all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

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

Category: Metaphysics

Confucius, the Buddha, Aristotle, and Mr. T Order Their Dinner at Chili’s

 

Abstract:  In which four of the world’s greatest philosophers discuss the nature of pleasure and pain, over a meal at Chili’s restaurant. (Er, just to give you a bit of advance notice, one of those philosophers is Mr. T.  We’re sorry. It just worked out that way.)


 

Waiter: Good evening! My name is Miles, and i’ll be your server today.

Mr. T:  You wanna know my name? Huh? Do ya? First name: Mister. Middle name: period. Last name: T.

Waiter:  Um–excellent!  [hesitates long enough to absorb this edifying information]

So, can i bring you fellows something to drink?

Mr. T:  Maybe you can shut your mouth. Maybe you can do that?

Waiter:  I… uh… [trembling]… beg your pardon?

Aristotle:  [sighs so very deeply]

Confucius:  How about four waters, please. And thank you for your patience.

[Waiter scuttles off, already apprehensive about the evening’s shift]

Mr. T:  I pity the fool.

Aristotle:  I can’t help noticing that you say that in places where it makes absolutely no sense.

Mr. T:  Yeah, well here’s what i have to say to you: pain.

The Buddha:  Pain is gateway to vision, even as gate is gateway to place on other side of gate.

Aristotle:  Uh: right. Ahem. Okay. So here’s an interesting question. What role do pleasure and pain play in the development of a healthy human person? Can a human truly grow, without experiencing the opposing forces which are not of his choosing?

Mr. T:  My prediction: Pain.

Aristotle:  Indeed.

The Buddha:  Bird in tree sing beautifully. Bird standing on rock also sing beautifully.

Confucius:  Thank you, Sid. Good stuff. So here’s how i would approach that question. It is through standing against the wind that the strong man prevails. The weak man has spent his days sheltered under a bush; he has not allowed the forces of nature to train him. Opposition is our course of training.

Mr. T:  I’ll show you a course of training.

Aristotle:  Someone remind me, how did this ‘T’ person end up at our table?

Confucius:  [sighs]  It’s a long story.

Mr. T:  I pity the fool.

Confucius:  Thank you, Mr. T. Keep it coming.

The Buddha:  Pain is the path that we take, which leads us to the other path.

Aristotle:  Mmm?

The Buddha:  You know, the other path. That other one. The one that isn’t the first one.

Confucius:  Let’s just move on.

Aristotle:  Okay. Um? I think that you and i were agreeing that pain is an important component in the process of maturing.

Confucius:  Right. Furthermore, if we lean into the unfortunate circumstances that beset us, rather than trying to avoid or deny them, then we gain tenfold the wisdom and maturity that we would have gained, had we successfully evaded them.

Mr. T:  Pain. It’s what’s for dinner.

Aristotle:  Look, that did not EVEN.

Confucius:  [sigh]  Let it go. Anyway, strength is gained through having to confront pain when it comes to us. The weak man, you will find, has led an easy life.

Aristotle:  That makes sense. I like it.

[Miles the waiter returns with four waters]

Waiter:  So, have you fellas made up your minds yet?

Mr. T:  I don’t believe in magic; but i have been known to make guys disappear.

Waiter:  I’m…sorry??

Mr. T:  You heard me. Get along now.

The Buddha:  Pain. Heh heh heh.

Aristotle:  [groans]  Could we have another minute, please?

Waiter:  You bet.  [makes a quick getaway before Mr. T is able to comment]

Confucius:  Perhaps we can all take a moment to look at our menus.

Aristotle:  What is this ‘Southwestern Eggroll’…? Isn’t that sort of a contradiction in terms? I thought eggrolls were from [and here he bows slightly to Confucius] the Orient.

Confucius:  I believe these Southwestern Eggrolls may be from the Southwestern part of China. You know, a regional cuisine.

Aristotle:  [somewhat doubtful]  Ah. Of course. Well, i guess i’ll try a batch of ’em.

Mr. T:  I remember one time i tried to pity this fool. It didn’t work out.

Confucius:  Pity the waiter, T, and make your selection from the menu.

Mr. T:  Where’s the bear? I wanna order the bear.

Aristotle:  [disintegrating visibly]  The…bear?

Mr. T:  Yeah, some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you.

The Buddha:  I, too, wish to eat bear. It is the bear that brings us to the edge of what we are not, so that we may perhaps then discover what we are.

Aristotle:  [sweating, wilting]  That… i mean, it didn’t… what are we even… i need a drink.

Confucius:  Let’s make that two drinks.


 

Epilogue:  We’re sorry. There was really no predicting that this would be the result… oh dear. We’re just sorry, that’s all.  -The Editors

 

The Blogger Makes an Offhand Observation

 

Abstract:  In which The Blogger waxes eloquent–for a few seconds, anyway–and really puts his finger on the pulse of something important–and the crowds stand amazed.


 

The Blogger:  [after emerging from a protracted reverie, in which he has been pondering things of  a Genuinely Profound Significance for a Very Long Time]

Um, okay, here it is.

[he sucks in a deep breath]

It seems to me that–maybe–

[he glances furtively from one side to the other]

–if all flockbinkers are treadknicious–

[he pauses significantly]

–and if–let’s say–some wamwams are flockbinkers–

[a note of hesitation enters his usually manly features]

–then we are kind of forced to the conclusion that… well…

[he closes his eyes, and balls his hands up into tight little fists]

…some wamwams are treadknicious!

 

The Assembled Throng:  [bursts into wave upon wave of excited applause]

The Blogger:  [visibly moved]  Well, shucks, y’all. Thank you. You’re way too kind.

