all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

Forays into Logic, Whimsy, Meaning, Hilarity, and Nonsense.

Category: Classification Systems

Why It ABSOLUTELY Matters That You Pronounce ‘Treadknicious’ Correctly

 

Abstract:  There are hundreds of thousands of words in the English vocabulary. Treadknicious is just one of them. And yet–quite apart from its fascinating and important meaning–it has a claim to fame that sets it apart. But not a good one. It is almost invariably… incorrectly… pronounced.


 

Honestly, this may perhaps not seem the most important post ever made to the “All Flockbinkers” blog. Yet it involves a topic close to my heart, and perhaps yours as well.

It concerns the pronunciation of the term “treadknicious.”

I’m going to spell out the sound of how you have probably always pronounced the word. I’m going to be trembling almost uncontrollably as i do so. But…and i’m sure your own philosophical adventures have taught you the same…one does what one must.

Here goes:

[Tred – nish – us].

[An almost uncontrollable shiver passes through the entire length of my body]

No, no, no, no, no.

NO!

Hmm-Mmmm.

No no.

Just: No.

The word is most decidedly NOT pronounced to rhyme with, oh, for instance, “splednicious.”

Sure, it’s spelled as if the two words rhyme. “Treadknicious.” “Spledknicious.” A perfectly honest mistake.

But they don’t rhyme. Oh no. No, sirree.

The well-known word “splednicious” is, of course, pronounced [spled – nish – us].

We’ve all known that since kindergarten. “Teacher, what a spledknicious lesson you have taught us!” Or, if you weren’t an insufferable kiss-up, “Baxter! I say, you’ve got the most splednicious black eye!” Spledknicious. Three syllables.

The word “treadknicious” is, by contrast, pronounced… and i need to know that you’re sitting down and paying full attention…

It is pronounced:  [tred – ka – nish – us].

Did you catch that? I’ll repeat it for the slower ones among you:  [tred – ka – nish – us]

Just like that.

You mustn’t slip and leave out the [ – ka – ].

Please.

Now, i can hear some of you saying, “Looka here, now, buddy, why’nt ya just calm yerself? Now how does it really matter how we pronounce one o’ them big fancy words? Ain’t it really the thought that counts in matters o’ this here type?”

Bless you, child, but my answer to your well-meaning query is an unambiguous…

[…and here the Blogger goes into an uncontrolled coughing fit, holds up one finger as if to say, “a minute, gimme a minute here,” and eventually assumes command of himself…]

…”No.”

You see, certain things matter much more than they might appear to on the surface. And the correct pronunciation of words is among those things.

Imagine, with me, a world in which people are going about their business, pronouncing words however they like, making the most awful sounds with their mouths, horrid successions of noise trailing out from between their lips on a regular basis. Can you imagine anything more like what will doubtless be going on when the world is brought to its end and we are all subjected to the Final Judgment?

The dissolution of all things! The blackness of the very last night! Chaos and abaddon, with darkness upon the face of the deep and spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places!

We can, in our own little way, fight back these cosmic influences–at least for a while–by pronouncing our words correctly. And we can start with the correct pronunciation of the word, “treadknicious.”

I leave this very important matter in your capable hands, o my dearest reader.

 

A Very Particular Set of Skills: or, What if Liam Neeson Were a Philosopher

 

Abstract:  In the film “Taken”, Liam Neeson plays a father whose “very particular set of skills” comes into play as he tracks down his daughter’s captors and rescues her. Which leads to the obvious question: how would this set of skills come into play if the same character were–say–a philosopher?


 

Imagine with me, if you will, a world in which philosophers were making movies. Ahhh!

Among the current batch of film actors, Liam Neeson is probably–more than most, anyway–associated with a single picture: “Taken.” In this film, Neeson plays a father whose “very particular set of skills” comes into play as he tracks down his daughter’s captors–a ring of sex traffickers–and rescues her.

All of which, quite naturally, leads to the question: how would this set of skills come into play if the same character were, say, a philosopher?

So blissful a thought! Of course, the films would probably be awful, but oh, the ideas! The logical inferences! The conceptual recommendations!

Ahem.

For the benefit of Those Who Do Not Remember, here is the iconic telephone speech that Liam Neeson gives near the beginning of the film Taken:

“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

Of course, a more philosophically-inclined version of the same character, in the same film, might have said something similar… yet different… perhaps along these lines:

“The set of possibilities, of which i am currently cognizant, contained in the sets of (1) ‘who you are’ and (2) ‘what you want’ and (3) ‘how much money i’ve got’ is circumscribed to such a degree as to be essentially irrelevant. I am, however, possessed of [Set A], which for our current purposes may be defined as ‘a very particular set of skills,’ such a set having been acquired across [Set B]: ‘over a very long career,’ the sum of which will inevitably result in the maximal state of unhappiness for you. The possibilities from this point include the following: (A) You let my daughter go now, which will result in [the consequences for you = the Null Set], or (B) Your inevitable and very painful….”

“Hello? Hello?” [shaking telephone] “Hello? Anyone there? Hello?”

Anyway, if we were to imagine such a world, that delightful world in which the action heroes were philosophers, and the philosophers were action heroes,* we might be able to envision a scenario like the following:

“Immanuel Aquinas is having a bad day. To begin with, the guy at the laundry not only messed up his best suit, but he had the nerve to follow that with an absurd line of argumentation, rife with fallacious inferences, in his own defense. Then, Aquinas got stuck in traffic for an hour, and had to endure the pathetic socio-cultural diatribes of the guy in the car next to his. But the worst thing of all? Tom Kant, his nemesis, is about to walk away red-handed with a satchel containing $10,000,000 of the government’s money. The solution? Looks like it’s time for Aquinas to kick some serious conceptual ass.”

–from a film that Liam Neeson has not starred in

[YET]

…but almost certainly will if the universe is the sort of place i suspect it to be.

I thought that, in this post, it might be worthwhile to imagine some things that Liam Neeson would or would not do, if cast in a philosophical action film. To wit:

Some things Liam Neeson would NEVER do:

  • He would never give you up
  • He would never let you down
  • He would never run around and desert you
  • He would never make you cry
  • He would never say goodbye
  • He would never tell a lie and hurt you

Um. Just a moment. We need to check on something.

Um. Hmmm.

Oh, dear. We’re sorry: that wasn’t Liam Neeson, it was Rick Astley. Similar fellows, understandable mistake.

Well, now that we’ve publicly embarrassed ourselves, oops, ha ha, why don’t we move on to the list of things that Liam Neeson would do, ha ha, or skills that he would reveal, as a philosopher? I feel we’re on somewhat firmer ground here.

Here are some things Liam Neeson would do:

He would summarily drop anyone who tried to make a pun on Kant and can’t. I mean, seriously…wouldn’t you?

Logical fallacies would be punished swiftly… dialectically… and permanently.

Wittgenstein’s Language Games… hah! You won’t be playing any with him. Not, that is, if you value your respiratory tractatus. Er, tract.

All flockbinkers may or may not be treadknicious, but you’re about to be.

(Wait. What? Umm.)

Don’t even try coming at him with obtuse, verbally bloated explanations: he will cut you with Occam’s Razor.

The Law of the Excluded Middle…after he’s finished excluding YOUR middle, you won’t have anything left to digest your food with.

He’ll crush your monads (get it? your monads, heh heh), Leibniz to the contrary notwithstanding.

And speaking of notwithstanding… Pythagoras notwithstanding, when Neeson’s through with you the squares of your legs will NOT be equal to the square of your hypotenuse.

Please don’t go on and on about some “Prisoner’s Dilemma”… The only way to act in your own self-interest when dealing with Liam Neeson is to hand over the total and pray that he doesn’t feel like investigating the boundaries of game theory.

Oh dear. Once again, we’re not even sure what this last one meant.

He’ll separate your yin from your yang.

(We thought that last one was pretty funny, and we’re going to repeat it.)

He’ll separate your yin from your yang.

Heh heh.

Thesis, antithesis, synthesis, schmynthesis… The Hegelian Dialectic notwithstanding… among the various other things that are notwithstanding… you’ll find yourself in a world of contradiction if Liam Neeson isn’t pleased with the status of your triads.

He kicked Buridan’s Ass, and he’ll kick yours.

When he’s done with you, you’ll be reduced to a cardboard caricature useful only as a mouthpiece for certain widely dismissed philosophical positions… oh… waittasecond… oops… sorry, there… we kinda got Liam Neeson crossed up with Ayn Rand.

She’ll have to wait for another post to the blog.

 

* Heh heh. A bit of a nod to Plato, there.

 

Another Philosophy Joke: Bertie and Jeeves, Confucius and Aristotle Have Dinner at Chili’s

 

Abstract:  Bertie Wooster has recently spent an evening at Chili’s restaurant, in the company of the great philosophers Buddha and Confucius, and the result was not quite that entry into higher thought that one might have wished. Fortunately, the next time Bertie happens into a Chili’s he’s got his brainy old standby Jeeves with him. And it’s a good thing… Confucius is there again, and this time he’s got Aristotle with him!

___________________________________________________________________________________________

There are a handful of defining experiences that tend to make a man what he is–what i mean by that is that growth is often attached to seismic experiences that serve to shake us out of our complacency–and what he is going to be, at various points in the as-yet indeterminate future–as distinguished from what he was, prior to the aforementioned encounters, that is.

Oh dear, let’s try that one again.

Sometimes important things happen to you.

[Ahem]  Much better.

Now, the kind of important things that can happen to a fellow–the ones, anyway, that we’re thinking of at the moment–might involve meeting famous dead philosophers in busy restaurants. This sort of thing does not happen to most people on a regular basis, but it appears to be happening to young Bertie Wooster with distressing regularity. Why don’t we sneak a little closer so that we can listen in on the ensuing conversation?

 

Confucius:  Hmmm. What’ll it be this time, the Southwestern Eggrolls or the Cobb Salad. Decisions, decisions.

Aristotle:  You ought to delineate the virtues of each in a parallel comparison chart. On the one side, you can rank the advantages and disadvantages to ordering a Cobb Salad, and on the other side you can arrange the data on a Southwestern Eggroll. Then you simply determine which of the two seems less unpleasant, and more enjoyable.

Confucius:  My word. Are you really like this all the time?

Aristotle:  All. The. Time. It’s a living hell.

Confucius:  Man. Wouldn’t want to be you. I just sort of talk about how i think people ought to behave, and stuff.

Aristotle:  I would die for a gig like that.

Confucius:  It’s certainly got its benefits. But hey, we were starting to talk about the nature of human decision-making, and you were saying….

Bertie:  I say!

Confucius:  Goodness gracious! If it isn’t Master Wu Stehr! Come, join us! And do introduce your friend.

