Thursday, January 08, 2009

Unicorns, Things, Questions, and a Rectum

Brock asks,

"What properties (or relations to their subjects) make one work of art more realistic than another? Can one unicorn painting be more realistic than another, given that there's no actual unicorn to compare them to?"
One could certainly imagine the sentence "No, your picture of a unicorn is much more realistic than hers" being meaningfully said. In this case, I think the criteria of realism would not be strength of representation since the thing being represented does not exist, but rather a matter of coherence, that is, how well does the painting of the mythical beast connect with our other beliefs about how the world is. Does it look like it could be a photograph of a unicorn? Is the texture striking in the way we expect to be struck? The subject of the painting may not exist, but how close does it resemble what we would expect to observe should we have hypothetically happened upon that being presented in the work?

We often make precisely this sort of judgment in drama or literature when we object to something the author or director does. "No, no, no, she would never do that." The character, of course, is fictitious, yet we can sense when something unrealistic in the portrayal occurs. It seems like there would be an analog for the visual arts.

Brock also asks,
"In the broadest possible sense of "thing", i.e. absolutely everything counts as a thing, how many things are there?"
That's a fun one.

If we use the broadest possible definition, does that include abstract entities like justice and love? Love is a many splendered thing, so do we count each splender? W. V. O. Quine argued that numbers are such abstract entities and that they exist, meaning that we are now automatically in the realm of uncountable infinities.

Even if we restrict ourselves to things as material substances, we know the number is astronomically large (literally astronomically since we are talking the universe here). The real question, of course, is whether the answer would be finite or not and what size of infinity.

On this view, is my thumb a thing or merely part of a thing? If parts of things are to be counted as things themselves, we have redundancies that will increase our results tremendously.

But it gets worse because if we are counting parts, then we should count subatomic parts and given that energy and time are non-commuting observables, for very short periods of time the uncertainty in the energy becomes very large, large enough for particles to appear changing our count. So, are we talking about things at a time, during a small duration of time, throughout time?

The cheesy move would be to take the Parmenidean route and say one, all that exists is The Field and everything in it is a local field effect. But then we could ask how many such effects there are and we are right back to your question. My answer is more than eight, but then eight is enough.

Gary asks,
"Is it really true that questions are more important than answers? If so, why?"
If it is true, then the answer you seek is less important than the question itself and since the question is likely of little importance, the answer is trivial and can be ignored no matter what it is.

But seriously, one could say that questioning is a process and that process brings to light presuppositions in one's views, something essential to living an examined life and something liable to decrease our errors. The answers are useful, but it is the path of gaining the answers, the questioning in which we gain depth. Merely being given the answer does not allow us to answer similar questions or ask deeper questions.

pm asks,
"Is "Rectum? Damn near killed 'em!" still the funniest joke, ever?"
While this tidbit was intentionally included in our sacred text, The Comedist Manifesto, because of its great comedic power, the funniest joke ever, of course, was written by Ernest Scribbler and then used by the British during WWII: