Or, Ergo, Ergo, Ergo -- there we go, again!
DIALOG # FOUR
It is a scorching midsummer record-breakingly hot day, and ominously smoggy. The custom forged “Platonic Friendship” brass plaque sanctifying our park bench is too hot to touch and the bench itself almost is. Our lovely park, always heretofore well watered in the hottest of summers, with full green dependably mowed grass and jaunty eucalyptus giants, lush photinia and pyracantha, agapanthus and alstroemeria, and other well tended shrubs and flowers, is today naught but dusty dry straw stubble, dusty twigs, slovenly drooping eucalyptuses, a parched and bloomless wasteland, a kingdom of dust, about which are scattered dusty official signs in Spanish, English, Greek, Latin, and circle-slash icons, all issuing warnings and citing regulations. The duck pond is half empty, but the resident mallards and canvasbacks are on patrol, and random grad students, each smoking or whiffing something and taking swigs, more like gulps, from expensive authorized analytical grade all-natural artesian water in cheap plastic bottles within expensive holders – the only reassuringly normal features of the landscape. Assuredly old-fashioned nowadays but security-blanket normal for us since our college days some 60-70 years ago, are the business suits in which I and the professor are sweltering, rendering our park-bench diorama surrealistic. Our dialogs are always a smidgen surreal, but this time downright Daliesque. I hesitate to report it. I must have made it up. But wait! Do I hear Plagno insisting that it did happen and he can prove it?
After throwing my coat over the bench so as to avoid the hot plaque, loosening my collar and tie, cleaning the dust off my glasses, wiping my sweaty forehead, and sneezing three or four times, I began with small talk about the colorless grass and shriveled shrubs, and lamenting the drought that had caused the government to mandate water restriction.
“Prove it!” chimed the professor merrily, straightening his spring green sweat-stained bow-tie. With the help of Christian charity (secular tolerance wears thin), I normally absorb with bemusement the shock of such familiar inappurtenant eruptions, the agnostic trademark, but not today.
“Prove WHAT! Prove the grass is dead? You epistemologically tattooed agnostics are prove-it happy! But now you’re just being whimsical. So what do you want? Dialectical or rhetorical proof? I could demonstrate authentic Aristotelian ethos, even pathos or at least a convincing sneeze, but sit-down-and-conjure-it logos? That’s your department. For me the thing is its own proof. I don’t need more. My eyes, and I would suppose yours, see the dried up grass, shrubs, and the dust blurs my sweat-hazed glasses, and my nose senses the dust. It’s there, in front of my face and in my nostrils, prime-moving me to sneeze and sweat.”
The professor, as if at his Plato-memorial lectern, sweating like Marco Rubio, lectures: “Ah, as I expected – just ontological pish! Senses? Pish-posh!...ah--Choo.. What the senses sense are the most illusionary and deceitful of all things. How often must I and Plato remind you of that?”
““How often? Eternally, incessantly, and then some. You and Plato,” says I, taking justifiable umbrage, “are insulting the eyeballs which the creator gave me with the entreaty, 'he that hath eyes to see with, let him see!' Is it not true, dear professor, that actual experience via the senses, the ‘empirical’ method, etymologically cognate to ‘experiment,’ is the most accepted kind of proof on the planet, in the laboratory, and in court where it is tantamount to ‘evidence’? Is it not the basis of science, especially of Evolutionary Science? Is not the empiric the method propounded by Aristotle? Are not the senses crucial to the very survival and sustenance of lady bug, lion, shark, and eagle? Plato-Schmato! .... ah--CHOO!”
“Aristotle-Schlamotle.... ah--CHOO!” the professor ejaculates... and sneezes.. and loosens his bow tie. “Plato prevails! For survival, does not cunning trump even a sharp eye? Does not the magician's hand move faster than the eye can see? And for interacting with the cosmos is not cunning trumped by reason, of which Plato is mankind’s most advanced practitioner?”
“My unreasonably reasoning friend,” says I, “if you want my answer it is that I’m not at all sure that reasoning as a sessile occupation always does win. Does not pure reason prove as fleeting and vain as you remind me the weather is, or this very dialog? At the end of the day -- our day seems to be withering away -- is not pure reason out of style, certainly in video documentaries and political debates and manifestos? Virtual is what prevails! By the way, Plato didn't have to contend with virtual as we more technologically advanced humans do, only the transient. What would be the Platonic value of the virtual? Anyway, does not Evolution, the highest science cum philosophy, declare all evolved life of equal cosmic value? In the Evolutionary balance, is not Plato, or a professor, of no more use than a Paramecium? Have I not heard the likes of you proclaim that?”
