all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

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

Tag: unicorns

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.

 

Now, Boys and Girls, Let’s Look at Some Syllogisms

Is it just me, or has it been entirely too long since we’ve explored the exciting world of how to construct a sound logical syllogism?

A Voice from Near the Back of the Auditorium:  Pretty sure it’s just you.

Heh heh. Terrific. Thanks. Ahem. So, why don’t we refresh our memories regarding what a ‘logical syllogism’ is and how they function as components in an argument.

A Voice from Near the Back of the Auditorium:  Let’s not, and say we did.

Mmmmm. Pardon me one moment.

“Ushers? We appear to have a situ — very good. Yes. Thank you.”

Glad that’s taken care of. You can’t always control who ends up in your audience.

So, anyway, for those of us who could use a reminder, or are perhaps new to the blog, a syllogism is like the basic building block of a logical argument. Each syllogism is made up of three statements: the first two are the ‘premises,’ and the third statement is the ‘conclusion.’ The two premises introduce a set of ideas which, if understood correctly, lead necessarily to the conclusion.

Here, let me show you.

1. All flockbinkers are treadknicious.

2. Some wamwams are flockbinkers.

3. Therefore, some wamwams are treadknicious.

As you can clearly see, if the first two statements — the premises — are true, then the conclusion is bang-on. This is how a syllogism is supposed to work. The premises give you all the information you need to start out with, and if everything is set up right, the conclusion should naturally follow.

Here’s another example.

1. All Republicrats are freemish.

2. Some Democricans are Republicrats.

3. Therefore, some Democricans are freemish.

“But wait a second!” you say.  “This is the same exact thing as that ‘All flockbinkers are treadknicious’ syllogism, but with a different set of silly words inserted into it.”

Ah, excellent reader, how good of you to pick up on that!  And, indeed, the two syllogisms might be, sort of, the same thing — if all of the ‘silly words’ (as you have so uncharitably labeled them) are not only functionally but semantically equivalent. But that’s assuming an awful lot, isn’t it! (And you know what happens when we assume.) What makes you so sure, good reader, that a ‘flockbinker’ and a ‘Republicrat’ are the same thing?

The Good Reader:  All meaningless words are the same thing. They all mean, and i quote, ‘diddly-squat.’

The Blogger:  But i disagree. Perhaps different nonsense terms indicate different categories of nonsense?

The Good Reader:  Nonsense is nonsense! How can there be different ‘categories’ of nonsense? It’s all nonsense! Nonsense nonsense nonsense.

The Blogger:  Well, what if the term ‘wamwam’ occupies a certain semantic territory, albeit one that does not correspond to any actual existent thing or category of things, while the term ‘republicrat’ occupies a different semantic territory?

The Good Reader:  That did not EVEN mean anything. You’re stalling.

The Blogger:  Of course it did! Perhaps if i were to use more simple language… in deference to your elementary grasp of philosophy….

The Good Reader:  [mutters something under her breath that does not sound nice]

The Blogger:  Allright. Try this. What if there are modalities of meaning, some of which are attached to existent entities and some of which are attached merely to mental images, or even to nodules of possibility that correspond to no intelligible image or idea?

The Good Reader:  You’re boring me.

Okay, okay, enough. We probably need to cut our losses on that one. Jeepers. Our first examples seem not to have gone over very well.

So here’s a syllogism in which all of the terms are ordinary, recognizable words.

1. If James is a good boy, he will be pelted with frozen waffles by a mob of crazed orangutans.

2. James is not a good boy.

3. Therefore, James need not worry about being pelted with frozen waffles by a mob of crazed orangutans.

Random Reader of the Blog, Who Is Not Specifically ‘The Good Reader’, But Who Is Nevertheless a Good Reader, and Who Raises His hand, Indicating That He Wishes to Volunteer to Analyze This Syllogism:

I’ve got this.

Um, right off the top of my head, i can see three problems with your… oh, what was the word you used? Syllogism? I think that was the word. And here they are.

Problem #1:  Being pelted with frozen waffles by a mob of crazed orangutans is not a real thing. This does not ever happen. It just doesn’t. Literally no one has experienced this. The Blogger is scraping the bottom of a nonexistent barrel.