Bertie:  This is my thrice-worthy man, Jeeves. The sort of cove who’s reading 18th century philosophy one minute, and bringing to a swift termination the household problems in the next.

Jeeves:  An exaggeration i must contradict, sir, with the deepest respect and gratitude. But am i correct in concluding that you, sir [turning oh-so-slightly] are the philosopher Aristotle?

Aristotle:  [obviously flattered]  I am, sir! What an astonishing conclusion!

Jeeves:  [Bows ever so slightly]

Confucius:  You and your friend must by all means sit with us!  [scootching over]

Aristotle:  Indeed. By all means!  [scootching in a somewhat more Aristotelian manner]

Bertie:  Well, don’t mind if we do, eh Jeeves?

Jeeves:  To be sure, sir.

Confucius:  Now, if memory serves, the last time you–Mr. Wu Stehr–sat here with us we talked a bit about a few of your friends and family. And at that time, you mentioned Jeeves here. What a pleasure to be able to meet him at last!

Aristotle:  Indeed! He is reputed to be the sort of “middle man” whose choices always adhere to that noble region located between the extremes and excesses of human folly.

Bertie:  Well, i say! Some pretty tough remarks they’re biffing at you, eh Jeeves?

Jeeves:  Almost entirely exaggerated. One does attempt to do what one can, sir.

Confucius:  So, perhaps you can help us resolve a small difficulty. I’m having trouble choosing between the Cobb Salad, and the Southwestern Eggrolls.

Jeeves:  If i may offer an opinion, sir, you should order the Cobb Salad on this occasion. Desmond Sneed, with whom i take dinner from time to time on my days off, is in a relationship with Bessie Tellmann, who works in transportation. To shorten the story, i am reliably informed that this week’s shipment of Southwestern Eggrolls has been blighted with cockroaches.

Bertie:  There! You see? That was an absolute biffer, Jeeves!

Jeeves:  Terribly good of you to say, sir.

Aristotle:  Astonishing and gratifying! There’s nothing like the combination of firsthand experience and logical deduction in the improvement of one’s dining habits!

Confucius:  I must agree. That was impressive.

Aristotle:  So, Jeeves, may i put a question to you?

Jeeves:  I shall attempt to render good service.

Aristotle:  Okay. So there’s this terribly cute redhead who’s been spending a lot of time over at the Cognitive Diss Disco. I’ve chatted briefly with her a couple of times, she seems nice. Do you think i should pursue a relationship with her?

Jeeves:  A question, sir. Does she have a mole on her upper lip?

Aristotle:  Astonishing! Indeed she has!

Jeeves:  Ah, i feared as much. That would be Mlle. Connie Desmouches. She is a charming girl, to be sure, but i am reliably informed that she has of late been seen much in the company of Lord Habersham.

Aristotle:  Blast it all! I was afraid something like that might be the case.

Bertie:  Plus, she’s a redhead, what? QED.

Jeeves:  Indeed, sir.

Bertie:  Many’s been the time Jeeves has rescued me from the clutches of one redhead after another. Lovely girls, and quite stiff enough about the brains, but all in all not a good relational proposition.

Jeeves:  The redhead temperament tends not to agree with yours, sir.

Bertie:  Right ho! You’ve said a mouthful, Jeeves.

Confucius:  This exploration of the dynamics of relationship is indeed stimulating, but i wonder if i might steer the conversation in the direction of the larger issues of statecraft and public policy?

Aristotle:  Ah! A direction much to my liking, as well.

Bertie:  Biffing idea!

Jeeves:  I shall be glad to render forth my opinion, sir, for what it may be worth.

Confucius:  Back in my native China, the Emperor has been considering the implementation of a policy whereby the wealthier estates are broken up and distributed among the poorer classes. There are some who say he has been influenced by foreign elements; others claim his mental state has begun to deteriorate. And yet others hail this as a sound policy. What would you say?

Jeeves:  I am tempted, sir, to conclude that you are testing me on the soundness of my grasp of–ahem–current events.

Confucius:  [laughing]  I am afraid that what seems current to me may perhaps be ancient history to you. The time scale of the blog appears to be a bit out of order. Perhaps another question.

Aristotle:  I rather like the one you just asked.

Bertie:  [examining menu]  If i may make a brief o,* this “Molten Chocolate Cake” appears to rate a magna-cum-biff! I say, waiter!

Aristotle:  [smiling]  It’s not bad. Not bad at all.

Confucius:  Okay. Here’s a replacement question. How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck COULD chuck wood?

Jeeves:  I fear you’ve selected a rather easy one this time, sir. If the current Prime Minister does not wish his extramarital activities to be politicized, then he ought rather to disguise them more effectively, or give them up entirely.

Confucius:  Brilliant! Precisely the correct answer!

Aristotle:  Wmmff?

Bertie:  I say! Weren’t we talking about woodchucks and wood and that sort of thing?

Jeeves:  Quite so, sir.  [bows slightly]

Aristotle:  My impression precisely. I fear these gentlemen may be playing a game to which we are unfamiliar with the rules.

Bertie:  Well, now, that IS a bit thick, isn’t it.

Jeeves:  One speaks in the argot peculiarly suited to the situation, sir.

[He and Confucius snicker demurely for a moment.]

Confucius:  So, i have another question, this one for the whole assembled company. If the Southwestern Eggrolls have been tainted, what might be said about the Molten Chocolate Cake of which we all appear to be lusting uncontrollably?

Aristotle:  We would need to assemble a certain body of information at the outset. Were the eggrolls and the chocolate cake on the same shipping truck? Did they at any point share a storage facility? Might we perhaps have access to someone on staff here who is able to discuss with us the manner in which the two respective foods have been stored?

Bertie:  Oh, hang it all! Waiter! Waiter! I say, one Molten Chocolate Cake here, with or without the complementary insect life.

Jeeves:  My employer is a man of decisive temperament where food is involved.

Confucius:  Ah! A decisive temperament is not a bad thing, when combined with a desire for the social good and the observation of correct forms. Another Molten Chocolate cake for me, please, waiter!

Aristotle:  Well, doggone it. Another here, good waiter!

Jeeves:  I shall perhaps opt for the vanilla ice cream instead, if you please.

Bertie:  As you wish, Jeeves. You may be missing the most exciting part of the meal–the part that crawls out to greet you.

Jeeves:  Indeed, sir. Such was not far from the trend of my own thought.

Confucius:  One last challenge, and then we shall all tuck into our desserts. Mr. Jeeves, what is your insight into the ontological status of the common flockbinker?

Jeeves:  [smiling sadly]  I fear the ontological status of the flockbinker is a bit outside the bounds of my reading, sir.

Confucius:  Yet you are familiar with them?

Jeeves:  Indeed, sir. I am aware of the concept of the flockbinker.

Confucius:  And yet you’ve not formed an idea of their existence or nonexistence?

Jeeves:  I… did not exactly say that, sir.

Confucius:  Aha!

Bertie:  What, ho.

Aristotle:  It’s a bit of an arcane discussion, Mr. Wooster. There are those–perhaps none present–who hold the flockbinker to be an actually existent entity. There are others who break into paroxysms of laughter at the very idea of flockbinkers. It’s an interesting debate.

Bertie:  I say! It’s always been my impression that flockbinkers are fictional, but then, my reading has been somewhat more focused than yours.

Aristotle:  [leaning toward Bertie]  Your man is a bit of a keen player. He hasn’t actually taken a side on that particular issue, you see.

Bertie:  Ah! That Jeeves, you can’t often know what he’s actually thinking.

Jeeves:  I hope never to have given offense on that score, sir.

Bertie:  Oh, no, far from it. Keeps things interesting.

[The waiter returns with their desserts]

Confucius:  I bid you all good health and blessing appropriate to your social station.

Aristotle:  Wassail!

The Assembled Company:  Wassail!

 


 

* For the uninitiated: Bertie sometimes likes to abbreviate his longer words down to a single letter: perhaps for ease of pronunciation, perhaps because it seems somewhat clever, in a somewhat un-clever sort of way.

 

The Blogger Lays His Metaphorical Cards on the Table

 

Abstract:  In which The Blogger candidly discusses whether or not this blog is actually about philosophy, or whether it’s just an excuse for some obscure horsing around.

________________________________________________________________________

The question has been put, and the battle has been joined: Is this blog really a substantial exploration of philosophical issues? Or is it a floppy monstrosity consisting largely of mostly aimless conversations in which The Good Reader scolds The Blogger for being a conspicuous ass?

As it turns out, quite a catalog of reasons can be assembled in support of either position.

Persons making the accusation against the blog: Sandra, from Kansas City, for instance.

“I’ve been following this blog for a couple of years now… well, i don’t know if ‘following’ is the right way of putting it… i mean, i’ve read the posts, you know… and i have to say it, i just don’t think it’s about anything. I think it’s a bunch of random thoughts that this blogger guy comes up with, and then he tries to make them funny, and he adds in some odd characters, and he writes about them.”

Oh boy. There are some people you just can’t reach.

Persons defending the blog, on the other hand, like… um… uuh… well… aw, gee….

Well, okay, here’s one. Christopher, who lives in the British Virgin Islands. He has this to say in defense of this website:

“Dude, i’m totally all about it. I mean, like Jack! this is some pretty funny material.” He pauses to snicker for a few seconds. “It’s like, how many Scotsmen can you put on a fence? Oh my gosh! This stuff is hilarious! So yeah, i’m totally about this website, as a, you know, way of communicating what–um–philosophy is, and, you know, that kind of thing.”

Well, okay. I reckon we’ll accept our defenses wherever we can find them.

So the sides are defined, and the field is marked. What IS this blog about? Is it, as Sandra avers, a random body of material? Or is Christopher right in averring that it is… well, whatever he seems to have been saying? And in keeping with the philosophical character of the blog (you see what i did there?) we’re going to structure our material as a series of logical arguments.

Let the games begin! Uhm, or something.

 

This Blog is a Substantial Exploration of Philosophy

The thesis here is that The Blogger is performing a significant public service by serving up generous portions of substantial argumentation in support of important ideas.

Argument #1:  Flockbinkers

Oh my word! Do we really need to include anything else in our defense? This blog is all about flockbinkers, and it’s hard to get any more philosophical than that. Flockbinkers are practically the definition of philosophy! They’re what philosophy is all about! Now, in response to the nay-sayers who might claim that flockbinkers don’t exist, our reply is: …well, give us a minute on that one. Scratching our heads here. This one turns out to be a bit of a toughie.

Argument #3:  Logical syllogisms

You can’t…and may i emphasize this?… you simply CAN’T chuck a rock around here without hitting a logical syllogism! The joint is veritably stupid with logical syllogisms! Um, if that’s the sort of statement that makes sense. Anyway. It’s just one logical syllogism after another. It’s almost as if they’re following each other to the seaside cliffs in order to hurl themselves off the edge! No, that wasn’t part of the argument. Just a nice image that i suddenly came up with.

