Similes: philosophy, metaphysics, theology, and science

Reader Leon sent the following set of similes. You’ve probably seen them before, but I haven’t seen them all gathered in one place. This, of course, gives you the opportunity to disagree or, better yet, create your own similes, either for these areas or other ones.
PHILOSOPHY is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat.
METAPHYSICS is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that is not there.
THEOLOGY is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat, that is not there, and shouting; “ I found it!”
SCIENCE is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a f—– flashlight.

127 Comments

  1. eric
    Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Ah but the guaranteed way to find the black cat isn’t to use a flashlight, it’s to walk into the room wearing white pants. 🙂

    • Kevin
      Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      Or put an empty cardboard box and wait ten seconds…the cat will find you.

      • Posted March 1, 2016 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

        Every time anyone brings anything new into my sister and brother-in-law’s home, the cat simply must climb on top of it. This includes but is not liumited to: empty boxes, coolers full of beer and my date for the New Year’s Eve party.

    • Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      …with chunks of tuna in the pockets.

  2. Barry Lyons
    Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Perfect!

  3. stephen oberski
    Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Before going into the dark room being unwilling to speculate on the existence of a black cat due to the lack of evidence and not being afraid to admit you don’t know …

    SCIENCE is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a f—– flashlight.

    … and if you don’t find a black cat being honest enough to say that you didn’t find one.

    THEOLOGY is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat, that is not there, and shouting; “ I found it!”

    … and taking the admission of science that they didn’t find a black cat as “proof” that there is a black cat.

  4. Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Actually, science is more like shining the flashlight around the room and having a look. Maybe there’s a cat in the room. Maybe the cat is a Leon-style dark tabby rather than black. Maybe it’s a raccoon. Maybe the room is empty. Maybe there is a cat, but it’s white, and it’s hiding Maru-style in a box. Maybe your flashlight isn’t bright enough to reach to the far corners…but maybe it’s still bright enough to rule out the possibility of a blue whale hiding on the other side of the room, even if there could still be a cat there.

    Essential to science is to avoid, as much as possible, looking for something, and instead to simply look. Even the search for the Higgs went like that…the folks at CERN inventoried the room and made a catalog of what they found. Turned out that they did, in fact, find a black cat — but they were fully prepared to find anything from nothing at all to sparkle unicorns to toaster ovens.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      There is discovery based science (using a flashlight in a dark room to see what is there). But there is also hypothesis based science (is there a black cat in this dark room? If so, then this flashlight might reveal it).

      • Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        The latter might inspire your flashlight construction or use, but it doesn’t actually tell you anything until you go out and perform the experiment.

        Indeed, that’s the clear dividing line between science and philosophy / theology / everything else. Everybody builds mental models, has expectations of what ought to be. But it’s only science if you go out and verify that your expectation of “ought” really is a good match for reality.

        Otherwise, it ought to be the case that the Earth is flat, that heavy things fall faster, that the gods are good moral exemplars. Those are all perfectly reasonable hypotheses to those lacking evidence incompatible with the hypotheses. But once you go and look, you find that which is incompatible as well as don’t find that which you would have had to have found. If you never go and look, you’re doing philosophy; if you find but don’t like what you find and ignore your findings, you’re doing religion.

        Cheers,

        b&

        >

        • Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

          Yes, but I’m pretty sure all Mark meant is that some science is indeed conducted in a manner that can reasonably be described as “looking for something”. Of course, the good scientists will try to be as honest and objective about whether they found it or not. But I don’t think science requires that you have absolutely no ideas about what the results of any given experiment might be.

          • Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

            *…as honest and objective as possible about…*

          • Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

            Oh, of course. It’s impossible to not make guesses, educated or otherwise, about the future — especially including the future of activities you yourself are engaged in.

            But it is vitally important that the scientist remain open to all possibilities and to analyze the outcome based on what’s actually observed as opposed to what was expected to occur.

            Or, science certainly doesn’t require that you have no ideas about the results, but it does require that you act as if you don’t know what to expect.