But the professor was not hearing my well-crafted Socratic questions, so engrossed was he in an Aristotelean experiment to show whether three bedraggled squirrels, being rodents analogous to mice, would accept brie which some say is analogous to cheese. So I, Having spent a couple of years in a research lab, and as a retired pathologist once wedded to a superb Leica microscope and an automated computer-driven blood cell counter, also engrossed myself in applying the scientific, read technical, method of proof to the issue at hand. Into the megaErgo app on my iPhone I typed parameters like “dead grass,” “spiked sprinklers,” “half-full duck pond,” “California,” plus the date and latitude and longitude to the 8th decimal place. Faster than Euclid or Einstein could have written it out, the computer model generated p values and standard deviations, the absolute temperature with SD values, and conclusion in the form of an e-syllogism, spoken by a synthesized female voice, “….ergo, drought; ergo, state mandated water restriction.”
The professor, having honestly but reluctantly concluded empirically that squirrels don’t care for Platonic brie, proceeded to challenge the iPhone app’s artificial intelligence: “I would inform your unthinking app that its major premise may be erroneous or temporally rather than causally related, ergo irrelevant, ergo the resultant ergo invalid. Rather than drought, what we see around us could be an infestation of weevil, larva, or mildew uncontrolled by pesticide and insecticide, the spraying of such agents as well as water, having been outlawed.”
“Outlawed. Water, insecticide, and gun control in action. Pot and political correctness out of control. How the West was outlawed,” I inserted.
“Or,” continued the professor, “the iPhone’s calendar or GPS is not axiomatic or crypto-cyber logical. Or the application could have been hacked by Romanian hackers. Or your hearing aids didn’t catch what the synthetic voice said, which is more often than not the case with you, my sadly mentally AND sensuously handicapped friend.”
“My apologies, dear professor, but may I ask you to please repeat that last sentence? – you surely didn’t really say what my hearing aids heard you say.”
“I rest my case, dear deaf mute dude,” says the professor. "Yes, I’ll repeat what I said: I seem to need to remind you that what your eyeball sees, dude, certainly what your deaf ears hear, the sweat running down your cheeks, what the senses sense are the most illusionary and deceitful, treacherous and unreliable, fraudulent, outrageously shifty things mankind must deal with, as your sad senses have just shown you. It could as well be proposed, and rhetorically proved, to the satisfaction of the court, that this park today is the most verdant viridian green and the photinia the most moistly burgeoning ever known." The professor paused and then sneezed and coughed, hard, and proceeded without missing a beat. "And isn’t this alstroemeria exquisite?” The professor held out his hand, with nothing in it. So I put a bit of my brie into his outstretched hand. (I need to say that I now always carry a supply of brie just as the professor does. Plagno converted me to it, brie being the current symbol of advanced American metropolitan intellectuality, the one thing of Plago's I can sink my teeth into, although I still prefer havarti.)
“Again, and more enthusiastically than ever before, I congratulate you, my dear professor!” I exclaimed. I handed him back his alstroemeria. “Look what you’ve done! You’ve just proven, without possible appeal, that my prime proposition, to wit, that the park is blighted, is falsifiable, ergo my proposition must be scientific, as per Hans Popper, a leading philosopher of science. Not only that, your proof was at the same time good postmodernism which asserts that there is no truth anyway, thus rendering nothing provable including postmodernism itself, ergo all ergos however generated are naught but whimsy. Likewise the Plato-educated Roman prefect Pontius Pilate’s question, ‘What IS truth?’ BTW, Pilate was asking rhetorically, changing the subject without waiting for the answer. What a shame! -- he had asked the nature of truth of one far greater than Plato or Popper! Sherlock Holmes's deductions and res ipsa loquiturs are thrown out of court, which sets its own rules of evidence and rhetoric which affect verdicts more than deductions or inductions or forensic data, all of which re-proves Platonic postmodernism which had just disproved itself. All in a day’s work.”
Just then a uniformed jack-booted park ranger, an attractively muscled middle-aged lady, officiously rode up on a sweating horse, and demanded that we prove our identities as parties authorized to occupy this brass-plaqued bench. We submissively produced handfuls of cards, including my expired hospital parking lot pass, but she dismissed every one. “Paper, even nonbiodegradable plastic, are all ephemeral, like stone itself; naught but puffs of dust on the sands of time, and besides easily counterfeited.”
