all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

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

Tag: Jennifer Smith

Elvis Wu and Jennifer Smith Further Explore the Impossible Relationship between ‘Philosophy’ and ‘Social Skills’

 

Abstract:  This is part two of a dialogue that began several posts ago, between two of our thrice-worthy protagonists–Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major, and Jennifer Smith, budding philosopher-at-large. In the first part, the two of them talked about the nature of everyday conversation, and why it is that people approach it in the ways that they do. This time, the conversation moves to the even more interesting topic of whether philosophers are capable of having a normal conversation.


 

The scene:  Elvis Wu and Jennifer Smith have been talking for a while on the patio out in front of Panera Bread in downtown Chattanooga. The topic? Philosophy, philosophers, and whether these people know how to talk about the same normal things that everyone else talks about. They started out talking about typical conversational patterns, and now they’re moving on into darker territory: What DO the philosophers talk about, when you catch them in an unguarded moment?

 

Elvis Wu:  So here’s the interesting thing. Are conversations between philosophers substantially different from conversations between regular people?

Jennifer Smith:  Um. I guess? Because they’re full of lofty thoughts.

Elvis Wu:  Oohh! I like it.

Jennifer Smith:  So, do philosophers skip the small talk? What in the world DO they talk about?

Elvis Wu:  Well, you know, the usual: departmental politics, tenure tracks, the syllabus. That sort of thing.

Jennifer Smith:  Hardy har-har.

Elvis Wu:  Really, most philosophy professors talk about the usual kinds of things. That’s why i’d rather not use them as my examples of what philosophers are like. A real philosopher…you know, someone who actually lives it…would be more like your friend Little Biffy.

Jennifer Smith:  Dang it! Somehow i knew–i just knew!–he was going to come up in this conversation. I just knew it.

Elvis Wu:  Well.

Jennifer Smith:  I just knew it.

Elvis Wu:  The dude thinks things through, and he chooses his words carefully.

Jennifer Smith:  That he does.

Elvis Wu:  And he’s never afraid to call anything into question.

Jennifer Smith:  You’re right. That he isn’t.

Elvis Wu:  He’s a philosopher.

Jennifer Smith:  I guess he is.

Elvis Wu:  And he’s a really good philosopher. He’ll not let go of a question until he’s fully satisfied that he’s gotten an answer that makes complete sense.

Jennifer Smith:  [sighs]  Yes, you’re right about that.

Elvis Wu:  Yet you seem not to appreciate these exalted qualities of his.

Jennifer Smith:  Well… they can make conversation difficult.

Elvis Wu:  Hah! Conversation isn’t always supposed to be easy.

Jennifer Smith:  [muttering things under her breath that do not sound very nice]

Elvis Wu:  There there, Jennifer. You’re a philosopher too, you know. It’s just that your philosopher side is not your favorite side of yourself.  [smiles]

Jennifer Smith:  [mutters a few more things]

Elvis Wu:  And that places you in the weeny minority, and in highly exalted company!

Jennifer Smith:  [mutters a couple more things, but at least she’s smiling now]

Elvis Wu:  He’s a pretty sharp kid. You’re fortunate that he’s picked you out to be his friend. He doesn’t connect with most people. He obviously thinks you’re pretty smart.

Jennifer Smith:  [stops muttering things, but doesn’t stop smiling]

Elvis Wu:  [smiles back]

Jennifer and Elvis:  [just a couple o’ grinnin’ fools]

Jennifer Smith:  Okay. I surrender. So, can we get back to a point you were making a minute ago? About the differences between philosophers’ conversations, and the way regular people talk to each other.

Elvis Wu:  Sure. It’s an interesting theme to explore.

Jennifer Smith:  Um. Do philosophers talk about…the weather? Do they talk about professional team sports? Do they talk about men’s fashion? How about movies and books? I suppose yes, on the books. Do they talk about nerdy books, or the regular ones?

Elvis Wu:  Whoah! That’s a lot of questions.

Jennifer Smith:  And music! Do they care about music? Or art? Do they attend the ballet? Do they go to rock concerts? I have so many questions about what philosophers are interested in!

Elvis Wu:  Apparently.

Jennifer Smith:  I mean: if your life is all about digging into things and asking the tough questions, then is it possible to be interested in the normal things that everyone else is interested in?

Elvis Wu:  Well, you’ve piled up a bunch of stuff for us to examine. Why don’t we start on in, and let’s use our little friend Biffy as the archetype of a philosopher.

Jennifer Smith:  Um, okay. The little nerdo.

Elvis Wu:  He’s a perfect live model to make use of here, because we both know him and we’ve got some idea of what sorts of things he would talk about, think about, take an interest in.

Jennifer Smith:  Okay. I surrender. Little Biffy it is.

Elvis Wu:  You mentioned art, music, and dance. Let’s start there.

Jennifer Smith:  Sure.

Elvis Wu:  So, if Biffy were to express an opinion about the arts, what sort of opinion would it be, and what sort of basis would he have for it?

Jennifer Smith:  You’re asking ME?

Elvis Wu:  Sure. You’ve dialogued with him enough to know what kinds of approaches he’s likely to take in the analysis of an idea.

Jennifer Smith:  [sigh]  I guess so. Well, let’s see. Biffy might say something like, “What is the purpose of art, and does this particular sculpture serve that purpose?”

Elvis Wu:  Marvelous! I think you may be on to something.

Jennifer Smith:  And then he might say, “This sculpture, for instance, looks like a lobster whose innards were blown out by a hand grenade and then swept into a little pile. In what way does this serve the purpose of sculpture as an artistic medium?”

Elvis Wu:  You’re nailing it. I almost feel like he’s speaking through you.

Jennifer Smith:  [smiles]  And then he would say, “If a sculpture is supposed to represent some aspect of the concrete world, then this one has failed. But might there be other aspects of reality that the sculptor was attempting to capture?”

Elvis Wu:  Wow. Go on.

Jennifer Smith:  And then he might say, “Why don’t we start by laying down some definitions. What do we mean by the term ‘art,’ and what are we saying when we claim that a given work of art is ‘good’?”

Elvis Wu:  I’m in awe. It’s almost as if you ARE Little Biffy.

Jennifer Smith:  I’ve had enough conversations with him by now, to guess where he might go in our little scenario.

Elvis Wu:  You’re doing great. So, let’s stop there, and examine what he’s said so far.