Problem #2: Even if it were a thing, it is highly unlikely that being pelted with frozen waffles by a mob of crazed orangutans would be the consequence of being a good boy. When you’re a good boy, the teacher gives you an ‘S’ for ‘satisfactory’ in the behavior section of your report card. Orangutans, crazed or sober, are not involved.

Problem #3: Even if crazed orangutans throwing frozen waffles were a real thing, and even if this were the sort of thing a good boy might expect to happen to him, there’s no reason to assume that one could not be pelted with frozen waffles (by a mob of crazed orangutans) even if one were not a good boy. Maybe there just happens to be a mob of crazed orangutans roaming the neighborhood, pelting people indiscriminately with frozen waffles. They don’t care whether you’ve been a good boy or not. They don’t know. They can’t even tell the difference. Dude. They are crazed orangutans.

So for those three reasons, and probably some more that i haven’t noticed, this syllogism is a disaster.

Back to you, Blogger.

Darn it. I hate to admit it, but Random Reader of the Blog has scored some decent points there. Hey, fella, toss me an email later on… i may have a job for you on this blog.

So. That syllogism turns out to have been a wash; let’s try one last one.

1. No flockbinkers are unicorns.

2. A unicorn is a small slippery fish with eight legs and a stinger.

3. Therefore, a flockbinker is not a small slippery fish with eight legs and a stinger.

And i’ll just go ahead and start you out with a hint: The syllogism is invalid.

The Good Reader:  Invalid! Duh. Of course it’s not valid. There are so many things wrong with that one, i don’t EVEN know where to begin!”

The Blogger:  I see that The Good Reader has once again made an appearance. Well, Good Reader, lay it on us. What’s the problem here?

The Good Reader:  There are skoozoos of problems. To begin with…

The Blogger:  One moment, please. Did you actually say, “skoozoos of problems”…?

The Good Reader:  I did.

The Blogger:  I’ve never heard that one before. Hmmm. Interesting. Well, okay, carry on.

The Good Reader:  Right. First off, how can we know that no flockbinkers are unicorns?

The Blogger:  Well, i mean, golly, they just aren’t!

The Good Reader:  That’s the best you’ve got…?

The Blogger:  Let’s just say this: say we are positing, for the sake of argument, that ‘flockbinker’ and ‘unicorn’ are mutually exclusive categories.

The Good Reader:  Fine. That’s pretty arbitrary, but whatever. So then let’s go on to the next thing, which is your totally false definition of ‘unicorn’.

The Blogger:  False definition? What? Where?

The Good Reader:  You claim in this syllogism that a unicorn is “a small slippery fish with eight legs and a stinger.”

The Blogger:  Okay. So?

The Good Reader:  That’s not even a good definition of a fish, much less a unicorn! A fish can’t have eight legs. It wouldn’t be a fish. It would be… an arachnid? Or something.

The Blogger:  But unicorns don’t exist, so how can there be a true or a false definition of one? Hah! I’ve got you there.

The Good Reader:  So… Okay. Here’s this. Dumbo the Elephant has a six-cylinder engine, seventeen heads, ginger ale for blood, and he eats postal delivery workers for breakfast.

The Blogger:  What? That’s not right! Dumbo isn’t anything like that!

The Good Reader:  Ah, but he’s a fictional character, he doesn’t exist, so, according to you, i can define him any way i want to.  [makes a highly unattractive ‘neener, neener’ face that her mother would find most frightfully disappointing]

The Blogger:  Well, um, we could discuss at some length the issue of what it means to say that Dumbo ‘does not exist’….

The Good Reader:  …and we could apply the exact same criteria to whether unicorns exist or not. Surely you’re not saying that Dumbo the Ohmigosh Stupid Fictional Elephant is somehow more real than a unicorn…?

The Blogger:  Well…no.

The Good Reader:  I didn’t think so.

The Blogger:  So, for the sake of the argument, a unicorn could STILL be a “small, slippery fish with eight legs and a stinger.” We just define him that way, by fiat. In this syllogism, that’s what a unicorn is.

The Good Reader:  So syllogisms don’t have to have even a remote connection to reality. Logic is for dreamers and drug users and Tim Burton and people in psychiatric hospitals.