 


 

Epilogue

Y’know, it’s always good to be reminded of the truly classic stuff.

 

 

Three Philosophers Analyze Their Dinner at Chili’s

 

Abstract:  So there’s these three philosophers, see — variously interested in radical empiricism, rationalism, and the analytic/linguistic school of thought — and they meet at Chili’s for dinner. (For those of you who’ve not studied philosophy, the only people more fun than philosophers are [1] morticians, and [2] my Uncle Federico, who runs a dry goods store in Muncie, Indiana.) Gosh, what a barrel of monkeys! Can you dig it! Don’t you wish that YOU’d been at Chili’s that day? I know i do! Let’s listen in.


 

Our three philosopher-friends are seated at a booth by the windows — “so as to remain in touch with the more ecological aspects of human experience,” as one of them explained to the hostess while they were being seated. The following conversation picks up just as they’ve had the chance to settle in for a minute.

Philosopher #1:  Hmmm. What an odd document this ‘menu’ appears to be.

Philosopher #2:  How so?

Philosopher #1:  I see several problems. The subsections into which the whole is divided make no sense, either structurally or as bodies of intelligible data. And the menu begins with a listing of intoxicants. Should not that sort of thing come after the decisions have been made?

Philosopher #2:  Probably. I think i’m going to have the salmon with broccoli and rice.

Philosopher #3:  I don’t even see that.

Philosopher #2:  You’re looking at the desserts, goofball.

Philosopher #3:  Oh. This has very quickly become my favorite page.

Philosopher #2:  You can always come back to it. The dessert is supposed to be the last part of the meal.

Philosopher #3:  What canon of judgment establishes a necessary order for the components of a meal, ordered out of a menu?

Philosopher #1:  Here we go again.

Philosopher #2:  Look, dude, just allow the received social structures to define the manner in which you interact with the data.

Philosopher #3:  That doesn’t even.

Philosopher #1:  What if i were to eat a page from this menu, rather than any of the food items depicted thereupon?

Philosopher #2:  Please tell me that you’re joking.

Philosopher #1:  The ‘joke’ is a language-game in which i tend not to willingly participate.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  [sidles up to table]  Hi there! My name’s Geoffroy, and i’m going to be your server. Can i start you fellows off with something to drink?

Philosopher #1:  What is the square root of inert negativity?

Geoffroy the Waiter:  Um. Heh heh. I’m not sure i understand the question.

Philosopher #1:  [irritated]  It was a simple enough question.

Philosopher #3:  Great! Now he’s going to be in a mood for the rest of the meal.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  Heh heh. Heh heh. Um.

Philosopher #2:  What is the square root of Your Mom.

Philosopher #3:  [laughs inexplicably]

Geoffroy the Waiter:  You know what, i’m gonna let you fellows look over the menu a bit more, and i’ll be back in a minute.

Philosopher #1:  Good plan, Ghee-off-rooy.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  Heh heh, it’s pronounced “Jeff-ree.”

Philosopher #1:  No it’s not.

Geoffroy the Table Server:  Um, heh heh.  [scuttles off quickly, sweating]

Philosopher #1:  What an idiot.

Philosopher #2:  Never mind him. Just look at the menu and decide what you want to eat.

Philosopher #3:  Remind me again, at what point in the meal is it permissible to look at this “desserts” section?

Philosopher #2:  After you’ve eaten some real food.

Philosopher #3:  And by what standard are we able to evaluate the Real in the world of nutrition? Is not everything depicted in this menu Real? At some level?

Philosopher #1:  Perhaps it’s worth pointing out, at this juncture, that “nourishing” and “it looks good in the picture” are not necessarily equivalent concepts.

Philosopher #3:  Oh dear. I’m still not able to detect any intelligible pattern of interaction by which this ‘menu’ is mapped over the data of my own experience.

Philosopher #2:  When is that waitress person coming back? Before i’ll have had the chance to make a rational decision based on an adequate survey of the relevant data? I’m feeling pressured to make a decision based on insufficient data.

Philosopher #3:  [waxing oratorical]  I sense that he shall return in the fullness of time.

Philosopher #2:  Time! Now there’s a self-contradictory construct for you.

Philosopher #1:  I’ve told you a thousand times [sic], that doesn’t make any sense. Just because you’re able to slip something past your dissertation committee, that doesn’t make it a real thing.

Philosopher #2:  Nyah nyah nyah. You can’t dismiss an idea just because you’re not equipped to understand it.

Philosopher #1:  [muttering]  Your Mom’s not equipped to understand it.

Philosopher #2:  What? Did you say something about someone’s Mom?

Philosopher #1:  Maybe i did, and maybe i didn’t.

Philosopher #2:  If we were to have this same conversation an infinite number of times, i wonder how many of those times would involve a reference to your Mom.

Philosopher #1:  Well, even after ‘x’ number of conversations, even if she hadn’t come up any of the previous times, there’s no guarantee Your Mom wouldn’t come up the, like, infinite-th time.

[Geoffrey the Waiter slips back up to their table, having braced himself with a few slugs from the vodka bottle he’d conveniently hidden in his backpack that morning.]

Philosopher #3:  Well, how very Humean of you.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  It didn’t sound very human to me.

Philosopher #1:  What? You’re still here?

Philosopher #3:  I didn’t say ‘human’… i said ‘Humean.’

Geoffroy the Waiter:  So, you have trouble pronouncing ‘human’? Nobody’s perfect. We’re only human. Or ‘humean.’ Heh heh.  [immensely pleased with himself for holding his own amid such august company]

Philosopher #1:  ‘Humean’ is a reference to the philosophy of David Hume, an important philosopher of the 1700s.  [mutters under breath]  Imbecile.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  Oh.