Jennifer Smith:  The little dude’s barely getting started.

Elvis Wu:  [laughing]  I realize that, but you’ve already given us some good material to start with.

Jennifer Smith:  Good-o.

Elvis Wu:  So, one of the things he’s wanting us to do is to start out with definitions. How very Socratic! Our man Socrates would have done exactly the same thing. What is art? And what does it mean for something to be good? If we’re not clear on these two things, then the whole discussion turns out to be pointless.

Jennifer Smith:  But doesn’t everyone just sort of intuitively know what art is? I’m not Biffy right now, i’m me. Forgive me if it’s a stupid question.

Elvis Wu:  [laughing]  Not at all! The majority of people would probably say something similar. So, here’s my response. My little nephew recently created an art installation that involved some play-doh, a pile of weeds from the back yard, and one of his own bowel movements.

Jennifer Smith:  Eewww!

Elvis Wu:  Right, right! So, how should we approach this body of material… as an art object? As a pile of nonsense? Or something else?

Jennifer Smith:  You’re not being fair. Most art isn’t like that.

Elvis Wu:  It’s astonishing, the range of material that’s being offered to the public these days, under the title of ‘art’.

Jennifer Smith:  Um, okay. I guess that’s true. So how WOULD we define art?

Elvis Wu:  Well, i suspect our young friend Biffy would say something like, “Let us define ‘art’ as that which has been created not primarily for its usefulness, but in order to satisfy our ideas of what constitutes ‘beauty,’ or, at any rate, ‘the visually interesting’.”

Jennifer Smith:  Okay, i give up. You’re way better at channeling the Biff-ster than i am.

Elvis Wu:  Ah, i have learned from a master! So do you like the definition?

Jennifer Smith:  Sure, i guess. I’d have to think about it for years to really decide whether i agree fully with it or not. So let’s just say: yeah. It’s a good definition.

Elvis Wu:  Honestly, it’s as good a definition as we’re likely to come across anywhere in the literature on art, or philosophy–or, for that matter, philosophy of art.

Jennifer Smith:  [smiles]  I’m not even going to ask you if there’s really such a thing as “philosophy of art.”

Elvis Wu:  Oh, there are branches of philosophy for everything. Philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of knowledge, philosophy of education, religion, history. Every academic field has a corresponding body of philosophers who’ve taken an interest in that particular area of study… but they approach it as philosophers, not as scientists or religious leaders.

Jennifer Smith:  I mean, wow. I had no idea that the field of philosophy was so diverse!

Elvis Wu:  That’s a whole conversation by itself, and we probably want to get back to the one we were having–about art, examined philosophically.

Jennifer Smith:  Wow. But okay.

Elvis Wu:  So, Biffy–that is, you playing Biffy–also wanted to know what would be a good definition for a ‘good’ work of art. Even if we can establish what art is, in general, how do we decide whether a particular work of art is a ‘good’ one?

Jennifer Smith:  Yeah, wow. That *is* a good question.

Elvis Wu:  Everyone’s heard of the Mona Lisa, and Michelangelo’s David, and maybe a painting or two by Picasso. What sets these monumental works of art off as examples of what art can be, at its best?

Jennifer Smith:  Wouldn’t you have to have a degree in art, or something, to even begin to be able to talk about that? I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

Elvis Wu:  Certainly, it’s a complex topic. And maybe we don’t need to get into it for now. What we were trying to do, if you recall, was to figure out what a properly ‘philosophical’ approach to things would look like, and i think we’ve at least made a start at finding out.

Jennifer Smith:  You’re letting me off easy.

Elvis Wu:  Well, to be honest, i’ve got a class coming up in a bit, and i need to get over to the university. Which means you’re off the hook for now.  [smiles]

Jennifer Smith:  Um, do you think we might be able to pick this conversation back up at some point? It was starting to get interesting.

Elvis Wu:  Well, you really ARE a philosopher, aren’t you!

Jennifer Smith:  Um. Maybe. I think the jury may still be out on that one.

Elvis Wu:  Well, when the jury convenes again, we shall discuss the philosophy of art in more detail! For now, mademoiselle: adieu, adieu, adieu.

Jennifer Smith:  Um, adieu right back at you, dude.

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Smith and Elvis Wu Talk About Whether ‘Philosophy’ and ‘Social Skills’ Are Mutually Exclusive Categories

 

Abstract:  So here’s a challenge for ya. Imagine a philosopher. Got him? Okay. Now imagine him entering into a normal, everyday conversation with someone. What, you say you can’t imagine that? Well, my dear reader, you are not alone. There are vast numbers of people out there who have no idea what philosophers talk about when they’re not philosophizing. Perhaps, then, this blog post will be of help to you. Because, please understand, Elvis Wu is the consummate philosopher…but he knows how to talk about all manner of things.


 

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Jennifer Smith is hanging out on the front patio at the Panera Bread in downtown Chattanooga, sipping a latte and reading something by Debbie Macomber. (If you were to ask her, “So what’s the title of the book you’re reading?” she would roll her eyes at you. She would probably not even know the title. She doesn’t typically make her reading selections based on their substantial content…and she figures that the title is more or less randomly chosen anyway.) However, when Elvis Wu spies her sitting at her table on the sidewalk, the first thing that pops into his mind is not the title of her book. He is, as ever, focused on matters of greater substance.

Elvis Wu:  Well, if it isn’t Jennifer Smith! Fond greetings to you!

Jennifer Smith:  Er, “fond greetings” to you as well, Elvis.  [she smirks playfully]

Elvis Wu:  Hah! Do you take exception to my somewhat unusual salutation? I guess no one else says “fond greetings.” Yet it’s precisely what i meant.

Jennifer Smith:  It’s okay. At least you didn’t say, “I choose to greet you with fondness in my heart,” or something extra uber-nerdy like that.

Elvis Wu:  [contemplative]  Wow, that one was really good. I’ll have to file it away for future reference.

Jennifer Smith:  Rar rar rar. So what are you up to today, good sir?

Elvis Wu:  It’s a beautiful afternoon, no? So i’m just walking about the downtown area soaking up some rays before the really wintry weather sets in.

Jennifer Smith:  Good plan. I guess that’s sort of what i’m doing, as well. You got big plans for Thanksgiving?

Elvis Wu:  Oh, i’ll be getting together with some friends for our own version of a Thanksgiving feast.