The Blogger:  Um, no.

The Good Reader:  And anyway, you yourself said that this particular syllogism is invalid. Right?

The Blogger:  I did. You just haven’t discovered the reason why it’s invalid yet.

The Good Reader:  I’ve pointed out that it’s made up of bizarre garbled incoherent hash. You want more than that?

The Blogger:  Well, to be exact, you haven’t really….

The Good Reader:  So, Mister Blogger, why would you say that it’s invalid, if not for the fact that you haven’t defined a single thing correctly in it?

The Blogger:  Well, a flockbinker could still be a small slippery fish with eight legs and a stinger, even if it’s not a unicorn. Maybe there’s more than one kind of animal that’s a small slippery fish with eight legs and a stinger. A unicorn is one kind, and a flockbinker is a different kind.

The Good Reader:  I hereby accuse you of the excessive use of alcohol.

The Blogger:  No, really, it works. Think it through. Draw a diagram if you have to.

The Good Reader:  If you want to represent logic to your readers as being a truckload of absurdity that’s completely useless for actually figuring anything out in the real world, go right ahead.  [*sigh*]

The Blogger:  See, here’s the circle that includes all of the unicorns, and here’s the circle that includes all of the flockbinkers —

The Good Reader:  Someone kill me now.

The Blogger:  And notice that, even though the two circles don’t overlap, they could still both contain different kinds of small slippery fish with —

The Good Reader:  Make it painless, if possible, but i’m ready to go.

 

The Blogger Goes Through Some of His Reader Mail!

As you might have supposed, we get a lot of letters from our enthusiastic readers — as well as from the other 96% of the people who read the blog.  [Ba-dumm-cchh]  It doesn’t take long for the mail to pile up on The Blogger’s desk. As it turns out, there are people all over the English-speaking world who are hungry to learn more about philosophy, and who have found that our modest little blog is the very thing they were looking for. It’s deeply gratifying — it really is. It warms our hearts. We love hearing from our devoted readers… and from the other 96% of the people who stumble across the blog.

We thought it would be a nice idea to share with you a representative sampling of the correspondence we’ve been receiving in recent weeks.

Why don’t we start with this one, from ‘Madison’ in Spokane, Washington.

Hi there, Calling All Flockbinkers blog. I just want you to know that I’m a new reader, and maybe I have a lot to learn about whatever it is you’re doing. But I tried taking your Flockbinker Quiz #1 and I actually got sick afterwards. I don’t mean I felt sick in my soul or anything like that, I mean I actually came down with something and had to stay near the bathroom for two days. Please don’t ever post anything like that again. I promise I will keep reading your blog as long as you never ever post anything like that ever again.

Madison, we really appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts.  We certainly had no intention of traumatizing anybody when we designed and posted that quiz, and we’re sorry that you had a bad experience.  If you’ll drop by our “All Flockbinkers” office sometime, we’ll give you a cup of coffee and let you sit in the comfy chair while holding a small, furry stuffed elephant that we keep on the coffee table.  Hopefully that will make you feel much better.  It usually works for us.

Let’s have a look at another letter from one of our readers.

Hmm. What have we here? ‘Laura,’ a teacher in a classical school in Phoenix, Arizona, has this to say:

I’m an educator. I work really hard to provide a strong educational experience for my students, and to develop good assessment tools to use in determining what they’re getting and what they’re not. When I give them a test, it is a carefully crafted instrument that has been thought through in all of its details. I found your ‘flockbinker quiz’ personally offensive. You are mocking the very idea of teaching and learning. Who do you think you are, Mister Blogger, if that is indeed your real name? Who do you think you are? That’s what I want to know. Who do you think you are?

Laura, Laura, you must calm yourself! So turbulent! Could it be that you tried taking the Flockbinker Quiz #1 and did not do well on it, thus revealing your own need for further study… and you are taking your frustration out on us? We could, of course, be wrong. It’s just one possible explanation among many others.

On to another piece of reader mail.