Argument #2:  Definitions of words

Our final, knockout argument consists in the fact that…Dude. We are constantly defining words around here. This blog is practically about nothing but the definition of words. Spin around blindfolded, and you’ll find yourself pointing at somebody who’s in the process of defining a term. Hey! You there! Little Biffy! Whatcha doin’ over there? What? Defining terms? Ho! I figured as much! Carry on!

The defense rests.

 

This Blog is a Sad Excuse for a Bunch of Horsing Around

Since this is a position with which i am entirely out of sympathy, i have asked our friend Sandra (from Kansas City) to supply a few insights. Do your best, Sandra!  [snicker]

Argument #1:  Even an idiot can identify what’s wrong with each post

Oh my word. What a sad assemblage of nonsense, nonsense and more nonsense! Pretty much every single post to this blog is saddled with at least one, if not several, if not a seemingly unending stream of fallacious reasoning and just plain silliness! Sometimes the Blogger sticks something into the post that you’re supposed to find, and that’s not hard at all. On top of that, though, are the myriads of mistakes in reasoning, etc. that tend to clog the place up, apparently through no knowledge of his own. It’s exhausting, really.

Argument #2:  At no point are terms like ‘flockbinker’ or ‘wamwam’ ever defined

This blog is built around nonsense words that the blogger never takes it upon himself to define. What do these silly words mean? Does it matter? Do i care? No, in fact, i do not. Neither am i able to take seriously a blog where much of what’s going on is in the form of “cromblasters” and “wigwams” and “Your Mom” and other unintelligible things. If the Blogger wants to talk himself to sleep at night muttering random syllables, why he’s welcome to that, i just wish he wouldn’t call it a website.

Argument #3:  The so-called ‘logical syllogisms’ are awful, just awful

In his well-meaning but doomed-to-failure attempts to explore philosophy, The Blogger often sets up logical syllogisms in order to illustrate his points. Oh. My. Word. This guy is trying to teach ME logic? Every time i read this blog, i feel like i know less and less about logic. If i keep it up, i’m afraid that soon i’ll no longer remember how to eat and use the bathroom by myself, and i’ll need to hire a full-time nurse. THAT is how bad this blog is on logic.

The prosecution rests.

 

Epilogue

The Good Reader:  Yawn.

The Blogger:  I heard that. You yawned.

The Good Reader:  I did! I’m a little tired. And, plus, i don’t think i get the purpose of this post. Sure, you’ve finally admitted that your writing is somewhat pointless and silly, but apart from that, what…?

The Blogger:  I’m not sure i understand you. I was clearly the winner of our little debate.

The Good Reader:  You’re making a joke.

The Blogger:  I flattened her! My arguments made sense, and hers didn’t!

The Good Reader:  Hmmm.

The Blogger:  I laid forth a coherent body of evidence in favor of the blog, and she had nothing but a handful of sad personal impressions with no logical support whatsoever!

The Good Reader:  Ah.

The Blogger:  I won! I ran over her like a grocery store shopping cart running over a dried banana peel!

The Good Reader:  This is an experience you’ve had before?

The Blogger:  Just last week.

The Good Reader:  Which grocery store?

The Blogger:  Kroger. They’re normally really clean. I’m not sure what that banana peel was doing on the floor.

The Good Reader:  Cool. So, to summarize, you’re under the impression that you kicked some serious butt in that little discussion up there?

The Blogger:  Absolutely! She was rendered a smoking carcass by the time i finished my remarks. There was nothing left of her. Some smoke and a bit of ash, that’s about it.

The Good Reader:  Mm-hmm.

The Blogger:  So you agree?

The Good Reader:  [smiling]  Absolutely. Is there anything to eat around here? I’m suddenly famished.

 

A Philosophy Joke: Confucius, Buddha, and Bertie Wooster Have Dinner at Chili’s

 

Abstract:  In which P.G. Wodehouse’s classic creation Mr. Bertram Wooster dines at Chili’s with two classical Asian philosophers–Mr. Confucius and Mr. Buddha–and finds himself, oh, a bit out of his depth. Eh what?


 

If you’ve ever dipped into the fiction of British author P.G. Wodehouse, you are doubtless familiar with the character of Bertie Wooster.  You know, the somewhat sub-brainful scion of one of the English ruling families of about a hundred years ago.  And if you’ve ever dipped into the literature of the Ancient East, you are probably familiar with the characters of Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius) and Shakyamuni (the Buddha).

But…ha! And i shall say it again: Ha! Has it ever occurred to you to imagine the conversation that might arise should Young Bertram find himself in the presence of these two ancient worthies, at Chili’s Restaurant? No! Of course it hasn’t. That’s why i’m the one doing all the heavy lifting about the place. I mean: SOMEBODY’s got to.

Wodehouse would’ve done it, if only he’d thought of it.

At any rate, what you are about to read represents one possible dialogue that might arise if persons #1, #2, and #3 were to find themselves at the same table at Chili’s on a warm Saturday afternoon….

 

Confucius:  [looking over the menu]  Hmmm. I’ve often wondered what these “Southwestern Eggrolls” are. Ordering them has never served to shed light on the matter. Though they are admittedly tasty.

Buddha:  All is vanity.

Confucius:  Well put, my man. Oh… i suppose i’ll go with the Cobb Salad again. Can’t go wrong with the classics.

Buddha:  To choose that which has endured the whirlwind, in this is wisdom.

Bertie Wooster:  [muscling his way through the crowd to their table]  I say! What a brainy sort of thing to come forth with at the dinner table.

Confucius:  Well, hello! I didn’t see you standing there.

Bertie:  Oh don’t mind me. Just casting about for a place among my fellow man. The restaurant’s a bit crowded at present. They’re working on a table for me. Chuffing waitstaff.

Buddha:  The man who is able to establish himself among his fellows without doing harm is of the….

Confucius:  Yes, yes. Please sit with us, at least until the crowd thins a bit.

Bertie:  Well, i don’t mind if i do.

Confucius:  My name is Kung fu Tzu, and my companion is Lord Shakyamuni.

Bertie:  I say! Pleased to make your acquaintance, and all that, your Lordship. Bertram Wooster here, at your service and all that.

Buddha:  The pains that result from our illusory desires may only be….

Confucius:  Yes, indeed, thank you. [to Bertie]  He can seem a bit like a broken record, until you’ve gotten to know him. After which, he continues to sound like a broken record.

Bertie:  I say!  [hesitating]  You coves wouldn’t happen to be philosophers?

Confucius:  Honored to be of service.  [extends hand in greeting]

Buddha:  To exist is to suffer.

Bertie:  Eh what!

Confucius:  Never mind him. Given the choice between social niceties and a philosophical coup, well, he’s not really familiar with social niceties.

Bertie:  I knew someone like that. Name of Spode. Suffering was his favorite theme–mine in particular.

Confucius:  Spode. Spode. You wouldn’t be referring to S.P. Oder, by any chance?

Bertie:  Nope. Fellow’s name was just plain Spode. Bit of a fascist organizer, cum white supremacist, cum uninvited attender at other people’s social occasions.

Confucius:  Ah. I’ve known the sort of person. Has a great many regrettable opinions about racial superiority, has he?

Bertie:  Precisely. Spode enjoys mowing his property, solely to hear the violets cry out in terror. His idea of a good party is one where a representative of the Master Race is putting it over on someone less masterful.

Buddha:  To master one’s cravings, this is the essence of superior spirituality.

Bertie:  Really? Oh dear. I fear i’ve not given much attention to mastering my cravings. At the Drone’s Club, we rather incline toward inventing new cravings.

Buddha:  It is no matter. You are well on the way to cultivating mindlessness, my son.

Bertie:  I say! Now you’re reminding me of my Aunt Dahlia.

Confucius:  She is a philosopher?

Bertie:  No, but this chap seems to share her view of my mind and its capacities, what?

Confucius:  We owe respect to our elders, even when their words to us are sharp, like the edge of a cultivating tool.

Bertie:  Aunt Dahlia certainly knows her cultivating tools, being something in the way of a gardener.

Confucius:  Indeed! To bring forth wealth from the soil, and to subsist by the sweat of one’s brow: such a life is not inferior to that of kings.

Bertie:   If you say so. Well, i mean to say, Aunt Dahlia doesn’t do much sweating about the brow, except where her prize rose bushes are concerned. She subsists mainly by the sweat of other people’s brows, including my Uncle Tom.

Confucius:  Ah.

Bertie:  Now, if this fellow [indicating the Buddha] had called me a blot, a rodent, a germ and an insect, he would rather have reminded me of my Aunt Agatha.

Confucius:  A woman of high spirits! I should like to meet her.

Bertie:  Enjoy leaping into vats of boiling oil in your leisure hours, eh what?

Confucius:  I beg your pardon?

Bertie:  Oh, just musing. Say, what do philosophers eat when dining out?

Confucius:  [nervously eyeing menu]  Er, the usual. Cobb Salads, that sort of thing. And what do privileged young scions of the English aristocratic class eat?

Bertie:  [also looking over menu]  Hmmm. I’m looking for the roast joint of mutton with roast potatoes, mint sauce  and haricots verts. What a confusing menu! What’s a “Southwestern Eggroll”?

Confucius:  Those are actually quite good. Recommend. We’ll just ignore the deeply confused gridwork of cultural appropriations.

Buddha:  The wheel of samsara can be escaped only through self-denial.

Confucius:  See, even he admits that they’re tasty.

Bertie:  I must say i’m not often in the company of philosophers. Well, there’s Jeeves, of course.

Confucius:  Chi Tzu?

Bertie:  Jeeves. J-E-E-V-E-S. Terribly brainy sort of chap. Reads dusty old volumes for enjoyment. No accounting for tastes, what?

Confucius:  A philosopher, then?

Bertie:  Ra-THER. He knows a good bit more about Schopenhauer and, oh, some of those other brainy chaps than i do about houndstooth tweed.

Confucius:  He sounds wonderful! And you say that you have employed him as your staff philosopher?

Bertie:  Well, not precisely. He’s my valet. You know, keeps the jackets ironed and the tea warm, that sort of thing, ha ha.

Confucius:  [somewhat disapprovingly]  Are you certain that you have employed him in accordance with his gifts?

Bertie:  Well, you know, ha ha.

Confucius:  No matter. You must bring him with you the next time we adventitiously meet at Chili’s for dinner!

Bertie:  Depend on it! And i can ask Jeeves later on what ‘adventitiously’ means.

