all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

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

Category: Uncategorized

A Brief Reminder (for the Uninitiated, or Perhaps Some of You Who Aren’t Very Bright) of What This Blog Is About

Greetings, o gentle reader.

In the case of some of you who may feel somewhat out of the loop, who have, that is to say, jumped on the train at some recent point without having read the first few posts to this blog — which, admittedly, are shrouded in the mists of about three years ago — there may be some small measure of confusion regarding what the heck is going on around here.

“This blog — ”

you may be saying,

” — i mean, well, golly, this blog, i have to say, i don’t really get it. What’s it all about? Is it really about flockbinkers? What’s flockbinkers? Seriously? That hasn’t been explained to my complete satisfaction. At all, really. And if it’s a blog about flockbinkers (whatever that is), why aren’t they mentioned in every post? Only some of the posts talk about flockbinkers. Sometimes the guy just rants about stuff he finds frustrating, or talks about logic, or philosophy, or puts on a pop quiz, or pretends he’s getting letters from readers that he’s actually making up himself and he prints them and then responds to them. I mean, what the heck? What IS this? What am i EVEN reading?”

The good reader may certainly be forgiven if he suffers from a sense of disorientation. The first 23 posts to this blog, stretched unevenly over the past three years, have tended to jump about somewhat like one of those disembodied frog’s legs you hear about, you know, the ones that leap when you touch them with an electrode.

Perhaps this post will help clear up some of the confusion.

“Calling All Flockbinkers” is, in fact, a blog about flockbinkers. Sure. I’ll admit it. It is. It’s a blog that is unapologetically about flockbinkers… and you know what, i don’t care who hears me say it. It’s an unapologetic blog that is unapologetically stuffed with flockbinkers, a blog that is flockbinker-saturated and flockbinker-rich. It’s a flockbinker-rich environment. A target-rich environment for flockbinkers. If there’s such a thing as flockbinker season, which i don’t think there is, but my point is that if there is, you’re sure to bag some o’ them babies on this here blog without even trying. You can’t turn around without poking a flockbinker in the boomflop. Why, you can’t chuck a brick around here without nailing a flockbinker right in the fobwazzit. The place is veritably flocking with flockbinkers. It’s binking with flockbinkers.

But, ahem, in response to the dear reader’s earlier objection that flockbinkers are not mentioned in every post…

…that, in fact, some of the posts are about Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence, or about the difference between “horse-people” and people who are not horse-people, or about a couple of people named Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith who have long discussions about meaning and existence and the nature of God and the role of logic in modern life, or about something called ‘ontology’ that sounds awfully complicated, or about why it’s ridiculous to be naming Winter Storms, or about some guy named Elvis Wu who claims to have been the Last Philosophy Major…

…in response to this objection i reply that you don’t actually have to be talking about flockbinkers, in order to be talking about flockbinkers. Or, to put it another way, the subject matter of your discourse can be flockbinkers even if you have not mentioned them, not even once.

 

The Good Reader:  Oh, come on.

The Blogger:  The Good Reader! Delightful of you to show up. Somehow i sensed that you would.

The Good Reader:  Well, i can’t just sit by and let you try to put this sort of thing over on the three other people who are reading your blog.

The Blogger:  Three is almost certainly a low estimate. But let’s set statistical analysis to one side for the present. What exactly is it that you’re objecting to?

The Good Reader:  You expect me to dignify that question with a serious answer.

The Blogger:  I do.

The Good Reader:  Really.

The Blogger:  Of course i do! Dignify away. Dignify with passion and zeal; dignify as if your life depended on it, Good Reader; dignify like the wind.

The Good Reader:  [mumbles something unintelligible, but which sounds like the sort of thing a properly brought-up lady simply does not say, and which the editors have chosen not to attempt to replicate here]

The Blogger:  I’m not sure i can count that as either an answer or a dignification. Try again.

The Good Reader:  You said that you can talk about flockbinkers without talking about flockbinkers. You can mention flockbinkers and yet not mention flockbinkers.

The Blogger:  Splendid! You’ve been paying attention.

The Good Reader:  Well, on the subject of ‘paying attention,’ do i remember something you said once about Aristotle’s three Laws of Logic? And one of them was that a statement and its opposite cannot both be true at the same time?

The Blogger:  Good Reader, you take my breath away. I am deeply impressed.

The Good Reader:  Okay, stop being impressed already and give me a straight answer. What would Aristotle say if he heard you prancing about and saying, “I’m talking about flockbinkers, i’m not talking about flockbinkers! This blog post is about flockbinkers, just kidding, it’s not about flockbinkers, no, it really is after all!”

The Blogger:  I don’t ‘prance about.’

The Good Reader:  I’ll tell you what Aristotle would say. He would say, this man is an idiot, who gave him permission to set up a blog and talk about philosophy?

The Blogger:  He most certainly would not.

The Good Reader:  Would so.

The Blogger:  Would not.

The Good Reader:  Would so.

The Blogger:  Would not!

The Good Reader:  Neener neener.

The Blogger:  If Aristotle were to appear right here with us, right now, he would simply acknowledge that i have nuanced the term ‘flockbinker’ so as to enable it to mean different things in two different contexts, thus the Law of Non-Contradiction does not apply.

The Good Reader:  Oh my word.

The Blogger:  You can talk about flockbinkers… that is, carry on a mode of discourse that might technically be characterized as ‘talking about flockbinkers’… even if the term ‘flockbinker’ does not feature as an element in the discourse.

The Good Reader:  Just kill me right now. Right now.

The Blogger:  In a sense, the theme of ‘talking about flockbinkers’ is the subject-matter of every single post to this blog, even the ones that are about winter storms or horse-people or that joke about three Scotsmen sitting on a fence. In that more technical sense — which i would not expect you, a non-specialist, to understand —

The Good Reader:  Right now. Kill me right now.

The Blogger:  — as i say, in that more technical sense, ‘talking about flockbinkers’ is the all-pervasive theme that weaves through all of the posts, even the ones that don’t ‘talk about flockbinkers’ in the common sense.

The Good Reader:  This is how philosophers cover their tracks. They make up a pile of fancy-sounding vocabulary and then try to make you feel inferior for not understanding them.

The Blogger:  Oh, Good Reader. You wrong me. You cut me to the quick.

The Good Reader:  Just admit that about half of your posts have not actually been about flockbinkers, either in a technical sense or in the regular sense — if there’s such a thing as ‘the regular sense’ of talking about flockbinkers. Regular people don’t actually talk about flockbinkers.

The Blogger:  But if we can get enough of them reading this blog, they will!

The Good Reader:  Apart from the four of us — give or take — who make up your current readership?

The Blogger:  I’d like to dispute that figure. I’m not sure where you’re getting your numbers from. There are WAY more people than that reading this blog. I have readers in Canada, Australia, Scotland!

The Good Reader:  …and me. That makes four. Anyway, the point is that anytime you begin to make extravagant and ridiculous claims that are an appalling insult to the intelligence of your readers on this blog, you can depend on me to step in and inject a note of reality.

The Blogger:  And i can assure you that i — along with my thousands of other readers — value and appreciate that very much about you.

The Good Reader:  Thousands. THOUSANDS of readers.

The Blogger:  See you again soon, The Good Reader!  [pulls the plug on her]

 

…and, for the rest of you, my extensive international readership, i hope this little discourse has helped clear up any confusion you may have had about the subject-matter of this blog. Until the next time!

 

“I Know What You’re Doing…You’re Trying to Use LOGIC on Me!”

I have a friend from college days — let’s call him ‘Grog’ — who once shared with me (back in college days) the following highly amusing story.

‘Grog’ [not his real name] had apparently had a conversation with a freshman about… oh, who knows what. Knowing ‘Grog,’ it may have been politics, social theory, or theology. And apparently ‘Grog’ was having difficulty getting his argument to land home. He tried one approach, then another, but she just wasn’t connecting. At long last, however, after a frustrating and apparently fruitless series of attempts to put his reasoning across to the hapless lass, a look of recognition finally appeared upon the young lady’s features, as if she had awakened from a fearful slumber and was for the first time fully tuned in to the conversation. And she said:

“I know what you’re trying to do! You’re trying to use LOGIC on me!”

In Grog’s [not his real name] later recounting of the incident to me, he appended the following observation. “What was she wanting me to do?” he queried. “Go like this?”

And right there, in front of me, he plunged into a series of horrific full-body spasms that successfully communicated the idea of whatever it is that’s the clean OPPOSITE of logic.

I got it.

Personally, i would have much preferred logic. But there’s no accounting for tastes.

During the years since ‘Grog’ shared the story with me, i have often turned that incident over in my mind. There are people in this world… i know this sounds terrible, and i hate even to have to raise the subject, but sometimes unpleasant things must be talked about… there are people in this world who have somehow landed the impression that logic is a bad thing. Have you run into people like this? Their view of human life is as follows:

  1. Over here, in this corner, you’ve got the people who are cool, caring, creative, intuitive, interesting, connect easily with others, dance with unicorns, know how to have a good time, and, in short, are fully human.

  2. And in that other corner way over there, there are the people whose terrifyingly blackened innards are gummed up with LOGIC, and who are, as a result, really stuffy, cold, irritating, and, let’s just come right out and say it, evil.

One can hardly point out to them that such a setup is not logical. It simply wouldn’t have the intended effect. Yes? You can see the dilemma.

Here’s an example of the sort of thing i’m talking about. In 1979, the rock band Supertramp released a song (kind of a cool song, actually) called “The Logical Song.” The lyrics to that song are guilty of virtually every possible fallacious representation of what logic is really all about.

Here, you wanna listen? It sounds kind of like this:

 

Man, did you catch that? What a series of poorly-conceived pot shots! On the one hand you’ve got innocence, youth, freedom, wonder, and birdies singing. On the other hand, you’ve got intellect, responsibility, practicality, logic. You know: the BAD things.

Dearie me.

Here’s the thing. The idea that “being a logical, analytical person” is somehow the opposite of “being a creative, imaginative, intuitive person” is pure baloney.

And not even real baloney. No. The kind of baloney that’s made out of chicken scraps.

See, it’s possible to be BOTH logical / analytical AND imaginative / intuitive. My main man C.S. Lewis is a prime example (well, not anymore; he’s dead) of that sort of person.

It’s possible, on the other hand, to be NEITHER logical / analytical NOR imaginative / intuitive. Some people are just kind of dull and stupid and have very little going on down inside, in that place there where most of us have something going on.

And then of course, it’s possible to be logical / analytical WITHOUT being imaginative / intuitive, and vice-versa. But the point is, you can be any combination of them. It’s not as if those things are opposites. You can be both, or neither.

The same principle extends far beyond the accounting staff and the left-bank artistes.

You can be both tall and redheaded. You can be both funny and mechanically inclined. You can have blue eyes and drive a Toyota. You can live in Nebraska and play video games.You can eat your sandwiches with the crust trimmed off and enjoy the music of Bonnie Raitt. You can include the word ‘magnanimously’ in every sentence and have an Atlanta Braves baseball cap hanging from the wall of your bedroom.

Not every pair of attributes has to involve opposition.

Here, let me show you.

Human #1:  Just one moment, pal! Are you left-handed?

Human #2:  I…am. Yes. Is there a problem?

Human #1:  But i can plainly see that you’re wearing K-Swiss athletic shoes.

Human #2:  Ye-e-ess.

Human #1:  Well then!

Human #2:  Um.

Human #1:  Explain yourself, mister!

Human #2:  Whatever you’re trying to say is just flying right past me.

Human #1:  You can’t be left-handed AND be a wearer of K-Swiss shoes!

Human #2:: Uh. I sure can. Looky.

Human #1:  You, my friend, are an anomaly. A crime against nature. A freak.

Human #2:  I am not! What in the world.

Human #1:  The left-handed people are the opposite of the people who wear K-Swiss!

Human #2:  What!?

Human #1:  You can’t be both!

Human #2:  That’s ridiculous. A certain clothing style can’t be the ‘opposite’ of favoring one hand over the other. That’s like saying that salmon are the opposite of adjectives.

Human #1:  Salmon? Adjectives? I don’t understand your point. I think you’re just saying random stuff to fill in space because you’re embarrassed over being exposed.

Human #2:  Oh my word. Look. Look here. Is light the opposite of darkness?

Human #1:  Sure! Sure it is. Everyone knows that.

Human #2:  And is cold the opposite of heat?

Human #1:  Yup. Sure is.

Human #2:  So far, so good. Now, is “being grumpy” the opposite of “having a Facebook account”…?

Human #1:  There is no opposite to having a Facebook account. Everybody in the solar system has a Facebook account.

Human #2:  My mom doesn’t.

Human #1:  Seriously?

Human #2:  Mm-hmm. She stays in touch with people using traditional mail.

Human #1:  You’re kidding! Wow.

Human #2:  Anyway, i think my point is getting buried. How about this: Is “being grumpy” the opposite of “having an REI sticker on your rear windshield”…?

Human #1:  Um, no. I don’t think so.

Human #2:  And is “having a mole on your upper lip” the opposite of “living in an 1800 square foot bungalow in the northwest suburbs of Chicago”…?

Human #1:  Uh… i’m going with ‘no’.

Human #2:  See, unless two attributes somehow involve the negation of each other at the level of essence, you can’t say that they’re opposites. Most attributes aren’t opposites. They’re just differences: things that happen to be true in different ways.

Human #1:  Just one minute… i can see what you’re doing!

Human #2:: What. What am i doing.

Human #1:  YOU’RE TRYING TO USE LOGIC ON ME!

 

In Praise of Silly Inspirational Sayings.

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

Well, not really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CfyMtT7XEAEiM5B

Uh…no, they can’t.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Look Now, But Here Come Jennifer Smith and Little Biffy

About a year ago, we introduced you to the characters of Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith. Surely you remember: Little Biffy was the ten-year-old kid genius / committed student of philosophy, and Jen was the twenty-something business graduate who’d ended up in an unsatisfying job at a major insurance company. If your recall of that encounter is a bit hazy, you can go back and refresh your memory here.

What you may not have realized at the time is that it’s not uncommon for Jennifer Smith and Little Biffy to run into each other downtown and have lively philosophical discussions. She pretends to be annoyed with his dogged pursuit of answers and his insistence on precision, but the truth is that she secretly loves it. Not that there’s anything wrong with the world of business, and making an honest nickel while putting in a solid day’s work; but Jennifer has always had nagging questions about the meaning of existence that she couldn’t really share with most of her friends, so the Biff-ster provides her with an intellectual outlet. An intellectual outlet in the form of a ten-year-old. A ten-year-old philosopher. This is not a common thing. Nothing against ten-year-olds. But really, be honest — you were thinking the same thing. If you even try to deny it, you will lose all credibility. I would advise against it.

Well, you may want to fasten your seatbelt, because you’re about to find yourself right smack in the middle of another conversation between Jen and Biff — one that took place quite recently — at the Stone Cup coffeehouse right here in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

 

Little Biffy:  Well, i’ll be… it’s Jennifer Smith!

Jennifer Smith:  Why, hello there, Little Biffy! Wow.

Little Biffy:  It’s really nice to see you! This isn’t your usual haunt. You’re usually a Panera Bread kind of gal. I haven’t run into you here in a while.

