Filosophy Friday: Fortunately Not Fecal
I was reading XKCD and checking out the t-shirt store because I don't have unique t-shirts for each day of the year yet and I clicked some link to a story about magic as it relates to computer hardware. I remembered a couple of stories wherein I received a gift of insight from the universe. Both of these were totally accidental, as the best insight is, and about as mundane as finding Jesus in a smudge of ink on a paper jam in the office copier.2
During one of the years I took off from my regularly scheduled college visits, I worked in a bowling alley. I was a pinsetter mechanic and spent a lot of time digging random shit out of the jammed machines. Most of the random shit was bowling related like shoes, broken balls, pieces of broken balls, pieces of carpetting, bowling shirts attached to very flat people, etc.
I was walking behind the machines one Monday morning and found something truly extraordinary. A bowling pin had broken and been spit out of the back of lane 5. This was not a rare occurrence but the manner in which the pin had broken was. The core of the pin had been ripped out by the plastic ring on the bottom of the pin. These rings keep the pin from developing a tilt and are flush with the plastic coating of the pin. The wood used in bowling pins is solid maple heartwood, one of the strongest and most resilient woods. Maple is heavy and dense. Something had managed to grip the plastic ring with enough force in just the right way to avoid breaking the ring while also ripping out a cylinder of wood along with the ring. If the wood had been ripped out along a glue seam, that would be evidence of a bad pin. The core had been ripped out in such a way as it split the pieces of wood through the center of the wood. This was not torn along a fault in the wood or a knot or something like that, the tear was just shredding right through something designed to take repeated hits by an 18 pound ball at high speeds. There is nothing in the pinsetter machine that should have been able to break a pin in this manner. It would take a specially designed machine to break a pin this way. In short, I was staring at two pieces of a physical impossibility. If the impossible happens than it must be possible. I fit the two pieces together and then bashed them together until the core went back in and gave it to my philosophy professor the next semester I was back attending classes. We had a little chat and he said that I had learned something very important. If I remembered this and did my homework, I might be able to pass his classes quite successfully.
The next incident happened at the ruins of the Sutro Baths in San Francisco but started in a seminar class on Plato. I had chosen to lead a discussion of the Socratic dialogue Euthyphro and we were discussing the nature of certain immutable terms and concepts in the universe. We were having a really lively debate about the concepts of good, evil, holy, righteousness and all that and somebody made the claim that you couldn't have a concept of good without God and how God, by definition, couldn't exist without good. We were kinda stuck on this point because she wasn't willing to concede this point to move on to the discussion the rest of the class was having about immutable concepts.3 I was trying to come up with some description and explanation that would suit her when I said, "Look, I think we can all agree that God is just an enormous jellyfish with a diamond in the center!"
Everyone in the class looked at me in stunned silence, including the professor. "The diamond represents all these eternal, external concepts and the jellyfish is just the incorporeal body of God that has no real-" and that is where everyone started laughing at me. I was trying to make a point that while God can not exist without these concepts, God likewise can not change those concepts without also changing the nature of God. This explanation did not have the desired effect. Everyone agreed that it was the best discussion we had all semester and that they learned quite a bit4. The professor said that he had never heard anyone explain God in such a fashion before. He also said that he hoped he never did again. While it is interesting imagery, it is also distractingly odd which does not help in educating.
About a year later, one of my Brother of Indeterminate Number and I were wandering around the Sutro Baths. Sutro Baths was a complex of public pools built by a rich guy named Sutro, aptly enough. Some of these pools were fed directly by the ocean which is pretty nifty. There are concrete ruins by the beach and melted bits of stained glass buried in the hillside of the cove where the baths were built. I recommend it for a picnic. My Brother of Indeterminate Number and I had walked down to the water to watch the sun go down and I saw an odd pink-ish grey rock at the surf line. It was smooth and almost perfectly hemispherical, about 18 inches in diameter and somewhat translucent. I looked at it for a while and figured that it was some leftover glass or something from the baths. I ran up to it in between waves. It was even odder looking up close so I poked it. The thing quivered and I yelled and jumped about four feet in the air. I was back beyond the surf line when I realized it was an enormous jellyfish.
Photo found at Shifting Baselines Blog
God likes to hang out on beaches in San Francisco, apparently.
1 I apologize for that title. It has been a long short week.
2 That is yet another dig at Harriet Myers. Finding Jebus in an office? Yawn.
3 She was, however, quite willing to just erase arrows she had earlier written a diagram of Kantian ethics that had previously represented some point. When fulsome asked her about the relevance and meaning of that error after she made some other claim, she just erased it like that was a complete explanation. Don't leave holes in your arguments because he'll drive a truck through them.
4 Mostly about how I think, but that is still something.