The Trouble with Tribbles, Is That They’re Not Treadknicious

Abstract:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and George Takei are brought in as expert witnesses to talk about the ontological status of tribbles; Shatner and Takei get into a tiff over who did or did not attend whose wedding; and Leonard Nimoy admits that the “Bilbo Baggins” song was not his finest moment.


 

One of the recurring themes addressed on this blog is ontology: it’s one of the major branches of philosophy, and involves the discussion of reality, identity, what things are, what kinds of things there are, how things are to be named, understood, categorized. We’ve talked about the ontological status of flockbinkers, unicorns, disgruntled postal workers. We’ve talked about the ontological status of wamwams, Your Mom, and a shopping spree at Whole Foods where you get away without spending more than $187.00. We’ve talked about the ontological status of Republicrats, Democricans, this blog’s readership, and Conan O’Brien’s haircut.

But you know one entity that has not been on the receiving end of our trenchant philosophical analysis?

Tribbles.

You know: tribbles. The little furry puffball things from Star Trek. Isn’t it high time we took the bull by the horns (as it were) and investigated the ontological status of tribbles? Of course it is. You know it is.

Indeed, it might be argued — with some degree of force — that “the trouble with tribbles” is that we don’t yet know whether they are treadknicious. In such a situation, it is often recommended that one appeal to established expertise. And who, i ask you, would know more about tribbles than the cast of the original Star Trek television series?

The Good Reader:  Their moms would.

The Blogger:  What?

The Good Reader:  If you want to know all about tribbles, you should ask their moms.

The Blogger:  You know what? You said something very similar when we were talking about flockbinkers a few years ago.

[Editor’s Note: Here is a transcript of that conversation.]

The Good Reader:  Well, good on me! I consistently say the thing that makes the most sense. If you want to know all about something, whether it’s a tribble, a flockbinker, a philosopher, or a unicorn, you just go ahead and ask its mom.

The Blogger:  But of course, the mother of a tribble would be a tribble as well, so all we’re doing is creating a hall of mirrors. A cute, furry, purring, ravenous hall of mirrors. Here’s the problem: both a tribble and its mother are representative types of a larger category, the very category that is under….

The Good Reader:  [placing her hands over her ears]  I can’t hear you, i can’t hear you, i can’t hear you.

The Blogger:  Well, i guess that puts that particular discussion to bed.

The Good Reader:  And by the way, don’t think i didn’t catch that bit about taking the bull by the horns. I did. I saw that. You might as well have said flockbinker. Take the flockbinker by the horns.

The Blogger:  [sigh]  I don’t believe you’re ever going to let go of that obsession you have, with whether flockbinkers have horns. We’ve been over this.

[Editor’s Note: And here is a transcript of THAT conversation… although, be warned, the question of whether The Good Reader is the same person as The Timid Reader is a somewhat complicated one.]

The Good Reader:  Yes, we have. And — as usual — you sidestepped and danced around the issue and refused to give a straight answer to the question. So i still don’t know whether flockbinkers have horns.

The Blogger:  Well, i fear the issue of the hornlessness or hornfulness of flockbinkers will have to wait until another day. Today, we have other fish to fry. Or, more accurately, tribbles.

The Good Reader:  We’re having fried tribbles?

The Blogger:  Hah! It might be more exact to say that we’re roasting tribbles. I’ve invited a panel of experts to come on the blog to discuss the ontology of tribbles, including the burning question of whether or not they are treadknicious. It’ll be like we’re having a celebrity tribble roast.

 

While waiting for the panel of experts to assemble, why don’t we assemble a summary statement on what tribbles are… you know, for the uninitiated… and of why someone might understandably wonder whether they are treadknicious?

Origin

Tribbles were first introduced in Season Two of Star Trek, at the very end of December, 1967, between Christmas and the New Year. That now-iconic episode was called The Trouble with Tribbles. The show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, who was not excited about the episode — he thought it was too comical and it violated the sense of gravitas that he was wanting to foster in the series — figured that it would do less damage if buried in the middle of the holiday season when people would be likely to be watching other things. Hah!

Tribbles appeared subsequently in various episodes of other series that were part of the Star Trek canon, including Deep Space Nine (Episode: “Trials and Tribble-ations”) and Star Trek: Discovery (Episode: “Context Is for Kings”).

Physical description

Tribbles are small and round — spherical or slightly oblong. (A tribble can be held comfortably in the palm of one hand, or in two hands together.) They are covered in thick fur all around. Tribbles are basically headless guinea pigs with no legs and no teeth.

Feeding and Reproductive habits

Tribbles are omnivorous, although they prefer a vegetarian diet. Their ideal diet consists of whole grains, though under duress they will eat Rice Krispies treats, any breakfast cereals with the word “Cap’n” in the name, Ding Dong snack cakes, trail mix if it doesn’t have those yellow raisins in it, and, interestingly, the cheezy sausage balls that are such a hit at Christmas parties.

Okay, only the first part of that explanation was true.

Tribbles are hermaphroditic and are born pregnant. They reproduce at an alarming rate. A typical well-fed tribble will bear a litter of ten every twelve hours. If their exponential population growth is left unchecked, they can overwhelm an entire ecosystem. This, indeed, is The Trouble with Tribbles referenced in the Star Trek episode bearing the same name.

Suitability as pets

Tribbles are adorable, furry and cuddly, and they emit a soft cooing sound that is soothing to the human nervous system. They also multiply faster than Twitter accounts with the word ‘Stormy’ in the name. For this reason, it is recommended that only trained biologists keep them, and only under strict laboratory conditions.

Tribbles vs. Klingons

Klingons don’t like tribbles. Tribbles don’t like Klingons.

Whether tribbles are treadknicious

This really is the question, isn’t it? This is what it all comes down to. Hopefully, our panel of experts will be able to shed some light on this perplexing topic. And — what excellent timing! — here they come.

 

William Shatner:  Well, the talent has arrived. Where is the script, and when do i get paid?

George Takei:  [rolls his eyes]

The Blogger:  Actually, i’ve invited the three of you here to draw upon your years of experience with tribbles.

Leonard Nimoy:  If i have understood you correctly, the question on the table is: Whether, and in what sense, tribbles are treadknicious.

The Blogger:  That’s exactly right! Mr. Spock has once again applied his rational intellect and identified the crux of the matter.

Leonard Nimoy:  [rolls his eyes]

George Takei:  The question really seems to hinge, doesn’t it, on what we mean by the word ‘treadknicious’?

William Shatner:  Ooooohh. Mister Takei here appears to be quite the expert.

Leonard Nimoy:  Ah, but George does know a thing or two about tribbles. If memory serves, George, didn’t you have a centerpiece at your wedding reception made up of several hundred tribbles bundled together with baling wire?

William Shatner:  What? Is this true? A tribble centerpiece?

George Takei:  I did! It was all the talk. Of course, you’d know that if you had bothered to come to my wedding.

William Shatner:  Again with the wedding!  [Shatner turns and directs his attention to the reading audience]  This is his favorite theme. He never tires of harping on it. I have explained this at least seven hundred times, in numerous interviews: I never received an invitation to this man’s wedding.

George Takei:  Ah, the old “my invitation appears to have been lost in the mail” ploy.

William Shatner:  I barely even know this man. He was a supporting actor in a television show of which i was the star, a long time ago.

George Takei:  And several films.

William Shatner:  Right, the films, those too. And he can’t stop harping on whether or not i was at his wedding. Frankly, i don’t even remember. Maybe i was there. Who can remember such teency little details?

George Takei:  Believe me, you weren’t there. Your ego would have taken up all the available space in the reception hall.

Leonard Nimoy:  Gentlemen, as riveting as this discussion of George’s wedding guest list undeniably is, i think we’re losing sight of the main point of the discussion.

George Takei:  Tribbles.

William Shatner:  And whether there were any in attendance at George’s wedding.

George Takei:  All the tribbles that were invited to the wedding, actually showed up.

William Shatner:  Okay. That was clever. I’ll give you that.

Leonard Nimoy:  The point at issue, if i may refresh the screen for a moment, is this: Whether or not tribbles are treadknicious.

Confucius:  And, if they are, whether they are ‘treadknicious’ in the same sense in which flockbinkers are ‘treadknicious’.

Aristotle:  You took the words right out of my mouth.

The Buddha:  The way of silence leads toward clarity.

The Blogger:  Enough already! Too many extraneous characters crowding up this blog post. Confucius, Aristotle, Buddha, shoo! Off with you! You’ll all have other chances in future posts.

A Mysterious, Masked Bystander:  Woww.

The Blogger:  That includes you too, Owen. Sorry bud; we’ll feature you again soon. I think i hear Wes Anderson calling for you.

The Good Reader:  Golly! I’ve never seen you take control of your own blog like that before. That was pretty decisive, there. I must confess — i’m developing a new respect for whether you even know what you’re doing with this ‘blogging’ thing.

The Blogger:  [turning beet-red with pleasure]  Why, that may have been the closest thing to a compliment you’ve yet paid me! I can’t even think straight!

Leonard Nimoy:   [murmuring]  You’re worse than Shatner.

William Shatner:  I heard that. And you want to know who’s “worse than Shatner”? I’ll tell you who’s “worse than Shatner.”  [begins singing]  “Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins, the bravest little hobbit of them all!”

Leonard Nimoy:  I will freely confess that the “Bilbo Baggins” song was not my finest moment. Perhaps, though, under the present circumstances, i might be excused for bringing up a certain performance of “Rocket Man” that has become notorious throughout the internet?

The Blogger:  Okay, fellas, fun’s over, back to the point. Tribbles. The trouble with tribbles. What reasons have we for thinking that they might be treadknicious?

George Takei:  What does ‘treadknicious’ even mean?

Leonard Nimoy:  If i am not mistaken, The Blogger has left it as an intentionally undefined term, to be used as a placeholder in the construction of logical syllogisms.

William Shatner:  The trouble with tribbles is… perhaps that they’re topsy-turvy? Or that they twist and turn? Do they terrify toddlers? Maybe they’re terrifically telescopic. Maybe they’re tremendous and twisted.

George Takei:  Nimoy, what’s he doing?

Leonard Nimoy:  He appears to be listing off all the words he knows beginning with ‘t’.

William Shatner:  For your information, it might help us to explain whether tribbles are treycarnivorous. Or not.

[Nimoy and Takei roll their eyes in unison]

The Good Reader:  If i may pipe up in Mr. Shatner’s defense…? Putting together a list of things that begin with ‘t’ is probably as good a way to figure out what’s treadknicious as anything else. And Mr. Nimoy is right, too: The Blogger has NEVER defined the word ‘treadknicious’ on this blog. Not to my satisfaction.

William Shatner:  [glances appreciatively at The Good Reader]  The loyalty of my fans has always been deeply gratifying to me.

The Good Reader:  Well, i mean, i wouldn’t necessarily call myself a — um — one of your — well, as i come to think about it, i suppose i must have seen Star Wars at some point.