            Remember: the most important phrase to come out of a lab isn’t, “Eureka!” but, “Hmm…that’s weird….”

            b&

            >

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted March 1, 2016 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

              Oh, of course. It’s impossible to not make guesses, educated or otherwise, about the future

              More to the point, it’s damned difficult to design and construct an experiment without having some idea of what you’re looking for. Are “black cats” luminous in the microwave, IR, visible, or UV ; do they absorb in in gamma (a megawatt GR flashlight might convert the question to “was there carbonaceous matter in the room before I turned the flashlight on?) Is there a cheaper/ quicker technology for answering the question – such as “listening at the door”? Or, since lion-tracking cameras got mentioned last night, do we try our tracking with directional radio, or wait 30 years for someone to invent a technology called GPS?
              Of course, theologians and metaphysicians are perfectly able to carp about practicalities like this because they (i) definitely do not want their question answered and have to go job-hunting, and (ii) couldn’t find a terminal screwdriver in their back pocket using both hands and a large magnet.
              A question for myself – could I really replace a $4000/day 6-person computerised cabin with two people and a handful of low-tech sensors? And still do a fit-for-purpose job for the client. And then, the harder question – can I persuade the government that they will get adequate information for their purposes? Or, as hard a question – could I get the second person, or could I do 24x7x30 for several months? Plus the question of designing the electricals safely.

    • Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Well said. I especially like the blue whale bit, it would provide a lot of food for the cat. A hungry cat who is “caterwauling” can be most annoying.

      • Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        My comment starting with “Well said” was in reply to Ben Goren’s comment.

  5. Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Go into dark room and open a can of tuna.

  6. Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    SCIENCE is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat shaking a bag of kitty treats.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted March 1, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      You’ll lose your hand at the wrist.
      Having only seen the first and last ^H^H^H^H^H most recent of the Star Wars movies – is that what happened to Luke?

      • Posted March 1, 2016 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        Yes, Darth Vader was Luke’s cat.

        /@

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted March 3, 2016 at 9:08 am | Permalink

          Luke should have fenced off the mutagenic lava pit better then. Elementary Staff training.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted March 2, 2016 at 2:14 am | Permalink

        “Having only seen the first and last ^H^H^H^H^H most recent of the Star Wars movies”

        I don’t think you’re missing much.

        (Way to annoy a Star Wars aficionado – just say ‘Jar Jar Binks’)

        cr

        • Posted March 2, 2016 at 3:11 am | Permalink

          But Jar Jar Binks wasn’t in any of the _Star Wars_ movies…

          /@

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted March 2, 2016 at 3:34 am | Permalink

            I wouldn’t know, but Wikipedia seems to think so.

            Personally, I found C3PO terminally annoying, also Yoda and Princess Leia were fairly annoying too, (this was in the first movie), so I never found the impulse to delve any deeper into the series.

            cr

            • Posted March 2, 2016 at 7:40 am | Permalink

              Well, Yoda wasn’t in the first (1977) movie…

              My comment about JJB was an allusion to the trope among “true” aficionados that Episodes I-III don’t actually exist (or are not really _Star Wars_ films).

              /@

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted March 2, 2016 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

                Ah, I did wonder if it was something like that.

                Not unusual in fandoms. I observed the same with ‘Xena’ fans every time the series went in a different direction. (‘Season 5 did not happen!’)

                cr

              • Posted March 3, 2016 at 1:48 am | Permalink

              • Posted March 3, 2016 at 1:49 am | Permalink

              • Posted March 3, 2016 at 1:49 am | Permalink

                source

            • eric
              Posted March 2, 2016 at 7:40 am | Permalink

              Um, Yoda neither appears nor is mentioned in the first movie produced, so you’ve seen more of them than you think you’ve seen.

              C-3PO is the “Laurel” character from Laurel and Hardy, so he’s actually supposed to be somewhat clumsy, slapstick, and immature. The droids were intended to be the lowbrow comedy relief that playwrights sometimes add in the middle of the serious bits; sort of like Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. Of course Lucas is neither Shakespeare nor Laurel and Hardy, so he didn’t do it as well as they did.

              • infiiteimprobability
                Posted March 2, 2016 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

                OK, I admit it, I think maybe I saw the second episode also. I recall Yoda as a leprechaun-like creature with a strange (vaguely Germanic?) word order.

                cr

              • Posted March 3, 2016 at 6:30 am | Permalink

                _Strikes Back, The Empire Does_ that was.

                /@

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted March 3, 2016 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

                Correct, you are

                cr

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted March 3, 2016 at 9:18 am | Permalink

          While the SFX on the most recent was good CGI, I think I’d seen the story somewhere before.
          didn’t I see Jar Jar getting a bit part in a Futureama episode recently. He died horribly. Red shirt.

