all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

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

Category: Ontology

Spotlight on the Oft-Neglected Wamwam

 

Abstract:  In which some attempt is made to discuss wamwams: to establish their ontological status, distinguish them from flockbinkers (and woodoos and frou-frous and humma-hummas and bumma-bummas and blastcabbages and CharlesBabbages and Your Mom and a long list of everything else), to figure out what exactly makes them tick, and to discover what sorts of things they pick up when they go to the supermarket.


 

One of the ongoingly vexing things about this blog, is that we keep using terms that we don’t even know the meanings of.

(No, wait. That can’t be right.)

What we meant to say, is that we sometimes speak of things about which many people have a somewhat limited understanding.

(There. That’s much better.)

One of these somewhat abstruse terms is “wamwam.” It you’re a follower of the blog, you’ve seen this word appear on numerous occasions, and you may have been as confused as we are about what it means.

(No, wait. That’s not at all what we meant to say.)

What we meant to say, is that the term “wamwam” is a somewhat difficult one, requiring a delicate linguistic touch and a healthy dose of philosophical insight.

So: Why don’t we devote the current post to an examination of this term, “wamwam,” with the hope of arriving at some even remote understanding of what the blasted term means?

(No, wait.)

 

The Good Reader:  Howdy there, Blogger! I see that i’ve arrived at just the right time to get in some good discussion of some of your favorite meaningless terms.

The Blogger:  Howdy, The Good Reader! Your wit appears to be as sharp as ever.

The Good Reader:  You flatter me. [smiles sweetly]

The Blogger:  So, how do you view our prospects for solving the mystery of the humble wamwam?

The Good Reader:  Far as i’m concerned, there’s no mystery at all.

The Blogger:  Seriously? Why this IS good news? What do you have to tell us about wamwams? Do enlighten us!

The Good Reader:  Sure thing. They don’t exist.

The Blogger:  Wha– um, i mean– surely you can’t–

The Good Reader:  They are as fictional as the unicorn.

The Blogger:  Well now, um, as we’ve seen in an earlier one of these posts to the All Flockbinkers blog, unicorns aren’t actually fictional. They’re something more like, oh, “archetypal” or “ontologically scrappy” or “they show up on weekends and certain holidays.”

The Good Reader:  Um.

The Blogger:  Seriously, unicorns aren’t fictional. They’re more like, oh, “trans-existent.” Or maybe, “provisional.” Or i dunno, maybe, “sorta missional”…?

The Good Reader:  Okay. Anyway, you were wanting to talk about wamwams.

The Blogger:  Um, yes, of course. Wamwams. One of the more real entities featured in that astonishingly diverse body of materials that we call “the universe.”

The Good Reader:  Um.

The Blogger:  So. I was thinking that i might enumerate some of the things that we know to be true about wamwams, maybe?

The Good Reader:  Knock yourself out. My movie doesn’t start for another hour.

The Blogger:  Cool! Well, the first thing that most people would think of, when the term “wamwam” is mentioned, would be, “it’s somehow related to flockbinkers.”

The Good Reader:  Um. That doesn’t establish it as a real thing. Quite the opposite, really.

The Blogger:  Oh, please, stop! Your ignorance of even the most basic principles of philosophy is showing itself.

The Good Reader:  Okay.

The Blogger:  So flockbinkers and wamwams are part of the same family, let’s say. They both fit into a similar category of reality.

The Good Reader:  Like, “Words that are fun to say when you’re wanting to get a laugh out of a classroom full of third graders?”

The Blogger:  I shall ignore that highly ignorant remark.

The Good Reader:  Knock yourself out.

The Blogger:  You say that with distressing regularity. Anyway, flockbinkers and wamwams are what we might want to call “ontological cousins”–they belong to a similar sector of reality. But they’re not the same thing.

The Good Reader:  No, of course not. Not at *all* the same thing.

The Blogger:  No. So what we’re wanting to do here, is to establish what exactly is unique about wamwams–how they are different from flockbinkers.

The Good Reader:  Okay.

The Blogger:  Um, well, first-off, i think we can say that–

A Flockbinker:  [appears out of nowhere]  Howdy.

[The flockbinker disappears in a puff of smoke]

The Good Reader:  Wait. Was that a flockbinker?

The Blogger:  It was indeed! Sorry about the brevity of his greeting. Flockbinkers tend not to be very talkative.

The Good Reader:  But… i mean… golly… what i mean is… he’s actually real?

The Blogger:  Well, of COURSE he is! What do you think we’ve been talking about all these years?

The Good Reader:  I figured i was just patiently indulging the ravings of your fevered brain as it attempted to sort through things it had absorbed in nursery school.

The Blogger:  Oh no. No no. There’s nothing fevered about MY brain! Flockbinkers are very real indeed! And–here’s the point we’re interested in right now–so are wamwams.

The Good Reader:  [muttering to herself]  Golly. Something to think about.

The Blogger:  Um, indeed, and furthermore–

[enter none other than the Three Scotsmen!]

Scotsman #1:  I see you’re addressin’ the abstruse philosophical themes agayne.

Scotsman #2:  It’s the kind o’ thing that really gets me blood up! Whooh!

Scotsman #3:  Sittin’ on a fence.

The Good Reader:  Oh my word. WHAT do we have here.

The Blogger:  You can’t tell me you’ve never met the Three Scotsmen? You’ve been on this blog for, how long now? I’d have figured you would have crossed paths with ’em at some point.

The Good Reader:  No, i don’t think so. I’d have remembered it, i’m pretty sure.

The Blogger:  Well, there there are, in all their Celtic glory.

[the three Scotsmen beam congenially]

The Good Reader:  That second one is kind of handsome.

The Blogger:  I cannot think of a less relevant observation, The Good Reader. You surprise me.

The Good Reader:  Hey, i’m just sayin’.

Scotsman #2:  [blushing]  Milady pays me an undesoorved compliment.

The Good Reader:  [curtseys like a champ]

The Blogger:  Oh, stop it, you two! I be-leeeeeve that we were talking about wamwams.

Scotsman #2:  Indeed we wehre.

Scotsman #1:  In all their ontological glory.

Scotsman #3:  Sittin’ on a fence.

The Good Reader:  …and whether or not they exist.

The Blogger:  Stop that! Of course they exist! Well, um, i mean… it’s complicated.

The Good Reader:  That’s your favorite thing to say.

A Flockbinker:  [appears briefly, just long enough to say]  Howdy.

The Blogger:  Oh, shut up.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Bit of Discussion — Long Overdue — of the Concept of ‘Your Mom’

 

Abstract:  It’s the classic rejoinder: “Your Mom!” Jeepers… I’m laughing uproariously right now, just typing the words! But what is this ubiquitous bit of linguistic magic all about? Where did it come from? What exactly does it mean? Is there, in fact, a Real Thing called ‘Your Mom’? Is it, you know, some sort of insult… and ought your actual mom to have an opinion about it? I bet she does. [snicker]


 

So here’s the thing. We spend so much time on this blog analyzing terms like ‘logical coherence,’ ‘metaphysical grounding,’ ‘epistemic hoo-ha,’ ‘frozen ontological patties,’ ‘what the heck,’ ‘wamwam,’ ‘treadknicious,’ ‘um-bum-bety-boom,’ and ‘eWeeWee,’ that we appear to have overlooked one of the classics.

What about the expression “your mom” [snicker]?

Perhaps it should be noted, by way of introduction, that linguistics and metaphysics are not the same thing and do not necessarily cover the same territory.

“Dang!” i can hear you saying. “What the consarn tootin’ heck are metaguistics, and that other one you said right afterward?”

Ah, an excellent line of inquiry, gentle reader. What we mean here is simply that just because we have a word for something, that doesn’t mean that the something actually is a real thing in the real world.

‘Unicorns,’ for instance. We have a word for them, but they’re not real.

 

Unicorn #1:  Up yours, buddy!

Unicorn #2:  Paul! Calm yourself. The man spoke in ignorance.

Unicorn #3:  If he’s going to go around listing off the things that aren’t real, why doesn’t he start with his own intelligence quotient?

Unicorn #2:  [sigh]  You fellows just need to chill out for a bit. Why don’t we go graze awhile. Maybe by the time we come back, he’ll have said something sensible.

Unicorn #1:  Not much risk of that, if you ask me.