[All present — with the exception of The Good Reader — engage in one massive rollicking communal eye roll]

Leonard Nimoy:  It is undoubtedly amusing to make lists of words beginning with ‘t’ in the hope of gaining insight into what it means for a thing to be ‘treadknicious’. But…

[Nimoy hesitates, as if bracing himself for what he knows is coming next]

Everybody:  Say it, say it, say it, say it, say it, say it, say it.

Leonard Nimoy:  [sigh] …it is not logical.

The Blogger:  I was SO hoping you would say that at some point.

Leonard Nimoy:  Happy to oblige. It is every actor’s dream to be permanently ossified as a character he played on TV 50 years ago.

William Shatner:  Especially dead ones.

The Blogger:  What?

William Shatner:  Dead actors. Didn’t you know? Leonard Nimoy has gone on to his eternal reward. Frankly, i don’t know how you got him to participate in this little panel discussion. He’s deader than a doornail.

George Takei:  Yet he hasn’t lost his mojo. There are many among us who should do as well.

William Shatner:  Hey, i resemble that remark! Look, at least i have the virtue of being very much alive.

George Takei:  Expert opinion is divided on that point.

The Blogger:  [indicating “time out” with his hands]  So, fellas, fellas, are we any closer to determining whether tribbles are treadknicious?

William Shatner:  It’s a terribly tantalizing train of inTerrogation.

George Takei:  Please, just stop. I promise i’ll never bring up the wedding issue again.

 

Epilogue:  A word on the relationship between Takei and Shatner

A simple Google or YouTube search will unearth a gold mine of material dealing with the ongoing feud between William Shatner and George Takei, including the burning issue of whether Shatner was invited to, and subsequently chose not to attend, a certain public event in which Takei was one of the, er, main participants. Some of the language i have here placed in their mouths comes pretty close to being a literal transcript of statements the two of them have made in interviews.

Second Epilogue:  Leonard Nimoy’s immortal “Bilbo Baggins” song

You haven’t fully experienced the range of Leonard Nimoy’s talent if you’ve not heard, or seen the video for, his song The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins (1967). It will turn your world inside-out. For what it’s worth, Nimoy has also authored a number of books over the years, including several volumes of sentimental poetry with titles like Will I Think of You? and We Are All Children Searching for Love. I guess when your public reputation has been built on the character of an emotionless Vulcan, you may want to go out of your way to establish your street cred as a man of deep feeling.

Third Epilogue:  Shatner’s out-of-this-world rendition of “Rocket Man”

Nimoy had his “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”… and Shatner had his “Rocket Man.” This performance of the classic Elton John / Bernie Taupin song Rocket Man is equal parts hilarious, cringe-worthy, and in a strange way, insanely cool. And i think it’s gonna be a long, long time ’til i can hear Elton John’s original version without thinking of William Shatner’s sendup of it.

 

 

There Are Two Kinds of People in the World. (It’s Not What You Think!)

No, it’s true. There are. There are two kinds of people in the world.

(You know it’s true. Come on. Seriously. Don’t even.)

And actually, while we’re talking about this, we must go on to observe that there are even more than that. There are at least seven billion kinds of people in the world, if you stop to think about it: one category for each individual human person.

But seven billion categories might be just a bit much for most of us to manage. Who can think about that many categories of people? Who’s got the time? Who’s that good at math? Seven billion? I have trouble remembering which cabinet i keep the Vienna Sausages in.

So it’s convenient to reduce all of those people down to just two categories.

And the two categories are:

1. The people with massive, grotesque tufts of fur poking out of their nostrils, and
2. The people who have at least one Led Zeppelin poster on their bedroom wall.

Those are the two categories of people in the world.

If those two categories don’t sound familiar to you, it may be because you aren’t very observant, or you’ve not done much heavy thinking about The Human Condition.

Or (and this is a possibility that, as philosophers, we must always be prepared to consider) it may be that something is wrong with the system of categories we’ve set forth.

Not that this last one is very likely — The Blogger wouldn’t have put something on his blog if it weren’t true — but we ought to explore it, y’know, just so as to be sure we’ve covered all the bases.

So: If there should happen to be something wrong with our two categories, what might that something be?


 

The Good Reader:  Where to start. I literally do not know where to start.

The Blogger:  An inauspicious beginning, The Good Reader! You’re going to have to do better than that.

The Good Reader:  [mumbles something that sounds as if it might be awfully un-ladylike, but we can’t tell for sure]

The Blogger:  What was that?

The Good Reader:  Wienerschnitzel.

The Blogger:  Excuse me?

The Good Reader:  I said “wienerschnitzel.” It’s an innocent enough word, but i find it convenient for blowing off steam.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  If i may step in at this moment, i think The Good Reader should be commended for her display of self-control.

The Good Reader:  THANK YOU.

The Blogger:  What in the world are YOU doing here, Wu? I wasn’t expecting you to show up on this post!

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  Well, the topic was so interesting, i could hardly stay away!

The Good Reader:  And who is this courteous gentleman?

The Blogger:  What, you two haven’t met before?*  The Good Reader, this is Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major. Elvis, this is The Good Reader. She reads my blog and then dials in to deliver her (often tart) opinions.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  The pleasure is entirely mine.

The Good Reader:  [blushing]

The Blogger:  So, Elvis, what makes you think this topic is so interesting?

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  Well, for one thing, it’s an area in which false dilemmas tend to thrive. And hunting down false dilemmas is one of my chief recreations.

The Good Reader:  What’s a false dilemma? The Blogger has probably tried to explain it to me at some point, but his explanations are murky and confusing.

The Blogger:  [reddening]  Well, now, i say, that’s just not —

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  A false dilemma is a situation where the person you’re talking to sets up two options as if they were the only two possibilities, and expects you to pick between them. Very often, they will make one of the options sound stupid or wrong, so that you will feel that you have to choose the other one. In reality, though, there may be other possibilities that have not been mentioned.

The Good Reader:  That makes sense! What’s an example?

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  Well, a great example would be the one that the Blogger led off with. He said that there are two categories of people in the world:

1. The people with massive, grotesque tufts of fur poking out of their nostrils, and
2. The people who have at least one led Zeppelin poster on their bedroom wall.

Now, it is entirely possible that those two categories do not cover the territory. There may be other kinds of people — many other kinds — and large numbers of people who do not fit into either of those groups. It’s a false dilemma.

The Good Reader:  Take me, for instance. I don’t particularly care about Led Zeppelin, and i don’t think i could even name one of their songs —

The Blogger:  [still bruised from The Good Reader’s comment a minute ago]  “Stairway to Heaven.” Everyone’s heard of that.

The Good Reader:  Okay, fine, but i certainly don’t have any Led Zeppelin posters on my walls. What are we, still in college?

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  Very good. And what about the other category?

The Good Reader:  Grotesque tufts of fur sticking out of my nostrils? I don’t THINK so. But you would be a better judge of that, from where you’re standing.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  Not a bushy thicket of nose-hair anywhere to be seen.

The Blogger:  [sulking]  You two are interpreting my categories extremely literally.

The Good Reader:  Mister Wu, would you say that i have any figurative or metaphorical tufts of nose-hair?

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  Even in the realm of metaphor, i would say that you are blissfully nostril-hair-free. The fact is, those two categories are not even remotely parallel; they aren’t about the same kinds of things, and so they don’t divide the field of possibilities in any kind of sensible way. A person could, for instance, have a nose-hair problem and walls papered with Led Zeppelin posters. Or they could be in just one or the other of those categories, or, like most people, they could be in neither one.

The Blogger:  [rapidly losing patience]  We should maybe get back to the point, which is that there are numerous ways of dividing the human race up into two groups.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  Absolutely! Perhaps an inexhaustible variety of ways. For instance, at a pretty basic level, there are (1) men and (2) women. There we have a set of two categories that divide the field pretty cleanly. Another scheme would be (1) people who are 5’6″ or taller, and (2) those who are shorter than that. Or (1) people who have traveled outside of their home country, and (2) those who have not. Or (1) people who are named “Taylor” and (2) those who are named something else.

The Blogger:  Or (1) the people who eat Corn Flakes at least three mornings a week, and (2) those who only eat them a couple of times per week.

The Good Reader:  What? That doesn’t sound right.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  I suspect, although i cannot be sure, that the Blogger is messing with us. He is challenging our powers of logical analysis.

The Blogger:  [slightly disoriented]  Um, exactly. That’s just what i was doing.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  What would you say, Good Reader, about the Blogger’s ‘Corn Flakes’ breakdown of people into two groups?

The Good Reader:  Well, i mean, it sounds like one of those false dilemmas you were talking about. I don’t think those two categories exhaust all the possibilities. What if someone never eats Corn Flakes at all? Or only a few times a year?

The Blogger:  Unthinkable!

The Good Reader:  How do those people fit into his categories? According to the Blogger’s setup, those people don’t even exist. But i have to say, i’ve only eaten Corn Flakes a few times in my life, and i don’t remember finding it a thrilling experience.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  They taste kind of like little chips of soggy cardboard, don’t they.

The Good Reader:  That’s exactly what they remind me of!

The Blogger:  What.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  In order to work properly, a categorization scheme needs to be complete; it can’t have gaps in it. We could say this, for instance: everyone on earth either (1) has tried Corn Flakes at some point, or (2) has not.

The Good Reader:  That seems to work. It doesn’t have any holes. It covers the territory, like you said earlier. Everyone in the world would have to fit into one of those two groups. No one would be left out.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  If we imagine all the human beings inside a vast circle, and we want to structure them into two groups, it would be like drawing a line from one side of the circle to the other. Everyone in the circle would be on one side of the line or the other —  they would be in one category of the other.

The Good Reader:  Why don’t you guys come up with a bunch more examples. Just for yuks. I think i’m getting the hang of this.

The Blogger:  Okay. Everyone on earth is either (1) a Patriots fan, or…

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  Don’t say it.

The Good Reader:  What?

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  [to The Good Reader]  He was going to say, “An Eagles fan.” But lots of people didn’t have a dog in that fight, as it were. Not everyone watches the Super Bowl, and not everyone cares who wins, and even of those who did watch this past Super Bowl, not everyone who was pulling for either the Patriots or the Eagles would have said that that was their favorite team. Maybe their favorite team didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, and they had to settle for a team they weren’t completely thrilled about.

The Good Reader:  So it would not be accurate to say that everyone is either a Patriots fan or an Eagles fan, but maybe you could say that everyone either (1) cares about football, or (2) doesn’t?