  7. Kevin
    Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant, though I like how some British say ‘torch’ instead of flashlight.

    I would say metaphysics is by definition hard agnostic, i.e., knowledge of the cat is impossible to know: it either there or not there but no matter how hard you look, it is not possible to know for certain (even you think you found that cat).

    • Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      I would say metaphysics is by definition hard agnostic, i.e., knowledge of the cat is impossible to know: it either there or not there but no matter how hard you look, it is not possible to know for certain (even you think you found that cat).

      While it’s true that you can never rule out, for example, the possibility that you’re being deceived…to seriously entertain such a possibility without meaningful evidence to support the claim is the very definition of a conspiratorial paranoid delusion. Yes, it could be that you’re a brain in a vat or a simulation in the Matrix, but not only are there infinitely many such possibilities but they can be stacked infinitely deep. Are you a Matrix simulation of a brain in a vat, or are you a character in a Matrix-style simulation with the simulation itself being dreamt up by a brain in a vat?

      As such, metaphysics is worse than useless. It’s no different from diligently attempting to divide by zero, undaunted by the fact that all numbers have an equal claim to be the one true dividend of zero.

      b&

      >

      • Kevin
        Posted March 1, 2016 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

        I agree. Metaphysics is also now a pawn of religionists.

        “No one knows” turns into “No one has proof against X, therefore X might be true.”

        Epistemological metaphysics is a black hole death of scientific reasoning.

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 2, 2016 at 2:30 am | Permalink

        Thirded.

    • Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      What does not being able to know something have to do with metaphysics?

      Many theologians make what they call metaphysical claims while also claiming to know that the metaphysical claim they’re making is correct.

      I’m pretty sure there are at least two very different definitions of “metaphysical”; one, which is nonsense, being “pertaining to phenomena outside matter, space, and time”; the other, which is not necessarily nonsense, being “pertaining to questions that can be investigated or at least though got about without recourse to physical entities”.

      Or something like that.

      • Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        thought got = thought

        No I don’t know how.

      • Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

        “pertaining to questions that can be investigated or at least though got about without recourse to physical entities”

        Depends on your definition of, “physical entities.” If that includes something that’s not part of the Standard Model at applicable scales, then metaphysics doesn’t even apply; it’s no more worth considering than a claim of dowsing. I mean, sure, everything we know could be worng and there’s this giant conspiracy hiding the truth from us and what-not…but pretending otherwise is a big waste of time.

        So, that’s the scales at which the Standard Model applies. Scales beyond that are the realm of people at CERN and NASA and the like, and there’s nothing metaphysical nor theological about any of it. The room that leaves for the metaphysical and / or theological…well, that room doesn’t even exist.

        b&

        >

    • Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      I think I agree,but I can’t be certain.

    • Posted March 1, 2016 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      How often do you folks actual flash flashlights?

      /@

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 2, 2016 at 2:35 am | Permalink

        Every night when I take the dogs out. I have a hypothesis that there could be coyotes in the field and am checking to confirm or deny that possibility by looking for eye-shine.

        (My flashlight has a cool strobe setting, too, which makes it even flashier. 🙂 )

  8. grasshopper
    Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    You scientists looking for cats are too skeered to point the torch to the ceiling.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      Its just that the probability of a ceiling cat peering at us from a hole in the ceiling is so low, we consider it safe to assume that there is no cat in the ceiling.

      • grasshopper
        Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        Ha! You will suffer for eternity at the paws of basement cat. There will be no get-out-of-debasement claws for thee.

        • bobkillian
          Posted March 2, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

          Worth borrowing….

    • Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      Now that’s true wisdom.

  9. Mike Cracraft
    Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    CHRISTIANITY is like reading the bible outside the door and then declaring that the cat is there on the basis of scripture, so there’s no reason to go in.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted March 1, 2016 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      Islam, too. And Judaism. And any other religion whose claim that god exists is based on their holy books, and not on empirical evidence.

      • Posted March 2, 2016 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

        I admit it is difficult for me to imagine a religion claiming that god exists based on empirical evidence :-).

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    This one is ancient:

    “To be is to do”—Socrates.
    “To do is to be”—Jean-Paul Sartre.
    “Do be do be do”—Frank Sinatra.

