Sunday, September 14, 2008

Apples and Oranges

“You can’t compare apples and oranges.” Or so I was always told.

During my adolescence it didn’t matter how many times I heard that, there remained a nagging suspicion at the back of my mind that perhaps, just perhaps, you could compare apples and oranges.

During my teenage years and early adulthood I struggled to suppress the thought. Who was I to challenge the collective wisdom of mankind? Who was I to think I could succeed where so many great minds had failed? Who was I to think I could compare the incomparable? Who was I to even dare to compare apples and oranges?

Try as I might, however, the thought would not go away. It haunted me like the shadow of a spectre always near but never visible. It clung to me with a stickiness comparable to spilled orange juice the next day.

On dark nights, especially when the moon was full, glowing as it did like a luminescent giant orange suspended over our terrestrial sphere, a little voice kept telling me, “maybe you can, maybe you can, maybe you just can compare apples and oranges.”

Then it happened. One cold November night I lay awake, listening to the rain pattering on our roof like a thousand apples falling from their trees. Not being able to sleep I decided that I would do something outrageous. I decided that I would compare apples and oranges!

At first I was almost too scared to do so. But I had gone past the point of no return and suddenly, almost involuntarily, a host of comparisons came flooding into my consciousness like hundreds of apples suddenly falling from a tree in unison.

Oranges are juicier than apples. The skin of the apple is edible whereas the skin of the orange is not (well, you can eat it, but it doesn’t taste very nice). Oranges are the colour orange whereas apples are green, red or yellow. And on and on.

As I lay there in bed, itemizing the differences between the two fruits, I felt that somehow I was simply realizing what I had always known inside yet had never possessed the courage to face:
You can compare apples and oranges.

Since then, just to prove that it is still possible, I have established the habit of comparing apples and oranges in 4 different ways every Wednesday before breakfast. And the more I do so, the more I have to ask myself, how did the idea ever become accepted that this couldn’t be done? You see, apples and oranges are so easy to compare because they both belong to the same category: they are both fruit. The things which can’t be compared are those objects which belong in totally separate categories of things. For example, if they had of told me that you can’t compare an orange with my Dell laptop, I would understand it.

Even if they had told me that you couldn’t compare a morning in June with a chipmunk, I might have been convinced.

Or why didn’t they tell us that you couldn’t compare tulips with toilet paper? That at least would make sense.

Equally, they might have said that you can’t compare jelly fish with Jacob’s ladder. Or venison with Victorianism. Or Tom Wright with Tom Kitten, for that matter.

But apples and oranges? Give me a break: any child can compare them!

Further Reading

Apples and Oranges -- A Comparison by Scott A. Sandford, NASA Ames Research Center, Mountain View, California

Comparing apples and oranges: a randomised prospective studyBritish Medical Journal, Dec 23, 2000 by James E Barone

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