Philosopher #2:  Among other things, he said that if all of your knowledge is based on observation… which he believed to be the case… then you can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future, even if the same thing has tended to happen over and over in the past. For instance, just because tipping a glass over has tended to cause water to splash all over the table every time you’ve done it before…

[He deliberately knocks a glass of water over onto Philosopher #1’s lap]

…that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen the next time. Oh, will ya look at that. I appear to have made a boo-boo.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  I just thought you had a funny speech impediment.

Philosopher #3:  I do have a funny speech impediment. It’s extremely rude of you to point it out.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  Um. Uuhhh…Sorry?

Philosopher #2:  What does that have to do with David Hume?

Philosopher #3:  Nothing, so far as i can tell. I’m not going to be tipping this embarrassing specimen of a table server–i can tell you that.

Philosopher #1:  Me neither!  [hitching on to an apparent excuse to leave off tipping]

Geoffroy the Waiter:  [slinks off, unnoticed]

Philosopher #3:  I think i’ll have the ‘Southwestern Eggrolls.’

Philosopher #1:  What an incoherent concept. Eggrolls are not associated with the American Southwest, either historically nor as a cuisine.

Philosopher #3:  I think you’re demanding too much philosophical rigor from a popular family restaurant.

Philosopher #1:  If a food makes no sense, i’m not putting it in my body, that’s all i’m saying.

Philosopher #2:  Well, um, okay. So, do you see anything that appeals to you?

Philosopher #1:  I find nothing in here that meets my standards for logical coherence.

Philosopher #2:  Dude, how do you not starve on a regular basis.

 

Epilogue

As it turns out, the three philosophers did end up receiving nourishment, although it was not Geoffroy the Waiter, but the Chili’s restaurant manager who ended up making sure they got hooked up with the appropriate foods. Geoffrey was meanwhile quailing in the back, trembling slightly, and peeping out from time to time to see if the three philosophers had left yet. His life would never be the same. Shortly after the events recorded in this blog post, Geoffrey quit his job at Chili’s and has since been happily employed as a vacuum cleaner salesman…just a few miles, interestingly, from the place where “Southwestern Eggrolls” were invented.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

Here’s Another Philosophy Joke: Confucius, Aristotle, and a Flockbinker Go into a Bar

“So, Okay: Confucius, Aristotle, and a flockbinker go into a bar, see….”

And the bartender says, “We don’t serve your kind here.”

Confucius say,[*] “I take offense at that completely inappropriate racial slur!”

And the bartender says, “No, look, I wasn’t talking about you.  I was referring to…that.”  And he points at the flockbinker.

“Oh,” say Confucius.  “Well, alrighty then.”

All eyes in the room turn toward the flockbinker.

Aristotle says, “Let us be clear. You are saying that it is the policy of your restaurant not to serve flockbinkers?”

“What?” says the bartender.

“This,” explains Aristotle, indicating the flockbinker, “is a flockbinker.”

“I don’t care what fancy name you wanna call it,” rejoins the barkeeper. “We don’t serve it, that’s what i’m saying.”

Aristotle says, “You introduce an interesting question.  Since we are uncertain of the ontological status of flockbinkers, it’s difficult to know what you mean by its ‘kind.’  You said that you don’t serve its ‘kind’ here. In your judgment, what ‘kind’ is he?”

The bartender replies, “Everybody’s gotta be a smart aleck.  Look, all i’m saying, we don’t serve those”—and here he again indicates the flockbinker—“in this here respectable establishment.”

“And why would that be,” demands Aristotle, “if you can’t even categorize him?  How do you know whether he belongs in the category ‘things we don’t serve here’?  Does your policy apply to all entities that are treadknicious?”

“Tred—what?”

“Treadknicious.  All flockbinkers are treadknicious.  Surely everyone knows that.”

The bartender squints at Aristotle, as if looking at a particularly appalling insect that has landed in his bowl of cereal.

“Flockbinkers are treadknicious,” continues Aristotle. “All of them. It is less clear, however, whether there might be other things (besides flockbinkers) that are also treadknicious. So does your policy extend to all members of the class ‘things that are treadknicious,’ whether flockbinkers or something else…?”

The bartender stares at Aristotle, as if studying a worm that has been opened up for dissection in a high school biology class.

Confucius add, “What my distinguished colleague is getting at is this: what is it about our little friend here” — and he indicates the flockbinker — “that makes you want to ban it from the premises?”

“Frockbinger,” says the flockbinker, breaking its silence.

Confucius and Aristotle turn to stare at it. Who knew flockbinkers could talk?

The bartender is losing patience.  “Whatever it is, we don’t serve it!” he spurts.

In the meantime, the patrons of the bar have been taking a keen interest in this little exchange. One of them steps forward and, in a voice that reverberates with passion and antique Roman heroism, proclaims:  “I am a flockbinker!”

Then another customer steps forth, this one obviously an accountant, and says, in a tremulous voice, “I am a flockbinker!

One by one, just like in the famous scene from Spartacus, each of the bar’s patrons steps forth and states, “I am a flockbinker!”

Understandably, the bartender finds this turn of events perplexing. What’s he supposed to do, kick out all of his customers?

“The problem with basing policy decisions on poorly-conceived taxonomical frameworks,” explains Aristotle to the hapless bartender, “is that your categories can shift on you and ruin your plans.”

“Frockbinger,” explains the flockbinker, helpfully.

The bartender is just standing there, his hands hanging helplessly at his sides.

“You are going to meet an interesting stranger,” Confucius say.

“I beg your pardon?” says the bartender.