Jennifer Smith:  No, you’re right — the last time we met here was that time you harassed me with confusing accounts of flockbinkers and other awful-sounding but, hopefully, nonexistent things. I wasn’t used to you yet. You were freakin’ me out.

Little Biffy:  Heh heh. I’m sorry you think that flockbinkers and wamwams sound awful. You sound really relieved to have concluded that they don’t exist!

Jennifer Smith:  No thanks to you. As i recall, you spent half the conversation trying to convince me that they DO exist.

Little Biffy:  Actually, your memory isn’t serving you very well on that point. I wasn’t trying to convince you that flockbinkers exist. I was just pointing out that whether they exist or not, and whether or not we even know what the term ‘flockbinker’ refers to, it’s okay to feature them in logical syllogisms.

Jennifer Smith:  I’m having scary flashbacks.

Little Biffy:  But we did end up learning a little bit about logic! That’s the bright side.

Jennifer Smith:  I don’t remember learning anything about logic. I remember a meandering conversation about flockbinkers and… mammals. We talked about whether all the mammals in the world could fit comfortably into the state of Alaska.

Little Biffy:  Well, not exactly. But i’m glad that our conversation at least made an impression on you!

Jennifer Smith:  You’re such an odd little fellow, Biffy.

Little Biffy:  I feel certain that you meant that as a compliment! Hey, since we’re both here again, how about we pick up where we left off with our discussion of logic!

Jennifer Smith:  Wow.

Little Biffy:  I’m glad you approve. So here’s a question: What is the importance of logic in daily life? Not just when one is talking about flockbinkers, wamwams and other critters of uncertain ontological status, but in the course of normal daily activities?

Jennifer Smith:  Hmm. Well, i suppose that depends on what you mean by “logic.”

Little Biffy:  That was a fantastic answer, Jen! It is okay if i call you “Jen,” isn’t it?

Jennifer Smith:  You’ve asked me that about fifty times. Yes, you can call me Jen. And i will feel free to call you “Mister Potato Head,” or whatever else comes to mind.

Little Biffy:  Well, that takes a long time to say, but if it’s really what you want to call me…

Jennifer Smith:  Ahem. Back to the question. What place does logic have in everyday life?

Little Biffy:  Right. Do we really need logic in the normal rhythms of living, or is it something special that can be safely consigned to “intellectual” pursuits?

Jennifer Smith:  Well, okay — again, i think it depends on what you mean by ‘logic.’ If you mean all the stuff about syllogisms and logical inference and whatnot, then i’d say those things have limited application. But if you just mean thinking clearly and making sense when we talk, then definitely — definitely a need in everyday life.

Little Biffy:  You’re making your Uncle Biffy proud.

Jennifer Smith:  That statement was disturbing in about ten different ways.

Little Biffy:  Indeed! Oops. Heh heh. So, Jen, would you care to elaborate? You’d say logic has application to normal everyday living? how so?

Jennifer Smith:  Okay. Here’s something. I’ve been following the current presidential campaign with stunned fascination. Every time you turn on the TV or log on to Twitter, it just gets even more bizarre. I can’t help thinking that if logic were more popular, then the whole climate of the country right now would be different. A thousand times better. Do you have a Twitter account?

Little Biffy:  I must confess i do not.

Jennifer Smith:  It’s just as well. You would be paralyzed with astonishment every time you opened up your Twitter feed. No logic to be found anywhere. It’s a logic wasteland.

Little Biffy:  If i didn’t know any better, Jennifer, Jen, i’d be tempted to say that you’re an apologist for philosophy in the public marketplace!

Jennifer Smith:  No. I just can’t stand it when people are talking past each other and making less than zero sense. It’s just so unnecessary.

Little Biffy:  Would you mind coming up with an example? But be careful. The Blogger likes to stay away from politics.

Jennifer Smith:  The…who? The Blogger? Biffy, what are you EVEN talking about?

Little Biffy:  I shouldn’t have mentioned that. It would be too hard to explain. The fourth wall must remain intact!

Jennifer Smith:  You’re making it worse. The fourth wall? What?

Little Biffy:  Never mind. Nothing. I didn’t say anything. I’ve been sitting here in complete silence.

Jennifer Smith:  You are SO strange.

Little Biffy:  Heh heh. Well, anyway. Um. Can you share an example of the kind of illogical public discourse you’ve found so frustrating in this election year? But just try not to, oh, you know, make it too specific.

Jennifer Smith:  Right. Because somebody called the Blogger doesn’t want his fourth wall breached.

Little Biffy:  Precisely! That’s exactly right! I didn’t think you understood.

Jennifer Smith:  Oh boy. Well, okay. Here’s something i see all the time. One person will make a political statement on Twitter or Facebook that sounds like a memorized slogan. Then another person will call that statement into question, and the first person will respond, not with an explanation, but with an insult and another memorized slogan. Or even just by repeating the same one again, as if that’s any kind of answer.

Little Biffy:  Terrific! That’s a good example.

Jennifer Smith:  It really bugs me, and i’m no philosopher. But how hard can it be to take someone’s objection seriously and address the point they’re making, as if you were actually listening?

Little Biffy:  How hard, indeed? Not hard at all, you’d think.

Jennifer Smith:  You’d think.

Little Biffy:  Well, what do you think might be the reason for this? Has public discussion always been characterized by this kind of belligerence and ignorance?

Jennifer Smith:  I don’t think so. I’ve studied enough history to know that political debate has always tended to get passionate, but it just seems like people used to be more articulate, used to be better able to argue sensibly, to actually engage the points other people were making.

Little Biffy:  I think that’s accurate, Jennifer. Do you have a theory to explain what’s happened?

Jennifer Smith:  Well, sure, i think it may be a combination of things. One of them is our educational systems. When i was in school, i don’t remember ever being taught about critical thinking. Not really. Not in any real sense. I was never taught how to put together a position and argue it… oh, gracious… you know… argue it logically. Stop grinning.

Little Biffy:  Let the record show that i did not say a thing!

Jennifer Smith:  You’re showing heroic restraint. But another thing is the whole popular culture. It just feels like we’re surrounded by an entertainment industry and a sea of media messages that discourage careful, reasonable thinking. It’s all, “follow your heart, do what feels right, have experiences, you do you, make it up as you go along,” whatever. No one seems to be saying that we should appeal to some kind of, oh, you know, structured understanding of what’s true and what’s not.

Little Biffy:  Logic.

Jennifer Smith:  Right. Sure. Logic.

Little Biffy:  Was there another factor?

Jennifer Smith:  Sure, i think so — there’s also the whole tech environment that has taken over our lives. I’m not even that old…well, compared to you i am… but i can remember a time before smart phones. We’re all slaves to our devices now, and people feel like they have to communicate in a way that’s quick and superficial, and in little bursts. Texts and tweets. I’ve got friends who even talk in statements that sound like texts and tweets.

Little Biffy:  You have tweet friends.

Jennifer Smith:  What? Was that an unbelievably bad pun?

Little Biffy:  It was. [turning red]  I’m sorry.

Jennifer Smith:  You little punster. Well, did i satisfy your need to talk about logic? Because this Patricia Cornwell story isn’t gonna read itself.

Little Biffy:  For now, i suppose. I’ll leave you and Ms. Cornwell to work out what needs to change in our society in order for logic to be returned to its proper place.

Jennifer Smith:  Mmm. I’m not sure how much help Patricia’s gonna be. She’s one of my guilty pleasures.

Little Biffy:  Well, carry on, Jennifer!

Jennifer Smith:  See ya, Little Biffy.

 

 

 

 

 

A Flockbinker Christmas.