  11. drakodoc
    Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Nature and Nature’s Law (and a black kitteh) lay hidden in night.
    D*g said, “Let Newton be,” and then there was Light.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 2, 2016 at 2:20 am | Permalink

      It could not last: the Devil, howling “Ho!
      Let Einstein be!” restored the status quo.

      – J C Squire

      cr

  12. Matt
    Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    What’s the difference between metaphysics and theoretical physics? Isn’t string theory metaphysics? Serious question.

    • Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      No, string theory is not metaphysics. String theory is a toolkit of mathematical and physical ideas, out of which people are trying to construct a better theory of gravity.

      (Note also that string theory is only one relatively small part of theoretical physics.)

    • Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      String theory is at least testable in principle. We lack good technology to test it. And some variants of string theory may be untestable, in which case they’re useless metaphysics — though it could also be that what we think is untestable today could actually be tested in some way that nobody’s figured out yet. Also, bits and pieces of string theory is helping a number of theoreticians do sorta-related real work, which is a strong indication that there might be something to it.

      String theory has another thing going for it over metaphysics…string theory is very rigorous and very elegant math. Math has consistently demonstrated itself worth doing for the sake of doing, even when there’s no pretense that it has any bearing on reality as currently understood. Lots of times it turns out that some bizarrely incomprehensible mathematical concept really is useful for something mundane — such as imaginary numbers (including the square root of negative one) in electrical engineering. Even when it doesn’t directly apply, it still tends to breed more tools that often wind up being useful for something or other.

      If there’s a meaningful difference between metaphysics and stoned college kids bullshitting each other in the dorm room at three in the morning, I’ve yet to see evidence to that effect….

      b&

      >

      • rickflick
        Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        This brings up the pure mathematician. The goal of the pure mathematician is purely to explore interesting relationships. The idea of applicability does not concern them at all. They play and manipulate symbols for the pure pleasure of it. They generate a huge edifice of methods that would just sit there unused for any practical purpose unless someone of a more practical mindset notices the applicability of some of it to a real-world problem. Then the rest of the world finds out about it. Let’s not forget to pay the salary of our wonderful pure mathematicians.

        • grasshopper
          Posted March 1, 2016 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

          I recall reading the reminiscences of an elderly pure mathematician who had been co-opted as a young man into the Manhattan Project. He lamented that his new work forced him to work with real numbers. Worst of all, some of those numbers were fractions!

    • Kevin
      Posted March 1, 2016 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      String theory may not be testable (i.e., falsifiable) it is empirically driven.

      See a recent post here:

      http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=8323

      In particular, read Sean Carroll’s remark on the multiverse. I think you can apply it to string theory.

      • peepuk
        Posted March 2, 2016 at 5:09 am | Permalink

        If an idea isn’t testable we may call it fiction, or maybe better: science fiction.

        • Posted March 2, 2016 at 7:46 am | Permalink

          String theory is at least testable in principle (and /has/ been tested insofar as it is congruous with the Standard Model).

          The SM wasn’t fully testable in practice until the LHC was built — and might have required an even more energetic and expensive experiment if the Higgs boson hadn’t been seen.

          /@

          • peepuk
            Posted March 3, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

            String theory is logical possible and in principle testable, but we don’t have the ability to produce reproducible counter examples yet.

            I don’t see how we can distinguish reality or truth from fiction if we lack this ability.

            • Posted March 3, 2016 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

              No, but at least string theory is a possible truth, among other possible truths, because it does match what we do know and can test experimentally.

              It will be interesting to see what the new bumps form the LHC will tell us. Maybe they can whittle down the number of possible truths.

              /@

      • Posted March 2, 2016 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        Testability and falsifiability are *not* the same thing. (Where’s that Popper guy when you need him?) In particular, very general theories of reality are only confirmable or rendered unnecessary in some other way (better systematization). For example, automata theory is like this.

        This is why some of us (Bunge, Armstrong, myself, etc.) think metaphysics and factual science are just matters of degree.

        String theory, like general relativity, needs large numbers of auxillary hypotheses to test. So it isn’t falsifiable by itself, only in conjunction.

        Testability is weaker, since it can make do with confirmability (like automata theory).

    • Matt
      Posted March 2, 2016 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      Thanks to all for the great answers to my questions. That all sounds reasonable.

  13. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    CLIMATE CHANGE DENIALIST: The number of black cats in the dark room has actually decreased last year. Scientists who say that black cat numbers are increasing are just conspiring to get grant money.

