I Have a Degree in Philosophy, You Know

Here you go: A cartoon I wrote a long time ago, illustrated by my pal Richard Polt:

And doesn’t it feel good to have that one squared away?

53 Comments on “I Have a Degree in Philosophy, You Know”

  1. You could sell that, you know. It’s better than a lot of what passes for cartoon humor.

    Better yet, put it on a t-shirt. I’d buy one!

  2. A sort of koan on the silliness of metaphysics that my ethics professor liked to share with his classes:

    “A philosopher sat at his desk, waiting for inspiration. It struck suddenly: in an instant, he constructed in his mind a perfect syllogism showing that reality was an illusion, and the world of the senses was noting more than a well-constructed hallucination. He wrote furiously for six hours to lay out this flawless refutation of materialism. As soon as it was finished, he sprinted to the bathroom because he really had to pee.”

    I always read this to mean, if the answer to your philosophical question won’t change the way you live, what’s the point?

  3. @ DPSquared: “if the answer to your philosophical question won’t change the way you live, what’s the point?”

    Philosophy is, among other things, a mental pursuit, and even a mental game or sport.* Thus, it can be its own end.

    (Humankind delights in gamesmanship of all types.)

    No practical point is needed, IMO.

    *This is not to deny that it CAN be life-changing.

  4. My dad’s philosophy degree causes him similar problems, and the sins of the father were certainly visited on the sons. I remember him torturing me as a curious 7-year-old with Zeno’s paradox. By the time the chicken-and-egg came around, I was practiced, so finding the correct answer didn’t take that long.

    You guys want a fun one, try figuring out why mirrors reverse left and right, but not up and down.

  5. Benoit, I don’t disagree, though perhaps my ethics professor would: he was one of those Peter Singer-esque minimize-expenses-and-donate-your-excess-income-to-UNICEF-types.

    I think he and I are more in agreement, though, that there are metaphysicians who have taken Socrates too much to heart and believe that their studies are the highest form of intellectual pursuit rather than recognizing, as you do, that it is largely a mental exercise.

    Arguably there’s an element of “pure research” to it–knowledge for the sake of knowledge, which can produce unimagined practical uses in addition to being an end in itself. And that has its place. But this professor’s life and my own have both been substantially changed by the study of ethics, and the opinions we developed in that study affect decisions we make every day. I doubt many metaphysicians can say that.

    Outside the politics of the philosophy department, you can also read the koan more specifically as a less concise expression of Phillip K. Dick: “reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

  6. In the Thai alphabet, the first two letters are “gor” and “kor,” usually learnt “gor gai” and “kor kai” in the same way as “a for apple.” One of them means chicken, the other means egg. Unfortunately, I can’t remember which comes first, nor which is which… but the Thais have had this conundrum nailed for a couple of centuries.

  7. R.W. Ridley – Richard W. Ridley is the author of 12 novels, for which he has received three Independent Publisher Book Awards and first place in a Writer's Digest International Publishing Competition. He has also earned semi-finalist honors in the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting competition for the screenplay version of Never Living, and he has been fortunate to have the opportunity to develop the story for the stage through the help of South of Broadway Theatre’s Second Sunday at Seven (SS7) workshop for playwrights and the Writer’s Workshop sponsored by the Culture, Arts & Pride Commission of the Town of Mount Pleasant. His short play Nonstop to Charleston was performed at South of Broadway’s PlayFest 2015. The stage version of Never Living was a finalist in What if? Productions’ 2015 Playwrights Festival, and was chosen for 5th Wall Productions Rough Draft Readings program. In addition to his pursuit of fame and fortune on the stage and in print, he’s worked in television and advertising in various under-compensated, yet highly rewarding roles. In an attempt to stay relevant in the internet age, he is a paid bi-weekly contributor to the CreateSpace community blog, and his pieces on writing and indie publishing make the occasional appearance in the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Newsletter. He publishes his novels under the pseudonyms R.W. Ridley, C. Hoyt Caldwell, and Jackson Goddard.
    R.W. Ridley

    I think it’s obvious the waitress came first.

  8. @Jamie:

    I’d have said the chicken farm.

