all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

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

Tag: unicorn

A Bit of Discussion — Long Overdue — of the Concept of ‘Your Mom’

 

Abstract:  It’s the classic rejoinder: “Your Mom!” Jeepers… I’m laughing uproariously right now, just typing the words! But what is this ubiquitous bit of linguistic magic all about? Where did it come from? What exactly does it mean? Is there, in fact, a Real Thing called ‘Your Mom’? Is it, you know, some sort of insult… and ought your actual mom to have an opinion about it? I bet she does. [snicker]


 

So here’s the thing. We spend so much time on this blog analyzing terms like ‘logical coherence,’ ‘metaphysical grounding,’ ‘epistemic hoo-ha,’ ‘frozen ontological patties,’ ‘what the heck,’ ‘wamwam,’ ‘treadknicious,’ ‘um-bum-bety-boom,’ and ‘eWeeWee,’ that we appear to have overlooked one of the classics.

What about the expression “your mom” [snicker]?

Perhaps it should be noted, by way of introduction, that linguistics and metaphysics are not the same thing and do not necessarily cover the same territory.

“Dang!” i can hear you saying. “What the consarn tootin’ heck are metaguistics, and that other one you said right afterward?”

Ah, an excellent line of inquiry, gentle reader. What we mean here is simply that just because we have a word for something, that doesn’t mean that the something actually is a real thing in the real world.

‘Unicorns,’ for instance. We have a word for them, but they’re not real.

 

Unicorn #1:  Up yours, buddy!

Unicorn #2:  Paul! Calm yourself. The man spoke in ignorance.

Unicorn #3:  If he’s going to go around listing off the things that aren’t real, why doesn’t he start with his own intelligence quotient?

Unicorn #2:  [sigh]  You fellows just need to chill out for a bit. Why don’t we go graze awhile. Maybe by the time we come back, he’ll have said something sensible.

Unicorn #1:  Not much risk of that, if you ask me.

[The three unicorns exit, stage left. Meanwhile, the Blogger continues, unaware that his blog has been host to three unicorns.]

 

The Blogger:  So, the first question we have to ask is this: does the term “Your Mom” mean anything at all, anything that actually exists in the Real World?

The Good Reader:  Well, MY Mom certainly exists. I got a letter from her just a few days ago. And she calls about once a week to see if i’m married yet.

The Blogger:  Ah, but that’s not what we mean when we use the expression “Your Mom.” We’re not talking about your mom.

The Good Reader:  Oh. Wow. I could have sworn.

The Blogger:  No, it’s more of a universal expression. It means something more like, “One’s Mom,” or, “That sort of philosophically-defined Mom over there.” Or even, something like “You’re a weenie.”

The Good Reader:  Ah. But when you say to me, “Your Mom,” i figure you mean, “My Mom.” You know. It just sort of figures.

The Blogger:  Well… i suppose that is one possible meaning of the expression.

The Good Reader:  Well gee. Thank you.

The Blogger:  There’s probably a range of possible meanings of the term “Your Mom.”

The Good Reader:  [dubiously]  Maybe.

The Blogger:  Well, let’s experiment! Let’s see how many possible definitions we can come up with for the expression, “Your Mom.”

The Good Reader:  Um. Okay. Knock yourself out.

The Blogger:  So, to begin: One possible definition of the expression ‘Your Mom’ is, “the woman at whose o’er-brimming paps you nursed as a wee, itsy-bitsy infant.”

The Good Reader:  Okay. That makes sense. You said it kind of funny, but i guess we can let that go.

The Blogger:  And another definition of ‘Your Mom’ would be Russia. You know, as in “Mother Russia.”

The Good Reader:  Um. Okay. I don’t think that’s what people have in mind when they say the expression, ‘Your Mom.’

The Blogger:  …and of course, ‘Your Mom’ can also mean, “a Crock Pot somewhat in need of being washed because it’s got cheesy material encrusted on it.”

The Good Reader:  That’s not even a thing!

The Blogger:  It most certainly is.

The Good Reader:  What? You’re a wee wee.

The Blogger:  [chuckling]  At least you didn’t call me an eWeeWee.

The Good Reader:  Um. What.

The Blogger:  Didn’t you notice? Oh dear…”eWeeWee” was one of the technical terms listed at the beginning of this blog post.

The Good Reader:  That… what? I don’t even.

The Blogger:  But back to the topic at hand. Your denial that the expression “Your Mom” as indicative of “a Crock Pot somewhat in need of being washed” is a real thing.

The Good Reader:  I can’t even think about that anymore. I’m still thinking of “eWeeWee.” Is that a sound that you made up yourself, or did you overhear one of the kids on the street corner saying it?

The Blogger:  [somewhat irritated]  Never mind. You’re missing the point.

The Good Reader:  “eWeeWee.” It is kind of fun to say, isn’t it? “eWeeWee. eWeeWee.”

The Blogger:  Stop that! We’re talking about Your Mom.

The Good Reader:  Let’s not do that. She isn’t here to defend herself.

The Blogger:  [on the verge of blowing his top]  Not THAT Your Mom! The other one! Er, the other ones! Or something.

The Good Reader:  Golly, there must be at least, what, two or three billion of ’em? Out of our total population of about seven billion?

The Blogger:  Okay, you need to cut that out right now. We’re trying to have a serious philosophical discussion here!

The Good Reader:  Correction: Neither one of us is trying to have a serious philosophical discussion. I’m certainly not. And your idea of philosophy appears to be “making odd sounds with your mouth and then trying to justify them intellectually.”

The Blogger:  [pauses for a moment, decides the best course of action is to ignore this]

Okay. So, one possible meaning of the expression “Your Mom” is a Crock Pot that very much needs to be washed. On account of the cheezy material, and whatnot.

The Good Reader:  [rolling eyes]  Okay. Sure. Go on.

The Blogger:  And another is, a meteorite that left a Volkswagen-sized crater just a couple of miles outside the city of Flagstaff, Arizona.

The Good Reader:  No. I’m sorry. Just no.