The Blogger:  Hrmmff. That would work.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  It would indeed. You can always get away with saying that everyone either has a certain attribute, or they do not. That’s a clean, perfect division. For instance, everyone is either an accountant, or something else. Everyone either has smoked a cigar at some point, or they have not. To put it in somewhat Aristotelian terms, everyone is either ‘A’ or ‘not-A.’ They either have a certain characteristic, or they do not.

The Blogger:  Either they fit into a certain category, or they do not, in which case they fit into the category of people who do not fit into the first category.

The Good Reader:  Um.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  [laughing]  That was actually a pretty good way of putting it. Take Fred, for instance.

The Good Reader:  Fred? Who’s Fred?

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  He’s some hypothetical guy that we just made up. Now, Fred is either a barber, or he is not. Right? He can’t be both a barber and not a barber. That’s a logical impossibility. You can’t be something and, at the same time, not be that thing. And he can’t be neither a barber nor not a barber. There are only two possibilities: either he’s a barber, or he ain’t.

The Good Reader:  He could be a part-time barber.

The Blogger:  Then he’s a barber.

The Good Reader:  He… could be a guy who was once a barber, but now he works for the Parks and Recreation Department.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  Then he’s not a barber.

The Good Reader:  He could be a barber sometimes, and not a barber sometimes.

The Blogger:  Then he’s a barber. Unless you’re saying that he fades in and out of existence. He’s a barber sometimes, and at other times he gets sucked into the insubstantial ether of the vast cosmic void.

The Good Reader:  Um, no.

The Blogger:  Good. Because that would complicate things somewhat. He’s a barber.

The Good Reader:  Hmmm. Okay. what are some other examples?

The Blogger:  Everyone either makes $40,000 or more dollars, or they make less than that.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  Everyone either thinks that Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here was the greatest album of the 1970s, or they do not.

The Blogger:  Everyone either has an authentic Wish You Were Here concert tour shirt, or they do not.

The Good Reader:  Wait. That first category has got to be a tiny one. Is that fair? What if one category is WAAAAYYY bigger than the other? Is that a good way of dividing the human race up into groups?

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  There’s no rule that says the two groups have to be equal in size. We could say, for instance, “There are two groups of people in the world: (1) those who are currently the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and (2) those who are not.”

The Good Reader:  But there would only be one person in that first group. And like seven billion in the other group!

The Blogger:  Mmm-hmm.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  That’s the point. It’s still a perfectly valid way of divvying up the human race.

The Good Reader:  Okay. Whew! A few more examples, and then i’m out.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  The people who have read David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens, and those who have not.

The Blogger:  The people who live in a certain remote village in Botswana, Africa, and the people who live somewhere else.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  The people who have ever, at some time, even once, been picked first for a team in gym class… and those who never have.

[All three look kind of sad, and the conversation continues.]

The Blogger:  The people who have tried that broccoli slaw they’ve got at the deli counter at The Fresh Market, and those who haven’t.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  The people who own a pet that can talk and weighs less than ten pounds, and those who do not.

The Blogger:  The people who have ever gone trick-or-treating dressed as Conan O’Brien’s haircut, and those who never have.

The Good Reader:  You mean, dressed as Conan O’Brien, complete with the haircut?

The Blogger:  No, i mean they are going as Conan O’Brien’s haircut. The haircut, specifically. “And what’s your costume?” someone might ask them, and they would reply, “I’m Conan O’Brien’s haircut.”

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  The people who have watched that episode of House, M.D. in which Dr. House has himself admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and those who somehow missed that one.

The Blogger:  Man, that was a hard-hitting episode.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  Yeah, it really caught me right here.  [He indicates the middle of his chest.]

The Blogger:  The people who have something hanging from their rear-view mirror, and those who do not.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  Ah, but that’s assuming that everyone has a car.

The Blogger:  No, the people who don’t have a car go in the category of people who don’t have something hanging from their rear-view mirror.

Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major:  Touche! Nice one. Good game.

 

* Actually, if you’ve been following the blog, you’re aware that Elvis Wu and The Good Reader have met before, once, at a Christmas party the Blogger threw for some of the people he populates his blog with. But you know how these fictional online characters can be: selective amnesia, not very good with faces and names, that sort of thing.

 

The Long-Awaited Flockbinker Pop Quiz #2!

From time to time… well, let’s just be brutally honest, about once every couple of years… the Blogger undertakes to test how closely attentive his readers have been. The first time we offered a pop quiz on this blog (“Your Very First ‘Flockbinkers’ Pop Quiz“) the thing really was a roaring success, and….

The Good Reader:  That’s not how i remember it. I seem to recall that lots of people were seriously bothered by it. Many of your readers found it confusing and pointless. People accused you of mocking the very idea of philosophy. You got hate mail. You even had to devote a whole post to MY objections. And i’m your most devoted fan.

The Blogger:  Oh, golly, The Good Reader, this really isn’t the time or the place….

The Good Reader:  That first Pop Quiz was a bizarre mishmash of random silliness and even more random silliness; and the one thing it was NOT, was an informative test of anybody’s knowledge of philosophy, or of anything else.

The Blogger:  It seems to me that we’ve covered all of this ground before, haven’t we? Anyway, Good Reader, i’ve turned over a new leaf. I’m a changed man. I no longer include strange, sad attempts at humor or oddball bursts of surreal self-referentiality in my quizzes. You’ll see.

The Good Reader:  Hrmmff. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and at least have a look.

The Blogger:  Although, be warned, you know i can’t control what the readers are gonna do once they start taking the quiz and getting into discussions with each other about what the right answers are.

The Good Reader:  No. Just no. Do not do that again. Don’t even think about it. See, that’s just the sort of nonsense that i’m talking about!

The Blogger:  Hey, what? It’s not me doing it, it’s the people taking the quiz! I can’t control people who have free will and internet access.

The Good Reader:  You are so full of baloney! You and i both know that it’s you inventing those “readers” who are “taking the quiz” so that you can get a few cheap laughs.

The Blogger:  Oops, ahem… will you look at the time! Sorry, The Good Reader, i’m afraid we’re gonna have to wrap up this introduction. Onward ho, to the long-awaited follow-up to that first, epic quiz. It’s been a couple of years, and we’ve covered a lot of territory since then!

Your answers, o my faithful readers, to the following ten questions (each with ten possible answers, numbered ‘a’ through ‘j’) should give a fair indication of whether you’ve been paying attention of not.

 

1.  According to this post that went up during the last week of October — later supplemented by this follow-up post (“A Philosopher Hands out Candy — and Philosophy Classics — to Trick-or-Treaters“), which of the following are terrific ideas for something to identify as, for Hallowe’en?

a.  A character that Jane Austen would have included in her novel Persuasion, if only she’d known what she was doing as an author.

b.  An accident over on Aisle Five involving a small child, a rogue shopping cart, and several dozen boxes of breakfast cereal.

c.  A family of five aliens whose civilization has been destroyed by other, even meaner aliens from a neighboring planet.

d.  Your Mom.

e.  A mathematical impossibility.

f.  The vicissitudes of Justin Bieber’s career.

g.  A duck.

h.  The entire inventory of a Dollar Tree.

i.  Conan O’Brien’s haircut.

j.  Conan O’Brien’s bank account, including whatever he’s got hidden away offshore.

 

2.  As represented in a recent post to this blog, which of the following might accurately be said of Confucius and the Buddha when they are dining together in a public restaurant?

a.  Confucius has a rough time getting Buddha to stay on task, i.e. look at the menu and decide what he wants to order.

b.  Buddha has a distressing tendency to say mysterious, metaphysically odd things to the server, who — bless his heart — is just trying to find out what they want to eat.

c.  Confucius and the Buddha are frequently joined by Lao Tzu, Mo Tzu, Mao Tse-Tung, The Wu Tang Clan, Amy Tan, Bruce Lee, Chuck D, and Fred Ho — the proprietor of a little Chinese short order place on Market St.

d.  Buddha has an appalling habit of chewing with his mouth open, a habit which sends Confucius around the bend.

e.  Confucius tends to talk in phrases that sound like they came out of a fortune cookie: i.e. “You will come into an unexpected sum of money.”

f.  Both Confucius and the Buddha tend to order off-menu; for instance, “No, i want you to bring the goat in here and kill it right next to our table so we can see if you’ve done it properly.”

g.  Buddha’s tendency to fade in and out of nirvana is not only problematic for their interactions with the waitstaff, but infuriating to Confucius, who considers such antics to be out of keeping with proper social decorum.

h.  Their favorite restaurant is Panda Express, followed by Logan’s Roadhouse, Taco Bell, and CiCi’s Pizza.

i.  Buddha never tires of pulling out his favorite joke, “Make me one with everything.”

j.  Confucius tends to have a way with the ladies, which may have been all cool and stuff in the 500s BC, but can get you into seriously hot water in the year 2017.

 

3.  Which of these statements is the Buddha unlikely to have said?

a.  The self is an illusion.

b.  The self is an elf on a shelf.

c.  The self is in a state of constant evolution, and is in fact living under an assumed name in a duplex in Des Plaines, Illinois.

d.  Make me One with Everything.

e.  Make me one with two patties — medium-well — double-cheese, hold the lettuce, and could i have some of those little hot peppers?

f.  To achieve enlightenment, you must follow the Noble Eightfold Path.

g.  To achieve enlightenment, you must follow the Yellow Brick Road.

h.  Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

i.  I have heard the sound of one hand clapping… geez, is this an audience, or an oil painting?

j.  To transcend the limitations of the physical form, you must gaze into the yawning emptiness of the infinite abyss… naw, i’m kidding, i’m kidding. Calm down! I didn’t mean it! Jeepers! You people.

 

4.  In a recent post to this blog (The Blogger Encounters the Security Guard), an interesting discussion occurs between two philosophers representing very different walks of life. Which of the following took place during that discussion?

a.  The Blogger is surprised to find a philosopher working security at a medical center.

b.  The Blogger is even more surprised to find a medical center located in the middle of the seventh hole at Bud’s Putt Putt Golf Paradise.

c.  The blogger and the security guard agree that philosophy is no longer popular or well understood among the masses.

d.  The blogger and the security guard agree, furthermore, that the KFC on Highway 2 needs to bring back their all-you-can-scarf-down buffet.

e.  The Security Guard takes out a criminal by sheer force of logical argument.

f.  The Security Guard takes out a criminal by quoting to him the first 357 lines of Beowulf, in the original Anglo-Saxon.

g.  The security guard takes out a criminal and pays for dinner and drinks, but not the movie… who can afford 12 bucks for a movie on a security guard’s wages?

h.  The security guard is frustrated over constantly being mistaken for a moron.

i.  The security guard is frustrated over constantly being mistaken for Kevin James.

j.  The blogger and the security guard discuss the fact that security guards, in general, tend to be viewed as intellectual giants with a vast breadth of knowledge of history, philosophy, the sciences, literature and the fine arts.