  14. DrBrydon
    Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    I think I’ve shared this joke before: An eminent rabbi has an audience with the Pope, where they discuss the differences between their religions. After much discussion the rabbi observes, “You Eminence, we are both like blind men in a darkened room, searching for an invisible, black cat that isn’t there. The difference is that you have found him.”

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 2, 2016 at 2:21 am | Permalink

      Nice! 🙂

      cr

  15. Posted March 1, 2016 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    MULTIVERSE COSMOLOGY- is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a f—– flashlight. Not finding it but being reasonably certain there are other dark rooms that do have black cats.

    • Posted March 1, 2016 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      lol

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted March 1, 2016 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      Acually, according to Sean Carroll’s blog, they are looking for black cats that have been stuck in cracks from when the rooms have collided, proving that there are other rooms and that the architect is f— insane.

      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted March 1, 2016 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

        “Actually”.

    • Posted March 2, 2016 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      Reminds me what I wrote at the end of a lecture about RNA processing some 20 years ago:
      “Those having plenty of time and money at their disposal could search for introns in prokaryotes.”

  16. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted March 1, 2016 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    ATHEIST: There is no black cat in this dark room.
    ACCOMMODATIONIST: I don’t think there is a black cat in this room, but if you want to believe there is a black cat then that is alright with me.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted March 1, 2016 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

      Guess which one gets the big Templeton bucks to continue the search for the most probably non-existent black cat?

    • Posted March 1, 2016 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

      I’d characterize the accommodationist stance as a little more problematic: “Hey, believing there is a black cat in here is totally compatible with there being no black cats in here. Also, I will be very slow to criticize all the black cat propaganda and paraphernalia you’re always injecting into education and law.”

  17. Posted March 1, 2016 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    PARTICLE PHYSICS – is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat by shooting another black cat out of a cannon into the dark room and counting the cat pieces that fly out.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted March 1, 2016 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      COSMOLOGIST: I propose that there is an invisible black cat in this dark room because my stupidity and inanity of statements is proportional to the inverse of my distance to the room. This is in accordance to the xkcd theorem.

    • Posted March 1, 2016 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      Actually, particle physics would be more like firing mice from cannons facing each other and having blue whales spontaneously appear whenever two mice hit each other in midair just right — though the whales almost as spontaneously dissolve into a mist of gerbils. But mostly you just get a bunch of short-lived petunias resigned to their lot in reincarnation.

      b&

      >

      • Posted March 1, 2016 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

        Oh, no. Not again.

        /@

        • Posted March 1, 2016 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

          Easy for you to say. For whatever reason, I seem to be having this terrible difficulty with my lifestyle at this time.

          b&

          >

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted March 2, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink

            Life? Don’t talk to me about life!

            • Posted March 2, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

              I’m terribly sorry. We apologize for the inconvenience.

              b&

              >

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted March 2, 2016 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

                Oh dear. My ‘nym, or maybe it’s DNA, compels me to make a comment.

                How about:
                “In the beginning the Universe was created.
                This had made many people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.”

                cr

  18. MarkMyWords
    Posted March 1, 2016 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    THEOLOGY is like looking for a black cat in a dark room, forswearing use of a flashlight because it denigrates your faith that the cat is there, and then proclaiming the transcendence of the cat when you cannot touch it after spending hours on your knees feeling around the room blindly.

    • grasshopper
      Posted March 1, 2016 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      Bingo!

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 2, 2016 at 2:44 am | Permalink

      Or like looking for the cat but finding only an empty room thus proving that the cat has been resurrected!

  19. Posted March 1, 2016 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    QUANTUM PHYSICS is like looking for a black cat that is simultaneously in and not in a darkened room. Until you turn on the flashlight.

    /@

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted March 2, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Ah, but is it dead or alive?

      • Posted March 2, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        Yes.

        /@

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 3, 2016 at 4:35 am | Permalink

          Damn, you beat me to that exact same answer!

          (And earlier you beat me to the Schrodinger construct in the first place. I can only hope your intellect is rubbing off on me. 😀 )

  20. v.o.l
    Posted March 1, 2016 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    Philosophy is not at all about finding black cats. It’s about clarifying our thoughts when we’re looking for black cats or doing other activities. Also, the word ‘metaphysics’ is used here as a synonym for mystics. In practice, this word has also other meanings which have nothing to do with mystics.