Christmas Day is just around the corner, and The Blogger would like to take this opportunity to wish you (The Good Reader) and yours a very merry holiday!  ‘Tis the season to be jolly, and treadknicious, and all manner of other enjoyable things.

The association between Christmas and flockbinkers may not be immediately evident to the untrained observer.  Perhaps it would be helpful to cite the following passage, as declaimed by Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas:

“There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flockbinkers by night.”

In addition, there is the obvious fact that the term “treadknicious” rhymes with “season’s greetings,” a fact which cannot be entirely coincidental.

But at this point, the Good Reader is unable to restrain him-or-herself and cries out, “Wait wait wait.  Hold on.”

“Hmmm?”

“Even if we choose to totally ignore your somewhat rough treatment of sacred Scripture, i just CAN’T let that other thing slip by.  Season’s greetings does not rhyme with treadknicious.”

“Ah, but it does, o most excellent Reader.  You’re just not listening closely.  Sound the syllables out.”

“Tred – ca – nish – us.  See – zuns – gree – tings.  Not even close.”

“I heard it.”

“Stop that!  No you didn’t.”

“I heard it plainly.  An exact rhyme.”

“You’re a loonie.”

“Well, The Good Reader, we may just have to agree to disagree on this issue.  At any rate, i wish you the most treadknicious of holidays!”

“Y’know, Blogger-person, you never did explain to my satisfaction what ‘treadknicious’ means.  Maybe i don’t WANT to have a treadknicious holiday.  Maybe it means intestinal worms or something.”

“Eww!”

“Well, how would i know?  You toss around all these undefined words and you expect me to feel like you’re wishing me a happy holiday!  Maybe you’re really wishing that i’ll blow out a tire while skidding on ice, and hurtle through the air, and end up at the top of a Christmas tree.”

“Worse things have happened to people.”

“So that’s what it means?  Have the kind of holiday that i’ll need to call AAA to fix, in freezing weather?”

“No, not at all.  I’m just saying it wouldn’t be the end of the world if that DID happen.”

The Good Reader makes a face that i wish i could replicate on this blog, accompanied by an equally interesting sound, and then says, “Okay, so what does treadknicious mean?”

“Well, it depends.”

“I KNEW you were going to say that!  I knew it!  How did i know that?”

“Perhaps your facility for logical thought is becoming more finely-tuned?”

“Um.  I don’t think so.  I think there are other reasons.  For instance, your refusal to be pinned down and answer questions in a way that is even remotely satisfying.”

“Gosh, The Good Reader, that was kind of harsh.  Subtlety and cowardice are not at all the same thing.”

“Cowardice!  That’s the word i was looking for.  Thank you.”

“You wound me.”

“Oh, you’ll get over it.  Anyway, i can tell i’m not going to get any action out of you as far as defining treadknicious, so i’ll just accept your holiday greeting and hope it’s not something horrible.”

“That’s the Christmas spirit!”

“And, um, i hope you have a thwump-thwump New Year!”

“A thwump-thwump New Year?  What does THAT mean?”

“Aha!  Gotcha.”

“All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious… And Other Salient Observations” (the PechaKucha mix, Part 3)

Greetings, [The] Good Reader!  The last time we blogged together, we were taking a bit of a guided tour through the presentation i gave last week at Chattanooga’s PechaKucha Night, Vol. 19.  It was a sweet little presentation, by all accounts: charming, endearing.  It tugged at the heartstrings.  It warmed the inward parts.  Therefore, i feel very little compunction over devoting three blog posts to it.  The finer things are worth dwelling on at some length.

Thus far we have covered at least the first half of that storied PechaKucha presentation.  So perhaps we ought to pick up where we left off.

A little over halfway through the presentation, i sort of shifted gears.  We had devoted the first few slides (as you may recall) to laying the groundwork, addressing such questions as “what is a logical syllogism, and how does one work?” and “just what the stink is a flockbinker?”  But having established the basics, it was time to plunge into some serious logical dilemmas, paradoxes, puzzles, and meaty philosophical issues.  It was time to move into the deep end of the pool.  Is that what they call ‘adult swim’?  I’ve never been 100% sure what ‘adult swim’ refers to, and it’s an expression i hear ALL THE TIME.

We had just been talking about Realism and Nominalism as schools of thought in Medieval philosophy, espousing two different understandings of what category terms (or ‘universals’) are all about.  “The Medievals addressed all kinds of questions,” i continued.  “John Buridan [1295-1358] explored moral determinism when he told the story of a donkey standing equidistant between two equally yummy-looking bales of hay. It couldn’t think of a reason to choose one rather than the other, and died of starvation.”

Now, i’m afraid this is the point at which i need to bring up the rather unfortunate fact that someone appears to have tampered with my slides somewhere during the process of assembling them.  This has got to be what happened.  It’s got to.  I can think of no other explanation for the fact that several of the slides in my presentation were either irrelevant to the section of the lecture in which they were displayed, or worse, were downright ridiculous, or, just as bad, ironically undermined the argument advanced in my otherwise insightful remarks.

What you have to understand is that i was facing the audience as i talked, and the screen on which the slides were displayed was behind me.  Therefore, i could not see what was on the slides as i talked; i sort of just assumed that they featured the visual content i had put together: a series of helpful graphics illustrating the nature and structure of a logical syllogism.  Pretty bracing stuff, actually.  I guess you’d have to have been there.  But, well, no, and here’s the point: if you’d been there, you would have seen something OTHER than the incisive and informative slides i had so painstakingly assembled.

For instance: I honestly have no memory of putting together a slide featuring the cover art to Bruce Springsteen’s album Born in the U.S.A….you know, that iconic shot of the Boss’s blue-jeans-bedecked hiney… coinciding most regrettably with the part of the presentation in which i talked about the classic problem known to philosophers as ‘Buridan’s Ass.’   You know, the story John Buridan told about the donkey and the two bales of hay.  Ha ha.  Very funny, practical joker whoever you are.  I hope you can sleep at night.

And there were several slides of a similar sort.

There was a slide featuring a conversation between Alice and Humpty-Dumpty, on the nature of word-meanings.  Including a picture of Alice talking to Humpty-Dumpty, up there on his wall, from the original edition of the book.

There was a slide featuring a conversation between Jennifer Smith and Little Biffy, on why terms like “flockbinker” are suitable components of a logical syllogism.

There was a slide featuring a discussion of why Gandalf didn’t just get the eagles to fly Frodo into Mordor.

There was a slide featuring a picture of the Rolling Stones, with a caption listing them as “five key Medieval philosophers.”

There was a slide announcing the supposed production credits for the presentation, including the Executive Producer, the Producer, the Associate Producer, the Casting Director, the Gaffer, the Best Boy, the Dolly Grip (“this cannot actually be a real thing,” was the note attached to this entry) and ending with, “…and Susan Sarandon as herself.”

There was a slide featuring the floor plan to Hamilton Place Mall, for crying out loud.  Jeepers.  My word.  Jeepers.  Some people have entirely too much time on their hands.

I must confess, however, that the jarring disjunction between [at least half of!] the slides, and my spoken presentation, did in fact add an additional level of entertainment to the lecture, and the audience seemed thoroughly engaged.  [*sigh*]  Philosophy has fallen into a sad state when the chief reason for an audience to enjoy a lecture on logic and ontology, is that the accompanying slides are absurd and irrelevant and have pictures of Bruce Springsteen’s butt on them.  You will perhaps excuse my discouragement.