The Blogger:  …and another possible meaning is, “what you ate for breakfast this morning, but with the strawberries removed.”

The Good Reader:  What? Stop that! You’re just making up random nonsense.

The Blogger:  [somewhat huffily]  I am practicing philosophy at a level that you, perhaps, as a layperson, are not able to appreciate.

The Good Reader:  Um. Okay, i’ve got another one. Your Mom can also mean, “the little flakes of dead skin that come off when you scratch your butt.”

The Blogger:  Uh…hmmm. Maybe. What’s your justification for that definition?

The Good Reader:  You’re impossible.

The Blogger:  I’m a philosopher!

The Good Reader:  Indeed.

 

Epilogue

As of the publication of this blog post, The Blogger has since come up with another 27 possible meanings for the expression “Your Mom”… and he doesn’t seem to be tiring of the subject. This may be worth following up at some point.

The unicorns do not appear to have returned.

 

The Long-Awaited Flockbinker Pop Quiz #2!

From time to time… well, let’s just be brutally honest, about once every couple of years… the Blogger undertakes to test how closely attentive his readers have been. The first time we offered a pop quiz on this blog (“Your Very First ‘Flockbinkers’ Pop Quiz“) the thing really was a roaring success, and….

The Good Reader:  That’s not how i remember it. I seem to recall that lots of people were seriously bothered by it. Many of your readers found it confusing and pointless. People accused you of mocking the very idea of philosophy. You got hate mail. You even had to devote a whole post to MY objections. And i’m your most devoted fan.

The Blogger:  Oh, golly, The Good Reader, this really isn’t the time or the place….

The Good Reader:  That first Pop Quiz was a bizarre mishmash of random silliness and even more random silliness; and the one thing it was NOT, was an informative test of anybody’s knowledge of philosophy, or of anything else.

The Blogger:  It seems to me that we’ve covered all of this ground before, haven’t we? Anyway, Good Reader, i’ve turned over a new leaf. I’m a changed man. I no longer include strange, sad attempts at humor or oddball bursts of surreal self-referentiality in my quizzes. You’ll see.

The Good Reader:  Hrmmff. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and at least have a look.

The Blogger:  Although, be warned, you know i can’t control what the readers are gonna do once they start taking the quiz and getting into discussions with each other about what the right answers are.

The Good Reader:  No. Just no. Do not do that again. Don’t even think about it. See, that’s just the sort of nonsense that i’m talking about!

The Blogger:  Hey, what? It’s not me doing it, it’s the people taking the quiz! I can’t control people who have free will and internet access.

The Good Reader:  You are so full of baloney! You and i both know that it’s you inventing those “readers” who are “taking the quiz” so that you can get a few cheap laughs.

The Blogger:  Oops, ahem… will you look at the time! Sorry, The Good Reader, i’m afraid we’re gonna have to wrap up this introduction. Onward ho, to the long-awaited follow-up to that first, epic quiz. It’s been a couple of years, and we’ve covered a lot of territory since then!

Your answers, o my faithful readers, to the following ten questions (each with ten possible answers, numbered ‘a’ through ‘j’) should give a fair indication of whether you’ve been paying attention of not.

 

1.  According to this post that went up during the last week of October — later supplemented by this follow-up post (“A Philosopher Hands out Candy — and Philosophy Classics — to Trick-or-Treaters“), which of the following are terrific ideas for something to identify as, for Hallowe’en?

a.  A character that Jane Austen would have included in her novel Persuasion, if only she’d known what she was doing as an author.

b.  An accident over on Aisle Five involving a small child, a rogue shopping cart, and several dozen boxes of breakfast cereal.

c.  A family of five aliens whose civilization has been destroyed by other, even meaner aliens from a neighboring planet.

d.  Your Mom.

e.  A mathematical impossibility.

f.  The vicissitudes of Justin Bieber’s career.

g.  A duck.

h.  The entire inventory of a Dollar Tree.

i.  Conan O’Brien’s haircut.

j.  Conan O’Brien’s bank account, including whatever he’s got hidden away offshore.

 

2.  As represented in a recent post to this blog, which of the following might accurately be said of Confucius and the Buddha when they are dining together in a public restaurant?

a.  Confucius has a rough time getting Buddha to stay on task, i.e. look at the menu and decide what he wants to order.

b.  Buddha has a distressing tendency to say mysterious, metaphysically odd things to the server, who — bless his heart — is just trying to find out what they want to eat.

c.  Confucius and the Buddha are frequently joined by Lao Tzu, Mo Tzu, Mao Tse-Tung, The Wu Tang Clan, Amy Tan, Bruce Lee, Chuck D, and Fred Ho — the proprietor of a little Chinese short order place on Market St.

d.  Buddha has an appalling habit of chewing with his mouth open, a habit which sends Confucius around the bend.

e.  Confucius tends to talk in phrases that sound like they came out of a fortune cookie: i.e. “You will come into an unexpected sum of money.”

f.  Both Confucius and the Buddha tend to order off-menu; for instance, “No, i want you to bring the goat in here and kill it right next to our table so we can see if you’ve done it properly.”

g.  Buddha’s tendency to fade in and out of nirvana is not only problematic for their interactions with the waitstaff, but infuriating to Confucius, who considers such antics to be out of keeping with proper social decorum.

h.  Their favorite restaurant is Panda Express, followed by Logan’s Roadhouse, Taco Bell, and CiCi’s Pizza.

i.  Buddha never tires of pulling out his favorite joke, “Make me one with everything.”

j.  Confucius tends to have a way with the ladies, which may have been all cool and stuff in the 500s BC, but can get you into seriously hot water in the year 2017.