 

5.  Logical syllogisms, as represented in the recent post “Now, Boys and Girls, Let’s Look at Some Syllogisms“….

a.  are typically made up of two premises and a conclusion.

b.  are often regarded as the basic building blocks of a logical argument.

c.  are examples of deductive reasoning.

d.  are generally regarded as superior to ‘illogical syllogisms,’ because hey, honestly, what would even be the point?

e.  sometimes get into frustrating conflicts with emotional syllogisms.

f.  are kind of like recipes, and kind of like instruction manuals, and kind of like graphic novels, and kind of like Shakespeare’s play “A Comedy of Errors.”

g.  very often have technical terms in them like ‘flockbinker’ and ‘wamwam’ and ‘throckwhistle’ and ‘ooga-booga.’

h.  were pioneered by classical philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle, Peter Abelard, John Duns Scotus, and Christopher Walken.

i.  form the basis for several popular party games.

j.  can be found in the darnedest places, like, oh, for instance, the third stall from the end in the men’s room at the Carmike 18 Theater over on South Terrace Road.

 

6.  Flockbinkers and unicorns…

a.  are probably not the same thing, and certainly don’t hang out at the same nightclubs.

b.  are both (probably) varieties of small slippery fishes with eight legs and a stinger.

c.  have this in common: that they both refuse to eat cheese sandwiches that have had the crust trimmed off.

d.  are rarely seen together in public, but can occasionally be found together on medieval tapestries.

e.  have this in common: that they are both awfully fun to say out loud. I mean, seriously: “Flockbinker.” “Unicorn.”  Dude, i’m in stitches!

f.  are both nonexistent, but in different ways.

g.  Wait, how can two nonexistent things be nonexistent “in different ways?” Either something exists, or it doesn’t.

h.  Well that just shows how much you know about philosophy. Blogger, may i make a suggestion? Perhaps the younger ones should be given a simpler quiz.

i.  “The younger ones”…? Why, you slimeball, i oughta….

j.  Hey guys, sorry to arrive late to the party. May i toss my two cents’ worth in? About nonexistent things being nonexistent in different ways? Like, maybe, Moby-Dick is one kind of nonexistent, and a square circle is a different kind of nonexistent, and an efficiently run government bureau is even a different kind of nonexistent. I’m just spitballin’ here.

j2.  Oh, my gosh, i’m surrounded. These people are everywhere. Beam me up, Scotty.

 

7.  Which of the following statements can accurately be made of ‘Horse People’…? You may refer to this post from a couple of years ago if you need a refresher on what ‘horse people’ are.

a.  Horse People are essentially indistinguishable from unicorn people.

b.  Horse people and unicorn people are two completely different categories. A unicorn person would not be caught dead owning a regular horse, and many horse people don’t even believe in the existence of unicorns.

c.  Horse People are not at all the same people as the people who travel to neighboring planets in a space vehicle made by strapping 40 toaster-ovens together.

d.  Horse People tend often (but not always) to also be into centaurs, though not usually those winged horses, which honestly are not even a real thing.

e.  Horse People constitute one major category of humanity, the other category being ‘guinea pig people.’

f.  Expert opinion is divided on the issue of whether people who would be into horses, if they were ever exposed to one, ought to be considered ‘horse people’ or merely ‘people.’

g.  Horse People generally, and for reasons not yet fully understood, have difficulty distinguishing between flockbinkers and wamwams.

h.  Horse People are not necessarily all that good at navigating taxonomical frameworks.

i.  Horse People can be mighty touchy when you try to apply philosophical analysis to their putative truth-claims.

j.  There is a tiny subset of horse people called “horse with no name people.” These people are often found in deserts and have selective memory issues.

 

8. Which of the following statements would be true in reference to ontology and categories?

a.  Ontology is that branch of philosophy that deals with being: what existence is, what it means for something to exist, what kinds of things there are, and how they are related to each other.

b.  “Ontology, shmontology” is a statement often heard around philosophy conferences.

c.  One of the more interesting debates in ancient and medieval philosophy concerned the question of how ‘real’ categories are. Do categories actually exist, or only the things in them? Are categories mere conveniences that we develop in order to make sense of our world? All of that, by the way, was one answer to the question.

d.  Scattergories is a great game for training kids in the basics of philosophy.

e.  A few more good philosophy games would include “Go Fish,” “Twister,” and “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” Cow tipping is also a favorite.

f.  There are two kinds of people in the world: those who enjoy setting up categories, and those who do not.

g.  Heh heh, i saw what you did there.

h.  Dude, this is a quiz. You can’t just randomly make comments in the section that’s supposed to be for the answers to the questions.

i.  Well, i can, and i just did. Maybe you’d like to try doing something about it.

j.  I have never been more terrified in my life. I am literally trembling in my boots.

j-point-5.  Come over here and say that. Come on. Come on. Let’s see what you got.

j-point-7.  Fellas, fellas, geez, can you take it outside? We’re trying to run a quiz here.

 

9. Which of the following can accurately be said of philosophy?

a.  Philosophy is a fool’s game.

b.  Philosophy is something your mom would probably really get into.

c.  Philosophy is a rapidly disappearing intellectual discipline.

d.  Philosophy is for people who lack the people-skills to go into business, and aren’t coordinated enough to operate heavy machinery.

e.  You’ll very likely be better at Philosophy if you have a Greek or German name, than if your name is, oh, for instance, Donnie McDonald.

f.  Philosophy concerns mainly a bunch of fancy terms and arguments about obscure things like the ontological status of your mom.

g.  Dude, the  references to someone’s mom stopped being funny a long time ago.

h.  Hey, big fella, why don’t you do you. Hmmm? I’ll do me, and you do you.

i.  Please. “You do you” is one of the most incoherent suggestions you can make to somebody, right up there with “be yourself, because everyone else is already taken.”

j.  Watch it, son, now you’re getting personal. I’ve got that one about “be yourself” as wallpaper on my computer screen.

j-and-one-third.  Fellas! Please! Seriously, we’re trying to conduct a quiz here. Take the argument outside.

 

10. Which of the following are characters that have, at some point or another, made an appearance on this blog?

a.  Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major

b.  Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith

c.  Confucius and the Buddha

d.  Smokey and the Bandit

e.  The Captain and Tennille

f.  Three Scotsmen sitting on a fence

g.  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

h.  The Lone Rider of the Apocalypse

i.  The Blogger

j.  The Good Reader

j.1.  The Decent Reader, So Long as the Book Isn’t Too Long

j.2.  The Reader Who Struggles with Words of More than Two Syllables

j.25.  Chuck Norris

j.5.  Your Mom

j.75.  The kid with the wonky nose and a haircut that looks like an abstract sculpture gone terribly wrong, who works at the McDonald’s on E. 3rd Street

j.9.  A mob of crazed orangutans, pelting good boys named ‘James’ with frozen waffles

j.92715.  A mob of boys named ‘James,’ pelting crazed orangutans with frozen waffles

 

Epilogue

The Good Reader:  I knew it. I knew he was going to do it again. I just knew it.

 

 

Now, Boys and Girls, Let’s Look at Some Syllogisms

Is it just me, or has it been entirely too long since we’ve explored the exciting world of how to construct a sound logical syllogism?

A Voice from Near the Back of the Auditorium:  Pretty sure it’s just you.

Heh heh. Terrific. Thanks. Ahem. So, why don’t we refresh our memories regarding what a ‘logical syllogism’ is and how they function as components in an argument.

A Voice from Near the Back of the Auditorium:  Let’s not, and say we did.

Mmmmm. Pardon me one moment.

“Ushers? We appear to have a situ — very good. Yes. Thank you.”

Glad that’s taken care of. You can’t always control who ends up in your audience.

So, anyway, for those of us who could use a reminder, or are perhaps new to the blog, a syllogism is like the basic building block of a logical argument. Each syllogism is made up of three statements: the first two are the ‘premises,’ and the third statement is the ‘conclusion.’ The two premises introduce a set of ideas which, if understood correctly, lead necessarily to the conclusion.

Here, let me show you.

1. All flockbinkers are treadknicious.

2. Some wamwams are flockbinkers.

3. Therefore, some wamwams are treadknicious.

As you can clearly see, if the first two statements — the premises — are true, then the conclusion is bang-on. This is how a syllogism is supposed to work. The premises give you all the information you need to start out with, and if everything is set up right, the conclusion should naturally follow.

Here’s another example.

1. All Republicrats are freemish.

2. Some Democricans are Republicrats.

3. Therefore, some Democricans are freemish.

“But wait a second!” you say.  “This is the same exact thing as that ‘All flockbinkers are treadknicious’ syllogism, but with a different set of silly words inserted into it.”

Ah, excellent reader, how good of you to pick up on that!  And, indeed, the two syllogisms might be, sort of, the same thing — if all of the ‘silly words’ (as you have so uncharitably labeled them) are not only functionally but semantically equivalent. But that’s assuming an awful lot, isn’t it! (And you know what happens when we assume.) What makes you so sure, good reader, that a ‘flockbinker’ and a ‘Republicrat’ are the same thing?

The Good Reader:  All meaningless words are the same thing. They all mean, and i quote, ‘diddly-squat.’

The Blogger:  But i disagree. Perhaps different nonsense terms indicate different categories of nonsense?

The Good Reader:  Nonsense is nonsense! How can there be different ‘categories’ of nonsense? It’s all nonsense! Nonsense nonsense nonsense.

The Blogger:  Well, what if the term ‘wamwam’ occupies a certain semantic territory, albeit one that does not correspond to any actual existent thing or category of things, while the term ‘republicrat’ occupies a different semantic territory?

The Good Reader:  That did not EVEN mean anything. You’re stalling.

The Blogger:  Of course it did! Perhaps if i were to use more simple language… in deference to your elementary grasp of philosophy….

The Good Reader:  [mutters something under her breath that does not sound nice]

The Blogger:  Allright. Try this. What if there are modalities of meaning, some of which are attached to existent entities and some of which are attached merely to mental images, or even to nodules of possibility that correspond to no intelligible image or idea?

The Good Reader:  You’re boring me.

Okay, okay, enough. We probably need to cut our losses on that one. Jeepers. Our first examples seem not to have gone over very well.

So here’s a syllogism in which all of the terms are ordinary, recognizable words.

1. If James is a good boy, he will be pelted with frozen waffles by a mob of crazed orangutans.

2. James is not a good boy.

3. Therefore, James need not worry about being pelted with frozen waffles by a mob of crazed orangutans.

Random Reader of the Blog, Who Is Not Specifically ‘The Good Reader’, But Who Is Nevertheless a Good Reader, and Who Raises His hand, Indicating That He Wishes to Volunteer to Analyze This Syllogism:

I’ve got this.

