Wednesday, January 9, 2008

What Not To Say

Since I write philosophy, I often come across paradoxes. You know, like Zeno's paradox: before the arrow can get where it's going, it has to get halfway there, and before it can get the rest of the way, it has to make it half of the rest of the way, and so on. So: the arrow never gets where it's going. But of course, it does.

Philosophers tend to talk about paradoxes in a sort of stripped down way, and I don't blame them, really -- that's what philosophers do. But I'm always on the lookout for actual real life manifestations of paradoxes. Messy, real-life, stuff.

One kind of sort of paradoxical thing is self-reference. In its simplest form, "This sentence is false." If it's true, it's false, and vice versa.

Self-reference seems to me to come up a lot in real life problems. Consider the things you cannot say, and mean, because of self-reference.

Like, "Don't take this the wrong way." When someone says that in preface of some criticism, you're always more likely, rather than less, to take it "the wrong way." What the speaker wants to say is something like, "I don't want you to feel criticized." But in signaling that a criticism is coming, doesn't it sort of do the opposite?

I also get into a puzzle when I think about opinions I have about stuff that's being discussed too much. How can you express your opinion that all the discussion about poor Britney and her meltdown is sad and wrong, without adding yourself to all the discussion about poor Britney and her meltdown? There, now, I've just added to the Google hits for "Britney meltdown."

Speaking of Britney, by the way, I was just remembering this evening that crazy marriage she had with her old boyfriend before K-Fed. Remember? The teen sweetheart or something? And her family was like "No way, unh unh, girl, you are not marrying this guy." I remember saying at the time, "They should have let her stay married to him; it'd probably work out better than anything else." Well. Shouldn't they have?

We've had a request for some C and C political discussion (in comments to this post). Speaking for myself, I am going to vote democratic, and I will vote for whoever gets nominated eventually. I am no fan of Hillary, for many of the same reasons lots of other people aren't. Like her support for the war, etc. etc.

But the recent kerfuffle about her tears has me completely dumbfounded. I saw the tape at the gym, and I thought, "Oh, there must have been some other occasion when she was crying." But no, that was it. A catch in the voice. A catch in the voice while describing the fact that she had a lot of ideas on how to run the country.

Oooh, was it calculated? Was it honest?

All I can say is, wow, man, if that counts as crying, I am going to be carted off tomorrow for bi-polar disorder or something. Jeez-louise. Talk about something not worth discussing!

But, you know, you can't really blog about how dumb it is to discuss something. 'Cause, yeah, there you are discussing. Self-reference in action!

It was good old Bertie Russell and Kurt Goedel who really took the self-reference problem and made serious fucking hay with it. Russell used it to dismantle and disprove Frege's entire life's work of showing how to reduce mathematics to logic. Goedel used it to show that no list of axioms could determine as true or false every mathematical sentence.

Pretty lofty. But I always wonder. Did they encounter the everyday self-reference problems? Would they care about Britney and her troubles? Did they ever try to tell a loved-one, "Don't take this the wrong way, but. . ."

Probably they did. Russell went to jail for his pacifism, and Goedel died of starvation when his wife died, because he thought he was being poisoned.

It's a tough life out there, no matter how smart you are.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this is very true and also very provocative. Does the word 'but' following a self-referential statement always do this phenomenon (also called the' Cretan liars syndrome,' as when the Cretan says 'all Cretans are liars')? E.g., "I don't mean to brag, but . . ," "I'm not upset about it, but . . ."?