“I said, ‘You are going to meet an interesting stranger’,” repeat Confucius. “You know, it’s the sort of thing you might find in a fortune cookie. I suppose i ought to introduce myself. My name is Kung Fu Tzu, better known to the English-speaking world as Confucius.”

“Name’s Fred,” replies the dazed bartender, extending a hand.

“Well gee, THAT was somewhat irrelevant,” says Aristotle.

“Sorry,” say Confucius.  “I never go off duty.”

 

[Editor’s Note:  If you’ve not yet heard the one about Confucius and the Buddha meeting for dinner at Chili’s, you can find it right around here somewhere.]

[Another Editor’s Note:  If you were troubled by the grammar in the sections where Confucius is quoted as saying something, perhaps it just means you’re unfamiliar with the “Confucius say” corny joke convention.]

[Yet a Third Editor’s Note:  If, on the other hand, you were troubled by the fact that this blog has made use of the “Confucius say” corny joke convention — because you feel that it represents an inappropriate stereotyping of the speech patterns of ancient Chinese philosophers — then do by all means feel free to leave a scorching comment articulating your concerns. We love to hear from our readers.]

 

A Philosopher Hands out Candy (and Philosophy Classics) to Trick-or-Treaters

This year, for the first time in several decades — indeed, the first time in the entirety of my adult incarnation — i decided to do Hallowe’en.

I’ve never gotten really excited about Hallowe’en. As a philosopher, i feel a need to know what i’m celebrating when i observe a holiday, and Hallowe’en seems to be just a confusing hash of ancient pagan imagery, modern horror, Disney, magical unicorns, and contemporary kiddie-fied commercialization.

However, this year i decided to get with the program; you know, find out what everyone else has been experiencing all this time. And it seemed fitting that, as a philosopher, i should provide the kiddoes with a uniquely philosophical experience that they’d be unlikely to get at the other houses.

Upon discovering that some people like to dress up the front of their home to reflect the spirit of the holiday, i decided to make an attempt. I chose as my theme the decay of Western Civilization… the tragic, inexorable unraveling of more than two thousand years of achievement and tradition… the entropic deterioration of centuries’ worth of cultural advancement and rational thought… leaving a (metaphorically speaking) dilapidated, moss-grown, disintegrating ruin. The advantage here is that i didn’t really have to do anything to decorate. My front porch already looks like that.

Then i hauled a big cauldron onto my porch and loaded it up with goodies for the little trick-or-treaters. Finally, i put on my bow-tie and wire-rimmed spectacles (my ‘philosopher’ costume) and i was ready to go.

The evening, i must say, went very well.

By way of illustration, why don’t i narrate for you my encounters with three different batches of trick-or-treaters, each group interesting in its own way. Let’s start with a group of five children that came by pretty early on, while it was still light out.

 

Group One

“Greetings,” i said to the group at large. “Welcome to the Philosopher’s Haunted Den of the Breakdown of Western Civilization.”

They eyed the front of my house apprehensively, as if searching for a notice of condemnation by the building inspector.

“And what are you?” i asked the first kid who bravely stepped up to my porch.

“I’m Conan O’Brien’s haircut,” he explained.

“Ah!” i said. “Not bad. I can see it. An extremely accurate likeness. And you?” i asked the next kid.

“I’m an ocelot that identifies as a manatee that is actually a bottle of Dr. Pepper.”

“That’s exactly what i would have guessed. Very clever. Layers of ontological complexity. I like it.”

“And i,” said the next kid, an absolutely whacking redhead, “am a mathematical impossibility.”

“No kidding!” i said. “That’s amazing! Can you be more specific?”

“Sure,” she said. “I’m the square root of peace and love for all humankind.”

Dig,” i said. “Oh yeah. Wow. Can you dig it.”

We all sort of dug it for a few seconds.

“Yeah,” said Conan O’Brien’s haircut, quietly. “Crazy.”

“And what about you?” i asked the next kid.

In the most earnest, heartfelt voice i have ever heard emerge from the body of a human being, he said, “I am a single tear from the eye of a magical unicorn.”

“Well, of course you are,” i acknowledged. “Even a fool can see that. Good work.”

The fifth and last kid stepped forth boldly. “And what are you?” i asked.

“Your Mom,” he said, simply.

“Roger that,” i said, and reached into my cauldron to fish out goodies for each of the kids.

Now, i’m afraid we need to pause a moment before going on.

Most regular people, when preparing to receive trick-or-treaters, will stock up on Mounds mini-bars, Kit Kats, Jolly Ranchers, and those awful candy corn things. But do not forget that we are here dealing with a philosopher, not a normal person. My cauldron was stocked with something much better than candy: pocket paperback editions of some of the shorter philosophy classics. To wit: John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. Rene Descartes’ Discourse on Method. Immanuel Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. And Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. By way of concession to the tastes of children, i also had a pile of 100 Grillion Dollar Bars in there. To sweeten the deal, as it were.

“For you,” i said to the one who’d identified as my Mom, “a copy of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, and a 100 Grillion Dollar Bar.”

“But it’s not real!” he demurred.

“What?” i said. “It is absolutely real! This is an authorized edition of the Tractatus!”

“I meant the 100 Grillion dollars.”

“Oh,” i said. “Hmmm. Define real.”

“Cool, a philosopher who’s also a smart-aleck. I can’t wait to tell my friends.”

I was not going to take this from a pipsqueak whose idea of a Hallowe’en costume was a lackluster impersonation of my Maternal Ancestor. “You were trick-or-treating in the hope of amassing a fortune?” i demanded. “No. You were trick-or-treating in the hope of getting lots of candy. This is candy. ‘Grillion’ isn’t even a number.”

Annoyed, i distributed philosophy books and 100 Grillion Dollar Bars to the remaining kids with no further complaint, although the fellow identifying as the tear from the eye of a magical unicorn did tremble slightly. No harm done, the kids were off, and i was left to contemplate the complexities involved in the naming of candy bars.

 

Group Two

This next interesting group came along a while later, after a few rather disappointing cohorts of fairies and zombies. “Hello, hello!” i said to them. “Welcome to the Philosopher’s Haunted Den of the Utter Decay of the Western Cultural Tradition.”

“SWEET,” said one of the kids, obviously genuinely impressed. “It even looks like a deteriorating architectural corpse, a rude, broken-down relic of past greatness.”

“Um, yes, thank you,” i said. “Moving on. Let’s start with you. What are you identifying as this evening?”

“I’m a naughty, naughty fellow,” he said in the most perfect deadpan you’ve ever seen.

“Well, yes, i’ve no doubt of that,” i said. “I meant, what are you dressed up as?”

His companion, with an almost-matching costume, spoke up. “He means that literally. He is identifying as a naughty, naughty fellow for Hallowe’en. He’s usually the perfect kid. He never does anything wrong. The grown-ups all love him. It’s disgusting.”

“Ah!” i said. “How silly of me. Got it. And you?” i asked his cohort.

“Well,” he began, “I’m a fellow who’s not quite mischievous enough to be called ‘naughty’ but who is, nevertheless, not an entirely reputable citizen.”

“And i see you two are a package deal,” i observed.

“We are,” said the first one, a naughty, naughty expression on his face.

“And you!” i said, directing my attention to a young man dressed in what appeared to me to be the garb of a well-to-do dandy from the early 1800s.

“I’m a character from the novel Persuasion, by Jane Austen,” he explained.

“That’s tremendous!” i said. “As it happens, i just re-read Persuasion a few months ago. Which character are you?”

“Well,” he said, somewhat tentatively, “I’m not actually in the book.”

“I see,” said i, although i didn’t.

He continued. “I’m a character that Austen would have included in the novel if she had actually known what she was doing.”

“Ah,” i said. “That’s more like it. Most treadknicious of you.”

The fourth child stepped forward, a little squirt of a dude who appeared to be dressed, as nearly as i could tell, as a shapeless blue amoeba.

“I’m an as-yet-undiscovered chemical element,” he said.

“Ah, but here you are,” i said cleverly. “You’ve been discovered.”

“Discovered by you,” he said. “The scientific community still hasn’t got a clue.”

“Niiiiiiiice,” i said. “Does this element have a name?”

“Nunnayurbidnium,” he said.

“Oh, sorry,” i said. “Didn’t mean to offend.”

“No,” he offered, “I mean the element is called ‘Nunnayurbidnium’.”

“Ah,” i said. “Yes. Of course. Very good. I shall append it to the periodic table in my old college chemistry book. The scientific community will never have to know.” He and i shared a mutual scholarly wink, and then i cauldron-dove to fetch the kiddies their goodies.

 

Group Three

The third interesting group arrived shortly after dusk, at around that time when the little kids and their parents are starting to thin out and the teenagers elaborately made up as zombies or wearing lame skeleton t-shirts are becoming the dominant demographic. Happily, the group of which i now speak was not made of such stuff.

There were eight people in this group: one set of three, and another set of five. The two sets of trick-or-treaters weren’t actually together, but they all arrived at my front porch at more-or-less the same time.

“And who are YOU people?” I was talking to what appeared to be the leader of the group of five, which i took, furthermore, to be a family of aliens. Not the illegal kind; the interplanetary kind.

“We’re a family of aliens,” he explained helpfully.

“I gathered as much,” i said. “And what brings you ’round these here parts?”

“Well,” he began, hooking a tentacle into each of the two straps of his overalls, “It’s like this. We are the last of our race. Our civilization was wiped out by a race of even meaner aliens from a neighboring planet.”

“Grrrrrr,” chorused the wife and kids, their tentacles waving menacingly in the air.

“That’s awful!” i said. “So you’re refugees here on earth, seeking asylum?”

“Well, it’s more like, we’re hopin’ to set up a GoFundMe account so that we can afford thermonuclear weapons and wipe them other aliens off the face of their stupid planet.”

“Well, gosh, y’know, okey-dokey,” i said, concluding that these varmints were serious customers and not to be trifled with. Casting about for a change of topic, i said, “Well, sir, your young’un here looks just like you.”

The lad waved his tentacles about in evident pleasure.

“Don’t he now?” said the proud papa, huffing a cloud of pinkish gas from the top of what i believe to have been his head. “He sure do favor his old dad, that’s what i’ve always said.”

I nodded. “I gotta say, the apple don’t fall far from the tree. So, remind me again… i don’t think i caught it the first time… what’s the name of the planet y’all are from?”

The father replied with the most horrifying sound i have ever seen produced by an object that was less than six feet away from me: a sort of screeching moan, mostly made up of harsh vowels and painful dreams. “So,” i squirmed. “Um. So that’s the name of your planet, is it?” By this time the conviction was finally borne in upon me that these were probably not kids wearing costumes.

“Wow, okay,” i said, turning my attention to the remaining group of three, who had sat patiently on their fence during the preceding proceedings. Did i mention that these three fellows had a portable fence, mounted on wheels, and that they were sitting on it?

“And you fellows,” i said. “What’s the story?”

“We’re Scotsmen,” said the first one.

“Aye, that we are,” said the second. “Three of us.”

“Sittin’ on a fence,” added the third.

That certainly cleared things up for me. “Golly,” i said, “you fellows seem oddly familiar. Might i have encountered you in a joke somewhere?”

“It’s not unlikely,” said the first one.