Having gotten that off of my chest, i will now take you through the remainder of the lecture.  After the disquieting part where i told about Buridan’s Ass, with Bruce Springsteen’s Levis unblinkingly staring out upon the audience, i went on to talk about some other philosophical puzzles, including the “Liar Paradox,” and the “Prisoner’s Dilemma.”  The Liar Paradox, if you don’t know, is a classic exercise in structured self-contradiction, and one well-known version of it goes something like this:

The sentence following this one is false.

The sentence preceding this one is true.

OMW.  “What are you gonna do with that?” i challenged the audience.  The gleefully intoxicated audience member we spoke of earlier called out, “I’m gonna chew off my own pancreas!”  At least, that’s what i understood her to be saying.  The pronunciation was a bit off.  At any rate, one can certainly sympathize with her in her chosen strategy for resolving the dilemma.  I doubt that YOU, o most excellent Reader, even when entirely sober, would be able to devise a better one.  The fact is, the paradox cannot be resolved, no matter what your blood alcohol level may or may not be.  Note, if you will, that if the first statement is true, then the second one is false, which would make the first statement false.  But if the first statement is false, then the second one would be true, thus rendering the first statement true.

Dang.

While they were still reeling from that one, i introduced the audience to another classic example of what, in philosophical terminology, is known as a “stump-em-good.”  This puzzle is known as The Prisoner’s Dilemma.  But hey, why listen to me tell you about it, when you can listen to me quoting myself telling somebody else about it?

“Here’s a modern puzzle in a similar vein: A man and his accomplice are being held for questioning in separate rooms. They cannot communicate to get their stories straight. Should the man confess and plead for mercy, or should he maintain his innocence? Much hangs on his prediction of what his partner will do.

“The ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’ is an example of Game Theory—the complex dynamics of decision-making. My choice, x, in relation to situation y, will be to some degree predicated on factor z. But z is influenced by other factors, including the probabilities regarding my choice, x. Whew! My head hurts already. Decision-making is hard.”

Zoinks.  That confuses even me, and it’s me talking about it.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, Good Reader; we are nearing the end of the presentation.  Following my discussion of Game Theory, i went on to focus specifically on ethical thought.  It seemed the thing to do at the time.

“But what about moral judgments?” i queried.  “Two ways of thinking about ethical choices would be the ‘teleological’ model, which says morality depends on what the result of the action will be, and ‘deontological’ ethics, which says a moral act is right or wrong based on the nature of the act itself.

“Ethical decisions are a lot harder when the moral ground is continually shifting under your feet. With moral relativism, there are no norms for virtuous action—everything depends on circumstance and context, attitudes and contingencies. Which takes us back to the medieval philosophers.

“The ‘realist’ school would say moral decision-making connects us to the larger architecture of reality; the Creator built a moral structure into the universe. A nominalist, on the other hand, would say that each moral choice is a distinct event, to be measured on its own terms.”

The one-two punch of this incredibly lucid presentation of ethical theory would have been even MORE impressive, had not the practical jokester who was tampering with my slides, inserted some of his most egregious howlers during this section of the presentation–including a slide noting that those responsible for tampering with the slides had been sacked, and then, a bit later on, inserting another slide claiming that those responsible for the sacking of the persons tampering with the slides, had themselves also been sacked.  Great.  Nice Monty Python reference, bozo.  Thanks for ruining my otherwise lovely and fluid discussion of the dynamics of moral decision-making.

Anyway, it was time to wrap.  Here is my (admittedly somewhat stitched-together) concluding coup de grace:

“…which, of course, takes up back to where we started, to the flockbinkers who may or may not be treadknicious, depending, to some degree, on whether or not they are real, and if so, in what sense.

“Well, hmmm, actually, the preceding discussion doesn’t even remotely lead us back to those wild and wooly flockbinkers and their uncertain ontological status—but the realities of time and circumstance unfortunately do. Thank you so very much!”

Thus endeth not only the PechaKucha presentation, but my present presentation of the PechaKucha presentation.  And so, if i may echo my own sentiment: thank you very much.

On our next post: a bit more about the somewhat abbreviated joke about those three storied Scotsmen sitting on a fence.

“All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious… And Other Salient Observations” (the PechaKucha mix, Part 2)

Well, let’s see.  When last we got together, you and i, a couple of days ago, for scintillating quasi-philosophical conversation while tossing back wildly overpriced coffee beverages featuring a somewhat aesthetically dislocating pumpkin spice theme and about five times more sugar than was really necessary, the topic was a presentation i had the pleasure of giving this past Friday night, at the 19th Chattanooga PechaKucha 20×20 Night.  My presentation at that event was about flockbinkers, a topic to which the public (in my view) has not had nearly enough exposure up to the present.  But we’re working on that.

So, the last time we talked, just the two of us, you, The Good Reader, and i, The Blogger, i was beginning to take you on a tour of some of the themes i touched on during the course of the presentation–all six minutes and forty seconds of it–these PechaKucha slideshow/lectures are notable for their brevity.  I gave you enough of a taste to whet your appetite for more, which is, indeed, why you’re back here reading right now.  So here’s some additional material that i shared with the audience on that fateful night.

It needs to be said, first of all, that since logic is no longer taught in the schools, and audiences aren’t as familiar with the idea of a logical syllogism as they once would have been, you kind of have to take them by the hand and gently introduce them to the basics.  (I’m sure you’ve run across people like this as well, and you know just what i’m talking about.)  So there was, of necessity, some of this kind of thing:

“You have to be paying attention.  Sometimes it’s all flockbinkers that are treadknicious, or just some, and sometimes none.  Now, if all flockbinkers are treadknicious, and no wamwams are flockbinkers, does it mean no wamwams are treadknicious?  Not necessarily.  Can’t something be treadknicious without being a flockbinker?  I’d say so.”

To my utter delight, at this point an audience member who had (i suspect) been availing herself of the adult beverages being offered at the back of the room, called out “Yes!” in answer to my question, “If all flockbinkers are treadknicious, and no wamwams are flockbinkers, does it mean no wamwams are treadknicious?”  Which provided me with a perfect platform for saying, “Not necessarily,” and continuing with the explanation.  My opinion regarding inebriation among audience members is undergoing something of a revolution.  Perhaps it should be encouraged to a greater degree than it has been in the past.  I’m just thinking out loud.

When you’re talking about flockbinkers to a crowd unaccustomed to such rich subject-matter, the almost inevitable problem of a vocabulary gap will arise.  After several brief logic lessons involving terms admittedly unfamiliar to the audience, i felt compelled to make the following concession to the sensitivities of my listeners:  “Now, i know what you’re thinking. ‘This guy is throwing around nonsense terms like wamwam and flockbinker, that don’t mean anything, and yet he claims to be talking about logic!’ Ah, dear concerned audience member, how can you be so sure they don’t mean anything? The nature of meaning is a bit tricky.”  Nice, eh?  Anticipate their objections and head them off at the pass.  Never allow the audience to feel as if they’re in the driver’s seat, that’s what i say.

Anyway, from that point we went from strength to strength.  Having addressed a variety of logical scenarios as encountered in several different syllogisms, we then moved on to address the ontological status of flockbinkers, a point which stands (for some people) near the very center of the discussion.

“Do flockbinkers exist?” I prodded them.  “What does it mean to ‘exist’?  Do unicorns exist?  No?  I bet you could describe one to me.”  (Did you catch that?  Huh?  Pretty nice, yes?  Mighty fancy footwork, if i do say it myself.  And given that this is my blog, i think it’s safe to say that anything said here is something that i will say myself.)  “If i said that a unicorn is a small slippery fish with twelve legs and a stinger, you’d cry out, ‘That’s not true!’  But of course it’s not true.  Unicorns don’t exist.”  Yes, i had them right where i wanted them.  They were in the very palm of my hand.