Alright, here’s ‘Langford’ in Jacksonville, Florida, who wrote us the following:

I’ve recently become interested in the study of philosophy, and was overjoyed to come across your blog! Imagine my dismay when I read through your so-called “Flockbinker Quiz #1” and discovered that you were basically making an idiotic joke of mankind’s earnest search for transcendent meaning across the centuries. I assure you that I shall never darken the door of your blog again. If, that is, a blog is the sort of thing that has a ‘door.’ Hmmm. Must give further thought to this question.

Okay, gosh, Langford, wow, that’s terrific, thank you. Golly.

Perhaps we’ve heard enough on the subject of our recent pop quiz. What ELSE might our devoted readers have on their minds?

This one is from ‘L.J.W.’ in Nashville, Tennessee.

Thanks for posting such interesting content on your blog, o administrator of the “Calling All Flockbinkers” site. I have dutifully followed your blog from the very beginning and it has been a consistently enriching experience.

[Editor’s Note: Now THAT’s what we’re talking about. This is probably the sort of thing that the first three readers meant to communicate, but they were having difficulty getting in touch with their true feelings. L.J.W. then continues:]

One thing I have noticed, though, is that you don’t post very much about the plight of women and minorities. Given the messy circumstances of the current election cycle, and the kinds of public discussion being stirred up as a result, I find it remarkable that you haven’t posted more about the oppression of minorities and women. You’re missing out on a great opportunity. You should devote more of your blog to the discussion of the rights of women and minorities.

Thank you, ‘L’, for your thoughtful contribution. Can it be, though, that it has somehow escaped your notice that “flockbinkers” are a minority group? How many flockbinkers do you encounter on a daily basis? Any at all? None? It’s hard to get any more “minority-status” than that. Flockbinkers (as well as wamwams, unicorns, and some of the other entities featured on the blog) are among the rarest of minorities, and — as we’re sure you will acknowledge — they are hardly ever discussed. It’s almost as it they don’t even exist. As if they are invisible.

To touch on the other point you raised, flockbinkers may be women as well. We’re just not sure. We don’t know. Very little is actually known about flockbinkers, which is one of the reasons why the regular discussion of them on this blog is so important.

Mary, from De Pere, Wisconsin, would like to share the following:

“I have incredibly mixed feelings about how The Good Reader is portrayed on your blog. I feel as if I identify with this person, somehow, and I take it personally when you belittle her and make her the butt of your snooty philosophical jokes. Why do you have to portray The Good Reader as if she had no common sense, just because she is not as comfortable as you are when talking about nonsense and things like flockbinkers and unicorns that don’t exist? You, sir, are no gentleman.”

Wow, Mary… and by the way, we genuinely appreciate hearing from you… don’t you think you’re being kind of harsh? After all, if The Good Reader couldn’t take a bit of good-natured ribbing, why then she wouldn’t be a regular on the blog. She’d be on somebody else’s blog, where she could be assured of being treated with the sort of dignity and kindness that is appropriate to the loyal readership of an internationally recognized website. Apparently she’s not into that kind of thing, though, and who can blame her? It sounds ghastly.

This one is from Wee Baby Bobby, who lives in Hoboken, New Jersey. Bobby says,

“Coo, dribble, cough-cough, drool, sneeze, coo, hiccup, yawn.”

All we can say, Bobby, is that you have given voice to what is almost certainly the opinion of most of our readers, many of whom are clearly a bit shy about coming out and saying it. We appreciate your frankness, Bob, and look forward to making your further acquaintance when you’ve taken the time to expand your vocabulary a bit!

And here’s one from Geoffrey, in Kingston-upon-Hull, England.

The fact is, as a lad i was raised on a flockbinker farm and it was my job to take the ‘binkers out to pasture every morning and return them to the fold in the evenings. I was for this reason able to become intimately familiar with their habits, and it is my opinion that your account of them is extremely accurate. I applaud you for getting this kind of information out to the online world.

So… wait.  Um.  Geoffrey, are you actually trying to tell us…

…Oh, just a second, look here. We appear to have another letter from Geoffrey, postmarked a few days later. Let’s see what he has to say in this one.

