Wednesday, 21 July 2010


Watch the behaviour of my pigeons, as they decide whether or not to come down and have a much needed drink from my blanket-weeded pond, and then if so, how to go about it.  It's high comedy, up there with the best of Buster Keaton or Jaques Tati.  And the reason?  They're not applying normal human rules of rational behaviour (well, they're not normal humans, to be fair - that applies to Keaton, Tati and the birds), and that makes them look funny.  Comedians obviously know and exploit this (pigeons don't, they just do it because that's how pigeons are.  So I shouldn't really laugh at them, but WTF.).

So it was interesting to read an  interview the other day with Ricky Gervais, a comedian who has made a bit of a career out of that sort of (fictional) exploitation of irrational incongruity, in which he banged on at length, and quite funnily, about the sanctity of 'facts'.  In a nutshell, you're allowed to say 'he wasn't funny' (opinion), but not 'nobody laughed' (fact; of course facts, as I understand the word, have to be verifiable, maybe actually nobody did laugh ...  but that's leading me further into the murky streams of the scientific method than I have space to dip right now ...)

(the plain people of ireland : will ye come to the point now? We're tired of all this philosophisation.)

Oh yes, sorry.  Rationality is the inability to hold six contradictory opinions before breakfast.  Contradiction is easily detected, by the application of one or two elementary logical constructs, the best of which is the syllogism.  So when Nick Clegg says that a) our troops will be out by 2014 (first premise), b) our troops will be out only when conditions on the ground permit (second premise), this syllogism leads to only one conclusion: conditions on the ground will permit withdrawal by 2014.  No other conclusion is admissible.  So why didn't he say that? 

Two explanations are possible.  One, he doesn't understand the simple rules of logic.  Or, two, he's trying to disguise a lie with rhetoric.  I suspect both.

Why isn't simple logic a mandatory subject on the national curriculum?  Oh no, of course, they're abolishing that, aren't they?  Just don't tell the pigeons.

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