Having begun dealing with the issue of ontology, there was no turning back now.  “Some things that do exist are concrete entities (a Volkswagen, a toaster), and some things that exist are non-physical abstractions (justice, the number 37).  Could it be that the flockbinker is an abstract entity?   He exists as a concept, and AS such is real, even though he cannot be touched, taken for a walk or filled with water to the line indicated?”

Now, here’s the thing.  Once you begin saying things like, “‘x’ is not a concrete, physical entity; it is a concept,” there will always be a certain element in your audience–i hate to have to call these people out, but they do kind of make thigs rough for the rest of us–who will triumphantly say, “Aha!  Didn’t i tell you that ‘x’ wasn’t real?  And now he just admitted it.  You all heard him.”  If there were any such persons present in my audience the other night, to that person or persons i say, “Pah!”  And i say it again, for emphasis: “Pah!”  (I hope PechaKucha Chattanooga will excuse my rude manner of addressing someone who showed up at one of their events.  But i strongly suspect that PechaKucha Chattanooga is just as eager to root these people out as i am.)

But sadly, there will always be people who will confuse “real” with “tangible,” and such persons must be corrected at a level that they are able to understand.  Hence, my next series of observations:  “There ARE real things that don’t exist in the concrete world of our experience.  Elizabeth Bennet has a kind of reality; ask any Jane Austen fan.  Hercules and Thor both have a kind of reality, and in fact both have had movies made about them.  There is a kind of reality in fiction and myth.  The realm of the unicorn.”  Now, if you were addressing a society of philosophers, that’s not the sort of argument you would appeal to.  They’d never let you get away with it.  But when it comes to the sort of recalcitrant audience members we were holding up to critical scrutiny a few seconds ago, it’s the kind of argument you have to use.  It’s all these people are able to comprehend.  Thus has it ever been.  *sigh*

But having now cleared away some of the underbrush, we were then able to get on with some serious philosophical exploration.

“The reality-status of abstractions was a hot topic among the ancient Greeks.  Is a category of objects a real thing?  Is ‘tree’ real?  I don’t mean a physical tree, like the ones growing out there—i’m asking, does the concept ‘tree’ have a kind of reality?  Plato said yes; Aristotle had his reservations.”  Whoah.  Now we’re getting to the good stuff.  Just what DOES ‘real’ mean?  Is it only an individual physical thing that has reality, or do ideas have reality as well?  If i can refer to this tree as a ‘tree,’ and that tree as a ‘tree,’ and some other tree as a ‘tree,’ and a grove of dogwoods over there as ‘trees,’ then is there not something real about the concept ‘tree’ that enables us to apply it in so many different instances of objects that are not physically connected to one another?  Ah.

But then we continued:  “This same debate was picked up 1500 years later by the Medieval philosophers. The ‘realists’ thought category terms like ‘tree’ referred to actual realities; ideas were at least as real as concrete objects. The ‘nominalists,’ on the other hand, felt that only individual objects had reality, and category terms were just puffs of breath.”  Yes, you see?  We’re looking at two fundamentally different ways of seeing the world.  In the one case, you’re saying, “The term ‘flockbinker’ refers to a real thing if and only if it is physically, individually present to me right now and i can detect it with my senses.”  And in the other case, you’re saying, “Man, what a poverty-stricken world you must be living in, Mister Nominalist, if that is indeed your real name!  If you are unable to conceive of any realities other than physical bodies that are immediately present to your sensory apparatus, well jeepers, ya may want to join that gleefully imbibing audience member at the back of the room where the good stuff is being offered by the glass, because otherwise, i’m thinking reality must be a really empty place for you to be living in.”  Well, you probably wouldn’t want to be quite that harsh.  But you (and yes, i am assuming that you, The Good Reader, are able to see through the fallacious perspective offered by nominalism, and recognize that there are limitless varieties of abstract, spiritual, transcendent, and subjectively experienced realities populating the cosmos, beyond the mere concrete objects that the nominalist feels to be the sole inhabitants of the Real Universe) will need to devise some way of putting these people in their place, short of making possibly impertinent references to their ancestry and the circumstances surrounding their conception.

On that note, i think we’ll need to wrap up this installment.  Gosh, things have gone from fun and frothy to heavy and metaphysical, all within the confines of one blog post!  But that’s the sort of thing that can happen when you mess around with Stand-up Philosophy.  There’s no telling where it will take you.

In our next post, we’ll conclude our summary of the presentation that The Blogger (aka i, myself) offered at PechaKucha Night, Friday, December 5th, at 8:20 of the evening.

And following that, perhaps in the very next entry, there’s a very good chance… i’m just tossing it out there as a possibility… that we will see the re-introduction of the classic joke about three Scotsmen sitting on a fence.  There are good times ahead.  Can’t you feel it?  I can just feel it.

“All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious… And Other Salient Observations” (the PechaKucha mix)

Wowzers.  I can’t help observing that it’s been nearly a year and a half since i’ve posted to this blog.  Yikes!  I should be whipped with a lash woven from my own hair, and throttled with my own intestinal tract.  (If you think those punishments to be a bit harsh, just know that they were suggested by my most supportive fans.  I’d rather not go into what the less enthusiastic readers have said on the same subject, except to note that it involves tar, marshmallows, glitter, and an iPod loaded with nothing but Justin Bieber’s greatest hits.)

But on to less macabre topics.  Let’s talk about flockbinkers.

This seems to me a suitable topic for the present blog entry, not just because “flockbinkers” are the putative subject of this blog, but also because they were the topic of a presentation i gave last night at PechaKucha Chattanooga’s event “PechaKucha 20×20, Vol. 19,” hosted by the Society of Work, a very interesting organization that i had not previously been familiar with, but which served as an ideal venue for the event.

“Petcher-clutcher?” you say.  “You spoke at a petcherclutcher event?  Doesn’t sound familiar.  Just what are we talking about, here?”

PechaKucha is a type of public event that was first conceived and put on in Tokyo about a decade ago, but has spread around the world.  Lots of cities now have a PechaKucha association of some sort (over 700 at last count), and Chattanooga, being a particularly hip sort of mid-sized Southern metropolis, is not to be left behind.  At a PechaKucha event, each presenter (our PechaKucha Nights tend to feature about eight presenters per evening) shows 20 slides for 20 seconds each, and talks about them.  That totals out–in case math is not your strong point–at six minutes and forty seconds.  So you get 6:40 to talk about whatever it is that you’re passionate about.  And what i’m passionate about… well, one of the many things i’m passionate about… is flockbinkers.

But allow me to put it in my own words, a thing relatively easy to do on one’s own blog:

“These PechaKucha events tend to address community challenges and exciting new initiatives.  All very good and proper.  What i’m going to be introducing you to is somewhat different.  It’s a bit of what i like to call ‘stand-up philosophy.’  In the next six minutes / forty seconds, we’re going to blow through a range of issues, including an introduction to the structure of logical inference, and the truth-status of propositions; paradoxes, word games, and game theory; nonexistence, truth, and absurdity; and, at the center of it all, the ontological status of flockbinkers.”

Wow.  I couldn’t have put it better myself.

And ya know what?  We DID cover all of that in six minutes and forty seconds.  I ain’t a-joshin’ ya.  We really did.  You shoulda been there.

Ahem.  You REALLY should have been there.

We started out with a brief dip into how logic works.  “Here is a logical syllogism,” i helpfully observed, while displaying the syllogism in question on my slide.

“First Premise: All flockbinkers are treadknicious.

“Second Premise: All wamwams are flockbinkers.

“From these two premises we derive the conclusion:  Therefore, all wamwams are treadknicious.”

