At one point, a lot of people in the Kama tribe were looking for immunity idols at the same time. When asked why she wasn’t joining in, Victoria complained that each object in the game area is “unique in its own way”. In other words, it’s hard to notice trees or rocks where immunity idols might be hidden, because everything can stand out depending on which features you’re considering.
Is Victoria right that everything is unique in its own way? In an extreme sense, not everything can be unique in every aspect. If that were the case, then the universe would be utter chaos. Particles likely wouldn’t be able to bond with each other, because they would have no points of similarity. Large-scale chemical reactions probably wouldn’t happen, because every chemical reaction would be one-of-a-kind. Without at least some similarities, there would be no stars, no oceans, no earthworms.
We are also able to observe that the universe is divisible into objects which are themselves composed of smaller objects. These smaller objects therefore share the similarity of being part of a particular larger object. For example, we can say that some leaves belong to this tree and other leaves belong to that tree.
However, objects do not have to be physically attached to each other for us to determine that they are similar. For example, we are able to take leaves detached from their separate trees and say they came from the same family of trees (e.g. oak trees as opposed to chestnut trees). This is possible because the leaves share patterns of design which are associated with a particular family of trees.
Someone skeptical of categories might point out that identifications like this can be mistaken. There are many cases of people thinking that an object belonged to a particular category, but later discovering that this conclusion was wrong. For example, many Survivor players have believed that they found immunity idols, but later those idols have turned out to be fake ones created by other players as tricks. Considering this, how can we ever say for sure that two separate objects are actually similar? Isn’t it possible that we might not have enough information to determine that this similarity is false?
I agree that we should always maintain some skepticism about categorization. We should always be open to the possibility that our belief in a similarity can be falsified. However, this does not eliminate the similarities in our perception that led to the original incorrect conclusion. Survivor players aren’t just randomly grabbing objects in the jungle and believing that they’re immunity idols. (Although considering how badly some fake idols have been made, this might as well have been the case.) Players believe the fake idols are real because they share similarities with real idols, such as having a printed note that once came with a real idol, or being carved in a shape resembling a real idol. “Similar” is not equivalent to “same”.
There are some people who take the extreme opposite viewpoint from Victoria and claim that nothing is unique. In Ecclesiastes, probably the most philosophical book in the Old Testament, the Preacher says: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done, is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun.” He was saying that everything which occurs has already occurred before in some form. This is sometimes given as a justification for pessimism. Similar to its effect on Victoria, it can paralyze people, because it can lead them to feel that nothing will ever really change so all actions are essentially pointless. (Ecclesiastes proposes faith in God as the cure for this.)
Of course, this view is only considering larger patterns of objects and behaviors, not all potential details, which always seem to have at least a few different aspects. Most people who claim that nothing is unique are usually claiming that nothing important is unique. That only trivially small details are unique. However, if those “trivially small details” can make our lives more interesting or healthy, then I think a good argument could be made that they’re worth pursuing. This is one of the reasons that the philosopher Bertrand Russell disagreed with Ecclesiastes.
This blog entry has gone on long enough, but I’d like to end with my belief that as far as searching for immunity idols goes, I’m with Bertrand Russell – long-lasting players on Survivor tend to be people who don’t get paralyzed by the difficulty of finding patterns. They wake up early, put in the sweat, and find idols. Which makes me wonder if the producers are hinting that we might not be seeing much more of Victoria…