Thought Experiments for Philosophy 101 Students.
BY SAM WEINER
[Originally published April 24, 2012.]
This semester, we will engage our brains by tackling the following BIG QUESTIONS:
- If a tree falls in the forest, but no one hears it, does it make a sound?
- If the ship of Theseus has its components replaced throughout its journey, does it at any point become a different ship?
- If a philosophy professor writes a love letter but never hears back, is life even worth living?
No man can know! We will PONDER IMPONDERABLES, such as:
- Will Buridan’s ass choose between two equidistant food sources, or will it die of hunger, unable to choose rationally?
- If technically the professor’s love letter was a love email, is that any less of a romantic gesture? Women, your thoughts?
It’s a head-scratcher! Our brains will shudder under the weight of EPISTEMOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS, like:
- Could our sensory data be falsified by an outside evil, à la The Matrix or Descartes’ evil demon?
- If the professor’s love email was sent to a former student’s .edu address because he doesn’t know if she has a newer Gmail or Yahoo account, has the professor crossed some sort of invisible moral line or merely broken the school’s Code of Conduct?
Socrates himself could not answer! We will plumb the DEPTHS OF MORAL KNOWLEDGE, asking ourselves:
- If the content of the email was perfectly tender and affectionate, but to get the former student’s attention its subject line was “A THREAT!” has the philosophy professor hurt his chances in any way?
It tugs the mind in irreconcilable directions! We will desperately contemplate QUESTIONS OF IDENTITY, like:
- What kind of adult man throws away both a happy (if not exactly exciting) marriage and a promising teaching career to chase after a former student who was only maybe flirting with him?
I certainly don’t know the answer! SET YOUR BRAINS TO “MULL” on controversial topics, like:
- If the philosophy professor tried to visit the former student but got stopped at the airport by an overzealous TSA agent who asked what was in the professor’s carry-on and said, “It’s only most of a gun,” then isn’t the real criminal AMERICA?!
Talk about a mental maze! Intrigue dormmates with these PARALYZING PARADOXES:
- Is Schrödinger’s cat alive or dead?
- Really, who fucking cares, because either way it’s a made-up animal that doesn’t have to feel these damned emotions that a certain philosophy professor can’t get rid of.
I’m so lonely! Tiptoe through METAPHYSICAL MINEFIELDS, by asking yourself:
- How did the philosophy professor get to this point?
- How many sick days can the philosophy professor justifiably spend crying in bed all day?
- Why, why, why?
Finally, we will answer the UNIVERSE’S ULTIMATE QUESTION:
- Please go out with me.
SUGGESTED READSList: Actual Bullet Points from a Handout for a Philosophy Class on Consciousness
by Roblin Meeks (2/5/2002)
Ben Greenman’s Fake Celebrity Musicals: Fragments From LeBron! The Musical
by Ben Greenman (7/13/2010)
Welcome To Our A Capella Group!
by Mike Lacher (9/30/2010)
RECENTLYButterball Help-Line Help-Line
by Alysia Gray Painter (11/25/2015)
Alphabetically Organized Relatives: A New Contest from Amy Krouse Rosenthal and McSweeney’s
by McSweeney's Books (11/25/2015)
Doing Science: The Wonkiness of Pure Bloodlines, and Their Unexpected Upsides
by Emily Helliwell (11/25/2015)
POPULARThe Four Horsemen of Gentrification
by Zain Khalid (11/3/2015)
Monologue: An Extremely Pregnant Woman Has a Few Questions for the Motherhood Maternity Customer Service Desk
by Amy Rolph (8/4/2015)
Monologue: As Your Governor, I Will Protect You From Mass Shooters If They Are Syrian
by Pete Reynolds (11/18/2015)