doesn't have to touch you.

Endowed with the ability to reason, the snail must be convinced that it does not wish to touch you. Because intellect is not the same as emotion, the snail cannot be approached to agree to a cessation of intent by appealing to its "good nature."

It is a creature of animal passions and instinct burdened with intellect and bereft of emotion. Thus, leverage is required against the snail to ensure its values your wishes against its own.

Fear is the lowest hanging fruit on the tree, but being immortal it cannot die by conventional means such as salt. Lacking emotion, the snail may not even be capable of processing fear, or any other emotionally based stimuli.

So, the deterrent needs to be something it can process intellectually and doesn't appeal to an emotional side. What would make the snail desire to never touch you while fulfilling its programming of crawling towards you?

Mutual goals. A common objective. Something that advances the communal existence farther than the elimination of either individual.

The money mentioned in the query has no relevance to the question at all. The snail being super intelligent and immortal can concoct any number of initiatives to amass endless fortune.

"You" are immortal, and given the benefit of time and work ethic could also come into a massive fortune. So what could the snail want that it would need you for?

The answer to the question of "What's your plan" is this: communication.

Given two immortal beings created in the same instance of time, no other beings on earth have a common ground with each other.

You convince the snail that if it touches you...and thus kills you...that it would then be truly and utterly alone in all of creation by losing the sole element that would allow it to advance its own existence (despite how eternal that existence might be) beyond stagnation.

With nothing to compare itself to, it would lose the only other thing of value in its immortal existence besides everlasting life...its mind.

You have to make friends with the snail. That's my plan.

Further Reading on Critical Thinking

The Foundation for Critical Thinking

6 Skills for Critical Thinking

Developing Critical Thinking

Sections: Opinion


Maybe this is too simple, but the snail is very slow. Get in a car and move across town and it will take him years to catch you.
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