To Whom It May Concern:  We have reason to believe that you may recently have heard from one of our patients, ‘Geoffrey.’ Would you do us, and him, and his family, the kindness of not encouraging him? ‘Geoffrey’ (not his real name) is a patient here at Foggy Wold Sanitarium for the Mentally Adventurous, And That’s Putting It Mildly. He is not actually supposed to be accessing the internet, and, frankly, we’re not sure how he got on to a computer. It might be helpful to you to know that, when not imagining that he is the child of flockbinker farmers, he will sometimes represent himself as The Knights Who Say ‘Ni’. Not just one of them — all of them, at the same time. We feel that the course of his treatment would be best served if you were to refrain from answering any correspondence you might receive from him.

Respectfully, the Psychiatric Staff
Foggy Wold Sanitarium for the Mentally Adventurous, And That’s Putting It Mildly

Well. The less said on this score, the better.

Finally, we have a letter from Leticia, in Windsor, Ontario. It is apparently Leticia’s opinion that…

…your blog is one of the most entertaining and informative things I’ve come across in a long while on the internet. In comparison with your lively and witty content, everything else I read online seems like a featureless, waterless desert.

Gosh, thanks there, Leticia! Even if we did made you up out of thin air in order to salvage this post, your kind approbation still means a great deal to us. Look here, we’ll take whatever we can get.

And thus we bring to an end this episode of “Reader Mail.” The next time we share with you some of the letters we’ve gotten from our readers, it will not be right on the heels of a Quiz that a large proportion of our readership seems to have struggled with. Ahem.

The Good Reader Registers a Complaint About Flockbinker Pop Quiz #1

Last week — much to the delight of many of you, if the stacks of Reader Mail covering my desk are any indication — we regaled you with your very first Pop Quiz.  Flockbinker Pop Quiz #1.  And oh, it was a thing of beauty.  Ten multiple-choice questions featuring ten options each.  We covered a number of exciting topics, including the various branches of philosophy, the classic flockbinker syllogism, and the ontological status of unicorns.

Well, as they say, into every life a little rain must fall, and too many cooks spoil the broth, and a stitch in time saves nine, and there’s no business like show business, and old age ain’t for sissies. My point is this: No sooner had the ink dried on that Pop Quiz (our first, in case i have neglected to mention it), than the Good Reader contacted me to lodge an objection.  I shall try to reconstruct the conversation as best i can from memory.

The Good Reader:  I’d like to register a complaint about your so-called ‘Pop Quiz’.

The Blogger:  Say it isn’t so!  Why, Good Reader, you’re my number one fan!  What can you possibly have found to object to in so carefully thought-through and fastidiously worded an academic instrument?

The Good Reader:  It was nonsense from beginning to end, that’s what!

The Blogger:  If that’s your objection, you clearly haven’t been paying much attention to this blog for the past three years.

The Good Reader:  Oh no, i have.  And you’re right.  Every single post you foist upon your unsuspecting public is just stuffed with nonsense.  But, oh, i dunno, it usually seems justified somehow.  It’s like, you’re combining philosophy and comedy, while working off the effects of your psychiatric medications. That i can deal with.

The Blogger:  I’m not on any psychiatric medications.

The Good Reader:  No?  Well, that does explain a few things.  Your doctor is falling down on the job.

The Blogger:  Ahem.  We were talking about your objections to the Pop Quiz.

The Good Reader:  I don’t think it was a ‘pop quiz’ at all!  It was a chaotic explosion of seemingly endless silliness and horrible meaningless randomness.

The Blogger:  I take it your impression was a negative one.

The Good Reader:  Look here, blogger-fellow, if you’re going to call something a ‘quiz,’ you’re leading people to believe that there will be educational value attached to it.  Right?  But that one was just, i mean, it was, just, just, a lot of nonsense.

The Blogger:  It had a great deal of educational value!  It was about philosophy.  It was about logic.  It was about existence!

The Good Reader:  It was about ten questions too long.

The Blogger:  You’re being needlessly harsh, o Good Reader.  Surely you must have gained something from taking the quiz.  You… you did take it, didn’t you?

The Good Reader:  I looked at every question and read all of the answers you provided, if that’s what you mean by “taking” the quiz.

The Blogger:  Excellent!  I bet you were considerably smarter after taking it than you had been before.

The Good Reader:  Probably not. In fact, i feel like my I.Q. dropped about 20 points from the time i started to the time i got to the end.  I was barely able to remember how to turn off my computer.