Um, right off the top of my head, i can see three problems with your… oh, what was the word you used? Syllogism? I think that was the word. And here they are.

Problem #1:  Being pelted with frozen waffles by a mob of crazed orangutans is not a real thing. This does not ever happen. It just doesn’t. Literally no one has experienced this. The Blogger is scraping the bottom of a nonexistent barrel.

Problem #2: Even if it were a thing, it is highly unlikely that being pelted with frozen waffles by a mob of crazed orangutans would be the consequence of being a good boy. When you’re a good boy, the teacher gives you an ‘S’ for ‘satisfactory’ in the behavior section of your report card. Orangutans, crazed or sober, are not involved.

Problem #3: Even if crazed orangutans throwing frozen waffles were a real thing, and even if this were the sort of thing a good boy might expect to happen to him, there’s no reason to assume that one could not be pelted with frozen waffles (by a mob of crazed orangutans) even if one were not a good boy. Maybe there just happens to be a mob of crazed orangutans roaming the neighborhood, pelting people indiscriminately with frozen waffles. They don’t care whether you’ve been a good boy or not. They don’t know. They can’t even tell the difference. Dude. They are crazed orangutans.

So for those three reasons, and probably some more that i haven’t noticed, this syllogism is a disaster.

Back to you, Blogger.

Darn it. I hate to admit it, but Random Reader of the Blog has scored some decent points there. Hey, fella, toss me an email later on… i may have a job for you on this blog.

So. That syllogism turns out to have been a wash; let’s try one last one.

1. No flockbinkers are unicorns.

2. A unicorn is a small slippery fish with eight legs and a stinger.

3. Therefore, a flockbinker is not a small slippery fish with eight legs and a stinger.

And i’ll just go ahead and start you out with a hint: The syllogism is invalid.

The Good Reader:  Invalid! Duh. Of course it’s not valid. There are so many things wrong with that one, i don’t EVEN know where to begin!”

The Blogger:  I see that The Good Reader has once again made an appearance. Well, Good Reader, lay it on us. What’s the problem here?

The Good Reader:  There are skoozoos of problems. To begin with…

The Blogger:  One moment, please. Did you actually say, “skoozoos of problems”…?

The Good Reader:  I did.

The Blogger:  I’ve never heard that one before. Hmmm. Interesting. Well, okay, carry on.

The Good Reader:  Right. First off, how can we know that no flockbinkers are unicorns?

The Blogger:  Well, i mean, golly, they just aren’t!

The Good Reader:  That’s the best you’ve got…?

The Blogger:  Let’s just say this: say we are positing, for the sake of argument, that ‘flockbinker’ and ‘unicorn’ are mutually exclusive categories.

The Good Reader:  Fine. That’s pretty arbitrary, but whatever. So then let’s go on to the next thing, which is your totally false definition of ‘unicorn’.

The Blogger:  False definition? What? Where?

The Good Reader:  You claim in this syllogism that a unicorn is “a small slippery fish with eight legs and a stinger.”

The Blogger:  Okay. So?

The Good Reader:  That’s not even a good definition of a fish, much less a unicorn! A fish can’t have eight legs. It wouldn’t be a fish. It would be… an arachnid? Or something.

The Blogger:  But unicorns don’t exist, so how can there be a true or a false definition of one? Hah! I’ve got you there.

The Good Reader:  So… Okay. Here’s this. Dumbo the Elephant has a six-cylinder engine, seventeen heads, ginger ale for blood, and he eats postal delivery workers for breakfast.

The Blogger:  What? That’s not right! Dumbo isn’t anything like that!

The Good Reader:  Ah, but he’s a fictional character, he doesn’t exist, so, according to you, i can define him any way i want to.  [makes a highly unattractive ‘neener, neener’ face that her mother would find most frightfully disappointing]

The Blogger:  Well, um, we could discuss at some length the issue of what it means to say that Dumbo ‘does not exist’….

The Good Reader:  …and we could apply the exact same criteria to whether unicorns exist or not. Surely you’re not saying that Dumbo the Ohmigosh Stupid Fictional Elephant is somehow more real than a unicorn…?

The Blogger:  Well…no.

The Good Reader:  I didn’t think so.

The Blogger:  So, for the sake of the argument, a unicorn could STILL be a “small, slippery fish with eight legs and a stinger.” We just define him that way, by fiat. In this syllogism, that’s what a unicorn is.

The Good Reader:  So syllogisms don’t have to have even a remote connection to reality. Logic is for dreamers and drug users and Tim Burton and people in psychiatric hospitals.

The Blogger:  Um, no.

The Good Reader:  And anyway, you yourself said that this particular syllogism is invalid. Right?

The Blogger:  I did. You just haven’t discovered the reason why it’s invalid yet.

The Good Reader:  I’ve pointed out that it’s made up of bizarre garbled incoherent hash. You want more than that?

The Blogger:  Well, to be exact, you haven’t really….

The Good Reader:  So, Mister Blogger, why would you say that it’s invalid, if not for the fact that you haven’t defined a single thing correctly in it?

The Blogger:  Well, a flockbinker could still be a small slippery fish with eight legs and a stinger, even if it’s not a unicorn. Maybe there’s more than one kind of animal that’s a small slippery fish with eight legs and a stinger. A unicorn is one kind, and a flockbinker is a different kind.

The Good Reader:  I hereby accuse you of the excessive use of alcohol.

The Blogger:  No, really, it works. Think it through. Draw a diagram if you have to.

The Good Reader:  If you want to represent logic to your readers as being a truckload of absurdity that’s completely useless for actually figuring anything out in the real world, go right ahead.  [*sigh*]

The Blogger:  See, here’s the circle that includes all of the unicorns, and here’s the circle that includes all of the flockbinkers —

The Good Reader:  Someone kill me now.

The Blogger:  And notice that, even though the two circles don’t overlap, they could still both contain different kinds of small slippery fish with —

The Good Reader:  Make it painless, if possible, but i’m ready to go.

 

It’s a Brave New World: Some Ideas Regarding What to Self-Identify As, This Hallowe’en

Well, people, it’s 2017, and the hip thing to be this year is something that you weren’t born as. Furthermore, it’s the Hallowe’en season, and the hip thing to be at Hallowe’en… is… something that you weren’t born as.  Clearly, the timing of this post could not have been more appropriate.

The question of being, in philosophy, is called ontology. (It can also, sort of, be called ‘metaphysics’. Don’t worry about it. It’s complicated.) The exploration of ontology forms one of the cornerstones of this blog:  trying to figure out what things are, what it means to be something, what categories things go into, how various kinds of things fit together. What, for instance, is a flockbinker? Are YOU a flockbinker? (Don’t even pretend that you’ve never wondered.)

And people, it just don’t get any more ontologically interesting than this recent trend toward identifying oneself as something that one… well… isn’t.

You want some examples?  Sure.

A retired schoolteacher in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania recently proclaimed herself to be an ocelot. A different retired schoolteacher in Plano, Texas, not wishing to be outdone, has proclaimed herself to be TWO ocelots. Yet a third retired schoolteacher, this one from Des Moines, is marketing herself as an ocelot that identifies as a manatee that is actually a bottle of Dr. Pepper. A 47-year-old plumber in Bozeman, Montana proclaimed himself last week to be a character from Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion, except it’s not a character who actually appears in the book, but would have, if Jane Austen had known what she was doing.

And there are apparently even more unsettling modes of self-identification in the offing: one young lady in South Bend, Indiana recently came out as a three-layer yellow sponge cake with cream cheese frosting, and at the time of this writing there is a breaking story about a fellow in Cross Creek, Florida who has chosen to identify as a (so far) undiscovered chemical element. He is calling himself “Nunayurbidnium.”

It’s the newest thing: Give yourself a good looking-over, then say “Well forget THIS, pal,” and announce to the world that you are something which you clearly are not.

To help us all get into the spirit of things this Hallowe’en season, i’ve come up with a handy list of items that, so far as i know, no one has yet identified as.

Pro Tip: If you choose to identify as one of these, you’ll want to get on it pretty quickly. Now that i’ve published the list, there’ll be a stampede (not at all surprising, in the case of ‘a herd of reindeer’ and possibly even ‘four weasels’) and you’re gonna want to establish your own identity ahead of the crowd so as to appear original.

So here are the possibilities. Identify away!

 

I, ______________________________, choose to identify as:

 

  • A fruitcake
  • A chaotic, shapeless, featureless mass (ah, but it seems we repeat ourselves)
  • A linebacker for the New York Yankees
  • A naughty, naughty fellow
  • A fellow who’s not quite mischievous enough to be called ‘naughty’ but who is, nevertheless, not an entirely reputable citizen
  • A weasel (meaning the animal, not ‘a naughty, naughty fellow,’ which of course is another thing that ‘weasel’ can mean)
  • Four weasels all living in the same box
  • A set of pastels that have been gently used
  • A blank canvas
  • A herd of reindeer
  • What the snow looks like after a herd of reindeer have been through
  • The discarded wrapper from a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup
  • The square root of peace and justice for all humankind
  • The Thirteenth Floor
  • Your Mom
  • A remote possibility
  • An unfortunate fashion statement
  • The drive-through window at Frank’s Burgers on 3rd Street
  • Beans, beans, the musical fruit
  • A flockbinker (the regular, treadknicious kind)
  • A flockbinker that isn’t EVEN treadknicious
  • Something treadknicious that isn’t a flockbinker
  • A wamwam
  • A wambinker
  • A flockwam
  • An intransitive verb
  • A mathematical impossibility (but something other than “the square root of peace and justice for all humankind”)
  • A faux pas
  • A social blunder, but in English, not French
  • Seventeen different genders, all at the same time, and most of them previously undiscovered
  • Snow White AND the Seven Dwarfs
  • An intermediate-level class in cross stitching
  • An Arby’s roast beef sandwich with horsey sauce
  • A subatomic particle
  • A neutron in search of an atom
  • An atom in search of a happenin’ party
  • A happenin’ party in search of a meaningful occasion
  • A meaningful occasion in search of its place in the universe
  • The Bay Area
  • Stanford University, but with no students, faculty or buildings
  • Conan O’Brien’s haircut
  • An alien civilization
  • A family of five aliens whose civilization has been destroyed by other, even meaner aliens from a nearby planet
  • The internet
  • The web, which apparently isn’t the same thing as the internet
  • The cloud, which apparently isn’t the same thing as the web or the internet
  • The Tempest, which is neither the cloud, the web nor the internet, but is instead a play by William Shakespeare
  • A grunt of dissatisfaction
  • An expression of disbelief
  • A timely disclaimer
  • A single tear from the eye of a unicorn
  • The look on Jimmy Fallon’s face when he’s just said something amusing
  • A bright new world, full of possibility and hope, that lies just around the corner

 

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