Those Mysteries, Eurovision Edition


I spent most of yesterday watching Twitter friends, none of whom know each other, talking about Eurovision. And that was fun. Since I wondered why Australia was in it I went to DuckDuckGo because yeah, I’m that kind of guy, and started asking the question. This led to this fine selection of autocompletes:

DuckDuckGo autocompletes for 'why is australia'.
Related queries: why is there France? Why is there Spain? And why am I here and why is there rain?
  • why is australia called the land down under
  • why is australia called oz
  • why is australia a continent
  • why is australia in eurovision 2015
  • why is australia not an island
  • why is australia dangerous
  • why is australia so expensive
  • why is australian dollar falling

I appreciate the joy of that sixth one particularly. Anyway, it seems that Australia was in Eurovision 2015 because everyone involved thought that would be nice. And then they were brought back in 2016 because everyone figured that worked out so well last time why not do it again? There are much worse reasons for everything everybody does.

My love mentioned getting the Eurovision question as an autocomplete after just entering “why is au” on Google. So I thought to try it on DuckDuckGo and while Eurovision didn’t turn up, “why is autonomy important” did. This suggests DuckDuckGo’s user base is much more likely than Google’s to be a bunch of Intro to Philosophy students cramming the night before finals.

DuckDuckGo autocompletes for 'why is au'.
I never heard of Austin and Ally so at least I’m not broken up over its ending. I had expected “Au the symbol for gold” to be on the list.

Also there’s people who had to look up why Australia would be called Oz, because apparently they’ve never said the word “Australia” aloud in their lives? I don’t know either.

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Statistics Saturday: Getting To Philosophy From Pettipants Via Wikipedia


It is alleged that if one follows the first link in a Wikipedia article, and the first link in that next article, and so on, one eventually gets to Philosophy. Here it is attempted from the starting point of “pettipants”, which Wikipedia claims is a thing that really exists. They surely wouldn’t be fibbing about a thing like that, would they? On the other hand they also claim Helena is the capital of Montana, when in fact Montana has no capital. So who knows?

  1. Pettipants
  2. Lingerie
  3. Undergarment
  4. Clothing
  5. Human (as “Human Beings”)
  6. Homo Sapiens
  7. Latin
  8. Classical language (which explains “a classical language is a language with a literature that is classical”, so I’m glad we have that sorted out)
  9. Literature
  10. Literariness (skipping ‘cultura’ as that’s just a link within the same page)
  11. Language
  12. Communication
  13. Intention (as Purposeful)
  14. Mind (as Mental)
  15. Consciousness
  16. Quality (Philosophy)
  17. Philosophy

I have not the slightest idea how I got to Pettipants in the first place, even if they were anything that ever existed, which they don’t.

Statistics Saturday: My Use Of The Term ‘Crazypants’ Versus Time


Recent peaks: discussing the crazypants art teacher in the comic strip _Luann_, finally reading a plot summary of 1979's film _The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh_, and making this chart.
Until recently I just assumed The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh was one of those 1970s magic-animal-saving-stuff movies. It turns out it’s more a crazypants disco basketball movie.

You know how it is you just sometimes realize you’re using a word way more than normal? This happened to me recently.

If you’ve got any notable uses of the word “crazypants” or are curious about my other word uses let me know!

Not charted: the crazypants Immanuel Kant quote that kind of set off this whole recent crazypants phrasing.

In Which I Am Doomed, Doomed I Tell You


I don’t figure this week’s big piece is going to be another massive composition based on what I happen to be reading. This is because I’m reading Mathematics Without Apologies: Portrait of a Problematic Vocation by Michael Harris. I had thought it was a mathematician’s memoir and thoughts about explaining mathematics to people who aren’t necessarily students. I realized by page fourteen that this is some completely different kind of book, because there it laid this on me:

Be assured that this is not a series of clippings from my autobiography. “When the studies of a philosopher, and especially of a mathematician, have been described, his discoveries recorded, and his writings considered, his history has been written. There is little else to say of such a man: his private life is generally uninteresting and unvaried.” 20 Too true! I can’t even begin to imagine what might make for an interesting private life. The “I” of this chapter’s title [ How I Acquired Charisma ] is not the hateful “I” of Blaise Pascal’s Pensées but rather the hypothetical “I” of a Weberian ideal type. “Type of what?” Maybe we’ll know by the end of this book.

That wasn’t even the end of this paragraph! And I haven’t dared look to the endnotes to see what the 20 is.

I realized this was going to be a more challenging read when a couple pages before that the book laid “apodictically” on me, but since my love is a professional philosopher I was warned about words like “apodictic” existing and meaning something. But this … this ….