The Blogger:  Were there certain questions that you particularly objected to?

The Good Reader:  The first few weren’t so bad; they actually had something to do with philosophy.  And there were at least a few useful answers provided. But then it got more and more ridiculous.  Really, blogger-person, you should be ashamed of yourself.

The Blogger:  Ah, i see the difficulty.  You object to the use of humor in making philosophy more palatable to the average reader.  You feel that the quiz ought to have been more serious.  “Too much frivolity!” is your battle-cry.  “What do you offer the seriously committed, sober-minded lover of philosophical study?”  Bypass the lighthearted banter and get straight to the Big Questions: that’s your way of thinking.  You believe in diving right into the deep end of the pool.  I bet you drink your whiskey straight.

The Good Reader:  I only took up drinking whiskey after the traumatic experience of reading through that so-called pop quiz.

The Blogger:  But you say you approved of the first few questions?

The Good Reader:  No, not at all, it’s just that i wasn’t profoundly traumatized by the first few questions.  They at least offered a few real answers, hidden in there among the references to Justin Bieber and the Darwin Awards.  And the graffiti in bathroom stalls.

The Blogger:  But then things got a bit thick, is that what you’re saying?

The Good Reader:  About halfway through, you started putting in “answers” that were supposed to be comments from readers.  Seriously?  How does that make any sense?

The Blogger:  Well, it is a little hard to explain, isn’t it.  Who can understand the complex ways of the internet?

The Good Reader:  And then they started arguing with each other.

The Blogger:  Yes.  That was unfortunate.

The Good Reader:  Right there in the middle of the quiz.  You had your readers arguing with each other in the answer sections.

The Blogger:  I have feisty readers.

The Good Reader:  But it was YOU writing all of that stuff!  Don’t pretend it wasn’t.  You’re not actually wanting me to believe that there were real people getting into fights on your so-called pop quiz?  You wrote the questions, and you wrote the answers.

The Blogger:  Well, it’s complicated.

The Good Reader:  That’s your go-to remark when you don’t feel like explaining yourself.

The Blogger:  Perhaps it should suffice to say that, yes, i wrote the questions and answers… but at another level of discourse, there were actual readers interacting with the questions and grappling with them, and offering their commentary aloud as they did so.

The Good Reader:  Ho hum, yada yada yada.

The Blogger:  Good Reader.  Your tone is unbecoming.

The Good Reader:  You had your readers saying things like, “ontology, shmontology” to each other in the middle of what was supposed to be a test.

The Blogger:  My quizzes are lively community affairs, like a block party.  Everybody wants to show up.  The joint gets to jumpin’.  A typical Flockbinker Quiz is like a really happenin’ social scene with music and laughter and dancing and people drinking too much.

The Good Reader:  The only thing “happenin” was that you made up a bunch of totally fictional readers that you don’t even have, and made it sound like they were arguing about something that Bertrand Russell said, whoever that is.

The Blogger:  Only one of the most important philosophers of the modern period.  He–

The Good Reader:  And to top it all off, you slipped me in there, and you made me sound ridiculous.  You put words into my mouth.

The Blogger:  Unlike what i’m doing right now.

The Good Reader:  Don’t interrupt.  You made it sound like i was fumbling through a really stupid attempt to define a unicorn.  You know what?  I know what your problem is.  You’ve never forgiven me for that time when we were talking about unicorns and i embarrassed you because you couldn’t explain the difference between The Good Reader(1) and The Good Reader(3).

[Editor’s Note: The Good Reader is referring to an incident that occurred in this post from July of 2013. S/he clearly has a long memory and a problem with letting things go. Some people are quite unwilling to let the past be the past.]

The Blogger:  It’s really never helpful to bring up the past.

The Good Reader:  Yes, that’s what you just now said in the sly editorial comment that you slipped in there in those brackets, thinking i wouldn’t see it.

The Blogger:  Oops.

The Good Reader:  So i guess the main thing that bothers me about your so-called pop quiz is that you used it as yet another instrument for making me look stupid.

The Blogger:  O Good Reader, so that’s what this is really all about!  I was incautious in my use of you as an example in one of the answers, and i hurt your feelings!  Golly, i’m sorry.