Jennifer Smith:  Sweet.

Elvis Wu:  And you?

Jennifer Smith:  Thanksgiving dinner with the fam. We all sort of live around the Chattanooga area.

Elvis Wu:  Nice! Well, i hope you and your family have a delightful holiday.

Jennifer Smith:  Thanks. I guess you’ll be spending your holiday wishing “fond greetings” to people.

Elvis Wu:  Well, probably something along those lines. Do you approve?

Jennifer Smith:  You know, it’s funny. We do have all these accepted ways of talking to each other, that have sort of developed as fixed conversation patterns. And even slight departures from the basic “hi, how ya doin” sort of thing really do come off as odd. I just never really bother to think about it.

Elvis Wu:  A terrific observation! I like to mess with those conversation templates a bit, when i think i can get away with it, to shake people up a bit–get them out of their fixed ways of thinking about conversation.

Jennifer Smith:  No wonder you seem to have a somewhat limited friend pool.

Elvis Wu:  Mmm. Mm-hmm.

Jennifer Smith:  I’m sorry–that didn’t come out the way i intended it to.

Elvis Wu:  No, it’s okay. You’re right. I choose my friends carefully, and not usually on the basis of whether they know how to talk like regular people.  [smiles]

Jennifer Smith:  Gosh, i just don’t know if i could be that committed. When i’m talking with someone, i don’t want to have to think through every single thing i’m saying to make sure it’s fresh and original and…

Elvis Wu:  Genuine?

Jennifer Smith:  Owch. Touché. Sure, okay–genuine. We all have these conversational patterns that we’ve learned–it sure does make talking with people a lot easier than if we had to come up with brand new stuff every time.

Elvis Wu:  I get that. And, really, the whole idea of “social skills” is largely attached to whether a person has mastered those ready-made templates for conversation. Philosophers, regrettably… [he smiles sadly] …tend not to have the reputation for making use of the regular conversational patterns that everyone else does.

Jennifer Smith:  Well, i mean, you’ve got excellent social skills. But then, i don’t think you represent all philosophers very well.

Elvis Wu:  Shall i interpret that as a compliment?

Jennifer Smith:  By all means.

Elvis Wu:  So. I wonder if it’s possible to be a true philosopher, and at the same time have excellent social skills?

Jennifer Smith:  Gosh, i don’t see why not. In principle, y’know? Philosophers like to talk about real stuff, real issues–but surely that can be done without wierding out the people you’re talking with.

Elvis Wu:  Fair enough.

Jennifer Smith:  Y’know, i have wondered sometimes–what it would be like if people had conversations based on what they were really thinking and feeling. So much of the stuff that we say to each other really does seem to be memorized junk. I do it. We all do it. Well, not you.  [she scowls at him]

Elvis Wu:  [laughs]  Why don’t we try an experiment?

Jennifer Smith:  Er, an experiment? Like what?

Elvis Wu:  Like, let’s try to have a regular sort of conversation, and analyze it as we go along.

Jennifer Smith:  Oohh. I do not EVEN know about that.  [she smiles]  But sure.

Elvis Wu:  Okay. Why don’t you start? Pretend that you just walked up to me, and you want to initiate a conversation. Do you start with a greeting?

Jennifer Smith:  Uh–sure. I’d say, like, “Hi, how’s it going.”

Elvis Wu:  Whoah, stop, stop! We could spend the next half hour just analyzing that!

Jennifer Smith:  Oh golly, let’s not. Please.

Elvis Wu:  [laughing]  Okay. Let me just make a couple of observations.

Jennifer Smith:  Fire away.

Elvis Wu:  First, there’s the word “hi,” which essentially doesn’t mean anything. Think about it. What does “hi” mean? It’s basically a way of acknowledging the other person. “Hi,” “hello,” “greetings,” etc. are basically just ways of saying, “I acknowledge your value and the relevance of your presence in my life,” something like that.

Jennifer Smith:  OMG. I do not even.

Elvis Wu:  [laughing]  And then there’s the part where you said, “how’s it going.”

Jennifer Smith:  Mmm-hmm. And now i’m thinking, i have no real idea what that means.

Elvis Wu:  Ah! Well, perhaps it means something like, “I wonder what the–long or short, depending on the circumstances of the conversation–table of contents of your life would feature, were you to lay it out for me.”

Jennifer Smith:  Elvis, you are so weird.

Elvis Wu:  [laughing again]  Oh, it’s probably gonna get worse. So then, if i were a normal sort of person, i might reply to you, “Oh, nothin’ much. You?”

Jennifer Smith:  Mmm, that sounds right.

Elvis Wu:  Which is a completely wasted opportunity to talk about real things, but we can set that to one side for now.

Jennifer Smith:  Good. Please.

Elvis Wu:  So it’s basically just a reflexion of what the first person said, and we’ve already covered that.

Jennifer Smith:  [breathes a sigh of relief]

Elvis Wu:  So then, what would you say next?

Jennifer Smith:  Um, i might say, “Not a whole lot.” Or, if i really wanted to talk about what’s going on in my life, i might mention something specific, like, “Well gee, i just got a raise! That’s pretty cool.”

Elvis Wu:  Nice! You’ve provided two possible branches the conversation might take. The first one isn’t very interesting, so let’s pursue the second.

Jennifer Smith:  Okay.

Elvis Wu:  If i’m really interested in you, and the circumstances of your life, i might pursue the idea of your raise. How much? Was it for doing good work? Will it enable you to expand your household budget?

Jennifer Smith:  People don’t usually go into all that.

Elvis Wu:  No: Because people usually aren’t all that interested in learning about what’s going on in your life. Sad but true.

Jennifer Smith:  Harsh!

Elvis Wu:  Am i wrong?

Jennifer Smith:  Er, well, not really. Most conversations take only a few seconds, and don’t go into any real detail at all.

Elvis Wu:  Well. So if i’m really interested in you as a person, i might pursue the details of your job situation. But if i’m not, or if time is limited, i might just say, “Sweet! That’s great.”

Jennifer Smith:  Sounds about right.

Elvis Wu:  And what would you say in response?

Jennifer Smith:  Well, maybe something like, “And what’s up with you?”

Elvis Wu:  Perfect! And, again, if they really feel like engaging you, they might come up with something interesting that’s going on in their life. Otherwise, they’ll probably just say, “Aw, nothin’ much.”

