Thursday, September 29, 2011

What you read is what you get…

…and other amusing anecdotes of late.

Earlier this week I was playing a grammar game in class, which involves three staircases represented on the board, which each team can ascend (to glory) or descend (to doom), and, further, which teams can push their opponents down. Three staircases is the best format, since two teams invariably gang up on the third team. Well, almost invariably. This week, I was simultaneously appalled and amused to see my seventh-grade students discovered game theory on their own! At some point, team A insisted on pushing team C up one step. I said they couldn't do that, but they were adamant. I was bemused, since vicious competition makes students focus better and try harder, but I let A bump C up. Two questions later, team C insisted on bumping team A up! Fortunately, the class was over soon, so their spirits weren't utterly sedated by their socialism. I caught one student, the original philanthropist, explaining to her teammates that she could tell team C was getting angry, so she wanted to make them feel better, not the least so that C wouldn't lash back at A. Fascinating.

This morning while driving to work, a man ahead of me was wearing a purple T-shirt with the word "STAGE" printed on the back in capital letters. The A, however, was printed without the middle horizontal bar, so all I saw was one form of the logical symbol for "empty set." That's what I get for reading oodles of philosophical logic!

On the same ride, Quine's famous phrase in "On What There Is"––namely, that modal realism "offends the aesthetic sense of us who have a taste for desert landscapes"––came to mind, as I had been reading it at breakfast, and with it came the memory of my work-study manager, Bill, from my first year at university. During a break all of us were chatting and he was asked about God. He explained that he is an atheist "for aesthetic reasons," a claim I took at the time to refer to the problem of evil, but which now seems to be of a piece with Quinean nominalism. God is the ultimate in realism, modal or otherwise, so for someone offended by modal realism, such as Quine and perhaps Bill, the reality of God may be so unseemly as to be unbelievable. Fortunately, however, the Jews found God first in the desert.

Later this morning as I got up to go to class, my plastic folder-box wouldn't close properly. I pushed the lid down again but then noticed the leg of a small cardboard rocking horse was stuck in between the edges. I have seen the rocking horse every day for weeks now, but it was only this morning that I had reason to lift it up, whereupon I noticed two foiled wings were under it. They had been removed, for originally the horse was a rocking Pegasus. This was another strange coincidence, since in the same essay, "On What There Is", Quine discusses the disputed existence of Pegasus and the property of anything like it as "pegasizing."

More about books. A couple weeks ago I left a small bag at a friend's house. There were two library books inside the bag, so when I finally got around to picking the bag up at his place earlier this week, his roommate handed me the bag and explained that he "figured the books might be overdue, so [he] returned them for [me]." I was civil about it, mainly because I was in a rush, but also because I couldn't quite believe my ears. He opened my bag, inspected its contents, removed the unfinished books, and returned them for me without any notice. I felt like I was in an episode of Seinfeld. Alas, my friend tells me the roommate's logic doesn't operate on the same plane as ours. Time to go to the library, I guess.

Nothing about books this time. Last night my wife and I were eating noodles. I think she saw I was about to eat the last clump of them off my plate, for as I lowered my head, verily, to eat the last clump of noodles, the extra clump of noodles she had on her fork craned over into my hair as she tried to lower it onto my plate. I just gaped and stared. She just bawled and patted me on the back. It was a hoot.

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