The Good Reader:  Well, i suppose i can choose to overlook it this one time, so long as you promise never to let it happen again.

The Blogger:  Absolutely.  I’m a changed man.  Gone are the days when i used to feature you as an example of someone with really elementary powers of reasoning, struggling to discuss things that are far beyond her capacities.  From now on, i’ll have you saying things that are easily within your somewhat limited intellectual reach.

The Good Reader:  Oh my word, you just did it again, just now, five seconds after promising you would never do it again!

The Blogger:  What?  What’d i say?

 

 

Ontology, Equestrian Style

In which an impromptu discussion of philosophy erupts among three randomly-assembled persons: two twenty-something women, and The Blogger, who now dutifully reports the exchange to his readers for their potential benefit and edification. And all that sort of thing.

As the scene begins, Female #1—whose real name sounds kind of like ‘Paleontology,’ only much shorter and with different letters—but in order to protect her identity we are calling her something else—to wit, ‘Female #1— is about to make a profound observation regarding human types. Her cousin, Female #2, whose real name is a slight variant of ‘Augury,’ is perched nearby reading a book with one ear and listening in on the conversation with the other ear. The question of how she can be reading a book with one ear…it’s a real book, not an audiobook… can safely be deferred to another day.

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Female #1:  There are two types of people in this world: horse people and normal people.

The Blogger:  And the people who make musical instruments by winding old silk stockings around a spool and playing them with chopsticks. That’s a third category entirely.

Female #1:  I was being serious.

The Blogger:  There’s no doubt of that! And any serious foray into the development of a classification system deserves the very closest attention from one’s intellectual companions.

Female #1:  I have no response to that.

The Blogger:  And we…  [here the Blogger makes a sweeping gesture that tacitly includes the cousin, seated across the room with one ear in a book]  …are your deeply interested intellectual companions.

Female #1:  There may be a slight difference between “giving somebody your very closest attention,” and “making fun of them by proposing ridiculous ideas when they’re thinking out loud.”

The Blogger:  Perhaps, perhaps. So why don’t you restate your two categories.

Female #1:  Horse people and normal people.

Female #2:  [piping up from across the room]  And dog people!

The Blogger:  …and chopstick – silk stocking – spool – musician people. Four categories! Your taxonomy is rapidly coming apart, [person’s name withheld, but it sounds kind of like Paleontology except with different letters and not as long].

Female #1:  Oh, come on!

The Blogger:  And to make matters worse, just off the top of my head, i’m now thinking of the category of people who have been to Jupiter in a spacecraft that was made by supergluing 46 microwave ovens together.

“Ah,” you may reply, “that’s not a very densely populated category.”

Sure, fine, but the point is that it is a category distinct from categories 1-4. So now we’ve identified FIVE groups of people in this world. And we may not yet be finished discovering new ones.

Female #1:  You’re pretty good at carrying on the whole conversation all by yourself. I could go get a donut and coffee and come back in about an hour, and I bet you’d still have both of us covered.

The Blogger:  You’re not the first person who’s said that.

Female #2:  [from across the room]  And the people who keep guinea pigs. That’s a very distinct community.

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Female #1:  Look, guys, I was just making a simple comment on whether people are into horses or not. There’s no need to make a production out of it.

The Blogger:  What you call “making a production out of it” is simply our display of intense interest in your line of thinking. We are subjecting your ideas to careful philosophical scrutiny because we think so very highly of you.

Female #1:  Well, gee. Thanks. I feel strangely moved.

Female #2:  And pythons. Some people keep a ball python at home in a large glass case. Those are not the horse people and they’re not the guinea pig people. Well, some of them could be guinea pig people. They could raise guinea pigs in order to feed them to the python. So now we have an overlapping of two of the categories. This is getting really interesting. I think I could take a liking to philosophy if it were all like this.

Female #1:  If you mention one more animal, so help me.

Female #2:  And the people in northern Finland who herd reindeer!  [ducks around a corner]

Female #1:  Grrrrr. Okay, I’ve got this: all of the above mentioned categories are just sub-categories within the “normal people” one. There are still only two main categories. Horse people and normal people.  [sweet smile]

The Blogger:  Oohh, that’s good… but I anticipate a possible difficulty. You may run into some snags trying to pass off the people who use chopsticks to draw music out of stocking-encircled spools, or the people who say they have been to Jupiter in a collection of microwave ovens, as “normal.” I’m just saying.