[The three unicorns exit, stage left. Meanwhile, the Blogger continues, unaware that his blog has been host to three unicorns.]

 

The Blogger:  So, the first question we have to ask is this: does the term “Your Mom” mean anything at all, anything that actually exists in the Real World?

The Good Reader:  Well, MY Mom certainly exists. I got a letter from her just a few days ago. And she calls about once a week to see if i’m married yet.

The Blogger:  Ah, but that’s not what we mean when we use the expression “Your Mom.” We’re not talking about your mom.

The Good Reader:  Oh. Wow. I could have sworn.

The Blogger:  No, it’s more of a universal expression. It means something more like, “One’s Mom,” or, “That sort of philosophically-defined Mom over there.” Or even, something like “You’re a weenie.”

The Good Reader:  Ah. But when you say to me, “Your Mom,” i figure you mean, “My Mom.” You know. It just sort of figures.

The Blogger:  Well… i suppose that is one possible meaning of the expression.

The Good Reader:  Well gee. Thank you.

The Blogger:  There’s probably a range of possible meanings of the term “Your Mom.”

The Good Reader:  [dubiously]  Maybe.

The Blogger:  Well, let’s experiment! Let’s see how many possible definitions we can come up with for the expression, “Your Mom.”

The Good Reader:  Um. Okay. Knock yourself out.

The Blogger:  So, to begin: One possible definition of the expression ‘Your Mom’ is, “the woman at whose o’er-brimming paps you nursed as a wee, itsy-bitsy infant.”

The Good Reader:  Okay. That makes sense. You said it kind of funny, but i guess we can let that go.

The Blogger:  And another definition of ‘Your Mom’ would be Russia. You know, as in “Mother Russia.”

The Good Reader:  Um. Okay. I don’t think that’s what people have in mind when they say the expression, ‘Your Mom.’

The Blogger:  …and of course, ‘Your Mom’ can also mean, “a Crock Pot somewhat in need of being washed because it’s got cheesy material encrusted on it.”

The Good Reader:  That’s not even a thing!

The Blogger:  It most certainly is.

The Good Reader:  What? You’re a wee wee.

The Blogger:  [chuckling]  At least you didn’t call me an eWeeWee.

The Good Reader:  Um. What.

The Blogger:  Didn’t you notice? Oh dear…”eWeeWee” was one of the technical terms listed at the beginning of this blog post.

The Good Reader:  That… what? I don’t even.

The Blogger:  But back to the topic at hand. Your denial that the expression “Your Mom” as indicative of “a Crock Pot somewhat in need of being washed” is a real thing.

The Good Reader:  I can’t even think about that anymore. I’m still thinking of “eWeeWee.” Is that a sound that you made up yourself, or did you overhear one of the kids on the street corner saying it?

The Blogger:  [somewhat irritated]  Never mind. You’re missing the point.

The Good Reader:  “eWeeWee.” It is kind of fun to say, isn’t it? “eWeeWee. eWeeWee.”

The Blogger:  Stop that! We’re talking about Your Mom.

The Good Reader:  Let’s not do that. She isn’t here to defend herself.

The Blogger:  [on the verge of blowing his top]  Not THAT Your Mom! The other one! Er, the other ones! Or something.

The Good Reader:  Golly, there must be at least, what, two or three billion of ’em? Out of our total population of about seven billion?

The Blogger:  Okay, you need to cut that out right now. We’re trying to have a serious philosophical discussion here!

The Good Reader:  Correction: Neither one of us is trying to have a serious philosophical discussion. I’m certainly not. And your idea of philosophy appears to be “making odd sounds with your mouth and then trying to justify them intellectually.”

The Blogger:  [pauses for a moment, decides the best course of action is to ignore this]

Okay. So, one possible meaning of the expression “Your Mom” is a Crock Pot that very much needs to be washed. On account of the cheezy material, and whatnot.

The Good Reader:  [rolling eyes]  Okay. Sure. Go on.

The Blogger:  And another is, a meteorite that left a Volkswagen-sized crater just a couple of miles outside the city of Flagstaff, Arizona.

The Good Reader:  No. I’m sorry. Just no.

