Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bliss over ignorance divided by "is"

If ignorance is bliss, does it logically follow that bliss is ignorance? There’s a guy downtown who walks around cleaning up trash, emptying garbage cans, sweeping the sidewalk and singing at the top of his lungs the whole time, “GOD BLESS AMERICA!”

Now, he gets the lyrics mixed up, and the melody isn’t quite right either, but damn if that guy isn’t happy as a clam doing work that most of us try to avoid. This of course begs the question: are clams happy? And if so, why?

Anyway, I said to Sheryl, “I think that guy is the enlightened one.” and I was only half kidding. He’s got a job to do and he’s doing it. He’s smart enough to know that external circumstances do not dictate his internal mind-state. He likely does not worry himself whether clams are happy or not, or if the word “is” can be considered equivalent to an = sign, nor does he wonder if the words on either side of "is" are therefore interchangeable.

Once I solve whether is = = , I will have opened a whole can of worms about whether there is a single word equivalent to > because I’ll need to know based on the previous outcome what to do about the whole thing. If is = = , then the problem is solved: bliss does equal ignorance and the words are interchangeable. If not, is there another mathematical symbol which would better suit the phrase? By now you’ve probably said to yourself, “Wait a sec, bliss does not equal ignorance, therefore the word “is” does not equal an equals sign. . . except when it does, depending on the phrase. “This is it” comes pretty close, but even though “It is this” means about the same thing, it will never mean exactly the same thing. It is all context dependent. What’s more striking to me is not that simple words like “is” are hard to define, but that small changes in the order of things can have a big effect. “That book is his” means about the same thing as “That is his book.” The word “his” however, magically transformed from a pronoun in the first sentence, to an adjective in the second sentence, even though both sentences effectively mean that “that book belongs to him.”

If, in an effort to be clear, knowing the vagaries of the English language you now state:
“That book is his. That is his book. That book belongs to him.”
what you have actually said is,
“If you touch that book, I’m going to hurt you.”
God bless America.

On the other hand if you were to say, “This is my only pen.” to somebody asking to borrow it, they’ll probably walk away and ask the next guy-- making a mental note that you’re a person to be avoided in the future, even if you’re holding the pen out to them in a gesture of good will and grinning broadly. Conversely if you say “This is only my pen” with the same gesture, they’ll walk away even faster, especially if you follow it up with, “My pen is only this” and then cap it off with “Only my pen is this.” Ah, what the heck, take it a step further and start addressing the pen directly, “Pen, is this my only?” now repeat, with feeling, “Only my pen is this!” “This, my only pen is!” and as the police are being called, one more time with “This is my only pen!”

If only I hadn’t opened this can of worms. . . God Bless America; ignorance is bliss. . . I was happy as a clam a minute ago. Really though, I think that a clam is neither happy nor sad, a clam just “is”. . . Stand beside her. . . I suspect that what we don’t know can hurt us, but then so can what we do know. . . And guide her. . . Total knowledge would functionally be the same as complete ignorance. . .
Through the night, by the light from above.

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