    (Which, in turn, comes from the financing that was secured to procure both the land and the livestock).

  9. Back to Scalzi’s picture, one thing that has always bothered me about comics was the top billing writers get over illustrators.

    I guess I understand why – the writing drives the illustrating, and not vice versa, but it always seems to me that the illustrating is just so much more work, yet gets less of the credit.

    I am no expert on comics by any means. I just read Watchmen for the first time this month and when reading commentary about Watchmen it is always “Alan Moore this and Alan Moore that” and poor David Gibbons is treated like the hired help. But that doesn’t seem right to me. I think Watchmen would have been an incredibly crappy novel, as would most comics.

    John, I don’t mean to be slighting writers in general. Just noting an apparent imbalance in recognition.

  10. So… Chicken and Egg were lying together in bed. Chicken was relaxed: humming, smoking a cigarette. Egg just couldn’t get comfortable. After a couple minutes of resentful silence, Egg rolled over and snapped, “Well, at least we now know the answer to THAT question!”

  11. George E. Mitchell – Seabeck, WA – I've been working in the software industry since 1991. Over that time, I've learned a lot about technical people and had a good deal of success working with them and managing them. LinkedIn: <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/georgmi">http://www.linkedin.com/in/georgmi</a>

    The Theory of evolution solves this for us, doesn’t it? The first chicken certainly came from an egg, but the creature that laid the egg was, ever so slightly, not a chicken, and then the mutation bred true.

  12. Come on, you know that the whole chicken/egg thing is a thinly disguised creation/evolution argument.

    Mirrors appear to switch left and right because our eyes are next to each other. If our eyes were one above the other, mirrors would appear to switch up and down, but not left and right.

    Personally, I enjoy my personal realization that if major civilization had developed south of the equator rather than north, clockwise would be the other direction.

    And that brings up another point. why is there only one word to describe going around a circle one way (clockwise) but three to describe going around a circle the other way (counter-clockwise, anti-clockwise, and widdershins)

    And to all you folk frustrated because jobs are few and far between, just remember: It’s not personal, its personnel.

  13. when you think about the chicken orifice through which eggs pass, they become a bit less appetizing. or at least questionable. this reminds me very little of the time a girlfriend placed an M&M…well, never mind.

  14. As someone who frequently orders an appetizer and a salad for dinner, I have to ask whether or not the patron requested that the egg come before the chicken?
    But, it would make for a good philosophy t-shirt.

  15. BJS @23: If I turn my head sideways, you’re right, the mirror reverses up-and-down instead of left-to-right. But the mirror hasn’t moved. Only I’ve moved. How does the light know which way I’m pointing my head?

  16. @BJS “Personally, I enjoy my personal realization that if major civilization had developed south of the equator rather than north, clockwise would be the other direction.”

    Would we also be reading right to left?

    Not to mention: who says a major civilization didn’t develop south of the equator?

  17. Let’s just stop talking about the whole mirror thing, that question has always busted my mind and made me feel really stupid.

    I’d rather discuss what happens when an immovable object encounters and unstoppable force. It’s more action-oriented and makes me think of Asimov.

  18. @adelheid The major civilization in regard to sundials, the movement of hands on a clock is based on the path that sundial shadows take.

  19. Sorry Patrick, but both can’t exist in the same universe. The existence of one precludes the possibility of the other.

  20. somewhere there’s a Chuck Norris joke regarding this but I can’t think of what it’d be…..

    also – who would order an egg w/o bacon? craziness!

  21. Patrick @29: The immovable object/unstoppable force thing is just an attempt to frame an old religious question in “scientific” terms. The original question, as reported by Brother Carlin the Foole was “If God is all powerful, can He make a rock so big that He Himself can’t move it?” ;-)

  22. Daniel Ross – Hi, I'm Daniel Ross, and I'm a nerd. My big joys in life are learning about new things, figuring out how things work, and making things work better. One of the things I spend a lot of time on in the "making better" column is life in general. I've got political opinions ohboy. I probably won't talk about 'em that much here, though. On my own time, I spend a lot of time exploring and having new experiences. That might be as planned as taking a vacation out into the woods to hike a new trail I read about. It might be as simple as hopping a Muni bus and riding until I don't know where I am, or eating somewhere different every time I go out. I also have a shifting collection of other hobbies. I'm an avid reader, and Someday I Will Write a Novel(™); I make chainmail jewelry; and when all else fails, there's always taking your day job home with you by hobby coding.