  21. mordacious1
    Posted March 1, 2016 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    THEOLOGY is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat, that is not there, and finding DOG.

  22. Mark Joseph
    Posted March 1, 2016 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Re the OP: I originally found this done extremely well here. I plan so have a T-shirt with this picture on it some day.

  23. Tim Harris
    Posted March 2, 2016 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    I am surprised to see intelligent people thinking that this sort of Drumpfian tweet or twitter is either amusing or illuminating.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 2, 2016 at 2:48 am | Permalink

      Drumpfism is making black cats build a wall in order to keep themselves out of the room!

      • Posted March 2, 2016 at 3:13 am | Permalink

        +1

      • Tim Harris
        Posted March 3, 2016 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        And, yes, +1! (I didn’t entirely lose my sense of humour at birth.)

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 3, 2016 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

          😉

    • Tim Harris 
      Posted March 3, 2016 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      Perhaps I should be clearer about why I dislike the black-and-white soundbite thinking that Reader Leon’s little essay at humour – or his quotation of someone else’s little essay at humour – exemplifies, and the appeal to unexamined prejudice that it clearly makes. I have on my shelves, not unread, books by Charles Darwin, Karl von Frisch, Jacques Monod, D’Arcy Thompson, John Maynard Smith, Erwin Schrodinger, E.O. Wilson, Martin Lindauer, Ilya Prigogine, Richard Dawkins, Richard Feynmann, Richard Fortey & Bernd Heinrich, among other writers on science, and I also have books, again not unread, by Karl Popper, Bernard Williams, Thomas Nagel, W.V. Quine, Bertrand Russell, Martha Nussbaum, Stanley Cavell, Susan Haack, Philip Kitcher & Judith Jarvis Thomson, among other philosophers. I see no reason why an interest in the former should entail a denigration of the latter. It displays a lack of generosity of mind and spirit, and a curious resentment of anything that doesn’t fit into the bounds of what one supposes one’s profession to be.

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 3, 2016 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, Tim. I’m glad you humanities-types stick around here, to keep us from getting too tunnel-eyed.

        It’s probably just my ignorance, but disciplines like philosophy would seem much more attractive if they were known to be policing their own. Science at least eventually weeds out the whackos, but one doesn’t get a sense of that happening much on “the other side of the campus.”

        • Tim Harris
          Posted March 4, 2016 at 1:40 am | Permalink

          I think the only response I can make to that, Diane, is that instead of relying on impressions of things you admit you don’t know much about and hearsay, you should try reading, say, Williams, Haack, Nussbaum et al in philosophy. Or, in the field of literary criticism and scholarship, say, Helen Vendler, Adrian Poole, Jesse Byock, Brian Vickers, Greg Walker… Or, in art history, Michael Baxandall… I am really not interested in the ‘policing’ of things, have small time for much that goes on in the academy, and don’t regard myself as an academic. I am interested in what is good, whether it is produced in or out of the academy. If someone is not interested in the humanities at all and knows little about them then surely it is wiser and more responsible for that person not to indulge in the sort of sniggering sound-bites that Reader Leon likes. On ‘your’ side of the campus, it seems everybody has heard of Sokal’s splendid joke, but very few seem to know anything about the telling attacks made on post-modernism by, for example, the historians E.P. Thompson and Richard Evans and literary scholars and critics such as Raymond Tallis and Peter Washington. Oh, I am sorry, this is sounding much more savage than I want it to be, so I’ll just stop here and say that I much enjoy the wit of your comments, as well as those of Ant’s and Diana McPherson’s!

          • Posted March 4, 2016 at 4:38 am | Permalink

            😊

            Well, I certainly have philosophy books rubbing shoulders with science books on my shelves … I’m not sure if that contributes to any wit I might have. Maybe half of it.

            /@

            • Diane G.
              Posted March 4, 2016 at 4:58 am | Permalink

              Better a half-wit than no wit at all.

          • Diane G.
            Posted March 4, 2016 at 4:55 am | Permalink

            Well, I’m sure you’re entirely correct. I’m probably just still too upset that my daughter recently completed a couple of L.A. degrees and had to sit through so much pomo crap. Her majors were decent–Journalism, Spanish, Broadcasting–but the mandatory “gen-eds” she had to take were right out of the SJW playbook, including something bizarre they had the nerve to call feminism! So much tuition for so much bunk.