The Blogger:  …and another possible meaning is, “what you ate for breakfast this morning, but with the strawberries removed.”

The Good Reader:  What? Stop that! You’re just making up random nonsense.

The Blogger:  [somewhat huffily]  I am practicing philosophy at a level that you, perhaps, as a layperson, are not able to appreciate.

The Good Reader:  Um. Okay, i’ve got another one. Your Mom can also mean, “the little flakes of dead skin that come off when you scratch your butt.”

The Blogger:  Uh…hmmm. Maybe. What’s your justification for that definition?

The Good Reader:  You’re impossible.

The Blogger:  I’m a philosopher!

The Good Reader:  Indeed.

 

Epilogue

As of the publication of this blog post, The Blogger has since come up with another 27 possible meanings for the expression “Your Mom”… and he doesn’t seem to be tiring of the subject. This may be worth following up at some point.

The unicorns do not appear to have returned.

 

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.

 

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.

 

May Your Days Be Merry and Delicious, and May All Your Christmases Be Treadknicious

 

Well, my gentle readers, it’s that time of year again. When the air is filled with tinkling bells / And the trees are white with crusty shells / And the frost is on the windowpane / It’s December time again! It’s time for evergreen wreaths and holly boughs, sleigh bells and silver bells, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, eggnog and spiced cider. Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

The Good Reader:  Well done, Blogger! You managed to populate that introduction almost entirely with song lyrics.

The Blogger:  It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Isn’t it?

The Good Reader:  Mmm-hmmm. I think so.

The Blogger:  And may i just say, it’s good of you to show up to the party.

The Good Reader:  The party? What party?

The Blogger:  My little Christmas party. I’ve invited a few friends over to celebrate the joy of the season and share eggnog and fruitcake.

The Good Reader:  Real friends, or characters from your blog?

The Blogger:  Oh, c’mon, Good Reader, is that a distinction we really have to make right now? It being Christmas and all?

The Good Reader:  Hey, don’t mind me. You’re the one who’s all into making fine metaphysical distinctions and talking about everybody’s ontological status.

The Blogger:  Gracious heavens, Good Reader, i didn’t realize you even KNEW those words! You may blossom into a real philosopher yet.

The Good Reader:  Grrrrr.

The Blogger:  Speaking of which: will you look at that, here come some of my other guests! Jen, Biff, come on in, it’s great to see you!

Little Biffy:  It’s terribly good to see you as well, Mr. Blogger!

Jennifer Smith:  Um. What. Where are we. What in the world. I’m so confused.

Little Biffy:  Jennifer, may i introduce you to The Blogger? He’s a philosopher friend of mine. I suppose you could say, in one sense, that he has taught me everything i know.

Jennifer Smith:  Uh… well, it’s nice to meet you, Blogger. Do you have a real name, or are we all going by job descriptions here? In which case, i’m “Meaningless Desk Job at a Faceless, Soulless Behemoth of an Insurance Company.”

The Blogger:  Oh, Jennifer, i know all about you. That was clever, by the way. Come in, come in! Have some eggnog.

Jennifer Smith:  How do you know all about me? Biff, how does this man know me?

Little Biffy:  It’s kind of complicated. Ooohh, look, fruitcake! C’mon, Jen, there’s snacks.

The Blogger:  Make yourselves at home. Mi casa es su casa. Literally, sort of, heh heh.

Jennifer Smith:  He keeps saying mysterious and creepy things. Who is this guy, Biffy?

Little Biffy:  I’ll explain everything to you in a sec. Let’s go look at the appetizer table. Ooohh, yum, cheezy sausage balls!  [Biffy and Jennifer go to the other side of the room]

The Good Reader:  Blogger, seriously, is this young lady not aware that she’s a character in your blog?

The Blogger:  Ssshhhh. Keep your voice down. Sometimes the weaker ones will panic.

The Good Reader:  Pfft! It sure took me a long time to get used to it.

The Blogger:  Okay, here’s the scoop on Jen and Biff. He, being more philosophically inclined, grasped early on that his conscious experience of reality might be only one level or mode of participation in the larger matrix in which he is embedded as an existent entity.

The Good Reader:  Mmm. Exactly how i would have put it.