    Hardly a deep philosophical question. The chicken/egg debate is only a problem for creationists. If you’ve actually been paying attention to the last 150 years of science, it’s the egg.

  23. Georgemi @22 The first chicken certainly came from an egg, but the creature that laid the egg was, ever so slightly, not a chicken, and then the mutation bred true.

    But is this where chickens came from? Chickens are domesticated fowl. What makes it a chicken rather than a wild fowl is living with humans. Did people steal eggs to domesticate the first chickens or did they capture adult fowl and keep them penned? Were the characteristics that differentiate domesticated chickens from wild fowl already within the genes of the wild fowl, and those that expressed them were the ones which were captured and kept rather than escaping or eaten?

    And so on until we all get bored.

  24. hugh57 @ 34 “If God is all powerful, can He make a rock so big that He Himself can’t move it?”

    I’ve never seen the problem with this. The obvious answer is “Yes he can, but if he did, he would no longer be omnipotent.”

  25. @ 37 Captain Button:

    At that point the Rock would instantly become self-aware and assume the mantle of “Master of the Universe.” Cool.

  26. CB @37: “Yes he can, but if he did, he would no longer be omnipotent.”

    Then he wouldn’t have been able to make the rock in the first place.

  27. Hugh57 @40 I believe that CB @37 means that at the very instant God discovers that s/he can’t move the rock is when s/he ceases to be omnipotent. But this would indicate, to me, a God who is not omniscient. Because if s/he were omniscient then s/he would know before creating the rock that s/he couldn’t move it. So, the question is would a God who is omniscient actually create a rock so big s/he couldn’t move it and therefore knowingly cause her/himself to cease to be omnipotent?

  28. Jeff O @#4: “To die alone — in the rain.”

    Theophylact @#28 deserves a cigar [chocolate, if a non-smoker] for the first correct reply to the mirror problem. As anyone with decent physics training will tell you, all upright images are bilaterally swapped and virtual, while all inverted images are bilaterally consistent and real.

    As for God’s rock, Zelazny had one character in his Isle of the Dead explain, “Yes, he could but he wouldn’t. Think about it. Would you?”

    The creationist/evolution argument… [sigh!] The chicken vs. egg argument relies on the fallacy of ambiguous terms.

    Is it any chicken and any egg? Then it’s the egg by a mile or an eon [per evolution].

    Is it the chicken and the chicken egg? Then it must be the chicken, for only a chicken can produce a chicken egg [which may hatch a dinosaur any day soon, yet the egg remains a chicken’s].


  29. “BJS @ 23: another word for clockwise is deasil”

    Deosil and that’s only in the northern hemisphere. It’s the other way around in the southern hemisphere.

  30. Keep your eyes on your reflection in the mirror, while the person standing next to you walks toward the mirror, turns around, and comes back. Your mirror image keeps left and right the same; put out your left hand to touch the mirror, and the hand it touches is on (your) left side.

    Put out your left hand to touch the hand of the person returning, and it is the person’s right hand — because *he* turned around. reversing left/right *and* back/front (but obviously, not up/down).

  31. Regarding God and the heavy rock, I think of a hypothetical God as akin to the Man in the Desert in this XKCD strip:


    Clearly, the Man in the Desert can cause absolutely anything to happen in the context of his rock universe simply by not following the rules he created for how each instant logically proceeds from the last. So, in one instant, he can create a representation of a rock so large that, were that rock to exist in the real world the Man exists in, he could not move it. And in the next instant, he can cause it to move. The trick is that the Man can supersede the logic of the universe he creates, because he also creates that logic.

  32. How can I know that you have a degree in philosophy? Is there really a you, and an I? WWBD? (What would Buber Do?)

    That was a funny cartoon, in any case.

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