Jennifer Smith:  Yeah, that’s pretty much how it goes.

Elvis Wu:  And that takes us to the exit point, if the two people aren’t really interested in pursuing a real conversation, or they haven’t got the time. So one of ’em might say, “Well, all the best to ya!” And the other one might reply, “Sure, man, you hang in there!” Both of which could be translated, roughly, to mean, “I hope your future circumstances are consistent with your best plans and hopes,” something like that.

Jennifer Smith:  Something like that.

Elvis Wu:  And then they go their separate ways.

Jennifer Smith:  My word.

Elvis Wu:  Such a funny thing, conversation.

Jennifer Smith:  Y’know, from now on i’m going to be terrified–well, maybe half terrified, and half curious–about what you’re really thinking when we chat.

Elvis Wu:  Ah! Such a feeling of power.  [clasps his hands under his chin after the fashion of someone named “Smedley” or “Igor”]

Jennifer Smith:  Dude, you are SO strange, i cannot EVEN.

Elvis Wu:  [laughing heartily]  I assure you, my thoughts are nothing but charitable toward you, even when you’re talkin’ ’bout nothin’.

Jennifer Smith:  [smiles]  Well, that’s comforting. Sort of.

 

 

Let’s Go Through a Whole Post Without Once Mentioning Flockbinkers

 

Abstract:  In which our cast of characters–in a decided departure from common practice–attempt to go for an entire blog post without once saying the word… well, you know, THAT word. The word. The word floc… ooohh, you know. The word. THAT one.


 

The Blogger:  [addressing a small group of people gathered in his living room]

So hey there, fellas. Thanks for coming! I wonder if each of you would mind glancing down at the piece of paper that you’ve been handed. It explains the one big, basic ground rule for this particular post. Note that your attention is being called to one word in particular: the one word that none of us is going to use in this here blog post.

Jennifer Smith:  Blog post? What blog post? Biffy, what does he mean by ‘blog post’? He’s making strange remarks again. I’m already feeling disoriented.

Little Biffy:  Just roll with it. Pretend he’s talking about a “log post” that you tie your boat off to, right when you’ve returned from a satisfying morning of fishing.

Jennifer Smith:  You just made things ten times worse. NOW i seriously do not EVEN.

Little Biffy:  Oops.

Jennifer Smith:  No, come on. Log post? I’m feeling disoriented.

Little Biffy:  Heh heh. Forget i said anything. Post? Where’s the post? I don’t see a post. Nobody said anything about a post. There’s no post. Not a post in sight.

Jennifer Smith:  [begins breathing heavily; her eyes start to roll back in her head]

The Good Reader:  It’s okay, Jennifer. Here, come sit next to me. We can be sensible together in the midst of a whirlwind of chaos and nonsense.

Jennifer Smith:  Thanks, sort of. Um.

Elvis Wu:  [gazing intently at the note he’s been handed]  Ahh! So we are to conduct ourselves normally, except that there is one word, one particular word, that we may not, under any circumstances, allow ourselves to say.

The Blogger:  Precisely.

Elvis Wu:  And that word is Flo–

The Blogger:  [with hands over ears]  Aaaahhh aahhhhhhhhhhh aaaaaaaaaaaahh aaahhh aaaaaaaahhhhhh aahh aaaaahhhh…

Elvis Wu:  Just kidding, my good man. I just wanted to see what you would do. That reaction was actually a bit more interesting than whatever i was expecting.

Aristotle:  Hmmm. Interesting. I can’t help thinking… hmmm.

The Blogger:  [consumed with curiosity–after all, this is ARISTOTLE we’re talking about]

Um, yes? What’s on your mind? Something profound and philosophically spiffy, i’ll bet!

Aristotle:  Well, it’s just that, if we were to think of all human behavior, or perhaps all human tendencies of personality…

The Blogger:  Yes, yes, hmmm?

Aristotle:  …as being laid out on a kind of grid, with one sort of extreme at one end, and the opposite extreme on the other end, and a satisfying, happy medium in the middle…

The Blogger:  Uh-huh, yes?

Aristotle:  Well then, we… hmmm. I’ll need to put a bit more thought into this one.

Confucius:  Sounded like you were on a roll there, o most eminent among Greeks. Don’t let that one drop. I think it’s going to lead somewhere.

The Buddha:  First we go through the fire, then we go through the water, and then we go through the, um, the wasteland of ice, and then we go through, uh, umm, the place where, uh, earwigs come from, and then, then, uuhhh… that bottom dresser drawer that we rarely open and there’s no telling what’s in there.

Confucius:  The wise man know when to remain silent; the fool go on and on about ridiculous fire and earwigs and other nonsense.

The Buddha:  Bearded Greek is allowed to make no sense, but not the Lord Buddha?

Confucius:  Sometimes we must take one for the team.

The Buddha:  Um, okay. Not fair.

Scotsman #2:  My bonnie lies over the ocean.

The Good Reader:  Wait. What?

Scotsman #2:  My bonnie lies over the sea.

The Good Reader:  No. Stop.

Scotsman #2:  My bonnie lies a couple of blocks past 57th street, but you gotta jog left when you get to that stop sign where it looks like the road comes to an end, but it really doesn’t.

The Good Reader:  He can’t even hear me. Hello! Hello!

Scotsman #2:  Oh bring back a couple of ham loaves, some ginger and cinnamon and clove, a box of cigars, two earwigs…

Confucius:  Again with the earwigs! What is this, National Earwig Day?

Scotsman #2:  …and maybe one of those oversized lollipops with all the colors in them.

The Good Reader:  Of course.

Scotsman #2:  [triumphantly]  …to ME.

Your Mom:  [enters]  Hi, i hope i’m not late! It was really sweet of y’all to invite me.

[The Blogger hands her one of the explanatory cards, which she glances at for half a sec and then stuffs into her purse]

The Blogger:  Welcome, Someone’s Mom–perhaps yours! Well, i mean, not YOURS [glancing at Your Mom] but probably someone else’s. As long as you’re prepared to observe our one simple rule, come on in and join the party!

The Good Reader:  The joint’s rockin’. You got here just in time.

Jennifer Smith:  I still don’t understand what he meant by the word ‘post.’ Isn’t this bothering anyone else?

Little Biffy:  Think of a ‘post office.’

