This essay is adapted from the introduction to The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything, the book that usesingenious NCAA Tournament-style brackets to answer life’s most nagging questions. What was more memorable, 9/11 or the JFK assassination? Which movie had the better death scene, Psycho or Bonnie and Clyde? With our interactive brackets, you can check out what The Enlightened Bracketologist’s experts think or choose your own champion.
What is enlightenment?
Better question: What is Bracketology?
Let’s bring it down to a real-world level. Has this ever happened to you? Someone asks, “What’s your favorite movie?” Not a deep question, but a probing one, something that comes up occasionally among reasonably curious folk—or men and women on their second date. Your favorite movie is a classic single-question personality profile that “reveals” you. Your answer signals your worldliness and sophistication, your sense of humor, and, most particularly, your individuality.
If you’re like most people, you have a default response that is The Godfather, The Godfather II, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, or The Wizard of Oz. But have you ever methodically listed all the movies that have charmed you or that you’ve seen more than a dozen times—and pitted them against each other in an intellectual knockout tournament to determine, once and for all, your definitive personal champion? If you haven’t, how can you say you truly know yourself? If you haven’t systematically eliminated all the other worthy contenders for favorite movie, how can you blithely pick, say, My Cousin Vinny and hope to achieve enlightenment?
Bracketology—the practice of parsing people, places, and things into discrete one-on-one matchups to determine which of the two is superior or preferable—works because it is simple. It is a system that helps us make clearer and cleaner decisions about what is good, better, best in our world. What could be simpler than breaking down a choice into either/or, black or white, this one or that one?