I may not make it through the book alive, I’m sorry. That’s all.

When Philosophers Roamed The English Countryside


So I’ve been reading Jerome Friedman’s The Battle Of The Frogs And Fairford’s Flies, about the chapbook and pamphlet reporting of paranormal or supernatural events during the era of the English Civil War and Commonwealth, because why would you not read a book like that? I want to share one of its reports, from 1647’s The Most Strange And Wonderfull Apparition of Blood in a Pool at Garreton.

Apparently, for four days the pond water in the town of Garreton in Leicestershire grew ever-darker, turning, some thought, to blood; cattle would no longer drink from it, though fish from the pond tasted fine. And then, the pamphlet-writer reported, “philosophers” were called in.

I know, I know, I know what the original author meant by philosophers. And yet I can’t help figuring the decision to bring philosophers in went something like this:

John Thwapper: “The water hath turned to blood! Quick, summon a philosopher!”

Jake A-Plummet (whose family got the name for an ancestor renowned for his ability to fall): “Kantian or Neoplatonist?”

Jack O’Wort: (looking up from his meal of blood-water fish) “We … we need the cattle to drink the water, so that’s a utility. Best summon a utilitarian, eh?”

Mary Chortle: “We need the water to change. Obviously there’ll be no help for us save from a Pre-Socratic.” And when everyone around her just looks confused, she scowls at what a lot of idiots are in her town and cries out, “Thales of Miletus, ye fools!”

And I realize you’re probably not laughing at that, but somewhere I’ve made a philosophy major giggle, so this is all worth it.

Anyway, the book doesn’t say what the philosopher was able to do about it, but the pamphlet-writer concluded — with some grumbling that philosophers distracted from the wonderfullness of the event, so apparently only after they got involved did the water turning to blood kind of suck? — that the real thing to be learned from this apparition was that the English Civil War caused a lot of people to die, and more of his countrymen needed to understand this, which suggests he figured a lot of the English people had somehow missed the War. Maybe they thought it was some unusually fertile year for frogs or something.

Are You There? If Not, Then Who’s Ignoring This?


What is a person, and how do you know if we are one? People have been worrying about this for many centuries, which we smug moderns might think makes them look foolish. This is a trick of perspective: they had no way to know that we’d look back and see people worrying about whether they were people, which would have given an answer if they’d known it. People of past ages were foolish in many ways but they wouldn’t go begging the question like that when they could be instead riling up people who misuse phrases like “begging the question”.

However, since we can’t know what future generations will think of any of us, we can’t rest assured that any one of us is a person. There are many possible answers, none of which satisfy anyone but the person who thought the answer up. One I’ve found satisfying is that a person is “an agent which, given sufficient time, will realize that I’m just prattling on about any foolish idea that pops into my head and so falls gradually into a state of ignoring me altogether”. This is a solid test as long as I’m in the sort of mood where I feel like talking about what’s on my mind.

For example, I might ask how you’re doing, and you might say, “Oh, I’m surviving”, and then I observe how that’s doing pretty good because it beats the alternative, except for the zombies, of course, and the ghost community. Possibly the vampires depending on their exact circumstances of vampirism. Before long I might be rattling off a long list of undead entities and you don’t want to hear any of that, but I won’t notice, so you can just start ignoring me. This establishes your person nature very effectively, and pretty correctly.

This test fails if you consider it possible for non-person things to ignore me. For all the time that I’ve spent hollering at the Swiss Alps, have they ever responded to me in the slightest? And given that utter lack of response, can’t we consider that to be a state of ignoring me? Ah, but what if it turns out that I haven’t ever hollered at the Swiss Alps and can’t even swear that I’ve seen a single Alp of the Swiss variety? Then, we’ve neatly shown that I must be a person, at least in the eyes of the Swiss Alps, because I’m clearly ignoring them. Now consider all the many people who’ve got around to ignoring me as a result of that paragraph alone.

If I’m not available and you’re not convinced by the Swiss Alps test, however — and I don’t blame you being unconvinced, because, for example, imagine that the Swiss Alp you were using to test whether you were being ignored turned out to be mostly a golem who was under directions to ignore things regardless of whether they were people or not? — you can turn to other and no less operational tests. For the best of these you’ll need a work computer, and some problem with your work computer. If you haven’t got a problem with your work computer, you’re not trying hard enough, because it’s surely doing something annoying.

