Well, let’s see. When last we got together, you and i, a couple of days ago, for scintillating quasi-philosophical conversation while tossing back wildly overpriced coffee beverages featuring a somewhat aesthetically dislocating pumpkin spice theme and about five times more sugar than was really necessary, the topic was a presentation i had the pleasure of giving this past Friday night, at the 19th Chattanooga PechaKucha 20×20 Night. My presentation at that event was about flockbinkers, a topic to which the public (in my view) has not had nearly enough exposure up to the present. But we’re working on that.
So, the last time we talked, just the two of us, you, The Good Reader, and i, The Blogger, i was beginning to take you on a tour of some of the themes i touched on during the course of the presentation–all six minutes and forty seconds of it–these PechaKucha slideshow/lectures are notable for their brevity. I gave you enough of a taste to whet your appetite for more, which is, indeed, why you’re back here reading right now. So here’s some additional material that i shared with the audience on that fateful night.
It needs to be said, first of all, that since logic is no longer taught in the schools, and audiences aren’t as familiar with the idea of a logical syllogism as they once would have been, you kind of have to take them by the hand and gently introduce them to the basics. (I’m sure you’ve run across people like this as well, and you know just what i’m talking about.) So there was, of necessity, some of this kind of thing:
“You have to be paying attention. Sometimes it’s all flockbinkers that are treadknicious, or just some, and sometimes none. Now, if all flockbinkers are treadknicious, and no wamwams are flockbinkers, does it mean no wamwams are treadknicious? Not necessarily. Can’t something be treadknicious without being a flockbinker? I’d say so.”
To my utter delight, at this point an audience member who had (i suspect) been availing herself of the adult beverages being offered at the back of the room, called out “Yes!” in answer to my question, “If all flockbinkers are treadknicious, and no wamwams are flockbinkers, does it mean no wamwams are treadknicious?” Which provided me with a perfect platform for saying, “Not necessarily,” and continuing with the explanation. My opinion regarding inebriation among audience members is undergoing something of a revolution. Perhaps it should be encouraged to a greater degree than it has been in the past. I’m just thinking out loud.
When you’re talking about flockbinkers to a crowd unaccustomed to such rich subject-matter, the almost inevitable problem of a vocabulary gap will arise. After several brief logic lessons involving terms admittedly unfamiliar to the audience, i felt compelled to make the following concession to the sensitivities of my listeners: “Now, i know what you’re thinking. ‘This guy is throwing around nonsense terms like wamwam and flockbinker, that don’t mean anything, and yet he claims to be talking about logic!’ Ah, dear concerned audience member, how can you be so sure they don’t mean anything? The nature of meaning is a bit tricky.” Nice, eh? Anticipate their objections and head them off at the pass. Never allow the audience to feel as if they’re in the driver’s seat, that’s what i say.
Anyway, from that point we went from strength to strength. Having addressed a variety of logical scenarios as encountered in several different syllogisms, we then moved on to address the ontological status of flockbinkers, a point which stands (for some people) near the very center of the discussion.
“Do flockbinkers exist?” I prodded them. “What does it mean to ‘exist’? Do unicorns exist? No? I bet you could describe one to me.” (Did you catch that? Huh? Pretty nice, yes? Mighty fancy footwork, if i do say it myself. And given that this is my blog, i think it’s safe to say that anything said here is something that i will say myself.) “If i said that a unicorn is a small slippery fish with twelve legs and a stinger, you’d cry out, ‘That’s not true!’ But of course it’s not true. Unicorns don’t exist.” Yes, i had them right where i wanted them. They were in the very palm of my hand.
Having begun dealing with the issue of ontology, there was no turning back now. “Some things that do exist are concrete entities (a Volkswagen, a toaster), and some things that exist are non-physical abstractions (justice, the number 37). Could it be that the flockbinker is an abstract entity? He exists as a concept, and AS such is real, even though he cannot be touched, taken for a walk or filled with water to the line indicated?”
