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Author Topic: Help me unpack this philosophy meme  (Read 2054 times)

Sefiru

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Help me unpack this philosophy meme
« on: June 28, 2018, 07:05:05 pm »
I recently found a meme on the interwebs whose text is as follows:

--------------
The Black Cat Analogy

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 isn't there.
Theology is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn't there and shouting "I found it".
Science is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a flashlight.
---------------------------------

There are several problems that I can see with this, including (a) assuming that all of these fields have the same goal, (b) implying that Science is better/more useful than the other disciplines, and (c) badly misrepresenting Theology (and probably the others too). I'm sure there are more.

In the interest of discussion, what would be more accurate ways of describing these disciplines using this analogy? (For Theology, I thought, "being in a dark room, wondering why a black cat would be there.") How about other academic fields? And are there any fallacies or misconceptions I missed?
 

 

Yei

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Re: Help me unpack this philosophy meme
« Reply #1 on: June 30, 2018, 07:17:37 am »
I recently found a meme on the interwebs whose text is as follows:

--------------
The Black Cat Analogy

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 isn't there.
Theology is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn't there and shouting "I found it".
Science is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a flashlight.
---------------------------------

There are several problems that I can see with this, including (a) assuming that all of these fields have the same goal, (b) implying that Science is better/more useful than the other disciplines, and (c) badly misrepresenting Theology (and probably the others too). I'm sure there are more.

In the interest of discussion, what would be more accurate ways of describing these disciplines using this analogy? (For Theology, I thought, "being in a dark room, wondering why a black cat would be there.") How about other academic fields? And are there any fallacies or misconceptions I missed?

I think that if any description of either Philosophy, Metaphysics, Theology, or Science could be boiled down to a single line in a meme than it probably isn't worth anything. This is especially relevant when the one responsible for the meme doesn't really understand either Philosophy, Metaphysics, Theology, or Science.

Sefiru

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Re: Help me unpack this philosophy meme
« Reply #2 on: July 02, 2018, 05:51:49 pm »
I think that if any description of either Philosophy, Metaphysics, Theology, or Science could be boiled down to a single line in a meme than it probably isn't worth anything.

I'm going to mostly disagree on this. Starting with, how do you define the "worth" of a description? A description can be brief and broad while also being correct. Depending on context and format, we do not always have the time and/or space to be as thorough or specific as we would like. And like a thumbnail image, a brief description can serve as a preview for a more detailed one, should the reader be curious.

One of the things analogies can do, when they are well-crafted, is convey a complex idea in few words. (Obviously the analogy I quoted in the OP is neither well-crafted nor correct, hence this thread.)

Expressing complex ideas in short or simple terms is a kind of art in itself; this is one of the reasons I like to read first-contact science fiction.

And finally, like it or not, memes are a literary form. I'll bet the digital anthropologists of the future will study them the way today's scholars study Roman graffiti. So it seems worthwhile to consider what makes a meme good or bad, rather than dismissing the genre as a whole.

Yei

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Re: Help me unpack this philosophy meme
« Reply #3 on: July 02, 2018, 06:35:40 pm »
I'm going to mostly disagree on this. Starting with, how do you define the "worth" of a description? A description can be brief and broad while also being correct. Depending on context and format, we do not always have the time and/or space to be as thorough or specific as we would like. And like a thumbnail image, a brief description can serve as a preview for a more detailed one, should the reader be curious.

I did not say a short or brief description. I said a 'meme'.

I agree with you that short, pithy descriptions can be very useful in the right circumstances. But remember what this meme is. It is a dig at religion, and quite possibly philosophy, and metaphysics also. It is not intended to enlighten.

Scholars of the future may be interested in studying memes. But they will do so from an archaeological/sociological perspective, which is not what you are doing here.

Sefiru

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Re: Help me unpack this philosophy meme
« Reply #4 on: July 03, 2018, 06:12:59 pm »
I did not say a short or brief description. I said a 'meme'.

Do you consider the two to be mutually exclusive?

Quote
Remember what this meme is. It is a dig at religion, and quite possibly philosophy, and metaphysics also. It is not intended to enlighten.