 

3.  Which of these statements is the Buddha unlikely to have said?

a.  The self is an illusion.

b.  The self is an elf on a shelf.

c.  The self is in a state of constant evolution, and is in fact living under an assumed name in a duplex in Des Plaines, Illinois.

d.  Make me One with Everything.

e.  Make me one with two patties — medium-well — double-cheese, hold the lettuce, and could i have some of those little hot peppers?

f.  To achieve enlightenment, you must follow the Noble Eightfold Path.

g.  To achieve enlightenment, you must follow the Yellow Brick Road.

h.  Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

i.  I have heard the sound of one hand clapping… geez, is this an audience, or an oil painting?

j.  To transcend the limitations of the physical form, you must gaze into the yawning emptiness of the infinite abyss… naw, i’m kidding, i’m kidding. Calm down! I didn’t mean it! Jeepers! You people.

 

4.  In a recent post to this blog (The Blogger Encounters the Security Guard), an interesting discussion occurs between two philosophers representing very different walks of life. Which of the following took place during that discussion?

a.  The Blogger is surprised to find a philosopher working security at a medical center.

b.  The Blogger is even more surprised to find a medical center located in the middle of the seventh hole at Bud’s Putt Putt Golf Paradise.

c.  The blogger and the security guard agree that philosophy is no longer popular or well understood among the masses.

d.  The blogger and the security guard agree, furthermore, that the KFC on Highway 2 needs to bring back their all-you-can-scarf-down buffet.

e.  The Security Guard takes out a criminal by sheer force of logical argument.

f.  The Security Guard takes out a criminal by quoting to him the first 357 lines of Beowulf, in the original Anglo-Saxon.

g.  The security guard takes out a criminal and pays for dinner and drinks, but not the movie… who can afford 12 bucks for a movie on a security guard’s wages?

h.  The security guard is frustrated over constantly being mistaken for a moron.

i.  The security guard is frustrated over constantly being mistaken for Kevin James.

j.  The blogger and the security guard discuss the fact that security guards, in general, tend to be viewed as intellectual giants with a vast breadth of knowledge of history, philosophy, the sciences, literature and the fine arts.

 

5.  Logical syllogisms, as represented in the recent post “Now, Boys and Girls, Let’s Look at Some Syllogisms“….

a.  are typically made up of two premises and a conclusion.

b.  are often regarded as the basic building blocks of a logical argument.

c.  are examples of deductive reasoning.

d.  are generally regarded as superior to ‘illogical syllogisms,’ because hey, honestly, what would even be the point?

e.  sometimes get into frustrating conflicts with emotional syllogisms.

f.  are kind of like recipes, and kind of like instruction manuals, and kind of like graphic novels, and kind of like Shakespeare’s play “A Comedy of Errors.”

g.  very often have technical terms in them like ‘flockbinker’ and ‘wamwam’ and ‘throckwhistle’ and ‘ooga-booga.’

h.  were pioneered by classical philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle, Peter Abelard, John Duns Scotus, and Christopher Walken.

i.  form the basis for several popular party games.

j.  can be found in the darnedest places, like, oh, for instance, the third stall from the end in the men’s room at the Carmike 18 Theater over on South Terrace Road.

 

6.  Flockbinkers and unicorns…

a.  are probably not the same thing, and certainly don’t hang out at the same nightclubs.

b.  are both (probably) varieties of small slippery fishes with eight legs and a stinger.

c.  have this in common: that they both refuse to eat cheese sandwiches that have had the crust trimmed off.

d.  are rarely seen together in public, but can occasionally be found together on medieval tapestries.

e.  have this in common: that they are both awfully fun to say out loud. I mean, seriously: “Flockbinker.” “Unicorn.”  Dude, i’m in stitches!

f.  are both nonexistent, but in different ways.

g.  Wait, how can two nonexistent things be nonexistent “in different ways?” Either something exists, or it doesn’t.

h.  Well that just shows how much you know about philosophy. Blogger, may i make a suggestion? Perhaps the younger ones should be given a simpler quiz.

i.  “The younger ones”…? Why, you slimeball, i oughta….

j.  Hey guys, sorry to arrive late to the party. May i toss my two cents’ worth in? About nonexistent things being nonexistent in different ways? Like, maybe, Moby-Dick is one kind of nonexistent, and a square circle is a different kind of nonexistent, and an efficiently run government bureau is even a different kind of nonexistent. I’m just spitballin’ here.

j2.  Oh, my gosh, i’m surrounded. These people are everywhere. Beam me up, Scotty.

 

7.  Which of the following statements can accurately be made of ‘Horse People’…? You may refer to this post from a couple of years ago if you need a refresher on what ‘horse people’ are.

a.  Horse People are essentially indistinguishable from unicorn people.

b.  Horse people and unicorn people are two completely different categories. A unicorn person would not be caught dead owning a regular horse, and many horse people don’t even believe in the existence of unicorns.

c.  Horse People are not at all the same people as the people who travel to neighboring planets in a space vehicle made by strapping 40 toaster-ovens together.

d.  Horse People tend often (but not always) to also be into centaurs, though not usually those winged horses, which honestly are not even a real thing.

e.  Horse People constitute one major category of humanity, the other category being ‘guinea pig people.’

f.  Expert opinion is divided on the issue of whether people who would be into horses, if they were ever exposed to one, ought to be considered ‘horse people’ or merely ‘people.’

g.  Horse People generally, and for reasons not yet fully understood, have difficulty distinguishing between flockbinkers and wamwams.

h.  Horse People are not necessarily all that good at navigating taxonomical frameworks.

i.  Horse People can be mighty touchy when you try to apply philosophical analysis to their putative truth-claims.

j.  There is a tiny subset of horse people called “horse with no name people.” These people are often found in deserts and have selective memory issues.

 

8. Which of the following statements would be true in reference to ontology and categories?

a.  Ontology is that branch of philosophy that deals with being: what existence is, what it means for something to exist, what kinds of things there are, and how they are related to each other.

b.  “Ontology, shmontology” is a statement often heard around philosophy conferences.

c.  One of the more interesting debates in ancient and medieval philosophy concerned the question of how ‘real’ categories are. Do categories actually exist, or only the things in them? Are categories mere conveniences that we develop in order to make sense of our world? All of that, by the way, was one answer to the question.

d.  Scattergories is a great game for training kids in the basics of philosophy.

e.  A few more good philosophy games would include “Go Fish,” “Twister,” and “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” Cow tipping is also a favorite.

f.  There are two kinds of people in the world: those who enjoy setting up categories, and those who do not.

g.  Heh heh, i saw what you did there.

h.  Dude, this is a quiz. You can’t just randomly make comments in the section that’s supposed to be for the answers to the questions.

i.  Well, i can, and i just did. Maybe you’d like to try doing something about it.

j.  I have never been more terrified in my life. I am literally trembling in my boots.

j-point-5.  Come over here and say that. Come on. Come on. Let’s see what you got.

j-point-7.  Fellas, fellas, geez, can you take it outside? We’re trying to run a quiz here.

 

9. Which of the following can accurately be said of philosophy?

a.  Philosophy is a fool’s game.

b.  Philosophy is something your mom would probably really get into.

c.  Philosophy is a rapidly disappearing intellectual discipline.

d.  Philosophy is for people who lack the people-skills to go into business, and aren’t coordinated enough to operate heavy machinery.

e.  You’ll very likely be better at Philosophy if you have a Greek or German name, than if your name is, oh, for instance, Donnie McDonald.

f.  Philosophy concerns mainly a bunch of fancy terms and arguments about obscure things like the ontological status of your mom.

g.  Dude, the  references to someone’s mom stopped being funny a long time ago.

h.  Hey, big fella, why don’t you do you. Hmmm? I’ll do me, and you do you.

i.  Please. “You do you” is one of the most incoherent suggestions you can make to somebody, right up there with “be yourself, because everyone else is already taken.”

j.  Watch it, son, now you’re getting personal. I’ve got that one about “be yourself” as wallpaper on my computer screen.

j-and-one-third.  Fellas! Please! Seriously, we’re trying to conduct a quiz here. Take the argument outside.

 

10. Which of the following are characters that have, at some point or another, made an appearance on this blog?

a.  Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major

b.  Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith

c.  Confucius and the Buddha

d.  Smokey and the Bandit

e.  The Captain and Tennille

f.  Three Scotsmen sitting on a fence

g.  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

h.  The Lone Rider of the Apocalypse

i.  The Blogger

j.  The Good Reader

j.1.  The Decent Reader, So Long as the Book Isn’t Too Long

j.2.  The Reader Who Struggles with Words of More than Two Syllables

j.25.  Chuck Norris

j.5.  Your Mom

j.75.  The kid with the wonky nose and a haircut that looks like an abstract sculpture gone terribly wrong, who works at the McDonald’s on E. 3rd Street

j.9.  A mob of crazed orangutans, pelting good boys named ‘James’ with frozen waffles

j.92715.  A mob of boys named ‘James,’ pelting crazed orangutans with frozen waffles

 

Epilogue

The Good Reader:  I knew it. I knew he was going to do it again. I just knew it.

 

 

A Philosopher Hands out Candy (and Philosophy Classics) to Trick-or-Treaters

This year, for the first time in several decades — indeed, the first time in the entirety of my adult incarnation — i decided to do Hallowe’en.

I’ve never gotten really excited about Hallowe’en. As a philosopher, i feel a need to know what i’m celebrating when i observe a holiday, and Hallowe’en seems to be just a confusing hash of ancient pagan imagery, modern horror, Disney, magical unicorns, and contemporary kiddie-fied commercialization.

However, this year i decided to get with the program; you know, find out what everyone else has been experiencing all this time. And it seemed fitting that, as a philosopher, i should provide the kiddoes with a uniquely philosophical experience that they’d be unlikely to get at the other houses.

Upon discovering that some people like to dress up the front of their home to reflect the spirit of the holiday, i decided to make an attempt. I chose as my theme the decay of Western Civilization… the tragic, inexorable unraveling of more than two thousand years of achievement and tradition… the entropic deterioration of centuries’ worth of cultural advancement and rational thought… leaving a (metaphorically speaking) dilapidated, moss-grown, disintegrating ruin. The advantage here is that i didn’t really have to do anything to decorate. My front porch already looks like that.

Then i hauled a big cauldron onto my porch and loaded it up with goodies for the little trick-or-treaters. Finally, i put on my bow-tie and wire-rimmed spectacles (my ‘philosopher’ costume) and i was ready to go.

The evening, i must say, went very well.

By way of illustration, why don’t i narrate for you my encounters with three different batches of trick-or-treaters, each group interesting in its own way. Let’s start with a group of five children that came by pretty early on, while it was still light out.

 

Group One

“Greetings,” i said to the group at large. “Welcome to the Philosopher’s Haunted Den of the Breakdown of Western Civilization.”

They eyed the front of my house apprehensively, as if searching for a notice of condemnation by the building inspector.

“And what are you?” i asked the first kid who bravely stepped up to my porch.

“I’m Conan O’Brien’s haircut,” he explained.

“Ah!” i said. “Not bad. I can see it. An extremely accurate likeness. And you?” i asked the next kid.

“I’m an ocelot that identifies as a manatee that is actually a bottle of Dr. Pepper.”

“That’s exactly what i would have guessed. Very clever. Layers of ontological complexity. I like it.”

“And i,” said the next kid, an absolutely whacking redhead, “am a mathematical impossibility.”

“No kidding!” i said. “That’s amazing! Can you be more specific?”

“Sure,” she said. “I’m the square root of peace and love for all humankind.”

Dig,” i said. “Oh yeah. Wow. Can you dig it.”

We all sort of dug it for a few seconds.

“Yeah,” said Conan O’Brien’s haircut, quietly. “Crazy.”

“And what about you?” i asked the next kid.

In the most earnest, heartfelt voice i have ever heard emerge from the body of a human being, he said, “I am a single tear from the eye of a magical unicorn.”

“Well, of course you are,” i acknowledged. “Even a fool can see that. Good work.”

The fifth and last kid stepped forth boldly. “And what are you?” i asked.

“Your Mom,” he said, simply.

“Roger that,” i said, and reached into my cauldron to fish out goodies for each of the kids.

Now, i’m afraid we need to pause a moment before going on.