            However, I’m the first to admit I’m an oft-embarrassed philistine, and looking back I wish I hadn’t been so eager to fill up all the electives I had with yet another biology class of some kind. Which is why I really mean it when I say that I love your input about the theatre & literary matters (and so many other subjects), Diana’s about classicism, the musicians here about music…You’ve all made substantial inroads into my ignorance.

            I’m pretty sure that I’ll not get around to many of your book suggestions*, but I will look at the authors via Google. Nothing against them, it’s just that reading important stuff nowadays tends to put me to sleep. (Science included!) I will take your word that they’re sensible and hopefully speaking out against the bilge that still infests many of their disciplines in the academy. I think that, like you, I’d stopped paying much attention to what was going on in academia until I was thrust back into it while witnessing my daughter’s, er, “lived experience” there. 🙄

            *Although those authors you mention as making telling attacks on postmodernism sound intriguing enough to keep me awake. One or more will likely go on my wish-list. Nothing like a little intra-disciplinary discord to liven things up. (Sokal himself would be the first to want to recognize and join forces with the voices of reason in the humanities. I see in my copy of Beyond the Hoax that he cites Susan Haack at least 17 times.)

            • Tim Harris
              Posted March 4, 2016 at 6:37 am | Permalink

              As I said, I don’t regard myself as an academic, despite having taught literature and drama at a university here in Japan, and still lecturing at the Open University of Japan and other places here. I once tried to educate myself in later life (I left school at 17 and worked as a labourer for some years)and get an MA in theatre studies from a British drama school that shall be nameless, but decided to give it up, after being confronted with things like ‘Theatre Semiotics’, with its (post-modern) assumption that everything was fundamentally linguistic in nature and reducible to ‘grammar’ (it isn’t), its ‘scientific’ pretensions, and its assumption that Lacan, Derrida et al had created some sort of Copernican Revolution; not to mention some unpleasantly doctrinaire feminism – and I might say here that it was the doctrinaire quality I disliked and not the feminism.

              A fundamental question with teaching the arts is what are you teaching? Are you teaching someone how to pursue an art (e.g., how to paint or how to compose music) or are you helping them to understand what an artist (Milton, Enescu, Poussin, say, to list three favourites) is doing, or are you teaching some sort of nebulous ‘theory’ (something that a friend of mine who was at Oxford noticed that students of literature who did not actually appreciate literature tended to be attracted to because of its promise of putting you a position of control, and being able to sit in condescending judgement upon poets and other un-acadeimic trash). But it was not so much any intrinsic virtues (or – very much – otherwise) of post-modernism that got it into the position it won in certain places, I suspect, as administrative convenience: when students have to learn a jargon and what looks to be a technique which if followed leads to certain readily understandable results, it makes life very much easier where grading students is concerned. It is easier for teachers, and, above all (nowadays), the administrative staff can understand what is going on.

              The situation in the English department at Chicago University which Jerry described the other day, with its painting-by-numbers approach to literature is surely not so much a product of nefarious post-modern machinations as of administrative convenience and the levelling down that derives from the sort of politicised standardisation that unfortunately accompanies mass education: politicians and administrators want their fingers in the pie. It isn’t easy to grade critical essays in terms of insight. But Chicago University is, or was, the academic home of Martha Nussbaum, who has written so well on Greek tragedy in connexion with the ethical discussions of the Greek philosophers, and on Henry James… The students should be reading her, and being stimulated by her, than being subjected to the sort of pap that seem to be being subjected to.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted March 4, 2016 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

                I have to say that ‘administrative convenience’ has not only infested the arts, it has shat all over business and even engineering too. Aided and abetted by the usual ass-covering ‘Health and Safety’. It manifests as ‘management-by-procedure’, with an insistence that everything be documented, that numbers be put on every (largely hypothetical) attribute, that every trivial and irrelevant box be ticked, so the apparatchiks who absolutely don’t want to make a decision can hide behind their spreadsheets and drive anyone who actually wants to *do* something insane with frustration.