Try to communicate the problem with your work computer to the Information Technology Or Whatever Department, who are supposed to fix it, while leaving out words about exactly you were trying to do or what you expected. Bat off their follow-up questions — for example, if asked when they could come up and see you have the problem, include subtle incompatibilities like “anytime before lunch this Monday, April 30th afternoon” — and eventually, someone’s bound to lose patience and cry out, “I WILL TEACH YOU PEOPLE TO FILE A BUG REPORT IF I HAVE TO KILL YOU ALL”, and run out of the ITOW offices, never to be actually seen again, but occasionally spoken of as a legendary figure haunting the boardwalk and berating people who complain they can’t beat the ring toss. When you hear this ITOW agent screaming and running out, you have evidence that you are one of “you people”, and are therefore at least one person. QED.

The natural next question after working out whether you’re a person is, if you aren’t one, can we rule out your being two?

Expedition Log, Day 1, Day 3: Nothing


11:58 am. Coming to question entire point of expedition. What is the point of discovery? What is the value of exploration? How can traveller’s tales of Upper Fiddled Mewes or the eastern shore of the Pompous Lakes District be relevant to the modern age? Is there a point to continuing, and at that, is there a point to pointedness when life is occupied by a string of suffering that stretches to the indefinite past and to the pointlessness of the future? The Price Is Right ended in a Double Overbid. After enough time spent staring into the void will come the balm of punching a book of Nietzsche.

Total Mileage: 0 (me), 0.001136 miles (book of Nietzsche, would have been farther but it hit the wall; may try again in a larger room).

Statistics Saturday: Unsuccessful Search Terms


Here are some search terms which have not brought anybody to this blog:

  • advanced dishwasher repair
  • unnecessary parts of the horse
  • what philosophical school was founded by anophelinae
  • bricks without brickiness
  • ironical HTML tags
  • when does a trapezium become a trapezoid
  • how to draw circles
  • dont the beatles have this song about kangaroo dave
  • when do you say ironical instead of ironic now that its not like 1925 anymore
  • misspelled kinks lyrics

[ Meanwhile, over-researching this has revealed to me that people have come to here after searching for, among other actual things I did not make up, “collared lemming ogilvie”, “iso 9000 humor”, “genius hamsters”, “you might also like:”, “do indianapolis 500 rules prohibit snails from racing”, and “change tagline in wordpress”, all of which brings me more delight than making this stuff up does. ]

Sticking In The Head


At any given moment about two-fifths of all people have their brains under attack by some catchy tune, which gets called an “earworm” because somebody thought that was a catchy term and didn’t think we had enough trouble. Another two-fifths of all people are slapping their hands over their ears and yelling frantically to “shut up shut up shut UP” because some poor child of the 80s was remembering how the thing about a Bon-Bon is it’s almost always gone-gone.

But there’s a deeper question, which is, why should there be earworms at all? What advantage can there possibly be to having your brain occasionally taken over by a melody you like in about the same way you despise it? When did earworms get to be a thing? It seems like they have to have been invented sometime after music was invented, since it’d be kind of funny to have a song caught in your head if you haven’t got songs. It’d also seem like they’d have to come from after heads were invented, for similar reasons.

Maybe they didn’t, though. Maybe people were getting what they thought was music caught in their heads when it turned out it was just the wailing of people bemoaning their horrible, pre-music-based existence. But that seems like it would explain why earworms are popular in this music-enabled era, though, since we surely don’t want to have our existential dread hammering itself into our heads outside of its appropriate designated times, such as birthdays or the anniversaries of when we graduated college or Sunday nights. It’s surely better to be one of the roughly one out of four hundred people who are at any moment kind of remembering commercials from the late 70s are trying to work out whether it was “Nair for short shorts” or “Nair for short skirts” without giving up and just going to YouTube to see it because they can’t face the moment of admitting they were looking for Nair commercials from the 70s on YouTube.

I’m gratified to learn there’s serious study of earworms since it’s got to be a difficult subject to study. I have it hard enough because I can barely finish telling people that I have an advanced degree in mathematics without their telling me that it was their worst subject in school, and they could never understand what it was about, and occasionally their algebra teacher would transform into a 150-foot-tall giant and rampage through the city, requiring the national guard to deploy an security corridor of directrix and latus rectums to subdue. (They’re things used for making parabolas in case you live in an area where parabolas don’t grow naturally.) My spouse, the philosopher, has a similar problem with people describing how their philosophy courses inevitably resulted in their being captured by headless Zombie Jeremy Benthams and locked in a dank warehouse forced to press Joy Buttons all day and night. It’s pretty annoying to get.