Ah, you’re beginning to wish you hadn’t missed it, aren’t you.  Hey, look, you snoozed, you loozed.  Here’s a further taste of the enlightening sort of stuff that the audience was regaled with:

“It’s easy to assume you know more than you really do.  Here’s a syllogism that might seem right at first, but on closer inspection, turns out not to be valid:

“1. Some flockbinkers are treadknicious.

“2. Some wamwams are flockbinkers.

“3. Therefore, some wamwams are treadknicious.

“Nope!  You see, the treadknicious flockbinkers might not be the same as the ones that are wamwams!  Hmmm!  Caughtcha!”

And it just got better and better.  That’s probably enough of a taste for now.  In my next posting, which may or may not occur within the next year and a half, we might go a bit deeper into the absolutely GRIPPING insights that our hungry audience was treated to in the brief course of our time together.

Excerpt from “The Last Philosophy Major: Conversations With Elvis Wu”

There’s an eccentric cast of characters that my students become familiar with, if they’ve been in the Foundations Collegium program for any length of time.  Some of the key players in this lineup would be Little Biffy, Fred Novice, Jennifer Smith, Stephanie Jones, The Monkey of Rational Thought, The Monkey of Illumination, The Monkey of Surrealism, and Tharg, the Primordial Man.  These characters make frequent appearances in lectures and discussions, class handouts, and rhetorical dialogues that i’ve generated in order to illustrate logical principles, the contours of certain controversial issues, etc.

[The Good Reader is doubtless brimming over with questions.  Do these people really exist, or are they fictional?  Are they symbolic archetypes that occupy a kind of ontological space that’s not easy to nail down… kind of like flockbinkers?  Mmmm.  Hard to say, hard to say.  Anyway, that’s not what this blog entry is about.]

At any rate, one of the oldest and most iconic of these characters is Elvis Wu, the last philosophy major.

Elvis is a Chinese-American philosopher (born and raised in Los Angeles) who claims (and who can doubt him?) to have been the last student ever to graduate from an American college or university with a philosophy degree.  This occurred back in the dark days, when philosophical thought was being systematically phased out of all the instutions of higher learning.

At some point in the not-too-distant future i’ll introduce you to Elvis more suitably, give you some background on him, and explain how he ended up with the impressive title “The Last Philosophy Major.”  For now, though, why don’t we just jump into the deep end of the pool and expose you to a conversation that he and i had once, many years ago?  Hmmm?

 

“I would like to tell you a story,” said Elvis.  “It’s a Zen story.  You are familiar, yes, with the account of Bodhidharma?  The Patriarch who brought Zen Buddhism from India into China?”

“Vaguely,” i said.

“You should be.  The story is well known.  I will save you the embarrassment of quizzing you about it.”

“Thank you,” i said through slightly clenched teeth.

“He was a great teacher.  His name means ‘the knowledge of the way.’  Bodhi, knowledge, and Dharma, the way or the true path.  Many stories have been told about him, and his name is considered by many to be synonymous with Zen.  In fact, when a student asks a Zen master the question ‘Why did Bodhidharma come to China,’ he is in reality asking the meaning of Zen.”

“Ah,” i said.

“Anyway, his successor Bodhifarma is not so well-known.  And my story concerns Bodhifarma.”

“I see.  You’re right, i can’t say i’ve ever heard of him.”

“Bodhifarma.  A truly unique figure among the Zen Patriarchs.  Do you know what the name means?”

“Well, no, i haven’t the foggiest.”

“It means ‘the knowledge of agriculture.’  Anyway, my story is about an encounter he had with one of his students.  The young fellow’s name was Looh Pi.  One day, the student approached his teacher with a question.  ‘Great Master,’ he said, ‘what is the way of enlightenment?  Is it the way of right knowledge, or the way of absolute emptiness?’

“Bodhifarma was at this time an old man and had grown somewhat deaf, so he said, ‘I do not understand.’

“Looh Pi was delighted with this answer, and replied, ‘Great Master, you have spoken well!  I now see that the way of enlightenment lies beyond rational comprehension.’

“Bodhifarma looked at him strangely, and said, ‘Your lips move, but there is no sound.’

“With a yelp of happiness, Looh Pi replied, ‘Yes!  It is so!  True awakening comes through the nurturing of silence.’

“Somewhat helplessly, Bodhifarma turned to another of his followers and said, ‘I can’t hear him.’

“Looh Pi clapped his hands together in ecstacy.  ‘Master!  Your insights fill my soul, as the waters of the Yangtze River brim its banks!  To become utterly deaf, to be closed off to the chattering noise of this illusory world—this is the true experience of the dharma.’

“Bodhifarma was getting exasperated.  He got in the student’s face and loudly said, ‘What? What?’

“Looh Pi thought this was the greatest.  He began leaping up and down, flapping his arms and shouting ‘What?  What?  What?’ and creating quite a scene.  A crowd was beginning to gather.”

Elvis paused a few seconds for effect.  I patiently waited.  Then he went on.

“At the end of his rope, Bodhifarma shouted at the lad.  ‘Your words are empty, they do not enter an old man’s head!’

“The student was running around, hooting like a peacock, and whacking himself and his fellow postulants over the head with a stick.  ‘I have achieved satori!’  he hooted.  ‘The universe opens before me like the fruit of the Banyan Tree!’

“Bodhifarma heaved one loud desperate sigh, meditated on the situation for a few seconds, and — unable to think of anything else to do — he pulled out a pistol and shot him.”

“He — wait a second.  You lost me.  Bodhifarma — shot him?”

“With a pistol.”

“So, this great Zen master just pulls out a weapon and blows the kid away.”

Elvis smiled to himself in a most irritating fashion. “That is right.  Do you understand the point of the story?”

“Well, uhm, no, Elvis.  I have to tell you that i don’t.”

“Good.  Let’s go get a strawberry milkshake.”

And Just a Teency, Weency Bit More About Flockbinkers

Throughout the first few posts to this blog, i, The Blogger, have made a number of references to ‘flockbinkers.’ An atmosphere of flockbinker-related expectation has been generated. On top of which, one cannot escape noticing that the BLOG is NAMED after flockbinkers. So, amid all this discussion of ‘flockbinkers,’ a reasonable person might be tempted to conclude that, at some point, someone is going to step forward and say, “Here’s what a flockbinker is. Because we know you’ve been wondering.”

Fat chance, sweetheart.

This post may be about as close as you’re gonna come to enjoying such a clarifying experience. (And i’m not sure how clarifying it’s going to be. Honestly, it’s mostly about unicorns. I’m just letting you know in advance.)

So, to begin with—while we’re on the topic of ‘clarity’—we need to clearly establish something: the flockbinker does not exist in the same way that you and i do.

“Aha!” exclaims the Good Reader, who has been waiting for an opportunity to pounce ever since his humiliation a couple of posts back.

(A Brief Excursus: Even though i keep insisting on referring to him by the pronoun ‘he,’ i strongly suspect that the Good Reader is, in fact, a ‘she.’ This is based on both infratextual, intertextual, and trans-textual evidence. But we digress.)

The Good Reader: Humiliation? That’s not how i remember it. I seem to recall bearing up nobly in the face of rude treatment, even though i was a guest on your blog. You should feel humiliation, for having publicly violated the most basic rules of hospitality.

The Blogger: Ahem, i think you were about to make some sort of point.

The Good Reader: Yes. I was about to say, “Aha! I knew all along that flockbinkers aren’t real!”

The Blogger: But they are real. Well, i mean, it’s sort of complicated.

The Good Reader: What’s complicated? Either a flockbinker exists or it doesn’t. We could ask its mom.

