Thursday, February 22, 2007

My Job Interview With United Airlines

Inspired by the true story of Dr. Marcus R. Ross.

"So, Mr. Archaeopteryx, you wish to fly a jet for United Airlines?"


"And you have your pilot’s license?"

"Yes. I received my license from the University of Rhode Island Flight School. I fulfilled all the requirements and have flown the requisite number of hours in simulators and in real jets."

"Okay. You won’t mind if I ask you a question or two about the physics of flight, just to make sure you’re up to speed."

"Of course."

"Okay. Explain how Bernoulli’s principle relates to flight."

"Oh, I don’t think Bernoulli’s principle has anything to do with flight."


"No. Jets fly because angels grab their wings and propel them through the air."


"Yeah. It’s the will of the Lord that planes can move through the air, and he sends angels to make sure that that happens."

"But….you got your license from the University of Rhode Island Flight School. Didn’t they make you learn about Bernoulli’s principle?"

"I didn’t just learn about it. I wrote my flight school dissertation about it."

"But you don’t believe it?"

"Of course not."

"And they gave you your pilot’s license?"

"Of course. They said that aeronautics was a ‘belief system,’ and that no one should be denied a pilot’s license just because they didn’t believe in aeronautics. I’m a good pilot. My teachers said so."

"Why would you become a pilot if you don’t believe in aeronautics?"

"The idea is to fly planes around, all the while trying to prove the existence of angels that lift the airplanes. I’ll give speeches to people who don’t believe in aeronautics or fluid mechanics. I’ll use my pilot’s license to give creedence to my opinions. If you don’t give me this job, I’ll claim that you’re disrespecting my religion, and liberal thought in general. I’m going to use your open mind and sense of fair play against you. I’m going to use my license to undermine the airline industry and aviation, as well as aeronautical engineering in general."

"Okay. Welcome aboard!"


topazz said...

Excellent. You're a very good and interesting writer, Arch. Now let's work on that nic...

I was hired by United Airlines on Monday, September 10, 2001, after 3 grueling interviews, for a PR job, my dream job. I was supposed to fly to Chicago for a physical and all the prelim stuff that Thursday, September 13th, 2001. Unfortunately I was fired before I even got to start, on September 12, 2001.

topazz said...

PS: I believe in the angel theory as well. I reaffirm that belief every time I'm in a plane - all during takeoff and until successfully aloft.

august said...


If you could sign back in and republish this post, adding your nick to the line under the text where it says "label" -- you'll get your name in lights on the masthead and we'll have access to your top-post MBTU. (If that makes sense).

I'd do it, but I can't spell your nic (which I'm very fond of... sorry Topazz).

I went to a PEN panel on "faith and reason" lately. Turns out they are hard to split up -- but you would think "delusion and science" would be an easier call to make.

It seems odd, not believing in Bernouli. Rather like not believing in polyhedrons.

Archaeopteryx said...

Topazz: Thanks for the kind words. Seems to me that United could have used some extra PR on those particular days.

August: Thanks for the help. I really do like seeing my name up it lights. And it's spelled just like it sounds...

twiffer said...

i'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this Ross guy's thought process. why, for instance, devote yourself to the study and teaching of something you do not actually believe?

young earth theory pretty much runs counter to all of the basic underlying theories of all branches of geology.

the recent trend of people trying to liken science to religion is highly amusing. 1 + 1 = 2 solely because i have faith that it does.

Keifus said...

Regardless that Ross is a tool, etc, and will certainly have a hard time publishing papers, I don't think your funny analogy holds, Arch.

As far as flying a plane goes, the pilot's not exactly pulling out his slide rule and calculating lift and drag on the fly. He's looking at his instruments and pulling on the stick and whatnot. He doesn't care why it works, he cares that it works.

I wouldn't want him designing aircraft though.

K ("...and these are the handles. What? Yes, for the angels."

Thy Goddess said...

I don't get it.


Heliogabalus said...

thy goddess, you are not alone......

If you follow ( and there is no need for belief) the principles of scientific method and empiricism, you cannot hold religious or magical belief. Even the most devoted religious individual will resort to medical sciences for the most benign indisposition, instead of putting his life & faith into the hands of a" supreme being".

catnapping said...

I remember in the winter of 88, I was taking a flight out of Butte...They had to de-ice the wings 3 times before we took off.

I pulled out my rosary, and saved the day.

TenaciousK said...

Looking at your Fray thread, I can only think that beliefs about the (supernatural) mechanics of flying would almost certainly impact a pilot's abilities, particularly in times of crisis.

I can just hear the announcement; "Ladies and gentlemen, we're flying into some grim weather. Rather than divert to another airport, I'd like you to join me in prayer..."

CN: maybe if the pilot had led a prayer, they only would've had to de-ice once (you've gotta' get quicker with that rosary).

Or maybe they'd insist on only once; tests strengthen faith, you know. It's your faith that provides the loft under the wings of United Airlines angels, after all.

Say Hallelujah!

Archaeopteryx said...


I agree, although, honestly, I was just going for laughs with the pilot thing--I hadn't throught it all the way through. Just like I don't think anything all the way through. I note that the National Center for Science Education is running an essay contest for elementary schoolers--"Why I Want My Doctor to Understand Evolution." Maybe that would have been a better way to go.

qeuyxuh--Quick, eat up your extra unused hummus.

Archaeopteryx said...