Jennifer Smith:  Is there a word that means “the opposite of a helpful comment”…? Cause that’s the word i’m looking for right now. [Gazes menacingly at Little Biffy]

Elvis Wu:  Biffy’s a good fella. He means well. Perhaps we ought to be thinking of ‘post’ as meaning, in the present context, something like, “that bounded range of trans-rational yet rule-bound [within a subjectively established set of expectations] experience, in which The Blogger is able to enact any one of a potentially infinite number….”

[Jennifer, bless her heart, has summarily yet placidly passed out cold by this time]

Your Mom:  So, okay–[glancing again, oh so briefly, at the card she was handed]–sorry, i’m just curious–what ARE flockbinkers, anyway?

The Blogger:  Dammit! Oops. Sorry.

The Good Reader:  Okay, calm down. It’s not an emergency that someone said the word “flockbinker.”

The Blogger:  Oooff! Stop that!

The Good Reader:  It just means we can start taking ourselves a bit less seriously about this admittedly stupid blog post.

The Blogger:  Doggone it!

Your Mom:  Did i say the wrong thing? I just wanted to know a little bit more about these, what did you call them? FLOCKBINKERS.

The Blogger:  [hacking, gagging, hopping about on one foot]

The Good Reader:  Oh, come on. You know i’m right. Setting yourself the goal of having a blog post in which no one says the word “flockbinker”–

The Blogger:  Owww! No! Cut it out!

The Good Reader:  –ranks waay down on the list of significant things for you to be concerned about.

Your Mom:  Am i pronouncing it right? Flok – bing – ker?

The Blogger:  [the agonized eruption of a thousand dying suns upon his face]

The Good Reader:  Now now. Be nice. She’s your guest.

The Blogger:  But doggone it, The Good Reader, it’s MY blog–i should be the one determining what people do or don’t say on it!

The Good Reader:  You just go on believing that. We all need something comforting to hold on to in the darkest days of winter.

Jennifer Smith:  But it’s summertime. Well, okay, as of a few days ago, it’s fall. As if you could tell that from these temperatures.

Little Biffy:  Which leads us, if you think about it, to this ultimately arbitrary (and really, somewhat unhelpful) cultural habit of ending ‘summer’ and beginning ‘fall’ on the same day–well, you know, basically–every year, as if the annual shifts in temperature and seasonal dynamics…

The Blogger:  [to everyone’s consternation, he begins to expand, turn green, sort of roar–sort of–kind of loudly, and transform into The Incredible Hulk]

Elvis Wu:  Now there’s something you don’t see every day. Great party, guys!

 

 

Epilogue

[A few hours later. The room has pretty much cleared out.]

The Good Reader:  You’ve thrown another winner, buddy!

The Blogger:  [sniffling]  It was awful.

The Good Reader:  Oh, come off of yourself. You have the worst attitude. I think they all liked it. It was fun!

The Blogger:  It was an unmitigated disaster. I throw the worst parties.

The Good Reader:  What! You’re a weenie. Buck up. Everyone had a great time. [a glint in her eye]  Especially Your Mom. My goodness, i don’t think i’ve ever heard anyone say the word ‘flockbinker’ that many times in a single setting! She was great.

The Blogger:  [gazes, glumly, a man bereft of hope, off into deepest space]

 

What IS a Flockbinker, Really? The Philosophers Weigh In

 

Abstract:  One of the ongoing challenges we’ve experienced in association with this blog, is the fact that some of our most essential vocabulary never seems to have been defined. Flockbinker? Wamwam? Someone’s Mom? Perhaps even yours? The assembled throng furrow their brows; heads incline with justifiable concern; someone passes out and falls over from the mental strain. So we’ve brought in some brainy types to see if this problem can be rectified. These include some of the leading luminaries in the history of philosophical thought, as well as some of our regulars here on the blog. This exchange ought to be a real treat.


 

The Blogger:  Okay, fellas, so here’s the question. What is a flockbinker?

Ludwig Wittgenstein:  A flockbinker is all that is the case, in that particular realm of discourse in which the term ‘flockbinker’ is applied as relevant.

Rene Descartes:  [Scoffing in a particularly French manner]  That was ridiculous and did not mean anything.

Ludwig Wittgenstein:  Your Mom is ridiculous and doesn’t mean anything.

Rene Descartes:  [Deliberately ignoring this remark]  Rrmff. I would say that a flockbinker is that which (in its capacity as a flockbinker) thinks the thoughts of a flockbinker, and therefore, is, a flockbinker.

Ludwig Wittgenstein:  Wut.

Rene Descartes:  Well, it was better than that stupide thing you said.

Plato:  Okay. Here it is. In order to ascertain what the term ‘flockbinker’ applies to, we must first determine whether we are talking about a feature of the ultimate realm, or merely an item in the world of appearances. Of course, if a flockbinker is a feature of the Real world–that realm from which the world of our ephemeral appearances derives–then it will of course have its analog in the world of our perceptions.

Rene Descartes:  [mutters]  That, too, was ridiculous and did not mean anything. These people who have chosen to call themselves philosophers!

Francis Bacon:  Well, what Plato calls the “world of appearances” is simply reality. Let’s strip away the foolish hocus-pocus. If a flockbinker can be demonstrated to exist–if he is available to our senses in the world of the real and concrete–then he is a real object. We cannot begin the discussion of his attributes until we have settled the issue of his existence.

The Blogger:  Well, of course he exists! He’s at the very center of what this blog is about!

[Francis Bacon looks the Blogger up and down in the way that one would examine a particularly fascinating centipede.]

William James:  Well, you know, this Plato fellow made a helpful distinction between different levels of reality. I’d like to, if i might, distinguish between the mental and the physical parts of the real world. It might be argued that any mental state in which a flockbinker is featured as real, according to the consciousness of the individual, is one that is, in a certain sense, peculiar to its own flockbinkerosity.

Everyone Present:  Wut.

Little Biffy:  So much philosophical talent assembled in one room! Gosh, i’m practically speechless! But not quite, heh heh. I would say that a flockbinker, insofar as it has any kind of independent existence, is a sort of logical placeholder for use in certain kinds of (generally quite funny) philosophical dialogues and syllogisms created by The Blogger.

The Blogger:  What an excellent answer! This little fellow’s a winner if ever i saw one!