She had just asked us to please get off the bench and go elsewhere, but please keep off the grass, when the “Anvil Chorus” sounded – the ranger’s iPhone customized ring tone. “Yes sir or madam, …I see… Roger….If you say so… you say so…. As you say….Immediately. Over and Out.”
“That,” she explained, “was my secret personal controller calling from the max security NSA facility in American Samoa-loa-lol which monitors Park Rangers operating between x and y coordinates, calling my attention to a newly issued waiver overriding all extant regulations, applicable to all occupants of sanctuary parks such as, need I say, this one.” Then she looked square at us and demanded, “Are you homeless?”
“Well…,” we replied nervously, expecting to be asked to show proof. But she went on to recite the provisions of the waiver, which prohibit all identification procedures as these constitute invasion of privacy, which is a violation of human rights, ergo whatever.
“Homeless? You can bet your bra on it! And furthermore,” announced Plagno with fresh confidence, “we’re aliens, landed in our UFO and have just tunneled under the border, fence and all. Open you eyes! Just look at us in shirt and tie -- don’t we look like aliens!?”
So the ranger read us our rights. “You are entitled to respect despite your shirts and ties, plus free medical care and legal and philosophical aid and generous reparation, free counseling and support groups, and of course you may vote, and are expected to, under guidance of course. Enjoy your park!” Then she offered us some bits of brie she had in her backpack and some recycled ID cards, passports and passwords she happened to have. In the spirit of jollity that now had taken over the bleakness, I asked the ranger to show her own proof of identity, a chromosomal kerotype would do. Rather surprisingly she had one, which she pompously held with both hands six inches from my face. I recognized a Y chromosome.
The tension broken, I am moved to speak – Achoo! -- for the three of us: “Excuse the sneeze. The eyeball may contend that this park is blighted and desolate, desiccated and devastated, as blanketed by dust as Pompeii by lava, but now suddenly and somehow provably it is a Garden of Eden, lacking only a Maypole to dance around.
“Thus, in summary,” says I, in manifestly mock whimsy, no, sarcasm ... “may I submit that our dialectically generated truth du jour is that nothing, and everything, is provable or unprovable, as you wish, and anyway the harshest and most eternal truth, relative to start with, can be waived or enforced to the full extent of the law and beyond, as is wished, whether by chair-borne Platonic reasoning or Aristotelean observation, or any species of logic train. Is not this liberation of the most philosophically, theatrically, and politically valid kind? Is it not what the world has been waiting for since the Garden of Eden and the serpent gave Eve the exciting news that what God had told her was all a bunch of fibs? Is not this liberation at last?” To this, to my shock, and relief, everyone merrily and with startling sincerity agrees -- until deduction vs. induction is brought up, a dangerous topic to mess with because nobody ever agrees on whether a given beginning premise is a general or a specific statement or which direction the syllogism is moving, in or out of the general, a feud that could have thrown us into a funk, but in the nick of time somebody bellows, "who's on first?" evoking peels of laughter, thus saving the day, only questionably worth saving in the first place.
In celebration we all take a slew of sweaty selfies, which I’m not allowed to show here – privacy laws, you know – and exchanged communal bits of brittle brie, and the professor, alstroemeria in hand, proposed that we all dance around the bedecked Maypole with the homeless grad students who now were waving signs proclaiming or exhorting (in ambiguous syntax, as per protest vernacular), "1% Liberated Students Occupy Zuccotti Park!" Zuccotti Park? Close enough. So why are they hellbent on occupying this once lovely park? Plagno knowledgeably, or perhaps whimsically considering the drought, suggests, to grow medical marijuana, and repeats his invitation to dance.
I bid them go, dance, occupy...sweat, sneeze. Left alone on the bench, I thought to myself that as for me, a Seventh-day Adventist, when all is said and done at the lyceum or academy, blog or park bench, court or capitol, I remain all the more convinced of, and delighted with, the absolute no-wiggle unimpeachable truth of God, that He isn’t a mere form or Form, is eternal, and that the Bible is God’s eternal word. He Himself, and the things He created, including us, our squirrels if not our brie, are already proof.
“Prove it!” I’m sure I heard the professor, the ranger, the students, and the horse, shouting from around the Maypole in the dust of Zuccotti.
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