Also, TK, I can't get Mrs. Archaeopteryx (a psychologist by trade) to agree with me that creationism is a mental illness--specifically in a "scientist" like Dr. Ross who should know better. I'd be interested to know your thoughts. Especially if they'd allow me to win an argument with Mrs. Archaeopteryx.

TenaciousK said...

The Encyclopedia of Medicine (online edition, but of course) says:
A delusion is an unshakable belief in something untrue. These irrational beliefs defy normal reasoning, and remain firm even when overwhelming proof is presented to dispute them. Delusions are often accompanied by hallucinations and/or feelings of paranoia, which act to strengthen confidence in the delusion. Delusions are distinct from culturally or religiously based beliefs that may be seen as untrue by outsiders.

DSM* says:
A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everybody else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person's culture or subculture (e.g., it is not an article of religious faith).

These are tricky definitions, however. For example, the DSM excludes articles of religious faith, yet if one works with delusional people, you encounter religious themes in perhaps the majority of cases (classic example: believing you’re Jesus). Statements like “that might be seen as untrue by outsiders” and “ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture” highlight the importance of social context.

But how do we define social context? For a Pentecostal to believe that mental illness is caused by demonic possession, for instance, is probably not delusional (big emphasis on probably – see “Folie a Deux”). If your wife believed that, and didn’t keep that belief to herself, her colleagues (and husband) would undoubtedly become very concerned, and perhaps consider extreme responses, such as civil commitment, or exclusion from professional practice. If I believe that my biological vitality is due to being imbued with some type of universal life energy (animus), I’m probably going to be viewed as eccentric. If I were a professor of biology, or a medical doctor, I’m probably going to be viewed as delusional.

One of the characteristic qualities of a delusion is a most vexing resistance to modification. But we all believe things that aren’t real (in fact, I believe it is both a desirable, and inevitable, aspect of consciousness). One potential difference might be one’s desire to universalize belief in the delusion (it’s not enough for me to believe I am Jesus, I want everyone else to believe it too). This is different than prostelyzing, in which you’re willing to accept disagreement (though perhaps maintaining the idea that other beliefs are just wrong, wrong, wrong), but more along the lines of forced conversion (and before anyone says anything rash about Muslims, I should point out instances of Christians forcing their beliefs on others, such as Balboa setting his dogs on native “sodomites” he encountered). In a sense, it doesn’t really matter what you believe, so long as it doesn’t really impact your everyday life. “I felt the hand of God lift the plane out of that nosedive, or we’d all have died” is a perfectly acceptable belief for a pilot, for example. Once he uses that belief to justify praying instead of flying the plane, however, I’m thinking most people would agree we’ve crossed a line to a “delusion.”

Countless movies have highlighted the difficulty in discriminating paranoia from perceptiveness (it’s only paranoia if it’s not real). Some beliefs are not easily falsifiable. To some extent, however, the utility of belief seems to be a factor. It’s both comforting, and advantageous, for me to have an unrealistic sense of my own influence and prowess, at least in some contexts. If I maintain it (despite contrasting evidence), I might be more inclined to attempt things with a low probability of success and a high payoff. If I maintain a belief in a “father in the sky”, then I might be able to use that adaptively as a comfort in situations where I am powerless and vulnerable, given that my own father has proved himself incapable of comforting my every fear. So I’d argue that defining a delusion also involves, in part, the degree to which an irrational belief is adaptive.

In a clinical sense, your wife is right. In the broader sense, I suppose the question hinges on whether you want to consider this man’s community (for comparative purposes) to be the larger group of religious wingnuts, or the more austere group of biological scientists. Because the man does not seem capable of maintaining a compartmentalized separation between his irrational beliefs and rational practice, I’m inclined to agree with you. He’s not just believing that Angels provide his plane with loft, he’s relying on them to fly the plane. While the belief may be professionally adaptive (notoriety, publications and all), it is not adaptive within the confines of the worldview (or by standards of his professional community) in which he purports to be operating. He’s delusional in the same sense that a psychologist conducting exorcisms is delusional, which fits the definition for me.

Myself – I’m not willing to rule out with 100% certainty that I’m not a disembodied brain sitting in a vat somewhere, and that my subjective experience of reality is merely what the aliens have decided to confront me with. Not being willing to rule it out, however, is very different than accepting it with certainty, and I’m certainly not going to let it influence my everyday activities. Something similar can be said about scientists who also maintain a parallel set of religious beliefs. This guy isn’t maintaining that degree of separation. This is the difference between a “suspension of disbelief”, which is critical for grasping higher level concepts that seem to contradict what you already know, and rigid adherence to a concept that precludes your ability to modify your beliefs about the world.

I’m interested in Mrs. Archeoptryx’s response, however.

*From an online source, because I’m too lazy to drag myself in the other room, find the book, and look it up.

Archaeopteryx said...

Now that is an answer!

Your "diagnosis" seems to match up very closely with my own layman's perception of what is going on. I'll run it past the Mrs., and see what she thinks about it.

ddrxh--doing drugs results in extreme happiness.

Archaeopteryx said...

TK: The lovely Mrs. Archaeopteryx substantially agrees with your assessment, but insists on drawing a bright line between "delusional" and "mentally ill."

By the way, I'm struck by the whole "disembodied brain in a vat" as a metaphor for the little on-line community we've built up here. (Original, I know). Soon, Keanu will burst through a wall and free us all.

TenaciousK said...

Please let the missus know I concur (what I was referring to when I said she was correct in a clinical sense).

As for the brain-in-a-vat thing? I will never, ever sign up for second life.

I have other priorities.