We happen upon Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith in the middle of a rousing philosophical discussion. Let’s listen in.
by David Kennedy Bird
If i’m not mistaken, you people…
(and here i refer to The Good Reader, in both his singular and plural capacities… that is, as an individual human person reading the blog, and as an archetypal personage representing all three of you who are readers of the blog… as well as in both his male and female manifestations)
…well, anyway, it is you, Good Reader, whom i am addressing, and it seems to me that i’ve not yet introduced you to Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith.
Which seems extraordinary. How many posts to this blog have we gotten through thus far, and still have somehow managed not to introduce these two characters who are so near the very center of what the “All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious” thing is all about? Too many, that’s all i can say. So it’s high time you were introduced to them.
Let’s leave the detailed introductions for a future post. For now, suffice it to say that Little Biffy is a budding young philosopher and a student at Foundations Collegium in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He’s somewhere around, oh, maybe ten years of age. It’s hard to tell. He’s really kind of ageless. As evidence of this, i offer the fact that he was created at least 15 years ago, and he’s still the same age now that he was then. YOU try pulling that off. (What’s that? You’ve tried, you say, and you’ve got thousands of dollars in plastic surgery bills to prove it? Well, i’m not sure we’re talking about exactly the same thing, but sure, okay, that’s fine.)
Little Biffy is sort of like a half-pint Socrates. He cannot imagine anything more enjoyable than the pursuit of truth. He loves exploring ideas with people, and plying them with questions until some sort of satisfying conclusion is reached.
One of his regular
victims …er… fellow explorers, is Jennifer Smith. Jennifer is in her late 20’s. She’s a business graduate from UTC, and is presently working at Unum in some kind of decently-paying but not-terribly-inspiring desk job. She likes to wind down after work at the Panera Bread on Market Street, sitting at one of the tables on the sidewalk out front with a chai latte and a frothy bestseller, and forget that she finds her career and her life pretty unfulfilling.
Jennifer is a fairly typical twenty-something, in a lot of ways: she’s bright and did well in her college classes, but she has given very little thought to the big questions that life is built around. Or, to put it the way Little Biffy would, she has given insufficient attention to the sharpening up of her worldview.
Biffy met Jenn a few years ago while hanging out at Panera Bread, and she has been one of his favorite interlocutors ever since. She finds him amusing, annoying, and challenging, and puts up with his insistent lines of questioning because, deep down, she really does value truth, and enjoys his challenges to her way of seeing things.
The following excerpt is from one of their early conversations, one sunny spring afternoon a few years back, at a coffeehouse called the Stone Cup.
Little Biffy: Allright, Jennifer… I think it’s time for a lesson in logic.
Jennifer Smith: Wow. My friends are going to be so jealous.
Biffy: Heh heh. I think you’re kidding. But, well, anyway, here goes. Listen closely. All flockbinkers are treadknicious.
Jennifer: Wait. I thought you said this was going to be a lesson in logic.
Biffy: Exactly! Yes. It is.
Jennifer: But what you just said didn’t make any sense whatsoever. Maybe i’m letting my ignorance of philosophy show, but i thought logic was supposed to be about things that make sense.
Biffy: But Jennifer, it makes perfect sense to say that all flockbinkers are treadknicious.
Jennifer: In some other solar system, maybe.
Biffy: Well, there is that. Heh heh. So stay focused. All flockbinkers…
Jennifer: Stop. What’s a ‘flockbinker’?
Biffy: You’re missing the point. Just hang with me. All flockbinkers are treadknicious.
Jennifer: Okay. Fine.
Biffy: And all wamwams are flockbinkers.
Jennifer: I don’t know what a wamwam is, either.
Biffy: That’s okay. It doesn’t matter. Just stay with it. It’ll make sense eventually.
Jennifer: Terrific. Got it. All flockbinkers are wamwams.
Biffy: Actually… that’s not it. All wamwams are flockbinkers.
Jennifer: It’s the same thing!
Biffy: Well, really, no. But we’ll get back to that.
Jennifer: Oh, come on. How can it not be the same thing? All flockbinkers are wamwams. All wamwams are flockbinkers. Not that it even matters, ‘cause you’re talking gibberish. All pooh-poohs are hubbabubbas. All blahblahs are froomfrooms too, i bet.
Biffy: Heh heh. That sparkling wit. It never gets old. No, Jenn, you see, just because all wamwams are flockbinkers, that does not at all necessitate the opposite scenario, that all flockbinkers are wamwams. Try this. Imagine the category of all wamwams.
Jennifer: I don’t dare. I’ll have nightmares for weeks.
Biffy: Okay. Fair enough. Imagine the category of all dogs. You like dogs, do you?
Jennifer: Dogs are great, and they have the added virtue of not sounding like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Okay. I’m picturing all the dogs.
Biffy: Now imagine the category of all mammals. All the mammals in the world. Got it?
Jennifer: That’s a bit harder to picture. There’s lots of mammals.
Biffy: Right, but you know what mammals are, so you can at least imagine what that particular category would involve. Imagine all the mammals in the world, standing in a big circle the size of Alaska.
Jennifer: Would they all fit?
Biffy: Sure. Easily. Under factory-farming conditions, anyway.
Jennifer: That was not even remotely funny.
Biffy: Uh, sorry. [turns beet-red] So, anyway, all the mammals are in a huge circle the size of Alaska, with lots of room to walk around and graze and joyfully prance upon the grassy hillsides.
Jennifer: Much better. Okay, all the mammals are in Alaska, prancing. Some of ‘em are freezing their little mammal buns off.
Biffy: Great. I mean, not that the beasts are cold, but that you’ve got the picture. Now, imagine that all the dogs are also in that Alaska-sized circle. Got it?
Jennifer: Sure. Well, wait a second. Aren’t they already there? ‘Cause they’re mammals, too.
Biffy: Excellent! You’re getting it! You’re halfway there. So all of the dogs are mammals.
Jennifer: Right. Every single one. And if you keep patronizing me, i’m going to tweak your nose. I’m old enough to be your… mmm, your aunt.
Biffy: Oops. Sorry. [turns red again] So all the dogs are mammals. Now, are all of the mammals dogs?
Jennifer: Of course not! Some of them are gerbils, and some of ‘em are wildebeests.
Biffy: So: all dogs are mammals, but not all mammals are dogs.
Jennifer: That’s right… oh. I see. I’m embarrassed now.
Biffy: No need! No need. So it’s clear to you that even if all wamwams are flockbinkers, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all flockbinkers are wamwams.
Jennifer: Yes. I get it. You don’t have to rub it in.
Biffy: Okay then! Moving on. So if all flockbinkers are treadknicious, and all wamwams are flockbinkers, we can reasonably conclude that….
Jennifer: We are visiting a zoo in wonderland?
Biffy: Heh heh. You never seem to lose that lively sense of humor. That’s good. No, Jennifer, what we can reasonably conclude is that all wamwams are treadknicious.
Jennifer: I guess so. And all borogoves are mimsy. And the mome raths, outgrabe. I think I’m getting the hang of this.