This particular meme is all of those things. But that does not mean that all memes must be so. That is why I thought it would be interesting to try to turn this sow's ear into a silk purse.

Quote
Scholars of the future may be interested in studying memes. But they will do so from an archaeological/sociological perspective, which is not what you are doing here.

What am I doing here, from your point of view?

What I was trying to do was approach it from the perspective of literary criticism, or something close to that. Possibly I have not expressed that well.

Yei

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Re: Help me unpack this philosophy meme
« Reply #5 on: July 06, 2018, 07:14:24 am »
Do you consider the two to be mutually exclusive?

Is the form/length the correct means to categorise and compare descriptions and memes?

Quote
This particular meme is all of those things. But that does not mean that all memes must be so. That is why I thought it would be interesting to try to turn this sow's ear into a silk purse.

Not all memes may be so. But you didn't post any of them. You posted this one.

Quote
What am I doing here, from your point of view?

What I was trying to do was approach it from the perspective of literary criticism, or something close to that. Possibly I have not expressed that well.

Honestly, I'm not sure I should presume to know the thoughts of someone I have never met. Yet, your response seems mainly defensive, rather than critical.

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Re: Help me unpack this philosophy meme
« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2018, 05:14:27 pm »
There are several problems that I can see with this, including (a) assuming that all of these fields have the same goal, (b) implying that Science is better/more useful than the other disciplines, and (c) badly misrepresenting Theology (and probably the others too). I'm sure there are more.

I'm a little hung up on how badly it treats science, actually.  Even if one treats the hypothesis as "there is a black cat in the room" and the theory as "it can be found with a flashlight" it doesn't have repeatability or predictive value so it's not science....
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Re: Help me unpack this philosophy meme
« Reply #7 on: July 06, 2018, 06:31:13 pm »
Is the form/length the correct means to categorise and compare descriptions and memes?

Not all memes may be so. But you didn't post any of them. You posted this one.

Honestly, I'm not sure I should presume to know the thoughts of someone I have never met. Yet, your response seems mainly defensive, rather than critical.

I agree that the initial meme was remarkably stupid (which is why I Liked your first post in this thread). But you don't seem inclined to engage in discussion/debate about whether better meme construction is possible, or even about deconstructing the many things that are wrong with this meme; increasingly, your posts are coming across as simply objecting to Sefiru having made this thread at all. If that is in fact all you're doing, you should probably give some thought to whether you've made your point and should drop out of the thread; your posts are bearing a stronger and stronger resemblance to 'telling others how to post'.

Or if that's not what you're doing, you might want to try approaching it a bit differently; your current approach seems to be giving an inaccurate impression.

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Sefiru

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Re: Help me unpack this philosophy meme
« Reply #8 on: July 06, 2018, 07:20:14 pm »
I'm a little hung up on how badly it treats science, actually.  Even if one treats the hypothesis as "there is a black cat in the room" and the theory as "it can be found with a flashlight" it doesn't have repeatability or predictive value so it's not science....

Considering the anti-theist (anti-abstract?) tone, the writer probably meant that science is based on empirical observation. Which is a simplistic understanding of it, true enough. So, what would be a more accurate phrasing?

"Science: If there's a black cat in a dark room, is a flashlight a good way to find it? Let's try it out."

Though really, I think xkcd put it best.

Looking at it again, I'm not sure what the writer was trying to say about Metaphysics and things that "don't exist"; either they were confusing it with the Supernatural (which, I can see where they got that from, because popular usage does conflate the two at times) or they were refering to Metaphysics examining abstract concepts (which shows a rather shallow usage of the term "exist").

I had a foggy understanding of Metaphysics too, so I looked it up. Just some of the questions metaphysics would ask about the situation in the meme:

What counts as a cat? What counts as a room? How similar is "black" to "dark"? What counts as "finding" something? (etc.) (I might still have the wrong idea?)

Come to think of it, writing as if the various disciplines are opposed to each other is also a pretty big problem with the original meme.

Sefiru

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Re: Help me unpack this philosophy meme
« Reply #9 on: July 06, 2018, 07:28:50 pm »
you didn't post any of them. You posted this one.

I find that examining the ways bad things are bad, is as informative as examining the ways good things are good.

And since it's the reason I started the thread, what are your objections to this meme?

