Every once in a while I have an idea for something that I think would be fun on a t-shirt or on your iPhone wallpaper. This one is not original. It’s something of a running joke in my family.
A few years ago, listening to CBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics, my older sister asked, “What’s the luge?”
She had never heard of it before.
Not missing a beat, my mother answered her, “It’s when you don’t winge!”
My sister was not impressed. As far as I know, she still hates that joke. My mother, on the other hand, thinks it’s hysterical, and she will explain in detail why it is such a good joke to you if you don’t laugh the first time you hear it.
So the Philosophy Department sent out an email last week, indicating that they had designed some clothing that they would have made, and that we could order some.
They are selling an “übermensch” t-shirt (from Nietzsche), which I didn’t like all that much. I probably would have bought one that said “Nietzsche is pietzsche,” though.
The other thing that they said we could order is a sort of sweater-thing with the McGill crest and the word “Philosophy” written on it. So I got one of those. First time I’ve ever bought school clothing, I think.
And then I remembered an idea I had an idea for a fantastic t-shirt back in my undergrad. In order to understand why it’s funny, I’ll have to explain a bit of philosophy of science.
Imagine you’re a geologist and you want to collect empirical data to support the claim that all emeralds are green. You collect a bunch of samples that support your hypothesis, and you think you’re doing a pretty good job, but then Nelson Goodman shows up and says, “Those are pretty good data, but they also equally support the hypothesis that all emeralds are grue.”
So, like a dummy, you don’t just ignore the kid and keep working, but rather you ask, “What do you mean by ‘grue?'”
And of course he answers and says, “Grue means green before January 1, 2050, but blue afterward.”
You say, “That’s just silly.”
Goodman goes on: “And bleen means blue before January 1, 2050, but green afterward.”
So you try to explain to him that it doesn’t make sense that the colour of emeralds would change at an arbitrary date in the future.
“Oh, they don’t change colour. They’re still grue after January 1, 2050.”
And then you say that the colours grue and bleen don’t make sense because they have a weird sort of disjunctive definition. But the problem is that Goodman was raised by hippies, and for him, grue and bleen are more basic concepts that green and blue. And for that matter, according to Goodman, the concepts of blue and green look really suspect to him.
“Am I really supposed to believe in this mystical colour called ‘green,'” asks Goodman incredulously, “that emeralds are supposed to be, and that they will be grue until January 1, 2050 and then magically change to bleen afterward?”
And in this way, you and Goodman argue for hours until one of you goes home, having been beaten black and bleen by the other.
Anyway, my t-shirt idea is the following:
A green t-shirt with “The colour of this shirt is grue” written on it. Or a blue t-shirt with “The colour of this shirt is bleen” written on it. Or maybe something like “This shirt just changed colour from grue to bleen.”