Most regular people, when preparing to receive trick-or-treaters, will stock up on Mounds mini-bars, Kit Kats, Jolly Ranchers, and those awful candy corn things. But do not forget that we are here dealing with a philosopher, not a normal person. My cauldron was stocked with something much better than candy: pocket paperback editions of some of the shorter philosophy classics. To wit: John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. Rene Descartes’ Discourse on Method. Immanuel Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. And Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. By way of concession to the tastes of children, i also had a pile of 100 Grillion Dollar Bars in there. To sweeten the deal, as it were.

“For you,” i said to the one who’d identified as my Mom, “a copy of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, and a 100 Grillion Dollar Bar.”

“But it’s not real!” he demurred.

“What?” i said. “It is absolutely real! This is an authorized edition of the Tractatus!”

“I meant the 100 Grillion dollars.”

“Oh,” i said. “Hmmm. Define real.”

“Cool, a philosopher who’s also a smart-aleck. I can’t wait to tell my friends.”

I was not going to take this from a pipsqueak whose idea of a Hallowe’en costume was a lackluster impersonation of my Maternal Ancestor. “You were trick-or-treating in the hope of amassing a fortune?” i demanded. “No. You were trick-or-treating in the hope of getting lots of candy. This is candy. ‘Grillion’ isn’t even a number.”

Annoyed, i distributed philosophy books and 100 Grillion Dollar Bars to the remaining kids with no further complaint, although the fellow identifying as the tear from the eye of a magical unicorn did tremble slightly. No harm done, the kids were off, and i was left to contemplate the complexities involved in the naming of candy bars.

 

Group Two

This next interesting group came along a while later, after a few rather disappointing cohorts of fairies and zombies. “Hello, hello!” i said to them. “Welcome to the Philosopher’s Haunted Den of the Utter Decay of the Western Cultural Tradition.”

“SWEET,” said one of the kids, obviously genuinely impressed. “It even looks like a deteriorating architectural corpse, a rude, broken-down relic of past greatness.”

“Um, yes, thank you,” i said. “Moving on. Let’s start with you. What are you identifying as this evening?”

“I’m a naughty, naughty fellow,” he said in the most perfect deadpan you’ve ever seen.

“Well, yes, i’ve no doubt of that,” i said. “I meant, what are you dressed up as?”

His companion, with an almost-matching costume, spoke up. “He means that literally. He is identifying as a naughty, naughty fellow for Hallowe’en. He’s usually the perfect kid. He never does anything wrong. The grown-ups all love him. It’s disgusting.”

“Ah!” i said. “How silly of me. Got it. And you?” i asked his cohort.

“Well,” he began, “I’m a fellow who’s not quite mischievous enough to be called ‘naughty’ but who is, nevertheless, not an entirely reputable citizen.”

“And i see you two are a package deal,” i observed.

“We are,” said the first one, a naughty, naughty expression on his face.

“And you!” i said, directing my attention to a young man dressed in what appeared to me to be the garb of a well-to-do dandy from the early 1800s.

“I’m a character from the novel Persuasion, by Jane Austen,” he explained.

“That’s tremendous!” i said. “As it happens, i just re-read Persuasion a few months ago. Which character are you?”

“Well,” he said, somewhat tentatively, “I’m not actually in the book.”

“I see,” said i, although i didn’t.

He continued. “I’m a character that Austen would have included in the novel if she had actually known what she was doing.”

“Ah,” i said. “That’s more like it. Most treadknicious of you.”

The fourth child stepped forward, a little squirt of a dude who appeared to be dressed, as nearly as i could tell, as a shapeless blue amoeba.

“I’m an as-yet-undiscovered chemical element,” he said.

“Ah, but here you are,” i said cleverly. “You’ve been discovered.”

“Discovered by you,” he said. “The scientific community still hasn’t got a clue.”

“Niiiiiiiice,” i said. “Does this element have a name?”

“Nunnayurbidnium,” he said.

“Oh, sorry,” i said. “Didn’t mean to offend.”

“No,” he offered, “I mean the element is called ‘Nunnayurbidnium’.”

“Ah,” i said. “Yes. Of course. Very good. I shall append it to the periodic table in my old college chemistry book. The scientific community will never have to know.” He and i shared a mutual scholarly wink, and then i cauldron-dove to fetch the kiddies their goodies.

 

Group Three

The third interesting group arrived shortly after dusk, at around that time when the little kids and their parents are starting to thin out and the teenagers elaborately made up as zombies or wearing lame skeleton t-shirts are becoming the dominant demographic. Happily, the group of which i now speak was not made of such stuff.

There were eight people in this group: one set of three, and another set of five. The two sets of trick-or-treaters weren’t actually together, but they all arrived at my front porch at more-or-less the same time.

“And who are YOU people?” I was talking to what appeared to be the leader of the group of five, which i took, furthermore, to be a family of aliens. Not the illegal kind; the interplanetary kind.

“We’re a family of aliens,” he explained helpfully.

“I gathered as much,” i said. “And what brings you ’round these here parts?”

“Well,” he began, hooking a tentacle into each of the two straps of his overalls, “It’s like this. We are the last of our race. Our civilization was wiped out by a race of even meaner aliens from a neighboring planet.”

“Grrrrrr,” chorused the wife and kids, their tentacles waving menacingly in the air.

“That’s awful!” i said. “So you’re refugees here on earth, seeking asylum?”

“Well, it’s more like, we’re hopin’ to set up a GoFundMe account so that we can afford thermonuclear weapons and wipe them other aliens off the face of their stupid planet.”

“Well, gosh, y’know, okey-dokey,” i said, concluding that these varmints were serious customers and not to be trifled with. Casting about for a change of topic, i said, “Well, sir, your young’un here looks just like you.”

The lad waved his tentacles about in evident pleasure.

“Don’t he now?” said the proud papa, huffing a cloud of pinkish gas from the top of what i believe to have been his head. “He sure do favor his old dad, that’s what i’ve always said.”

I nodded. “I gotta say, the apple don’t fall far from the tree. So, remind me again… i don’t think i caught it the first time… what’s the name of the planet y’all are from?”