So I figure someone studying earworms is probably bombarded day and night by people who think they’re being sociable or even interested but who really just want to know who to hold responsible for “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago”. (It was Doctor West’s Medicine Show And Junk Band.) I’m wrong, of course, because investigation has revealed that I’m the only person born after 1970 who’s even heard of this exemplar of psychedelic jug-band music, and probably Doctor West doesn’t even hear the song haunting his dreams anymore, though he’s probably wondering why if that Purple People-Eater Song can get sucked up into the vortex of Monster Based Songs I Guess Are On Theme For Halloween why his didn’t. Maybe it’s too much eggplant. And anyway the song fails as an earworm because I’ve dug the song up and played it for people and all they have lingering after the experience is a diminished opinion of me.

Here’s something else I wonder: an earworm is based on the idea of something getting stuck in the head and not getting back out again. But thanks to the Internet we can’t pay attention to anything long enough to have it stuck in our heads anymore. Does this mean the earworm is going to vanish as people can’t remember the entire phrase “itsy-bitsy teeny-weenie something or other” before staring at their phones for a status update? Or are we going to have to preserve the earworm by turning it over to technology and leaving our MP3 players to pick some catchy but infuriating snippet of song and play it to itself? I don’t know, but I’m sure the answer will be obvious after I’ve forgotten the question.

Socrates and The Aftermath


I don’t mean to brag, but, I did research for that little thing about Socrates the other day. In particular I cast about for names that maybe plausibly could have been of people Socrates might have known, because it’s fun and research avoids actually having to write, and getting that sort of irrelevant detail right is the sure way to win the lifetime adoration of someone who specializes in whatever it is I’m writing about. So that’s why I picked, particularly, “Euryptolemus” as a name. My spouse wondered how I had, and I had to dig through my notes.

It’s all kind of long, complicated, and confusing, in that way ancient history just is, but he was one of the figures in the controversy over the Battle of Arginusae. This was a battle during the Peloponnesian War where the Athenian navy beat the Spartan one, and then most of the navy was sent to try relieving Sparta’s siege of the city of Conon rather than stick around picking up Athenian survivors. A storm came up, and both the attempt to relieve Conon and the attempt to pick up survivors failed, and the Athenian population naturally put the generals responsible for beating not Sparta enough on trial. This gets back to Socrates because some of the trial was done under his authority as an epistates, possibly the only time in his life that Socrates actually held a political office.

In fact, my spouse, the professional philosopher, didn’t know that Socrates ever held office. Socrates’s role in trying the Eight Generals from the Battle of Arginusae was one of moderation, because he apparently didn’t think there were constitutional grounds for the motion to just have the generals killed right then and there. This reason, if it’s true (and it’s hard to be perfectly sure as ancient historians felt more free than we do to alter facts so to make a better and more instructional story), neatly foreshadows his refusal to take the chance to escape his judicially-sponsored murder two years later, and shows his belief in the social compact binding people in a society to each other, for good or ill. It’s a fascinating peek at the historical Socrates that makes him a more real and more compelling character, and by the time we had read enough ineptly-written Wikipedia pages to we think straighten all this out in our heads, we were captivated. My arbitrary plucking of a name had given us the chance to see how a person who studied so diligently the problem of how we could come by knowledge and how we could be confident we had it dealt with the inherent uncertainties in judging human affairs, particularly in the boiling-over world of ancient Athenian politics.

Two hours later we both realized that while we hadn’t the faintest recollection what the name of the battle was, who any of the generals involved were, or what city the navy was sent to relieve, or what precisely was the name of Euryptolemus, we nevertheless were describing, in precise enough detail for scholars to completely reconstruct it, that Big Red chewing gum commercial with the marching band.

Also, Heidegger Was A Shingle Weaver


My spouse, the professional philosopher, startled me the other day while we were driving to Meijer’s by mentioning that Socrates had been a master stonecutter. That’s really the sort of thing you expect to hear on the way to Kroger’s. Up to that point I had never imagined that Socrates even had a profession. I’d assumed he had always made his living by committing acts of philosophy against the Athenian population. My mental model was that he probably had started out seeking wisdom and truth and maybe beauty around the holiday seasons. I had thought I was supported in this by Plato’s recording of Socrates’s discussion with Isocrates, which I had to read for an undergraduate history class about the Cold War, 1945 – 1963, because the professor was bored:

Isocrates: Good fellow Socrates! It has been an agora’s age. No, no, say nothing, I’ll not be engaging you in any conversations anymore. Everyone knows perfectly well how talking with you ends up.

Socrates: Everyone does? How does everyone come by such perfect knowledge?