“You’ve probably haird the one about the three Scotsmen,” said the second one.

“Sittin’ on a fence,” added the third.

“Aye, that i have,” said i, involuntarily falling into their mode of speech. “So that’s why you fellas seem so familiar.” Then, seizing an opportunity that was not likely to come round again, i asked, “So what’s the punchline? I’ve never heard the finished version of the joke.”

The three Scotsmen looked at each other, then back at me, smiled mysteriously, and said nothing.

[Editor’s Note: For a discussion of the original joke about the Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence, you might want to check out this post… (“So There Were These Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence, See”) from about four years ago. You might, additionally, enjoy checking out this later post: “An Attempt to Get to the Bottom of This ‘Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence’ Thing.”]

Unsure of how to continue the conversation, i dug out some Hundred Grillion Dollar Bars and pocket philosophical classics from my cauldron, distributed them among the strange company, and saw them off.

 

Conclusion

Well, there you have it. My first participation in Hallowe’en in about 40 years. I feel you must agree with me that it was a smashing success.

And you will be gratified to note, as i was, that after having checked all up and down the block the next morning, i saw no sign of philosophy books that had been tossed aside into people’s yards or chucked into conveniently located garbage cans.

[Editor’s Note: For some clues as to where some of these kiddies might have gotten the ideas for their inventive costumes, have a look at the post prior to this one.]

 

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

 

In Praise of Silly Inspirational Sayings.

If you’re new to the ‘All Flockbinkers’ scene, it will be helpful to you to know that this is a blog about philosophy.

Well, not really.

It’s actually an opportunity to horse around shamefully, using putative discussions of logic, metaphysics, epistemology, etc. as convenient excuses to commit random absurdity and senseless acts of whimsy.

However, this particular post actually is going to be about philosophy!

Well, not really. It is in fact going to be about the kind of pop philosophy that makes its rounds on the internet, often featured in a meme backed with a sunset and/or a mountain.

Perhaps you can tell that i’ve been spending a good bit of time on Twitter recently.

Now, i don’t know what your experience has been on Twitter, but i’ve learned that there are several things that i can depend on running into as i scroll through the tweets. Allow me to enumerate some:

  • Opinionated election-year political rhetoric
  • Verses of Scripture or quotations from classic philosophy
  • Sound bites featuring apparently sensible business advice (like *I* would know)
  • Highly condensed and sometimes very funny jokes
  • Surrealistic art
  • Pictures of kittens and rhinoceroses
  • Photographs of skanky women
  • Photographs of paperback books posted by writers promoting their latest novel
  • [Note: there is considerable overlap between these last two categories]
  • Offers from people who want to handle all my marketing needs
  • A category that i like to refer to affectionately as “Twitter Poetry.” At its best, Twitter poetry can be quite interesting. The much more common experience, though, is some of the most abysmally horrific nonsense that has ever been violently stuffed into 140 characters.

But you know, of all the sorts of things that come cascading through my Twitter feed, i have a real soft spot for the category that i like to call “Silly Inspirational Sayings.”

I think you probably know what i’m talking about. It’s impossible that you have not encountered this sort of thing before. They’re everywhere on the internet: those encouraging statements that you often see featured in memes, along with a picture of a beach, a palm tree, and a beach chair and side table with a margarita on it. The statement says something like, “Every possibility is yours if you believe,” or “There is no greater you than the you that you are,” or something equally unintelligible and/or obviously untrue.

A famous example of the genre is one that has often been attributed (almost certainly inaccurately) to Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everybody else is already taken.”  Groan.

Please understand: Not every encouraging or inspirational statement qualifies as a “Silly Inspirational Saying.” Some encouraging platitudes are actually helpful and accurate. In order to qualify as a Silly Inspirational Saying, a statement must be (1) a puff piece emphasizing how great i am, and (2) disconnected from reality.

Let me see if i can find an example of the sort of thing we’re talking about. Okay, here’s one:

CfyMtT7XEAEiM5B

Uh…no, they can’t.

The secret to these Silly Inspirational Sayings, i feel, is the picture. A patently ridiculous assertion, fortified with a picture of colorful balloons, suddenly becomes a nugget of elemental life wisdom. As a general rule, Silly Inspirational Sayings apparently seem more convincing when backed with suitable artistic reinforcement: an ocean sunset, a mountain summit or a cute animal.

The popularity of silly inspirational sayings leads to some interesting questions. Do people really find these statements convincing? Who are these people? Do they live next door to me? Is there someone out there in internet-land who, upon seeing a picture of a beach with the statement “every possibility is yours if you believe” superimposed over it, will hurl himself off a cliff and attempt to fly, or embark on a program of eating one box of Krispy Kremes per day, secure in the confidence that no harm will result? I wonder.

However, the ubiquity of silly inspirational sayings on Twitter has emboldened me to try and create some of my own. What follow are some examples based on a few recent attempts that i tweeted — several of which met with a reasonably warm reception, even though they were not backed with pictures of sunsets, horses, or the Grand Canyon. (If i am to pursue this idea more seriously, it’s clear that i really need to hone my skills in meme generating.)

 

“Be who you are, not who you’re not. But, wait a second, if you’re being who you aren’t, that would then become who you are. So you would STILL be being who you are. Wow. That’s awesome.”

“Be the you that you are. Because…trying to be the you that someone else is, is, well, it’s just metaphysically impossible.”

“Be the you that you are. Don’t try to be the you that you aren’t. Because, well, really, when it comes down to it, that’s just a confusing abuse of the pronoun ‘you’.”

“Be yourself; ignore the objective, informed input of other people. Because listening to what other people have to say might result in self-improvement. Oh, wait.”