The father replied with the most horrifying sound i have ever seen produced by an object that was less than six feet away from me: a sort of screeching moan, mostly made up of harsh vowels and painful dreams. “So,” i squirmed. “Um. So that’s the name of your planet, is it?” By this time the conviction was finally borne in upon me that these were probably not kids wearing costumes.

“Wow, okay,” i said, turning my attention to the remaining group of three, who had sat patiently on their fence during the preceding proceedings. Did i mention that these three fellows had a portable fence, mounted on wheels, and that they were sitting on it?

“And you fellows,” i said. “What’s the story?”

“We’re Scotsmen,” said the first one.

“Aye, that we are,” said the second. “Three of us.”

“Sittin’ on a fence,” added the third.

That certainly cleared things up for me. “Golly,” i said, “you fellows seem oddly familiar. Might i have encountered you in a joke somewhere?”

“It’s not unlikely,” said the first one.

“You’ve probably haird the one about the three Scotsmen,” said the second one.

“Sittin’ on a fence,” added the third.

“Aye, that i have,” said i, involuntarily falling into their mode of speech. “So that’s why you fellas seem so familiar.” Then, seizing an opportunity that was not likely to come round again, i asked, “So what’s the punchline? I’ve never heard the finished version of the joke.”

The three Scotsmen looked at each other, then back at me, smiled mysteriously, and said nothing.

[Editor’s Note: For a discussion of the original joke about the Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence, you might want to check out this post… (“So There Were These Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence, See”) from about four years ago. You might, additionally, enjoy checking out this later post: “An Attempt to Get to the Bottom of This ‘Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence’ Thing.”]

Unsure of how to continue the conversation, i dug out some Hundred Grillion Dollar Bars and pocket philosophical classics from my cauldron, distributed them among the strange company, and saw them off.

 

Conclusion

Well, there you have it. My first participation in Hallowe’en in about 40 years. I feel you must agree with me that it was a smashing success.

And you will be gratified to note, as i was, that after having checked all up and down the block the next morning, i saw no sign of philosophy books that had been tossed aside into people’s yards or chucked into conveniently located garbage cans.

[Editor’s Note: For some clues as to where some of these kiddies might have gotten the ideas for their inventive costumes, have a look at the post prior to this one.]

 

Some Things That Flockbinkers Have in Common with Unicorns.

Greetings, o most excellent reader.

In a recent post, we were forced to acknowledge an objection some readers apparently have to this blog: that, even though it mentions flockbinkers in the title, not every post is actually about flockbinkers. Now, i do need to point out that the greater number of the posts do at least mention flockbinkers, and in that last post we did raise the somewhat metaphysically subtle possibility that even the posts that don’t mention flockbinkers might nevertheless be about them. One of our loyal readers wasn’t buying that one, though, so we thought we’d devote this post to some fairly explicit (be warned, parents!) discussion of flockbinkers.

In fact, why don’t we address a question that has doubtless occurred to more than one reader since this blog was launched. Perhaps you’re among those who have wondered: What is the connection between flockbinkers and unicorns? Are they similar in some way? They certainly do get mentioned together a lot in this blog. What exactly do they have in common?

Let’s set forth eight ways in which unicorns and flockbinkers might be thought of as similar.

1. They both have three syllables in their name.

Here, let me show you.

You – knee – corn. Flock – bing – ker.

You can sound them out for yourself. Three syllables each.

Now, you may not think this is a significant thing for two objects to have in common, but that is where you have made your vital mistake. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine any criterion for similarity between any two things that is more important than the question of whether the words used to depict them have the same number of syllables. You’ll just have to trust us on this one.

2. They both have a horn poking out of the middle of their forehead.

It must be admitted up front that this point is a controversial one. The scholarly community are not unanimous in the conviction that flockbinkers have a horn protruding from the forehead. Some scholars are skeptical regarding whether flockbinkers even have a forehead, or, for that matter any kind of head at all. There are hints in the philosophical literature to the effect that the flockbinker may be an entity something like a toaster, or a microwave oven. There has even arisen a recent school of thought that says flockbinkers may be more like clouds of pinkish gas than anything else. And, of course, there are those outliers who aren’t convinced that there even IS such a thing as a flockbinker… which leads us to our next point.

3. They both are nonexistent.

Of course, this point depends entirely on what you mean by the terms ‘existent’ and ‘nonexistent.’  If by ‘existent’ you mean the sort of thing you are likely to see served at dinner or parked in your driveway, then both the flockbinker and the unicorn may safely be termed ‘nonexistent.’

The more precise discussion of what it means for something to exist has been treated elsewhere on this blog and will be revisited many times in the future. We need not concern ourselves with it now. If, however, you are a philosopher, and therefore of a stamp that requires a higher level of precision than does the average reader of silly blogs, then the next point will doubtless be of interest to you.

4. They both occupy a kind of ontological territory that might be termed ‘modally existent.’

Perhaps ‘nonexistent’ is a fatally inexact way to characterize both flockbinkers and unicorns. Perhaps we might want to nuance that a bit, and say that they do… er, sort of… exist, but not in the same way that your iPhone exists, or those Depends undergarments you’ve started wearing recently and that you earnestly hope no one knows about. We might want to say that the unicorn and the flockbinker are ‘modally existent’… which is to say, they exist in a different sort of way from the things we usually think of as existing, like paper airplanes, government waste, and the number 439. Well, except the number 439 might also go into the category of modal existence, depending on what you think the normal sort of ‘existence’ is all about. For that matter, government waste may have have to go in that same category, because — although we all know that it’s there — it’s not the sort of thing you can swat with a yardstick or draw pictures on with a lump of charcoal. Some other things that might go in the category of ‘modally existent’ would be Elizabeth Bennet, the bogeyman, and whoever that guy is that Taylor Swift keeps writing songs about.

5. Discussing either of them in this blog can send a certain Good Reader into an apoplectic rage.

The Good Reader:  Okay, buster, you can just stop it right there. I am not about to put up with….

The Blogger:  I rest my case.

6. They both can be found in mythic and fantasy literature.

The Good Reader:  Now just a minute, you cut me off before i was able to make my point.

The Blogger:  But we’ve already moved on to another point.

The Good Reader:  Oh no, we haven’t. Not until we address the previous one, which you just kind of whipped on through while trying to make me look stupid.

The Blogger:  [sigh] Okay, Good Reader. You may respond in full.

The Good Reader:  You claimed that mentioning unicorns or flockbinkers on this blog will send me into “an apoplectic rage.”

The Blogger:  Well, in my defense, i didn’t actually mention you by name….

The Good Reader:  I don’t even have a name. I’m a character who serves as the personification of your readership.

The Blogger:  There is that.

The Good Reader:  But my point is, i am not enraged by hearing you mention flockbinkers or unicorns. I actually think they’re kind of endearing. What enrages me, maybe even apoplectically, is listening to you make bizarre statements that you can’t back up, and then insulting me and trying to make me look like a moron when i challenge you on it.

The Blogger:  I have never done that.

The Good Reader:  So that’s what enrages me. Apoplectically.

The Blogger:  Well, your clarification is of course welcome, Good Reader, but you still seem to be ignoring the fact that we’ve moved on to a new topic.

The Good Reader:  Fine. I’ll challenge you on that, too. Unicorns have, of course, been the subject of myth and fantasy literature. Flockbinkers have not. Nobody has ever even heard of flockbinkers.

The Blogger:  Except, of course, for the thousands of readers who regularly follow this blog.

The Good Reader:  I’m rolling my eyes. Can you see it? I’m rolling my eyes at you and making the face people make when their 16-month-old has just dumped a plate of spaghetti on the floor.

The Blogger:  [checking his watch] Oops, will you look at that, we’re almost out of time. Must move on to the next point.

7. They both tend to be featured in Medieval tapestries.

It is commonly known that unicorns are featured in Medieval tapestries, often in the company of a young virgin. What’s less well known is that flockbinkers, also, can be found pictured in Medieval tapestries. Have you ever seen a picture of the Bayeux Tapestry? It’s not technically a tapestry, it’s more like a really long visual newspaper article reporting how the fateful Battle of Hastings went. Anyway, about 2/3 of the way toward the right of the picture, you can see a strange creature taking a spear right in the face. Ouch. Well, many informed experts feel that this was a flockbinker who innocently wandered onto the field of battle at precisely the wrong moment. That is to say, the wrong moment if your preference is not to die horribly, but the right moment if you’d like to be immortalized in one of the world’s most iconic works of art. It’s really a matter of perspective, isn’t it.

8. They are both of interest to people who self-identify as ‘horse-people.’

It has been the personal experience of This Blogger that those who tend to view themselves as ‘horse-people’ tend to be drawn both to unicorns and to flockbinkers. To unicorns, obviously, because they’re basically the same thing as a horse but with extra stuff. But why are such people also drawn to flockbinkers? Perhaps because flockbinkers, like horses, tend to be a preferred mode of transportation among those who (as represented in Western films) poke cows for a living? But here we have wandered into the territory of pure conjecture.

Your Very First “Flockbinkers” Pop Quiz.

 

Alrighty, boys and girls, it’s time for a pop quiz. (You knew this was going to happen eventually, and i shall be most disappointed if i find that you’ve not been paying attention.)  Put your books away, take out a pencil and a sheet of paper, and let’s begin.


Question #1:  Which of the following are NOT branches of philosophy?  Select all that apply.

A.  Epistemology

B.  Axiology

C.  Astrology

D.  Metaphysics

E.  Betaphyshics

F.  Ethics

G.  Justin Bieber’s Greatest Hits

H.  Logic

I.  Endocrinology

J.  Whatever Eckhart Tolle’s latest book is about

 

Question #2:  In which of these places are you NOT likely to find real philosophy?

A.  The dialogues of Plato

B.  The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas

C.  The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus of Ludwig Wittgenstein

D.  The poetry of Alexander Pope, Matthew Arnold and T.S. Eliot

E.  The “Intro to Philosophy” class at many state universities

F.  The “Philosophy” section at Barnes and Noble

G.  David Letterman’s interviews with Julia Roberts

H.  Facebook memes (with or without the obligatory misspellings, incorrectly used apostrophes and grammatical monstrosities)

I.  In the second stall from the end, in the men’s room at the Imperial Golden House #2.

J.  The pontifications of that barista who likes to begin every statement with, “Well, MY philosophy is….”

 

Question #3:  Which of the following are NOT functions of logic?

A.  Increasing clarity and reducing misunderstanding

B.  Creating a clear path from evidence to conclusion

C.  Guaranteeing the truth or falsity of propositions

D.  Furnishing a set of tools by which you can sound all fancy and stuff

E.  Creating an environment in which the Darwin Awards are possible

F.  Enabling you to demonstrate that your opponent is an idiot

G.  Enabling you to (inadvertently) demonstrate that you are an idiot

H.  Slicing, dicing, and making julienne fries

I.  Forging an insanely dense, turgid and confused mass of incomprehensible language where a perfectly ordinary conversation might have worked just as well

J.  Enabling the speaker to introduce nonsense terms like “treadknicious” and “inflammable” into the discussion

 

Question #4:  Complete the following sentence. You may select more than one answer. You may NOT select answer (G).  Somebody’s been hacking my WordPress…

“All Flockbinkers are ___________________ .”

A.  nonexistent

B.  extinct

C.  doing quite well, thank you, and living in a condo in Miami Beach

D.  rather a ridiculous thing to be taking up precious conversational time with, don’t you think? I mean, honestly.

E.  of uncertain ontological status

F.  related in ways we do not fully understand to wamwams

G.  symptomatic of The Blogger’s unique psychopathology

H.  treadknicious

I.  your mom

J.  oh, wow, that last one was pretty mature, wasn’t it

 

Question #5:  True, false, neither, or both?

“The present king of France is bald.”