The Blogger:  Biffy casts a critical eye on his world, takes nothing for granted, and he asks all the right questions. Jennifer, on the other hand — although she’s pretty bright — tends to take things at face value.

The Good Reader:  So Little Biffy knows that you’re his creator?

The Blogger:  Sure does.

The Good Reader:  And he’s okay with that?

The Blogger:  What sort of objection is he supposed to raise?  “I don’t like the fact that i am a figment of your creative imagination. Make it stop! Waa-a-a-a-a-a-anh.”

The Good Reader:  Well, if you put it that way.

The Blogger:  He’s got a good attitude about it. We’re all somebody’s creation, after all. No sense getting all bent out of shape about it.

The Good Reader:  Hark! Looks like somebody else is at the door.

The Blogger:  Well, that would be Mister Wu! Elvis! Come in, dude! It’s so good of you to stop by.

Elvis Wu:  A strong argument could be made that i had no choice in the matter. [smiles] But the pleasure is, at any rate, entirely mine.

The Blogger:  Fellas, i’d like to introduce you all to Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major.

Jennifer Smith:  The very last philosophy major? Ever?

Elvis Wu:  [bows gallantly]  At your service.

Little Biffy:  I’m happy to actually be able to meet you at long last, having heard so many rumors of your existence.

Elvis Wu:  Or perhaps, my ‘modal’ existence.

[They both laugh, The Good Reader rolls her eyes, and Jennifer looks grumpy]

The Good Reader:  Well, Mister Wu… or should i call you ‘Doctor Wu’?

Elvis Wu:  Good one. I’m a Steely Dan fan, myself.

Little Biffy:  [Singing from near the appetizer table]  “Are you with me, Doctor Wu? / Are you really just a shadow of the man that we once knew?”

The Good Reader:  Ever since the Blogger first introduced you on this blog as “The Last Philosophy Major,” i’ve been curious about the same thing that Jennifer just asked. “The Last Philosophy Major.” What does that even mean? Surely you don’t mean that there are no more colleges or universities with philosophy departments. There must be.

Elvis Wu:  The answer to your question is actually kind of complicated.

The Good Reader:  Oh my gosh, you’re as bad as this guy!  [She indicates the Blogger.]  I can’t get a straight answer out of him either! No wonder you guys hang out.

Elvis Wu:  There are still academic departments at many institutions of higher learning that continue to label themselves ‘philosophy’ departments, if that serves as a partial answer to your question.

The Good Reader:  It’ll probably have to do for now.

Little Biffy:  [Still singing]  “Are you crazy, are you high, or just an ordinary guy?”

[Jennifer slips away from Little Biffy, and approaches The Blogger.]

Jennifer Smith:  Blogger, can i talk with you for a minute?

The Blogger:  Sure thing, Jen. What’s on your mind? As if i don’t already know. Heh heh.

Jennifer Smith:  That’s not funny! See, that’s what i wanted to talk to you about. I find it unsettling at best that you and Biffy seem to think that i’m your creation. But no. Come on. I’m an actual person, Blogger. I have my own thoughts and experiences. This “I created her” stuff has got to go.

The Blogger:  It doesn’t seem to bother Little Biffy.

Jennifer Smith:  Biffy’s a freak of nature. I have no idea who or what created him. I think he may have sprung fully-formed out of a Black Hole in outer space. But i know who i am.

The Blogger:  If that’s true, then you’re a rare one indeed. Hardly anybody knows who they really are.

Jennifer Smith:  You’re going all philosophical on me, and i’m just trying to make a simple point. Stop telling Biffy that you created us! It’s sick and twisted, and he’s just a kid. You’re messing with the head of a little kid.

The Blogger:  He’s a boy genius. I don’t think he’s in any danger of being bamboozled by a story that is completely without credibility. And, as it happens, this story is a true one.

Jennifer Smith:  Okay… okay… then, how about this. You and i are standing together in the same living room right now, in what i assume is your house. Right? Here we are, you and me. I’m just as real, and as present, as you are. Or vice-versa.

The Blogger:  That’s because we’re both creations of the REAL Blogger.

Jennifer Smith:  Oh my word.

The Blogger:  Yup. You might want to think of me as an avatar of the guy writing the blog. I mean, i’m him, but i’m not really him, you see. I’m the version of him that he sticks into the dialogue to represent him.

