Greetings, [The] Good Reader! The last time we blogged together, we were taking a bit of a guided tour through the presentation i gave last week at Chattanooga’s PechaKucha Night, Vol. 19. It was a sweet little presentation, by all accounts: charming, endearing. It tugged at the heartstrings. It warmed the inward parts. Therefore, i feel very little compunction over devoting three blog posts to it. The finer things are worth dwelling on at some length.
Thus far we have covered at least the first half of that storied PechaKucha presentation. So perhaps we ought to pick up where we left off.
A little over halfway through the presentation, i sort of shifted gears. We had devoted the first few slides (as you may recall) to laying the groundwork, addressing such questions as “what is a logical syllogism, and how does one work?” and “just what the stink is a flockbinker?” But having established the basics, it was time to plunge into some serious logical dilemmas, paradoxes, puzzles, and meaty philosophical issues. It was time to move into the deep end of the pool. Is that what they call ‘adult swim’? I’ve never been 100% sure what ‘adult swim’ refers to, and it’s an expression i hear ALL THE TIME.
We had just been talking about Realism and Nominalism as schools of thought in Medieval philosophy, espousing two different understandings of what category terms (or ‘universals’) are all about. “The Medievals addressed all kinds of questions,” i continued. “John Buridan [1295-1358] explored moral determinism when he told the story of a donkey standing equidistant between two equally yummy-looking bales of hay. It couldn’t think of a reason to choose one rather than the other, and died of starvation.”
Now, i’m afraid this is the point at which i need to bring up the rather unfortunate fact that someone appears to have tampered with my slides somewhere during the process of assembling them. This has got to be what happened. It’s got to. I can think of no other explanation for the fact that several of the slides in my presentation were either irrelevant to the section of the lecture in which they were displayed, or worse, were downright ridiculous, or, just as bad, ironically undermined the argument advanced in my otherwise insightful remarks.
What you have to understand is that i was facing the audience as i talked, and the screen on which the slides were displayed was behind me. Therefore, i could not see what was on the slides as i talked; i sort of just assumed that they featured the visual content i had put together: a series of helpful graphics illustrating the nature and structure of a logical syllogism. Pretty bracing stuff, actually. I guess you’d have to have been there. But, well, no, and here’s the point: if you’d been there, you would have seen something OTHER than the incisive and informative slides i had so painstakingly assembled.
For instance: I honestly have no memory of putting together a slide featuring the cover art to Bruce Springsteen’s album Born in the U.S.A….you know, that iconic shot of the Boss’s blue-jeans-bedecked hiney… coinciding most regrettably with the part of the presentation in which i talked about the classic problem known to philosophers as ‘Buridan’s Ass.’ You know, the story John Buridan told about the donkey and the two bales of hay. Ha ha. Very funny, practical joker whoever you are. I hope you can sleep at night.
And there were several slides of a similar sort.
There was a slide featuring a conversation between Alice and Humpty-Dumpty, on the nature of word-meanings. Including a picture of Alice talking to Humpty-Dumpty, up there on his wall, from the original edition of the book.
There was a slide featuring a conversation between Jennifer Smith and Little Biffy, on why terms like “flockbinker” are suitable components of a logical syllogism.
There was a slide featuring a discussion of why Gandalf didn’t just get the eagles to fly Frodo into Mordor.
There was a slide featuring a picture of the Rolling Stones, with a caption listing them as “five key Medieval philosophers.”
There was a slide announcing the supposed production credits for the presentation, including the Executive Producer, the Producer, the Associate Producer, the Casting Director, the Gaffer, the Best Boy, the Dolly Grip (“this cannot actually be a real thing,” was the note attached to this entry) and ending with, “…and Susan Sarandon as herself.”
There was a slide featuring the floor plan to Hamilton Place Mall, for crying out loud. Jeepers. My word. Jeepers. Some people have entirely too much time on their hands.
I must confess, however, that the jarring disjunction between [at least half of!] the slides, and my spoken presentation, did in fact add an additional level of entertainment to the lecture, and the audience seemed thoroughly engaged. [*sigh*] Philosophy has fallen into a sad state when the chief reason for an audience to enjoy a lecture on logic and ontology, is that the accompanying slides are absurd and irrelevant and have pictures of Bruce Springsteen’s butt on them. You will perhaps excuse my discouragement.
Having gotten that off of my chest, i will now take you through the remainder of the lecture. After the disquieting part where i told about Buridan’s Ass, with Bruce Springsteen’s Levis unblinkingly staring out upon the audience, i went on to talk about some other philosophical puzzles, including the “Liar Paradox,” and the “Prisoner’s Dilemma.” The Liar Paradox, if you don’t know, is a classic exercise in structured self-contradiction, and one well-known version of it goes something like this:
The sentence following this one is false.
The sentence preceding this one is true.
OMW. “What are you gonna do with that?” i challenged the audience. The gleefully intoxicated audience member we spoke of earlier called out, “I’m gonna chew off my own pancreas!” At least, that’s what i understood her to be saying. The pronunciation was a bit off. At any rate, one can certainly sympathize with her in her chosen strategy for resolving the dilemma. I doubt that YOU, o most excellent Reader, even when entirely sober, would be able to devise a better one. The fact is, the paradox cannot be resolved, no matter what your blood alcohol level may or may not be. Note, if you will, that if the first statement is true, then the second one is false, which would make the first statement false. But if the first statement is false, then the second one would be true, thus rendering the first statement true.
While they were still reeling from that one, i introduced the audience to another classic example of what, in philosophical terminology, is known as a “stump-em-good.” This puzzle is known as The Prisoner’s Dilemma. But hey, why listen to me tell you about it, when you can listen to me quoting myself telling somebody else about it?
“Here’s a modern puzzle in a similar vein: A man and his accomplice are being held for questioning in separate rooms. They cannot communicate to get their stories straight. Should the man confess and plead for mercy, or should he maintain his innocence? Much hangs on his prediction of what his partner will do.
“The ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’ is an example of Game Theory—the complex dynamics of decision-making. My choice, x, in relation to situation y, will be to some degree predicated on factor z. But z is influenced by other factors, including the probabilities regarding my choice, x. Whew! My head hurts already. Decision-making is hard.”
Zoinks. That confuses even me, and it’s me talking about it.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, Good Reader; we are nearing the end of the presentation. Following my discussion of Game Theory, i went on to focus specifically on ethical thought. It seemed the thing to do at the time.
“But what about moral judgments?” i queried. “Two ways of thinking about ethical choices would be the ‘teleological’ model, which says morality depends on what the result of the action will be, and ‘deontological’ ethics, which says a moral act is right or wrong based on the nature of the act itself.
“Ethical decisions are a lot harder when the moral ground is continually shifting under your feet. With moral relativism, there are no norms for virtuous action—everything depends on circumstance and context, attitudes and contingencies. Which takes us back to the medieval philosophers.
“The ‘realist’ school would say moral decision-making connects us to the larger architecture of reality; the Creator built a moral structure into the universe. A nominalist, on the other hand, would say that each moral choice is a distinct event, to be measured on its own terms.”
The one-two punch of this incredibly lucid presentation of ethical theory would have been even MORE impressive, had not the practical jokester who was tampering with my slides, inserted some of his most egregious howlers during this section of the presentation–including a slide noting that those responsible for tampering with the slides had been sacked, and then, a bit later on, inserting another slide claiming that those responsible for the sacking of the persons tampering with the slides, had themselves also been sacked. Great. Nice Monty Python reference, bozo. Thanks for ruining my otherwise lovely and fluid discussion of the dynamics of moral decision-making.
Anyway, it was time to wrap. Here is my (admittedly somewhat stitched-together) concluding coup de grace:
“…which, of course, takes up back to where we started, to the flockbinkers who may or may not be treadknicious, depending, to some degree, on whether or not they are real, and if so, in what sense.
“Well, hmmm, actually, the preceding discussion doesn’t even remotely lead us back to those wild and wooly flockbinkers and their uncertain ontological status—but the realities of time and circumstance unfortunately do. Thank you so very much!”
Thus endeth not only the PechaKucha presentation, but my present presentation of the PechaKucha presentation. And so, if i may echo my own sentiment: thank you very much.
On our next post: a bit more about the somewhat abbreviated joke about those three storied Scotsmen sitting on a fence.