My friend Ed Gibney has written on each and every one of the thought experiments in Julian Baggini’s, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher. He has also summarized his own 100 blog posts on Baggini’s 100 thought experiments in “What I learned from 100 Philosophy Thought Experiments.”
(Here is his summary of, and commentary on, Baggini’s thought experiments dealing with metaphysics. It follows from a previous post on thought experiments dealing with knowledge. I have added my own brief reflections at the bottom of the page.)
From Ed Gibney’s blog, reprinted with permission.
First off, as seen in #42 Take the Money and Run, logic puzzles alone don’t always teach us much. However, #6 Wheel of Fortune helps us see that our guts are bad at statistics. And to solve any paradox, like the one in #70 An Inspector Calls, you must carefully define unclear terms. #64 Nipping the Bud shows that simple answers to complex situations are always wrong in some way. And via #49 The Hole in the Sum of the Parts, it’s a “category mistake” to treat concrete things and abstract ideas as if they both existed as singular entities.
In #85 The Nowhere Man, we see that “meaningless statements” whose meanings seem clear is a contradiction in terms, but this is the kind of problem that was solved in mathematics by the invention of the concept of zero. Just as “the present King of France” or “the round square” don’t refer to anything, neither does the number zero, and so such linguistic oddities might, therefore, be labeled xero, as in, they are neither true nor false, but technically xero.
In another problem for the application of logic, we see in #16 Racing Tortoises that time cannot be slowed to a halt. This then shows us in #94 The Sorites Tax that the concepts of TRUE and FALSE were built on an ancient’s view of the universe as an unchanging and eternal thing. Once we discovered evolution in 1859, and the Big Bang was confirmed by background radiation in the 1960s, our cosmological revolutions should have led to logical revolutions as well. You cannot impose eternal and unchanging TRUE/FALSE logic on an evolving and expanding universe. I call this the Static-Dynamic Problem of philosophy. One can only apply logic to a static picture where TRUE or FALSE definitions can remain valid. Once you move to the dynamic realm, classical logic breaks down.
Nonetheless, as in #61 Mozzarella Moon, when mutually exclusive ideas mingle, they must either adapt or go extinct, and it would be much better for all involved if the changes didn’t have to come from violent conflict (might doesn’t make right), so it’s vital we figure out how to root out truly maladaptive thoughts by using logical reason alone. Sadly, as seen in #24 Squaring the Circle, irrational beliefs in gods are unaffected by rational arguments. And so we, therefore, must move to the subjective realm to understand emotions and other views about the nature of one’s reality.
My Brief Reflections – There is a lot here but I agree that as long as there is time, as long as there is a tomorrow, we cannot claim to know something definitively. Still, I’d argue that if we can enhance our intelligence, merge with AIs, create a global brain, become transhuman, etc., then there is a possibility of adjudicating our disputes with reason alone.
(Next up – the thought experiments dealing with metaphysics.)