Quote
your response seems mainly defensive, rather than critical.

*shrugs* you seemed to want to discuss why the meme was worth bothering with at all, so I responded with my reasoning.

Yei

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Re: Help me unpack this philosophy meme
« Reply #10 on: July 07, 2018, 04:31:19 am »
I agree that the initial meme was remarkably stupid (which is why I Liked your first post in this thread). But you don't seem inclined to engage in discussion/debate about whether better meme construction is possible, or even about deconstructing the many things that are wrong with this meme; increasingly, your posts are coming across as simply objecting to Sefiru having made this thread at all. If that is in fact all you're doing, you should probably give some thought to whether you've made your point and should drop out of the thread; your posts are bearing a stronger and stronger resemblance to 'telling others how to post'.

Or if that's not what you're doing, you might want to try approaching it a bit differently; your current approach seems to be giving an inaccurate impression.

This isn't a warning, nor even a reminder in the usual sense, but I do have my (white) staff hat on.

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Of course, I do not intend to attack or dismiss another poster, although upon review, I can see where some of my language came off as too accusatory. Unfortunately I am not exactly sure how to make my point clear without it coming off as condescending or dismissive. I'll try to think of a way of expressing my point more clearly and without ambiguity.

Yei

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Re: Help me unpack this philosophy meme
« Reply #11 on: July 07, 2018, 04:47:10 am »
I find that examining the ways bad things are bad, is as informative as examining the ways good things are good.

And for the record, I agree with you. I don't believe criticising/analysing memes is necessarily a bad idea. In fact, my first statement was basically agreeing with your criticism, and I intended it in support of your position. I admit that your response took me by surprise.

Quote
And since it's the reason I started the thread, what are your objections to this meme?

I think that reducing complex concepts into memes runs a high risk of distorting those concepts, and that this is usually done, not for the purpose of education or enlightenment, but pushing a viewpoint to an already sympathetic audience. This is what I meant when I said it probably wasn't worth anything. I meant the content of the meme, not analysing the meme. This distinction may not have been clear enough, though.

Quote
*shrugs* you seemed to want to discuss why the meme was worth bothering with at all, so I responded with my reasoning.

Not at all. However, as I had not anticipated your response to my initial post, I had not prepared a more detailed account that explains my position. I could still do so, if it would help.


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Re: Help me unpack this philosophy meme
« Reply #12 on: July 08, 2018, 10:42:33 am »
I recently found a meme on the interwebs whose text is as follows:

--------------
The Black Cat Analogy

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 isn't there.
Theology is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn't there and shouting "I found it".
Science is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a flashlight.
---------------------------------

There are several problems that I can see with this, including (a) assuming that all of these fields have the same goal, (b) implying that Science is better/more useful than the other disciplines, and (c) badly misrepresenting Theology (and probably the others too). I'm sure there are more.

In the interest of discussion, what would be more accurate ways of describing these disciplines using this analogy? (For Theology, I thought, "being in a dark room, wondering why a black cat would be there.") How about other academic fields? And are there any fallacies or misconceptions I missed?

I'll admit I chuckled at the meme, for all its flaws...but then I'm predisposed to favor science.

Where the meme says "Religion" I'd say "Religious fundamentalism".
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Sefiru

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Re: Help me unpack this philosophy meme
« Reply #13 on: July 09, 2018, 06:20:09 pm »
Where the meme says "Religion" I'd say "Religious fundamentalism".

Or possibly Young-Earth Creationism, since there's a section of anti-theists who seem to think that that is the only religion there is  ::)

Sefiru

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Re: Help me unpack this philosophy meme
« Reply #14 on: July 09, 2018, 06:22:35 pm »
And for the record, I agree with you. I don't believe criticising/analysing memes is necessarily a bad idea. In fact, my first statement was basically agreeing with your criticism, and I intended it in support of your position. I admit that your response took me by surprise.

Misunderstandings all around, then.

Quote
This is what I meant when I said it probably wasn't worth anything. I meant the content of the meme, not analysing the meme. This distinction may not have been clear enough, though.

Ah; I had read your initial statement as saying that all memes weren't worth anything, which is what I disagreed with in my response.

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