Jennifer Smith:  I’m just going to sit down over here for a minute.

Little Biffy:  [From the appetizer table]  How’s it going over there? These cheezy sausage things are terrific!

The Good Reader:  I just tried some of the fruitcake, and it’s actually not bad! Everybody likes to make awful jokes about fruitcake.

The Blogger:  Mine is homemade, from a family recipe. You’re thinking of those rubbery inedible brick-shaped things wrapped in cellophane that they sell at truck-stop convenience marts.

Jennifer Smith:  Yeah, what are those made of, anyway? It looks kind of like, hardened jell-o with sediment and petrified fruits embedded in it.

Elvis Wu:  I’ve never spoken with anyone who has actually eaten one of those. I think they may be poisonous.

Little Biffy:  Or even caustic! They’re wrapped in cellophane because they cause burns if brought into contact with the skin!

Elvis Wu:  “Turn and run! Nothing can stop them, / Around every river and canal their power is growing…”

Little Biffy:  “The Return of the Giant Hogweed”!  The Last Philosophy Major knows his early Genesis! I salute you, sir.

Elvis Wu:  Except, in this case, it would be “The Return of the Giant Fruitcake.”

Jennifer Smith:  I have no idea what they’re talking about. What a frustrating Christmas party.

Little Biffy:  The Giant Hogweed is a terrible invasive plant species that looks pretty but can burn, scar, or even blind you if your skin comes in contact with it. And the British rock group Genesis recorded a song about it in the early 1970s.

Jennifer Smith:  Back when you were just a wee tot.

Little Biffy:  [Turning red]  I wasn’t born yet. But i listen to my parents’ records.

The Good Reader:  Yikes! Is this appropriate Christmas conversation? People’s skin being burned off by hogweeds and fruitcakes? I’m with Jen. This party needs a jump-start.

The Blogger:  Okay, we’ve covered fruitcake. What’s eggnog?

Little Biffy:  [Sings]  “Christmas is a-coming, and the egg is in the nog…”

The Good Reader:  I know this one! It goes back to the Middle Ages. Authentic eggnog is made from milk, cream, sugar, spices, eggs, and whiskey or rum.

Jennifer Smith:  Well, why don’t they call it an ‘egg shake’ or an ‘egg smoothie’? What does ‘nog’ even mean?

The Good Reader:  I think it was an archaic word for whiskey. Eggnog: Egg whiskey.

Little Biffy:  Yum. Egg whiskey.

The Good Reader:  My Grammy made it from scratch every Christmas. Mighty strong stuff.  [Hesitates.]  She was a bit of a lush, my Grammy.

The Blogger:  Fantastic! And what about the Yule log? Where did that come from?

Elvis Wu:  That one’s easy. You know the problem some people have, confusing the words “your” and “you’re”?

The Good Reader:  Mm-hmm.

Elvis Wu:  Well, people used to have a similar problem related to their Christmas fireplace logs. The “You’ll” log was traditionally the one that a family saved for when they had holiday guests over — as in, “you’ll be at home here with us,” or something like that — but the tradition apparently fell into the hands of illiterate people and thus we have the Yule log.

Jennifer Smith:  Ugh. You’re not the Last Philosophy Major. You’re the Appallingly Terrible Puns Major.

Elvis Wu:  I enter a plea of ‘guilty’.

Little Biffy:  Given that we’re in the South, maybe we should start calling it the “Y’all” log?

[Groans all around, except for Elvis, who looks at Biffy with renewed admiration.]

The Blogger:  Well, i think it’s time for a holiday toast. Elvis, would you mind doing the honors?

Elvis Wu:  I would be honored.  [He pours himself a fresh cup of hot spiced cider.]

Jennifer Smith:  I have no idea what to expect. I mean. This guy.

Little Biffy:  Expect the unexpected.

Jennifer Smith:  But if you’re expecting ‘the unexpected,’ then what you’re actually expecting is… wait, he’s about to offer the toast.

Elvis Wu:  [Lifts his glass]  May your days be merry and delicious, and may all your Christmases be treadknicious!

The Assembled Throng:  Wassail!

 

 

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.

 

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.]

 

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