“Don’t let other people tell you who you are. Have they cut you open to look at your brain and other organs? No. They have not.”

“Be the you that you have envisioned in your wildest dreams. No, not THOSE dreams. The other ones. Idiot.”

“Be true to yourself. Being false to yourself is a really bad idea. But now, as we come to think of it, we’re not entirely sure what either one of those would entail. Okay. Forget we said anything.”

“Be who you are. You are already the best version of you. There is nothing about you that needs to change. Sober self-examination is only for people who…um, we forgot where we were going with that.”

“The ‘you’ that you are is better than the ‘you’ that you would be if you invested effort into a program of self-improvement. You’ll just have to take our word on this.”

“You do you. Other people are going to do whatever, but you do you. People have attempted to point out to us that this is a meaningless statement, but we don’t care. We’re doing us.”

“You be you. Don’t try to be somebody you’re not. You be you. You b u. UBU. Sit, UBU, sit. Good dog.”

“Be who you are. You’re beautiful and special. Don’t ever change. And certainly don’t take into account the helpful, objective input of other people. Narcissism is the new black.”

“Be yourself. Don’t try to be somebody else. Definitely not cool. Identity theft is taken very seriously these days.”

 

 

 

 

 

A Fine, Honest, Admirable, Heartfelt Attempt to Define ‘Flockbinkers’

 

To begin with:

We talk a lot about flockbinkers ’round these here parts.

Editor’s Note: The blogger lives in Tennessee and occasionally lapses into a charming but grammatically substandard regional idiom. We, the AllFlockbinkers Editorial Staff, allow this, because it gives a sense of local color to the blog.

It’s true. We talk about flockbinkers. We just do. And we’re not ashamed to admit it. We’ve been doing so for a long time, and i can’t see that changing anytime soon. Sure and we’re a wee bit fond o’ th’ flockbinkers.

Editor’s Note: The blogger has never lived in either Scotland or Ireland, and we are scratching our beards over the mystery of where that last bit came from.

From time to time, a weary reader will call to our attention the fact that we haven’t yet defined the term “flockbinker,” which makes things a wee bit somewhat difficult when they are everywhere present on the blog. “How can i sit around and listen to you talk all day about frockbrinkers,” a typical reader might protest, “when i have no idea what they are?” An understandable objection, even if the misguided reader struggled a bit to get the word quite right. But no matter. Today we shall address the difficulty full-on. We are about to take the flockbinker by the horns.

The Good Reader:  You just said it again.

The Blogger:  Said what? Flockbinker? Of course! It’s a blog about flockbinkers.

The Good Reader:  No, you said they have horns.

The Blogger:  Oh, right, right. We talked about this a couple of years ago, didn’t we.

The Good Reader:  That was actually ‘The Timid Reader’ that you had that conversation with. I’m ‘The Good Reader.’ But she and i might actually be the same person. Maybe i was going under the name of The Timid Reader at that time. Maybe. Your blog is so weird. It’s impossible to know WHAT is up.

The Blogger:  That’s a very good point, and if i may say so, ontologically astute.

The Good Reader:  Thanks. So, back to flockbinkers and their horns. You said they had horns then, and when i (or she) tried to pin you down about it, you wriggled out of it by saying philosophical things that probably didn’t have an actual meaning. Or you might have said “it’s complicated.” You like to get out of making clear statements by saying “it’s complicated.”

The Blogger:  Actually, i did not say they had horns then. But yes, i remember, i did say we were going to take the flockbinker by the horns. And we did! Sort of. And that’s what we’re going to do right now!

The Good Reader:  Using the horns that they actually have, or horns that they don’t have?

The Blogger:  You’re becoming more of a philosopher with each passing minute, The Good Reader! I’m proud of you.

The Good Reader:  [says a word that we have chosen not to print because we feel it would detract from the family-oriented reputation of this blog]

 

But, ahem, back to the point:

The thing you need to understand about flockbinkers is that they can be used as placeholders in a logical scenario, without anyone actually knowing what they are, or even whether they exist… and, if they do exist, in what way.

Example:

1. All flockbinkers are treadknicious
2. All wamwams are flockbinkers
3. Therefore, all wamwams are treadknicious

…or, if you’re not particularly partial to wamwams… and let’s just be honest, not everybody is…

1. Some flockbinkers are nomnomnomnom
2. No fruitcakes are nomnomnomnom
3. Therefore, no fruitcakes are flockbinkers

[Oops. It appears we made a boo-boo. You get extra credit points if you can explain why that second syllogism was not valid.]

[And, by the way, if you’d like to learn more about logical syllogisms, you can find some marvelous examples of syllogisms in this post right here.]

So here’s the thing. Despite the fact that we are frequently referring to them in these logical syllogisms, it still may or may not be the case that such entities as flockbinkers, wamwams, and fruitcakes exist. And even if they do exist, there may be considerable uncertainty regarding what they are. I’ve never talked to ANYBODY who could give me a satisfying account of what fruitcakes are.

 

An excursus on ontology

Ontology is an area of philosophy that has to do with being and identity. It deals with (among other things) the question of what things are. You know? What they really are.

So, for instance, if you had a question about the ontological status of fruitcakes, and you chose wisely to consult a philosopher, you might get a response something like this:

The Philosopher:  Well, what is the fruitcake made of? Is it part of something larger? Is it subdivided into component parts? Can the fruitcake be assigned to a larger category, and do you know what that category is? Might it be assigned to several distinct or overlapping categories? Perhaps a plethora of categories? An El Guapo-esque plethora? What is the purpose of the fruitcake? How, when and where did it come into existence? Were there other things that came into existence along with it? Did someone give it to you at Christmas? I hate it when that happens. I don’t think anybody ever actually eats them. Have you ever heard of someone eating a fruitcake? I don’t even know whether they are edible. They sure don’t LOOK edible. I used mine to plug up a hole in the bathroom wall right behind the shower.