A.  False: French men don’t go bald

B.  False: There is currently no French king.

C.  Do we mean “publicly bald” or “actually bald”?  I’ve heard he wears a hairpiece.

D.  Neither: There is currently no French king

E.  Yeah, okay, so somebody’s been channeling Bertrand Russell

F.  Bertrand Russell shmertrand russell, it’s a straightforward case of a bogus question involving a non-referential term

G.  I have no idea what those last two guys are talking about, i’m going with “true.”

H.  Okay, so there’s only one left, i’ll take “both.”

I.  It can’t possibly be “both.” A statement cannot be both true and untrue at the same time. That’s basic Aristotelian logic.

J.  What do i know from Aristotelian logic?  I was a sohsh major.  I’m going with “both.”

 

Question #6:  Select all that apply.

The term ‘ontology’…

A.  means “an area of study that deals with being or identity”

B.  is a branch of philosophy similar to metaphysics

C.  is a branch of philosophy that is sometimes presented as a subcategory under metaphysics

D.  is a branch of philosophy under which metaphysics is sometimes presented as a subcategory

E.  Let me get this straight, some of you people actually talk like this on a regular basis?

F.  sounds almost like a branch of medicine

G.  is the science that studies new dinosaurs

H.  Get it? “Paleontology” studies prehistoric dinosaurs, and “ontology” studies the new ones.

I.  I’m guessing here, does it mean the study of elderly female relatives? I’m totally guessing.

J.  rhymes with “shmontology,” thus making possible the poem: “ontology, shmontology.”

 

Question #7:  Complete the following sentence. You may select more than one answer.

“The unicorn is an entity that ___________________ .”

A.  shares certain attributes in common with the flockbinker

B.  can be found throughout world literature and myth

C.  is of uncertain ontological status

D.  Dude, the same people who talk about unicorns do not use the word “entity.”

E.  can be used to trip up The Good Reader into saying self-contradictory things

F.  is often pictured communing with a virgin on medieval tapestries

G.  if it existed, would be kind of cool

H.  if it existed, would be a horror past all imagining

I.  is a favorite animal among those who self-identify as “horse-people”

J.  “…has a single horn growing out of its forehead. Except, well, you see, it doesn’t, because unicorns aren’t real. Well, it’s complicated. Darn it, you tripped me up again!”

 

Question #8:  Complete the following syllogism.

Some broomshovelers are hobnobbicus.

All broomshovelers are froombicious.

Therefore, _____________________ .

A.  some things that are hobnobbicus are also froombicious.

B.  You have got to be kidding me.

C.  No, it’s a serious logic exercise.

D.  How can something with nonsense words be a logic exercise?  That’s totally illogical.  heh heh.

E.  No, it’s not totally illogical. Non-referential terms can be used as placeholders to illustrate various kinds of logical relationships.

F.  Whatever.

G.  I’m guessing that “whatever,” in the present instance, means “i’m not capable of grasping the nuances of structured philosophical discourse.”

H.  Yeah, well, i’ve got your structured philosophical discourse right here, pal.

I.  Hey, can y’all take the argument offline, please?  I’m trying to figure out the answer to the dude’s question.

J.  I just got here. Sorry i’m late, everybody! Hey, did i hear somebody say “broomshovelers”?  Funny!  I’m actually studying that at the community college. Small world.

 

Question #9:  True, false, neither, both, or both neither and both?

“A flockbinker does not have to exist in order to be treadknicious.”

A.  That’s silly. How can something that doesn’t exist be “trebulishus” or anything else?

B.  You have to pick one of the five options he gave you.

C.  I did. What part of “that’s silly” doesn’t pretty much mean “false”?

D.  We’re all philosophers here. Precision is kind of a big deal.

E.  Guys, The Blogger here. Can you please refrain from using up all the answers with your bickering?  I only get to put in ten answers per question.

F.  You’re The Blogger, how do you not get as many answers per question as you want to include?  Hmmmm?

G.  Hey fellas, i’ll take a stab at it. “Neither.”  ‘Cause a flockbinker doesn’t exist and also isn’t treadknicious.

H.  Oh my word. Kill me now.

I.  What, that wasn’t the right answer? I thought it made perfect sense.

J.  Let me try. I’m going with “both neither and both,” on account of it sounds like the most complicated answer, and it’s a complicated question.

J 1/2.  He only included that one to be absurd. I’m pretty sure he didn’t expect anyone to select it.

J 2/3.  Well, it’s my answer and i’m sticking to it.

J 4/5.  By the way, o mighty Blogger, don’t think we haven’t noticed that you’re stretching out the answers.

 

Question #10:  Fill in the blank. Choose all answers that apply.

“There are two kinds of people in the world: dog-people and horse-people. We only threw in the dog-people to make the question seem more involved than it really is. You can lead a horse-person to water, but you cannot  ________________________ .”

A.  make him drink it.

B.  make his horse drink it.

C.  take the risk of attaching either the pronoun ‘he’ or the pronoun ‘she’ to ‘horse-person,’ because ‘horse-person’ is a gender-indefinite term.

D.  Well, traditionally, ‘he’ has been used as the gender-indefinite pronoun in English.

E.  Your respect for tradition is endearing! I bet you knit your own sweaters, too. Welcome to the 21st century! We’ve kind of moved beyond sexist grammar.

F.  There’s nothing ‘sexist’ about having an indefinite pronoun that happens to be the same word that, in other contexts, would be a masculine pronoun.

G.  The Blogger: Fellas, fellas, please!  Take the argument outside.  I’m really trying to run a quiz here.

H.  “Fellas”…?  What makes you think we’re both men?

I.  I was using the word ‘fellas’ in its gender-inclusive sense.

J.  The word ‘fellas’ does not have a gender-inclusive sense, dude. It’s a masculine-reference noun, admittedly idiomatic in nature but nevertheless conventionally masculine.

J.5.  You called me “dude.”

J.7.  What?

J.8.  You called me “dude.”  How do you know i’m a fella?

J.9.  I read your bio, dude.

J.995.  Oh, that’s right.  Blast.  Thought i had you.

 

 

 

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