all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

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

Tag: PechaKucha

An Attempt to Get to the Bottom of This “Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence” Thing

Greetings, gentle readers.  (As well as those of you who are actually reading the blog.)  (Ba – dumm – chh.)

Several posts ago, i fraudulently claimed that the upcoming post would involve more information about the joke about three Scotsmen sitting on a fence.  I meant well!  I really was intending to talk about that next.  But then i went off on a tangent about my PechaKucha presentation, and then it was Christmas, and what with one thing and another, the Scotsmen got put on a back burner.

As you might well imagine, they were MUCH happier when they were sitting on the fence.  (Ba – dumm – chh.)

Which is where they find themselves once again, because this is the post you’ve been promised, o gentle readers.  (And those of you who are actually reading the blog.  Ba – dumm – chh.)

By way of reminder, let me refresh you on how the “three Scotsmen” joke goes.

“So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.”

That’s it.  That’s the joke.  That’s as far as it ever gets.  That’s all there is.

We-e-ell… that’s not exactly true.  There have been some attempts to finish the joke.  Here’s one of the more noteworthy examples:

So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.

And the first one says,
“All flockbinkers are treadknicious.”

Then the second Scotsman says,
“All wamwams are flockbinkers.”

And the third Scotsman says,
“Would ye rather find y’rself confronted by a self-referential absurdity,
or a non-sequitur disguised as a joke about three Scotsmen?”

A respectful silence followed.

Ahhhh.  Yes.  Now we’re talkin’ ’bout the good stuff.

But, you see, not everyone has been endowed with the philosophical equipment to fully appreciate a joke like that.  Perhaps that’s one reason why the standard form of the joke is the incomplete version, just the opening line.  Because if i try to finish it, the end product will end up just a wee bit too philosophically rich for your average taste.

But there is another finished version of the joke: one which, like the one above, is going to end up on the back of a t-shirt one of these days.

(I hear you tentatively snickering, o less-than-gentle reader.  You thought that was a joke, didn’t you.  Hah!  Note the conspicuous absence of either boldface print or a “ba-dumm-chh” following the statement.  It was most assuredly NOT a joke; it was the condensed form of a business plan.  I would advise you to learn the difference.  But i fear we digress.)  This other version of the joke is of particular interest as we seek to understand just what the joke is all about.  And here it is:

So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.

And the first one says,
“Blah blah blah blah blah.”

Then the second Scotsman says,
“Mumble mumble mumble.”

Then the third Scotsman says,
“Yada yada yada yada.”

Your mistake, of course, was in thinking that just because something is a joke, it’s going to be funny.

You’re what, how old? You should know better by now.

All that was the joke, including the last part.  Well, no: technically, the last part was the part that will follow the joke as it is displayed on the back of the t-shirt.

Man, these t-shirts are going to be something else.

But note what this version of the joke does for us.  It strips the joke down to its constituent elements.  It reveals the underlying skeleton of the joke.  And the joke turns out to have the same form as a great many other three-part jokes.  That form is as follows:

So there were three [entities] [engaged in some activity].

And the first [entity] [A] [says or does something].

And the second [entity] [B] [says or does something that is closely parallel to what A said or did]

And the third [entity] [C] [says or does something that is a startling departure from what A and B said or did, from which dissonance arises the humor value of the joke].

In keeping with that analysis, our joke above about the three Scotsmen is true to form.  The first Scotsman says, “Blah blah blah blah blah.”  The second Scotsman says, “Mumble mumble mumble.”  These are the usual sorts of things that you expect to hear a Scotsman say, when you encounter him seated on a fence.  But then!  Ah!  The third Scotsman!  When we get to him, we are treated to a delightful surprise: he says, “Yada yada yada yada.”

The third Scotsman turns out to be Jerry Seinfeld!

But let’s get back to the pure, unadorned, basic version of the joke.  “So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.”  There is something classic, lean and lovely about the basic version, the default version.  It doesn’t say too much.  It says just enough.  It’s thrifty and economical, in much the same way that Scotsmen are reputed to be.

You can almost mentally supply the rest, if you’ve ever heard a three-part joke.  You can envision the first Scotsman saying something, then the second Scotsman saying something, then the third Scotsman saying something surprising that causes your diaphragm to begin spontaneously leaping up and down, and a sort of staccato wheezing sound come out of your mouth.  All you need is that opening line, and you can experience the joke’s potential all by yourself, with no adult supervision.

It’s almost as if everything the joke was ever destined to be is wrapped up in that opening line, and once you’ve heard the line, the joke’s inner essence begins to unfold within you, like the fruit of the Banyan tree.  Or the flower of the lotus.  Um, or something.

Interestingly, the same principle would likely not work with a different opener.  Observe closely:

“So there were these three kittens in a pet shop window, see.”

Who cares?  No one wants to hear the rest of the joke.  You can just tell it’s not going to be funny.

Or this:

“Okay, so there were these three disgruntled postal workers shooting up a McDonald’s right?”

Nope.  Too risky.  If your listeners are nervous about whether the subject-matter is politically correct, they’re not going to laugh.  They’ll be looking over their shoulders to see if anyone else is laughing.

Or this:

“So there were three intransitive verbs, and they walk into a bar, see.”

Nope.  Too abstract.  Maybe if you’re at a cocktail party with a bunch of grammarians, that one would go over uproariously.  You really need to know your audience.

The point i’m making, the Scotsmen joke has a kind of universal appeal.  As soon as that opening line hits, you’ve got the crowd in the palm of your hand.  They don’t need to hear any more.  They’re happy.  You’ve succeeded.  “So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.”  Just sit back and watch the magic happen.  One business-looking fellow in the middle of the room is thinking, “Now here’s a joke that a man can sink his teeth into.”  And over near the punch bowl, a woman is thinking, “Oooohh, Scotsmen, i bet they’re wearing kilts and everything.”  And off in the corner, a young guy in wire-rims and a turtleneck is thinking, “Golly, i wonder if this joke is going to turn out to have been a self-referential absurdity, or…” (and here he chuckles to himself) “…a non-sequitur disguised as a joke about three Scotsmen?”

See?  Something in it for everybody.

“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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