That’s what a trained philosopher might say if you asked him about fruitcakes.

Similarly, the questions about the ontological status of flockbinkers, wamwams, unicorns, Tiny Tim, the milk of human kindness, efficient postal delivery, the person who creates those Facebook memes with monstrously broken grammar, or a bargain item at Whole Foods might be addressed in the same manner.

 

So. Here we are. What ARE flockbinkers, anyway?

Whether they (flockbinkers) exist or not, it would be nice to know what they are.

Of course, the question of what they are might seem to hinge on the question of whether they exist. This was a sticking point in a conversation i had a couple of years ago with The Good Reader, who (in my estimation) seemed not to appreciate the nuances of the discussion. But might it be the case that a nonexistent entity can still have recognizable characteristics? You could all describe a unicorn, if called upon to do so. You could describe a planet that is in the throes of being blown up by the Death Star (or one of its many successors). You could describe the experience of what it would be like to check out for less than $75.00 at Whole Foods. This last one might require a strenuous exercise of the imagination, but i am confident that you could pull it off.

So, you see, it might be possible for a thing to have attributes even if it is not a real thing.

So, without further ado, why don’t we assemble some experts on logic, metaphysics and semantics, and see if we can come to some understanding of what sort of critter the ‘flockbinker’ is. Or isn’t. If there even is one.

 

Our panel of experts weighs in:

And by “our panel of experts,” we mean “the somewhat random group of people we were able to assemble by offering to let them look at a McDonald’s hamburger we’ve kept in its wrapper for seventeen years and which has not decomposed at all.”

The Good Reader:  I’m dumbfounded that you would even ask me this, given the large number of frustrating conversations we’ve had about flockbinkers and unicorns and other things that don’t exist but that you claim do exist, or something — and if you say, “it’s complicated,” i will reply with a very rude word. You know i will.

The Timid Reader:  Why do you insist on embarrassing me like this? I don’t even get it. You have it in for me. You lose no opportunity to expose my ignorance in front of your thousands of readers.

Editor’s Note: The Timid Reader is referring to a conversation that occurred in one of the early posts to this blog, in which she was publicly revealed as not knowing what a syllogism was. Which really wasn’t a big deal, but she took it way personally.

Editor’s Note2: Apparently The Good Reader and The Timid Reader are two distinct people, after all. But according to The Good Reader, earlier in this very blog post… oh dear. Curiouser and curiouser.

The Blogger:  I wish.

The Timid Reader:  To expose my ignorance?

The Blogger:  No, the part about thousands of readers.

Elvis Wu:  Well, if i understand correctly the things you’ve told me, and the posts i’ve read on this blog — really interesting blog, by the way! —

The Blogger:  Gosh, thanks, Wu.

Elvis Wu:  — it would seem that the flockbinker is a modally existent entity that is often characterized as if it were a kind of semi-mythical beast, but is at other times spoken of as if it were a small appliance, like a toaster, or a blow-dryer.

One of our British readers:  I’m not entirely certain i understand what it is that i’m being asked. Then again, i’ve been following this blog for a couple of years now and have never felt that i had any idea what was going on. It is awfully amusing, though, isn’t it?

Jennifer Smith (of “Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith Talk About Philosophy” fame):  Okay, i’ve got this. The flockbinker was originally created for use in logic exercises you wrote up for your students. He is a logical placeholder with a deliberately absurd name, and is of uncertain ontological status. [pauses to catch her breath]  Don’t be too impressed; i’m sure i stole every word of that from one or more conversations i’ve had with Little Biffy.

Jennifer Smith’s Uncle Hubert, who happens to be visiting from Spokane and was fascinated by the idea of a seventeen-year-old hamburger:  Well now, Jen’s told me about this blog, and i have to say i think it’s just a terrific idea. A terrific idea! The young people these days are in such need of guidance and critical thinking skills and such —

Jennifer:  Uncle Hubert, he’s asking you to define a ‘flockbinker.’

Uncle Hubert:  Right, right, right. Well, i have to just say i don’t really have the background to be talking about specialized foreign terms, but i think the whole idea’s a terrific one, i really do. The young people today, they just don’t seem to —

Jennifer:  Thanks, Uncle Hubert! Blogger, you may want to move on to the next person.

Random elderly woman in Coolidge Park:  They took my purse. They ran up from behind and took my purse.

The Blogger:  Flockbinkers did this?

REW:  Who? I said they stole my purse!

Tharg, the Primordial Man:  Ooog, bunga bunga, froom froom ooga froom, frockbinger tredmishus, bonga froom ooga wamwam ontological status mooga mooga.

One of the anonymous people who took the quiz a couple of weeks ago:  So what i remember from that quiz is that you offered five choices for whether flockswingers exist… yes, no, maybe, both, and… um… all of the above? Or something.

The Blogger:  [in a hoarse stage whisper]  No, those were NOT the five choices i gave you on that question, and you haven’t even identified the question accurately, never mind your inventive pronunciation of the term ‘flockbinker’…

Anonymous quiz-taking dude whose strong suit is apparently not precision:  And i think i selected “all of the above” because the question seemed really hard and i figured “all of the above” was probably my safest bet. Yeah. That’s what i did.

_____________________________________________

So there you have it, patient readers. I hope you have found this discussion of flockbinkers at least somewhat enlightening. I don’t think it went in exactly the direction i’d had in mind when i started out. I’m going to go for a long walk now through desolate places and contemplate the lonely existence of the philosopher in modern life.

 

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