                [/rant]

                That’s not what I started out to talk about, but – having seen modern ‘management’ in action (or maybe that should be ‘inaction’), I can sadly believe that university administrations work exactly the same way.

                cr

              • Tim Harris
                Posted March 4, 2016 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

                Thank you, infinity. The first task of any academy is surely to encourage people to think intelligently about things, whatever the subject, and to impart the knowledge that will help them to do so.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted March 4, 2016 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

                Heh. I’m not sure if there was an implication there that my comment showed any intelligent thought (or maybe that it didn’t), or in fact if there was any implication. 😉

                I’d agree with your statement on the task of a university and also agree that ‘administrative convenience’ does not necessarily promote that objective and frequently may actually hinder it.

                cr

              • Tim Harris
                Posted March 4, 2016 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

                Oh, dear! No, no, no, I thought your remark spot on! It is a problem – for example, in 2014 Dame Marina Warner resigned from her position as Professor in the Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex in 2014 because of the “for-profit business model” being pushed on universities in the UK. (She is now Professor of English and Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London.) She wrote a rather good article on the problem, perhaps for The Guardian or The Independent.

              • Tim Harris
                Posted March 4, 2016 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

                I’ve looked it up: Marina Warner wrote about the matter in the London Review of Books, September 11th, 2014.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted March 4, 2016 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

                No worries. I suspected I might be reading an implication that wasn’t there.

                It’s a modern problem that everything has to be justified in terms of financial return. (Even if, most of the time, it’s a spurious pie-in-the-sky return like GDP). It is, ironically, not enough for something to be beneficial for society or worth doing for its own sake. It has to have $$$ attached to it and somehow ‘proved’ that it will make a profit.

                cr

              • Diane G.
                Posted March 5, 2016 at 3:49 am | Permalink

                First of all, you may not regard yourself as an academic, but I surely would! One of the best kinds. I hope you always keep at least one oar in the teaching waters given how much critical thought you approach the profession with.

                And ‘Theatre Semiotics’–what a classic example of something you have to either laugh at or cry over, probably both. (And yet they still think it’s OK to allow guns on campus.) (Sorry if that’s too dark to be humorous.)

                Depressing hypothesis about why pomo became popular but alas, very believable. Not only administrations, but pedagogy as well have been opting for convenience above all. I was shocked to see my daughter beginning to take the majority of her high school exams with Scantron forms; this continued all the way through university. There’s a lot of handwringing these days about students not being able to write, but perhaps that’s because they’re never made to! As you say, essays are a chore to grade. In addition to the Scantron BS, classroom activities are far more apt to be things like making posters and working on group projects than anything as old-fashioned as a term paper. Even in college my kids were both occasionally cutting out pictures from magazines and pasting them on posterboard. This sort of crap was nearly as annoying as the pomo. (Here I am, railing at “art” again. 😀 ) The only thing that saved them was growing up in a house full of books and turning into voracious readers. (Prolific readers usually turn out to be good writers, as you know.)

                (Having said all this, I must acknowledge that along the way each kid had the occasional inspiring, life-changing teacher or professor–they’re still out there albeit somewhat endangered these days.)

                The worst commodification though has been the change in faculty status, from being regarded as vital to being regarded as the largest budget item to address. We all know what that leads to.

                And the corporate admins are doing what they can to diminish the power of the teachers’ unions, in cahoots with their Republican congress reps, esp. at the state level.

                Jeez, what a tangent! You seem to be quite good at inspiring rants! 😀

                Sorry for the strong parental bent, here; turns out, when you have kids you’ve no choice but to be involved, and when you see what’s happening to (at least American) educational institutions you just want to cry.

                Now–what were we talking about? 😀

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 3, 2016 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

        Oh, and thanks for explaining your first comment!

  24. Posted March 2, 2016 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Explanations fromL
    Theology: need no empiric evidence
    Philosophy: need some empiric evidence
    Science: need more empiric evidence

    • Posted March 2, 2016 at 6:35 am | Permalink

      Explanations: sorry!

    • Tim Harris
      Posted March 2, 2016 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      Yes, I think we all managed to understand that. Does L provide a set of explanations separately in case people don’t twig what is meant by the original tweet or twitter?

  25. Posted March 2, 2016 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I once again say: since metaphysics is originally the study of the most general features of reality, secularists should “take it back”, and develop secular metaphysics. Some of us have contributed to this. My MA thesis, and arguably even my stuff on computability is on this subject.

  26. stuartcoyle
    Posted March 2, 2016 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    QUANTUM PHYSICS is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a f—– flashlight, but not knowing if the cat is alive or dead until you shine the light on it.

  27. launcher
    Posted March 2, 2016 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    HORROR FICTION is like discovering the cat is calling from inside the house.

    SCIENCE FICTION is like realizing you’re the cat.


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