Little Biffy:  [grins innocently]

Elvis Wu:  Hmmm. The flockbinker, he is like a cup of the very finest rice wine that can be imagined. Each saloon claims to feature it on their menu.

Everyone Present:  Wut.

Elvis Wu:  When one has a reputation for being wise and inscrutable, it’s necessary to invest some effort from time to time in cultivating the impression.

[Francis Bacon looks at him sort of cockeyed. Wittgenstein, on the other hand, has obviously had his respect for Elvis Wu’s intellect considerably deepened.]

Jennifer Smith:  Okay, here’s my question. If a flockbinker is not a real thing–

Plato:  Define “a real thing.”

Descartes:  Yeah. Define “a real thing.”

Jennifer Smith:  Okay. A real thing is a thing that actually exists in the real world.

Plato:  Define “the real world.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein:  Yeah. Define “the real world.”

Jennifer Smith:  [rolling eyes]  Um. Okay. Whatever. Pass.

The Good Reader:  Well, my question is, so long as we’re getting all serious about nonsense words and such, why do we need to define a flockbinker specifically, as if it were a real item, like my purse? Are we also going to define a squibblymidget?

The Three Scotsmen:  Arrrgh!

The Blogger:  Well, of course a flockbinker is a real thing! It’s what this blog is about!

The Good Reader:  Okay. My little finger is a real thing. Is a flockbinker a real thing in the same sense that my little finger is?

The Blogger:  Well, um, we would kind of need to, um. Uh. Hmmm. Yo.

The Three Scotsmen:  Arrrrgh!

 


Epilogue

The Good Reader:  I’m thinking that this discussion didn’t go quite the way you expected.

The Blogger:  [Pouts, refuses to look her in the eye]

The Good Reader:  [Not to be put off]  Mmm-hmm, so, ya didn’t get the kind of conversation going that you were hoping for?

The Blogger:  Go away.

 

Baby, It’s Treadknicious Outside

Abstract:  Oh my, but it’s been a long time. Should it be any surprise, then, that in this episode–basically–everything happens, everybody (basically) says everything, and Elvis Wu is (um, basically) revealed to be pregnant?

(Okay, not really that last bit. Just kiddin’ around wid ya.)

 


 

Okay, fellers. Let’s just come out and say it. This has tended to be a terrible blog in the matter of posting instability: what i mean is, we’ll jump in vigorously for a few weeks, then drop out for a few months. Lather, rinse, repeat. As of today, it has been…umm… [counting on fingers]… oh dear, it’s been precisely one year–to the very day!–since our last post. Ouch! Sorry there, old fellows.

Today’s post, then, will have to involve a bit of catching up.

The Good Reader:  Oh dear. What might “catching up” happen to mean?

The Blogger:  The Good Reader! Well, howdy there. I’ve not seen you in a while.

The Good Reader:  Well, duh–you’ve not seen me since the last of those blog posts that you wrote, i being apparently (according to YOU) a figment of your creative impulse. [makes grumbling sounds]

The Blogger:  Jeepers, Reader, i’m not sure i’d want to put it exactly like that… um… umm… uhh… well… oh golly… as a matter of fact, that was an excellent way of putting it. Let’s not dance around the issue. You have delineated the art of war. You have nailed the head on the donkey. You have committed the perfect storm.

The Good Reader:  [Goes somewhat cross-eyed for a moment, then decides not to pursue the material about donkeys and perfect storms. You have to choose your battles.]  Anyway, what might “catching up” happen to mean? It’s basically a random blog. You blog about whatever philosophical or quasi-philosophical or pseudo-philosophical topics you happen to have on your brain at the moment.

The Blogger:  Unfair, unfair! And also unanswerable, unless we’re prepared to devote a whole blog post to that obvious untruth, which we at present are not. So here’s what i mean by “catching up.” The last few posts to the blog involved…

…an oddball Christmas event in which The Good Reader, Little Biffy, Jennifer Smith, Elvis Wu, and i enjoyed the benefits of a Christmas fireside while analyzing terms associated with the holiday season,

…a scintillating introduction to The Photographer, who turned out to be quite the astonishing gal,

…a horrific invasion of Tribbles, accompanied by an equally horrific invasion by Mister Spock, Mister Sulu, and Captain Kirk,

…a delightful–simply delightful!–analysis of the concept of extreme sports,

…a delightful–simply–um–well–never mind–in-depth discussion of marketing strategies,

…a whole freaking bunch of people going into a freaking bar, a species of behavior which we at All Flockbinkers can hardly condone–and it’s a shame, really, that this sort of thing is even finding its way into the blog,

…an in-depth and strangely satisfying analysis of the concept of extreme sports,

…some further analysis–and there can never be too much, really–of that classic jape about the three Scotsmen sitting on a fence…

…yet another attempt, fruitless as usual, to figure out what flockbinkers are,

…and, of course, yet another fascinating look at our Reader Mail.

So what we need to do with this one, is figure out how to pick up where we left off.

The Good Reader:  There’s no need for that. I’ve hardly ever read something so random as this blog. Just write about something. It’s not like your four readers will notice. Personally, i think you should write about what a flockbinker is. You’ve been promising to do that for, what, several years now? Or maybe the treadkniciousness of tribbles. You completely failed to address that topic in the post that was supposed to be devoted to it. Or you could talk about whether tribbles would make good Christmas tree ornaments.

The Blogger:  Four readers? You must mean, of course, the four readers who have engaged the most substantially with the content of this blog…?

The Good Reader:  How did i KNOW that would be the only part of my statement that you’d pay attention to.

The Blogger:  …Because, seriously, i have WAY more than four readers.

The Good Reader:  Okay.

The Blogger:  Anyway, here’s my plan. Having briefly reviewed the material we covered in our last few posts, i think we’ll turn this one into a big Christmas party. You know, like the one we had last year?

The Good Reader:  Christmas is long over, dude. It’s May. May comes after Christmas.

The Blogger:  Well, i mean, it depends on what you mean by ‘Christmas.’ They’re apparently getting snow in the upper midwest. Can you believe that?

The Good Reader:  Oh, bother.

The Blogger:  ANYWAY, You can’t know if Christmas is going to be treadknicious, unless you first know what treadknicious means.

The Good Reader:  If you’re not just yanking me around–i mean, if you’re really about to deliver–then, wow, go for it! What DOES treadknicious mean?

The Blogger:  Well, that is to say, i… didn’t actually say i was gonna define it.