Female #1:  Okay… how about ‘horse people’ and ‘the uninitiated.’

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Female #2:  [popping back into the room]  And the people who keep those enormous fish tanks with ten kinds of tropical fish in them, and an eel, and some kind of bizarre crab thing that lives on the bottom, and lots of intricate-looking pumps and aerating equipment, and some fancy weeds.

Female #1:  STOP that!

The Blogger:  And the people with those asymmetrical haircuts in which the vast majority of their hair is gathered on one side, thereby creating the impression that they should be tilting their head at a rather severe angle in order to maintain balance.

Female #2:  Right! I’ve never understood that. Why can’t people just settle for a regular, symmetrical haircut?

Female #1:  GUYS!

The Blogger:  So now we’re up to, what, about eight different categories?

Female #2:  Ten. I’ve been keeping a tally. But two of them overlap: the python people and the guinea pig people.

The Blogger:  Excellent! Attention to detail is good.

Female #1:  Oh my word. Neither one of you is a normal people.

The Blogger:  Then, according to your initial scheme, we must both be horse people! But I’ve never been on a horse in my life. Well, that’s not true. I was at another little boy’s birthday party once, a long time ago, and it was held at a stable, and all the party guests took turns riding the pony. I was the only one for whom the dang pony wouldn’t do anything. He just stood there. I tried following directions, but the pony just wouldn’t respond. It scarred me.

Female #2:  Well, of course it did! Poor little boy. Bad, bad pony.

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Female #1:  I have entered a nightmare from which I fear I will not awaken.

Female #2:  Can there be a separate category for people who might have become horse people, but didn’t, due to a traumatizing incident in early childhood?

The Blogger:  That makes sense to me.

Female #1:  Okay, stop, please, just stop. Listen. Here’s what I was doing. I was simply observing that some people in the world are into horses, and then there’s everybody else. That’s what I was saying.

The Blogger:  A true enough observation, as far as it goes.

Female #2:  Which isn’t very far! What about the people who practice dentistry and go to Africa in order to shoot a lion?

The Blogger:  Right, right! Of course. Is that eleven categories so far?

Female #2:  Twelve.

The Blogger:  Gotcha.

Female #1:  Okay, time out, time out, let me try this. There’s a potentially infinite number of ways in which you can categorize people. Right? You could come up with bajillions of classification schemes, and many of them would be totally valid and what not. All I’m saying… all I’m saying… is that there is one classification scheme that I’m thinking of right now, and it’s got two categories in it, that’s all, just two categories. And those categories are (1) the horse people, and (2) the people who aren’t horse people. That’s all I’m saying.

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Female #2:  And then there are the people who’ve seen pictures of horses on the internet, and they’ve thought to themselves, “Wow, maybe I should get a horse, I could be a horse person,” but then they think, “Well no, I bet it’s a lot of trouble and expense, and I’d have to have someplace to keep him, which I don’t, and there’s probably some kind of license you have to get, similar to a driver’s license, but for horses.” And so they decide against it.

The Blogger:  Against purchasing a horse? Or becoming a horse person?

Female #2:  Are they not the same thing?

The Blogger:  Well, it seems to me that someone could technically own a horse without being a horse person. They could own one for their business but they hire someone else to groom it, because they personally can’t relate to horses.

Female #2:  Yeah, I can see how that might be true.

Female #1:  Oh my WORD.

The Blogger:  You two are related, aren’t you?

Female #1:  No… no, I don’t think so.

Female #2:  Definitely.

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A Brief But Fascinating Conversation Overheard at a Holiday Party.

 

You encounter the most interesting people at holiday gatherings. Here’s a conversation i overheard a few days ago:

Person #1 at party:  “The only thing my raw foods health consultant will let me eat is the scrapings from the underbelly of a rare wasp that lives on one of Saturn’s moons.”

Person #2 at party:  “That’s nothing. My new age dietary specialist says i can’t eat anything but the grilled intestinal tract of a really rare worm that exists only in the imaginations of unicorns.”

“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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