Isocrates: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA [ continues for 26 scrolls of papyrus ] AAAAAAUGH!

Euryptolemus: Sorry to interrupt but the Spartans are invading Mytilene again.

So with a background like that you can see why I’m stunned to know Socrates ever had to do anything to pay the bills other than collect ransom for going off and talking to other people instead.

Continue reading “Also, Heidegger Was A Shingle Weaver”

The Platonic Stooge


A little while ago the Three Stooges’ short Hello Pop, from 1933, was discovered. It had been lost, thought to be destroyed in a 1967 archive fire, but it turned out it was just hiding out in Australia after running up some debts with a mob of wallaroos. Happens to the best of us. Here’s the thing that captures my imagination: this was the only Three Stooges short thought to be lost. So as far as the human intellect is able to understand, there are no missing or absent works from the whole Three Stooges catalogue of films. The complete record is there.

Now what this makes me think of is the remarkable fact that, again as best we can determine, there aren’t any lost works of Plato. There aren’t any references we can find to a book he’d written that’s now lost, which is staggering considering that your typical ancient Greek writer — your Hipparchos or Aporia or Hypochondria or the like — ran about eighteen lost works to one that anyone ever actually saw. Aristophanes is thought to have pitched two or three plays into the wine-dark sea for every one he had performed just because that was the thing to do in that time. So it’s stunning we have any complete sets of any of the ancients, especially when it’s one of your name-brand greats like Plato.

So of all the things that the Three Stooges and that Plato might have in common, who would have guessed that there were any?

Pop Quiz: Philosophers


  1. Pythagoras:
    1. I know, right?
    2. The hypotenuse squared over the sum of the sides.
    3. E = mc2.
    4. Beanfields.
  2. Descartes:
    1. Pituitary glands.
    2. God’s too nice to make mad scientists?
    3. Mornings kill people.
    4. I yam what I yam and tha’s all what I yam.
  3. Nietzsche:
    1. Oh, dear Lord.
    2. Just set that down and come back when you’re at least ten years older.
    3. Or you could start punching that book right now.
    4. Both (b) and (c).

September 2013 In These Numbers


Last month’s bunch of number-reporting came out successfully, in that it was a thing that existed and I didn’t get in any trouble over it, so I’ll try it again. For September I had a total of 397 pages viewed — my second-highest on record, not all that far below June’s 441, and an improvement viewing-wise from August’s 349 — and 162 viewers — fourth-highest, but up from August’s 141 — which means my pages-per-viewer ratio has gotten to 2.45, pretty trivially behind August’s high of 2.48.

The most popular articles of the past thirty days were:

  1. Pythagoras and the Golden Middle-Ish, inspired by an odd quote about Pythagoras and which got a bit of help because I know it captured the fancy of a philosopher and passed on to at least one class;
  2. My Dimmed Stars, about the oddity of someone going around giving mediocre ratings to a lot of articles;
  3. The Mystery Of My Power Cord, which I actually forgot I wrote, about something odd happening with the computer’s power;
  4. Missing International Rabbit Day, which was destined for success because our rabbit is more popular than I am;
  5. Getting To Yes, about an oddity in the download from a quite nice album by the band Steven’s Salute.
  6. The countries sending me the most readers this month are, again, the United States (343, which you surely recognize as the cube of seven), the United Kingdom (7 … really, that few? But you surely recognize that as the cube root of 343), and Canada (6 … I had thought there were more Canadians out there, somewhere, like in Maine or something). Sending me just a single reader each were Argentina, Finland, France, Indonesia, the Philippines, Serbia, South Africa, and South Korea. Indonesia and France carry on their streak of just barely liking me.

    I realize all that, while numbers, isn’t particularly humorous, so please consider these: 46, 8 1/4, 2^{3^{4^{5}}}\div 6 , the cosine of -7, and the largest number smaller than the square root of two. Thank you.

Pythagoras and the Golden Middle-Ish


Say what you like about Pythagoras of Samos, and you mostly can because nearly all his leading followers have gone and died from embarrassment over being asked to explain what precisely the thing with the beans is about, but here’s a bit of legend that really caught me. It’s from Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which I never heard of either: “Pythagoras is said to have had a golden thigh, which he showed to Abaris, the Hyperborean priest, and exhibited in the Olympic games.”

Think of the stories that sentence implies. The obvious question is, was it the left or the right thigh? And was it the whole thigh or just one side? I’d think you’d want the gold to be the outer thigh, so as to make it easier to show off, but maybe Pythagoras didn’t get to pick. For that matter, why a golden thigh?

Continue reading “Pythagoras and the Golden Middle-Ish”