The Good Reader:  Mm-hmmm.

The Blogger:  I just said you can’t know if Christmas is going to be treadknicious.

The Good Reader:  Ah.

The Blogger:  But it may well be.

The Good Reader:  Mm-hmm.

The Blogger:  That’s all i’m saying.

The Good Reader:  Righto.

The Blogger:  So, um, anyway.

[They sit in contented silence for a moment.]

[And, just when you were tempted to think that we’d gotten to the end of this blog post…]

[Ah! Ho, ho!]

[Elvis Wu suddenly and quite unexpectedly joins in, having appeared as from the aether, from the vastness of cold space, from the undifferentiated void]

Elvis Wu:  A terribly treadknicious holiday to the both of you!

The Blogger:  Well, my stars and garters! If it isn’t Mister Elvis Wu!

Elvis Wu:  [bows humbly]  At your service.

The Blogger:  It’s really good of you to come. I imagine you have a grillion things on your schedule.

Elvis Wu:  Oh, i’m always down for an All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious reunion.

The Good Reader:  But, no, just waittasecond. Where, Elvis, did you just come from?

Elvis Wu.:  Ah! From the Undifferentiated Void.

The Blogger:  Seriously?

The Good Reader:  No, goofball, he’s not being serious. Seriously! Where DID you just come from?

The Blogger:  Well, if it’s not Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith!

[The two of them enter as from a gathering haze, from the towering cloud of nothingness, from the blooming manifestation of the Outer Dark]

The Good Reader:  No.

The Blogger:  It’s good to see the two of you!

The Good Reader:  No. Just no. What in the world.

Jennifer Smith:  What? OMG! Where am i? What is this? Are we… what? I am so confused. Please. I cannot EVEN.

Little Biffy:  Mister Blogger!

The Blogger:  What up, Biffy! How’s it going, Jennifer.

Jennifer Smith:  I do not EVEN. What in… WHAT in the world.

The Blogger:  It’s our little reunion party! Since it’s been about a year since the blog has seen the light of day… if, um, that’s the sort of thing that blogs do… see the light of day, i mean… we’re having a bit of a soiree to celebrate!

[Jenn finds a convenient chair to sit in, contemplate the Deeper Things, and nurse her wounded sense of How Reality Works]

The Good Reader:  So i’m still confused. Are these people real, or fictional?

The Blogger:  Are you?

The Good Reader:  Am i what?

The Blogger:  Are you real, or fictional?

The Good Reader:  I’m real! Well, i mean, i’m as real as you are… whatever THAT means.

Biffy and Elvis:  Wassail!

Bertie Wooster:  I say!

Jennifer Smith:  Waittasecond. Who’s that?

Bertie Wooster:  Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, at your service, what?

Jennifer Smith:  Oh. My. Word.

…and wouldn’t you know it, we find ourselves in the continuation of last year’s Christmas party–with the somewhat inexplicable addition of Mr. Bertie Wooster–as if nothing has happened in the interim!

Elvis Wu:  [singing joyously]  Baby, it’s treadknicious outside!

Little Biffy:  I think it’s pretty darn treadknicious inside!

Jennifer Smith:  Wooh, talking about ‘treadknicious’-ness, i feel a pretty treadknicious headache coming on.

Bertie Wooster:  You know, Jeeves used to have the perfect potion for that sort of ailment. I wish i could tell you what the ingredients were.

The Good Reader3:  Reality, as we know it–or as we think we know it–is nought but the breath of a passing moment, the exhalation of the lonely hours.

The Good Reader:  Okay, that was not even me. I have no idea who that was.

And, as if in answer: “Wassail!” cry the assembled throng.

 

Epilogue:

The group disappears, as into a gauzy haze–or perhaps a hazy gauze–or maybe even a hazy, gauzy mist–and we are once again left with just The Blogger and The Good Reader.

The Good Reader:  I thought a throng was supposed to be a much larger group of people.

The Blogger:  What?

The Good Reader:  Well, if that was an assembled ‘throng,’ i’d have expected there to be, oh, i dunno, at least 20 people.

The Blogger:  Well, Good Reader, we could explore at some length what the term “throng” can be used to mean in a variety of contexts….

The Good Reader:  Let’s not, never mind.

The Blogger:  As you wish.

The Good Reader:  So, wait, i have an even more pressing question. Was all of that a dream sequence? And if so, whose dream? Yours or mine?

The Blogger:  Perhaps the good reader’s dream?

The Good Reader:  But i AM the Good Reader!

The Blogger:  Well, i didn’t capitalize it now, did i?

The Good Reader:  How should i know? I can’t tell what you’re capitalizing and what you’re not. This is conversation.

The Blogger:  Okay. I was referring to the meta-good reader.

The Good Reader:  The meta-good-reader?

The Blogger:  Sure. The embodiment of the blog’s readership, in general.

The Good Reader:  BUT THAT’S ME!

The Blogger:  Hmmm. Yes. Good point. Well, i can see that, once again, we need to distinguish between “The Good Reader” #1, #2, and #3.

The Good Reader:  Oh, bother.

 

 

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

 

To begin with:

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

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

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

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

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

The Good Reader:  You just said it again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

But, ahem, back to the point:

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

Example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An excursus on ontology

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Our panel of experts weighs in:

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

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

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

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

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

The Blogger:  I wish.

The Timid Reader:  To expose my ignorance?

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

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

The Blogger:  Gosh, thanks, Wu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blogger:  Flockbinkers did this?

REW:  Who? I said they stole my purse!

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

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

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

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

_____________________________________________

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

 

We happen upon Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith in the middle of a rousing philosophical discussion. Let’s listen in.

If i’m not mistaken, you people…

(and here i refer to The Good Reader, in both his singular and plural capacities… that is, as an individual human person reading the blog, and as an archetypal personage representing all three of you who are readers of the blog… as well as in both his male and female manifestations)

…well, anyway, it is you, Good Reader, whom i am addressing, and it seems to me that i’ve not yet introduced you to Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith.

Which seems extraordinary. How many posts to this blog have we gotten through thus far, and still have somehow managed not to introduce these two characters who are so near the very center of what the “All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious” thing is all about? Too many, that’s all i can say. So it’s high time you were introduced to them.