The Blogger: Ask its mom? You realize, of course, that (if the flockbinker is even the sort of entity that has a mom) the flockbinker’s mom would have to be a flockbinker as well, therefore the existence or nonexistence of flockbinkers could hardly be established by seeking out and interviewing their mothers. If they’ve got mothers, the mothers would, by definition, be flockbinkers, so there you go. On top of which, if a given entity ‘x’ is the mother of entity ‘y’ (a flockbinker), then entity ‘y,’ the flockbinker (the one with the mom) having a mom, must, of necessity, exist.

The Good Reader: I was kidding. Jeepers.

The Blogger: Oh. Right. Sorry.

The Good Reader: So you still haven’t explained how flockbinkers can kinda maybe exist.

The Blogger: I didn’t say that they ‘kinda maybe exist.’ I said that they do exist. Well, i mean, it’s complicated.

The Good Reader: You keep saying that.

The Blogger: Okay. So forget the ‘it’s complicated’ part. Flockbinkers exist. Period. End of story. They exist.

The Good Reader: Good. I like that – decisive. Now, since they exist, what are they?

The Blogger: Well, that’s where it starts to get sort of, er, um, uh.

The Good Reader: Complicated.

The Blogger: Yes. That.

The Good Reader: I don’t get how it can be ‘complicated’ that something exists. Call me a moron. Either things exist, or they don’t.

The Blogger: Okay. Let’s try something. Describe a unicorn for me.

The Good Reader: Well, it’s like a horse, and i think they’re usually white, but maybe not, and it’s got a single horn coming out of its forehead, and they like to hang out with virtuous young women, i don’t know why, and you can find them on Medieval tapestries, and if you grind up its horn into a powder you can do magic with it, and, and, i guess that’s about it.

The Blogger: Let’s ignore the fact that you kept alternating between the singular and the plural in referring to unicorns. The more interesting fact, to me, is that you were able to describe one.

The Good Reader: Why is that?

The Blogger: Because they don’t exist.

The Good Reader: Oh. I guess not. Well, i mean, kind of.

The Blogger: What’s that? I don’t understand what that means. “Oh i guess not well i mean kind of.” What does that mean?

The Good Reader: Never mind. You’re right, unicorns don’t exist.

The Blogger: Yet you were able to describe one.

The Good Reader: Uh-huh. Everybody knows about unicorns.

The Blogger: But they don’t exist.

The Good Reader: Right.

The Blogger: Yet you were able to describe one.

The Good Reader: Uh-huh. You know what, we could just record the past few seconds of this conversation, put it on an endless loop, and go grab some donuts and coffee, come back in a few minutes, and no one would ever know.

The Blogger: Unicorns don’t exist, yet you were able to describe one.

The Good Reader: …or, you could just neatly summarize the past few seconds of the conversation and save us the trouble of recording it to a loop. That’s less work for us. Good thinking.

The Blogger: But don’t you see?

The Good Reader: Mmmmm.

The Blogger: You were able to describe for me something that doesn’t exist!

The Good Reader: Yup.

The Blogger: How did you do that?

The Good Reader: How did i describe a unicorn? Easy! Who doesn’t know what a unicorn is?

The Blogger: I don’t. I don’t know what a unicorn is. Because a unicorn isn’t. There is no such thing as a unicorn. Or, we could use the plural, since you seem to like that just as well: there are no unicorns. No unicorns. Unicorns don’t exist.

The Good Reader: Mm-hmmm.

The Blogger: So what is it that you were describing?

The Good Reader: A unicorn! What’s wrong with you?

The Blogger: But there isn’t a unicorn to describe! You can’t describe a unicorn, because there isn’t one! There’s nothing to describe! You’re not describing anything! No unicorn, no description of a unicorn! No description! No unicorn!

The Good Reader: Calm down.

The Blogger: So is it complicated whether unicorns exist or not?

The Good Reader: Um… no. I don’t think so. Unicorns are fictional. Just because i’m able to describe one, that doesn’t mean they’re real.

The Blogger: How is that? How are you able to do that? What exactly is it that you are describing, if there is no such thing as a unicorn?

The Good Reader: Well, i’m describing… hmm. Pictures i’ve seen, and descriptions that i’ve read in books. I’m describing the way a unicorn is always portrayed in books.

The Blogger: This nonexistent unicorn that we’re talking about.

The Good Reader: Yes. That one. He shows up in a lot of books, and based on the way he is generally depicted, i think i can describe him to you.

The Blogger: And other people could do the same thing.

The Good Reader: Sure. Lots of people! Everybody knows about unicorns.

The Blogger: These unicorns that don’t exist.

The Good Reader: You keep harping on that, and i seriously don’t think you have a point. So what if they aren’t real? People can still know about them.

The Blogger: Know about what?

The Good Reader: Unicorns! I’m going to hit you.

The Blogger: I’d like to challenge your assertion that unicorns don’t exist.

The Good Reader: Hey, look, you’re the one who keeps repeating over and over that unicorns don’t exist. I’m just an innocent bystander.

The Blogger: Okay. Let’s pretend that i’ve changed my mind. Now i believe that unicorns do exist. Are you willing to agree with me?

The Good Reader: Uh, wait. I don’t get what you’re doing.

The Blogger: I’m saying that unicorns do exist, after all. And i want you to either agree or disagree with me.

The Good Reader: Wow. What is wrong with this guy. Okay, i’ll bite. I disagree. I don’t think unicorns really exist.

The Blogger: These unicorns that you and everyone else seem able to describe in great detail. They don’t exist.

The Good Reader: Well, they don’t REALLY exist.

The Blogger: Hah! Now we’re getting somewhere. So there may be a difference between something that exists, and something that REALLY exists.

The Good Reader: You’re exhausting.

The Blogger: So maybe unicorns do exist in one sense, while utterly failing to exist… to REALLY exist, as you so eloquently put it… in another sense.

The Good Reader: Sure. Okay.

The Blogger: And how about this. What if the unicorn doesn’t REALLY exist because he is not a physical, concrete, reified entity occupying a kind of physical-ontological space in the real world of real, concrete objects.

The Good Reader: Wow. Just wow. I have no response to that.

The Blogger: But what if he does exist in another sense: as an idea, a concept, an archetype; as an indispensable feature of our Western storytelling tradition; as a kind of placeholder in our collective cultural imagination; as a character on the stage of our literary-historical consciousness.

The Good Reader: Fine. That.

The Blogger: So if i were to ask you, “Is the unicorn real? Does he really exist?” you would be justified in answering either ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ depending on how you were able to nuance the question.

The Good Reader: Uh-huh. Sure.

The Blogger: So you were wanting to know whether flockbinkers exist.

The Good Reader: Uh…No. No, you must be mistaken. That never happened. I’m fine. We don’t have to talk about flockbinkers. Oh, will you look at the time! The hours just fly by, don’t they? Gotta run.

The Blogger: You can only temporarily defer this conversation, Good Reader. After all, i’m the Blogger, and i can re-introduce you into the dialogue anytime i want to.

The Good Reader2 : Well, that depends on whether you are addressing me as The Good Reader1, a completely fictional character of yours who enjoys no real existence outside of the blog, or whether you’re addressing me as The Good Reader2, an actual individual person who does exist in the real world and does, in fact, happen to be reading the blog at the present moment…(and you know who you are)….

The Good Reader3 : …or whether you’re addressing me as The Good Reader3, who really does exist—although it’s sort of complicated—as a kind of idea, an archetype, a placeholder in our collective imagination as readers and Bloggers, a character on the stage of our Calling All Flockbinkers consciousness.

The Blogger: Wait. What’s the difference between The Good Reader1 and The Good Reader3 ?

The Good Reader2: You’re supposed to be a philosopher. Figure it out.

Ouch. All i can say, Good Readers1-3, is that i shall now retreat to lick my wounds and await our next encounter. And when that day comes…may the best archetype win.

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