all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

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

Tag: Chattanooga PechaKucha 20×20 Night

“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.

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