Let’s leave the detailed introductions for a future post. For now, suffice it to say that Little Biffy is a budding young philosopher and a student at Foundations Collegium in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He’s somewhere around, oh, maybe ten years of age. It’s hard to tell. He’s really kind of ageless. As evidence of this, i offer the fact that he was created at least 15 years ago, and he’s still the same age now that he was then. YOU try pulling that off. (What’s that? You’ve tried, you say, and you’ve got thousands of dollars in plastic surgery bills to prove it? Well, i’m not sure we’re talking about exactly the same thing, but sure, okay, that’s fine.)

Little Biffy is sort of like a half-pint Socrates. He cannot imagine anything more enjoyable than the pursuit of truth. He loves exploring ideas with people, and plying them with questions until some sort of satisfying conclusion is reached.

One of his regular victims …er… fellow explorers, is Jennifer Smith. Jennifer is in her late 20’s. She’s a business graduate from UTC, and is presently working at Unum in some kind of decently-paying but not-terribly-inspiring desk job. She likes to wind down after work at the Panera Bread on Market Street, sitting at one of the tables on the sidewalk out front with a chai latte and a frothy bestseller, and forget that she finds her career and her life pretty unfulfilling.

Jennifer is a fairly typical twenty-something, in a lot of ways: she’s bright and did well in her college classes, but she has given very little thought to the big questions that life is built around. Or, to put it the way Little Biffy would, she has given insufficient attention to the sharpening up of her worldview.

Biffy met Jenn a few years ago while hanging out at Panera Bread, and she has been one of his favorite interlocutors ever since. She finds him amusing, annoying, and challenging, and puts up with his insistent lines of questioning because, deep down, she really does value truth, and enjoys his challenges to her way of seeing things.

The following excerpt is from one of their early conversations, one sunny spring afternoon a few years back, at a coffeehouse called the Stone Cup.

Little Biffy:  Allright, Jennifer… I think it’s time for a lesson in logic.

Jennifer Smith:  Wow. My friends are going to be so jealous.

Biffy:  Heh heh. I think you’re kidding. But, well, anyway, here goes. Listen closely. All flockbinkers are treadknicious.

Jennifer:  Wait. I thought you said this was going to be a lesson in logic.

Biffy:  Exactly! Yes. It is.

Jennifer:  But what you just said didn’t make any sense whatsoever. Maybe i’m letting my ignorance of philosophy show, but i thought logic was supposed to be about things that make sense.

Biffy:  But Jennifer, it makes perfect sense to say that all flockbinkers are treadknicious.

Jennifer:  In some other solar system, maybe.

Biffy:  Well, there is that. Heh heh. So stay focused. All flockbinkers…

Jennifer:  Stop. What’s a ‘flockbinker’?

Biffy:  You’re missing the point. Just hang with me. All flockbinkers are treadknicious.

Jennifer:  Okay. Fine.

Biffy:  And all wamwams are flockbinkers.

Jennifer:  I don’t know what a wamwam is, either.

Biffy:  That’s okay. It doesn’t matter. Just stay with it. It’ll make sense eventually.

Jennifer:  Terrific. Got it. All flockbinkers are wamwams.

Biffy:  Actually… that’s not it. All wamwams are flockbinkers.

Jennifer:  It’s the same thing!

Biffy:  Well, really, no. But we’ll get back to that.

Jennifer:  Oh, come on. How can it not be the same thing? All flockbinkers are wamwams. All wamwams are flockbinkers. Not that it even matters, ‘cause you’re talking gibberish. All pooh-poohs are hubbabubbas. All blahblahs are froomfrooms too, i bet.

Biffy:  Heh heh. That sparkling wit. It never gets old. No, Jenn, you see, just because all wamwams are flockbinkers, that does not at all necessitate the opposite scenario, that all flockbinkers are wamwams. Try this. Imagine the category of all wamwams.

Jennifer:  I don’t dare. I’ll have nightmares for weeks.

Biffy:  Okay. Fair enough. Imagine the category of all dogs. You like dogs, do you?

Jennifer:  Dogs are great, and they have the added virtue of not sounding like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Okay. I’m picturing all the dogs.

Biffy:  Now imagine the category of all mammals. All the mammals in the world. Got it?

Jennifer:  That’s a bit harder to picture. There’s lots of mammals.

Biffy:  Right, but you know what mammals are, so you can at least imagine what that particular category would involve. Imagine all the mammals in the world, standing in a big circle the size of Alaska.

Jennifer:  Would they all fit?

Biffy:  Sure. Easily. Under factory-farming conditions, anyway.

Jennifer:  That was not even remotely funny.

Biffy:  Uh, sorry. [turns beet-red] So, anyway, all the mammals are in a huge circle the size of Alaska, with lots of room to walk around and graze and joyfully prance upon the grassy hillsides.

Jennifer:  Much better. Okay, all the mammals are in Alaska, prancing. Some of ‘em are freezing their little mammal buns off.

Biffy:  Great. I mean, not that the beasts are cold, but that you’ve got the picture. Now, imagine that all the dogs are also in that Alaska-sized circle. Got it?

Jennifer:  Sure. Well, wait a second. Aren’t they already there? ‘Cause they’re mammals, too.

Biffy:  Excellent! You’re getting it! You’re halfway there. So all of the dogs are mammals.

Jennifer:  Right. Every single one. And if you keep patronizing me, i’m going to tweak your nose. I’m old enough to be your… mmm, your aunt.

Biffy:  Oops. Sorry. [turns red again] So all the dogs are mammals. Now, are all of the mammals dogs?

Jennifer:  Of course not! Some of them are gerbils, and some of ‘em are wildebeests.

Biffy:  So: all dogs are mammals, but not all mammals are dogs.

Jennifer:  That’s right… oh. I see. I’m embarrassed now.

Biffy:  No need! No need. So it’s clear to you that even if all wamwams are flockbinkers, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all flockbinkers are wamwams.

Jennifer:  Yes. I get it. You don’t have to rub it in.

Biffy:  Okay then! Moving on. So if all flockbinkers are treadknicious, and all wamwams are flockbinkers, we can reasonably conclude that….

Jennifer:  We are visiting a zoo in wonderland?

Biffy:  Heh heh. You never seem to lose that lively sense of humor. That’s good. No, Jennifer, what we can reasonably conclude is that all wamwams are treadknicious.

Jennifer:  I guess so. And all borogoves are mimsy. And the mome raths, outgrabe. I think I’m getting the hang of this.

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