Now, here’s the thing. Once you begin saying things like, “‘x’ is not a concrete, physical entity; it is a concept,” there will always be a certain element in your audience–i hate to have to call these people out, but they do kind of make thigs rough for the rest of us–who will triumphantly say, “Aha! Didn’t i tell you that ‘x’ wasn’t real? And now he just admitted it. You all heard him.” If there were any such persons present in my audience the other night, to that person or persons i say, “Pah!” And i say it again, for emphasis: “Pah!” (I hope PechaKucha Chattanooga will excuse my rude manner of addressing someone who showed up at one of their events. But i strongly suspect that PechaKucha Chattanooga is just as eager to root these people out as i am.)
But sadly, there will always be people who will confuse “real” with “tangible,” and such persons must be corrected at a level that they are able to understand. Hence, my next series of observations: “There ARE real things that don’t exist in the concrete world of our experience. Elizabeth Bennet has a kind of reality; ask any Jane Austen fan. Hercules and Thor both have a kind of reality, and in fact both have had movies made about them. There is a kind of reality in fiction and myth. The realm of the unicorn.” Now, if you were addressing a society of philosophers, that’s not the sort of argument you would appeal to. They’d never let you get away with it. But when it comes to the sort of recalcitrant audience members we were holding up to critical scrutiny a few seconds ago, it’s the kind of argument you have to use. It’s all these people are able to comprehend. Thus has it ever been. *sigh*
But having now cleared away some of the underbrush, we were then able to get on with some serious philosophical exploration.
“The reality-status of abstractions was a hot topic among the ancient Greeks. Is a category of objects a real thing? Is ‘tree’ real? I don’t mean a physical tree, like the ones growing out there—i’m asking, does the concept ‘tree’ have a kind of reality? Plato said yes; Aristotle had his reservations.” Whoah. Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Just what DOES ‘real’ mean? Is it only an individual physical thing that has reality, or do ideas have reality as well? If i can refer to this tree as a ‘tree,’ and that tree as a ‘tree,’ and some other tree as a ‘tree,’ and a grove of dogwoods over there as ‘trees,’ then is there not something real about the concept ‘tree’ that enables us to apply it in so many different instances of objects that are not physically connected to one another? Ah.
But then we continued: “This same debate was picked up 1500 years later by the Medieval philosophers. The ‘realists’ thought category terms like ‘tree’ referred to actual realities; ideas were at least as real as concrete objects. The ‘nominalists,’ on the other hand, felt that only individual objects had reality, and category terms were just puffs of breath.” Yes, you see? We’re looking at two fundamentally different ways of seeing the world. In the one case, you’re saying, “The term ‘flockbinker’ refers to a real thing if and only if it is physically, individually present to me right now and i can detect it with my senses.” And in the other case, you’re saying, “Man, what a poverty-stricken world you must be living in, Mister Nominalist, if that is indeed your real name! If you are unable to conceive of any realities other than physical bodies that are immediately present to your sensory apparatus, well jeepers, ya may want to join that gleefully imbibing audience member at the back of the room where the good stuff is being offered by the glass, because otherwise, i’m thinking reality must be a really empty place for you to be living in.” Well, you probably wouldn’t want to be quite that harsh. But you (and yes, i am assuming that you, The Good Reader, are able to see through the fallacious perspective offered by nominalism, and recognize that there are limitless varieties of abstract, spiritual, transcendent, and subjectively experienced realities populating the cosmos, beyond the mere concrete objects that the nominalist feels to be the sole inhabitants of the Real Universe) will need to devise some way of putting these people in their place, short of making possibly impertinent references to their ancestry and the circumstances surrounding their conception.
On that note, i think we’ll need to wrap up this installment. Gosh, things have gone from fun and frothy to heavy and metaphysical, all within the confines of one blog post! But that’s the sort of thing that can happen when you mess around with Stand-up Philosophy. There’s no telling where it will take you.
In our next post, we’ll conclude our summary of the presentation that The Blogger (aka i, myself) offered at PechaKucha Night, Friday, December 5th, at 8:20 of the evening.
And following that, perhaps in the very next entry, there’s a very good chance… i’m just tossing it out there as a possibility… that we will see the re-introduction of the classic joke about three Scotsmen sitting on a fence. There are good times ahead. Can’t you feel it? I can just feel it.